"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed," said philosopher Francis Bacon (d. 1626), "and some few to be chewed and digested."

Here is Christianity Today's list of 1999 books most worth chewing on. A couple of things were different in this year's selection process. First, we returned to a system in which books competed in categories. (How do we weigh a commentary against a work of fiction?)We asked dozens of publishers to nominate books for one or more categories (as a result, some significant books were simply not nominated—a flaw we'll fix next year). We then polled about 160 pastors, scholars, and general readers, asking them to vote for the books they believed were "the most significant books of the year," meaning books that "have brought, or will eventually bring, insight to an issue or prompt a significant segment of the Christian world to believe or act differently."Second, we asked voters to mark the nominated books they had also read. When we added the votes, the "read" votes weighed more heavily. (It is one thing to vote for a book based on reviews, a writer's reputation, or a colleague's judgment; it is something altogether different to support a book actually read.)This system has its disadvantages. For one, it weighs fiction (which received the fewest number of votes) equally with books on Christianity and culture (which garnered the most votes). Thus the Awards of Merit, our wild-card winners: books (listed by category in order of votes received) that amassed a significant number of votes but not enough to win their respective divisions.Every system has a bias. Ours bias tilts toward the concrete: these awards favor books ...

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