Recently I told you I read a lot of books. Today I want to tell you which ones I liked the best. Here, in no particular order, are the top ten books I read this year.
This was my last “five star” read for the year. The whole book is a fairly transparent parable about revolutions and the kind of governments that pop up in their place. I wish that this was required reading for every middle school student in the nation, as it addresses many ideas that are popular right now, both on the right and left. In the end it’s a story with more prophetic significance than when it was first written.
So, you’ll have to bear with me on this list; a lot of these books are old. Case in point: Somehow I managed to spend the first forty years of my life avoiding this book. But you guys! This book is so good. Obviously this book has been made into movies and TV shows and plays, but I doubt many of them hold a candle to this book. Obviously there is a murder on the train, but the train happens to have Hercule Poirot on board, along with a train full of distinct international characters. The characterization in this book is incredibly strong and the twist at the end sets this book apart from most of the mystery novels or TV shows you consume. If you’re a fan of mysteries and haven’t heard the plot, you need to check this book out.
If you, like me, have heard a lot about George Whitefield but haven’t read about his life, let me encourage you to start here. This book tells the story of George Whitefield, the 18th Century evangelist that along with John and Charles Wesley helped spark the First Great Awakening. I could tell you a lot of stories that this book told me from George’s life, but the highest compliment I can pay to this book is that while you read it, it feels like you’ve spent time with the great evangelist. I walked away from this book stirred to share the Gospel with my generation like Whitefield did for his. You won’t regret spending time on this one.
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” -A. W. Tozer.
This quote has captured my imagination for the last twenty years. Tozer undoubtedly had read Pink’s book and patterned his book, “The Knowledge of the Holy” after Pink’s book. This book methodically works through various attributes of God found in Scripture. If you’ve never read a book like this, you don’t need another reason to read this book. Just do it! If you’ve read others like this, I would tell you Pink is old enough to bring the thoughts of God from another age to bare on our current situation. It’s refreshing to not hear someone building their theology about God in favor of or against the latest ideologies, but based on their understanding of God from the Bible. The last two chapters on “The Wrath of God” and “The Contemplation of God” are worth the price of admission.
It’s probably not a secret that I try to read a bunch of books about evangelism every year. This book I picked up because it was short and by an author that I respect. This book was super short but packed a big punch. In it you will find five transformative practices that Frost encourages you to perform every week. The result of these practices on a person or a group of people will be a life that surprises the world with the attractive love of Jesus. I would highly recommend this book if you struggle with evangelism.
So, I’ve read probably a majority of Neil Cole’s books. I read at least two of them this year alone. His books have always had an impact on me. But this book was different. Even though Neil is the first one to tell you that all of his books can be applied to a traditional church setting, they are mainly picked up by the house church / missional church crowd. This book was specifically written to help legacy churches embrace organic church principles. There are several stories told throughout the book of legacy churches who have embraced organic principles to a greater or lesser extent. What I loved about this book is that seeing Neil and Phil apply these principles in a legacy church helped clarify for me where I’ve embraced less than organic principles in my own house church. I would recommend you pick up a copy whether you find yourself in a legacy church or a house church setting.
I read this book for me, but the further I got into it, the more I realized this book is needed by most people. The author looks at the problem of the West’s need for constant motion and prescribes margin as the cure for peoples’ hectic lives. He then begins to offer practical advice on how to restore emotional, physical, financial, and time reserves and this is where this book shines.
If you’re a long time reader, you know that I try and read a lot about the topic just to keep me constantly thinking about how to share my faith better. This year was no exception. This was the standout book on that topic this year. The author, Elliot Clark, is a former missionary to a country where Christianity is illegal. His book makes the assumption that Christianity is beginning to lose it’s protected status here in the West and aims to instruct its readers in evangelism using examples from his missionary experience, the early church, and even the experience of African Americans during American slavery. This is such a unique and valid approach to evangelism that speaks to our current moment that I believe this is a must read for the entire church. This is my top evangelism book of the year and definitely in the top three books of the year. Get this book!
I loved this book. I’ll probably read it again this next year. It begins with a simple premise: Prayer is easy, we make it hard. He compares prayer to a meal with a close friend, something that should be easy. However, we spend so much time trying to get it right that we never set down and enjoy the meal. He then takes us on a journey of losing more of ourselves and becoming more childlike in order to grow in that relationship. It’s such a simple premise, but it’s a path that very few of us travel, which is what makes it so great. If you want to grow in your prayer life, whether you’ve spent your life in that pursuit or your brand new to prayer, this book will be helpful to you.
Last but not least is “When Helping Hurts.” This is now a modern classic about alleviating poverty, written by someone who has worked with the poor around the world. The principles are fairly universal and I’ve was encouraged in how to use them both here locally and in our work in Africa. The authors are not against giving, but lay forth principles for giving that help the needy become more self-sufficient and help you not to be over-burdended in helping. If you find yourself working with the poor in any capacity, I would highly recommend picking up this book.
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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.