Max Lucado's book The Great House of God will likely end the year as the top-selling Christian book of 1997 (though the Christian Booksellers Association won't release final figures until early 1998). And it's fine as a devotional book, with solid theology and sound conclusions. But it neither attempts nor achieves anything outstanding.
The Great House of God is essentially an extended topical sermon, combining anecdotes with Scripture verses to make an extended metaphor, using the image of a house to portray God's providence. "When your car is stuck in traffic, you can step into the chapel. When the gust of temptation unbalances your stride, step behind the wall of his strength. When the employees belittle you, take a seat in the porch swing next to your Father; he'll comfort you. Remember, this is no house of stone. You won't find it on a map. You won't find it described in a realtor journal. But you will find it in your Bible."
More noteworthy this year was Garrett W. Sheldon's reworking of his grandfather's 1896 classic, In His Steps. I think Charles Sheldon would be pleased.
What Would Jesus Do? updates the story of a congregation that commits to spend a year consciously doing what the members believe Jesus would do. A television station manager drops an Oprah-like tabloid talk show; a convenience-store owner stops selling pornography, hard liquor, and tobacco; and the church opens a mission to the homeless.
The mission subplot is the weakest in the tale; it has the believability of a holiday television special. Street people are lured in with the promise of a hot meal, and they're entranced with the singing of church member Rachel Wingate. More believable are the relationships between husbands and wives when one is more committed to "the pledge" than the other is.
Of Barbara Johnson's Living Somewhere Between Estrogen and Death, I can say little. This other topseller for 1997 is a book for women, and it says so on the cover. At my own peril, however, I opened it and began reading. But by page 13, where Mrs. Johnson gently but firmly points men to the exit, I was ready to go. I had already read anecdotes about menopause, false teeth, and a visit to the gynecologist. And I'm going to have to ask my wife what Mrs. Johnson means when she says, "Men are like parking spaces.... the best ones are already taken, and the others are handicapped or the meter is running out."
My pick for the worst book of the year is The Lost History of the Canine Race, by Mary Elizabeth Thurston. Some people took these 300 pages of silliness seriously; it was a Book of the Month Club selection. In it, Ms. Thurston discovers a new class of victims (that's becoming harder and harder to do): dogs. This PC tome on pooches outlines the long subjugation dogs have suffered at the hands of Man. Or rather, men. One of her subthemes is that women have consistently shown kindness to dogs, in contrast to the cruel treatment by men.
She immortalizes doggy heroes such as the one who accompanied St. Roch, a French monk who brought comfort to plague victims (she doesn't mention that St. Roch's dog very likely helped spread the disease during the monk's travels). The author concludes her work (presumably with a straight face) by lauding dogs' "participation in the continuing spiritual evolution of humanity."