My Top 15 Books of 2016

I’ve always enjoyed reading but only in the last couple of years have I recovered a love (and a regularity) that was birthed as a kid reading the likes of Roald Dahl and J.R.R. Tolkien. Life has a way of pushing out the slower, measured spaces needed to read this type of literature but as I’ve prioritized this discipline, it has unearthed much fruit. This list is comprised of hard copies of books (seen above) that impacted me the most, regardless of publication date.*

And yes, this was “The Year of Keller.” Having already read his books on gospel life, the gospel of Mark, self forgetfulness, mercy ministry, urban ministry and preaching, I tried to make my way through the rest of his catalog this year and I almost did it. I’ll need to tackle his recently released prequel to The Reason for God and his book on Christmas, as well as his book on faith and work and he and his wife’s book on marriage in the upcoming year.

My favorite books from 2016:

15. Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry: A Practical Guide by Cameron Cole and Jon Nelson (ed.) (Crossway, 2016) // A blueprint for modern ministry to youth. No stone unturned. Clear and cogent.

14. The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing by Jonathan Dodson (Zondervan, 2014) // Contextualized evangelism for the 21st century. Astute. Challenges our gospel fluency.

13. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God  by Tim Keller (Penguin, 2016) // The new standard on prayer. Comprehensive. Personally reinvigorating.

12. Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission by Larry McCrary, Caleb Crider, Wade Stephens, and Rodney Calfee (CreateSpace, 2013) // Affirms the concept that all are missionaries wherever they are. Strategic. Purposeful.

11. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller (Penguin, 2011) // Religion and irreligion are both ways to avoid God. One of Keller’s most potent insights. Humbling.

10. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters  by Tim Keller (Viking, 2009) // Delves deeper in idol diagnosis than any that have come before. Attacks culture’s biggest golden calves. Weighty.

9. The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything by Fred Sanders (Crossway, 2010) // Foundational. Deeply biblical. Pastoral.

8. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller (Penguin, 2015) // Exhaustive. Hopeful. Takes into account the diversity of humanity and their responses to suffering.

7. Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel by Russell Moore (B&H Books, 2015) // Penetrating. Ahead of its time. Foreshadowing. “A prophetic minority…”

6. Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves (IVP Academic, 2012) // Accessible yet deep. Clever. Stopped almost every paragraph to distill. Funny. My new favorite book on the Trinity.

5. Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes us Just by Tim Keller (Penguin, 2012) // Helpful. Incontrovertible. Puts to rest the debate on the Christian and church’s responsibility to the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the refugee.

4. How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor by James K.A. Smith (Eerdmans, 2014) // Smith brings Taylor from the air to the ground. Profitable. Effective.

3. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Tim Keller (Penguin, 2009) // Ground-breaking. Thorough. A new apologetic. In my opinion, Keller’s most important tome.

2. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K.A. Smith (Brazos, 2016) // You become what you set your affections upon. Visionary. Bettering.

And the book I read in 2016 that was my favorite was…

1.  The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism & Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters by Sinclair Ferguson (Crossway, 2016) // I know this is #1 on most people’s year-end lists but I have to agree with them, this was the cream of the crop for 2016. An amalgamation of church history, biblical theology, and pastoral application masterfully woven together unlike any I’ve seen before. At it’s center is something as relevant as its ever been – the ditch of legalism or antinomianism as we seek to apply the relationship of the gospel with the law. And Ferguson swimmingly maneuvers in these difficult waters with deft and proficiency in a way that not only instructs the mind but reengineers the heart.

Honorable Mention:

Learning Evangelism from Jesus by Jerram Barrs (Crossway, 2009)
I Am: Exploring the ‘I Am’ Sayings of John’s Gospel by Iain Campbell (Evangelical Press, 2011)
Good News to the Poor: Social Involvement and the Gospel by Tim Chester (Crossway, 2013)
Delighting in the Trinity: Why the Father, Son, and Spirit are Good News by Tim Chester (The Good Book Company, 2010)
Reordering the Trinity: Six Movements of God in the New Testament by Rodrick Durst
Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions by Tim Keller (Penguin, 2015)
You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church…and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman (Baker Books, 2016)
Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by C.S. Lewis (Mariner Books, 2002 printing)
The Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World by Gabe Lyons (Multnomah, 2012)
Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness by Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans, 1992)
Honest Evangelism by Rico Tice and Carl Laferton (The Good Book Company, 2015)
The Story of Everything: How You, Your Pets, and the Swiss Alps Fit into God’s Plan for the World by Jared C. Wilson (Crossway, 2015)
The Story Telling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables by Jared C. Wilson (Crossway, 2014)

*I enjoy other kinds of mediums of reading as well. I probably read the equivalent of another 5-7 books from the blogs, journals, and news sites that I save and read via Feedly and Pocket.

My Top 16 Albums of 2016

It’s that time of the year again. As is the case for me each year, I go with what moves move me. While I refer to year-end lists, many of my favorites won’t be found on their tabulations. In actuality, the major music publications and sites end up being fairly homogeneous anyways. Here is how I determined what swayed me musically in 2016. I peruse and listen to most of…

1. Spotify new music releases
2. Spotify “Discover Weekly” (an algorithmically personalized playlist of mostly new artists that I likely haven’t heard but fit my preferences)
3. Swarm.fm (aggregates new releases of my Spotify followed artists)
4. Allmusic new music releases
5. iTunes new indie releases
6. Metacritic new music releases

And since it’s 2016, naturally, here are my top 16 albums in ’16…

Top 16 Albums of 2016

16. Myzica: Love + Desire

“…a glossy slab of synth, breezy melodies and a jangly hook…” Paste Magazine

“It’s unpretentious, casual, authentic pop…” Nashville Scene

15. Paper Lions: Full Colour

“A heavenly fusion of modern sounds and glorious 80s influences, this is high rotation stuff…a work of masterful pop, capitalizing on four very talented musicians abilities and their clear love of all things 80s. It’s an instantly accessible, highly rotational outing…” The Lowdown Under

14. The Head and the Heart: Signs of Light

“The Head and the Heart moved away from ‘folksiness’ to embrace a bigger, bolder musical vision — one filled with louder guitars, heavier rhythms and bigger arrangements, all encased in gorgeous vocal harmonies…” The Current

13. Two Door Cinema: Gameshow

“…their twitchy but undeniably danceable electropop/rock has long been soul- and disco-adjacent.” Consequence of Sound

“Its main currency is glossy pop-funk with a twist of 1980s AOR sieved through latterday production techniques: a bit of filtered house here, an EDMish synth noise there.” The Guardian

12. Fort Frances: Alio

“Fort Frances’ Alio is a sort of record that breathes and exists somewhat outside of the sphere of the horizon-less Spotify shuffle. These are, pound for pound, the Chicago-based trio’s catchiest songs to date…they have created a bona fide rock album that not only ceases to forfeit the roots of where they come from but ramps up the urgency, musicianship and sense of adventurousness across the board.” Denim on Wax

11. Grouplove: Big Mess

“Grouplove’s newest piece delivered just what you wouldn’t expect: an odd-looking, weirdly-sounding collection of fond memories and brutal truths wrapped up in a fantastically-crafted manifestation of dynamic indie rock.”  Niner Times

10. Bon Iver: 22, A Million

“Bon Iver’s first album in five years takes an unexpected turn toward the strange and experimental. But behind the arranged glitches and processed voices are deeply felt songs about uncertainty… 22, A Million sounds only like itself. There are precedents for all of Vernon’s moves deep in the histories of rock‘n’roll and rhythm and blues and electronic music…But this particular amalgamation is so twitchy and idiosyncratic it feels truly singular. Its searching is bottomless.” Pitchfork

9. Wintersleep: The Great Detachment

“Every element of the album’s production – from the song writing through to the record’s mastering – shouts the band’s ambition, with songs featuring call-and-response and sing-along friendly lyrics, and the volume levels and EQs set for maximum punch over the radio waves. ” Renowned for Sound

“…in adding a layer of freshness to their sound, and a rousing new collection of songs to their catalogue, they feel like a band invigorated.” Loud and Quiet

8. Kwabs: Love + War

“[The] accommodation of opposites is one of the key attractions of Love + War, with the warm, intensely human timbre of Kwabs’s voice held in prickly equilibrium with the chilly electro arrangements…There’s a strange synergy in operation here, as their keyboard pads, handclap grooves and sharp, cracking synthetic snare sounds chip away at his humanity, while also steering him firmly towards the future.” Independent

“Kwabs certainly possesses a formidable vocal instrument – a luscious, impressively controlled baritone which one minute can soar with sublime grace, the next can make the skin crawl through deep, breathy intimacy.” Drowned in Sound

7. Francis: Marathon

“Swedish alternative musicians Francis return with their sophomore album, softening the experimental post-punk folk of their early music into more subtle, gentle melodies and contemplative lyrics. Francis have stripped their music to the bare bones…and embracing the simplicity of soothing guitar sounds and drum beats.” GIGsoup

“On first listening, each track could almost blur into one but there is something warm and welcoming about Marathon, and something sharply intelligent that invites you to delve a little deeper with each listening.” The London Economic

6. Cub Sport: This is Our Vice

“This is Our Vice is a glistening, hypercolour pop record, boasting hooks that could melt into your mouth…and hitherto-unseen production sheen. Sonically, the record sends guitars off into the distance, builds giant pyramids out of layers of synths and launches the intertwined vocal arrangements into the proverbial stratosphere.” Faster Louder

“Cub Sport‘s sound is grounded in Aussie indie pop, based around hook-filled melodies, anthemic choruses, and sophisticated arrangements.” Pop Matters

5. Eliot Sumner: Information

“Sumner changes things up a bit, going for a darker electro-rock vibe that perfectly propels her storytelling vocals. Her vocals sound eerily reminiscent of Sting – who by the way is her dad – with an androgynous, husky tone and studied intonation…the record is full of darker, 80s-tinged synths.” Seattle Music News

“As a whole, the album is nuanced; individually, the songs are flawlessly written, dark explorations of 80s genres. Sumner provides her own lush take on moody electronic rock, and rather than feeling pretentious, these songs are genuine, and masterfully executed.” Renowned for Sound

4. Local Natives: Sunlit Youth

“Far from the indie-folk of their earlier days, Sunlit Youth leans heavily on the synths and flirts with big-melody pop forms.” Pitchfork

“These are traditional Local Natives songs dressed in a glittering neon overcoat. The strings that marked the band’s early work are mostly missing, replaced by swirling synths that play against the guitar lines. Huge choruses are underpinned by throbbing grooves.” Consequence of Sound

3. Leagues: Alone Together

“Take the murkier aspects of Howard Jones, Human League, Gary Numan and New Order, fold in some dark, intermittently cynical, more often alienated lyrics and you’ve got an edgy, retro-leaning yet contemporary album as effective on the dance floor as it is at home…” American Songwriter

2. Frightened Rabbit: Painting of a Panic Attack

“With all of these factors in mind—frayed internal relationships within the band, general fatigue and a successful solo album—one would think that the writing would be on the wall for this record. But the end result is the exact opposite; Painting of a Panic Attack is a triumph for a veteran band and represents one of their best efforts to date…Frightened Rabbit evolve the right way with this release, changing their sound, but not so much that they lose their trademark sound. This is still the Frightened Rabbit we all know and love, as gloomy as we last heard from them.” Paste Magazine

“Painting of a Panic Attack is more a sensible repositioning than a reinvention…maybe Frightened Rabbit have just gotten too good at their formula for it to not seem self-aware. And too often, the title of Painting of a Panic Attack serves as an unintentional reminder of the way Hutchison comes across: like a television version of a person with a broken heart.” Pitchfork

And my top album this year…

1. Bear’s Den: Red Earth + Pouring Rain

“…this London-based band have carefully crafted a second album which showcases a euphoric step forward and poignant growth in their musicality…Every piece of Red Earth & Pouring Rain is so undeniably delicate and intricate, like an antique family heirloom, it even makes you question how hard you hit the play button for fear of damage. But it’s the aforementioned heartfelt lyrics that really make you take care.” Clash

“…it seems only natural that Bear’s Dan should expand their sonic palette too. The result is a record steeped in pop polish and the grandeur of Seventies and Eighties rock, yet rooted in the lilting folk of its predecessor.” Drowned in Sound

Honorable Mention:

Adele: 25
ANIMA!: self-titled
Barcelona: Basic Man
Bell X1: Arms
D.D. Dumbo: Utopia Defeated
Dawes: We’re All Going to Die
Glass Animals: How to Be a Human Being
Jack Garrett: Phases
Jarryd James: High
Jinja Safari: Crescent Moon
Joan as Police Woman: Let it Be You
Jones: New Skin
Joseph: I’m Alone, No You’re Not
Parachute: Wide Awake
POP ETC: Souvenir
Ready Set: I Will Be Nothing Without Your Love
Pete Yorn: ArrangingTime
Young the Giant: Home of the Strange

Here is a look back at my #1 albums from years past:

2015: Oh Wonder Self-titled
2014: Bear HandsDistraction
2013: Frightened RabbitsPedestrian Verse
2012: Sea WolfOld World Romance
2011: Foster the PeopleTorches