2017 standouts, Books, Christian Living

My 2017 Stand Out Books: Christian Living


Not all books I loved, but books that stuck with me…

Christian living/devotional/spiritual matters – I don’t know what the appropriate category is here. Not all of these were published in 2017, I just read them then.

1. The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp

Ann Voskamp’s writing creates mixed feelings for me. I love her heart, her blog, her photography, her passion for Jesus, her love for her family…but I dislike her phrasing and her grammatical poetic license. So much so that I had to try half a dozen times to read her bestselling book One Thousand Gifts since its publication in 2011, even though countless people recommended it to me. One friend even bought me the book, not knowing my struggle. I finally made it all the way to the end by listening to the audiobook version, which is read by the author. Something about hearing her voice instead of reading the printed word softened my grammatically-on-edge heart, and while I did not love it, I at least appreciated the concepts within it.

The Broken Way resonated with me more than One Thousand Gifts. We are all broken, we all struggle, and paradoxically we grow and flourish more when we endure suffering, when we pour ourselves out. It’s the way of the Cross, the Broken Way. I considered wrist tattoos, but decided against it.

Ann’s writing style will most likely always be a distraction for me. But there is too much good in what she says to not push through it.

2. The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification – by Walter Marshall

I read this book in response to another book on grace and sanctification called Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid. Let me start by addressing Extravagant Grace:

Oh, this one was a surprise button-pusher for me! I thought it would be just a gentle reflection on how good God is in his love for us and instead it is this pastor’s wife pushing the envelope of what grace and sanctification mean based on her understanding of some writings by John Newton. I argued with her, saw her point, was outraged and argued again. I still can’t even tell you now how I feel about this book, other than it made me think – hard – about some sanctification concepts that I had generally taken for granted. She is very candid about her own struggle with sin which is at times engaging and at others distracting. It feels like her basic premise is that even as a Christian, you have a ton of remaining sin and that frankly will not get a whole lot better this side of heaven. But your monstrous amount of sin should not tempt you to despair and instead remind you of your great need for Jesus and his great love for you, daily shown in his forbearance and forgiveness. And while I get that, I don’t think we just hang up our spiritual armor and say thanks to God for the free pass. She probably doesn’t think so either, but it certainly feels like she is saying not to expect too much progress in our sanctification this side of heaven.

After reading Extravagant Grace and wrestling with what Mrs. Duguid had to say, I went back to some old classics to get another take on sanctification.

I began with Holiness by J.C. Ryle. I have always loved this book, so much so that I considered naming our third-born Ryle but then realized that because of my Southern accent, people would think his name was Rahl or Riy-yull and I would forever have to either correct my pronunciation or spell his name to newcomers. So that was out the window. Anyway, great, classic book: I started it again to get a fresh alternative perspective on personal holiness, but this book wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, so I lovingly shelved it. Then I moved on to The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification by Walter Marshall, which I had started before but never finished. This was originally written in 1692. I actually tried to read the original version first but found the Olde English a little tough to slog through, so I picked up the modern translation edition from Bruce McRae. McRae’s translation is a little clunky; I would not mind someone else taking a stab at translating Marshall’s original work. But clunkiness aside, this book is so good. It is quite repetitive, but in a good way, like doing push ups or saying I love you everyday to your family. Over and over, Marshall hammers home how God transforms and conform us to His image. It is grace and motivation to follow Jesus all wrapped up in one classic book.

3. Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors

Katie Majors is an American living in Uganda. She moved there over ten years ago and began adopting young girls (13 total) by herself and founded a ministry and a school. Her first book, Kisses From Katie, chronicles all of her journey those first years in detail and is well worth reading. This follow-up book, written a decade later, talks about moving through hardness and suffering with hope and love. She is honest and vulnerable, openly wrestling with how hard it is to give of one’s time and energy when hurt and sadness is all around, and nothing seems to come with a happy ending. Her work embodies the principle of being “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” as Paul says in II Corinthians 6:10. This is a book about trusting that God is working massively even when He does not answer prayers in the way we hope.

4. You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith

Our book club read this and I have to say, it took a second reading before I really liked it. Dr. Smith uses terms that are unfamiliar to many of us, and I found myself having to go back and remind myself of his definitions as I moved through the book. This book also was not at all what I expected. I expected a book about habits and how to make better choices. Instead it is an insight into how our culture shapes us (often without our knowledge) and a call to awareness of the inherent liturgies in many of our cultural habits. We say we love one thing: Jesus, the environment, vegetables, exercising, for example, but our habits (our loves) tell a different story. This book reminds us that what we do at the end of the day paints a more vivid picture than what we think and prompts a careful examination of our habits and how they point to our ultimate goals.

5. A Fierce Love by Shauna Shanks

I heard Shauna interviewed by Jamie Ivey on her podcast The Happy Hour and was immediately struck by her passion for Jesus and her family. Her book is an expansion on her journals through a time when her husband was doing his level best to leave their marriage. She felt called by God to stay in and fight for restoration instead of pursuing divorce.

This book is intense, and I found it most beneficial when reading just a few pages or a chapter at a time rather than massive chunks. I love her heart and her zeal for God. Her book is a beautiful testimony to one woman’s calling out to God for help during a time when everything is falling apart for her. Her writing is raw and may not appeal to everyone, but I was moved by Shauna’s candidness and vulnerability.



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