The Top Ten Books I Read In 2023

Of all the books I read in 2023, there were 20 that stood out for one reason or another. Here are the top ten.

Reading has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember.

From books of theology, to history, science, biography and politics, to all kinds of fiction, if it’s written well, I want to read it.

Great Books

As we come into 2024, I’m offering two lists of my favorite books of 2023, with ten books in each list that meet three criteria:

  1. They taught me (nonfiction) or made me feel something (fiction)
  2. They were very well written
  3. They stuck with me after I read them

The ones in this article are in my top ten. The first one is my Book of the Year. The rest are in no particular order.

(Click here to read my previous article on books 11-20.)


The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire

by Alan Kreider

This is a long, challenging read, but it’s well worth it.

Kreider takes a deep, scholarly look at how the church grew so fast, and against all odds in its first few centuries. In this thorough journey through ancient church writings, he uncovers so many surprising, but important facts about how the early church behaved as they followed the way of Jesus in the middle of a hostile empire.

It can serve as a guide for our current moment, nudging us toward better responses to today’s crises, both in and outside the church.

The Weary Leader’s Guide to Burnout: A Journey from Exhaustion to Wholeness

by Sean Nemecek

Even though this book came out in 2023, I had the chance read an advance copy in 2022, so I’ve been waiting a while to include it in this list. Nemecek comes from a pastoral standpoint as he walks us through the causes and cures to the pastoral burnout epidemic, including:

  • What is burnout, and why does it seem to be on the rise, lately?
  • How do I know if what I’m struggling with is burnout?
  • How do I take steps to recover from burnout?
  • How do I protect myself from future burnout?

Check out my interview with the author on The Church Lobby podcast: Dealing With Burnout In Ministry, with Sean Nemecek (Ep 045)

The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going

by Ryan P. Burge

This book, along with The Great Dechurching (see the next review) may be the best I’ve read about the state of the church since John S. Dickerson’s The Great Evangelical Recession, in 2013.

Burge is a no-nonsense researcher who isn’t afraid to show us the problems, but he speaks with real hopefulness.

I’ll be interviewing the author soon, for an upcoming episode of The Church Lobby. (One of the great joys of hosting a podcast, that you get to talk to the authors of books you love so much.)

The Great Dechurching: Who’s Leaving, Why Are They Going, and What Will It Take to Bring Them Back?

by Jim Davis & Michael Graham, with Ryan Burge

This picks up where The Nones leaves off in describing what the authors call “the largest and fastest religious shift in US history.” The stats are stunning, but their answers are worth considering.

The Promise

by Chaim Potock

Potok writes with candor, compassion, and clarity about the insular world of orthodox Jews in post-WWII Brooklyn. His novels reveal so much about how we view tradition, religion, family, and creativity.

Last year, I recommended Chaim Potok’s My Name Is Asher Lev. This year I read The Promise, which is the sequel to Potok’s most well-known book, The Chosen. I was well into this book before realizing it was a sequel. No mind. It stands on its own.

This year I plan to read its prequel and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in my best-of for 2024.

The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook

by Niall Ferguson

Networks are nothing new. They’ve been around far longer than the internet age. In fact, as Ferguson aptly argues, networks (the square) are such a natural part of the way people relate to each other that kings, conquerors, and politicians who desire top-down structures of power (the tower) are no match for the relentless advance of people united around a common cause.

This books tells us so much about religion, relationships, politics, and power.

Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s

by John Elder Robison

If you have, or live with someone with Asperger’s, this book is a must-read. Robison uses candor and a great deal of humor to describe what it was like living with Asperger’s while living in a home with a brother who is also on the spectrum.

Plus, as an added bonus for music fans, he walks us through the unlikely story of how he used his Asperger-inspired skills to become a roadie for the glam-rock band, KISS, creating many of their onstage pyrotechnics, including exploding guitars. (Yeah, I know, just what you were expecting from a pastor’s blog, right?)

The Other Half of Church: Christian Community, Brain Science, and Overcoming Spiritual Stagnation

by Jim Wilder and Michel Hendricks

I’m fascinated with neuroscience. The brain is the last frontier of medical science, and it’s amazing to see how God designed this multi-faceted organ that makes us who we are.

Michel Hendricks is a spiritual formation pastor. Jim Wilder is a neurotheologian (yes, that’s a thing). Together, they discovered that most churches are missing something huge in the way we teach and worship—that we’re only appealing to one half of the brain God gave us. Then they explore the huge upsides of tapping into everything that makes us who were are.

American Dirt: A Novel

by Jeanine Cummins

This book has been called The Grapes of Wrath for our age. While I don’t believe it reaches those lofty literary heights, Cummins does deal with many of the same themes, and does so with passion and skill as a family undergoes the harrowing journey, not from the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, but from gangs and cartels in Mexico today.

All My Knotted-Up Life: A Memoir

by Beth Moore

This is the most highly-recommended memoir that I read this year. If you’re curious about how Beth Moore became one of the world’s most popular Bible teachers, and why she’s become so outspoken and controversial lately, this will fill in the blanks for you.

I especially recommend the audiobook, where the author’s voice really (and literally) comes through.

What Did You Read This Year?

Did you read any of these?

Did you read any other books you loved?

Let me know on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Also, check out these articles to enhance your own reading journey.

(Disclosure: I will receive a small percent of the purchase price of any books you buy through clicking the Amazon links in the article.)


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