Best on the Shelf 2019

Few pleasures in life compare to a well-stocked library, and it’s always interesting to see how bookshelves evolve through the years. 2019 held quite the spread of material for me, both in content (including business tips, home decorating, popular female heresies, and a book on how to read books) and quality (some fantastic, some absolutely horrendous). Here are my ten favorites.

1. God for Us by Abby Ross Hutto

People. If you have any kind of book budget, please buy this first. Abby has crafted an amazing collection of thirteen stories from the gospel of John. Each chapter emphasizes a different kind of baggage we share as humans—distance, skepticism, betrayal, etc.— and how Christ picks up that baggage with His cross, carrying us to a place of triumphant freedom. Study questions conclude each chapter, so it’s perfect for journaling or group interaction. (I took pages and pages of notes—what a gem!)

2. The Complete Fairy Tales by George MacDonald

Though I prefer to gain practical truth from my literary fodder, every once in a while, it’s nice to throw in a little fun reading. If you’re in the same boat, look no further. This classic reveals a mind so deeply imaginative, it’s no wonder he had a massive impact on other greats (C.S. Lewis claimed that MacDonald influenced everything he ever wrote). I particularly enjoyed ‘The Shadows’ (in which a random man is appointed king of the shadows and whisked off to their church in the North to hear about their global exploits) and ‘Photogen and Nycteris,’ the tale of how a girl brought up at night and a boy raised only in daylight fall in love and defeat their mutual captor.

3. Prayer by Timothy Keller

“Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through His Word and His grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with Him.” Just about any question you’ve ever asked on the topic of prayer is answered in this volume. I found it gospel-centered, thorough, constructive, and beneficial. (And no, it’s not one of those books you just read and move on from; you can’t help but put these ideas into practice.) For the sake of your prayer life, check it out.

4. Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen

So this was different. I’ve spent most of my life laboring (unknowingly) under what Garry calls “the traditional view”: that God has a set will for everyone, which must be discovered prior to deciding your path in life. But “the wisdom view” (which posits that when Scripture is silent on a decision, you’re free to make the wisest and most pleasant choice) is both freeing and terrifying. Is your eyebrow up? Mine was, too. But walking through the Scriptures commonly used for both perspectives, biblical examples, and a way to love others of different mindsets all create a compelling argument that deserves to be heard.

5. The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge

This is a great read for a day you want sweeping vistas and language that thrills the heart. In typical Eldredge fashion, pretty words are mixed with epic movie scenes to illustrate the overarching story of the gospel—what they call “the sacred romance.” One of the most jarring concepts to me was ‘the godlessness of not wanting much.’ Definitely worth a look.

6. How People Change by Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp

Here’s another fabulous help for anyone in the ministry of caring for souls. Paul and Timothy (ha) write about how the gospel enables heart-level transformation for both individuals and congregations. Discussions include preaching to your idols, building kingdoms, the necessity of community, normal change patterns, typical excuses, the riches and resources of Christ, implications for daily life, repentance, identity, and application.

7. The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch

Longing for better human connection within the walls of your home? This one’s for you. Andy argues that there is a proper place for plugging in, but that technology doesn’t stay in its proper place by itself. We must provide intentional “nudges” to keep it within its healthiest bounds through creative means (for instance, by going offline one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year). For those on the fence about technology’s impact on our hearts and minds as a culture, eye-opening statistics are sprinkled throughout the pages of this book.

8. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller

Yes, it’s the second work by Keller on my list. (I really couldn’t decide between them, so they both made it.) Granted, this is not a beach read, but it’s crammed with goodness and help for when you need it most. The analysis of how different cultures treat suffering—and how Christianity provides the best framework for it—is pure gold. Bring your doubts and fears: the God who suffered for you is ready to meet you in your own pain.

9. The Cross by Martyn Lloyd-Jones

This was my first exposure to Martyn, and I rather like the old Welsh minister. The Cross is a series of nine sermons examining Christ’s death from various angles, apparently targeting seekers/new believers as the primary audience. If you have a friend who’s recently been saved, this would be an excellent study leading up to Easter. Does the idea of dwelling on the crucifixion of Jesus for nine weeks seem emotionally daunting? We need to force our gaze back to Calvary for our own good: “Superficial views of the work of Christ produce superficial Christian lives.” This will help us, like Paul, glory in the cross.

10. Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist

For a bit of spice, I picked up this “love letter to life around the table,” and I found it really interesting. Shauna offers a collection of stories, thoughts, and recipes, all designed to help draw people together. (As a bonus, the (in)courage book club filmed some quick videos of discussions and cooking adventures with Shauna. Foodies can find articles and videos of their study here.) I’m still dying to try her blueberry crisp and homemade salad dressing come summertime.

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