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The Best Books I Read in 2013

I love reading all kinds of books and in an attempt to get you to share with me your favorites (in the comments), I thought I’d share with you my favorites that I read in 2013. Let me say that I don’t feel good about my list in that there are a lot of books that I really enjoyed that I had to leave off or risk making it too long to be helpful. But maybe everyone feels that way. Enough. Here’s my first ever Top Ten Eleven List of 2013.

11. Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

If you’re not a fan of the author’s politics, don’t let that keep you from reading this book. Reading like a novel, this is a straightforward account of the historical context that led to the crucifixion of Jesus answering questions like “What was happening in Rome that led Herod and Pilate to respond to Jesus the way they did?” and “Why did Jesus anger the religious establishment to the point they were willing to kill him?”

10. Desiring the Kingdom by James Smith

This is the first book by this author that I’ve read, but I’m sure it won’t be the last. Smith has a gift for bringing culture and theology together to help us see ourselves more accurately.

9. I Told Me So: Self Deception and the Christian Life by Gregg Ten Elshof

We are all self deceived believing things about our lives, marriages, kids, jobs, families, and more that just aren’t true. This book doesn’t just tell us that we are self deceived but also how we do it to ourselves. Tim Keller says, “Self deception isn’t the worst thing that you do but it leads to the worst things that we do.”

8. Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill

This is Wes’s personal story of what it is like to grow up with both an attraction to men and a deep love for Jesus. He is brutally honest and probably for that reason his story gave me a window to see this struggle in a new way. I finished it with a deeper desire to surrender my life to Christ’s lordship.

Bonus: Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry. This short book is written by a British pastor who, like Wes Hill, experiences same sex attraction. While Hill’s book is more of a memoir, this book is more of an explanation of Christian teaching on the subject. It is very well done and both of these books could be given to a friend or family member wanting to learn more about this issue.

7. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

I read a fair number of novels but I think that this is the one I liked most this year. Wolitzer weaves the past and present together as she tells the story of a group of high school kids who meet at a summer camp and then follows them through their adult lives. It gets mixed reviews on Amazon but I found the characters to be believable and the plot interesting. Warning: If you’re offended by sin, this book isn’t for you because there’s plenty of it.

6. Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards by Kyle Strobel

Edwards has long been one of my favorite dead pastors. It’s hard to overstate the impact he’s had on my life. This book by Strobel helped me see the spiritual practices that God used to make Edwards into a godly man and not just an intelligent one. 

Bonus: I reread Charity and Its Fruit by Jonathan Edwards this year. For those willing to work hard, this book will prove worth the effort. A series of sermons on 1 Corinthians 13, it’s the best book I’ve ever read on Christian character, love, marriage, friendship, relationships, and more.

5. What it Takes: The Way to the White House by Richard Cramer

I loved this book, but then again I love politics, history, and biography. All of those genres are found here as Cramer takes us through the 1988 presidential primary and campaign. Meet Bob Dole, George Bush, Michael Dukakis, Joe Biden, Gary Hart, and Richard Gephardt as they vie for the most influential office in the world. Gain insight into the expression, “The willingness to go through all that to be president, should disqualify a person from holding the office.”

4. The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield

How does Rosaria go from a lesbian Women’s Studies professor at Syracuse University to a pastor’s wife and mother of both adopted and foster children? She tells the story of her unlikely conversion in this powerful memoir. I was reminded that when it comes to sharing the gospel nothing compares to the power love, genuine relationships, building bridges, and the simple belief that no one is outside of the scope of God’s love.

3. What is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense by Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, Robert George

This 100-page book provides a clear and cogent case that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. The authors offer a natural law argument meaning that it doesn’t appeal to scriptural authority. The purpose of this book isn’t to address the morality of homosexuality. The main point is that in order to call same sex relationships marriage, marriage has to be redefined. This redefinition is detrimental to us as individuals and as a society. It comes at number 3 not because it is a fun read but because it is an important read.

2. The Little Way of Ruthie Lemming by Rod Dreher

Ruthie Lemming grew up in St. Francisville, Louisiana–population 2000–and she never left. At age 40, this wife, mother, and 6th grade teacher developed aggressive lung cancer even though she’d never smoked. Her brother, Rod, had left his hometown to make a career in the city. He shares a love story between Ruthie and the small town she lived in. Along the way we learn about simplicity, the friendships and family that make life special, the value of a teacher, and the disconnectedness that most of us feel in today’s society.

1. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt

The author is a self-described Jewish atheist and a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. And his (religious?) commitment to Darwinian biology causes him to come to radically different conclusions that I do. Having said all that though, I loved this book. Haidt synthesizes many of the latest academic studies to help shed light on what religious teachers and philosophers have been saying for centuries. When I finished the book, my first reaction was that Jonathan Haidt was sort of like a more grown-up and responsible Malcom Gladwell.