When the calendar flips from one decade to the next, we typically see a flurry of articles and blog posts taking stock of the decade just past. What were the defining events, trends, and personalities? Which films, albums, and books left the largest mark?
Analyzing the religious landscape of the last 10 years at The Anxious Bench, historian Philip Jenkins concluded with this postscript: “What are the most influential Christian books of the past decade? I scarcely know where to begin!” On his blog, Alan Jacobs replied, “There aren’t any. In our moment Christians are not influenced by books, at all.”
Naturally, I can think of several 2010s books I would classify, with varying degrees of conviction, as game-changers. And I have my own thoughts—somewhat more upbeat, but hardly Pollyannish—about the state of Christian reading habits. But perhaps that category of “influence” is worth a longer look.
The lives and afterlives of great books are hard to forecast. Some make waves right from the starting gun. Others take the scenic route, ambling along until some twist of circumstance lifts them from obscurity. Herman Melville died long before Moby-Dick became a staple of college literature courses and great-American-novel debates. When Oswald Chambers died, My Utmost for His Highest existed only in fragments of lecture and sermon notes, awaiting his wife’s expert harmonizing. Rare though such stories are, you just never know.
Leaving aside the pantheon of consensus classics, you still find plenty of books that exercise a quieter influence, instructing, delighting, encouraging, and convicting a wide range of everyday believers. They’re not “influential” in the big-picture sense of causing cultural tremors or paradigm shifts—only in the humbler sense of spurring changed lives, renewed minds, and renovated hearts.
Christians who write books write with all the motivations native to sinful humanity. Ideally, however, the gospel liberates us from chasing after influence, as commonly defined. We can lay our manuscripts before the throne of grace, trusting in God to use them as he wills for the building of his kingdom and the equipping of his saints.
I’d love to peek one decade into the future and see Christians still talking about at least some of the titles featured in this year’s book awards. Or maybe they’ll be talking about books no one’s heard of yet. One thing’s for sure: Through the bestseller list or the bargain bin, God will make his influence felt. —Matt Reynolds, books editor
“Confronting Christianity is the book you’ve been waiting to give to your skeptical friends! Drawing on her experience working with secular university professors and students, McLaughlin effectively identifies the 12 most commonly heard objections on college campuses today and responds to them with clarity and concision. Using detailed research and a wealth of statistics, McLaughlin smashes many of the cultural myths held about Christianity. She paints a compelling picture of a faith that is global, diverse, intellectually robust, and existentially appealing.” —Jo Vitale, speaker, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries
“This is an extraordinary and original book, quite unlike anything I’ve ever read on the subject. Well written. Practical. Insightful. Stimulating. Challenging. Any Christian, church, or Christian organization wanting to do serious evangelism in the 21st century should read this book.” —David Robertson, director of Third Space, a project of the City Bible Forum in Australia
“Since the early 1990s, a broad consensus has emerged that the Gospels are best understood as a modified form of ancient biography. Keener persuasively demonstrates that biographies from this period were expected to provide accurate information about their subjects, especially when they were written within living memory of those subjects. Biographers based their work on research, written sources, and eyewitness testimony, and they did not feel the freedom to simply make things up. If anything, the Gospel writers were even more careful than their contemporaries. This is a groundbreaking work by a prolific scholar. It strengthens our confidence that the Gospels provide accurate information about Jesus.” —Matthew Harmon, New Testament professor, Grace College and Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana
“Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes introduces Western readers to Eastern cultural concepts (particularly the honor-shame dynamic and the matrix of social expectations and behaviors related to it) and demonstrates how these concepts play a major role in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. This is a sophisticated exercise in cultural analysis for the sake of better understanding the Bible, and it should serve as a methodological primer for and a prime example of such an approach for the foreseeable future.” —Matthew Emerson, executive director, Center for Baptist Renewal
(Read CT’s interview with Jackson W.)
“Far From Home meets a felt need for children in Christian families around the world who are being uprooted and displaced because of their faith. The story within this story of a refugee child is the account of the child Jesus’ flight into Egypt to escape certain death. Comforting yet realistic, the book encourages little ones in the midst of confusing and sometimes dangerous situations. It’s also a tool for teaching young readers to have a heart of compassion and to pray for persecuted Christians worldwide.” —Nancy Sanders, children’s author
“I really appreciated how the book connected the dots from the story and life of Daniel to the story and life of Jesus. I wish there were more books that would take Old Testament stories and messages and point kids to their fulfillment in Christ. The story line was easy to follow, and I enjoyed how the graphics draw kids in to look for Jesus moments.” —Julie Lowe, faculty member, Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation
“The colorful and joyful cover grabbed my attention right away. To my surprise, it was full of different skin tones! The delight continued on every page of this vibrant story. Linsey Davis splendidly shows how, when it comes to ethnicity, ability, emotion, or interest, different is very good. ‘God made each us unique’ is the common thread woven throughout this charming story.” —Dorena Williamson, author of GraceFull, ColorFull, and ThoughtFull
“This book is an excellent blend of theological, personal, and practical insight. It describes problems unique to our time in a way that’s easily relatable, in part because Earley makes good use of personal anecdotes rather than merely citing sociological data. The strength of the book is how well he connects these common problems to simple, usable practices of resistance. And the summaries and quick tips at the end of each chapter will make it a wonderful tool to revisit regularly.” —Matthew McCullough, pastor, Trinity Church in Nashville, Tennessee
“You don’t have to be American to find this compelling, robust, grace-filled roadmap to racial reconciliation eye-opening, heart-rending, mind-expanding, and personally challenging—we Brits have plenty to ponder. But Latasha Morrison made me look back on my seven years working on Madison Avenue with a sharper recognition of how white privilege had propelled me there—and how an English accent didn’t hurt either. Be the Bridge combines judicious examples of America’s mistreatment of non-white races with insights into how that mistreatment has perpetuated a host of injustices to which the dominant race is often blind.” —Mark Greene, executive director, London Institute for Contemporary Christianity
“We Too is an incredibly timely and beautiful book. It carefully combines grace, truth, and a deep love for the church. DeMuth has a clear eye for justice as God prunes and purges his church, and her book is full of practical advice for those in ministry. Her prose is clear, appropriately vulnerable given the topic, and well-crafted to usher her readers into stark conversations about sex, power, and culture.” —Ashley Hales, author of Finding Holy in the Suburbs