Six great Christian books published in 2023

There’s no shortage of wonderful new books released every year, and at the same time novelty is no guarantee of quality. Plenty of old books are still worth reading.

Here are a few of my favourite Christian books released in 2023 and a few thoughts on what they offer and what made them great.

It was a great year in books if you loved memoirs, with two standouts:

It’s the story of hurting people hurting others, even as they struggle for love, healing and hope.

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Beth Moore, All My Knotted-Up Life: A Memoir

Esau McCaulley, How Far to the Promised Land: One Black Family’s Story of Hope and Survival in the American South

All My Knotted-Up Life: A Memoir by Beth Moore

All My Knotted-Up Life: A Memoir by Beth Moore (20% off)

These two books are themselves a study in contrasts. Both born in the American South, Moore’s memoir traces the course of her life: her family origins and all their flaws, the emergence of her ministry teaching women in the context of the Southern Baptist churches, through to her eventual break from them and finding a way to (for now) weave the threads of her life to some sort of resolution. This is undoubtedly Beth Moore’s story, the story of God at work in the life of an individual against the backdrop of her family.

How Far to the Promised Land: One Black Family's Story of Hope and Survival in the American South by Esau McCaulley

How Far to the Promised Land: One Black Family’s Story of Hope and Survival in the American South by Esau McCaulley

Whereas McCaulley’s story is much more the embodied story of his family, stretching back several generations. You certainly get a portion of Esau’s own journey, but it’s much broader. It’s the story of hurting people hurting others, even as they struggle for love, healing and hope. One cannot miss the profound differences between McCaulley’s world of growing up Black, and Moore’s very white world either.

Keller didn’t just appear out of nowhere in 1989 New York.

Collin Hansen, Timothy Keller: His Spiritual and Intellection Formation

The publication of this volume was timely, coming a couple of months before Keller’s sad passing. It’s also a very fitting tribute to his life. He himself would not have agreed to a straightforward biography, but a book charting his influences, the people and authors who shaped him, gives you a view of how Keller came to be the thinker, preacher and writer that he was. Keller himself would often describe himself as a synthesizer of ideas, and that’s what you get here.

At the same time, the book is arranged roughly chronologically, so you do follow Keller step-by-step through his early years, college and seminary, marriage and early ministry. Keller didn’t just appear out of nowhere in 1989 New York and launch a successful city ministry. He was forged into the right person at the right time and place, by God’s providence. To quote Hansen:

“To understand Keller is to read his books’ footnotes, where he shows the work of processing and wrestling with sources.” (p.265)

And this book is like footnotes to his entire life.

Growing in dependence is growing in prayer.

Paul E. Miller, A Praying Church: Becoming a People of Hope in a Discouraging World

There are many books on prayer, but there are not many good books on prayer. The strength of Miller’s book is that it casts a real vision for what praying communities might be like if churches, families and organisations took prayer seriously enough to be devoted to it.

Although there are practical tips in here towards the latter chapters, Miller begins with a discussion of why we don’t pray, exploring the secular assumption that we are used to operating in a world that assumes that prayer doesn’t do anything. By understanding prayer as dependence upon God, so that growing in dependence is growing in prayer, and by prayer we will see God work, Miller encourages us to shift our practices, but also our theology, towards a more prayerful life individually and corporately.

Phillip Jensen, The Coming of the Holy Spirit: Why Jesus Sent His Spirit Into the World

A book with 34 appendices doesn’t immediately sound like a page-turner, but Jensen’s treatment of the Holy Spirit succeeds in a surprising way. Instead of beginning abstractedly, with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, or with all those pressing and difficult questions about spiritual gifts and phenomena, Jensen begins with the promises about the coming of the Spirit in John 14-16, and then follows the contours of Scripture to show how the Spirit comes and fulfils those promises.

The appendices work, because they are really 1-2 page answers to specific questions that crop up along the journey (e.g. Baptism in the Spirit, speaking in tongues, etc.). No one familiar with Jensen’s theological positions is likely to be surprised here, but this is a well-crafted treatment of the Holy Spirit, well-argued and biblically grounded.

Wagner provides a call to a better vision of human sexuality.

Zachary Wagner, Non-Toxic Masculinity: Recovering Healthy Male Sexuality

Perhaps one of the saddest responses to ongoing disclosures and reports of sexual abuse in churches is hearing “no real Christian…” and “a proper church wouldn’t…”, amidst the cover-ups and blind-eye responses. Wagner’s book offers a critique of the purity culture dominant in evangelical circles in the ’90s and ’00s, and its aftereffects, in offering false promises and distorting a healthy sexuality.

Instead, Wagner provides a call to a better vision of human sexuality, for men to mature, to re-humanize our view of men and women, and to address the pervasive problems of hyper-sexualisation, porn, abuse, and just plain misconceptions. This is an invigorating read offering hope and an ethic of genuine love and redemption.

Dr Seumas Macdonald holds a number of degrees, including in philosophy, theology, ancient history and classical languages. He currently works as a freelance academic, translator and language instructor.

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