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Top 5 books I read in 2013

I don’t know what others mean when they say “top 5 books,” but for me, it’s pretty straightforward:

  1. What I enjoyed reading most
  2. What impacted the way I think most
  3. If it uncovered a new idea for me
  4. If I was carried through the entire book
  5. I would recommend it to others
  6. 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.

2. Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith, by Michael Reeves.

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.

3. Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry, by Michael Lawrence.

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.

4. Preaching Without Notes, by Joseph M. Webb.

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.

5. A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation, by Noah Lukeman.

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.


Honorable Mentions.

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.

Chew the meat spit out the bones

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.

8 ways to determine if a book is going to be a waste of time

Someone once remarked about how I always end up giving books I read four or five stars.

My reply was, “Well, I try not to read bad books.”

The problem is, I don’t read very fast—around 200 words a minute (one page). Since I’m such a slow reader, I don’t want to waste my time on the bad stuff. So here are some ways I go about sifting through the garbage in order to find the gold!

1. Read the cover

The book title doesn’t give a lot of explanation, but the subheading often explains in one tweetable sentence what the book is going to be about. For example, the book, Radical, by David Platt could be about anything. Radical Christians. Radical entrepreneurship. Radical eggplant soup. But one glance at the subheading, “Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream,” carries a theme that focuses on sacrificial living.

2. Read the inlet

Usually, there is a short explication of the subheading on the inside of the leaflet, or on the back cover. These are generally excerpts written by the publisher trying to sell you the book. Even though they’re sometimes embellished (like gossip on Twitter), they still give a decent summary of what the book is going to be about.

3. Read the intro by author

If the concept of the book interests me at this point, I’ll read the author’s introduction. This usually has the author’s reason for writing the book, so you can capture a glimpse of the backdrop behind the book, how well it has impacted the author in the writing process, and whether it may or may not impact you in the reading process..

Read the rest of this entry

Book review: The Millennials, by Thom S. Rainer and Jess W. Rainer.

As a college pastor, I am continually trying to understand the people I have been called to shepherd (myself included). This is the book I’ve been waiting for: a fresh study on my generation, from a humble perspective of those trying to reach them with the gospel. This book was authored by Thom Rainer and Jess Rainer, a Boomer and a Millennial, respectively. Their age differences offer wisdom, insight, and differing viewpoints needed for one generation to understand the other.

The Millennials is a collection of stats, interviews, and research on those born roughly between 1980 and 1990. The Rainers look intently at the most important issues that have formed the identity of the world’s largest generation, and the demographic of which the entire world wants a piece. Some of the issues involve significance, transparency, reconciliation, the workplace, and spirituality. But no other issue is more important to a Millennial than relationships. The Rainers explore this throughout their book, shedding light on ways that we can reach out to, understand, and be positively influenced by what will become one of the most powerful generations the world has ever seen.

I gave this book the highest rating possible. I’m not sure how other people decide their 5-star rating system, but mine is particular, and since I gave this book 5 stars, you should also know why I did. A five-star rating means it fulfilled all the below requirements for me when I read a book.

  1. Did it have something important to say? (Or do I feel like I read this book before?)
  2. Was it well written? (Not?)
  3. Was it cohesive? (Or did I get lost?)
  4. Was it consistent? (Or was there wasted space?)
  5. Is it relevant to MY niche? (Or just simply a good book?)
This is a well-written treatment of a particular section of the population that I happen to love: Millenials. It is clear, consistent, and honest leading up to its conclusions, and will help me restructure much of my past methodology in trying to connect with college students.

If you want to connect with this generation, you absolutely must read this book. It is only available in Kindle edition, but it is currently FREE. Order now before they mark up the price.

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