Favorite Books of 2018

I read 111 books in 2018.  That total is up from 100 books last year and is a new record for me.  It truly was a great reading year.  A couple on this list are now among my all-time favorites.  It appears that January 2018 was the best reading month of the year.  Three books from January rank among the year’s favorites.

Many people ask:  “How do you read so many books?”  Or they ask the more offensive question: “But do you read every word or just skim?”  Here’s my answer from a previous post: How To Read 100 Books in a Year.

I want to stress that these are my favorite books that I read in 2016 (they made have been released in years gone by).

Favorite Book of the Year:

THE PLACES IN BETWEEN BY RORY STEWART

The Places in BetweenHere’s the rundown from June’s reading log:

This is my frontrunner for book of the year. Thanks to my dear friend, Pastor Amos Humphries, for the recommendation (Check out his church: Park Lake Drive Baptist Church).

This is essential a travel journal … but so much more.  In January 2002 Stewart walked across Afghanistan.  Yes, you read that correctly.  In the midst of a country torn apart and flipped upside down by war, Stewart walked across Afghanistan relying on notes of introduction and the kindness of strangers.  He encounters everything from lots of snow to members of the Taliban.  This incredible tale is  part of a much longer journey that included a walk across Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal.

While reading I wanted to know more about Stewart … but he does not provide it.  A bit unique to this genre of reading, Stewart keeps the work from self centeredness.  He tells the story of Afghanistan and its people.  I’m a sucker for stories about the Middle East and this is a good one.  I’m also a sucker for stories about people doing things I’ve never done nor will ever do … and boy is this a good one.

FAVORITES: BIBLICAL STUDIES, CHURCH, THEOLOGY

THE TRELLIS AND THE VINE: THE MINISTRY MIND-SHIFT THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING BY COLIN MARSHALL AND TONY PAYNE

the trellis and the vine.jpgHere’s the rundown from October’s reading log:

Pastors … pick this one up.   Marshall and Payne explain ministry as a mix of trellis and vine work.  Unfortunately, many of us focus on the trellis.  Trellis work is the upkeep of the church.  You know, maintaining the organization and running the programs.  On the other hand, vine work is Great Commission labor.  You know, the stuff you actually signed up to do.  What if we could spend the vast majority of our time in prayer, preaching and teaching the Scriptures, discipling people into maturity, and training our leaders to be disciple makers?

Without providing  5 easy steps or a blueprint,  the authors provide helpful suggestions on how to move away from trellis work and towards vine work.  The biggest task is a shift in mindset.  Marshall and Payne discuss the needed shifts:

  1. From running programs to building people
  2. From running events to training people
  3. For using people to growing people
  4. From filling gaps to training new workers.
  5. From solving problems to helping people make progress
  6. Form clinging to ordained ministry to developing team leadership
  7. From focusing on church polity to forging ministry partnerships
  8. From relying on training institutions to establishing local training
  9. From engaging in management to engaging in ministry
  10. From seeking church growth to desiring gospel growth

I’m sure many of can scream “Ouch!” just by reading those headings.  A great illustration of the needed shift is to imagine a reasonably solid Christian approaching you after church as saying, “Look, I’d like to get more involved here and make a contribution, but I just feel like there’s nothing for me to do.”  What would you think or say?  Would you immediately start thinking of some event or program that they could help with?  Some job that need done?  That’s a symptom of the problem.

PIONEERING MOVEMENTS: LEADERSHIP THAT MULTIPLIES DISCIPLES AND CHURCHES BY STEVE ADDISON

Pioneering Movements.jpgHere’s the rundown from my July reading log:

This book is a game changer for those who take it seriously.  To be honest … the author of this book would more than likely look at my ministry and see that I don’t take it seriously.  This is my second complete reading of this book.  I’ve thumbed through it countless times.  I see the truth that it holds.  I remain wrestling with living it out.  In complete transparency … I need to train more disciples.

This is not a book about church growth.  This is a book about multiplication. This is not a book about church.  This is a book about movements.  Addison argues for multiplication of disciples and churches through movement leadership.  Here are Addison’s 5 stages of movement leadership:  seed sower, church planter, church multiplier, multiplication trainer, and movement catalyst.  These are not simply hip and catchy titles.  The book provides substance and numerous real life examples.

Here’s a glance at a few of the terms that might be unfamiliar.  Church multiplies are church planters who have learned how to start churches that reproduce generations of new churches.  These people move beyond adding new churches to multiplying them to fourth generations and beyond.  Multiplication trainers are church multipliers who have learned to equip other church multipliers to achieve third and fourth generation churches.  Movement catalysts are those who take on a broad responsibility to reach an unreached population segment or region.  They are the catalysts for multiple streams of church planting within a previously unengaged and unreached people group.

The book challenges the well-established way to “do church” and reach people.  I found the book extremely challenging to my way of thinking.  I have yet to fully digest it.

AS KINGFISHERS CATCH FIRE: A CONVERSATION ON THE WAY SON GOD FORMED BY THE WORDS OF GOD BY EUGENE PETERSON

As Kingfisher Catch FireHere’s the rundown from May’s reading log:

By looking at my bookshelves (and stacks of books on the floor and triple stacks of books shoved into my office cabinets), I’ve read more Eugene Peterson than any other author.  As Kingfishers Catch Fire is the 16th Peterson book I’ve finished.  It is another gem.  Last year a Peterson book earned the title of my favorite of the year.  This is a contender for the 2018 crown.

Along with a stunningly beautiful cover, this volume is easily the best sermon collection I’ve come across.  While that is a pretty low bar … I was truly stunned by the depth of the wisdom in Peterson’s printed sermons.  His Old Testament sermons are especially noteworthy.  He fixates on certain phrases and turns them over and over as he views them from various angles.  Each sermon lands upon incredible pastoral insights that only come from deep study, a healthy relationship with God, and healthy relationship with the people in the pews.

This book, paired with Peterson’s The Pastor, provide a great introduction to pastoral ministry.

GIFT AND GIVER: THE HOLY SPIRIT FOR TODAY BY CRAIG KEENER

Gift and Giver.jpgHere’s the rundown from February’s reading log:

I stumbled on this book while walking through the library at Baylor University.  I had already collected my books and was walking to the door when the name “Keener” caught my attention.  I pulled it from the shelf and added it to my stack.  I spent about 10 minutes reading it before I purchased my own copy on Amazon.  I wanted a copy I could mark up.

Keener is a topnotch scholar.  I’m currently working with his four volume commentary on Acts.  It is tremendous.  I don’t know if I’ve read anything as thorough and precise.  Surprising to me as I started reading this volume, Keener freely describes himself as a charismatic and fills the book with anecdotes.  He shares his personal experiences with the spiritual gifts to also include what some call the “supernatural gifts.”  Yet, this highly anecdotal nature of the book does not diminish the academic credibility of the book.  Keener make the Bible the centerpiece while providing context for the exegetical work with personal experiences and reflections.

I have not read a wealth of books on this subject but I can’t imagine a better one.

Memoir:

BRUCHKO: THE ASTONISHING TRUE STORY OF A 19 YEAR OLD AMERICAN ~ HIS CAPTURE BY THE MOTILE INDIANS AND HIS ADVENTURES IN CHRISTIANIZING THE STONE AGE TRIBE BY BRUCE OLSON

Bruchko.jpgHere’s the rundown from July’s reading log:

I found this book in a used bookstore.  While I had never read it before, I was familiar with the story.  I picked it off the shelf to thumb through it but was stunned when I read the scribbled inspiration on the flyleaf: “This book change my life. ~Wynetta.”  I stopped thumbing and immediately placed it in my stack to purchase.  How can you a book up that carries that type of recommendation!?!

The extremely wordy subtle gives you the premise of the book.  Yet, it does not grasp the power of the story.  Bruce Olson devoted his life to spreading the gospel in a place that no one previously dared to go.  God worked in mighty ways.  My heart was stirred by the love of the gospel and the love of people depicted in Olson’s story.

In this reading log you’ll find a number missionary biographies.  This is a favorite genre of mine.  I turn to missionary biographies when I’m feeling the burden of pastoral ministry. Nothing snaps me out of rut like reading about men and women fully devoted to God and those open to being used by God in extreme circumstances.  It is a great balm for a tired pastoral heart.  This book was good for my soul.  And it sparked the reading of others like it.

Biography:

LEONARDO DA VINCI BY WALTER ISAACSON

Da Vinci.jpgHere’s the rundown from January’s reading log:

I have to admit … I went into this book expecting greatness.  Isaacson’s previous biographies on Einstein and Steve Jobs are true gems.  Both could easily be in contention for my top ten biographies list.  I wanted this to be good and it did not disappoint.

Yet, this is not your typically biography.  The book is built around Da Vinci’s famous and non-famous works.  Most of the chapters focus on a particular work, provide descriptions and receptions of the work, details how Da Vinci received the commission, and fills in interesting backstories.  Above all, the book describes the works of Da Vinci while also giving glimpses of his endless personal journals that includes sketches, drafts, notes, dairy entries, inventory lists, and much, much more.

I’ve read a few reviews of this book that criticize it heavily.  Many argue that Isaacson provides less of a biography and acts more like an amateur art critic.  Since I have never read the work of an art critic, Isaacson comes across as a professional to me!

Another word needs to be said about the sheer beauty of this book.  It is printed on thick, glossy pages and contains beautiful pictures of Da Vinci’s art.  It is a pleasure simply to hold it and thumb through it.

GRANT BY RON CHERNOW

Grant ChernowHere’s the rundown from March’s reading log:

Chernow is the author of a previous year’s top spot on my favorite book of the year list.  His biography of Alexander Hamilton is a topnotch piece of writing and history … and it sparked a hit broadway play.  His Grant biography is no less of a masterpiece but much harder to read.  It is 959 pages of actual text.  A large portion of those pages cover battles in the Civil War.  This book began as a doorstop and became a bit of a ball and chain through the discussion of troop deployments and maneuvers.   It turned back into a mere doorstop when Grant became president.

The top biography in my Favorites of 2017 was Ronald White’s American Ulysses.  Despite my comments above, I think I prefer Chernow’s depiction. Chernow provides a much fuller picture of Grant’s relationships, in particular with the likes of his own father in law and General Rawlins (who helped keep Grant sober).  Chernow also gives a fuller picture of Grant’s failure to rid his presidency of scandal.  I guess you can do a lot with an additional 300 pages!

Adventure:

INTO THIN AIR BY JON KRAKAUER

Into Thin AirHere’s the rundown from January’s reading log:

This book contains a number of critical elements for a great book for me: great writing, expertise in an arena unfamiliar to me, substantive characters and lessons learned.  I read this book in two days and I have started at least 5 conversations about it since I completed it.  I even delayed a meeting in my office by at least 30 minutes by describing the book to a collected group of pastors.

Into Thin Air  describes the two days in 1996 when eight people died attempting to descend from the summit of Mt. Everest.  The story is told by Krakauer, and outdoor writer, who happened to be an eyewitness to the disaster as a member of one of the expeditions.  It’s a tragic story and Krakauer is only one of many people who have released their version of it.  Numerous books and documentaries have been released either attempting to support Krakauer’s story or refute it.  Another characteristic of a good book: It has sent me down a trail of reading various accounts of what happened that day at 29,000 feet.

I’ve also read Krakauer’s Into the Wild.  I’m now tempted to read the entirety of his work.

Fiction:

SILENCE: A NOVEL BY SHUSAKU ENDO

SilenceHere’s the rundown from January’s reading log:

Three words for this book: Wow. Wow. Wow.  Thought that was bad? Check out this terrible play on words: Silence left me speechless.

Silence is a work of historical fiction but it hits upon tons of truth.  Once welcome in Japan, missionaries were officially expelled from the country by the 1620s. A number of priests, however, went underground to minister to the Christian community. Among them was Fr. Cristóvão Ferreira, a Portuguese Jesuit.  I pulled this quote from the the Jesuit’s websites: “Ferreira’s story is one of the most dramatic stories of Christianity and missionary history of all time.  He was the great missionary, the superior of all Jesuit missionaries, and the first to renounce his faith under torture,” says Fr. M. Antoni J. Ucerler, SJ, a professor at the University of San Francisco and an expert in Japanese Christian history.   Silence follows two Jesuits who land in Japan to find out if the rumors of Ferreira’s apostasy are true.  Above all, they search for Ferreira.

The book is a brutal but beautiful depiction of sincere faith and missionary zeal.  As a protestant, I think it highlights the importance of an empowered laity.  As a Christian, the story forces a gut check on commitment levels.  It also bring ups endless questions on missionary strategies.

The book was recently adapted into a film directed by Martin Scorsese.  I think the movie is wonderful but it is not for the faint of heart.

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