Recommended Reading

If you are looking for something good to read, try one of the following books.

Reading is a very important skill to cultivate. I encourage you to make it a goal to read at least one more book than you read last year. Maybe you can order one of these from Amazon or the local bookstore. If you do, Church, would you give me the honor and encouragement to chat about it with me?

- Jeremiah Kinney

Here are my top 15 reads for church life in 2014:

1. Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis
Every year you grow, you will find me bigger (141).

This book is less known than its prequel, and it does start slowly, but Prince Caspian is Lewis' beautiful picturing of the life of faith as we persevere by Christ's strength. Aslan (a picture of Christ) is glad that Caspian feels unable and unworthy to be king, and so too does God feel about our feelings of infirmity (2 Cor 12). A scene that chokes me up is Lucy's discovery of Aslan, his acceptance of her despite her failure to trust and follow him, and his empowering of her to go out and do what he wants her to do. Beautiful words.

2. Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ, Russell D. Moore
We resist temptation the way Jesus did, through the word of the kingdom...No matter what it is that you are struggling against, you are a sinner, but you are not a freak (166, 177).

Russell Moore communicates biblical truth with great vivacity and insight. The wilderness temptations of Jesus Christ point us to Jesus and what it means to be human, and Moore discusses each of those three temptations with illustrations, Biblical patterns, and cultural awareness.

3. Peace Child, Don Richardson
To sustain the deception of friendship over a period of months and then consummate it as they were now doing called for that special sophistication in treachery which was the elixir of Sawi legends (34).

In 1962, Don and Carol Richardson, and their little children, moved to a Sawi village in Irian Jaya and found a culture that was moved to rapturous exultation when they heard the story of Judas' "victory" over Jesus Christ. Not only did they love it, they had always modeled it within their own relationships, and they had the trophies to prove it. Read the story of how God used an overwhelmed missionary family to transform village after village after village with the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ through one particular picture of the gospel. Richardson asks, what is the gospel picture that is just right for your friends?

4. Turning to God: Reclaiming Christian Conversion as Unique, Necessary, and Supernatural, David F. Wells
We are often selling an anemic gospel that asks for little beyond the sales clinch and are then grateful for any who might adhere to it. Little is expected of them by way of moving beyond the threshold of belief and into a full-orbed discipleship (23).

Wells' theological exploration of the doctrine of conversion helps us understand two sides of a coin: Conversion is a work of God that does happen for every person who is God's child, but conversion, while always as a result of the gospel of the cross, does not happen the same way for every person. There are church-cultured insiders and church-cultured outsiders. There is the unique experience of Paul and the normative experience of Paul. Wells helps us think through all of this biblically in a book that should move each Christian to worship and evangelism.

5. Fools Rush in where Monkeys Fear to Tread: Taking Aim at Everyone, Carl R. Trueman
We all need to cultivate that certain unmessianic sense of nondestiny that will make us better citizens of the kingdom (119).

Not only did he make me laugh out loud a few times, Trueman brought me to think deeply about what it means to be involved in a local church. He helped me questions the values that conflict with my ability to invest meaningfully in the community where God has placed me.

6. The Church: The Gospel Made Visible, Mark Dever
For too many Christians today, the doctrine of the church is like a decoration on the front of a building. Maybe it's pretty, maybe it's not, but finally it's unimportant because it bears no weight...The doctrine of the church is important because it is tied to the good news itself (ix, 165).

Dever gives a readable survey across the spectrum of what church means, local church (including leadership, ministry, ordinances, discipline, restoration, and worship). In an age when we can travel so far and when our curiosity can range so widely, it is so easy for Christians to enjoy the breadth of what it means to be a part of the One True Church, with all of her famous preachers and speakers and authors and ministries. In this case, we need books like Dever's to remind us of the value of our locality, and this book discusses perhaps every key concept of local church theology and philosophy.

7. The Pleasures of God, John Piper
All the pleasures of God are leading irrevocably to the establishment of a kingdom where disobedience and unbelief will be no more. God will reign in righteousness and justice and peace, and all of life will be the obedience of faith and joy (246).

Picture that! God has a singular mission statement. Insofar as I conform to it, I find joy and blessing as a part of it. There's room for me in God's pleasure. But there is no secondary goal of God that is all about me. Am I satisfied with that? Only by the grace of God in Christ. In each chapter, Piper builds this thesis by presenting a concept that brings God pleasure, according to the Bible.

8. Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, edited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright
Baptism, as this book will demonstrate, is the initiation rite into the Christian church (1).

God gave the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper to our five senses and to our memories. Why are there disagreements between faithful Christians and how should they communicate with one another? What is the point of baptism and how can we find it moving and relevant? Each chapter approaches the topic from a different light, whether examining biblical data from different authors of Scripture or considering baptism historically or denominationally. What a rich blessing is baptism, when we talk about what it is rather than what it isn't.

9. Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell
When one family fights with another, it's a feud. When lots of families fight with one another in identical little towns up and down the same mountain range, it's a pattern (166).

What made Korean pilots the most dangerous, and now the safest, pilots in the world? How can you become, not good, but great at hockey in Canada? How did Jewish lawyers flourish in New York City? Why did Bill Gates succeed when other geniuses did not? Gladwell talks about the surroundings of statistical anomalies to show that there is a steady accumulation of goodness that goes into bringing about a good result. The upshot: How can I maximize where I am from?

10. Center Church: Doing Balanced Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City, Timothy Keller
The gospel has supernatural versatility to address the particular hopes, fears, and idols of every culture and every person (44).

From the multifaceted, not one-sided, glory of the gospel to the presentation of it where I live, Keller presents a magnum opus on gospel ministry that no church leader should ignore. We can feast on this book for years. It outweighs in value the rest of the bookcase where I keep it.

11. Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship, John MacArthur
Much of the problem, it seems, is that the modern church has lost sight of the Holy Spirit's divine majesty (181).

Let's keep something straight: the ministry of the Holy Spirit is always that of pointing to Jesus. The Trinity is unified in God's beautiful master plan of salvation, but much false worship has been attributed to a "holy spirit" who seems to have gone rogue. MacArthur presents behind-the-curtain historical and modern research on the danger of several popular ministries while asking good questions in a good spirit to faithful Christians who do not fully align with him on the nature of Spiritual gifts. In addition, he presents a step-by-step systematic look at what the Bible says the Holy Spirit does, and even if this is all you like in the book, this part can bring you to worship and joy at the wonder of salvation.

12. The Count of Monte Cristo (unabridged), Alexandre Dumas; translated by Robin Buss.
'I am doing this, God, as much for your honor as for mine,' he said, raising his eyes to heaven. 'For the past ten years, I have considered myself as the emissary of your vengeance, God.' (988).

Forgiveness is hard. But, in the end, it's all we have.

13. Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, Paul David Tripp
How many pastors are living in a constant state of spiritual unrest? (126).

The calling to ministry means a true risk of our souls. Tripp looks at the culture of pastorhood to show us pastors where we can go astray in our hearts and values and how we can stick with Christ to thrive in our calling. And if you are not a pastor, you can still read this book if you know and love and pray for one.

14. Genesis in Space and Time, Francis A. Schaeffer
All the way back to the dawn of our studies we find man still being man. Wherever we turn--to the caves in the Pyrenees, to the Sumerians..., it makes no difference: Everywhere men show by their art and their acts that they observed themselves to be unique...And yet they were as flawed with the dilemma of man, divisions of all kinds, as we are today...[Genesis 1-11] tell us the 'why' of all history man knows through his studies, including the 'why' of each man's personal history. For this, Genesis 1-11 is more important than anything else one could have (158-59).

What of the history of Genesis 1-11? What of the science of Genesis 1-11? Let's try this on for size instead: What of the theology of Genesis 1-11? Schaeffer, in discussing that theology, helps us think wisely and answer questions about the history and science. Let's put the horse before the cart.

15. Les Miserables (The Wretched), Victor Hugo; translated by Christine Donougher
This priest's forgiveness was the greatest assault and most tremendous attack he had ever experienced (104).

Forgiveness is hard. Legalism can kill us. Forgivenness can produce true beauty for ourselves and others.

Here are my top 12 reads for church life in 2013:

1. Knowing God, J. I. Packer
We must seek, in studying God, to be led to God (23).

My top book of the year, Knowing God, is deep theology written magazine style. Literally. It was originally published in a magazine, piece by piece. Packer underscores the vitality of experientially and relationally knowing God, then walks us through the attributes of God, various aspects of salvation, and then a masterful application of Romans 8. Don't miss the chapters on propitiation and adoption! John Calvin wrote on page 1 of his Institutes of the Christian Religion that we must know God and know ourselves to have any hope for a joyous eternity. Packer took this to heart and really helped us out with a marvelous book.

2. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs
When God intends the greatest mercies to his people, he first usually brings them into very low conditions (116).

If you buy the Banner of Truth Trust Puritan Paperbacks edition, this book too will be theologically rich but still simple to read. God used The Rare Jewel to lead me through a very dark time in my life. Though people had hurt me, slandered me, lain in ambush for me, and kicked me while I was down, this 400-year-old book kept turning my eyes away from myself and back to my marvelous God, my fully satisfying God, my Father, Coach, and King. Burroughs analyzes discontent as well as the surpassing worth of Jesus Christ. And God brought me through pain to joy and new strength.

3. Simplify Your Spiritual Life: Spiritual Disciplines for the Overwhelmed, Donald Whitney
I write as a fellow struggler in the need to simplify (13).

Whitney's Simplify is the first book we read in our discipleship boot camp we call "Breakfast of Champions" at Remedy City. The author clarifies what we are really after—glorifying and knowing God—as we pursue disciplined habits in Bible meditation, prayer, Christian connectedness, and other aspects of spiritual life. Since each chapter is only two pages long, the reader enjoys great insights with zero filler. It's good to read a book with no trans fat.

4. An Old Testament Theology, Bruce K. Waltke, with Charles Yu
This book is a profession of faith—a reasoning faith, I hope, and reasonable: what Saint Anselm called "faith out on a quest to know" (10).

We should read hard books. This one was a challenge for me, at 969 pages. The first third of Waltke's OT Theology is a textbook on hermeneutics, the proper techniques for reading and interpreting Scripture, and Waltke insists that every part of the Old Testament leads us to Jesus Christ. Then, chapter by chapter, he deals with key themes of the Old Testament. The book is a little skimpy in the prophets, but thorough in the Pentateuch, eye-opening in the histories, and encouraging in the Wisdom books. I especially enjoyed the devotional reading of Judges and Ruth, and the Christ-centered outlook on the Elijah-Elisha cycle.

5. The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans 1, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
When you wish anybody grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, you have wished them everything (161).

A whole book on a single chapter of the Bible? Absolutely. Each chapter of this book is a sermon edited for print that Lloyd-Jones preached on Friday nights at Westminster Chapel in London, beginning in 1955. As I slowly read through his expositions, I found my conversations becoming more and more laced with themes from God's word.

6. The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters, Albert Mohler
The Christian leader stands out as one who has developed intellectual habits that are consistent with biblical truth (34).

Mohler wants us to lead out of deeply ingrained convictions and what he calls convictional intelligence. He goes on to define a conviction as well as a man or woman of conviction. Then he applies these definitions to 25 broad fields of a leader's life, including his death. A personal highlight for 2013: I got this book signed and held a conversation with the author about Teddy Roosevelt's leadership.

7. Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good, Paul Newman and A. E. Hotchner
PL was very proud of his salad dressing, and this was the apotheosis of his salad days (1).

(What a fun book. Newman and Hotchner tell us how they developed the Newman's Own line of foods, the ag-business obstacles they overcame with serendipitous science, the way they sold successfully because of conviction rather than greed, and the way they used the profits to build amazing camps for gravely sick kids. If this is what a pair of men can do in the name of Good, what can men and women do in the name of the Almighty God?

8. The Treasure Principle: Discovering the Secret of Joyful Giving, Randy Alcorn
My heart always goes where I put God's money (41).

Alcorn explains that giving more and more of our finances to true outlets for God's work is a joyful and inspiring experience. Do we want to build or hoard? Do we want to give or keep, ultimately? Alcorn calls us to be financial agents of God's wealth, just moving it on to where it should be applied. Churches debate and discuss and fret over the concept of tithing, but no one I have ever read or heard explained it so well as Alcorn in The Treasure Principle.

9. Reformation: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, Carl R. Trueman
A cross-centred church understands the true theological status of weakness (63).

I was grateful for Trueman's reminder to us of Martin Luther's two theological paradigms. The first, the theology of glory, is that selfish pursuit of all that brings me momentary ease, viewing God as my personal valet. Even in the U.S. Church's outrages against secular slights against our moral values do we see hints of this theology of glory. "How dare we be called to suffer?! They can't cancel our TV show!" Whenever our gut reaction is to boycott and not to pray, then we have internalized the heresy of the theology of glory. The second, the theology of the cross, is that Christ-like worldview of deferred joy for present sacrifice. And herein, church, lies reformation. Read this little book.

10. The ONE Thing: The Surpisingly Simple Truth behind Extraordinary Results, Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
It was a transformational moment. I had never considered how so few could change so much (2).

Keller calls us to pursue ONE thing to the exclusion of all the rabbit trails and wild goose chases we are constantly called to pursue. He applies his focusing principle to every avenue of life. An easy but important read.

11. How the Gospel Leads Us All the Way Home, Derek W. H. Thomas
We never get past the gospel (138).

Another whole book on a single Bible chapter, this time covering Romans 8. Easier to read than Lloyd-Jones, Thomas boldly faces up to the questions I ask and hear others ask about how we can really trust God with our eternity.

12. Fusion, Nelson Searcy, with Jennifer Dykes Henson
Seven minutes is all you get to make a positive first impression (49).

Searcy is immensely practical. In Fusion, he points out the importance of having an intentional system of assimilating guests into church life so that they can become contributing members, and then he shows us how to do it. If you've been new to a church lately, you'll see why churches should be reading this book, and you'll see why you should read it too.

Here are my top 12 reads for church life in 2012:

1. Mirror Ball, Matt Redman

Explaining the title would be spoiling your reading. Instead, I will point out an interesting idea from Matt Redman (whose album Facedown is one I play all the time):

In our hearts we start to believe impossible things that other people cannot even begin to imagine. And before long we are taking a leap of faith that everyone else around us thinks is too great a stride.
2. Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, John Piper

I love this book. Each of the fifty reasons is explained with a passage of Scripture in a two-page "chapter." The book is wonderful for jump-starting your prayer or Bible-reading time, and you may find the thoughts moving you to explain the gospel better and better. (Get a free digital copy of the entire book here.)

3. Questioning Evangelism, Randy Newman

I read this book about four years ago and still find myself thinking about it, since it has completely changed how I approach people, especially with the gospel. The concept is simple: Since Jesus used questions to help people think about his message, shouldn't we? And if so, how did he do it? (Often, we can go days without meeting someone who will ask us a question. Think how sick and tired unbelievers are of Christians who don't bother to ask a question.)

4. 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever

What are these 9 marks? Read this book to have them carefully explained from the Bible. After all, shouldn't we be more interested in health than mere numbers, entertainment, etc.? And do our traditions match Biblical priorities? If you love CABC, will you order this book and read it?

5. Bruchko, Bruce Olson

What a story this is, of a man who trusted God's call on his life and humbly pursued it. Reading how the Holy Spirit leads him from one lesson to the next ought to inspire each of us to stop looking at things as risks but opportunities. After all, the Holy Spirit doesn't ever feel like he is taking risks.

6. The Anabaptist Story, William Estep

I always thought the Reformation-era Anabaptists were cranks and flakes, or, to put it more kindly, were doctrinally unsound. Estep shows portrait after portrait of people who were actually, instead, so committed to Scripture that they surrendered their lives, against the establishment, to follow a sincere conscience devoted to Jesus Christ. (A word of caution: After reading this book, it will be easy to see some of their opponents as cranks and flakes instead. Reading the biographies of these opponents will put them in the proper light as well.)

7. The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis

I cheated. I skipped to the end of the Narnia series recently, and read the last book. What a wonderful treat it was. I wish I could spoil it right here, but I won't. The way it puts into perspective the concept in Philippians 3:17-21, for example, is enlightening. My prayer: that it will get you looking more at the verses about heaven in the epistles, and through them, helping you to speculate less and live more.

8. Big Truths for Young Hearts, Bruce Ware

Bruce Ware spent years and years training his daughters in "systematic theology," an organized understanding of Bible beliefs. Now, his simple discussions with his girls are in this book, waiting for you to uncork them at the dinner table or bedside each evening.

9. Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich

I hope you will read this one, just to help you notice all the human beings around you day by day. There is some peppery language (a little vulgar but not so much that it fills the book). But I chose this book, not to push the envelope about unholy entertainment choices, but rather because this book helps readers see struggling human beings that surround every one of us. Jesus didn't wallow in the mud because he sinfully loved the mud and the wallowing (which is why we are tempted, at times, to make poor book and film choices), but he did spend enough time with "tax collectors and sinners" to be criticized by the self-righteous, counting his knowledge of them as more valuable than the acceptance of the Pharisees.

10. Knowing the Holy Spirit through the Old Testament, Christopher Wright

The Holy Spirit was promised to Christians by Jesus Christ to seal us, fill us, empower us, teach us, comfort us, build our churches person by person, and more. Christopher Wright has encouraged us to consider the entirety of the revealed story of the Holy Spirit, which might bring about a few questions: What does the Holy Spirit have to do with anything before Pentecost? And stipulating that, what does the Old Testament have to do with anyone after Pentecost?

11. The Queen of Katwe, Tim Crothers

This is a beautiful biography of a girl who had nothing, a marvelous man who had nothing, and a set of parents who felt left with nothing, all lifted up by the God who has it all and desires to give beyond what we can imagine. What can we become when we are radically changed by God?

12. I Am Not But I Know I AM, Louie Giglio

It's a clever little title for a book that is very easy to read. Do you know the God who names himself "I AM"? I ask myself: Is that enough for me? It it isn’t, do I really know him?