When the calendar flips from one decade to the next, we typically see a flurry of articles and blog posts taking stock of the decade just past. What were the defining events, trends, and personalities? Which films, albums, and books left the largest mark?

Analyzing the religious landscape of the last 10 years at The Anxious Bench, historian Philip Jenkins concluded with this postscript: “What are the most influential Christian books of the past decade? I scarcely know where to begin!” On his blog, Alan Jacobs replied, “There aren’t any. In our moment Christians are not influenced by books, at all.”

Naturally, I can think of several 2010s books I would classify, with varying degrees of conviction, as game-changers. And I have my own thoughts—somewhat more upbeat, but hardly Pollyannish—about the state of Christian reading habits. But perhaps that category of “influence” is worth a longer look.

The lives and afterlives of great books are hard to forecast. Some make waves right from the starting gun. Others take the scenic route, ambling along until some twist of circumstance lifts them from obscurity. Herman Melville died long before Moby-Dick became a staple of college literature courses and great-American-novel debates. When Oswald Chambers died, My Utmost for His Highest existed only in fragments of lecture and sermon notes, awaiting his wife’s expert harmonizing. Rare though such stories are, you just never know.

Leaving aside the pantheon of consensus classics, you still find plenty of books that exercise a quieter influence, instructing, delighting, encouraging, and convicting a wide range of everyday believers. They’re not “influential” in the big-picture sense of causing cultural tremors or paradigm shifts—only in the humbler sense of spurring changed lives, renewed minds, and renovated hearts.

Christians who write books write with all the motivations native to sinful humanity. Ideally, however, the gospel liberates us from chasing after influence, as commonly defined. We can lay our manuscripts before the throne of grace, trusting in God to use them as he wills for the building of his kingdom and the equipping of his saints.

I’d love to peek one decade into the future and see Christians still talking about at least some of the titles featured in this year’s book awards. Or maybe they’ll be talking about books no one’s heard of yet. One thing’s for sure: Through the bestseller list or the bargain bin, God will make his influence felt. —Matt Reynolds, books editor

Apologetics / Evangelism

Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion

Rebecca McLaughlin (Crossway)

Confronting Christianity is the book you’ve been waiting to give to your skeptical friends! Drawing on her experience working with secular university professors and students, McLaughlin effectively identifies the 12 most commonly heard objections on college campuses today and responds to them with clarity and concision. Using detailed research and a wealth of statistics, McLaughlin smashes many of the cultural myths held about Christianity. She paints a compelling picture of a faith that is global, diverse, intellectually robust, and existentially appealing.” —Jo Vitale, speaker, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries

(Read an excerpt from Confronting Christianity.)

Award of Merit

Cultural Apologetics: Renewing the Christian Voice, Conscience, and Imagination in a Disenchanted World

Paul M. Gould (Zondervan)

“This is an extraordinary and original book, quite unlike anything I’ve ever read on the subject. Well written. Practical. Insightful. Stimulating. Challenging. Any Christian, church, or Christian organization wanting to do serious evangelism in the 21st century should read this book.” —David Robertson, director of Third Space, a project of the City Bible Forum in Australia

(Read an excerpt from Cultural Apologetics.)

Biblical Studies

Christobiography: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels

Craig Keener (Eerdmans)

“Since the early 1990s, a broad consensus has emerged that the Gospels are best understood as a modified form of ancient biography. Keener persuasively demonstrates that biographies from this period were expected to provide accurate information about their subjects, especially when they were written within living memory of those subjects. Biographers based their work on research, written sources, and eyewitness testimony, and they did not feel the freedom to simply make things up. If anything, the Gospel writers were even more careful than their contemporaries. This is a groundbreaking work by a prolific scholar. It strengthens our confidence that the Gospels provide accurate information about Jesus.” —Matthew Harmon, New Testament professor, Grace College and Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana

(Read CT’s interview with Craig Keener.)

Award of Merit

Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes: Honor and Shame in Paul’s Message and Mission

Jackson W. (IVP Academic)

Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes introduces Western readers to Eastern cultural concepts (particularly the honor-shame dynamic and the matrix of social expectations and behaviors related to it) and demonstrates how these concepts play a major role in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. This is a sophisticated exercise in cultural analysis for the sake of better understanding the Bible, and it should serve as a methodological primer for and a prime example of such an approach for the foreseeable future.” —Matthew Emerson, executive director, Center for Baptist Renewal

(Read CT’s interview with Jackson W.)

Children & Youth

(Tie) Far From Home: A Story of Loss, Refuge, and Hope

Sarah Parker Rubio (Tyndale Kids)

Far From Home meets a felt need for children in Christian families around the world who are being uprooted and displaced because of their faith. The story within this story of a refugee child is the account of the child Jesus’ flight into Egypt to escape certain death. Comforting yet realistic, the book encourages little ones in the midst of confusing and sometimes dangerous situations. It’s also a tool for teaching young readers to have a heart of compassion and to pray for persecuted Christians worldwide.” —Nancy Sanders, children’s author

(Tie) Jesus and the Lions’ Den: A True Story about How Daniel Points Us to Jesus

Alison Mitchell (The Good Book Company)

“I really appreciated how the book connected the dots from the story and life of Daniel to the story and life of Jesus. I wish there were more books that would take Old Testament stories and messages and point kids to their fulfillment in Christ. The story line was easy to follow, and I enjoyed how the graphics draw kids in to look for Jesus moments.” —Julie Lowe, faculty member, Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation

Award of Merit

One Big Heart: A Celebration of Being More Alike Than Different

Linsey Davis (Zonderkidz)

“The colorful and joyful cover grabbed my attention right away. To my surprise, it was full of different skin tones! The delight continued on every page of this vibrant story. Linsey Davis splendidly shows how, when it comes to ethnicity, ability, emotion, or interest, different is very good. ‘God made each us unique’ is the common thread woven throughout this charming story.” —Dorena Williamson, author of GraceFull, ColorFull, and ThoughtFull

Christian Living / Discipleship

(Tie) The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction

Justin Whitmel Earley (InterVarsity Press)

“This book is an excellent blend of theological, personal, and practical insight. It describes problems unique to our time in a way that’s easily relatable, in part because Earley makes good use of personal anecdotes rather than merely citing sociological data. The strength of the book is how well he connects these common problems to simple, usable practices of resistance. And the summaries and quick tips at the end of each chapter will make it a wonderful tool to revisit regularly.” —Matthew McCullough, pastor, Trinity Church in Nashville, Tennessee

(Read an excerpt from The Common Rule.)

(Tie) Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation

Latasha Morrison (WaterBrook)

“You don’t have to be American to find this compelling, robust, grace-filled roadmap to racial reconciliation eye-opening, heart-rending, mind-expanding, and personally challenging—we Brits have plenty to ponder. But Latasha Morrison made me look back on my seven years working on Madison Avenue with a sharper recognition of how white privilege had propelled me there—and how an English accent didn’t hurt either. Be the Bridge combines judicious examples of America’s mistreatment of non-white races with insights into how that mistreatment has perpetuated a host of injustices to which the dominant race is often blind.” —Mark Greene, executive director, London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

(Read CT’s review of Be the Bridge.)

Award of Merit

We Too: How the Church Can Respond Redemptively to the Sexual Abuse Crisis

Mary DeMuth (Harvest House)

We Too is an incredibly timely and beautiful book. It carefully combines grace, truth, and a deep love for the church. DeMuth has a clear eye for justice as God prunes and purges his church, and her book is full of practical advice for those in ministry. Her prose is clear, appropriately vulnerable given the topic, and well-crafted to usher her readers into stark conversations about sex, power, and culture.” —Ashley Hales, author of Finding Holy in the Suburbs

The Church / Pastoral Leadership

The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart

Harold Senkbeil (Lexham Press)

“I will be returning to this book again, to read it carefully and slowly. The rhythms and the wisdom in The Care of Souls reminded me of the books by Eugene Peterson that shaped my soul as a young pastor—books that God, in his mercy, used to keep me from boarding my own ship to Tarshish. Senkbeil’s images and analogies aren’t drawn from boardrooms but from agrarian themes of shepherding, sheep dogs, and farming, all of which are far closer not only to biblical images but also to the realities of pastoral life, in which anything good grows slowly and follows the contours of a particular place. Many books on pastoral ministry convey information; this book renewed my joy in being a pastor and, every once in a while, traced a tear at the corner of my eye.” —Timothy Paul Jones, professor of family ministry, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Award of Merit

Spirit and Sacrament: An Invitation to Eucharismatic Worship

Andrew Wilson (Zondervan)

“I found this book useful during a time when I was thinking through different questions of liturgy. Wilson combines sound argumentation with beautiful prose. I may not have agreed with everything he has to say, but I enjoyed reading it. And where I disagreed, his argumentation made me think more carefully as to why.” —Juan Sanchez, senior pastor, High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas

(Read an adapted essay from Spirit and Sacrament.)

CT Women

What Is a Girl Worth?: My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth About Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics

Rachael Denhollander (Tyndale Momentum)

“In January 2018, I watched Rachel Denhollander testify against her abuser, Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor. It was an absolute privilege to read her story in this powerful memoir. In it, Denhollander shines a powerful light on the issue of abuse, discusses the lack of response from trusted people in her life, and shares her story of building a case against Larry Nassar. Her book helps us grieve over abuse, learn how to care well for its victims, and prevent it from occurring in the future.” —Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, policy director, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

(Read CT’s review of What Is a Girl Worth?)

Award of Merit

His Testimonies, My Heritage: Women of Color on the Word of God

Edited by Kristie Anyabwile (The Good Book Company)

“This is a book that the church needs today, combining thoughtful reflection, robust theology, and diverse perspectives. The devotionals span the human experience, meditating on truths about Scripture, suffering, joy, and injustice. They are grounded in eternal truths but expressed in the context of the particular times and places in which these women live. For women of color, this resource will likely quench a thirst that’s been felt for some time. For the rest of us, this resource should help train us to learn from diverse sources and seek out voices we have ignored.” —Kaitlyn Schiess, staff writer, Christ and Pop Culture

Culture & the Arts

Write Better: A Lifelong Editor on Craft, Art, and Spirituality

Andrew Le Peau (InterVarsity Press)

“Writing, and especially writing that’s thoughtful, engaging, and creative, can often seem like an arcane art—one that feels out of reach for many. In Write Better, longtime editor Andrew Le Peau offers concise, thoughtful advice on a number of writerly topics: struggling with creativity and writer’s block, crafting sentences that captivate and reward readers, publishing, and even copyright and legal issues. Above all, Le Peau encourages writers by reminding them of the gift that God has given to them. Writing can be an insular, introverted activity, but LePeau does well to remind us that writing should ultimately be a blessing to others.” —Jason Morehead, pop culture blogger at Opus

Award of Merit

Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making

Andrew Peterson (B&H)

“Falling somewhere between memoir and manual, this odd and wonderful tale about Peterson’s calling and craft has to be the most remarkable book of its kind this year. In so many ways, it shows—rather than tells—by giving the reader an abundant sense of the arduous journey undertaken by artists who want to glorify Christ with their art. As he presents it, that journey is full of stops and starts, catastrophes and conundrums, moments of profound, worshipful clarity, but also seasons of struggle and hard work to win that clarity back. At turns vulnerable and exuberant, Adorning the Dark is both eminently practical and yet inspires with the comforting wisdom a trusted friend would give.” —Taylor Worley, associate professor of faith and culture, Trinity International University

(Read CT’s interview with Andrew Peterson and an excerpt from Adorning the Dark.)

Fiction

Light from Distant Stars

Shawn Smucker (Revell)

“Shawn Smucker’s genre-bending novel, about a single week in the life of middle-aged mortician Cohen Marah, is a book to be savored. When Cohen’s father is found critically injured, questions abound—not the least of which is: Did Cohen do it? Thrust into the past, Cohen relives important moments in his childhood, coming face-to-face with a tragic memory that has shaped his life in grievous ways. When past and present collide and Cohen is forced to reconcile his current reality with a history that seems more terrible fantasy than fact, grace becomes a sacred hope that holds the very power of redemption. Light from Distant Stars is a singular experience, one infused with all the beauty and mystery of a broken creation that groans as in the pains of childbirth.” —Nicole Baart, novelist, author of You Were Always Mine and Little Broken Things

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Award of Merit

Throw

Ruben Degollado (Slant)

“Tough, real, and heartfelt. Throw is a richly drawn, immersive look into South Texas Mexican-American culture in all its conflicting facets, mingled with a story of guilt and forgiveness, despair and newfound hope in Christ.” —R. J. Anderson, fantasy and science-fiction author

History / Biography

God in the Rainforest: A Tale of Martyrdom and Redemption in Amazonian Ecuador

Kathryn Long (Oxford University Press)

“The romantic legend of Jim Elliot and his missionary friends, speared to death in 1956 by Waorani warriors, is firmly fixed in evangelical folklore. The subsequent Christian conversion of the Waorani is often recounted triumphantly as proof of God’s redemption of indigenous peoples, stimulating many missionary vocations and helping to raise funds for a new wave of Bible translators. At the other extreme, secular critics accuse the Ecuadorian missionaries of ethnocide, as ‘the new conquistadors’ of Latin America. Long cuts through these rhetorical tropes, subjecting them to searing analysis. She provides a detailed reconstruction of Waorani religious culture from the 1950s to the present, examining the complexities and failures that have been airbrushed from the idealized narratives.” —Andrew Atherstone, tutor in history and doctrine, Wycliffe Hall, University of Oxford

(Read CT’s article on God in the Rainforest.)

Award of Merit

(Tie) Anointed with Oil: How Christianity and Crude Made Modern America

Darren Dochuk (Basic Books)

Anointed with Oil provides fascinating insight into how religion became embedded in the modern US economy and how fossil-fuel capitalism became embedded in US faith and values. It is a detailed and panoramic survey of the relationship between different approaches to Christianity and different approaches to industry and commerce. It contains colorful and potent characters and is lively despite its length. Dochuk’s style is always clear and fluent. He digs deep and gives the reader a strong sense of the power that oil and its unsustainable benefits have over the American soul.” —Stephen Tomkins, author of The Journey to the Mayflower: God’s Outlaws and the Invention of Freedom

(Read CT’s review of Anointed with Oil.)

(Tie) One Soul at a Time: The Story of Billy Graham

Grant Wacker (Eerdmans)

“Wacker’s biography presents a well-researched window into Billy Graham as a man who had a powerful public career as an evangelist. It contains short, readable chapters that unveil the real Graham, flaws and all, and the incredible impact he had on millions of people. Wacker does an excellent job showing how Graham was able to skillfully understand the trends of his era and speak to individuals in a powerful, life-changing way. While Graham constantly adapted the fine nuances of his approach to the ever-changing culture and his specific audiences, Wacker effectively points out his heart never changed. He consistently sought to give every person the opportunity to embrace the Good News of the gospel.” —Karin Stetina, professor of theology, Biola University

(Read an excerpt from One Soul at a Time.)

Missions / Global Church

Women in God’s Mission: Accepting the Invitation to Serve and Lead

Mary Lederleitner (InterVarsity Press)

“Equal parts prophetic and pastoral, this book puts Lederleitner’s heart as a scholar-practitioner on brilliant display, showcasing her unique blend of gifts in research, missions practice, and engagement across theological traditions. Women should read it to be reminded of their non-negotiable role in Great Commission fulfillment. Men should read it to gain a better understanding of their responsibility to help remove obstructions that many women face in missions organizations. Ultimately, the stories and research presented here remind us that God’s mission in the world depends on both men and women responding to the church’s missionary mandate. Neither should ever feel sidelined.” —Daniel Yang, director of the Send Institute at Wheaton College’s Billy Graham Center

(Read CT’s interview with Mary Lederleitner.)

Award of Merit

Christian Mission: A Concise Global History

Edward Smither (Lexham Press)

Christian Missions: A Concise Global History is just that—compact but complete. In just 200 pages, Smither covers mission history from the inception of Christianity to the present day. For each age of church history, he explains how and by whom mission work spread in each and every part of the world. The strength of this book is its global focus. In the last chapter, Smither notes that the majority of mission work in the 21st century is carried out by majority-world missionaries and lay believers, just as it was during the early-church era.” —Robin Hadaway, professor of missions, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Politics and Public Life

In Search of the Common Good: Christian Fidelity in a Fractured World

Jake Meador (InterVarsity Press)

In Search of the Common Good is timely not only in its theology and praxis but in its faithful capture of our era’s sense of disintegration, isolation, and uncertainty. Yet Meador does not follow other critics of the loneliness of the liberal order into a call for a new culture war offensive to compel external Christian virtue via the power of the state. Rather, he invites readers to push deeper into robust community, to cling to hope and work together to incarnate it in every sphere of our lives.” —Bonnie Kristian, contributing editor, The Week

Award of Merit

Religious Freedom in Islam: The Fate of a Universal Human Right in the Muslim World Today

Daniel Philpott (Oxford University Press)

“Few controversies desperately need to see the light of day as much as religious freedom. Outside of Communist regimes, in no wider segment of the world’s population is religious freedom more absent than in Islamic nations; this is simply an incontrovertible fact. To Philpott’s credit, Religious Freedom in Islam is committed to ‘dignify both sides’ of a debate that features ‘Islamoskeptics’ and ‘Islamopluralists.’ Moreover, it does so by doing the hard work of statistical and cultural analysis, which is needed to inform such debates.” —J. Daryl Charles, Acton Institute affiliated scholar in theology and ethics

(Read CT’s review of Religious Freedom in Islam.)

Spiritual Formation

On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts

James K. A. Smith (Brazos)

“Augustine towers over history. I knew this, but I’d forgotten how much he wrestled with the issues that keep me awake at night: ambition, sex, friendship, death, and more. He’s been where we are. On the Road with Saint Augustine is a rare book. It’s weighty, beautiful, and insightful. I opened this book expecting to learn from and about Augustine, but I didn’t expect that he would become my traveling companion. We have more in common with this ancient African monk than we realize.” —Darryl Dash, pastor and church planter, author of How to Grow

(Read CT’s review of On the Road with Saint Augustine.)

Award of Merit

As I Recall: Discovering the Place of Memories in Our Spiritual Life

Casey Tygrett (InterVarsity Press)

“While we might think our souls are formed through classic disciplines like prayer, meditation, or gratitude, Tygrett demonstrates that our journey toward wholeness will fall short without the practice of remembrance. With gentle encouragement and eloquent prose, he invites us on a pilgrimage into our past through practical exercises that help us see our memories for the redemptive treasures God intends them to be. Even painful memories, when brought into the presence of God, can come together to form a powerful story of identity, enabling us to live with uncertainty and flourish in resilience.” —Tricia McCary Rhodes, author of The Soul at Rest

Theology / Ethics

Justification (2 vols.)

Michael Horton (Zondervan Academic)

“Few works of theological scholarship deserve to be called ‘magisterial,’ but Justification is among them. Sober, generous, with but a few broadsides and almost always in good humor, Horton presents the Protestant case for justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Those already persuaded will take comfort and refuge in the logical, exegetical, historical, and theological arguments on display. Those who remain unconverted will now have a masterful summa of the doctrine in all its contours ready to hand. No consideration of the topic going forward will succeed if it ignores Horton’s work. It is a gift to theological scholarship and to the church.” —Brad East, assistant professor of theology, Abilene Christian University

Award of Merit

For the Life of the World: Theology that Makes a Difference

Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun (Brazos)

“Volf and Croasmun give a critique of theology as we know it today: its sequestration within the academy, its entanglement with a business model of seminary and university life, and its cooperation with some forms of postmodern deconstruction that leave some of life’s most vital questions unattended. But the authors also offer a positive vision for theology that serves the community of faith by articulating a model of human flourishing under God.” —Nicola Hoggard Creegan, theologian, project director for New Zealand Christians in Science

(Read CT’s review of For the Life of the World.)

The Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year

Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion

Rebecca McLaughlin (Crossway)

“This could be the most significant apologetics book of this decade, effectively updating Tim Keller’s The Reason for God by taking into account the very different questions and objections we encounter today, especially around sexuality, gender, and slavery. McLaughlin writes with confidence but also with a winsome and sympathetic tone. Confronting Christianity offers an unusual combination: It is theologically robust yet very outsider-friendly. Some of the more conversational books out there can be quite light (and even simplistic) theologically, and some of the more solid books can be somewhat tone-deaf. McLaughlin (like Keller) really embodies truth and grace in how she writes.” —Sam Allberry, pastor and speaker, author of 7 Myths about Singleness

“Do we need yet another apologetics book addressing the most common indictments of Christianity? The answer in this case is a resounding yes. McLaughlin brings sound argumentation and evidence to counter Christianity’s critics, but she also offers compelling personal stories. This is not a dry philosophical tome, even though it astutely answers difficult questions. McLaughlin demonstrates with intellect and grace that Christianity’s truths hold up against even the fiercest opposition.” —Melanie Cogdill, managing editor, Christian Research Journal

“I find modern apologetics quite rancorous at times: Too often, instead of writing for outsiders who are curious about the faith, we pander to insiders who want to see their ‘enemies’ get a good roasting. But McLaughlin offers apologetics in the best sense: never brash or overbearing, never dismissive of objections, balanced and sympathetic, and ultimately a very confident and hope-filled argument for the truth and continuing power of the Christian message. Some of her positions might be controversial. But she is never eccentric or sensationalistic. She reflects the depth of Christian doctrinal and moral teaching as she sees it, and there is something about the book’s tone that creates space for readers to question, disagree, or argue back.” —Ben Myers, director of the Millis Institute at Christian Heritage College in Brisbane, Australia

(Read an excerpt from Confronting Christianity.)

Award of Merit

Surprised by Paradox: The Promise of “And” in an Either-Or World

Jen Pollock Michel (InterVarsity Press)

“While the news cycle is telling us that Christianity must check this box or that, and swallow down whatever else comes with it, Surprised by Paradox suggests that the God who became flesh in Jesus Christ opens up an alternate way of living between and beyond the boxes. Many authors have attempted to redeem the paradox of the Christian story by telling their audience to be satisfied with tension. Michel peers into the space between either-or and discovers a feast of God’s goodness. Read this book as a devotional guide or in a study group. It will deepen and enrich your faith in the God who defies our categories.” —Shawna Songer Gaines, pastor, Trevecca Community Church in Nashville, Tennessee

“Michel asks readers to suspend their need for black and white distinctions, learning instead to sit in the tension of mystery. As she traces the paradoxes at the heart of ideas like Incarnation, grace, lament, and the kingdom of God, once-unnerving mysteries start to feel like welcome realities. Beautifully written, Surprised by Paradox weaves personal experience, theological reflection, and solid exegesis into a book that will comfort, encourage, and rebuke. Her vulnerability will pull readers in to take a closer look, and her cogent arguments will beckon them not only to acknowledge the mystery of the Christian faith, but also to celebrate and herald it.” —Nika Spaulding, resident theologian, St. Jude Oak Cliff church in Dallas, Texas

Surprised by Paradox is so thought-provoking and heart-warming that I could hardly put it down. I was continually surprised by the depth and beauty of each chapter. The book liberates us from the pressure of conforming to the categories and either-or labels imposed by popular culture, enabling us to embrace all that God has called us to be in all of life.” —Femi Adelaye, executive director, Institute for Christian Impact in Africa

(Read CT’s review of Surprised by Paradox.)

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