As 2022 draws to a close, I have been planning a reading list for next year. Every year I toy with the idea of choosing a prolific author and reading 10-15 of their books. I have never really done that, at least not as I planned it. I did, however, read a lot of P. G. Wodehouse this year—kind of on accident. I was working on some big house projects early in the summer and tried a Jeeves and Wooster novel on audio. It was brilliantly read/performed by Jonathan Cecil, and the silly, witty comedy and character development led me to try another…then another… and by the time I had finished my projects, I had finished nearly the whole Jeeves and Wooster series. I can’t say I recommend them as “classic” literature for deep study, but for a fun nighttime or vacation read, or especially for travel or work projects if you do audiobooks, I found them quite enjoyable. But none of them made my Top 5.
But back to the point. As 2022 comes to a close, I want to give a brief Top 5 from the books I read this year (ok, full disclosure, there will be 10).
#5: Women and the Gender of God by Amy Peeler
This book is an astounding balance of biblical scholarship and theological insight. Peeler demonstrates convincingly that God is not male, nor masculine. Moreover, she illustrates the danger of thinking of God in exclusively male terms. She shows through close readings of the text that our Savior was male so that as a male he could save men, but as one who came entirely from female flesh, he could also save women. Unlike other scholarship about the gender of God, however, Peeler does not dismiss language of Father and Son. Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of her book is the deep insight into and appreciation for the Bible’s portrayal of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
#4: Art and Faith: A Theology of Making by Makoto Fujimura
Fujimura’s previous book, Culture Care, had a huge influence on my theology of culture, and this follow-up, although a little more dense than the previous work, continues to capture my imagination. Fujimura’s emphasis on culture care and generative living is profoundly biblical, but it is also astonishingly beautiful. We need more Christians like Fujimura, and we need more books like this one.
#3: The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart by Harold Senkbeil
Occasionally I find a book so stimulating, so thought-provoking, and so timely that I savor it slowly. I took months to read this book, but not because it was long or difficult, but simply because every page forced me to reflect on my pastoral calling in profound ways. In an age where books on pastoral leadership (already the word leadership gives me pause) tend to focus on business strategies that could have been (or were) written for CEOs, we need more books on this one that focus on the distinctive pastoral task of shepherding. In November 2021 I began reflecting on Jesus’ words in John 21 that Peter was to feed and tend Jesus’ lambs and sheep. What does that mean? This book taught me so much more about that notion than I ever could have imagined. I will be reading this again soon.
#2: The Love That is God: An Invitation to Christian Faith by Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt
Over the past several years, my former student and now friend, Andrew Pyatt, and I have been reading and discussing books together. We have read some pretty incredible books in that time, but this one left us both in tears at the end. Bauerschmidt’s explores the heart of the Christian faith through the biblical assertion that God is love. This assertion leads Bauerschmidt to explore numerous areas of life and faith, but his words on prayer and friendship were the most memorable to me. For example, he writes: “In other words, friendship entails conversation. And if we are called to friendship with God through the risen Jesus, then we are called to a life of conversation with God. Which is another way of saying that we are called to pray” (51-52).
#1: The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson
I have always struggled to read biographies. People tell me how great they are, I try one, and I am largely disappointed. Autobiographies and memoirs are typically a little better, but I’m often still left feeling disconnected. But this book was unlike any biography of any sort I had ever read. Not, I think, because the style was all that different. But because every word of this book seemed to be written for me. I needed to hear every word of this book. I needed Pastor Eugene to tell me these stories. I do not exaggerate when I say that this book changed me and confirmed for me a pastoral calling in a way no other book ever has. Certainly, reading Senkbeil’s and Bauerschmidt’s books before this set the stage, but I don’t think anyone could read this memoir and not find meaningful, life-changing lessons from it.
A few other honorable mentions in particular categories:
A fiction book: Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
I read That Distant Land, Andy Catlett, and Remembering by Wendell Berry this year also, but Hannah Coulter was the best of that group. I still think Jayber Crow is better, but Hannah Coulter is another beautiful story of a meaningful life lived in Port William. Berry has a gift for capturing humanity in each of his characters, but Hannah is one of the loveliest of them all.
A book from a different discipline: The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr
I love art, and in the past few years I have been really captivated by Caravaggio. But until I saw this book on the shelf of Half-Price Books this spring, I had no idea that The Taking of Christ had been lost for so long. It isn’t my favorite Caravaggio painting, but the story behind it is magical, and Harr tells it beautifully.
A book actually published in 2022: Celebrities for Jesus by Katelynn Beaty
Beaty’s book is a timely and important reminder that Christianity was never supposed to be about celebrity. She shows how celebrity has impacted the publishing industry and the megachurch, and through those two avenues especially, the rest of the American church.
A book I read for the second time: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
It’s not the best fiction book. It’s not the best love story. But seriously, this is an incredible book, and it was significantly better the second time around. Read it, then read it again.
Most surprising read this year: Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri
This book kind of defies genre distinctions. The first time I learned of it, I understood it to be a memoir. Then when several people were praising the book, I looked into it more and it seemed to be classified as young adult fiction. I saw more people praising it, so I did some more research, and it was from a new publisher, so I didn’t have a lot of history to base it off of. Finally, I gave it a try. Whether young adult fiction or memoir, my expectations were pretty low. But wow! I was wrong. This is a brilliantly written, beautiful story of growing up and learning to live by faith. Nayeri tells his story, but he narrates it as his middle-school aged self, and it is magnificent.