I read 32 books in 2011 (see them all – with reviews – here).  Here are my favorite five (these weren’t necessarily published in 2011… that’s just when I happened to read them):

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters, by Tim Keller (Dutton, 2009). The human heart is an idol factory, argues Keller (invoking Calvin). Often times idols are truly good things that we seek to fashion into god-things. Interlacing biblical stories and contemporary culture with stinging insight, Keller unpacks the power of idols such as money, sex, and power in our society and our personal lives. He masterfully draws us back to the gospel, however, demonstrating how only Christ can truly fulfill these deepest longings. Keller’s examination of idolatry also includes a short comparison of “surface idols” and “deep idols” – a three page (pp. 64-66) summary that alone is worth the price of admission. A great read on several levels. My Grade: A+

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins (Harper Collins, 2001). Good is the enemy of great.  Great organizations are not characterized by charismatic leaders, product trends, or media hype.  Rather, great organizations are doggedly disciplined around what Collins terms a “hedgehog concept” – the singular intersection of what an organization is passionate about, what an organization can be best in the world at, and the economic engine of an organization.  Once an organization understands its “hedgehog concept,” greatness means discipline: disciplined leadership making disciplined decisions in the context of its “hedgehog concept” – resulting in a disciplined culture.  This sort of determination isn’t the result of training, but of recruiting.  The “who” of an organization must take priority over its “what” – or as Collins says “who first, then what.”  Good to Great is an engaging and thoroughly interesting read. Although the research is in the context of the business world, it is readily applicable both individually and in other organizational contexts.  My Grade: A+  [Also if you’re in the non-profit world, be sure to check out the follow-up monograph Good to Great and the Social Sectors.]

The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, by Scot McKnight (Zondervan, 2011).  Defining the gospel has become a battleground between warring theologies. Is the gospel primarily about justification by faith, the kingdom of God, or the restoration of all things?  McKnight’s offering here is an important (game changing?) contribution to the discussion. McKnight begins at First Corinthians 15 and fleshes out the contours of the gospel: The story of Israel (shorthand for God’s self-revelation throughout the OT) brought to completion in the story of Jesus.  This is the gospel that Paul preached, and Peter (McKnight walks us through their “gospeling” in Acts).  In fact, this is the gospel that Jesus preached: Himself – and ultimately His own death and resurrection – as the fulfillment of God’s work in Israel.  McKnight calls to repentance the contemporary church, which often sees the gospel only in terms of salvation (four spiritual laws).  This truncates a rightful understanding of God’s work in history.  McKnight’s contribution to the gospel debate is a must-read.  My Grade: A+

Don’t Waste Your Life, by John Piper (Crossway, 2003). “Don’t Waste Your Life” is a manifesto for gospel-centered living. Piper clearly and passionately explains the basis for Christian joy: the glory of God. When one lives for God’s glory, he or she finds life’s deepest joy and purpose. Piper unpacks this profound truth in relationship to suffering, vocation, risk, mission, and much more. Piper offers an invaluable service to the church: understanding the glory of God in light of the cross – the “blazing center of the glory of God” – as it informs one’s daily life as followers of Jesus. Very helpful. My Grade: A+

Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels, by Tullian Tchividjian (Crossway, 2010).   Pastor Tullian moves artfully through the book of Jonah, pointing out gospel landmarks and Jesus-sightings along the way.  Surprised by Grace is moving and powerful as it reminds us that it’s grace all the way down – God’s unthinkable grace to Jonah; His scandalous grace to the Ninevehites; God’s amazing grace to you and me;  His immeasurable grace both to reckless rule-breakers and legalistic rule-makers.  Wherever we are, we are people in need of God’s grace!   A heart-stirring reminder that we are all in need of the gospel.  My grade: A

Honorable Mentions:

King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus, Timothy Keller (Dutton 2011).

The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of the Leaderless Organization, Brafman and Beckstrom (Portfolio 2008).

Leaders Who Last, David Kraft (Crossway 2010).

Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Companies Thrive Despite Them All, by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen (Harper 2011).

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, by David Platt (Multnomah 2010).

What about you?  What was your favorite book last year?  Any books that you’ll looking forward to reading in 2012?

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