What I Have Read in 2016
Recently Pastor Jason encouraged me to write a blog post highlighting what I've read in 2016. In one of our recent "Elder's Roundtable" discussions, the four of us shared some of our thoughts on reading and highlighted some of our own personal practices. You can find that discussion here. As a young Christian in my early 20's the Holy Spirit created in me an appetite to read. Really the Spirit created in my mind a curiosity about many things in His world. With that curiosity came the desire to obtain more information - that's where the love of reading comes in. Prior to my conversion I wasn't much of a reader and therefore wasn't much of a student. When I was born-again the Lord made me curious about Him and the world He created. Additionally as a pastor I'm constantly reading books for my own edification and for the edification of the people I've been charged to shepherd.
Below is a list of books I've read in 2016. To be clear, this is not a list of books that I would necessarily recommend to everyone, or to anyone for that matter. I do think that you would benefit from many of these, or portions of them. Pastor Jason thought that providing some insight into not only what I've read, but why I've read these could possibly be helpful for the church. It's for that reason, to be a help to the church, that I think I should follow his advice. So, here you go...
1. The Religious Beliefs of America's Founders
Frazer does something in this book that many Christians refuse to do. He examines some of our Founding Fathers complete statements and beliefs about God and Christianity. In our day, somebody can make a brief statement about God and we want to usher them right into the kingdom of God. "This man says that a nation should be governed under God. See, he must be a Christian." However, one should also be asking - which God are they referring to? Did they believe the basic non-negotiables of the Christian faith? Frazer examines these questions in his book. If you want to continue believing that all of the Founders were Christians because that makes you feel better, then you can. But if you'd like a truthful assessment of their beliefs based on their own words, then this book is for you.
2. Raising a Modern Day Knight
This book seeks to help fathers in their task of raising sons. He uses phraseology and methods based on the culture of knighthood. I like much about this book. I like his emphasis on children learning from responsible adults. I believe the church is an organization ordained by God that helps a family raise children by allowing them to influenced by other godly people who have gifts that differ from the parents. I also commend the aim of teaching boys to be men from an early age. The author describes some of the ceremonies that he and his friends walked their boys through in order to reward their growth and maturity. Books like this are most helpful in their general aims. Readers can quickly make a book like this a cause for legalism, and assume that everybody should raise boys with these types of ceremonies and in these exact ways - beware of that.
3. Justification and Regeneration
When a person becomes a Christian they are changed. Today many people want to call people Christians who do not display an understanding of repentance and where conversion seems optional. Jesus was clear about these realities in the Gospel of John. For these reasons I decided to read this book.
4. Charles Hodge: Guardian of American Orthodoxy
I loved this biography about Hodge, professor and one of the presidents of Princeton Seminary. Hodge's commitment to sound doctrine, training men, and caring for his wife and children made this a page-turner for me.
5. This Momentary Marriage
I read this because God connects marriage and the gospel. I read this because I love my wife and want to care for her well. I read this because Piper is such a deep thinker about Scripture. I read this and was not disappointed.
6. The Pastor Theologian
Pastors today are expected to be CEO's, entrepreneurs, jacks of all trades, in addition to meeting a number of other expectations that vary depending on the individual you ask. One area that people don't seem to care about is whether their pastor is a theologian. I loved this book's reminder to me to be this sort of theologian for my dear people. While my organizational skills may help our local church in some way, my ability to point people to an accurate understanding of God, revealed in His Word, is the best way for me to serve the church.
7. A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons
I read this because I want to grow as a preacher. Broadus is a giant in Baptist history and wrote a treatise on preaching. I did a lot of underlining in this one.
8. The Christian's Great Interest
I try to read a few Puritan works each year. This one is the only book Guthrie ever wrote. It's a book about examining one's walk with Christ. John Owen said of Guthrie, "That author I take to have been one of the greatest divines that ever wrote." Thomas Chalmers said that it was "the best book I ever read."
9. The Speechwriter
Barton Swaim writes about his time as a speechwriter for an elected official. As one who enjoys politics, and how to craft a message, I enjoyed this book.
10. The Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe
I read this to our family at night before bed. I was often interrupted by lots of questions and had to define some words, but we loved it. We celebrated by watching the movie afterward.
11. What About Free Will?
This is the best work I've seen on "compatibalism". If you don't know what that means - read the book. The doctrine of election, which I unapologetically and exultingly hold to, is one that many people don't understand or falsely misrepresent. Yes God chooses people for salvation. Yes people exercise their wills in salvation. The latter is because of the former. This book forces you to think deeply about what God's Word says about these realities. If you put in the work to read this book thoughtfully, I trust you will reap the rewards.
12. The Peacemaking Pastor
We read this as an elder team. All churches deal with conflict. Many people are looking for a church where there isn't conflict. They might as well keep looking - it doesn't exist on earth. What Christians should prize is a church where leaders are committed to shepherding people toward true biblical conflict resolution. I like to say, "all conflict is opportunity". We believe that the Scriptures prize peacemaking in marriages, in the church, and in all relationships. Our elder team was greatly helped by the truths that we read. I'm sure we'll be going back to many of these truths until we go to Heaven.
13. The Weight of Glory
I know a lot of people love C.S. Lewis. I'll be honest, he's not my favorite. (That sound you here is my credibility going out the window with Christian hipsters.) It's not that I don't like him (see our families enjoyment of the Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe). I just don't seem to be as helped by him as others have been. I underlined a number of things that were helpful to me. It just seems that I got more out of the first part of the book than the second part.
14. Church Planting is for Wimps
From the beginning I preferred to think of myself as a pastor rather than a church-planter. I know being a church-planter is cool and all, but I believe that the best way to plant a church is to prize the things that the Bible calls a pastor to do. Some tasks of a church-planter can tempt a pastor to focus too much of his time on non-essentials of ministry. But because I guess we are church-planters I had to read this book. It was helpful. I'm glad I read it.
15. Life Together
Bonhoeffer's excellent book on fellowship. I wish that everybody in our church would read this to see how we can each better adhere to the Bible's definition of fellowship. I have to include this quote. ""Innumerable times a whole community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves. By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both. A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial."
16. The Gospel-Centered Parent
Our small group is currently going through this book. I read it in preparation for our time together. I'm grateful for this book's ministry to my own soul. The chapters on repenting to your children, praying for your children, and engaging them in gospel work were my favorites. I highly recommend this easy read to parents.
17. Unveiling Grace
I read this early in the mornings of our vacation to La Jolla. Maybe it was the fact that I was reading it while the Pacific Ocean waves crashed across the street, but I loved this book. I know that the real reason I loved it was because it told of the conversion of an entire family to Christianity out of Mormonism. I learned a lot about how Mormons think and why they fall short of the great joy that we have as believers in the person and work of Christ.
18. Ethics for a Brave New World
I read this in seminary and reread the chapters on Abortion in preparation for last fall's State of the Union series. Feinberg does a great job of explaining what the debate about abortion is about. Not that I needed any help, but I came away from these chapters hating abortion all the more. May God change hearts and give grace to mothers, fathers, and children!
19. The Vine Project
"The Vine Project" was recommended at this year's Together for the Gospel Conference. Pastor Jason and I heard an interview about this book and it sounded great. It is somewhat of a sequel to "Trellis and the Vine" by the same authors. "Trellis" is one of my favorite books about the life of the church. I enjoyed this book as well. The purpose of these two books is to communicate what a disciple-making culture can look like in the life of a local church.
20. My Heart for Thy Cause
Another preaching book. This one is on the life and ministry of Albert Martin. I found it helpful. My favorite preaching book is still "Preachers and Preaching" by Martyn Lloyd-Jones...just for the record.
21. Finally Free by Lambert
Since pornography is so easily accessible in our culture. And since men in the church can fall into the sin of sexual impurity this book is a must read (and I don't throw that term around lightly). I have worked through this book with a young man before and it was extremely helpful. This is the best book I've read on the topic. It's not only a book about overcoming sexual temptation, but the principles of sanctification that it lays out are really applicable for any sin. I highly recommend this book. Heath Lambert is the President of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.
22. Communion with God
I praise the Lord for this work. John Owen isn't the easiest to read. But if you put in the effort and read this slowly, the reward will come. Owen highlights the importance of enjoying communion with all three persons of the Trinity. I especially loved his section on the love of the Father. I can't remember if this quote was in this version of the book, but here is an excerpt of Owen on this topic. "Sometimes a man's communion and converse is with the one, sometimes with the other; sometimes with the Father, then with the Son, and then with the Holy Ghost; sometimes his heart is drawn out to consider the Father's love in choosing, and then the love of Christ in redeeming, and so again the love of the Holy Ghost, that searcheth the deep things of God, and revealeth them to us, and taketh all the pains with us; and so a man goes from one witness to another distinctly...We should never be satisfied till all three persons lie level in us, and all make their abode with us, and we sit as it were in the midst of them, while they all manifest their love unto us."
23. Destiny and Power
I love biographies. I love politics. This Meacham bio on George H.W. Bush was tremendous.
24. Prince Caspian
2nd book in Lewis' series. Again, we read this as a family. We enjoyed it, but not as much as Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe.
25. Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion?
Definitely one of my favorite reads this year. Something about the question, "How do I know God's will for my life?" has always rubbed me the wrong way. I just couldn't figure out why. In my opinion, this book is extremely helpful for two main reasons. First, it causes us to think about whether that question is a good question to be asking. Second, Waltke does a fantastic job of explaining what true biblical decision-making looks like. I loved this book. I'd recommend it to any Christian, but especially young people who are in the season of life where they make huge decisions in a relatively short amount of time (college, major, career, marriage). This book will help take some of the self-centeredness away from your approach to life and hopefully replace it with a God-centeredness.
26. Fallen: A Theology of Sin
This is a theological work where a number of authors examine sin from different angles. Sin is the greatest problem in the world. We do well to understand it. Consider this quote from Doug Moo on Paul's theology of sin. "Paul does not say that all people 'commit sins,' as if doing things contrary to God's will was just an occasional problem. Nor does he even say that all people are 'sinners' - suggesting that sin is a pervasive problem. Rather, he says that all people are 'under the power of sin.' Paul uses this kind of language to speak of a situation of domination, even slavery."
27. J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone
For as much as I love J.C. Ryle, and love the author Iain Murray, this was not one of my favorite biographies. Murray spent a lot of time on the theological controversies that Ryle was a part of - and I believe adequate time should be spent on that topic. However, in my own personal opinion, the amount of space this topic took in the book was larger than it needed to be.
28. A Peculiar Glory
Outstanding. Piper writes about the God's glory as revealed in our Scriptures. When Piper says that he's going to help teach you about God's glory, you come away with a greater view of God. This book causes me to be even more grateful for the written Word of God that we possess.
29. Zeal Without Burnout
Because ministry is hard and I need Christ. I tend to be perhaps sinfully critical of pastors who leave the ministry because of burnout. While I've never experienced anything even close to ministerial burnout in my 10+ years of ministry, I know that I'm no better than anybody else. I want to be sure that I'm always motivated to do the work (easy or hard) that Christ has for me. I consider learning from this book a proactive step toward finishing the race well.
Keller thinks deeply and causes his readers to think deeply - all while being easy to read. I appreciate this about him. One of his chapters is on praying the Scripture. Donald Whitney has written on this topic as well. The practice of praying the Scriptures has significantly changed my prayer life for the better. One of my favorite quotes in this book was, "Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through His Word and His grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with Him."
Fascinating book on the Israeli Secret Service. Did you know that many of the former Nazi criminals fled to Argentina? Neither did I.
32. The Road
A friend recommended this fictional work to me. Set in the future when there is no electricity, commerce, or government. Everything has been destroyed. A father and son travel south to try to reach the coast. Along the way they need food, protection, warmth, and each other. This is an emotional page-turner. I enjoyed the book, put it down, and hugged my boys a little tighter afterward.
33. Religious Affections
As you may know I'm reading through the works of Jonathan Edwards. I'm reading this book for a second time. I love this book. Edwards does a thorough (everything he does is thorough) study of our affections as Christians. In a wonderfully profound section he explains how people can 'go through the motions' (my words, not his) of the Christian life without ever being converted.
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