Okay, I’ve seen several people do this and I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon. Like a lot of pastors (and even more, being a student as well), my 2015 was flooded with books, even reading multiple books at a time. Needless to say…books.
I gave my shelves a perusing and picked out five that were my favorite reads of 2015. All of them were published in 2015 expect for Prayer in 2014. So here they are in no particular order with a few comments about each:
1) Prayer by Timothy Keller. This book was recommended by a friend who started reading it long before I did, but I finished it long before he did (actually, he still might be working on it). This is only the second Keller book I’ve read (the other being Prodigal God), and I loved it.
It’s hard to walk down the aisles of your favorite book store and find good reads on prayer. Most seem to be from a highly charismatic perspective, which can get a bit weird for my understandings. So it was nice seeing a solid evangelical writer come out with a substantial book. And by calling it that, it’s probably not the best book to give to someone just starting out their Christian walk. He gets into some deep subjects and history that might be better left for someone who is more mature in faith. Yet even then, it is a book that will stretch you and help you rediscover the beauty and greatness of prayer.
2) The Happy Christian by David Murray. I actually have a co-contributor here at Voices to thank for this one: Mike Leake (he wrote a review on it, available here). Personally, I thought chapter 1 was a bit slow and not my favorite to read, but after that the book picked up steam and rolled with good content and challenges “to be a joyful believer in a gloomy world” (as the subtitle says).
Happiness is a struggle. It’s a struggle first because of sin, second because even the most fulfilling things in life leave us ultimately unfulfilled, third because of the darkness of the world, and fourth for some of us because of personality or brain chemistry or what not. In the face of this, Murray provides help to find true, God-centered happiness, by looking forward and upward, and not being bogged down by sin and the world.
3) Fool’s Talk by Os Guinness. Since I first discovered Os Guinness’ writings, he has been one of my favorite authors (along with Francis Schaeffer). He has a way about him that is intellectual, challenging, gracious, and kind all wrapped into one. For a man who has long been engaged in the apologetical and philosophical side of Christianity, he waited until these latter years of his life to write a book on apologetics.
Fool’s Talk is about learning to use the art of persuasion to gain a gospel hearing. He pushes the idea that our aim is not to win arguments but hearts and minds, and that we won’t do that being brash and arrogant know-it-alls who put others (especially non-Christians) down at every chance we get.
Early in the book, Guinness talks about how he keeps a statue of a donkey on his desk because he sees it as the mascot of the apologist. His exact explanation is:
Balaam’s ass is the patron saint of apologists…. In order to counter [unbelief], we play our part, and we do the best we can. But even when our efforts are serviceable, our role is always humble and all too often inadequate and somewhat ridiculous. Christian advocates who understand their calling should never be too big for their boots. The task is not about us. It’s all about him, and he may be trusted to do what matters.
…even if “what matters” involves using a talking donkey. How can you not love that?
4) Life in Community by Dustin Willis. Community is Willis’ follow-up to Life on Mission he coauthored with Aaron Coe. Where Mission focused on relational evangelism as a lifestyle, Community reminds us that family is at the heart of our religion—not merely physical family, though that certainly plays a role, but the spiritual family that actually supersedes it.
Willis uses the dinner table as the primary symbol for our spiritual family—it’s a place where we gather for sustenance, intimacy, and sharing. The book is a fairly quick read that focuses on Romans 12 and the topics of regular accountability, service, hospitality, honor, etc., and includes a 6-week study guide for a small group. Willis pushes us beyond the attitude of “show up for Sunday school and church, and then go on with the rest of my life the other six days.” After all, without community we won’t see true Christlikeness.
5) Onward by Russell Moore. I received this book for free at MBTS’ For the Church conference this summer. Yet even if I had to pay for it, it would have been worth every penny. Moore can sometimes be a polarizing figure, especially among some isolationist Baptists, yet I’d argue that no matter your politic (church and otherwise), you should give this book a read with an open mind and let yourself be challenged.
His primary premise is that no matter what happens in the world around us, and no matter what our government declares illegal or legal, we belong to an eternal nation and perfect King who is in charge, and he’s not worried about the schemes of man. When we truly believe this, we are able to engage our culture with love and grace with the goal of pointing people to Jesus and not a self-preservation of our way of life.
6) Honorable mentions…
a) N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God.—a very dense and long, yet thought-provoking and God-glorifying book from a new perspective person who isn’t far-in-left-field new perspective. I’ve always enjoyed reading Wright. The only reason this book is an honorable mention is because I’ve been slowly reading it going on two years now and still have several hundred pages. It’s almost become a devotional read for me. When I finish it, it will be in my top five for a span of years.
b) Dave Miller, Brick Walls and Picket Fences.—okay, I wanted to give a shout-out to Dave. Seriously, his book is a solid primer on theological triage (to use Mohler’s term). It is a good reminder for anyone that not all doctrinal convictions are worth dividing over. And it would be a good tool for a younger Christian who struggles with why there are so many denominations and so many diverse beliefs on certain doctrines.
c) Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles.—growing up I was a sci-fi nerd. Okay, I still kind of am. Yet, I had never read this classic by Bradbury until I decided to order it out of the blue. It is a bit dated, as we now know that Mars contains no Martians, yet it’s an enjoyable read that helps expand the imagination…so I had to include it.
Those are the favorite reads from my year. What’s yours?