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The Five Favorite Books of 2015

Traditionally, January is the month to take inventory of things that are important to us, and as I skimmed through the internet it was obvious that writers of book blogs and various well known book-related websites were featuring the results of their inventories by posting their choices for best books of the year. “Great idea!” I said to myself, “This is a good time to take stock of the books read last year, and make a ‘Best Books’ list, too.” Soon, though, it was evident that picking books to be placed on a “Best Books Roster” is more involved than it first appears.

Forty books have been reviewed here at The Open Table since the first column appeared on April 8, 2015. It ought to be easy to pick the top five books from a list of only forty, but somehow it became more complicated every time I looked at the book titles. The books reviewed at The Open Table represent many genres, ranging from The Jesus Cow by Michael Perry (2015) in the Fiction/Humor category to Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Robert D. Putnam (2015), which is Nonfiction/Current Affairs. Publication dates of the books are also widespread. The Great Christ Comet by Colin R. Nicholl has the very recent publication date of October 2015 compared to the 1945 publication date of The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. Because of the assortment of books it was a challenge to know how to construct a “Best Of” list.

Eventually the list of “The Five Favorite Books of 2015” was compiled. Here’s the roster:

1.The Great Christ Comet: Revealing the True Star of Christmas (Academic, Biblical Studies); Colin R. Nicholl (2015)

I chose this book as my number one favorite because the Star of Bethlehem is a subject that is familiar to most Christians from the Christmas story, yet most of us see the Star as only a dramatic and amazingly mysterious apparition that adds a somewhat puzzling subplot to the narrative of the birth of Jesus. Have you ever wondered about the Star of Bethlehem? Author Colin Nicholl’s father-in-law did, and questioned Nicholl, a Biblical scholar, about it.

Seeing that there was a demand to answer both Biblical and astronomical questions about the nature of the Star, Nicholl realized there needed to be “…interdisciplinary work and cooperation between the astronomical and theological communities.” Nicholl was able to achieve this interdisciplinary cooperation by combining his rigorous study of the Biblical text and astronomy with the work of world renowned experts in the field of astronomy who generously devoted time and expertise to research the Star.

The results of Nicholl’s research have added new, valuable information to both the fields of astronomy and Biblical studies, and also resulted in the publication of this excellent book, The Great Christ Comet. The book is somewhat technical and rather long, but you will not regret the time you give to reading it.

2. Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God (Religion); Lauren F. Winner (2015) Wearing God is a great book for helping one to jump off the hamster wheel of repeated, over used images of God. Winner has brought to her book a surprising collection of metaphors about God which helps the reader to consider God and God’s character without relying on the faithful standbys of the Good Shepherd, King of Kings or Light of the World, et al. Author Winner was raised as a Jew and became an Orthodox Jew in college. She then became a Christian in her later college years, and was ordained an Episcopal priest in 2011. Drawing on this experience and a new found love of scripture, Winner pulled together an exquisite collection of metaphors which she identifies as “overlooked ways” of meeting God. If you are ready for a fresh perspective on God’s character, try reading Wearing God. The variety of beautiful and challenging metaphors contained in the book will help bring lively, worshipful ideas of God to mind.

 3. From Tablet To Table: Where Community is Found and Identity is Formed (Religion); Leonard Sweet (2014). From Tablet To Table is an outstanding book. It is not often that one finds a book which offers a viable, reasonable, enjoyable solution — or should I say soul-lution — to a pernicious family, community and church struggle. Leonard Sweet’s book about bringing back the family table as a means of bonding relationships and building identity is not intended to be a panacea, but it is meant to impress a strong image on minds and hearts about how vital the common meeting place of the family table is to daily health and future hopes. All through the book as Sweet shares his ideas, observations and stories of life at table, he specifically points to Jesus as the one who led the way in boundary breaking table manners. It’s Jesus who teaches us to break bread in his all-inclusive Jesus-style: the open table is the Jesus-table. Sweet presents the importance of the family, community and church table in such a persuasive way that gathering to share meals takes on new life, and you’ll be inspired to invite folks to come feast with you as soon as you can. Definitely help yourself and treat others to this important book (I include From Tablet To Table in 2015 books because although the publication date is 2014 the book was not available for purchase until 2015.

4. Where Jesus Prayed: Illuminating the Lord’s Prayer in the Holy Land (Religion); Danielle Shroyer (2015) Which spiritual discipline might you employ to mark a visit to a special location? Danielle Shroyer admits that she hadn’t chosen any special spiritual approach to her trip to Israel, but the Holy Spirit gave her one when she got there. Shroyer traveled with a cohort of pastors to locations associated with well known gospel stories about Jesus. As they visited these historical sites she found that the Lord’s Prayer would come to her mind. Because of this, Shroyer decided to meditate on the Lord’s prayer in every church or chapel their group encountered on the trip. What resulted was the book Where Jesus Prayed: Illuminating the Lord’s Prayer in the Holy Land. This book is a gracious and lovely collection of ponderings and prayers that has become a favorite of mine. I hope you will enjoy it too.

5. Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes it Good (Religion); N.T. Wright (2015) N. T . Wright is a delightful, witty writer. He is full of insight and wisdom as befits his many years as a student of the Word and a teacher of the same, but he also employs wonderful humor in his writing and has a knack for tilting his perspective on a familiar subject so that the reader sees new patterns emerge in a well known picture. This is exactly what Wright does with the phrase “Good News.” He refreshes our palate for this particularly Christian phrase and helps us to see, among other things, that good news — a rare announcement from a reliable source that will change one’s entire outlook about the future — is not the same as good advice — which is common, often unsolicited chatter that seems to come from every direction. In this manner, Wright explores what the Gospel is and why it truly can be called Good News. This is a captivating and satisfying book.

That’s the list of “The Five Favorite Books of 2015.” I hope one or two will catch your eye, and perhaps find their way on to your list of favorite books for 2016.