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Here are ten great books that I read this year and why I loved them. I hope you find a good read (or a few) here!

The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited
By Scot McKnight (2016)

"You're a sinner. But Jesus died for you. Pray to receive him and you can go to heaven when you die." This, we've been taught, is the Christian "gospel."

In this book, Professor McKnight shows how recent this particular framing of the "gospel" is (short answer: 1940s America); how narrow it is when compared to what we find preached in the New Testament; and how damaging this truncated "gospel" is, as churches focus on decisions more than disciples.

McKnight then presents a fuller understanding of the "gospel" that integrates the life of Jesus and the Old Testament as well.

Parable and Paradox: Sonnets on the sayings of Jesus and other poems
by Malcolm Guite (2016)

Malcolm Guite is an English poet (and professor, priest, and rock musician) writing in the great tradition of Christian poets like John Donne and George Herbert. My favorite living poet, he is also a remarkably insightful teacher, and I have been devouring his books and lectures this year (as this list will show).

Parable and Paradox is my favorite of his four poetry collections, as Guite skillfully connects ancient truths to our contemporary lives. His sonnets on the Lord's Prayer are worth the price of the book, and his poems on Jesus' "hard sayings" bring them into the present with all their appropriate discomfort.

The Voice Bible
By The Ecclesia Bible Society (2012)

This beautiful, lively translation was done by a team of biblical scholars working together with authors and artists. It shows. 

Dialogue is split out like in a screenplay, which works surprisingly well. Italicized textual additions provide helpful context and also help the story read more naturally. And over-familiar words like "Messiah" are given fresh but faithful translations like "Anointed One" that breathe new life into familiar passages.

The Voice Bible is an insight-filled and very readable translation that is great for taking in the Story of Stories.

The Bible Project Coffee Table Book: Illustrated Summaries of Biblical Books
By The Bible Project (2017)

This book (and the even better Read Scripture video series) combines biblical scholarship and excellent design/illustration to create striking visual outlines for the each book of the Bible (also offered for free download).

This book highlights literary structures we might miss (Matthew as a new Torah!?), helps us not lose the forest for the trees in books like Leviticus (it's a story, not just laws!), and keeps us oriented in huge, sweeping books like Isaiah.

It has helped me appreciate the divine literary genius of the Bible more than ever before.

The Cross and the Lynching Tree
By James H. Cone (2011)

Take your pick. Both were forms of state-endorsed terrorism, executions designed not only to torture victims to death, but to intimidate those watching and keep them "in their place."

In this eye-opening book, Cone raises troubling and worthwhile questions: Why has this most contemporary and obvious parallel to Jesus' cross been almost completely ignored in American theology? And what are we to make of a White Christianity whose adherents went to church on Sundays and yet brutally lynched nearly five thousand Black people over six decades?

Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany
By Sarah Arthur (2014)

In this weekly devotional, writer Sarah Arthur thoughtfully brings together Bible passages, fiction excerpts, poems, and prayers to shine their varied lights on a weekly theme, guiding the reader from Advent to Epiphany.

Arthur withholds her own thoughts except for an introduction where she offers guidance on how readers can meditate on these passages in God's presence, inviting Him to speak to us. (She recognizes Scripture's unique authority but that God can speak to us in other ways too). Though you will not connect with every selection, you will find gems here.

The Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter
By Malcolm Guite (2014)

After letting Sarah Arthur guide me through the church calendar last year, I turned to Malcolm Guite and found in him another most wonderful guide.

I can't decide which I appreciate more: Guite's own poetry (see above) or his incredible ability  to draw out the depths of meaning and beauty in others' poems. 

Reading these hand-picked poems, opened up by Guite's illuminating commentary, was like opening up a little present each day during Lent and Eastertide. It is a book stimulating for both the heart and mind.

A Community Called Atonement
By Scot McKnight (2007)

Professor McKnight takes us on a tour of the Bible's rich, varied metaphors for speaking about Jesus' atoning work on the cross.

McKnight invokes a helpful simile of his own, likening these metaphors to golf clubs in a bag: each of them helps us in different ways, but if we start trying to play the whole game with only one club (e.g. penal substitutionary atonement) we will get into trouble. No single metaphor was meant to explain the mystery of Jesus' death on the cross in full.

This final part of this theological book considers the practical implications of the atonement for our lives.

Faith, Hope, and Poetry
By Malcolm Guite (2017)

Here is Guite in full professor mode exploring one of his most prominent topics: "Reason" alone is not sufficient to fully comprehend Truth, but must work hand in hand with what Guite calls "Imagination" —which the Protestant church has often been too suspicious of.

This book comes at a key time when the pendulum has swung from modernism (Reason shunning Imagination) to post-modernism (Imagination shunning Reason). Here Guite shows us a third way forward, arguing that these two truth-bearing faculties must not be separated. He does it by slowly guiding us through some of the greatest poems ever written.

Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making
By Andrew Peterson (2019)

If Faith, Hope, and Poetry is like amazing lecture series, Adorning the Dark is like a bunch of good conversations with an experienced singer-songwriter and fiction author.

Just as valuable as Peterson's practical advice are the vulnerable admissions of his own insecurities, failures, and inadequacies. Paradoxically, reading about Peterson's struggles encouraged me as an artist - to try, to fail, and to trust God to create beauty through me despite my brokenness. This is an inviting, relatable, and beautiful book.

What were your favorite books from 2019? Leave a comment below.

Also check out my best books lists from 2018, 2016/17, and 2015.

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