Reviews

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Christianity Today’s 2018 Book Awards

Our picks for the books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture.
Christianity Today’s 2018 Book Awards

Could any Bible verse double as a mission statement for CT’s books section? Perhaps Philippians 4:8, which calls us to dwell on whatever is “true,” “noble,” “right,” “pure,” “lovely,” and “admirable.” Or Romans 12:2, with its admonition to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Or any number of passages from Proverbs that sing the glories of wisdom.

I suspect, however, that Matthew 19:14—“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”—would not garner many votes.

As CT’s books editor, I confess that children’s books are mostly an afterthought. Sometimes they arrive in the mail, but I instinctively toss them aside. Not that this comes as any great surprise. Magazines like CT cater to grownups. You’re not here for hard-hitting reviews of Goodnight Moon or The Cat in the Hat.

But of course our readers wear many hats, “mother” and “father” prominent among them. As a token of appreciation for parents, we decided to debut a new category this year, Children and Youth, encompassing everyone from little tykes to teens.

With that, let’s get to the awards. As always, we hope you’ll discover a shelfful of delights—for children of all ages. —Matt Reynolds, associate editor, books

Apologetics/Evangelism

The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between

Gregory Koukl (Zondervan)

“The Story of Reality is a fresh combination of apologetics and evangelism in a very readable format. It meets one of the greatest needs of a predominantly secular culture in which the majority of people have no real understanding of the Christian worldview. Koukl has done an outstanding job in presenting a clear and persuasive case for the credibility of biblical Christianity to those who have little or no knowledge of the true gospel of Christ.” —Mark Hanna, professor of philosophy and world religions, Veritas Evangelical Seminary

Award of Merit

Winsome Persuasion: Christian Influence in a Post-Christian World

Tim Muehlhoff and Richard Langer (IVP Academic)

“Too many books simply make assumptions about secular modern culture and about the way that we need to respond. Muehlhoff and Langer take the necessary step of analyzing the way that culture works, especially with regard to media and social issues, and their deft analysis generates significant insights. The authors apply orthodox Christian principles to hot-button issues without being shrill or partisan. In so doing, they model what the book strives to teach.” —Holly Ordway, professor of English and apologetics faculty member, Houston Baptist University

Biblical Studies

Reading Paul with the Reformers: Reconciling Old and New Perspectives

Stephen J. Chester (Eerdmans)

“This is a much-needed and well-executed book. It is much needed because the Reformers’ reading of Paul has long been the storm center of Pauline studies, most recently within the context of critiques advanced by proponents of the ‘New Perspective on Paul.’ These critiques have opened up room for a reappraisal and reassessment of the Reformers’ reading of Paul. Chester has astutely discerned this need and risen to the challenge by providing a nuanced study that eschews simplistic caricatures. One does not have to agree with every detail of the author’s analysis to predict that this book truly has the potential to alter the landscape of the current debate.” —Andreas Köstenberger, senior research professor of New Testament and biblical theology, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Award of Merit

Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ

Cynthia Long Westfall (Baker Academic)

“The great strength of this book is Westfall’s desire to interpret Paul’s remarks on gender issues in the light of the cultural context of Paul’s day. Context is key to all interpretation, for words taken out of context may be easily misunderstood. And words from one cultural context may well convey something very different when read in another setting. Westfall’s innovative approach challenges longstanding interpretations, inviting a fresh discussion of what Paul actually said. Whether or not readers accept all of Westfall’s conclusions, her reading of Paul challenges all of us to reconsider what the apostle believed and taught on gender equality and how this impacts Christian attitudes and practices in the 21st century.” —T. D. Alexander, senior lecturer in biblical studies, Union Theological College

Children and Youth

The Day the Angels Fell

Shawn Smucker (Revell)

“The Day the Angels Fell has a nostalgic feel that reminded me of Ray Bradbury’s works (especially Something Wicked This Way Comes). It is an enchanting, imaginative work of fantasy that touches on important truths but is not meant to be read literally or for some straightforward moral message. Although I had some issues with the pacing of the plot and thought the voice sounded a little too adult at times, I got the sense that this is a story meant to be enjoyed by adults, teens, and children alike.” —Ashlee Cowles, author of Beneath Wandering StarsandBelow Northern Lights

Award of Merit

This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years

Jaquelle Crowe (Crossway)

“This book, authored by a teen and written for teens, hits the target in every chapter. Crowe knows her audience and speaks their language. She tackles teen concerns head-on, providing practical answers to common questions about going to church, handling sin, keeping up with spiritual disciplines, and maintaining relationships with parents and siblings. Her style is direct without being confrontational and positive without being condescending. I especially liked the fact that she addressed all teens (male and female) without appearing to favor one or the other in her illustrations.” —Ava Pennington, children’s author

Christian Living/Discipleship

The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place

Andy Crouch (Baker Books)

“What do you get when a godly husband and father, concerned about the influence of technology on himself and his family, combines his award-winning skills as a writer with new insights and research from the Barna Group? You get The Tech-Wise Family from Andy Crouch, a practical guide to the proper use of technology in the Christ-centered home. Crouch has been thoughtful and intentional about the place of technology in his home since well before the advent of the smartphone. But he writes as a fellow struggler, not as an always-victorious, perfectly tech-wise father. At the end of each chapter, Crouch compares the reality of his own family’s practice to the standards he’s set forth. This is both refreshing and reassuring, for it makes clear that the Crouch family also fails at times to keep technology in its place.” —Donald S. Whitney, president of The Center for Biblical Spirituality, author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

(Read Andy Crouch’s interview with CT Women.)

Award of Merit

Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World

Kelley Nikondeha (Eerdmans)

“Although she writes as the mother of adopted children (and an adoptee herself), Nikondeha’s book is not solely for readers with a direct connection to adoption. Rather, this is a book about belonging, about being a good neighbor—especially to those outside our immediate circles—and about a God who invites and gathers all into his family. Nikondeha deftly interweaves Scripture, theology, personal story, and the metaphor of adoption to create a beautifully written and compelling narrative. Adopted inspires us to consider not only the ways in which we are all part of a bigger family and a broader story, but also how we, too, can extend the invitation of belonging to others.” —Michelle DeRusha, author ofSpiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith

The Church/Pastoral Leadership

Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc.

Skye Jethani (Moody Publishers)

“There were so many good conversation starters packed into this book. I found myself wholeheartedly agreeing with most, disagreeing with others, and trying to figure out what I thought about the rest. This is a very practical tool for leadership teams to evaluate how we are leading, how we are doing ministry, and how we are prioritizing the work we do. These are conversations that every church leadership team needs to have.” —Heather Zempel, discipleship pastor, National Community Church

Award of Merit

God’s Country: Faith, Hope, and the Future of the Rural Church

Brad Roth (Herald Press)

“Roth draws wider lessons about the minister’s vocation from his reflection on the specific, narrower context of rural ministry. Any pastor can find a wealth of knowledge here about the needed posture, pacing, and perspective for caring for God’s people. God’s Country is thoughtful and artfully written, and while I would have appreciated a bit more theology, Roth’s paean to congregational life and “soul-curing” certainly left an indelible impression.” —Jared Wilson, director of content strategy, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

(Read an excerpt from God's Country in the November 2016 issue of CT.)

CT Women

You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir

Melissa Ohden (Plough Publishing House)

“After learning of her biological mother’s unsuccessful attempt to abort her, Melissa Ohden embarks on a decades-long search for answers. Despite the stable love of two adoptive parents, she wrestles with despair and the overwhelming belief that she is unwanted. The harsh ambiguity surrounding her origins haunts her; she knows nothing about the couple that wanted her gone. But as she is pursued by God, Ohden uses her testimony to comfort others, from clients at the domestic violence shelter where she works, for whom betrayal is all too familiar, to other abortion survivors. The wounds of abortion run deep—for victims, siblings, spouses, and even would-be mothers. But ultimately, Ohden shows that Christ can redeem any relationship, no matter what.” —Jessy Shelton, freelance writer

Award of Merit

Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts

Trillia J. Newbell (Multnomah)

“Scripture’s command to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ looks pretty scribbled in calligraphy and hung on our walls, but what does it mean, exactly? In a tone that is warm, bubbly, and—as befits her title—enjoyable, Newbell points out that enjoying God means enjoying his gifts. Sure, this includes expected gifts like community, the church, and creation but also gifts we’re sometimes trained to feel guilty about, like sexual intimacy, possessions, and the arts. Ultimately, this is a book about the gospel and a sweet reminder that it truly changes everything, transforming even the most mundane activities into acts of worship.” —Erin Davis, author and speaker

Culture and the Arts

Giving the Devil His Due: Demonic Authority in the Fiction of Flannery O’Connor and Fyodor Dostoevsky

Jessica Hooten Wilson (Cascade Books)

“In this age of psychiatric pharmacology, it’s been a while since the devil has made anybody do anything. Wilson aims to change that, not so much by bringing the devil back into the picture as by pointing out that he never actually left. A scholar deeply versed in the work of Flannery O’Connor and Fyodor Dostoevsky, Wilson deftly illustrates that the earliest dilemma humankind faced—dating back to the Garden—remains our greatest: Do we choose God or do we choose the devil? In our modern era, we may think we have a third choice: the autonomous self, but Wilson, through the stories of O’Connor and Dostoevsky, points out that the self is really just the devil in disguise. We will spend our lives either imitating Christ or imitating his counterfeit, who is very much a reality, whether or not we want to admit it. This is sobering stuff, demonstrating the timeless power of fiction to teach us what it means to be human.” —S. D. Kelly, associate editor of Christ and Pop Culture

Award of Merit

Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life

Makoto Fujimura (InterVarsity Press)

“Culture Care is a breath of fresh air for today’s world. Fujimura invites us to find and make beauty in the world with attentive minds, grateful hearts, and generous spirits. The central idea is a call to generative care—fruitful, generous, stewarding practices in a culture characterized by an attitude of openness, love, and appreciation for beauty. This call to appreciate and cultivate beauty is perhaps the most profound insight for today’s culture, which prioritizes the fast, useful, or most profitable.” —Jennifer Craft, associate professor of humanities and theology, Point University

(Read an excerpt from Culture Care in the March issue of CT.)

Fiction

Can You See Anything Now?

Katherine James (Paraclete Press)

“Can You See Anything Now?marks the debut of an exciting literary talent. I hear echoes of Elizabeth Strout and Richard Russo in Katherine James’s richly detailed world, in her empathy, quiet humor, and hope. Richard Foster has said that writing is spiritual if it ‘drill[s] down into the subterranean chambers of the human soul.’ James manages this improbable task as she explores the lives of an intergenerational cast—including the irresistible Margie—drifting between the small-town foibles of Trinity and urban particularities of Manhattan. May her characters, insights, and often-striking prose find the wide audience they deserve.” —Daniel Bowman, associate professor of English, Taylor University

Award of Merit

Do We Not Bleed?: A Jon Mote Mystery

Daniel Taylor (Slant)

“I have one word for Daniel Taylor: genius. His gift is extraordinary, allowing him to craft one of the most intriguing books I’ve read in ages. There are no weak links in this story: superb storytelling, with spot-on plot, dynamic dialogue, captivating characters, and a setting that is so interesting it manages to make readers both uncomfortable and spellbound at once. In Do We Not Bleed?, Taylor’s wit is sharp, his voice is unique, and his quirky protagonist brews a blend of Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye), Meursault (The Stranger), and Nick Carraway (The Great Gatsby). It all adds up to one incredible story that carries tremendous literary weight.” —Julie Cantrell, novelist, author of Perennials

History/Biography

Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography

Herman Selderhuis (Crossway)

“Not since Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand has there appeared an accessible, comprehensive, and historically measured accounting of Luther that is seamlessly and elegantly set in the context of late-medieval Europe. Selderhuis captures Luther’s spiritual and intellectual complexity but still helps his audience know Luther as more than merely the symbol of a great movement. His biography serves as a dock from which we may embark on further consideration of the Reformation, rather than as a ship that carries us to a final destination.” —John Wilsey, associate professor of church history, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

(Read our review of Martin Luther.)

Award of Merit

PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire

John Wigger (Oxford University Press)

“Wigger paints a picture of the Bakkers that is simultaneously riveting and revolting. Rather than treating them as old-fashioned religious hucksters or right-wing political opportunists, Wigger argues they were largely sincere in their desire to positively affect people through the power of faith. Unfortunately, a combination of sexual infidelity, personal pride, naivety about the financial side of ministry, and a commitment to the prosperity gospel conspired to sink the ministry in scandal, disrupting and sometimes severely damaging many lives along the way. PTL is both a work of first-rate scholarship and a cautionary tale; because of the latter, it deserves a wide reading, not only among scholars of American Christianity but also among pastors and other ministry leaders.” —Nathan Finn, dean of the School of Theology and Missions, Union University

(Read our review of PTL.)

Missions/Global Church

Engaging Globalization: The Poor, Christian Mission, and Our Hyperconnected World

Bryant L. Myers (Baker Academic)

“Globalization is a complicated topic. Myers makes dense concepts relatively accessible to his readers and provides theological lenses through which to see the issues at stake. He is most concerned about the intersection of globalization with the poor and with Christian mission. The book explains how globalization is part and parcel of world Christianity, and vice versa. Myers takes a clear-eyed view of globalizing processes, seeing both the good and the evil they bring. One of the most helpful lessons Myers provides is on the role individual humans might play in a globalized society, and how we should not lose sight of an all-powerful God, who is over, above, and in the midst of globalization, even as globalization is part of our fallen creation and is not likely to last forever.” —Stephen Offutt, associate professor of development studies, Asbury Theological Seminary

Award of Merit

Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World

Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart (InterVarsity Press)

“One of the most challenging tasks within the church in the next few decades will be the work of peace-building and reconciliation, of learning from and loving neighbors who are often very different. Taking the parable of the Good Samaritan as their starting point, Huckins and Swigart have written a practical, hands-on manual that shares their rich experiences working in peace-building across various contexts, from local to global.” —Jenny Yang, senior vice president of advocacy and policy, World Relief, coauthor of Welcoming the Stranger

Politics and Public Life

Just Immigration: American Policy in Christian Perspective

Mark R. Amstutz (Eerdmans)

“Amstutz provides a model of how Christians should approach contentious public policy issues. Tackling a divisive topic, he provides more light than heat. His approach to immigration is balanced, nuanced, and informed by a deep historical and theoretical perspective. Any Christian who longs to think deeply and carefully about this important topic will be well served by this comprehensive and engaging work.” —Darren Patrick Guerra, associate professor of political science, Biola University

(Read our review of Just Immigration in the May issue of CT.)

Award of Merit

Restoring the Soul of the University: Unifying Christian Higher Education in a Fragmented Age

Perry L. Glanzer, Nathan F. Alleman, and Todd C. Ream (IVP Academic)

“A thorough and ambitious book, Restoring the Soul of the Universityissues a stirring call to Christian institutions of higher education. The authors offer a deep historical analysis, along with a careful framing of the questions, philosophies, and challenges that define the mission of the university.” —Nikki Toyama-Szeto, executive director, Evangelicals for Social Action

(Read our review of Restoring the Soul of the University.)

Spiritual Formation

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life

Tish Harrison Warren (InterVarsity Press)

“No matter which chapter you’re reading, it’s hard not to suffer from writer envy. Liturgy of the Ordinary is a gracious, gospel-oriented, fantastically un-preachy invitation to be a more integrated believer. Warren takes the most basic components of everyday life and turns them inside out to reveal the extraordinary work of God. You don’t have to be liturgically minded to be helped by her thought, experience, and spiritual depth.” —Anne Carlson Kennedy, blogger at Preventing Grace

(Read our review of Liturgy of the Ordinary in the December 2016 issue of CT. And read an excerpt here.)

Award of Merit

The Science of Virtue: Why Positive Psychology Matters to the Church

Mark R. McMinn (Brazos Press)

“If we’ve thought at all about the school of positive psychology, it’s likely with a guilty sense that it’s not exactly ‘Christian,’ even if we’ve found its teachings helpful. But McMinn argues that positive psychology can be thought of as the contemporary science of virtue. He shows how the basic tenets of this movement—gratitude, wisdom, humility, forgiveness, grace, and hope—could shape more relevant and effective ministry for pastors and counselors. McMinn carefully parses what can be learned from research, illustrates how a biblical understanding of virtues can push the conversation even further, and then introduces ways these important ideas might influence congregational life and the practice of Christian counseling.” —Mindy Caliguire, founder and president of Soul Care

(Mark McMinn wrote about the psychology of humility in the July/August issue of CT.)

Theology/Ethics

Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering

Kelly M. Kapic (IVP Academic)

“Embodied Hope is a breath of fresh air and a source of hope, as Kapic takes a holistic approach to pain and suffering. Rather than downplaying orthodoxy in order to be practical and compassionate, he gives us a rich teaching of Christian anthropology, Christ’s person and work, and an eternal perspective. He takes care to deal with the physical aspects of suffering as well as its connection with the spiritual. This approach directs our gaze to Christ while not ignoring the hard questions that sufferers and caretakers must face.” —Aimee Byrd, blogger, author of Housewife Theologian

Award of Merit

Scripture as Real Presence: Sacramental Exegesis in the Early Church

Hans Boersma (Baker Academic)

“There’s a lot of buzz these days about the church fathers. Evangelicals looking for more mystery and beauty in their faith are drawn to these early Christian pastors and writers. At the same time, however, many believers are skeptical of the kinds of sermons and commentaries the Fathers tended to produce. Scripture as Real Presence is addressed to both groups. It calls on evangelicals, among others, to reclaim their patristic heritage. But it also goes a long way toward showing how the Fathers weren’t so much missing the Bible’s human and historical dimension as they were trying to root it, always and everywhere, in the larger reality of divine Providence.” —Wesley Hill, associate professor of biblical studies, Trinity School for Ministry

(Be sure to check out our Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year, and read an excerpt from the winner.)

Have you read these books? What did you think? Let us know here.

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