Category Archives: books

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 15 Books in 2015


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:

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 confrontationIn 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.


Going Deeper: Resources for Psalm 124


Each week, I plan to help the church I serve at as preaching pastor with additional resources to help them go deeper in their study of the Scriptures from the previous week’s sermon. This past Sunday at Mercyview, we looked at Psalm 124:1-8 in our summer sermon series, “Pilgrim Songs: The Psalms of Ascent,” in a sermon entitled, “Divine Deliverance.”


James M. Boice: Psalm 124, “If,” from Psalms, Vol. 3 (Psalms 107-150) (Expositional Commentary)

Derek Kidner: Psalm 124, “When Earthly Armour Faileth,” from Psalms 73-150 (Kidner Classic Commentaries)

Tremper Longman III: Psalm 124, “The Lord is on our side,” from Psalms (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries)

Eugene Peterson: Chapter 6, “Help,” from A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society

Josh Moody: Chapter 5, “Danger,” from Journey to Joy: The Psalms of Ascent

Charles Spurgeon: Psalm 124 from The Treasury of David

John Calvin: Commentary on Psalm 124


Jon Bloom: “When God Seems Silent” (Desiring God)

James Emery White: “The Silence of God” (Crosswalk)


Has God trusted you with His silence…? God’s silences are actually His answers…His silence is the sign that He is bringing you into an even more wonderful understanding of Himself. Are you mourning before God because you have not had an audible response? When you cannot hear God, you will find that He has trusted you in the most intimate way possible— with absolute silence, not a silence of despair, but one of pleasure, because He saw that you could withstand an even bigger revelation. If God has given you a silence, then praise Him— He is bringing you into the mainstream of His purposes. The actual evidence of the answer in time is simply a matter of God’s sovereignty. Time is nothing to God…A wonderful thing about God’s silence is that His stillness is contagious— it gets into you, causing you to become perfectly confident so that you can honestly say, ‘I know that God has heard me.’ His silence is the very proof that He has.

–Oswald Chambers


“Rescue” by Jared Anderson

“Deliver Me” by David Crowder

“The Silence of God” by Andrew Peterson