This time of year the Christian blogosphere lights up with “Top Ten” lists. While I’ll gladly add my “two cents”, I do it with an expressed purpose: I want to influence what you read! What we read has the power to shape us and change us for good or bad. So here are my top ten reads of 2016.
10. Discipling: How to Helps Others Follow Jesus – Mark Dever: Making converts or church attenders isn’t enough. It was the apostle Paul’s desire to see everyone presented fully mature in Christ (Col. 1:28-29). It was Jesus’ desire to see his followers obey everything he has commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). That’s what this book helps us do.
9. The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms – Timothy Keller: Trivia question: what Old Testament book is most quoted and alluded to in the New Testament? Yep: Psalms. This is quintessential Keller: pithy, but profound and deeply nourishing to the soul.
8. Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity – Tim Challies: Pastors need to be generalists. That is, they need to know something about a lot of things. Studying productivity is a “hobby” for me. Challies writes from a biblical worldview on this subject so it was both practical and biblical.
7. Honest Evangelism: How to Talk about Jesus Even When it’s Tough – Rico Tice: Rico Tice has spent the better part of his life communicating the gospel to lost people in England. What I love about this book is how brutally honest he is about how difficult evangelism is for us. He writes, “I want to be honest: if you tell non-Christians about Jesus it will be painful.” But in the end, it’s hard to escape this reality: the true test of our love for people is demonstrated in whether or not we tell them about Jesus. Convicting!
6. The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters – Sinclair Ferguson: Don’t let the intimidating title discourage you from picking up and reading this gem. Ferguson is a pastor who has spent years unraveling the knots of sin contained within each human heart. This book will help you discover the strands of legalism still present in your own heart and help you recover God’s grace.
5. Putting Amazing Back into Grace: Embracing the Heart of the Gospel – Michael Horton: The world, the flesh, and the devil all exert their influence to try to get me to focus on what I have done or haven’t done. This self-concentration is debilitating, depressing, and draining and I wasn’t made to self-concentrate. I was made to God-concentrate. Horton’s work has as its goal to get us to ponder the gospel from beginning to end. Grace is amazing because I have done nothing to merit it! Grace is all God! This book helped me get outside of myself.
4. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit – James K.A. Smith: Malls, movies, vacations, technology are what Smith would call “cultural liturgies.” They are cultural rhythms and routines that covertly train us to love a certain version of the good life; they shape our wants, loves, and longings. But Jesus is after our wants, loves, and longings. Who wins this tug of war? What I appreciated most about Smith’s book is that it opened my eyes to see how my daily routines are subtly shaping my desires. The million-dollar question becomes: what routines do I need in place to shape my desires to be Christ-centered? He answers that one. Read it.
3. Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines – David Mathis: Mathis put words to what I have long believed: “…the vast majority of our lives are lived spontaneously. More than 99 percent of our daily decisions about this and that happen without any immediate reflection. We just act. Our lives flow from the kind of person we are – the kind of person we have become – rather than some succession of time-outs for reflection.” Amen! Enter the importance of the “spiritual discplines.” Scripture, prayer, and fellowship shape our internal wiring. And it’s from the inside that behavior (feelings, words, actions, thoughts, etc.) originate.
2. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World – Cal Newport: Confession: one reason I love Newport’s book is that my personality is “an inch wide and a mile deep.” I like to “go big” on just a couple of things. I hate being spread thin. Newport’s book is a treatise on my natural bent. Having said that, there is much merit to the case he makes. Consider this equation:
High-Quality Work Produced = Time Spent x Intensity of Focus
21st century life in America doesn’t naturally foster this. Instead, life encourages, even rewards, us to jump from one thing to the next giving little time and little focus to each task. From a Christian worldview, this is the opposite of “meditating” which God call us repeatedly to do with the Scriptures. Christians would spiritually benefit from heeding Newport’s counsel.
1. The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures – D.A. Carson (editor)
At over 1200 pages in length, I have not yet read all of this one. However, I don’t need to in order to see why it deserves to be #1. Your view of the Bible will shape every part of your life! For example, our view of the Bible will shape our views on sexuality, marriage, counseling, money, work, and the list goes on and on. The slightest erosion of Scripture’s authority will result in an avalanche coming to rest at the feet of public opinion or individual preference as the final aribter of truth. This magnum opus deserves wide circulation as a powerfully preventative measure.