Thanks to a job where I sometimes work half the hours a week compared to my last job, I read more this year than I have in quite a while. However, I only read 8 books that were released in 2016. The other 13 were released in previous years. So this “top 10” list will start with 5 books published in 2016, followed by 5 books that were published in years prior.
Sound good? Here we go.
1. Finding God In The Waves: How I Lost My Faith And Found It Again Through Science
by Mike McHargue
I had heard “Science Mike” McHargue’s story countless times before reading this. But that didn’t stop me from purchasing this book the day it came out and devouring it in a couple of days. The book is comprised of two parts: the first being the longer [better] version of Mike’s story of losing his faith and finding it again and the second being all new material – ‘God In Science’. What I especially loved about the second part was that Mike didn’t try to prove God. Instead, he explained how, after having a mystical experience as an atheist, he pieced his faith back together through science and it came out looking very different from the fundamentalist southern baptist faith he held prior. Whether you’re a person of faith with doubt and skepticism or an atheist open to hearing the story of someone who once believed as you did, I’m confident you’ll really get something out of this book. But don’t expect anything to be shoved down your throat. Instead, expect Mike’s hand to be gently held out as he invites you in on his adventure of pain and beauty.
How GOOD is this title? I read this book when it came out in April after having gone through a crisis of certainty four months prior. Peter Enns’ book really helped give me language for what happened and gave me comfort for the future. If you’ve ever had doubts about your faith, this book is for you. If you’ve never had doubts about your faith, this book is for you too…because you’re either being dishonest or it’s bound to happen someday. And that day doesn’t have to be all scary. It can be a beautiful rite of passage into a deeper stage of genuine faith. That’s what this book is about.
For no good reason, I hadn’t picked up a Brian McLaren book in ten years. Shame on me. This is, by far, the most prophetic book I have read in a long time. Think of it as a manifesto for Christians who want to keep moving, keep progressing and embrace a new, more redemptive way of life. If you’re discouraged with the current state of Christianity and you’re about to jump ship or you think Christians are exclusive, intolerant and prideful, I would encourage you to read this book. I really believe that McLaren is tapping into what God is doing in the post-evangelical movement, which is already here and picking up steam. This book got me really excited, gave me hope and proved I’m not alone.
4. The Divine Dance: The Trinity And Your Transformation
by Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell
This is the best book on the Trinity I have ever read. Period. I wish I could just copy and paste the whole book right here because everything that comes out of Richard Rohr’s mind is utterly brilliant. Need I say more?
5. How To Be Here: A Guide To Creating A Life Worth Living
by Rob Bell
Rob Bell is my favorite communicator on planet earth, so I get really excited whenever he releases a new book. This book was no letdown. And neither was the tour that accompanied it, which I got to attend in Austin in April. This book is about being present and learning to live the life only you were created to live. It’s really good.
I started this book in December of 2015, but finished it in January of 2016, so it’s making the list. If you don’t like that then make your own list. If me saying that offends you, you probably shouldn’t read this book, because it’s packed with the same snarky humor I just used, which I really appreciated. I also appreciated how it basically saved my faith, and I don’t say that lightly. This is the first book I read after making the decision not to bail on God. Thirty pages in and I was a wreck. Through sound anthropology, archeology, geography, history and theology, Dr. Enns tackled many of the “problems” I had with the Bible and helped changed my entire view of scripture. I can’t recommend this book enough.
7. Falling Upward: A Spirituality For The Two Halves Of Life
by Richard Rohr
This is the second book I read after I decided not to bail on God and it was just as timely as the first. Here is the first paragraph from the introduction:
“There is so much evidence on several levels that there are at least two major tasks to human life. The first task is to build a strong “container” or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold. The first task we take for granted as the very purpose of life, which does not mean we do it well. The second task, I am told, is more encountered than sought; few arrive at it with much preplanning, purpose, or passion. So you might wonder if there is much point in providing a guide to the territory ahead of time. Yet that is exactly why we must. It is vitally important to know what is coming and being offered to all of us.”
I had just begun to enter into this “second halve of life” when I picked up this book and, again, it gave me language and understanding to what was happening. I was very thankful to have this as a guide.
In this landmark book, Matthew Vines explores what the Bible actually says – and doesn’t say – about same-sex relationships. As a young Christian man, Vines had the same hopes as many young people: to someday share his life with someone, to build a family of his own and to give and receive love. But when he realized he was gay, those hopes were called into question since the Bible, as he had been taught, condemned gay relationships. So, feeling the tension between his understanding of scripture and the reality of his sexual orientation, Vines devoted years of his life to intense research into what the Bible actually says about homosexuality. This book is unique because it affirms both orthodoxy, as well as same-sex relationships. It has sparked heated debate, sincere soul searching and contributed to the widespread cultural change on the issue of what it means to be a faithful, gay Christian.
9. How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings From a Leading Neuroscientist
by Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman
I’m not quite done reading this one yet, but there’s no way it wasn’t ending up on this list. It’s absolutely fascinating. Andrew Newberg is an agnostic neuroscientist and Mark Robert Waldman is an atheist therapist, but here are their findings after years of groundbreaking research:
– God is great for your mental, physical and spiritual health.
– Prayer and spiritual practice reduces stress and twelve minutes of meditation per day can slow down the aging process.
– Contemplating a loving God rather than a punitive God reduces anxiety and depression and increases feelings of security, compassion and love.
– Fundamentalism, in and of itself, can be personally beneficial, but the prejudice generated by extreme beliefs can permanently damage your brain.
– Intense prayer and meditation permanently change numerous structures and functions in the brain, altering your values and the way you perceive reality.
This is a practical, easy-to-read, inspiring, comprehensive and very credible book from two leaders in their fields. And believe it or not, it’s quite the page-turner.
10. When God Talks Back: Understanding The American Evangelical Relationship With God
by T.M. Luhrmann
This book was also very fascinating. Tanya Marie Luhrmann is a psychological anthropologist and a professor at Stanford University. This book is based on years of scientific research after Luhrmann attended the Vineyard Church, interviewing many members. She studied the effect that intensely practiced prayer can have on the mind and examined how normal, sensible people – from college students to accountants to housewives, all functioning perfectly well within our society – can attest to having the signs and wonders of the supernatural become as ordinary as doing laundry. This book is astute, sensitive and extraordinarily measured in its approach to the interface between science and religion. It’s also extremely unbiased. Luhrmann didn’t say if she was a Christian or not until the last page and I wouldn’t have been surprised either way.