Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Year in Books

I like to read. There, I said it. Last year, my wife and I each put together a reading list, to focus our love of reading into the most helpful and efficient plan as possible. It was not a contest, but I don't mind admitting that my wife listed 10 books to read in 2013, and she read 12. I listed 20 books to read in 2013, and I read 9. Both of us changed our lists through the year so that some of the ones we read were not on the original list. But however you look at, my wife is either better at goal setting or goal accomplishing than me (or both!). So now, in 2014, I should apply the lesson learned: set a realistic and achievable goal. Should. But won't. I am a glutton for punishment. I have more books on my to-read list this year. The difference this year is that I know I won't read them all, and I know the list will change again. And I tried to list by topics of what I want to be reading about. My hope is that these topics stay mostly consistent every year going forward. For example, I always want to read a book about suffering every year. That doesn't sound exciting, but I think its important. Also, I want to read a book by Tim Keller every year - I think he will write enough for this to be possible in my lifetime. But more on all that later. First, a brief summary of the 9 excellent books I read in 2013.

1. Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books - Tony Reinke

This is a good one to start with, even though it wasn't the first I read in 2013. My wife gave me this book for my birthday (in January), and I started reading it right away. It is a great, quick read and very helpful. Among other things, it encouraged me about the possibility, and importance, of reading multiple books at one time. Divided by type of book, and environment where you read (morning in the family room, in bed at night, at lunch in the office) this is a great way to be reading a lot and without overwhelming yourself. Also, Reinke encouraged what was already a growing desire with both my wife and I: read more fiction. Fiction is what got me in to reading as a kid, and I now am fully convinced that it will keep me in to reading as an adult. My list this year reflects my desire to read a good dose of fiction.

2. Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry - Mike Wilkerson

I actually started this book in 2012. But it counts for 2013! We went through the book of Exodus at my church, and this book is a story-oriented book about real people and real sin and suffering, paralleled with the real stories of Exodus. It was a eye-opening account of the two things that everyone in the world faces - sin and suffering -  and an amazing description of the grace of God in redeeming us from both of these things, just as he did with the Israelites at the time of the Exodus, and just like he always does through the blood and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

3. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God - J.I. Packer

This book was amazing. I wish I could quote the whole thing here. Read it! I have had this book on my radar for a while, but this year my wife and I had the privilege of serving on an Evangelism Team at our church, focusing on ways to infuse evangelism into the culture of every ministry, and into the life and practice of every member. God did amazing things through this effort. And this book gave me great perspective and conviction on God's desire and plan to reach the world through the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel through his believers. Not without us! This book is definitely in my "read again" category. Two important reminders that I need from Packer: "It is a tragic and ugly thing when Christians lack desire, and are actually reluctant, to share the precious knowledge that they have with others whose need of it is just as great as their own." And also, "We all can and should be praying for the salvation of unconverted people, particularly in our families, and among our friends and everyday associates."

4. Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership - Alexander Strauch

Wow, this was a full year. I also had the amazing and humbling privilege of participating in a Shepherd Development program at my church, learning and being exposed to the leadership of a healthy church. And let me tell you: by the grace of God, College Park Church is exceedingly healthy. Among other things, this experience gave me a firm conviction to aspire for the office of an elder, which as Paul says to Timothy, is a noble task, until God would see it fit for that aspiring to become reality. I pray that such timing would be very clear to me and my church. This book, which we were required to read for the program, was long and a difficult read, but was extremely beneficial and enlightening. God really does desire that his church, dispersed in local bodies of believers, be spiritually led by elders, whose qualifications and clearly specified, and the dynamic of how this should work for the benefit of the body is explained in Scripture. It is a very encouraging thing to realize, and very humbly that my wife and I, and God-willing future children, sit under the leadership of such a biblical and helpful structure of leadership and shepherding.

5. Paul: A Novel - Walter Wangerin, Jr.

This was the most enjoyable book I read this year. I picked this up at Half Price Books several years ago, and back then expected it to just be decor on my book shelf. But then I was encouraged to read fiction, so I put it on my 2013 reading list, and picked it up mid-year sometime. It was long, but I didn't want it to end. Even though it was a fictional account, I was blown away by the fact that many of the stories that Wangerin used to build events and characters around, were based on actual stories either in the Book of Acts or implied in Paul's epistles. I always had a Bible close by as I breezed through the chapters of this book, and it gave me a very wide perspective on and interest in the character and experiences of the Apostle Paul. So much so that I have a book about Paul on my list this year as well.

6. Uprooting Anger: Biblical Help for a Common Problem - Robert D. Jones

Each year at College Park we have a spotlight event focusing on community life, where the entire church goes through the same topic in small groups. This year the topic was anger, and this book was a great supplement to the studies and conversations we had. Who knew that we all had such an anger problem? I didn't think I was mad, but I was, and I am. What is easily dismissed as frustration or annoyance is really at the root an angry heart that expects something or wants something that usually comes from selfish motives rather than legitimate needs. There is a difference between righteous anger and sinful anger, but at the end of the day, only God really has righteous anger (anger against injustice), and all our anger is more or less sinful. The gospel gives us hope that we can be forgiven of this, and even in our anger, by the power of God we can avoid being sinful.

7. Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Plan for the World - Tim Keller

This was the best book I read in 2013. Paul was the most enjoyable, but this was the best. And I knew it would be. It covers one of my favorite topics, which on Twitter I identify with #WorkMatterstoGod. As soon as I can, I will post my thesis on this topic, and the heartbeat of how I connect my profession with my calling. This book, as Keller is so brilliant at doing, takes several books and resources on this topic and quickly summarizes them, and then connects them and adds to them in the most helpful way possible. Keller talks about God's plan for our work, our problems with work, and then explains the gospel and work. As I said, more to come. but this book is arguably in the top ten most important books for me because of the relevance for my life.

8. The Evangelization of the World in This Generation - John R. Mott

I love rare and used books. Usually, I buy them for a collectors item only, and in many cases they are not in good enough shape to read, if I care anything about keeping them in decent condition (which I do). But the time seemed right this October, during the REACH spotlight event at College Park on global missions, to dive into this book I had on the shelf and expose myself to some early 20th Century perspective on missions. It didn't let me down. The title alone is telling and convicting. The evangelization, or the proclaiming of the gospel to everyone in the world, in this generation; well, this book was written at least a generation ago, depending on your definition of generation. And the world is still not completely evangelized. But if you need convincing that it should be, and it is God's desire and command that it will be, read this book. Even in its repetition it successfully brings home the point that the whole world is included in the call. And, particularly interesting is the connection to Jesus' words in Scripture that it is after this happens, namely, "this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed to the whole world as a testimony to all nations", that the end will come. The end will not come until this happens, and this should happen in this generation, according to Mott and many others. Does that mean that the end will come in this generation? Whoa.

9. Jonathan Edwards Resolutions and Advice to Young Converts

My wife got this little book for me for Christmas, and I snuck it in this year because it is very short. But I want to carry it in to the new year re-reading and reflecting on often, because it offers more powerful resolutions than anything I have even imagined. Let me just give you a few examples: "Resolved, never to do anything that I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life. Resolved, to act, in all respects, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and to let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom and of hell." A bit more powerful than working out more or keeping my inbox clear, huh?


So that brings us to this year. As I said, I tried to make this list based on topics that I always want to be reading about. It would seem to make sense to have only book for each category. But sometimes I don't make very much sense. Also, the topics or categories are not all inclusive, and could themselves change within the year. For example, two of the categories are "Tim Keller" and "C.S. Lewis", because I want to read a book by each of them every year. I could also make John Piper as a unique category, but in the case of this year I have a Piper book in another category. Additionally, some of the categories overlap. So, whether it is apparent or not, I have a method to my madness. Without further adieu, here is my 2014 reading list, by category. It is bold, unrealistic, and evolving. Wish me luck!


1. Gospel-Centered Teaching - Trevin Wax

I hope this to be a real practical help for small group leadership.

2. Gospel-Centered Discipleship - Jonathan K. Dodson

I hope this to complement well the initiatives and focus at our church on real life-on-life discipleship for the purpose of multiplication.

3. Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands - Paul David Tripp

I was given this book upon becoming a small group leader at College Park. Both for myself, and others in my life, I trust this will be a valuable resource to counsel and shepherd others biblically.

4. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction - Eugene Peterson

The emphasis on perseverance is what is intriguing to me about this book. And it comes highly recommended by a pastor at my church.


5. The Silmarillion - J.R.R. Tolkien

I have started this many times, most recently in 2013, but this year I am committed to reading it all the way through. The new release of the Hobbit trilogy has reawakened my interest in Middle Earth. This book is an escape like no other.

6. The Apostle - Sholem Asch

Found this at an old book store. I'm hoping it will continue my interest in the Apostle Paul, and complement well my study in Romans this year.

7. Otherworld - Jared Wilson

I enjoy very much the wisdom and humor of Jared Wilson, and this book, his first novel, should be interesting and I'm glad to have it on my list.

8. Same Kind of Different As Me - Ron Hall & Denver Moore

This book comes highly recommended by my brother and sister-in-law. I had it on my list last year, but this year is the year for it!

9. A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

My wife and I are taking a trip in March to two cities: London and Paris. Duh, I gotta read this book before we go.


10. Inerrancy and Worldview - Vern Poythress

One of my favorite theological topics is the doctrine of Scripture. I have written about before the fact that I find so much of contemporary confusion or resistance to Christianity to come back to the lack of appreciation for the nature and power of God's word. This book has been on my radar for awhile. I expect it to be a doozy and a bear to read, but worth the effort.


11. Death by Living - N.D. Wilson

I wrote a blog post on a topic similar to what I think this book is trying to say, before I knew about the book. Now I am really excited to read the book, and get a yearly dose of eternal perspective, which I know I need all the time. Every hour.


12. William Tyndale: A Biography - David Daniell

Found this at Half Price on sale (so like quarter price), and in light of our church's Christmas offering to assist in the translation of the Bible to the unreached, I thought this would be a good fit for my biography this year.


13. Sultana - Alan Huffman 

Spoiler alert: I want to write a book. Among the topics I want to include, is the miraculous story of my great-great grandfather, who survived the most fatal marine disaster in history (worse than the Titanic), and became a Christian after this experience.
14. Andersonville - MacKinlay Kantor

Before the Sultana explosion, my grandfather had to survive the prison camp Andersonville. This is a fictional account of that experience, but one I expect will widen my perspective of the event in history.


15. Your Brain at Work - David Rock

The overcoming distraction part I am especially intrigued by as it applies to my time and productivity at work.

16. Crazy Busy - Kevin DeYoung

I am NOT too busy to read this book.


17. Work Matters - Tom Nelson

This is my favorite topic, the title is the same as the topic, and I went to a workshop led by Tom Nelson last year at Gospel Coalition. Natural 2014 read for me.


18. Don't Call it a Comeback - Kevin DeYoung

I forget that every book I've read by DeYoung is great. So I needed to read more of him, and this one I have wanted to read since it came out. It fits well into the church category.


19. City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era - Michael Gerson & Peter Wehner 

It is an election year, so it is good to have a biblical perspective in preparation for that.


20. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya - Ruth A. Tucker

I started this one in October 2013, and I'm about 150 pages in. Looking forward to completing it this year to keep a focus on global missions.


21. Being a Dad Who Leads - John MacArthur

By the grace of God, I will be a dad soon. As a reader, some of the best mental preparation I can do is read about it!


22. When the Darkness Will Not Lift - John Piper

As unfortunate as it is, preparing for suffering is one of the most important things we can do as Christians. This book looks like a great resource in that regard, and covers my Piper book, and is a short read.


23. The Gospel for Real Life - Jerry Bridges

In April, David Platt is focusing his Secret Church event on the Cross and Everyday Life. What a great topic! So, I want to expand upon the daily gospel application that I will focus on this year by reading this book.


24. The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness - Tim Keller

I got this one for free on Kindle. It is Keller, its about humility, and its short. Must read for me in 2014.


25. The Pilgrim's Regress - C.S. Lewis

Gotta get my Lewis fix. This one should do that and more!