One of the things that I love about my job is how the Church gives me time to study and prepare. It’s a real blessing, I get paid to go off every year to pray and study (or maybe they just want me to get out of their hair) But I know it’s not just to write sermons, it’s to equip the priesthood of all believers for ministry, and when people ask me if there are any books I recommend I want to be as helpful as possible.
So for those of us who are looking for new reads in 2014, here are some of my favorite resources from this year (in no particular order):
Playing God by Andy Crouch. I can’t tell you how much I loved this book. The Christian relationship to power is always strained, but we use power all the time, and we’re not always conscious about how the Jesus story should inform what we do in leadership, serving and how we think about institustions. Crouch is one of my favorite writers, and this book is one of my favorites of the year.
Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes I think this book is one of the most helpful ones I read this year for Bible readers, teachers or preachers. The authors grew up in the Bible Belt, and then served as missionaries on the other side of the world. This book does the one thing that most of us who have grown up in Church and with reading the Bible need, it makes the familiar strange again.
Disunity in Christ by Christina Cleveland This book is painful in many parts as a reminder that our Churches, by and large are the most segregated places in the country. And not just in regard to race or socio-economics either. We carve the world up into such narrow categories, that we actually never have to worship with and serve along side people with disagree with. Cleveland’s question is, “Can we really call that church?” It’s written with a hopeful and helpful tone. It’s a great resource to remember what it really means to be the church, and why every church should care about it.
Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller. I’m not a Calvinist and I don’t like Systematic Theologies, but I really appreciated this book. Keller is one of my favorite writers and preachers because he is so good at reading his context, and here he’s on point. The first part of his book, he reframes the whole question about the secular approach to suffering, and I think it’s brilliant. Then the last third of the book is very helpful on a pastoral level. So much of ministering to people feels like trying to disarm a bomb. You are always wondering about which wire to cut, Keller acknowledges this and points out why some people find the Calvinist views of God comforting in their suffering, and others don’t, and gives some practical advice on how to walk with people in their suffering.
The God of Old by James Kugel. If you want to believe in Jesus you should read your Bible, if you want to believe like Jesus did this is a good book. It’s a window into how people in ancient times thought of God and the stories they told about Him.
Unapologetic by Francis Spufford. I want to carefully recommend this book, because it is not for everybody. I want to call Spufford irreverent, but that’s not right, he’s obscenely reverent. An atheist turned Christian, Spufford is writing to post-Christian England, and he speaks their language. If you are easily offended, skip on down to the next one. If you wrestle with faith, or are wanting to have better conversations with your friends who don’t believe in God, check this book out. Spufford is a word-surgeon and his description of the human condition is profound.
Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley If you are an opinion leader/teacher/minister/preacher of a local church read this book. Written in an incredibly honest and vulnerable way. If you care about Churches being hospitable, welcoming places, this book helps you ask better questions about why we sometimes aren’t, and what we can do about it.
Loves God, Likes Girls by Sally Gary. Sally is a friend of mine, but I think this was one of the better memoirs I’ve read. She’s a member of the Churches of Christ who deals with same-sex attraction. She leads a ministry called CenterPeace that helps Churches create safe places for people who are wrestling with their sexuality (which really should mean all of us) In a world where we like to talk past each other throw truth bombs at one another, Sally story and ministry helps build bridges and create kinder and more loving Churches. Earlier this year, I reviewed this book, but still want to recommend it now.
When Donkey’s Talk by Tyler Blanski. This guy has got a Masters in Medieval Church History and paints houses for a living. He writes about wizards and saints and witches and why the medieval world might make more sense than today. I love the way he writes and the tone of this book, Blanksi gave me language about how God’s world is enchanted. This book wasn’t as good as his first one, Mud and Poetry, but still a great read.
The Crowd, the Critic and the Muse by Michael Gungor. Fans of the band Gungor may have already read this, but it’s one of the surprise books of the year for me. If you are an artist, musician or creative of any type get this book. His story about a one man band named Emo-tron is worth the price of the book.
Prototype by Jonathan Martin. Martin is the son of a Pentecostal preacher, who became a Pentecostal Pastor himself, and then went to the Duke School of Divinity. He’s a Pentecostal mystic who loves Thomas Merton. He also planted a church called Renovatus: a Church for liars, dreamers and misfits. If he can name a church, just imagine what he can do with a book. It’s a memoir/testimony/theology book of sorts. But it’s really all about Jesus and ways Martin has seen God moving in the world.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs has always fascinated me, and this book was a great portrait of one of the most enigmatic and influential and bizarre people the world has seen. If you read this one, be sure to go back and read Playing God…they go well together. As does this next one…
The World is Not Ours to Save by Tyler Wigg Stevenson. Only a guy with a dream as big as “Getting rid of Nuclear weapons” could write a book quite like this. For all the non-profit leaders, ministry deacons and people who want make the world a better place, this is a good book to help temper our Messiah complex, and keep us serving for the right reasons. Plus there’s an awesome story about how Patch Adams starting a parade of naked people through San Francisco.
David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. If you’ve read Gladwell’s earlier stuff, you won’t be surprised…or let down. Writing this book actually led Gladwell back to being a person of faith. It’s impressive, and if you teach or preach, it’s fill with great stories that are immediately applicapble.
What We Talk About When We Talk About God by Rob Bell. I think this is one of Bell’s better books, especially for the conversations I’m hearing these days. For all the grief Bell gets and gives, he is answering the questions that I think people who won’t go to Church are actually asking. I recommend this book often for parents who have kids who have started to question their faith. It won’t stop our questions, but it will get us to ask better ones, and be skeptical of our skepticism.
So those are my top reads from 2013, What did I miss? Any suggestions for 2014?