Ten best reads of 2017

Three years ago I decided I would make sure I spent more time reading books than watching television. Since then I’ve read dozens of terrific books that have deepened my thinking, boosted my confidence in the Scriptures and strengthened my faith — and it’s meant I’ve watched only the best quality and most enjoyable television, which I’ve therefore appreciated much more than before.

These are the books I’ve enjoyed most during the last 12 months. I hope you’ll find at least one in this list that you’ll appreciate. Why not make a similar pledge for 2018?

#10 — Jayber Crow
Wendell Berry (Counterpoint, 384 pages, 2000)

It’s impossible to do justice to this book’s themes here, but it’s a slow and thoughtful exploration of place, belonging, fidelity and love. Both the author and main character have a Christian background but not necessarily a Christian faith, which adds an extra level of depth as you try to think through the many ideas presented in the novel. It’s not a page-turner, but it would make an excellent literary read for a thoughtful secular or Christian book club.

#9 — The Nazareth Jesus Knew
Joel Kauffman (80 pages, Nazareth Village, 2005)

Following a visit to Israel and Jordan in 2015, I’ve been fascinated by how people lived in biblical times. I’ve found that a clearer appreciation of everyday life has significantly deepened my appreciation of the biblical message. This is a slim but large format, lavishly illustrated paperback that gives fascinating insights into life in first-century Galilee and will deepen your understanding of the gospels.

#8 — A Wind in the House of Islam
David Garrison (Wigtake, 314 pages, 2014)

This book’s subtitle is How God is drawing Muslims around the world to faith in Jesus Christ. It’s an astonishing read, a careful and nuanced account of an in-depth research project of nearly 70 Muslim movements to Christ, most of which are happening right now. The Muslim world is varied and complex, and converting from Islam is often fraught with dangers, which makes assessing stories of conversion extremely difficult. But Garrison is upfront about these difficulties and handles them well, often using testimonies of Muslim converts themselves. The book is far from triumphalistic but it is wonderfully encouraging.

#7 — Jesus Among Secular Gods
Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale (224 pages, Faithwords, 2017)

This book contrasts the person and message of Jesus with the message behind various ‘isms’ of today — atheism, scientism, pluralism and so on. It not only gives a helpful primer of different secular worldviews but highlights the errors and weaknesses of each view by comparing them to what Jesus stands for and offers. It would be especially valuable for university students and others who frequently engage with non-Christian worldviews.

#6 — All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain’s Political Class
Tim Shipman (Collins, 688 pages, 2017)

This was my favourite secular book of the year. Shipman, the political editor of the Sunday Times, has written a well-informed, balanced and fascinating book that’s been well-received across the political spectrum. From a Christian perspective, it’s fascinating to read how a few relatively small decisions or mistakes, made by a handful of people, made such a difference. History turns on small hinges and in the providence of God small victories can sometimes bring about great change. This should be a great encouragement to Christians who feel their community or nation is on an almost irresistible march away from the gospel.

#5 — Jerusalem: Portrait of the City in the Second Temple Period
Lee Levine (500 pages, Jewish Publication Society, 2002)

A well-illustrated and very detailed book on the history of Jerusalem from the time of Ezra and Nehemiah through to Jerusalem’s destruction four decades after Jesus’ death. As it’s a Jewish book rather than a Christian one, the time of Jesus’ life gets no more attention than other periods, and the gospels are treated no differently to other first-century accounts. Nonetheless, it gives real insight into the varied and often complex beliefs and motivations of the background characters of the gospels, including Herod, the Pharisees, the scribes and chief priests, as well as the ordinary people.

#4 — Side by Side: Walking with others in wisdom and love
Ed Welch (Crossway, 176 pages, 2015)

I really benefitted from this book and am still applying its lessons. It explains how all of us can get alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ. The first half reminds us of our interdependence and need for one another, while the second half gives practical and biblical guidance. It’s written for ordinary Christians who want to help, but perhaps don’t know where to start. I loved its simplicity — I ended most chapters thinking, ‘Yes, I could do that!’. Highly recommended for everyone.

#3 — Jesus and the Eyewitnesses
Richard Bauckham (504 pages, Eerdmans, 2006)

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses is an academic work arguing for something most evangelicals instinctively believe, that the gospels were written by eyewitnesses, or by those who had spoken to eyewitnesses. Bauckham’s interaction with non-evangelical scholarly viewpoints can be demanding, but it makes the book very useful for interacting with friends who have imbibed the popular myth that the four gospels are not reliable. It’s scholarly, robust and fresh and while it has plenty of idiosyncrasies, its central premise is compelling.

#2 — 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You
Tony Reinke (Crossway, 224 pages, 2017)

It’s rare to find a book so thoughtful, well-researched, challenging and thoroughly rooted in biblical principles. Reinke doesn’t argue against smartphones or social media, but he does want Christians to be aware of their negatives so we can change our behaviour for the better. I consider myself a careful user of technology, but Reinke’s book challenged me. I’d highly recommend it to any Christian who spends more than 15 minutes a day on their phone or using social media.

#1 — Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus
Nabeel Qureshi (Zondervan, 385 pages, 2014)

Without doubt, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus was my favourite read of the year. Qureshi grew up in Scotland and the United States as a devout and happy Muslim, convinced of the superiority and beauty of Islam and its prophet, Mohammed. But in college he met Christians who challenged those beliefs, setting him on a quest to discover whether the Bible and Jesus were more trustworthy than the Qur’an and Mohammed. The book combines Qureshi’s testimony with Christian apologetics and a primer on Islamic faith, which means you learn something on every page, without ever feeling you’re being taught. Every Christian would benefit enormously from reading this book.