What I Read in 2017

The turn of the calendar is the time of year when we must endure those inane end-of-year lists on blogs, on television, and on podcasts. At first they are interesting. They may spark your memory about an event from the previous twelve months or remind you how far—or how little—you’ve come since last January 1. But after exposure to a few lists, subsequent countdowns become nauseating. 20 Most-Liked Celeb Instagram Posts of 2017. Seriously?

Aaron Burden

Just as a photograph or a song (or a web page detailing the most creeped upon celebrities) can spark memories in one’s mind, so can a well read book. For example I recall the chill of the vinyl hospital rocker as I read Frank Viola and Mary DeMuth’s The Day I Met Jesus. The room was quiet that day as Abram, my asthmatic, and his mother rested in each other’s arms, passed out in exhaustion after the ordeals of illness gave way to the relief of albuterol, prednisolone, and a couple liters of oxygen—just one in a series of hospitalizations the youngling has had to endure in his short span on earth.

And I remember the doe staring me down with alarm, straining to see if I held any weapon that might extinguish her life as I sat on another rocker—this one warm and cozy on the porch of a lake house at Tenkiller. To the deer’s relief, I held only a hot mug of black coffee and a large print edition of John Ortberg’s If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. In between paragraphs I’d look up to see what the creature was up to. That summer morning was perfect: quiet, cool, and pregnant with the promise of tubing and cliff jumping post breakfast.

The books we read are like pages in the scrapbook of our minds, jogging memories we thought we had forgotten. Our brains fuse well-written sentences with smells and sounds and emotions not unlike a song and exponentially more than a photograph of an expectant Beyoncé.

And while 1/1 is nothing more than a number, and an arbitrary one at that, the turn of the calendar does something to our brains that causes us to reflect. Therefore it seems apropos to share some of the books I read in 2017.

If you’re reading this blog, I’m guessing you enjoy reading—that or you are my mom. (Hi Mom!) And if you like to read, it follows that you might like books. And if all of those things are true, then you might be interested in knowing which books I read and enjoyed this past year.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, just a list of the books I thought you might enjoy. (All links below are affiliate links which means I get a small cut of the sale if you click on it and buy. I linked to the format in which I read the book if possible.)

You might also check out last year’s post:
What I Read in 2016

Oh! And this year I liked one book so much, I decided to give a copy away! Stay tuned below for the deets.

1. Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God

Of any books on this list, you are most likely to have read Crazy Love due to its great success upon release in 2008.

Going in, I had already heard quite a bit about the book, both good and bad. In fact, everyone seems to have had a strong reaction to it. Either one loved it or else thought Chan was plain, well, crazy. I tried to do my best to keep an open mind as I read it.

Here’s the basic premise: 
In today’s North American church, the average response to God is lukewarm and results in keeping a list of do's and don’ts. But when we recognize the incredible love He has for us, we will live passionately, proactively, and sacrificially.

This quotation from chapter five is a good encapsulation of the book:

“I believe that much of the American churchgoing population, while not specifically swimming downstream, is slowly floating away from Christ. It isn’t a conscious choice, but it is nonetheless happening because little in their lives propels them toward Christ.”1

I enjoyed the book, and I can tell Chan’s heart is in the right place. I do agree with some critics who say that there is not much to latch onto. Chan presents a passionate plea for radical faith, but doesn’t provide much practical advice.

But maybe that’s by design.

It seems Chan’s goal is to allow the Holy Spirit to convict and move the reader to action, rather than dole out a step by step action plan. He does provide moving examples of radical Christians like Rich Mullins and George Mueller which helps paint a picture faithful living.

Despite its limitations, I recommend Crazy Love. Several times while reading I found my own heart convicted and the book left me wondering what more I can do to advance the kingdom. I love Chan’s passion for Christ and his desire to see lives transformed.

Here’s my favorite quotation from the book:

“I believe He wants us to love others so much that we go to extremes to help them. I believe He wants us to be known for giving--of our time, our money, and our abilities--and to start a movement of "giving" churches. In so doing, we can alleviate the suffering in the world and change the reputation of His bride in America."2

2. Fresh Faith: What Happens When Real Faith Ignites God's People

Fresh Faith is a follow-up to Jim Cymbala’s popular book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. Whether fair or not, sequels are always judged against the original, and it seems this book falls short of the standard set by Fresh Wind.

I say “seems” because I have the advantage of never having read the first book, so I was able to approach this one with, um, fresh eyes. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) But in reading a few reviews, the perception I have is that this book is not quite as good as the former.

If that’s true, then I need to read Fresh Wind right away, because I am fond of this book.

Cymbala and his co-author, Dean Merrill, warn us that satan is trying to rob us of our faith because he knows that without it, we cannot please God (Heb. 11:6). The authors define faith like this:

“What is faith? It is total dependence upon God that becomes supernatural in its working.”3

If you don’t buy their description, then you won’t enjoy the rest of the book. Cymbala goes on to tell incredible tales of healing and restoration that, if true, could only occur via the supernatural working of the Spirit. As pastor of The Brooklyn Tabernacle, Cymbala has seen many lives transformed through faith in Jesus.

The authors weave first hand testimonies of God’s power on display in the lives of drug addicts and prostitutes with biblical tales—resulting in a tapestry that depicts the beauty of the Holy Spirit at work in response to the faith of his people.

It might be fair to sum up the entire book with this quotation:

“Real faith is our lifeline to God’s grace and power.”4

3. If God Made the Universe, Who Made God?: 130 Arguments for Christian Faith

If God Made the Universe, Who Made God? is an apologetic tour-de-force written by multiple authors spanning various specialties that addresses 130 questions surrounding the Christian worldview.

The strength of If God Made the Universe lies in its breadth, not depth. The essays’ brevity put me off at first since other apologetic books I have read focus on one subject and plumb its depths until hitting bedrock. This collection of essays on the other hand, is like a shotgun blast of information, covering as wide of an area as possible. This is not to say the subject matters covered are not deep; just don’t expect 130 dissertations.

The book is ambitious in scope ranging from the broad: “What Is a Worldview?” To the specific: “How Does a Christian Converse With a Buddhist?” And even covering issues you probably never thought of such as “Can God’s Actions Be Detected Scientifically?” And “Does the ‘New Physics’ Conflict With Christianity?” And these are just four of the 130 questions posed in this book!

If you’re looking for depth on any one particular subject, this book isn’t for you. But if you’d like a near-exhaustive overview of the Christian worldview, have a crack at this book.

Here are a couple of my favorite quotations:
Postmodernist claims are logically flawed. First, their pronouncements on truth contradict themselves. Their statements claim to be applicable to reality itself, not merely to one's culture. Yet this is just what postmodernists claim cannot be done. In rejecting all objective authority, they end up asserting their own authority and the truth of their own meta-narrative. This is contradictory and false.5
Douglas R. Groothuis 

Whenever a Christian converses with someone of another faith, one must attempt to reveal the hungers of the human heart and how Christ alone addresses them.6
Ravi Zacharias

Note: Holman first printed many of the essays in this book in The Apologetics Study Bible in 2007, so don't buy this book if you own that study Bible.

4. If You Want to Walk on Water You've Got to Get Out of the Boat

You can probably tell what this book is about just by reading the title. In If You Want to Walk on Water, pastor John Ortberg makes the case for bold, faithful living against the backdrop of Peter walking on water. To do amazing things one must put his or her comfort aside in favor of trusting Jesus. Peter was able to step out on that water only because of his faith in Christ. If you and I want to do the same, we must get out of the boat.

Let me come clean: I almost bailed on this book. About a third of the way through Ortberg takes a left turn and begins discussing God’s calling for our lives. In that chapter (chapter 3) the tone and focus of the book seemed to change abruptly. The content is not bad, but I wasn’t expecting a guide to calling in the book.

I’m glad I pushed through. This is the first book of Ortberg’s I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. He writes with humor and geniality while covering serious topics like fear and biblical living. This makes for entertaining reading and enables more people to enjoy the message.

The author is most compelling in his treatise on fear. (This is the chapter I read at the lake house with the doe staring me down. It was mere coincidence that I got on a boat that very day. No, I did not walk on water, but I did get out of the boat.) John demonstrates how fear is the antithesis of faith, and that facing even tiny fears reaps untold benefits. He also writes this, maybe my favorite quotation from the book, "Fear has created more practicing heretics than bad theology ever has, for it makes us live as though we serve a limited, finite, partially present, semi-competent God."7 You can have perfect theological beliefs and yet remain paralyzed by fear.

The entire book could be summed up in the following, "To be a follower of Jesus you must renounce comfort as the ultimate value of your life."8 My prayer is that I refuse to place my comfort above the will of God.

5. The Day I Met Jesus: The Revealing Diaries of Five Women from the Gospels

The Day I Met Jesus is a hybrid of creative narrative and nonfiction brought to you by co-authors Mary DeMuth and Frank Viola. Mary, with her strong background in fiction, writes from the point of view of five women who encountered Jesus at various times during his ministry. After the narrative, the book provides the full Biblical account and some background, teaching, and commentary from Frank.

The five women portrayed in the book are the woman caught in adultery, the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair, the woman at the well, the woman with a flow of blood, and Mary, sister of Martha.

In the introduction, Viola writes, “Most Westerners have heard a diluted version of the gospel.”9 If that’s true, then The The Day I Met Jesus adds some flesh to the bones of the stories with which we’re so familiar. Stories I’ve studied countless times—like Mary and Martha’s interactions with Jesus and the healing of the woman who suffered from bleeding—became fresh in light of the perspective offered by this book.

Mary does a masterful job breathing life into the text while Frank provides background and application you’ve probably never encountered before. Although some details are by necessity manufactured (we don’t know if the woman at the well was unable to bear children, for example), it is apparent this pair did their homework. The book is well-researched, enlightening and entertaining.

If you’d like an interesting glimpse into 1st Century life and desire to see Jesus from a new perspective, this book is for you. I, for one, loved this book, and I plan to read it again.

In fact, I enjoyed this book so much, I’m going to give away a free copy. As I'm obligated to say, no purchase is necessary and this offer is void where prohibited. To enter, you simply need to be subscribed to my email list. Not on the list? Enter your email address below:

EDIT: This contest is now closed. Congrats to Stephanie from Missouri!

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(In addition to your entry into the drawing, you'll also get my Old Testament reading guide for free!)

I'll provide one copy of The Day I Met Jesus in ebook or paperback (if shipping is a viable option in your neck of the woods) to one subscriber drawn at random. I'll leave the contest open for a week and draw a winner on 3/20/18.

Your turn. Read anything amazing this past year?

Happy reading!


1. Francis Chan and Danae Yankoski, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2008), 95.
2. Ibid., 21.
3. Jim Cymbala and Dean Merrill, Fresh Faith: What Happens When Real Faith Ignites God's People (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 16.
4. Ibid., 21.
5. Douglas R. Groothuis, “How Should a Christian Understand Postmodernism?” in If God Made the Universe Who Made God: 130 Arguments for Christian Faith (Nashville: Holman, 2012) Kindle Edition, 10%.
6. Ravi Zacharias, "How Does a Christian Converse with a Buddhist?" in Ibid., 88%.
7. John Ortberg, If You Want to Walk on Water You've Got to Get Out of the Boat (Waterville, ME: Thorndike, 2003), 229.
8. Ibid., 32.
9. Mary DeMuth and Frank Viola, The Day I Met Jesus: The Revealing Diaries of Five Women from the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015) Kindle Edition, 10%.

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