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Best Books on Christianity and Theology in 2023



I sometimes talk about issues of faith when writing about movies, but this year I wanted to create a category of Best Christianity/Theology for those who are interested, particularly people in my church. Yet even if you are not a Christian nor interested in theology, I’ve marked a few books with an asterisk * denoting works that may offer some interest regardless of your beliefs. Books are listed in the order I read them and are not necessarily published in 2023. I simply discovered them this year.



 




The Unseen Realm is a fascinating book that casts a broad net, but basically asks the reader to examine the Bible through the eyes of people who would have read (or heard) it in the Old Testament era. What would many of the verses and prophecies have meant to those readers, and what are we missing centuries removed? How are the various locations significant? Many of these places mentioned that are just names to you and me had great significance for the people of that time. I’m not on board with everything Heiser is saying (or rather, implying), but after reading this book, you'll likely never look at your Bible in quite the same way.




The Wonderful Works of God (1907/2019) Herman Bavinck, translated by Henry Zylstra


An outstanding (and massive, at nearly 700 pages) one-volume treatment of systematic theology by Herman Bavinck, a Dutch theologian who died over a century ago, yet many of his works are just now finding their way into English translations. I'm looking forward to exploring more from Bavinck soon.





Johan Herman Bavinck, nephew of Herman Bavinck (mentioned above), was also a highly influential Dutch theologian. In this short, readable volume, Bavinck shows the uniqueness of the Christian faith by exploring its doctrine, revelation, and distinctives in the context of other global religions, focusing primarily on five areas of Christianity: “cosmic relationship, religious norm, the riddle of existence, our craving for salvation, and our awareness of a supreme power.” (Westminster Bookstore description)





I’ve never read a book by Ed Welch that wasn’t helpful, and this one certainly is that. The elders of a church are tasked with the responsibility of shepherding the congregation, but to some degree all believers are called to this responsibility in walking alongside others in the church. Our adult Sunday School class (wonderfully taught by Ben Z. and Jeremy D.) recently studied this book, which happened to be more timely than we could have imagined as our church experienced the crushing and unexpected deaths of our pastor and a young church member in the span of just a few months. This is a slim volume that provides good general guidance for how to go deeper in our relationships and love for one another.





Previously mentioned in my Best Nonfiction of 2023 post, Smith is another author I frequently read. Trained in philosophy and theology, Smith writes on the concept of time, how we navigate it, embrace it, shun it, and seek to make sense of it. So many feel they have so little grounding in life they think of themselves as “nowhere” when what they really are is “nowhen,” As the back cover states, such people are disconnected from the past or imagine they are somehow "above the flux of history, immune to it, as if self-starters from clean slates in every generation. They lack an awareness of time and the effects of history--both personal and collective--and thus are naive about current issues, prone to nostalgia, and fixated on the end times.” Yet time is spiritually significant, giving us “a sense of temporal awareness that is attuned to the texture of history, the vicissitudes of life, and the tempo of the Spirit.”


If all of that sounds a bit too lofty and philosophical, I’d urge you to first listen to or watch this podcast where Smith is interviewed about the book. How to Inhabit Time is a thoughtful book that will give you plenty to reflect upon as we move into a new year.






This engaging book is all about renewing your imagination, calling Christians to holiness through works of literature. We often see ourselves in the stories and novels we read, but Wilson invites us to explore and meditate on going beyond storytelling for the sake of a good read, instead leading to something far greater.




The Weight of Glory (1949) C.S. Lewis


Although these nine essays were originally sermons preached during World War II, they read more like Lewis sitting down and talking to you personally. The title essay is the most famous of these, yet the entire book (like most of Lewis’s writings) will teach you something new each time you pick it up.





You might think this is a book on time management, but it’s much more. We’re all limited, not only by time, but everything. We should (although some never do) acknowledge that we can’t do it all. We weren’t even created to do it all. Rather than fighting the fact, we should embrace it and see our limitations as something that can, in fact, be liberating.





Probably the most controversial book on this list, Losing Our Religion is not afraid to take a hard look at modern day Christianity and its relationship to politics and culture. Regardless of your beliefs or politics, I challenge you to read the book all the way to the end with an open mind. Thanks to my good friend Dana B. for recommending this book.




*Art and Faith: A Theology of Making (2021) Makoto Fujimura


This is a beautiful book, one I have recommended and gifted to others. It touches on concepts that are clearly Christian, but anyone involved in the arts will find plenty to contemplate here. I wrote briefly about the book in two blog posts, one here and another here.





I always enjoy reading Karen Swallow Prior, and this book is a good companion to both Losing Our Religion and The Scandal of Holiness. The word “evangelical” means different things to different people, and Prior’s book explains why, not only through a history of evangelical Christianity, but also through culture, literature, concepts, ideas, marketing, and so much more.





Although it owes much to City of God, Biblical Critical Theory seeks to apply Saint Augustine’s great work to 21st century life and culture. Make no mistake, this book will blow your mind and requires careful deliberation and meditation. (It took me about six months to work through it.) If you have any interest in engaging with the culture and the world in any meaningful way, read this book.





I typically shun most devotional books, but this one had something meaningful (and sometimes transformative) to say to me each day. I enjoyed this book so much I gave it as a Christmas present to each of the elders I serve with in our church.





The Book of Ecclesiastes has always fascinated me, and this book is practical, challenging, and a little scary. Author David Gibson asks the reader to do something we typically shy away from: start thinking about death, and work your way backward in your life. Even non-Christians will find themselves reflecting on the themes of this book. After all, like it or not, we are all someday going to arrive at the end. Thanks to Max B. for recommending this book.

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