Must-Reads of 2016

image1I think Christmas is magical because it calls us to ponder. Each time it comes around I have high hopes for awestruck meditation, then settle for a moment or two where it actually hits me–God really came down to be with us. Then as normal and human as it was at the nativity, the thought leaves me to myself and my holiday routine.

I am glad, then, that God brings Christmas to bear year-round. He is always showing us the divine in all things human, the possibility of God-incarnated, and thus the possibility of Spirit-indwelled. For me, one source he uses to help me hear and feel his voice is books. Now don’t think of me too nobly; my journey into a book is usually somewhat an escape from reality. But there God meets me in my reality.

Sometimes I ask him to lead me in my reading. One of the most significant ways he does that is through the recommendations of others. In light of that, I would like to share a few books that have been meaningful to me over the past year. Perhaps one of them might serve you as well.

Please note, the following texts were not necessarily published in 2016, but simply ended up on my reading list in 2016. Also, they are not ranked, but instead listed as the top two of each category in my reading rhythm.

1. Ministry

a. Theology


The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ, Bruce Ware

This is a book that led me to worship because it led me to Christ, over and over. Bruce Ware does a masterful job of soaking readers in the flesh-and-bone Jesus, who is both too high and face-to-face. This truth is still baffling me: when Jesus became human, he did so forever; and as he intercedes for us now, he does so with a real body.



Heaven, Randy Alcorn

This book teased me in pastoral libraries for so long before I finally got around to reading it. In the wake of my mom’s death last year, I needed it terribly. I must confess, however, it wasn’t what I expected. I assumed Alcorn would steal me away into heavenly surmising. Instead, I was shocked at how the text remained so earthy. My life-changing takeaway was just that, the surprising and delightful continuity between earth and heaven.


b. Ecclesiology


The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy in our Limitations through a Daily Apprenticeship with Jesus, Zack Eswine

Honestly, I just started this book. I have only finished Part I. Yet it is better than any book I read in seminary. No exaggeration. Enough said.




41bd8kstwulRhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel, Mike Cosper

I delayed reading this book for several years because I thought I already knew its contents. That’s because it was written by fellow pastor, Mike Cosper, whose influence I experienced weekly at Sojourn Community Church. Though I knew and loved the rhythms of the gospel that our church employed at each Sunday gathering, I had no idea how rich and thoughtful Mike’s writing was.


c. Missiology


Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis, Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Issam Smeir

Since the global refugee crisis is one of the most significant missiological concerns of our time, this book should be one of the most popular of our time. It debunked questions and prejudices toward refugees that I didn’t even know I had. Even if I was not on staff at Refuge Louisville, this book would’ve been enough to move my heart not only regarding the plight of refugees, but the opportunity we have to embrace them as Christians and churches.



Tradecraft Workbook, Rodney Calfee, Caleb Crider, Larry McCrary, Wade Stephens

Consider this a sneak peak. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to do some final revisions on this upcoming book from The Upstream Collective. If you’re familiar with Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission, then you probably recognize this as the workbook that coincides with it. It will be a first-class training tool for anyone who wants to grow in missionary skills. Keep an eye out for it in early 2017…

2. Formation

a. Family


Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting, William Farley

This was a great followup (and reinforcement) to Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick. It’s not one of those books that merely lists “gospel” on the cover. Rather, Farley builds a meditation on the application of the gospel to real-life parenting. Very encouraging to any parent who recognizes their desperate need for help.



His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage, Willard Harley

This book was recommended to me by a friend in Nepal, then I happened upon a copy in the basement of an antique store. I read it out of courtesy more than anything, but found it to be both helpful and challenging. Was I considering an affair? No. But, as I learned from the book, to suspect you could never stumble into one is the perfect recipe for doing so.



b. Culture

51viidxmhrl-_sx320_bo1204203200_Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, Russell Moore

I believe this is one of the most important books for American Christians to read right now. But I guess that depends how you feel about Russell Moore. Me? #IStandWithMoore.




150709_sbr_coates-cover-jpg-crop-original-originalBetween the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

It’s a best-seller for a reason. As a white, middle-class American, this book didn’t just help me see a new perspective, it let me get a little blood in my mouth. Reading it felt like the kind of conversation in which you subconsciously just shut up and listen, not because you have to, but because you’re stunned with what you’re hearing. For the sake of really starting to understand what it means to be black today, many of us need Coates’ help to shut up and listen.


c. Development

51zdao-nifl-_sx331_bo1204203200_The Things of Earth: Treasuring God By Enjoying His Gifts, Joe Rigney

Occasionally a book makes its rounds among my fellow pastors in an irresistible way. This is definitely one of them. Expounding on John Piper’s “Christian hedonism,” Rigney unpacks how we can simultaneously be most satisfied in God while enjoying the things of earth. It’s remarkably helpful for those who seek to be heavenly minded, and mostly walk around feeling more guilty for having done so. I give copies to missionaries as often as possible.


41em9ombyvl-_sx331_bo1204203200_The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Bessel van der Kolk

This book was recommended to me after my mom passed away. After taking a month off from work, my first day back I sat at my desk, wept, and couldn’t even open my computer. From van der Kolk I soon learned about the inescapable affect of trauma (even emotional trauma) on the body.



3. Leisure

a. History


Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, Lauren Hillenbrand

I caught this one as an audiobook. I literally listened to it for hours at a time because the story was so amazing and the writing decadent. Good thing my family was out of town!




51sd2kon4cl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Eric Metaxas

After visiting Germany last year, I wanted to read something that gave insight into the German church during World War II. A friend in Germany recommended Metaxas’ work. It was a fascinating journey with Bonhoeffer, giving lengthy insight into the exceptional man he was and the important texts he left behind. It was also, however, a disheartening glimpse into the shortcomings of churches and leaders in the face of political rot.


b. Classic


The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien

I feel silly putting this on my list–surely everyone knows they are must-reads! Nevertheless, I had never read them, and finally put an end to such nonsense this year. When my mom died I bought a reading chair and lamp, then spent days reading through Tolkien’s masterpiece. I say without hesitation, this is what God used in those first few months to get me through.


29797The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan

It had been years, but I finally got back to it. There is something special about this book, not even considering it’s the second best-selling book of all time. Bunyan had a way of bringing the Christian life to life, especially the deadly threats that encircle us and the God who carries us safely through.



c. Fun


A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, Bill Bryson

It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed this hard reading a book. Bryson makes you both want to hike the Appalachian Trail and never set foot on it. This is a hilarious way to learn about one of the most iconic features of the eastern United States.




The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer That Changed the World, Stephen Mansfield

What an delightfully surprising story! I had no idea that Guinness beer and the culture it permeated came from the exemplary Christian businessman, Arthur Guinness. Whether or not you like the beer, or beer at all, this is worth your time, especially for men and women in the marketplace.

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