It’s that time of the year when everyone reveals their yearly reading list and what they consider their top reads of the year. Not to be left out, I’ve compiled my own list to help those who are looking for good reads for next year’s list. So, with no further ado, here’s the best of the best:
Joan: The Mysterious Life of The Heretic Who Became a Saint
This is the story about a young girl who begins to have visions of angels and hear voices. The voices tell her to unite the French to oppose the occupying English forces and anoint a man King of France. She does all of this as a young maiden in 15th Century France and is later tried and killed by the very country she saved. What I love about this book is the author treats her visions and voices as something that she actually heard and saw, rather than trying to explain them away. This book will be a great encouragement to you in your own journey of hearing the Lord’s voice and obeying it, despite the cost.
The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ
This is an obscure little book written by Catholic priest Saint Alphonsus Ligouri. The whole book is a journey through 1st Corinthians 13. It takes every virtue of love (“Love is patient, love is kind, etc.) and applies them to how a believer should faithfully love Jesus Christ. While it was written by a Catholic and you have to ignore some of his admonitions to pray to Mary and accept sickness as God’s will, there is a lot of wisdom in this book that you won’t find in the traditional Christian book being rolled out these days. This book will stir your heart to love Jesus more.
The Christian Book of Mystical Verse
This is a short book by A.W. Tozer that is filled with poetry written by some of the great Christian mystics throughout history. While that may scare some people, the fact that A.W. Tozer edited this compilation should put your heart at ease. Each of these poems are biblicaly solid while at the same time full of the kind thirsting after God that you’ve come to expect from a guy like A.W. Tozer. I found myself keeping a list of the poems I loved from this book, but I didn’t expect the list to include every third poem. Please read this book, take time to soak in the poetry within, and even spend some time turning some of these great works into prayer to aid your devotional life.
This was the second or third book about evangelism I read this year and it was easily the best. Jean is a prophetic minister who regularly hears from Jesus and shares His heart with lost people around her. Not only did I learn about hearing from Jesus and sharing what I’m hearing with the lost by reading this book, but I encountered the love of Jesus as I read the author’s testimony. I highly recommend picking up the audio book. There is an incredibly personal story towards the end of the book that the author narrates herself and it’s incredibly worthwhile to hear it in her own voice. If hearing from God is new to you or you’re old-hat at it, you will meet Jesus in a more personal way by reading this book.
This was the most disturbing, difficult read of 2019 for me. I’ve never read this book before it showed up on my Man Book Club reading list. This is a story about a dystopian future where three governments rule the world and keep those three nations in perpetual war. The story follows Winston Smith as he tries to navigate life living in this world where every activity is constantly monitored and history is constantly changed to reflect the governments’ narratives. I won’t ruin the ending, but it’s dark and unexpected. Truthfully, the book is a prophetic glimpse into a world that we are now living in and if you don’t leave this book rethinking where society has gone, you probably weren’t paying attention.
This book takes place 100 or more years in the future, where books are banned and society has adapted the role of firefighter as a force to find and burn them. Guy Montag, a fire fighter, secretly becomes a reader and must hide it from those he works with in order to not be killed. The real point of the book is to force us to look at our inability to handle concrete arguments and emotions that books present us and where it could drive our society. This book is slightly more hopeful than 1984 and there are important lessons in it that will help us today. Maybe give yourself some space between reading this and 1984, though.
The Cost of Discipleship
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Nazi-resisting theologian, wrote this work believing that the time had come for believers to band together and practice living out the Sermon on the Mount together. This was a revolutionary statement in a time when many considered the Sermon on the Mount the code of conduct for the Millennial Kingdom, not something that applied to them now. The book begins with a look at cheap grace–a kind of grace where we can sin because we know we are forgiven–and how it prevents Christianity from being expressed the way Jesus wants it to be expressed. Bonhoeffer then walks us through each chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, detailing how it applies to every day believers. I recommend this book to everyone (it’s a classic!) but I especially recommend it to those who haven’t thought seriously about the Sermon on the Mount.
The Storm-Tossed Family
The family is under attack today by satanic forces. That sounds dramatic, but a quick look at the state of families around you will prove that statement true. Russel Moore writes, then, about cultivating healthy family as an act of spiritual warfare. To win the war, one he finds in the early stages of marriage all the way up to aging and dying with grace, it requires us to find the Gospel for every stage of family life. I loved that at every stage, he calls believers in Jesus to find the Gospel as the answer for common and extreme problems that plague the family. Also, though this is a book about the family, there is plenty in this book for singles to learn from and grow in practice. Some of the best explanations about the church as family that I’ve seen in a while were found in this book. I highly recommend it.
The Master Plan of Evangelism and Discipleship
This book is a classic. You can’t go anywhere in American Evangelicalism without encountering someone whose thoughts have been impacted by this book. What I found interesting is that so much of the house church movement’s thinking finds its origin and support in the discipleship principles laid out here. The key to effective evangelism is found in sharing the Gospel and training up converts in a way of life that leads them to do the same. Without this plan in place, both our evangelism and our churches will suffer. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it.
A Tale of Two Cities
This is one of those classic books that everyone talks about but I feel like very few people read. It contrasts two cities, London and Paris, as the country of France is going through a revolution. It centers around a girl named Lucy who’s father was imprisoned when she was very young. When she is grown, she finds out her father is still alive and is charged with caring for him. During this season she falls in love with a French man who has connections to a former ruling family in France. Like many of Dickens’ works, there is a large Gospel thread woven through the whole story. Finishing this book felt both like a great accomplishment and the end to a marvelous story. If you’re looking for some fiction with some meat on it, this is the book for you.
And in case you’re interested….here all the other books I read this year with my rating for them in parentheses:
The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ (5) / Evangelism in a Skeptical World (4) / Atomic Marriage (1) / Prophetic Fishing (5)
Poke the Box (5) / A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (5) / Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus (3) / Fahrenheit 451 (5) / 1984 (5) / Trump, 2019, and Beyond (3)
The Art of Invisibility (3) / The Master Plan of Evangelism and Discipleship (5) / Raising Giant Killers (4) / Beyond the Local Church (3)
A Tale of Two Cities (5) / Gospel Boldness: Mission, Prayer, and Evangelism (3) / Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out (4) / Disruptive Witness (2) / Spirit Led Evangelism (4) / Managing Oneself (4) / The Mystery of Catastrophe (4) / I see A New Apostolic Generation (4)
The Religious Affections (4) / Rising Tides (4) / God is Good (2) / The Three Day Effect (3) / Hope Never Dies (3) / Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (4) / Giving Up Control (4) / Anonymous: Jesus’ Hidden Years and Yours (4) / The Dispatcher (4) / Out of the Salt Shaker and Into the World (4)
The Cost of Discipleship (5) / The Consolation of Philosophy (3) / The Seven Spirits of God (5) / Getting Things Done (4) / To Be Near Unto God (3)
The Poverty of Nations (4) / Screwball (3) / From Cocaine to Christ (3) / The Man Who Knew the Way to the Moon (4) / The Lost History of Christianity (3) / The Fuel and the Flame (4)
12 Rules for Life (4) / Wally Roux, Quantum Mechanic (3) / Redshirts (4)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (4) / Journey to the Center of the Earth (3) / Godology (3) / The Charisma Myth (4) / The Joy of Early Christianity (4) / Grace Abounds to the Chiefest of Sinners (4)
Joan: The Mysterious Life of a Heretic Who Became a Saint (5) / Balaam’s God (4) / One Bloody Road (4) / Seeing in the Spirit Made Simple (4) / Burnout Generation (3) / Divine Healing Made Simple (4) / Reaching the Unreached: Becoming Raiders of the Lost Art (4)
Mostly Harmless (4) / Climbing with Mollie (4) / Microchurches (4) / Not the Parable of the Lost Sheep (4) / Fox’s Book of Martyrs (3)
The Communist Manifesto (2) / The Storm-Tossed Family (5) / Bird by Bird (4) / Called Together (4) / Do More Better (3) / A Preface to the Acts of the Apostles (3) / The Christian Book of Mystic Verse (5) / Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Spoke in the Wheel (3)
So…what’d you read this last year? And what did you love? Let me know in the comments.
What It’s About: A.J. Dejonge tells the autobiographical story of their time as Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) University missionaries when he and his team made a transition from a staff-led campus ministry to a student-led campus ministry. This allowed CCC staff to start and oversee multiple campus ministries at different colleges. Based on this experience, he argues that student-led (or lay-led) ministries can reach more people than any revival through the means of disciple multiplication. Dejonge contends that only catalytic ministry styles will allow CCC, other college ministries, and even the church itself achieve the multiplication disciples it is called to.
What I Liked: There was so much to like here!
First, Dejonge is clearly interested in starting movements where people need to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is something people who have fallen in love with Jesus should be pursuing and his passion to reach the lost is contagious. Everything that is found within the pages of this book is focused on getting more people involved in reaching those who haven’t come to love Jesus.
While the book tells the story of their campus ministry expansion, it’s organized around different proverbs that their ministry has discovered. These proverbs help tease out the wisdom of their approach of putting every day students in charge of the ministry of reaching the campus. A few of the proverbs include: “Lead only to train,” “Value transferability over personal genius,” and “The empowered masses will always outperform the professionalism of a few.” Many of these proverbs are designed to help navigate the tricky balance between being a too-heavily centralized ministry or a healthy decentralized movement.
I love how the principles found in this book don’t just apply to CCC. While everything he learned during his time is taught through the lens of a college ministry, many of the concepts of multiplication have been borrowed from experienced church multiplication experts and can be easily implemented in multiplying ministry in the church. Dejonge essentially said part of this process was designed to help his college students start churches if they graduate and move to towns where no churches exist. At the very end of the book he acknowledges he is now in the process of planting a church outside of CCC using the very principles he is writing about.
What I Didn’t Like: There’s really only one chapter of the book I didn’t like. Chapter 10 is called “Ownership and Control” and Dejonge wrestles with the question of who really owns the ministry in this chapter. By the end of the chapter, it’s clear that while Dejonge is clearly in favor of giving much of the ministry happening on each campus to the college students on each campus, at the end of the day it’s still the staff who are ultimately in charge. This seemed odd from a book called “Giving Up Control.” He talks about a nearby college ministry that wanted support, but ultimately did not want to become a CCC affiliate and then goes on to speak about the wisdom of franchises. I think here, he misses the point of humility, being teachable, and healthy response to mentors in favor a business model that is man-centered. He makes some understandable points about why CCC staff is still ultimately in control of each ministry and yet there is a sense in reading this chapter that the name and brand of the ministry may still occupy a little too high of place in the author’s mind.
Should You Get It: Probably! If you’ve never been in ministry or never thought about multiplying disciples and churches, I would likely point you to an easier entry point like “The Master Plan of Evangelism” by Robert Coleman, because it’s more accessible for every Christian. However, if you are in any kind of leadership capacity, if you have a heart for making disciples that make disciples, if you have apostolic leanings, or you’re part of a house church or church plant, I would seriously encourage you to pick up a copy of this book. It has a lot of practical wisdom about instilling skills and competencies in people so that you can entrust the work of the Gospel to them with minimal oversight and this is critical to raising up movements of the Gospel.
What It’s About: Written by Bill Johnson, the book sets out to convince the reader that their current perception about God is wrong. Johnson argues that God is not like the abusive step-father we believe Him to be and more like a good Father that Jesus portrays in the Gospel. Johnson invites us to believe in a God who is good and desires good things for His children.
What I Liked: I love Johnson’s approach to healing and the supernatural. He pushes us to not settle for hopelessness and the idea that God desires sickness and defeat. There is war in his spirit that comes out in this book that will be helpful to the body of Christ. I found myself encouraged to pursue God more, believe Him more, and contend in prayer for the things He wants to do.
What I Didn’t Like: Unfortunately, while I love Bill and some of the things he represents in the Kingdom, there are some things I didn’t like about this book at all.
The first thing I didn’t like is his spurious treatment of the Old Testament. He spends an inordinate amount of time talking about it, defending his love for it, and even showing the goodness of God in it in places, all while he simultaneously seems to diminish its importance. It should be said that I’m a big believer in the following statement from Paul: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16). So, when Johnson makes arguments that the Gospels/Jesus reveal the true nature of God and juxtaposes that argument with a quote from C.S. Lewis that pits the doctrine of the goodness of God against the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Johnson dances dangerously close to setting up a set of books in the Bible that is more inspired than other parts of Scripture. I believe the fullest and most exact expression of God is Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-2), but I don’t believe we have to dismiss the rest of Scripture in order to get there.
Secondly, this book would have more aptly been titled “The Failure of Man: We’re God’s PR Problem.” I say this a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I had bought this book to wash my spirit in the goodness of God and hoped not only to get a theological treatment of the topic, but an experiential one that Johnson would be able to provide. Instead, the main thrust of Johnson’s argument is that God is not perceived as good because we have failed to represent Him (especially in the area of manifesting His power) the way He really is. In Johnson’s view, more people would think God is good if we got our act together and believed for the things God wants to do.
Do I believe God wants to do more through his people? Absolutely. Do I think sometimes we focus too much on unclear passages in Scripture and what they say about God’s character than we do about the clear example of God we see in Jesus? Yes. Can we believe God is better than we currently think and become a sign of God’s goodness to others? Undoubtedly. But is diminishing the importance of God’s inspired word and pointing to our failures a good way to help us see God’s goodness? I don’t think so.
Should You Get It: There are a lot of good books by Bill Johnson. I just finished “Raising Giant Killers” by Johnson earlier this year and LOVED it. There are some beneficial things in the book and if you can “eat the chicken and spit out the bones” of this book, you may grow from this book, however, for most, I find it generally hard to recommend.