The Best Books I Read in 2023

Books on a shelf
Photo by Tom Hermans on Unsplash

It’s that time of year again. People are looking back over 2023 and noting lessons learned and experiences enjoyed that will hopefully make 2024 a great year. Each year I try to look back and notice some of the things that I’ve read that have shaped me and helped me to be a better person and ultimately more faithful to Jesus. The Bible is the primary source given to us from God to help us be transformed more into the image of Jesus, but we are also helped along by other books and thinkers who help refine us in other ways. I read just shy of 50 books this year and here are my favorites in no particular order. 

Humility: The Joy of Self-Forgetfulness by Gavin Ortlund

Gavin’s book on humility is a short but necessary read. He talks about our struggle with properly defining humility and why we need a healthy definition of humilitly. He demonstrates how the gospel fuels humility and includes a helpful section on how to kill pride in your life. Parts of this book are specifically aimed at those in ministry, but since pride is an issue for us all in various ways, everyone can benefit from reading this book. Gavin writes to both the head and the heart and challenges readers to see themselves as God does: we’re special and important, but not better than anyone else and that’s perfectly fine. 

Timothy Keller: His Spiritual and Intellectual Formation by Collin Hansen

Tim Keller passed away in May of 2023, but this book was in the works long before then. A few years ago, Keller was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he agreed to allow Collin Hansen, his friend and colleague, to write a biography on him. This is not a typical biography. It’s really not so much about Keller as it traces the professors, teachers, books, and thinkers that shaped Tim Keller. Keller was a gifted communicator, but he was not afraid to let people know how others influenced him. This book is interesting but also a helpful reminder that we are all being shaped by who we listen to, what we read, and the people in our lives. Keller was wise enough to read widely, collect material, share with others, and cite his sources. This book will give you a window into his life and also help you to ask yourself if something similar was written about you, what books, people, and events would be included? 

Low Anthropology: The Unlikely  Key to a Gracious View of Others by David Zahl

This book’s title probably sounds a lot more technical than it really is.  Zahl encourages readers to get rid of their overly high expectations for people and remember that we are all only human. He does not suggest we lower the bar and live recklessly, but instead that we allow our knowledge of human weakness, especially our own, to cause us to be sympathetic and understanding toward others. His book is a reminder that we do not know everything about what other people are dealing with and so we should always lead with mercy because we need the same thing. 

Forgive: Why Should I and How Can I? by Timothy J. Keller

This is probably the best book I’ve read by Tim Keller. He discusses what the Bible teaches about forgiveness in both the Old and New Testament and why we need those lessons more than we’ve ever needed them before. He answers questions about whether people need to repent before they’re forgiven and what does forgiveness look like in daily life. He discusses how to forgive without opening yourself up to being gullible and abused but undergirding all of our thinking on forgiveness with the reality of how much we’ve been forgiven by God. 

The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel

I forget who recommended this book to me but I’m glad they did. Housel does not write about money from a religious perspective, but he does give investment advice and a way of looking at money that is healthy. He says not everyone has the same amount or wants to do the same things with their money so beware of looking to others as a guide who may be playing a different game than you. Housel has done well for himself financially, but the strength of this book is its encouragement to not make money your everything, to continue learning how to use money wisely, and to focus on what you have and avoid comparison with others. 

Before You Share Your Faith by Matt Smethurst

Evangelism is important. Jesus told his disciples to take the gospel into all the world (Matt. 28:19-20; Mk. 16:15). But when it comes to evangelism there is often preparation that needs to take place before we ever open our mouths. This short book (barely over 100 pages) challenges Christians to love their neighbors first, know the gospel well, overcome fear, know their cultural context, face their fears, and start to speak. Smethurst fills his book with practical illustrations, but also simple language that makes it a simple but challenging read. 

Devotions on the Greek New Testament edited by J. Scott Duvall and Verlyn D. Verbrugge

I’m always trying to improve my reading ability and knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. I read the Hebrew counterpart to this book a few years ago and began slowly working through this one. Various authors take a verse from each New Testament book and work through it in Greek then provide a translation and analysis of the verse. Most of the discussions are limited to a page or two, and while they do sometimes delve into deeper issues of syntax, they show the beauty and blessing of reading the Bible in the original languages. This book helped me see the profit of reading the Bible in the original languages but also the blessing of taking the gems learned from Greek and communicating them to people in English. 

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

This is a memoir written by a New Testament Professor at Wheaton College. It’s about how life was growing up as a black boy in Alabama and all the people who helped him become who he is today. McCaulley writes about his father being in and out of his life and his learning to deal with that without hating his father. He writes about learning to love his dad for who he was and being proud of where he came from even with all of the bruises and battle scars gained along the way. 

Us Against You (Beartown #2) by Fredrik Backman

Backman is my favorite fiction author. This is the second book in a trilogy of books about a small town, a hockey team, and the lives that are intertwined as tragedy strikes and people make foolish decisions. Backman’s writing is great because he knows how to draw readers in, but also his use of language and crafting of sentences makes him a joy to read. Us Against You has several plots running through it but the major one reminds us that sometimes, as we live our lives, we get an idea of who the villains are, but we can forget that sometimes we are the villains too. 

Theology as a Way of Life: On Teaching and Learning the Christian Faith by Adam Neder

This book is written for professors but is also helpful for preachers or Bible class teachers. Neder is writing about how we can become better and more effective teachers. He teaches you as you read to learn how to challenge your students, but also help them along to reach the standards you’ve set. Sometimes our standards are too low in the church and sometimes that is because we don’t know how to help people step up. Theology as a Way of Life helps the teacher be more than a disseminator of information and reminds us that Christian teaching is not about simply sharing information but is about shaping souls. 

Hopefully something in this list will be helpful to you as you think of reading in 2024. While I do not agree with everything in any of these books, the point of reading is not to dialogue with people who see everything the way you do. We read to be transformed, change, and learn from others we would not otherwise listen to. Read widely, read well, and remember to always read Scripture first and often!

2023 Best Books Honorable Mentions:

Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture by Graeme Goldsworthy

15 New Testament Words of Life: A New Testament Theology of Real Life by Nijay K. Gupta

Impossible Christianity by Kevin DeYoung

Advances in the Study of Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic: New Insights for Reading the Old Testament by Benjamin J. Noonan

A Collection of Blessings by Helen Steiner Rice

King: A Life by Jonathan Eig 

*The links to books above are affiliate links

Hiram Kemp

Hiram is a graduate of the Florida School of Preaching, Freed-Hardeman University, and is working on his Ph.D. from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He currently serves as one of the ministers at the Lehman Avenue church of Christ in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He and his wife Brittani have two children, Nadia and Andre.

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