I don’t know what others mean when they say “top 5 books,” but for me, it’s pretty straightforward:
- What I enjoyed reading most
- What impacted the way I think most
- If it uncovered a new idea for me
- If I was carried through the entire book
- I would recommend it to others
- I would read it more than once
Ok, let’s get started at the top of the list…
1. When the Church was a Family: Recapturing Jesus’ Vision for Authentic Christian Community, by Joseph Hellerman.
Ever feel frustrated over the individualism and consumerism punctuating the American church? Ever wish your local church was more like the family you read about in the book of Acts? Do you long for revival in your city? This is the book you need to read. But brace yourself–you’re probably not impervious to Hellerman’s piercing diagnosis. Of all the books I read in 2013, this gave me the most chills, the most hope, and the most excitement for the future. But it cost me dearly.
The Trinity is simultaneously the most important Christian belief, and the most difficult to understand (one might think). Reeves delivers it simpler than vanilla, and more delicious than salted caramel. In fact, his adjectives often remind me of food, with lines like, “Such is the spreading goodness that rolls out of the very being of God” (29), or “The Father, Son and Spirit have always been in delicious harmony” (59). These simple, yet vivid descriptions of the relationships between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will cause you to reel in joy, and desire to get caught up into the same.
Biblical Theology (BT) is that area of study that looks at how the entire Bible is unified by a single story. There are some BT books that show you the story or themes unfolding through the Bible in a narrative fashion. Others, like this one, show you how to interpret the story itself. Not only does Lawrence nail this topic, but he is very comprehensive, including exegesis, systematics, and other areas of Bible study that intersect with BT. He masterfully lays it all out with practical, and fascinating precision. This is a book I am constantly referencing.
If you preach, you might consider this method. Preaching without notes brings the speaker to life, allows engagement with the listeners, and forces the preacher to condense their (oft-times scattered) ideas to a single, unforgettable point. Even the days I choose to use notes–which has it’s own merits–I still reference this book for it’s helpful methods. To preach without notes, there must be a fundamental shift in the way you think about the sermon itself, and that affects how you construct one. Unlike many books on preaching, this one is as practical as you get–if you really want to preach without notes, this one will do it for you in a week.
If you like to write, blog, or even tweet, I suggest you read this book. “Why on earth would I read about something as dry and lifeless as punctuation,” you say? Because stylistic punctuation, as this book argues, is what breathes life into your sentences. You’ve never been more romanced by a semi-colon or thrilled to wield a dash than after reading this book. The best part is, Lukeman writes the book with flair and style, often using punctuation in the very way he instructs throughout the book. For example, there are nicknames for every punctuation mark; the period is the Stop Sign; the semicolon is The Bridge; the dash is The Interrupter. And of course, there is a cornucopia of classic writers to give you examples of all of these.
These are on this list, because they are game-changers, and it would be a crime to keep them off even though the ones above were my first choices.
- The Cross of Christ, by John R.W. Stott
- Paul and Union with Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study, Constantine R. Campbell.
Obviously, I haven’t read every book that has ever been written, so take my list with an appropriate grain of that salt. Here’s the list I was working from.
What were your favorite reads of 2013? I’d love to hear.
Not everything you read is good. Not everything you read is bad. But nothing you read is perfect. This leaves you with a lot of potentially great books, yet none that are ever above scrutiny. That’s ok.
You don’t always have to agree with someone to learn from them.
Actually, it’s rare to agree with someone about everything. My wife Brianna is my best friend but we still don’t agree on what house “clutter” is; I say everything is worth keeping, while she says everything I’m keeping is worthless! Notwithstanding the exaggeration, the point remains that we still learn from and challenge each other everyday. Similarly, it is quite limiting to stick with the same tribe of authors because reading widely helps to avoid tunnel vision by providing differing viewpoints. So if you only read a single publisher, a certain author, or a particular movement, you’ll inhibit your ability to think critically. Now, you should read much within your particular tribe, if you have one, to strengthen your convictions. But being surrounded only by your favorite authors can cause you to become ethnocentric, concerned only with reinforcing your preexisting beliefs, and perhaps unable to question your own fallibility.
Now what’s the fun in that??
One of the more invigorating reading practices of mine was to broaden my scope to include more authors within the realm of Christian orthodoxy—I tend to read theology—suspecting that some of those whom I disagree with may still offer a valid and even helpful perspective. But how does one do this? My friend once told me to “chew the meat and spit out the bones” when I came across anything questionable in a book. By this he meant that I was to learn from anything valuable whilst disregarding everything else. I suppose this is a less tired variation of saying “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”
Leave behind the bad and keep in mind the good.
You’re probably doing this with my blog post. You’ve found a few helpful points, perhaps a clever sentence or two, yet are disregarding everything that is disagreeable or rubs you the wrong way. Perhaps you loved the thought of reading widely, but hated the implication that reading narrowly leads to tribalism. Perhaps you disagree with the entire premise of the post and read it with great reluctance. Perhaps you hate the cute stock image of a dog chewing on a bone. Since we are being completely honest with each other, you should admit that you skim most of my blog posts anyway. And that’s quite alright. In fact, you should hone this as a skill and use it on all authors that endeavors to persuade you. Because the reality is that everything you read is attempting to convince you of a truth claim in one form or another. Whether a classic novelist weaving together a grand narrative of suffering and God’s existence, as in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s the Brother’s Karamazov, the doctrinal claims of the latest theologian, or this blog post, you must discern the truth claim being made and whether it is worthy of an audience. But what to do when an author is tantalizing and at other times distasteful? Must you ignore brilliant authors because they don’t acclimate to every opinion you have? Of course not. After all…it could be you that’s wrong half the time (or more). Just chew the meat and spit out the bones. Happy reading! And watch out for those indigestibles.
This was a book title I overheard of periodically among several church-planters who all ended up moving to urban areas. Since I’m not a church-planter, I put it off for a while to read books that were more practically geared towards mission where I’m at in life. And where I’m at in life is very passionate about the kingdom of God goin g forth! But without a place to engage myself in the kingdom of God, I went where I was needed or wanted. I have had the privilege of visiting 12 different countries seeing people’s stories being developed within God’s redemptive story. But over the last year, I developed a slight tension with evangelizing the nations of the world: the world has come to OUR doorstep, by making their homes in our cities. Why would I leave to go elsewhere when world evangelization can happen within a square block of any city? Of my city?
That is the punchline of Ray Bakke’s book on cities, which can be summarized by two complementary quotes from his book,
Large cities are both magnets, drawing the nations into them, and magnifiers, broadcasting the gospel out into the hinterlands (p.1592).
Early Christians penetrated the whole city, but not by claiming space for church buildings or programs of their own. They penetrated everybody else’s space instead (p.1836).
Bakke develops all of this through a systematic view of the Scriptures in which he concentrates on God’s plan for all cities–with over “1,250 uses of the word city in Scripture,” sprawling urban environments are obviously on God’s mind (p.87). However, it doesn’t read with the dryness of anything “systematic,” as Bakke draws you through narratives of the city in both Old and New Testament, full of urban character portraits of people who cried out to God for their cities, and saw dramatic results. Much of this is interwoven with his own testimony of being pulled from his rural environment into one that was far more urbanized. Of course, one intentional character is missing from the story: the church. And this is the point of the book.“We need deep roots to survive in urban ministry,” says Bakke (p.220). This book is a call for Christians to consider living in the cities of the world.
If you have a passion for cities, your neighborhood, or simply love people, I highly recommend this book. If you like living comfortably, with little risk, but still go on the occasional two-week missions trip to spice up your life…well, I highly recommend this book to you too :-)
You can purchase this book on A Theology as Big as the City.
You can purchase the Kindle version of A Theology as Big as the City.
- Is “going on missions” a misnomer? (christopherlazo.com)