One of my new year’s resolutions for 2015 was to read more. The first five years of church planting left little time to read but I’m glad to say that there was a significant uptick in this department in 2015. I read more this year than I have in a long time. And by read, I mean physical books. I regularly read what accounts for probably another 5-10 books a year if you add up all the words in blogs, journals, and news sites that I save and read via Feedly and Pocket – but for this list, I’m sticking with the ink on paper variety.
Here were my favorite books of 2015. Not all were written in this past year. Still yet, they comprise the books that impacted me the most:
15. Elders and Leaders: God’s Plan for Leading the Church by Gene Getz (Moody, 2003) and 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons (not pictured) by Benjamin Merkle (Kregel, 2007)
One of the projects I have the privilege of working on this year on behalf of our church’s elders was our position paper on church polity. While I read over a plethora of resources, these two books were indispensable. Getz’s book seemed to most closely parallel our church’s polity – which is not pure congregationalism or Presbyterianism but rather what we call “elder-led, member-engaged” – and both books helped us determine practicalities that will serve us well moving forward.
14. Preach: Theology Meets Practice by Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert (B&H Books, 2012)
This is the resource we used with our preaching lab participants at Mercyview in 2015. I’m cheating a bit here because I read it in December 2014 in preparation for the 9-month lab that took place between February through October of this year. As I did, I was immediately struck by it’s accessibility and humility. A great book to help teach the framework of gospel-centered preaching without getting bogged down in the minutiae.
13. Gospel Centered Discipleship by Jonathan Dodson (Crossway, 2012)
I finally got around to reading Dodson’s book on discipleship this year and I’m glad I did. It’s easily the best modern text on discipleship to come out in the past few years. I particularly appreciated how he talks about the “three conversions” that successively happen in discipleship – conversion to Christ, his church, and mission. This grid assists disciplers in patience with those they disciple because this is a progression towards spiritual maturity.
12. God Redeeming His Bride: A Handbook for Church Discipline by Robert Cheong (Christian Focus, 2012) and Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus by Jonathan Leeman (Crossway, 2012)
One of the pieces of the polity paper I developed this year was an extensive treatment on the issue of church discipline. While I disagree with Leeman on who holds the final authority for discipling members and leaders, his book is a must read on this issue. He and Cheong are the leading voices in the resurgence of restorative discipline in the church and their books are essential for anyone looking to understand this important practice of the church.
11. Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like Christ by Bob Kellemen (Zondervan, 2015)
Though written primarily for biblical counselors, Gospel Conversations has a broader application in giving anyone language and skills for relating effectively to others. And in the arena of counseling, Kellemen can always be trusted to write from a firm gospel-centered approach. Here is my review of the book I wrote in November: http://www.graceuntamed.com/book-review-gospel-conversations-by-robert-kellemen/
10. Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Tired of Taking Sides by Scott Sauls (Tyndale, 2015)
This book is on many year-end lists and rightfully so. In his introduction, Sauls says, “When the grace of Jesus sinks in, we will be among the least offended and most loving people in the world.” In Jesus Outside the Lines, Sauls successfully weaves the grace of Jesus into the clash of opinions and activism of our age. To understand how to winsomely engage in culture, this book is a must read for all Christians.
9. The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry by Jared Wilson (Crossway, 2013)
The first of two of Wilson’s books on this year’s list. This book has served the elders of Mercyview tremendously during our bi-monthly meetings as we process our hearts in ministry on the issues Wilson tackles in The Pastor’s Justification like freedom, holiness, humility, and confidence, among others.
8. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene Peterson (IVP, 1980)
Admission: I’ve had this book in my library for many years and thought it was Peterson’s book on discipleship. I was wrong. We preached through the Psalms of Ascent this summer and this is what A Long Obedience is about. Peterson was my go-to resource (although I didn’t always agree with his interpretations) because he unpacked these psalms with his usual inventive and “heart-level” writing. Great inspiration from a very accessible “commentary” on the Psalms of Ascent.
7. The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy by Tim Keller (10 Publishing, 2012)
I read this on the heels of our annual men’s summer retreat on the theme of pride and humility as suggested by our retreat speaker. A super-short resource (only 46 pages) but power-packed with gospel goodness on why true joy comes in life when it isn’t about us.
6. The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ by Ray Ortlund (Crossway, 2014)
I devoured this little book (a part of the 9 Marks “Building Healthy Churches” series) on the plane rides to and from the Desiring God Conference for Pastors in February. Ortlund is one of my favorite preachers and writers out there. In The Gospel, writes with such wisdom and humbleness. It is chock full of the practical implications of a gospel-rich church culture and it gives a vision to any church who desires to place Jesus at the center of its ministry and mission.
5. The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo by Jared Wilson (Crossway, 2014)
It’s not easy to critique the pink elephant in the room: the attractional church. Some will cry in defense Paul’s edict, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some,” while others will criticize too heavy-handedly. Not Wilson. I was impressed with the way in which he took the middle ground and truly was “gentle” in his approach. Rather than condemning, he asked open-ended questions as if he wanted us to see the answers in the questions. At the risk of sounding dramatic, all pastors should wrestle with Wilson’s thoughts in The Prodigal Church – the future of much of evangelicalism depends on it.
4. Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes by Zack Eswine (P&R Publishing, 2014)
We preached through the book of Ecclesiastes passage by passage in the fall of 2014 and spring of 2015 and this was my favorite commentary to learn from and it was all I could do not to quote this commentary in large chunks in my sermons (sometimes, I did!). In my opinion, Recovering Eden could easily be read as a traditional “book” because it it doesn’t feel like a commentary – yet it is every bit of one. Part of the reason it doesn’t feel like a commentary is that Eswine doesn’t follow the book chronologically but rather weaves themes throughout Ecclesiastes into a collective whole. And to boot, Eswine is the quintessential wordsmith in the vein of authors from another age. He writes as a theologically-robust poet and his insights into the human heart are inescapable. Grab Recovering Eden if you want to understand the plight of the soul and how the God “above the sun” is its answer.
3. A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships by Paul Miller (Crossway, 2014)
As Recovering Eden was a commentary that didn’t feel like one, The Loving Life wasn’t one that easily could be used as one. Miller takes us on a comprehensive journey through the book of Ruth, meticulously uncovering gospel gems all along the way. It expertly handles the theme of how grace empowers love, particularly in the context of community, in ways that I’ve not seen since reading Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. From Ruth to Naomi to Boaz, we see types of Christ in The Loving Life, but most of all, we see Christ!
2. Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism by Tim Keller (Viking, 2015)
When I first heard Keller was working on a book on preaching, I have to admit I couldn’t wait. Many of us have “endured” by deciphering his extensive preaching syllabus from his time teaching homiletics at Westminster. I even have a friend who transcribed his well-known “Preaching to the Heart” talks from Gordon-Conwell in 2006 word-for-word to try to aggregate his thoughts into one resource. But this year, Keller released Preaching, distilling his many years of experience into one tome. And it is brilliant. The end notes alone are worth the price of the book. Alongside his instruction in the “how to” of preaching, I found his ability to mentor us in reading culture as equally important. To communicate the gospel is to contextualize the gospel. Borrowing heavily from philosopher Charles Taylor, Keller does this masterfully in this book. The new standard in preaching in the “late modern” times we live in.
1. Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being by Zack Eswine (Crossway, 2013)
I started reading Sensing Jesus about the time another book by Eswine called The Imperfect Pastor was released. I soon found out that The Imperfect Pastor was Sensing Jesus rebooted, just a bit more compressed and focused. Eswine, as stated before, it a dazzling word slinger so I get why Crossway did this but I’m glad I read the more expanded version of this book in all of its requisite strength. Now, to the book. It’s extraordinary when a work is so well done you feel like you’ve read something that has changed you on the spot but this is exactly what happened with Sensing Jesus. Eswine has the ability to tackle difficult idolatries of the heart with a patience, gentleness, and personal confession that is rare in today’s writing culture. And no one gets a free pass. Eswine swings to both sides of the soul spectrum to bring godly confrontation. In particular, Part 1 of the book entitled, “Exposing Our Temptations,” Eswine skillfully unearths the three primary temptations of the human heart – being everywhere-for-alls, fix-it-alls, or know-it-alls. In fact, everyone should print out the introduction to this part of the book (pp. 55-56) and post it in a prominent place in their home or office – it’s that important to keep in front of you. The closing line of the introduction summarizes the overall motif of Sensing Jesus perfectly: “Jesus invites everywhere-for-alls, fix-it-alls, and know-it-alls to the cross, the empty tomb, and the throne of his grace for their time of need.” Eswine’s Sensing Jesus helps us “sense” this great truth – the throne of grace is always available for approach and forgiveness.