Christianity Today’s 2019 Book Awards

Our picks for the books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture.
Christianity Today’s 2019 Book Awards
Image: Lauren Pusateri

There’s a funny graphic making the social media rounds that confirms a truth universally acknowledged, at least by bibliophiles. Under the heading “Do I need more books?” sits a pie chart partitioned into a big slice (in teal) and a much smaller slice (in yellow), representing the dueling impulses in play. Predictably enough, the teal portion depicts the overwhelming urge to answer with an emphatic “YES.” But then we confront the nagging, still small voice of conscience, whispering ever so delicately, “also YES, but in yellow.”

As someone who owns a perfectly appropriate, not even slightly excessive, but still fairly large number of books, I know the feeling. Several years ago, I was part of a book club at church. We were discussing a book about books (Tony Reinke’s Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading). At some point, I asked whether anyone else ever felt guilty about devoting too much time to reading, given all the other callings God places on our lives. One young woman in the group thought the question revealed more about the bookworm bubble I inhabited than any spiritual dilemma Christians commonly face. And of course she was right! (Thank goodness that levelheaded young woman later saw fit to become my wife.)

If only through gritted teeth, you can usually get me to concede the sinful temptations that bookaholism encourages. Like any good gift, reading can be overindulged. But each year, as I set the table for another book awards banquet, I try to ease up on the introspection, adopting the literary equivalent of the “calories don’t count” mindset that fuels so many satisfying Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner binges.

During book awards season, at least, the answer to “Do I need more books?” is always yes. That applies whether you’re someone who likes to read a reasonable amount—or someone who also likes to read a reasonable amount, but more. —Matt Reynolds, books editor

Image: Lauren Pusateri

Apologetics/Evangelism

Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News About Jesus More Believable

Sam Chan (Zondervan)

“For every generation, or maybe even every decade, a book comes out that will become a standard reference for evangelism and apologetics. This book has the potential to become the leading manual for Christians engaged in outreach for many years to come. Chan discusses a wide set of issues ranging from the theology of evangelism to how to give evangelistic talks to the place of apologetics in evangelism, all geared to the mindset of our contemporary culture.” —Winfried Corduan, professor emeritus of philosophy and religion, Taylor University

(Read an excerpt from Evangelism in a Skeptical World in the June 2018 issue of CT.)

Award of Merit

The Morals of the Story: Good News About a Good God

David and Marybeth Baggett (IVP Academic)

“The Baggetts are convinced that the moral argument for God’s existence and nature is among the most resonant and persuasive arguments available in contemporary society, and they do a masterful job of pooling the relevant resources. They highlight the inability of secular ethical theories to account for objective good and evil and human moral obligation. They also demonstrate the rich explanatory power of the Christian worldview in accounting for those same moral realities. If humanity’s deep and unshakable moral intuitions are correct, then The Morals of the Story demonstrates that the rational observer should embrace Christian theism in response.” —Tawa Anderson, professor of philosophy, Oklahoma Baptist University

Biblical Studies

Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels

Edited by Barry Beitzel (Lexham Press)

“This is a very helpful resource. None of the current ‘background commentaries’ offer quite the same level of detail on geographical places. Particularly when studying the Gospels, geographic context is helpful. One of the strengths of the book is that it doesn’t just discuss geographical places in isolation but interweaves them with the Scriptures themselves, producing insights that help clarify our understanding of specific texts. One great example: the book’s discussion of Nazareth and Sepphoris, which sheds light on the probable boyhood context of Jesus.” —J. Daniel Hays, professor of biblical studies, Ouachita Baptist University

Award of Merit

Introducing Medieval Biblical Interpretation: The Senses of Scripture in Premodern Exegesis

Ian Christopher Levy (Baker Academic)

“This book offers a fascinating tour of the ways our forebears in the faith read the Bible. Before the historical-critical method became our modern norm, interpreters commonly wrestled with the historical and spiritual meanings of God’s Word. Many modern readers are ignorant of the trends and methods that permeated this period that occupies the majority of church history. While Levy does not imply that we should abandon the historical-critical method, he does raise the question of what may be learned from our theological predecessors. Remembering that we are members of a 2,000-year-old community of readers may enhance and enrich our own reading of the Bible.” —Constantine Campbell, professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Children and Youth

The Friend Who Forgives

Dan DeWitt and Catalina Echeverri (The Good Book Company)

“Going by the cover alone, the artist’s style reminded me of the cartoony illustrations for The Beginner’s Bible. But there’s more here than obvious child-grabbing appeal. The illustrations are very clever and contribute greatly to the story. I liked the way motifs repeat—for example, Jesus calling Peter at the beginning of his ministry and again at the end, and Jesus’ prediction of Peter becoming a ‘fisher of men’ later fulfilled. The story is well-suited for children, with its effective echoes and repetition. It’s a book I can see children asking for over and over.” —Janie Cheaney, YA novelist, columnist for World magazine

Award of Merit

The Edge of Over There

Shawn Smucker (Baker)

“Smucker nimbly weaves common experiences that teens face—shifting relationships with parents, the desire to become socially active, and the yearning for connection—into this almost dystopian fantasy. On the other side of a door that leads to the afterlife, and before a bitter battle begins, adolescent Ruby reflects on her relationship with her father: ‘Her father’s manner toward her had been changing recently. He was letting go of her, or pulling away, she couldn’t tell which.’ She enjoys the freedom this affords her, but feels ‘empty, anxious.’ Full of profound wisdom, The Edge of Over There is a lyrical exploration of the good and evil that reside in all of us.” —Jennifer Grant, writer and speaker, president of INK: A Creative Collective

Christian Living/Discipleship

The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World

Rosaria Butterfield (Crossway)

“This is a profoundly challenging book that I would happily recommend to any of my Christian friends. I didn’t agree with every jot and tittle, although I share Butterfield’s complementarian theology. But the book offers both a vital critique of our Christian cultural norms and a beautiful, gritty, hard-won vision for how we could live together more faithfully. I laughed out loud at Butterfield’s anecdote about her mother banging on the door during a radio interview, and I cried when she recounted her mother’s death-bed conversion. I will live better because of this book.” —Rebecca McLaughlin, writer and speaker, author of Confronting Christianity (forthcoming)

(Read CT’s interview with Rosaria Butterfield.)

Award of Merit

The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home

Russell Moore (B&H)

“As a pastor, I often earmark books that could be a great resource for church members. This time, The Storm-Tossed Family was the book I needed. With one adjective, storm-tossed, Moore captures perfectly the state of affairs in my home. With the gentleness of a fellow parent, he unmoors us from the frantic idolatry of family and reorients our focus on the crucified Savior who has the power to say to the wind and waves, ‘Peace, be still.’ Moore puts his rhetorical gifts to work, turning phrases, weaving together Scriptures, and summoning apt illustrations with the unction of a preacher but the meekness of a bleary-eyed father of five. He shares his own failures and shortcomings while faithfully directing our gaze to the grace of Christ’s cross as a hopeful anchor for the family.” —Chad Ashby, pastor of College Street Baptist Church in Newberry, South Carolina

(Read CT’s interview with Russell Moore in the September 2018 issue of CT.)

The Church/Pastoral Leadership

Preaching as Reminding: Stirring Memory in an Age of Forgetfulness

Jeffrey D. Arthurs (IVP Academic)

“This book just became required reading for any young pastor I have the privilege of ministering to in the future. Thankfully, the evangelical church over the past half-century has emphasized the need for expositional preaching. Yet much of what passes as expositional preaching today lacks impact. It tends to feel more like a running commentary on the text, rather than preaching. Arthurs underscores the importance of remembering in preaching. He provides a helpful biblical theology of the role of memory, cites modern science’s help in this area, and then applies the knowledge to the discipline of preaching. This book is engaging, informative, and lively—just like our preaching should be.” —Jason Helopoulos, senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, author of The New Pastor’s Handbook

Award of Merit

The Forgotten Church: Why Rural Ministry Matters for Every Church in America

Glenn Daman (Moody)

“As a church planter in a rural (or micropolitan) setting, I found Daman’s work to be helpful, refreshing, and encouraging. He charts a path forward that doesn’t ask ministry efforts to be geared exclusively toward the city or the small town. With the overwhelming majority of my (Southern Baptist) denomination’s churches existing in small-town or rural contexts, I believe The Forgotten Church is an immensely important book for the future of ministry across the country.” —Dayton Hartman, lead pastor at Redeemer Church in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, author of Lies Pastors Believe

CT Women

Perfectly Human: Nine Months with Cerian

Sarah C. Williams (Plough Publishing)

“In Perfectly Human, Williams allows the reader to join her in the most excruciating journey of her life—carrying her daughter, Cerian, to term, knowing the child would not survive her own birth. With honesty and transparency, she invites readers to experience how she and her family wrestled with the sort of gut-wrenching questions and decisions few will ever have to confront. In doing so, she moves conversations about the sanctity, value, and beauty of life to a deeper, more human level.” —Courtney Doctor, writer and speaker, author of From Garden to Glory

(Read CT’s review of Perfectly Human in the October 2018 issue of CT.)

Award of Merit

White Picket Fences: Turning Toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege

Amy Julia Becker (NavPress)

“The word privilege is increasingly important in our national conversation about racial justice. For people of faith, the word ripples with significance because we worship the God who is Love, equally for all people. Amy Julia Becker writes from her context as an affluent white woman who could live comfortably within the white picket fences of suburbia. Yet she chooses to broaden her definition of neighbor. Told with grace and humility, this memoir will be a helpful companion to those who are wrestling with similar questions about privilege.” —Ruth Everhart, pastor of Hermon Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland, author of Ruined: A Memoir

(Amy Julia Becker wrote about growing up privileged for CT Women.)

Culture and the Arts

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock

Gregory Thornbury (Convergent)

“Many of us working at the intersection of Christianity and the arts have a deeply conflicted relationship with Christian music as a genre. Thornbury takes us back to the roots of Christian rock music in this biography of Larry Norman, one of the genre’s first major figures. This is an even-handed biography, allowing Norman and his ideals to stand forward in all of their beauty and strangeness. It’s a fascinating portrait of a person, but it also provides valuable opportunities for better understanding the relationship of art and belief in the context of the contemporary American entertainment industry.” —Jonathan Anderson, associate professor of art at Biola University, co-author of Modern Art and the Life of a Culture

(Gregory Thornbury wrote about Larry Norman for the March 2018 issue of CT.)

Award of Merit

Selfies: Searching for the Image of God in a Digital Age

Craig Detweiler (Brazos)

“Detweiler helps readers think theologically about one of our culture’s most ubiquitous products, our smartphone ‘selfies.’ Although he recognizes that smartphones have often contributed to an unreflective self-centeredness, he also suggests that they can be used to explore our self-worth, teach others, expand our empathy, and participate in prophetic witness. Detweiler’s dialogue partners are breathtakingly broad—artists, social scientists, psychologists, media critics, theologians, biblical scholars, cultural commentators, and ancient church fathers and mothers.” —Robert K. Johnston, professor of theology and culture, Fuller Theological Seminary

(Read CT’s interview with Craig Detweiler.)

Fiction

An Extra Mile: A Story of Embracing God’s Call

Sharon Garlough Brown (InterVarsity Press)

“The story provides a satisfying ending to the Sensible Shoes series. Even for those who have not read the first three books, Brown does a masterful job familiarizing readers with her four main characters and providing the necessary backstory. Each character is realistic and believable, faced with inner and outer struggles that intermingle in ways that readers may recognize. These aren’t ‘strong females’ after the fashion of Hollywood blockbusters—they aren’t leading armies or embracing their destiny as the chosen one—but they prove themselves strong in the truest sense of the word: They face the needs in their everyday lives, recognize their spiritual condition, and struggle to walk with Christ day by day.” —Rebecca LuElla Miller, freelance writer and editor, blogger at A Christian Worldview of Fiction

Award of Merit

No One Ever Asked

Katie Ganshert (Waterbrook)

“Excelling writing and a compelling plot. No One Ever Asked took me into a world that was realistic—and new to me. The theme of racism was thought-provoking and challenging. Ganshert created believable characters who I continue to think about. The book raises spiritual themes without being preachy.” —Lynn Austin, historical fiction writer, author of Legacy of Mercy

History/Biography

The Spirit of Early Evangelicalism: True Religion in a Modern World

Bruce Hindmarsh (Oxford University Press)

“At a time when evangelical is a contested word that increasing numbers of one-time evangelicals shun, this beautifully written and carefully researched historical exploration of the sources of evangelical devotional life offers a timely reminder of the wellsprings of the movement. Hindmarsh is almost alone among scholars in paying close attention to the spiritual meanings at the origins of evangelicalism, and his thorough, clear, and compelling book about what the first evangelicals understood their convictions to mean for their interior lives and their public concerns draws the reader back to the sources in a way that is more crucial than ever.” —Edith Blumhofer, professor of history, Wheaton College

(Read CT’s review of The Spirit of Early Evangelicalism.)

Award of Merit (TIE)

The Kingdom of God Has No Borders: A Global History of American Evangelicals

Melani McAlister (Oxford University Press)

“McAlister’s book will change the way we teach and think about American religious history. Her point, that you can’t really understand American evangelicalism if you consider it solely within the boundaries of the United States, is an essential corrective. Her argument that American evangelicals variously and unpredictably interacted with, furthered, and resisted American military and economic power is a complex and convincing account of a story that has been the subject of simplistic narratives, both positive and negative.” —Robert Elder, assistant professor of history, Baylor University

(Read CT’s interview with Melani McAlister in the September 2018 issue of CT.)

Christianity in the Twentieth Century: A World History

Brian Stanley (Princeton University Press)

“In this book, Stanley ambitiously sets out to chart the course of Christian churches across the 20th century. There is a lot to be gained here, and I learned much about topics I knew next to nothing about before. Anyone who reads this book will come away with a better understanding of the history of Christianity in a global context, a story not of straightforward triumph or decline but of shifting influence and cultural relevance.” —John Wigger, professor of history, University of Missouri

(Read CT’s review of Christianity in the Twentieth Century in the June 2018 issue of CT.)

Missions/Global Church

Megachurch Christianity Reconsidered: Millennials and Social Change in African Perspective

Wanjiru M. Gitau (IVP Academic)

“Gitau’s even-handed examination of Mavuno Church in particular (and megachurches in general) is a welcome addition to an ongoing conversation that tends either to glorify or denigrate the megachurch model. Moreover, Gitau provides a poignant example of contextual understanding that Christians around the world would do well to emulate. Her examination of Mavuno Church’s history and growth takes into full account the living, breathing world in which this congregation took root and grew. Sociological and cultural insights are combined with an incisive understanding of theology, politics, and globalization, opening new horizons for understanding how these factors affect the local church. As such, Gitau’s work exemplifies the process of gospel contextualization for churches of every size and in every culture.” —Jaclyn Parrish, writer, editor, and social media associate for the International Mission Board

Award of Merit

Cultural Insights for Christian Leaders: New Directions for Organizations Serving God’s Mission

Douglas McConnell (Baker Academic)

“This volume is rich in theology, broad in its missional perspective, and practical in its recommendations. Clearly written as a text for cross-cultural workers with an interest in cognitive anthropology and incarnational mission, it is nonetheless littered with real-life examples and case studies. It should find a place on the reading lists for missiology classes around the world.” —Michael Frost, missiologist, founding director of the Tinsley Institute at Morling College in Sydney, Australia

Politics and Public Life

Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women

Elaine Storkey (IVP Academic)

“Elaine Storkey courageously identifies how violence against women—be it physical, sexual, psychological, or economic—is, as her title suggests, a scar across humanity. Her work addresses the broad-sweeping manifestations of patriarchy in Christian history, the internalized gender discrimination and justification of abuse in societies around the world, and the church’s inadequate response to these violations and injustices. But this book isn’t just a broad-sweeping condemnation of Christian failure, as Storkey offers direct and clear recommendations for how violence against women can be overcome. Not an easy read, Scars Against Humanity is an essential work calling the Christian community to address one of the greatest injustices of our day.” —Mae Elise Cannon, writer and minister, executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace

(Read CT’s interview with Elaine Storkey in the May 2018 issue of CT.)

(Storkey wrote about sex-selective abortion for CT Women.)

Award of Merit

Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear

Matthew Kaemingk (Eerdmans)

“Matthew Kaemingk’s consideration of how diverse peoples can live together, with emphasis on how Western Christians should engage with their Muslim neighbors, is excellent. His argument is strong and well-documented, and his reflections are coherent and presented in a clear and accessible manner. Furthermore, the topic he is addressing could not be timelier. However, I believe the strongest contribution of this book is the author’s encouragement to go beyond theories of justice in a pluralistic world to micro-practices of hospitality that focus on ‘healing, listening, caring, reconciling, forgiving and welcoming.’ ” —Harold Heie, senior fellow at the Colossian Forum, founder of the Respectful Conversation project

(Read CT’s review of Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear in the January/February 2018 issue of CT.)

Spiritual Formation

Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World

A.J. Swoboda (Brazos)

Subversive Sabbath is a rich, timely, and a needful word to American Christians. ‘Sabbath,’ writes Swoboda, ‘is a gift we do not know how to receive.’ Yes! Sabbath rest is for us, for others, for creation, and for worship. With helpful prompts for self-examination, Swoboda’s well-grounded practical theology yields life-giving practices that teach true rest.” —Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, professor of philosophy at Calvin College, author of Glittering Vices

(Read an excerpt from Subversive Sabbath.)

Award of Merit

The God Who Plays: A Playful Approach to Theology and Spirituality

Brian Edgar (Cascade)

“Western Christianity is often haunted by a sense of perfectionism, anxiety, and exhaustion. Edgar points out that many Protestant traditions have developed a work ethic that lies in profound tension and even contradiction with the life of grace. His book provides a thoughtful and nuanced correction, emphasizing that as Christians we are first of all children of God, which entails a kind of ‘playful’ relationship. Faith-filled play draws us back to a merciful God who calls us into a childlike faith. It can help restore our trust in God as a good and gracious Father.” —Gisela Kreglinger, writer and speaker, author of The Spirituality of Wine

Theology/Ethics

Seeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian Tradition

Hans Boersma (Eerdmans)

“For many today, the beatific vision is nothing more than thankfulness for being freed from the grips of eternity in Hell, but Boersma has a more far-reaching vision. On the opening page of the book, he gets to the heart of the beatific vision: ‘Seeing God is the purpose of our life.’ In chapter after chapter of rich historical theology, he draws on the best theologians of the Christian tradition to teach us that the beatific vision is a bottomless well of joy. And yet, this book is more than a historical lesson—Boersma goes to great lengths to remind us how practical and vital seeing God really is, both in our own lives and the lives of those around us.” —Brandon D. Smith, editorial director at the Center for Baptist Renewal

Award of Merit

Dying and the Virtues

Matthew Levering (Eerdmans)

“Levering mines both Scripture and the Christian tradition for resources on what late-medieval theologians called ars moriendi, ‘the art of dying.’ He teaches readers about dying well through living well, focusing on nine virtues, beginning with the three theological virtues of love, hope, and faith. Though written from a Roman Catholic perspective, Dying and the Virtues is universally valuable for the guidance it offers both ministers and congregants for the journey toward and through death.” —Malcolm Yarnell, professor of systematic theology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

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

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