Each year Forum contributors read, review, or survey hundreds of books. We try to share the best of our reading with Forum readers in the form of quarterly book recommendations. However, as 2017 draws to a close, each of us look back over the year and consider what book rises to the top of our lists—the ones that stimulated our thinking, challenged our thinking, or in some cases, brought great delight.
Below each contributor shares their “favorite book read” in 2017. Some titles are somewhat dated, while others are more recent publications. Regardless of the author, topic, or publication date, we commend these titles in the hope that they will help readers better focus their book selections for reading in the New Year.
H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1951).
2017 has been a great reading year. I have read several excellent books, such as Christopher Ash’s Marriage: Sex in the Service of God (2003) and Carl Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947). However, for me, the book of the year is H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture (1951). It is one of the most significant Christian texts of the twentieth century, and however one analyzes the Christ-culture, grace-nature relationship, it can hardly be done without Niebuhr’s watershed.
J. R. Rookmaaker, Modern Art and the Death of a Culture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1970).
This seminal work provides readers with an excellent analysis of modern art. First, Rookmaaker traces the historical development of the modern art movement, highlighting the effects that significant historical eras such as the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment eventually brought to bear on twentieth-century artistic expression. Then, he examines the content and the various forms of modern art, while also commenting on the culture at large. Through this thoughtful and provocative work, Rookmaaker has provided a valuable tool for Christians who want to sincerely engage with the culture around them by making them aware of the implications of modern art and offering guidance for cultural engagement.
Nik Ripken with Gregg Lewis, The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected (Nashville: B&H, 2013).
How does faith survive in an environment where basic religious freedoms are threatened? In his book, The Insanity of God, Nik Ripken wrestled with this question as he ministered in places like Somalia, China, and the Soviet Union. Ripken tells several stories of his journey from a small town in eastern Kentucky to some of the toughest places on earth to share the gospel. The chapter where he explains the death of his son, Tim, age of sixteen, is especially moving. I recommend this book to any believer looking to understand how the Lord is present in our lives, even in difficult circumstances.
Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (New York: Grand Central, 2016).
At this stage in life I’m trying to lead and pastor a church plant, write a dissertation, serve as landscape manager and adjunct faculty for Welch College, while also trying to be a good husband and father. I simply have a lot on my plate and need help balancing it. When fellow forum contributor Matt Bracey recommended Deep Work, I carved out some time over several days to read the book. Newport defines “deep work” as: “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts,” Newport concludes, “create new value, improve your skill, and hard to replicate (3).” In the first half of the book, Newport defends the concept of deep work. In the second half he gives four rules for accomplishing deep work, one of which is potentially quitting social media altogether.
As a pastor and aspiring historian and theologian, I’ve benefitted greatly so far from Newport’s work. And I expect that it will only help more over time as I continue to apply its principals. To be sure, this is no silver bullet for productivity. Instead, it is an intensive training regimen for your mind intended to help you produce valuable work, whether that be business plans, journal articles, sermons, or research papers.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965).
Many books brought me intrigue, stimulation, and delight in 2017. Among them were Terry Eagleton’s Culture (Yale University Press), Daniel Everett’s Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes (2008), and Jason Allen’s Discerning Your Call to Ministry (2016). But one stood out: Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was one of the most consequential Protestant preachers of the twentieth century. The British physician-turned-pastor is best known for Preachers and Preaching (1971). However, Spiritual Depression is a collection of sermons that Lloyd-Jones preached which were later published in book form. He takes a more comprehensive spiritual view on the topic of depression, and offers a masterful, probing analysis of the human heart. It continues to nourish my own soul as I end the year.