2009 Englewood Honor Books

2009 has been a good year here at the Englewood Review, and as the year draws to a close, it is fitting that we thank God for all those who partnered with us this year: for all the authors who keep writing excellent works and challenging us all, for all the publishers that have worked with us, for all the reviewers who have worked diligently to read, reflect upon and review the books we assign, but most of all for our readers, who keep reading and responding with words of encouragement and support. We have read (or excerpted) almost 250 books this year, most of which have been very good – we try not to waste our time or anyone else’s with bad or even mediocre books – but we offer to you here the best of the best, our honor books for 2009.

It is important to emphasize that our criterion both for selecting books to review and for honoring the year’s best books is to choose books that are “for the life of the Church” – i.e., books that energize us to be the community of God’s people that God has called us to be and that nurture our mission of following in the way of God’s reconciliation of all things (in all its broadness!).

2009 Englewood Book of the Year

David Dark - Sacredness of Questioning Everything

The Sacredness of Questioning Everything.
David Dark.Paperback: Zondervan, April 2009.
Buy now: [
ChristianBook.com ]

Few writers have the capacity that David Dark has, to orchestrate familiar stories from literature and popular culture as part of engaging theological discourse. In his new book The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, David emphasizes that questioning, and more broadly that conversation, is an essential practice in the life of the Church. Certainly, his words rang true to us here at Englewood Christian Church, as conversation has been one of the defining practices of our church community.

“In SACREDNESS, Dark champions the power — and the spiritual necessity — of the open mind. Asking questions of our convictions, assumptions, perversions, religions, is the only way to let the light and air into them. ‘There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in,’ he maintains, using Leonard Cohen’s words. Questioning our God(s), our government, our eschatology, our language or our lusts, opens them to the possibility of rehabilitation, redemption and ultimately resurrection.” (from our review)

Indeed, conversation is fundamental to our identity as the community of God’s people, relating to one another and to God. It is a lost art that must be recovered and Dark skillfully navigates the complexity of life in conversation and we would do well to follow his lead.

2009 Englewood Honor Books

*** Best Poetry Volume ***

Leavings: Poems.
By Wendell Berry.
Hardcover: Counterpoint, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

These new poems enlarge the possibilities of Berry’s vision and work, always clarifying language, interweaving art and work with land and life, and describing glimpses of the Kingdom of God as it is embodied in the Kentucky hills. As Berry writes, “Hope / then to belong to your place by your own knowledge / of what it is that no other place is.”

[ Read our full review… ]

Pluriverse: New and Selected Poems.
Ernesto Cardenal.

Paperback: New Directions, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

These collected poems span 60 years of Cardenal’s writing, considering at various turns the particularities of the Nicaraguan landscape to the complexities of quantum models of the universe. The intricacies of Cardenal’s poems always suggest the wonderful interconnectedness of the whole creation, informed by years as a poet/priest/revolutionary in his native Nicaragua.

[ Read our full review… ]

Shop Class as Soulcraft:
An Inquiry into
the Value of Work.

Matthew Crawford
The Penguin Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Following in the tradition of one of last year’s honor books, Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman, Crawford masterfully forms a case for the importance of manual labor. “It’s the capacity to probe the writings of Iris Murdoch or Martin Heidegger and the workings of a late-model Kawasaki liter-class sport bike that make Crawford so interesting to read.”

[ Read our full review… ]

*** Best Novel ***

Eve: A Novel of the First Woman.
Elissa Elliott.
Delacorte, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Although we admittedly don’t review a lot of fiction, we are slowly increasing the number of novels we do review. Elissa Eliott’s poignant debut novel Eve, enthralled us like no other novel this year. “Following in the footsteps of Buechner and those of writers like Flannery O’Connor, Nikos Kazantzakis and Walker Percy, Elliott creates a world of deep and twisted brokenness, and yet one that is saturated with an even deeper hope.”

[ Read our full review… ]

*** Best Biography ***

Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor.
Brad Gooch.

Little, Brown & Co., 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Brad Gooch has offered a gem of a book in his deeply-researched biography of one of our favorite writers, Flannery O’Connor.

[ Read our full review… ]

Empire of Illusion:
The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

Chris Hedges.

Hardback: Nation Books, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Hedges takes our present shadow politics, economics, and entertainment industries and holds them up in the light to suggest that mostly we have been captivated by illusions, stuck back in Plato’s cave. World Wrestling Entertainment, the $10 billion US porn industry, our “permanent war economy,” and “participatory fascism” are indicting critiques of the American brand of Empire, based largely on illusion, and Hedges exposes these caricatures for what they are.

[ Read our full review… ]

Green Metropolis:
Why Living Smaller, Living Closer,
and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability
David Owen.

Hardback: Riverhead, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

An important revision of ‘green’ technologies and sustainability, which offers an apologetics for dense urban places as the ‘greenest’ places we have. Building on Jane Jacobs’ descriptions of population density and diversity, Owens re-narrates conversations about urban sustainability, positing New York City as “the greenest city in the United States.”

[ Read our full review… ]

Contentment in An Age of Excess

Will Samson.

Paperback: David C. Cook, 2009.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

After the economic crashes last year, 2009 offered us the opportunity to reflect on the consumerism that led us into this economic mess, and no book spoke more lucidly on the problem of consumerism in our churches than Will Samson’s Enough.

[ Read our full review… ]

[ Interview with Will ]

A Conservationist Manifesto.
Scott Russell Sanders.
Indiana Univ. Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

A Conservationist Manifesto is a rich book and like a rich wine or rich dessert, it is meant to be savored. Sanders sees beyond the mass destruction of consumerism and prophetically calls us to the redemptive work of conserving creation and connecting deeply with our neighbors and the places in which we live.”

[ Read our full review… ]

*** Best Theology Book ***

Desiring The Kingdom:
Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation

James K.A. Smith.
Vol. 1- Cultural Liturgies Series
Paperback: Baker Academic, 2009.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

We are all motivated by some vision of “the kingdom,” and our desires of it largely motivate how we understand and inhabit the world; Smith describes formative rituals, practices, and liturgies from the mall to the Eucharist, showing all cultural institutions as some form of liturgy, and enlarging the language of liturgy to encompass the immanence of the kingdom of God.

[ Read our full review… ]

Wendell Berry and Religion:
Heaven’s Earthly Life
Edited by Joel James Shuman and L. Roger Owens.

Hardback: University Press of Kentucky, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Certainly, any book about Wendell Berry and Christianity is bound to attract our attention, but our imaginations were ignited by this book’s broad vision of the applicability of Berry’s work to Christian Social Ethics.

[ Read our full review… ]

God’s Economy:
Redefining the Health and Wealth Gospel

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.
Paperback: Zondervan, 2009.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

For the second year in a row, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove has written a book that landed on our list of best books. Few books have celebrated God’s abundant provision and our call to generosity as eloquently and as compellingly as God’s Economy.

[ Read our full review… ]

[ Read a 28 page excerpt… ]

Runners Up

Although the following books did not quite make the cut to be included among the best of the year’s books, they are excellent books and deserve to be read. Hence, we recognize them here as our runners-up.

Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness.

Lyanda Lynn Haupt

[ Our Review ]

Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith.

Shane Hipps

[ Our Review ]

God, Philosophy, Universities.

Alasdair Macintyre

[ Our Review ]

Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation With the Gay Community.

Andrew Marin

[ Our Review ]

Most Significant Theological Works

Although all the books we review are theological books (or at least are reviewed from a theological perspective), the following books are the most significant ones that we have encountered this year for theology in the more traditional sense. We imagine that they all will have an impact on theological discourse over the coming years.

Around the Monastic Table

Aquinata Böckmann

[ Read Our Review ]

An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible

Walter Brueggemann

[ Review coming… ]

Christ, History And Apocalyptic

Nathan Kerr

[ Read Our Review ]

Desiring the Kingdom

James K. A. Smith

[ Read Our Review ]

Christian Attitudes to War, Peace, and Revolution

John Howard Yoder

[ Read Our Review ]

400th Anniversary of NYC

2009 saw the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s initial explorations of what we know today as Manhattan. We didn’t intentionally recognize this anniversary, but we did review a rather large number of books (seven, and also a movie) related to New York City. For some readers, who know that we are based in Indianapolis, this emphasis on New York might seem a bit odd. However, New York is the quintessential North American city and as such, frequently becomes the subject of reflection on urban life and renewal, a theme that is very important to us here at the Englewood Review. So, in honor of New York’s 400th, we’ve assembled here all the New York related reviews that we did in 2009…

Restorative Commons

Campbell/ Wiesen, eds.

[ Our Review ]

Get a Free Copy
of this Book…

Wrestling with Moses

Anthony Flint

[ Our Review ]

A Journey of Faith, Art and Culture

Makoto Fujimura

[ Our Review ]

The Once and Future New York.

Randall Mason

[ Our Review ]

Green Metropolis

David Owen.

[ Our Review ]


Eric Sanderson.

[ Our Review ]

The Curious Garden.

Peter Brown.

[ Our Review ]

The BQE.

Sufjan Stevens.

[ Our Review ]

Best Series
(with Multiple Volumes issued in 2009)

In this category we have a tie; there were two series that repeatedly amazed us with each subsequent volume: The Ancient Practices Series from Thomas Nelson (4 volumes released in 2009) and The Resources for Reconciliation Series from IVP and The Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School (2 volumes released in 2009, and one in late 2008 that we reviewed in early 2009). Both of these series address vital topics and are written for broad audiences within the Church. You need to be familiar with both these series and watch for forthcoming volumes in 2010 and beyond (which we intend to review).

Ancient Practices Series (Thomas Nelson):


Dan Allender

[ Our Review ]


Scot McKnight.

[ Our Review ]

[ Interview ]

The Sacred Meal.

Nora Gallagaher.

[ Our Review ]

The Liturgical Year.

Joan Chittister

[ Our Review ]

Resources for Reconciliation (IVP):

Living Gently in A Violent World

Stanley Hauerwas/ Jean Vanier.

[ Our Review ]

Reconciling All Things.

Emmanuel Katongole / Chris Rice.

[ Our Review ]

Welcoming Justice.

Charles Marsh / John Perkins.

[Review Coming]

Best Children’s Book

The Curious Garden.
Written and Illustrated by Peter Brown.

Hardback: Little, Brown, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

We don’t review a lot of children’s books here in the Englewood Review, but sometimes a book targeted for children captures our imaginations and we can’t help but tell others about it. Such was the case with Peter Brown’s The Curious Garden. With a lovely story that features themes of urban renewal and agriculture, this delightful book is not only the best children’s book we discovered in 2009, it is also in our minds the best children’s book in recent memory.

[ Read Our Review ]

Best Book From a Previous Year

Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture:
An Agrarian Reading of the Bible

Ellen F. Davis.
Paperback: Cambridge UP, 2008.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Usually we try to review books that are within 6 months of publication, but occasionally a book will be so good that we make an exception and run a review. The most notable of these exceptions in 2009 was Ellen Davis Page’s Scripture, Culture and Agriculture. We had tried, to no avail, to get a review copy when it first came out last year, so we jumped at the opportunity, when our friend Stan Wilson offered to review it for us. Scripture, Culture and Agriculture is a book so good that it simply cannot slip through the cracks; we hope that it gets read, re-read and reflected upon in 2009, 2010 and years to come!

[ Read Our Review ]

Conversation Starter Award

Deep Church: A Third Way
Beyond Emerging and Traditional
Jim Belcher.
Paperback: IVP Books, 2009.
Buy now: [
ChristianBook.com ]

The most discussed review on our site in 2009, was by far Chris Smith’s review of Jim Belcher’s book Deep Church. Not only did the author provide a gracious response, but this review also briefly set the blogosphere abuzz, including plugs from Book Forum, Scot McKnight, David Fitch, Jordon Cooper and Jason Evans. We have our share of disagreements with the author, but we certainly appreciate his careful and thoughtful work in Deep Church, and the book’s capacity to spark meaningful and needed conversations.

[ Read Our Review ]

Reviews Recognized by BookForum

And finally, five of our reviews (and one interview) were given the distinct honor of being mentioned on the blog of Book Forum, one of the most renowned book review publications in the US. This blog is probably the best online resource for book news and reviews; it is essential reading for any serious bibliophile! Our 2009 reviews (and interview) recognized by BookForum were:

These new poems enlarge the possibilities of Berry’s vision and work, always clarifying language, interweaving art and work with land and life, and describing glimpses of the Kingdom of God as it embodied in the Kentucky hills. As Berry writes, “Hope / then to belong to your place by your own knowledge / of what it is that no other place is.”
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior

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