Happy New Year to you all!
Long time followers know that for the last several years I’ve been trying to read more books. I love reading and in the thick of raising a family and starting churches I largely gave up my reading habits for a season. The last few years I’ve been trying to correct that problem. This year I was able to successfully complete 20 books, which is a recent record!
Now, while I’ll never be this guy who read 308 books this year, I thought it might be helpful to some of you to give a quick run down of the top ten books I’ve read this year in the hopes that you might find something worth while to feed your spirit, soul, and mind. Don’t just read the list: find one or two that might challenge you in the new year and dive in! Or, instead, suggest a book I need to read in 2019 that you found helpful. We all grow as a result.
That said, in order of impact, my top 10 books I read last year are:
This book was by far the most motivating and challenging book that I read this year. It’s written by well known speaker Francis Chan who famously left his mega-church to start a house church in San Francisco. The book is not a treatise of why you should be a part of a house church. Instead, it’s a look at everything that is troublesome about the modern American church and how we can become the church God wants. Chan masterly identifies problems with the American church, problems he himself helped create in his own church that are both found in each human heart and among the people of God corporately. Both the house church movement and the traditional church will find much to repent of in these pages. Throughout the whole book, however, those of us who have been part of house churches will see the answers to the questions Chan raises in the model we’ve been pioneering. Chan spends the last chapter offering the answers they’ve discovered as their network has asked these questions, but the answers will not surprise those of us who have been part of a house church. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It will challenge you, cause you to look at your heart, and possibly even push you to rethink how you relate to the church in the future.
I will write a more thorough review of the book in the near future.
If Letters to the Church hadn’t appeared on the shelves this year, “The Vanishing American Adult” would have easily been my top book this year. Written by Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, this book is a look at the increasing stalled maturity that seems to be plaguing American youth. Sasse could use the problem to rant against generational stereotypes or lay the blame on his opposing political party. Instead he traces trends in our society that have lead to us allowing teenagers to remain immature into their 30’s and beyond. Part of the beauty of this book is the author could have used the problem he profiles in depth to suggest a political solution. That’s what politicians do. Instead, Sasse details out five ways that parents can work against the tide of society to raise real adults in the face of increasing cultural imaturity: Expose kids to other generations, expose kids to hard work, teach them be frugal, expose them to rigorous travel, and expose them to great books. As a parent whose children are quickly approaching the teen years, I devoured this book. Sasse isn’t writing as a distant theorist. He writes as a parent who is trying raise responsible, tough adults and who knows the peril that will come if we don’t do it right. My one criticism, if I had one, is that at times it swerves a bit much into concern for our nation. This doesn’t drown out the true message of the book, but it does at times remind you that Sasse is both writing as a Christian and a leader in our nation for the benefit of both.
I will write about this book in the future as well. However, one of the things this book did was convince me that I need to read more deeply and more thoughtfully. Sasse’s chapter “Build a Bookshelf” is worth the cost of the book alone and it lead to the formation of a “Man Book Club,” where me and other guys can gather and grow as deeper readers. If you see better books on my list in the future, this book is why.
As I started to read more books this year, this book became one I increasingly wanted to spend time in. I’ve known for years that it is a Christian classic that details the life of a disciple. What I hadn’t known is that it is regarded as the first English novel. Written by John Bunyon while in prison for his faith, the book details the journey of a man named Christian and then his wife as they set out from their home to find the Heavenly Country they hear about in the Gospel that is preached to them. It’s an allegorical story that teaches believers about the path of true discipleship. One of the things that reading old books does for us is liberate us from tyranny of our age that comes through in our social media and modern writing. As I read The Pilgrim’s Progress, I realized just how much of my approach to following Jesus is birthed out of my generation’s approach to Scripture and not Scripture itself. I read this as an audiobook, but a more modern rendering of this book would be a great discipleship manual to hand to a new believer. If you’re wearied by books that are full of three steps to a better life and authors that aren’t awed by the majesty of God, this book will be a refreshing change of pace for you.
This was the first book our “Man Book Club” tackled and it’s hard to under-estimate it’s impact. It’s an autobiographical look at slavery that will challenge your understanding of what slavery was truly like. I knew slavery was horrible, I didn’t understand the different dimensions of slavery and how terrible they were. I’ve never had a desire to read this book until Ben Sasse mentioned it as a book to read as part of his cannon of books he’s hoping to pass onto his children. This book made the list as a book to help Americans from every stripe understand the plight of Americans who were denied rights under a constitution that promises rights to all. As a believer in Jesus, this book also helped me understand the kind of bad religion that empowers oppression instead of liberating those subjected to it. I also gained a greater appreciation for the situation of African Americans in this country in a way I wouldn’t have without this book. Regardless of your race, class, or political persuasion, you should read this book.
This was another of those books that I loved because it was born out of another age. Written by Augustine of Hippo in the later part of his life, this book details life from being a seeker of truth but in many ways an atheist to his conversion and discipleship. I expected this book to have many deep theological truths about God but instead this book spoke to me about the power of desire in the human heart. In many ways, Augustine’s confession highlights the wickedness and pride of the human heart and the mercy of God that causes Him to meet with us in spite of them. These were truths that were good for my heart to hear because there are very few writers who speak of the dangers of wickedness and pride. This isn’t an easy read, but it’s worth it for those who persevere through it.
I first heard about this book ten years ago. It was written by twin brothers Alex and Brett Harris who founded a website called The Rebelution. The Rebelution is devoted to asking teens to rebel against low expecations that society puts on teenagers. The website was founded in 2006 and quickly became an internet phenomenon where teens banded together to encourage each other to follow Christ and push the envelope for what could be expected by teens. The book is part biography, part manifesto, and part how-to. It’s written by teens and for teens, but I read it in hopes of giving it to my daughter who is quickly approaching her teen years. In many ways, this book mirrors The Vanishing American Adult, but in a way that speaks to teens. I’d recommend it for the teens reading this blog.
I almost didn’t recommend this book. Several days ago, Michael Frost asked his followers what book stuck with you this year. This is that book for me. It’s written by Shusaku Endo and was originally published in Japanese. Endo is a Japanese Catholic who has written several books on Christianity and I found his approach fascinating. This fiction work follows the story of two Catholic missionaries who travel to 17th century Japan to find a former hero of their missionary order who is said to have left the faith. Along the way they share the Gospel, meet other believers in Japan, are captured, and are forced to watch as both they and the believers they came to serve are tortured. The whole novel ponders the idea of apostacy and the grace of God. This book was interesting for me on two levels. On one level it forced me to examine again my willingness to suffer for Christ and what level of suffering I would embrace for Him. On a completely different level, I’m left with a weird taste in my mouth, not sure I agree with the author’s message that is quickly and succinctly delivered at the end of the book. Whether the message is true or not, the ideas have turned over and over in my head and because of that it’s earned it’s place here.
This book was not on my radar at all, but when Greg Laurie released this book in October I couldn’t pass up a chance to collect another set of stories from the Jesus People movement. For those not in the know, the Jesus People movement was a genuine, grass-roots revival that spread among America’s youth during the hippie movement of the late ’60’s and early ’70’s. Laurie writes this book to both look at the origins of the movement and it’s continuing impact on Southern California and the world. Laurie brings first hand experience to the story: He was a flower child of that era and came to Christ through the evangelistic work of notable Jesus People leader Lonnie Frisbee. Through Frisbee, Laurie joined the Calvary Chapel started by Chuck Smith that would go on to launch numerous ministries in the midst of the Jesus People movement. Through Laurie’s involvement with both Frisbee and Smith, he would go on to become an evangelist, pastor, and mega-church leader in his own right. I thoroughly enjoyed this book because of my love for the Jesus People movement but I also profited from some of Laurie’s brief thoughts on the nature of the church’s need for continual revolution on the inside to power the expanding nature of the church. There are broader, better treatments of the Jesus People movement but Laurie’s is authentic and his lessons are worth considering.
I try to read at least one book every year related to my full-time work. This book had been recommended by Russell Moore at the end of last year and it seemed like a worth-while read. Cal Newport makes a strong case that focus is the asset of the future and after building the argument goes on to detail how the reader can build a lifestyle of focus, regardless of their career. The advice ranges from broad to very specific, but in general will be helpful to the vast majority of people. Much more needs to be written about this subject, but this book is a great start. It will definitely benefit you in your work life, in your personal life, and even in your spiritual growth.
I picked up this book at the suggestion of Jeff Vanderstelt, who recommended the book as a paradigm for the changes the church is going through in this generation. The book is written by Tod Bolsinger, a former pastor of a growing and thriving church that recognized his church was on the verge of plateauing. He caught a vision for a more missional church and now brings that vision to bear not just in the local church but as the leader of a seminary. Bolsinger uses the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition of the Lousisana purchase as a sort of parable for the place the church finds itself in this hour. While it may seem odd for this organic house church guy to recommend a book by a seminary president, there were a few gems here that were universally applicable…specifically Tod’s commitment to mission as the organizing reality of church and the truth that in times of being stuck, humans tend to double down on the thing they are best at, hoping that fixes the problem. Both of these ideas have not only been helpful to me this year…they’ve actually spoken into circumstances that I or others have been in over this past year. I’m grateful when I can learn from my traditional church brothers to strengthen the church, wherever I find it.
Other Books I Read
These were the top 10 books I read this year. I hope to read more next year. In case anyone is still reading, here’s the other ten books I read this year, in no particular order:
The Reason for God by Tim Keller
There’s a Sheep In My Bathtub by Brian Hogan
Increase Your Faith by Steve Bremner
Revolution by George Barna
On the Verge by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson
Signs and Wonders of the New Churches by Wolfgang Simson
42 Seconds by Carl Mederis
Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft
So Long and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams
Julius Ceaser by William Shakespeare
So, did you see anything on the list that you’re going to add? And what did you read this last year that might benefit the rest of us? Let us know in the comments.
Whenever I talk to believers across the country I often hear a similar sentiment among those who want to be a part of an organic house church: “I’m looking for a house church, but I can’t find one in my area, so I’m just waiting to connect with one. I can’t handle church as it exists.”
I’m sympathetic towards people in this spot. I really am. But I’m also often worried about folks who say things like this because hidden within that statement are two harmful ideas.
The first is the idea that the perfect church is something that emerges that you don’t have to contribute anything to. In reality, true church is built on everyone participating and growing in Christ as they interact with each other. Waiting until organic church appears means you’ve been disengaged in building up the church. My experience is this disengagement carries over into organic church. The same internal mechanisms that caused you to wait for a house church to appear is the same mechanism that will cause you to sit back and watch others participate in the house church. This is a limited “win” at best.
The other idea built into this comment is that is harmful is the idea that the church is a meeting or gathering. It’s not. The church is redeemed people who follow Christ, regardless of what form we meet in. So, you can’t find a group of believers meeting in a home, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t gather with other believers, encourage each other to follow Jesus more faithfully, and even share your faith. If you’re doing this, you are actually already part of a church! These Christians may be a part of other congregations. That’s okay! Jesus loves when Christians act as one church, not as many segregated ones.
So don’t wait! Meet with other believers, whether they are part of an organic house church or not. No, the believers you meet to get together with won’t be perfect. They probably won’t understand you perfectly. But God calls us to care for the church, even when they aren’t perfectly like us. We’re to strengthen the weak, rejoice with the strong, and weep with those who mourn. It won’t be perfect but you will be contributing to others and they will be encouraging you. Or, as the writer of Hebrews says,
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
If you haven’t noticed already, I have a deep appreciation for the life and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. There’s so much to learn from his life and his musings about Christianity and the church. Recently, I’ve been reading his work “Spiritual Care,” so you should anticipate from time to time an extra post with a quote from this book.
A huge part of Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on spiritual care revolve around the church having people who practice confession of their sins. To that end, I stumbled across this quote:
Sin is, in every instance, something quite concrete. It must be recognized and identified by name. Only the demon which is called by name departs. The word of grace cannot be proclaimed and accepted when a person lives in unrecognized and undisclosed sin.