Best Books of 2014

Every year I have complied a list of the books most meaningful to me that year.  I’ve thought about making a second list with the title “Worst Books of [Year]” but I am dissuaded by my better judgment.  Here the lists from previous years. 2011 2012 2013

So without further ado:

Rice1. Prayer: Asking and Receiving
John R. Rice
1942

John Rice is a textbook fundamentalist.  But what I found out while reading this book was that there was a lot more to fundamentalism than fundamentalism.  I picked this book up with the expectation that a fundamentalist preacher would be full of kaka, as my kids call it.  Not true.  This was one of the best books I have read on prayer.  No wonder Dallas Willard recommended it and referred to John Rice as one of his mentors.  Here are a few surprises you’ll find: 1) Occasional attacks on dispensationalism, 2) A revivalist critique of Spirit-fanaticism, 3) Fasting claimed as a lost art, 4) A clear faith and testimony that God answers specific prayers about the things that concern us most.

Taylor 2. Holy Living
Jeremy Taylor
1650

I had previously read an abridged version of this book but this year traded up for the full version.  Years ago I made the decision (in years of greater poverty) that I would mainly spend my book money on buying old books, books already recognized as being good.  The advantage of this strategy is that an old book costs as much as a new book and takes 3x as long to read and is 6x more satisfying in its content.  Holy Living (I haven’t read Holy Dying yet) was precisely that.  Jeremy Taylor’s whole concern is the application of religion and holiness to everyday life, no matter what your calling.  In a sense the book is a long teaching on what it means to “intend and design God’s glory in every action we do” with the result that “every action of nature becomes religious, and every meal is an act of worship.”  For all interested, the book is an exposition of Titus 1:11-12: “live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age.”  Emphasis on “the present age.”

Laubach3. Man of Prayer
Frank Laubach
1942;1944

This medley of Laubach’s works combines familiar books like Game with Minutes and Letters by a Modern Mystic with undiscovered gems like You are my Friends and Channels of Spiritual Power.  Concentrating on the latter two, I found in the first one of the profoundest theologies of salvation.  The phrase “personal relationship with Jesus” gets thrown around a lot but Laubach tell us how it was God’s plan that Jesus keep fellowship with every person and by so doing prepare them for heaven on earth.  The second may be the best book on mission I have ever read.  And I’m a missionary!  It is a book that actually “gets” that “this planet is our school” (269) and that “The world around us is God’s best idea for helping us grow into His sons” (270).  Mission, therefore, is undertaken within school walls.  Any ministry we are given in this life is no more than an internship.

Rutherford4. Letters of Samuel Rutherford
Samuel Rutherford, edited by Andrew Bonar
1664 (Bonar’s edition from 1881)

Not quite done with this one yet, but it is exquisite.  Like 18-year-old single malt whisky. This is the ancient Puritan model of spiritual direction, pastors informally listening and instructing those who come to them.  Nothing against the Jesuit model of direction but I think there’s more vitality and longevity in this model.  The reason most pastors can’t do it is that they are A) too busy or B) trying to get people to do little jobs for God/the church.  Rutherford personally lived in a hard time in Scotland and his wisdom about God’s purposes with us in hard times is so hope-giving.  Example: “I confess our diet here is but sparing; we get but tastings of our Lord’s comforts; but the cause of that is not because our Steward, Jesus, is a niggard, and narrow-hearted, but because our stomachs are weak, and we are narrow-hearted” (84).

Lewis5. That Hideous Strength
C.S. Lewis
1945

Having read the first two books of the space trilogy when I first came to Germany, I put off reading this one because I didn’t own it and I heard it wasn’t like the others.  What I found out is that it isn’t like the others and that it is better.  This is about the closest Lewis came to writing a modern thriller/drama of the sort that Hollywood adapts.  But what was even more valuable was the insight as to how social evil begins to take form.  Consider this the novel form of his Abolition of Man or his essay “The Inner Circle.” Lewis likely had no idea how prophetic his book would be.  For, our cities today are burning; they are being destroyed by fire in every sense but the literal one.  With fantastical elements included, Lewis tells the story of how the fire started.  Unlike ancient Rome, barbarians never needed to sack and burn our city.  We took care of that ourselves.

Sayer6. Jack
George Sayer
1988

It must have been a Lewis year for me because I read The Dark Tower, The World’s Last Night and my first biography of the man, George Sayer’s Jack.  One thing that is so honorable about Lewis’s life, brought out in Sayer’s biography, is how he shunned elitism and embraced common people.  This couldn’t have been easy for a man with esoteric tastes for Nordic folklore and medieval poetry.  I believe his exposure and appreciation of “ordinary people” helped him to work on the university with peace and righteousness.

Peterson7. Under the Unpredictable Plant
Eugene Peterson
1993

There is so much sanity in Pastor Peterson’s ministry I can hardly take it.  One of the things this book did for me personally is remind me of the influence that Dostoevsky and his character Alyosha (The Brothers Karamazov) had on me in my early ministry.  Back in those days I had a pastor who described his brother, a fellow pastor, as the kind of person whose ministry was molded by one of the Four Spiritual Laws: “I love you and I have a wonderful plan for your life.”  Peterson refuses this mold.  And he put me on to yet another Dostoevsky character Prince Myshkin (see below).  He describes him as someone influential who “doesn’t exercise his influence, doesn’t make anything happen, doesn’t relish power, doesn’t tamper with these souls.”  Prince Myshkin “has no personal agenda.”  That, my friends, is a pastor!

Husserl Crisis8. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology
Edmund Husserl
1936

I don’t read a lot of philosophy books that make it into the best books of the year but this one that I read in March while at my in-laws is certainly one of the year’s best.  Dallas Willard says of Husserl that he saw how to deal with empiricism, which was wrecking the universities.  This is the book where Husserl does that.  This is not by any means an easy book.  For those with the training and patience, it has some very insightful descriptions of the history of science with an excellent commendation of Galileo.  I wish I had more time to study this sort of thing but, alas, life calls me onward.

Vaswig9. I Prayed, He Answered
William L. Vaswig
1977

A simple book by my favorite Lutheran pastor and someone I was privileged to meet before he died.  It is mostly stories of how his son was healed through prayer and how he started praying for the healing of others with great success.  Some of his late talks are available online, which I would check out before reading this book.  Because they are better.  I just saw that he wrote another book on preaching and prayer At Your Word, Lord.  I hope my used copy will arrive any day.

Kant10. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals
Immanuel Kant
1785

I hesitate to put this on here because I probably didn’t like it for the reason that other people like it but it was one of the best of 2014.  What I liked was Kant’s insight (really, it was common knowledge in his day and not a discovery) that a human being is fundamentally a spiritual being.  This is why every single human is so special and why there are certain rules for how we should treat others and how we should treat ourselves.  Modern ethics would do a lot better if it got back to that insight.

Homer11. Iliad
Homer
8th century B.C.

One day I decided I needed some culture.  Homer, I thought, would do the trick.  Really though, I wanted to read the Odyssey, which I will.  But I thought I should read this before I read the sequel.  I’ll bet it is better in Greek and better if you or someone performs the famous orations from the characters.  But in the least I now know what people are talking about when they mention Achilles et al.  It was good but I imagine I would be better if I was more cultured.

 

Inferno12. Inferno
Dante Alighieri
1317

Another attempt to read books higher than my reading level, I bought this book in preparation for my first trip Rome.  I’m afraid it was a little too dreary for me though the verse did grow on me.  It certainly will have a subtle influence on my writing in the future.   But the real benefit of the book was that it prepared me to read Purgatorio which I read this year on my first trip to Florence.  Stay tuned . . .

Dostoevsky13. The Idiot
Fyodor Dostoevsky
1869

On Pastor Peterson’s recommendation I bought the book which would tell me more about Prince Myshkin.  The trouble with the book is the distastefulness of all the other characters.  The poor Prince has not a single ally in life which is depressing because it makes clear his loneliness.  I think that’s the price you pay to be genuinely for other people as a pastor or whatever.

 

Dorsett14. A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of A.W. Tozer
Lyle W. Dorsett
2008

A late addition to my year’s reading list opened up a new world of church history for me.  Here are a few things I learned from the life of A.W. Tozer.  1) You can be an extremely bookish person and still have an electrifying ministry with people.  2) The criticisms of an American church which has sold-out to quantifiable growth, entertainment services, business leadership and worldliness are not new but old.  3) There were “Bible-believing” pastors in the 1950’s who were reading church mystics from all centuries. 4) Old ministers used to know how the Spirit could fall upon a church simply by one person preaching.  5) You can do all of that and still be distant from your wife and kids.

Lindbergh15. Gift from the Sea
Anne Morrow Lindbergh
1955

I’m kind of a “mom” in real life so I actually am helped by reading women’s literature.  The best insight of the book: the extreme importance of solitude in the life of a person caring for children.  But back in the home, she stresses the importance of having one-on-one time with each child.  This is a kind of affirmation of each child’s individuality and uniqueness.  It takes them out of the dynamic of sibling rivalry.  What’s more it is a beautifully written, gentle book.

 

Voskamp16. One Thousand Gifts
Ann Voskamp
2011

Like I said, I read women’s literature.  This one, as many know, helped me be thankful for the small things, to not despise the routine things I am doing.  And to not miss it.  To want it all.  I don’t want to let the childhood of my children flitter by because I am too busy being concerned about adult things, trying to get ahead in life.  Life is here.  Now.  Thank you.