If you’re interested in checking out my year in books, you can do so at my Goodreads page, here. If you’re lazy and don’t want to click through all my books individually and read my reviews or ratings, then this is the post for you, because I’m going to do an overview of my year in reading. These books will be organized by date finished. Some of them I started in 2014, and finished in 2015, others were started at the beginning of the year and finished late. The easiest way to do this was by finish date. Normally, I try to provide links to books, but… well, I’m the lazy one there and don’t feel like it. Click the link above and use Goodreads to find them.
A Little Exercise for Young Theologians – Helmut Thielicke
This was a text in a senior level college class I took 3 or 4 years ago and it is a classic. It is technically a lecture that has been recorded and published as book. As a person who has a high-level Bible/Theology degree, the words and encouragement of this book are quite helpful. I think this book will become an annual read of mine. This text is a great reminder that education and understanding cannot be allowed to be put above the task at hand: making disciples. It is no good to spout all the modern (or ancient) scholarship in the world if it is counterproductive.
Ordering Your Private World – Gordon Macdonald
This book was a required reading of sorts by our Lead Pastor at Crossway (Check out our new logo and website!). We are part of a weekly small group where Ron spends time intentionally building into the young staff in order to help build us up into long-term ministers. This was a book he liked and so we all had to read it. It was a decent enough book, but the content was not really that new to me.
From Epic to Canon – Frank Moore Cross
This is perhaps my favorite book of the year, but even if it’s not, it’s in the top 3. Cross was a genius when it came to Semitic languages and cultures and as a fledgling scholar, this book reminds me of just how much potential there is in the world of critical biblical studies. I had referenced a chapter of this book in a paper I wrote on the “Midianite Hypothesis” about 3 years ago, but hadn’t read the whole thing. Technically, I skipped a chapter this time around too on the poetry of Lamentations… but, I don’t feel guilty.
Final Crisis – Grant Morrison
Interestingly the only graphic novel I read this year. Perhaps there is a reason for that. No, it’s not that I don’t like them, I love them in fact. I think this book just ruined the flavor of them for a bit. It was one of the most convoluted books I’ve ever read, and unless you’re familiar with about 300 pages of other source material, I don’t even recommend picking it up. It was a decent ending to the “Crisis” series, but it was nowhere near as good as Infinite Earths or Infinite Crisis.
Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home – Richard J. Foster
This probably takes the slot for favorite of the year. Foster is amazingly able to render me speechless in a beautiful theology while teaching me how to pray. This book is, as A Little Exercise, probably going to become an annual read. If you are looking for a robust book on prayer, you truly cannot go wrong here. Foster so adeptly ties Church History, Scripture, and his life experience all together to teach something that is very hard to teach.
Activate – Nelson Searcy & Kerrick Thomas
This is a book I read for my position at Crossway. I oversee our small group ministry and am constantly looking for ways to make the ministry work better and more efficiently. This text served as a vital piece to how I am considering changing our small group system for the next year.
The Eye of the World – Robert Jordan
Truly the Wheel of Time is a work of art. Jordan is perhaps the most successful person since Tolkien to create not only worlds for his fantasy to take place in, but the cultures which he creates are truly compelling. He is especially gifted when it comes to explaining these cultures. It is easy for an author to over communicate or under communicate what needs to be known, but Jordan does so perfectly.
Simply Christian – N.T. Wright
I am quickly becoming an N.T. Wright fanboy. I know that he writes at a much more popular level than some would have him do, and I know that he makes some leaps in his theology at times, but his understand of the relationship between God’s realm (heaven) and ours (earth) so impacted me that I have come to better understand the narrative of scripture (which you can see in my sermon on Revelation, here). I cannot recommend this book highly enough as a great entry point into a more robust Christian theological understanding of the world.
Introducing Christian Mission Today – Michael Goheen
This was a school text for a class I took on the Mission of the Church (as was the N.T. Wright text, above). Goheen’s text is certainly a great summary of the mission of the church and even better summary of the issues that face the Global Church in the coming years as the Global Church changes. However, the book is quite dry, reads rather slow, and is often repetitive as one facet of one section applies to another as well. He also has a rather lackluster view of modern education and government that he never really warrants in the book.
First Time Dad – John Fuller
This is perhaps the worst book I read this year, but that is less the book’s fault inherently and more related to when I read it. As you can probably guess from where it falls on the list, I read this book after already having been a father for 5 or 6 months and so much of the information (if not all of it) was old news. The book was further brought low by a number of traditional evangelical platitudes that really just made me roll my eyes. Sue me, I’m a more liberal, liturgical theologian.
Small Group Vital Signs – Michael C. Mack
The greatest strength of Mack’s book here is that it is a book that small group leaders can read and make immediate impact in the overall strength of a church’s small group system. Many books are written to Lead Pastors or Small Groups Pastors and are, therefore, above the level of a lay small group leader. That is not the case with Vital Signs, and I am grateful for this book. I have plans in the next year to give this book to all small group leaders and go through the vital signs with them.
Serving With Eyes Wide Open – David A. Livermore
This was the final of the 3 class books on Mission and while this one was quite easy to read, it was also less robust. It was, however, incredibly good at reminding readers that there is more to serving than the work we are doing, that it is just as valuable to be culturally aware and intelligent in order to allow the Spirit to teach us as we minister to others.
The Island of Dr. Moreau – H.G. Wells
I am a huge H.G. Wells fan, and have read 2 of his other books—though that was a long time ago. This is actually a book I’ve owned for probably 8 or more years and just never got around to reading it. I’m weird that way. I am incredibly grateful that I finally did get around to reading the work as it was 100x better than I expected it to be. It was suspenseful, tragic, and shocking while also being short, and relatively accessible. It is a book dating back to the late 1800’s so the writing is not as easy as Harry Potter, but it’s nonetheless a great place for any science fiction fan to at least visit.
Toughest People to Love – Chuck DeGroat
This book would have taken the worst of the year spot if it hadn’t been for First Time Dad. This was another work, required read. This was not, however, for our small group, but rather for our staff retreat. The book was fine, but it was not superb by any means. The book was disjointed in its 3 parts, and needed to flesh out all of its concepts more than it did. Unfortunately the combination of spastic concepts and shallow at that meant the book required a lot more extra-textual conclusions to be made.
Fusion – Nelson Searcy
Written by the same pastor as Activate, I was intrigued to see how a church the size of Journey Church handled first time guests. It’s one thing to grow as a church, but the bigger a church grows, the harder a church has to work at actually developing people into disciples, to say nothing of the challenge of attracting and attaching new people to the Gospel. Fusion did not disappoint. Just as Activate left me wondering how to adapt the principles to Crossway, so too did Fusion.
This was an all-church study we did at Crossway. I enjoyed it but, fair warning, it is quite long. 31 weeks is a long time for anyone to stay interested—even when we’re talking about the Bible. Further, I have some issues with some of the cuts that were made when compiling the book by Zondervan (for those who don’t know, this is a sort of novelization of the biblical story). For instance, why is James not there? Why do we skip so much of the Old Testament? I guess the answer is, because 31 weeks is long enough.
Small Groups for the Rest of Us – Chris Surratt
As stated above, I try to stay focused on small group trends and this book was the #1 seller on the topic on Amazon. Couple that with the fact that it was released this year by a multi-site church, and this was one of the most helpful books I read for church this year. However, it fell to the same problems that all small group books seem to in my opinion: it assumed the superior place for itself. I get that you like what you’re doing, but we are not all churches in Nashville with 4 campuses and a robust ethnic and generational congregation.
Don’t Say “$#%&X” In Church! – Bo Chancey
The shortest book I read this year was not the least potent. Chancey’s book came out of a call to God for help on preaching and teaching the importance of lording over our money rather than our money lording over ourselves. He eventually preached a series on the chapters of this book (which can be found here). I read the book for a few reasons. First, it appealed to me as Crossway enters into a series on Generosity to see another pastor’s thoughts. Second, it was a free book. Third, I was really trying to get 24 books this year, and this was a short book. However, the biggest reason was that I was truly impressed by Chancey’s approach to giving. The premise of this book is that we can all pray the prayer “Lord, show me what percentage of my income is generous.” And doing so allows us to serve God with our giving, and take control of a major idol.
War of the Ancients: The Sundering – Richard A. Knaak
I am a huge Warcraft fan. In fact, of all the fantasy universes, I don’t think there is one that I enjoy as much as Warcraft. I had read the first 2 books of the War of the Ancients trilogy years ago, and had never gone back to finish the series. After talking with a friend of mine about the series, I realized I needed to finish the series up and fill in some holes in my own Warcraft knowledge. I highly recommend this series to anyone familiar with Warcraft. If you are not familiar with Warcraft, there are better places to start (like Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos)
Stories from Ancient Canaan – Michael D. Coogan & Mark S. Smith
This book is comically one of the first I started this year and I only just finished it at like 9pm on New Year’s Eve. It’s not a hard read. It’s not a long read. It’s just not the most compelling read either. It’s interesting though because I truly believe that God put the desire in my head to finish the book when he did because a lot of the ancient myths of Ugarit have, at some level, a tie to the mythological stories of the Bible—namely apocalyptic literature. Further, in reading the theology of these Israelite neighbors, you get a better understanding for why some of the things that the Lord commands in the Law are commanded, as well as some of the problems that the Israelites have with their neighbors in books like Judges. This is a really good place to start if you are looking for comparative literature with the Old Testament as Coogan and Smith do an excellent job not only summarizing each myth, but also explaining—where applicable—what possible relation there is to the Bible.
Well, that’s my year in reading. I hope my reading inspires you in some way, and I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about specific texts if you’d like. For many books I’ve got more complete reviews and ratings given on Goodreads, which you can find in the link at the top. Happy New Year!