Letters to the Church by Francis Chan. In Chan’s most recent book he takes the time to explain why he left the “megachurch world,” what he learned in his time away, and what he is currently up to in ministry. In addition to sharing about his own journey, Chan spends much of this book warning the church of the dangerous in our current church culture as well as calling the church back to the important things. In classic Chan fashion, he doesn’t sugarcoat anything and forces you to ask tough questions about the current state of the church in our world today. I enjoyed reading about Chan’s journey out of the megachurch culture, what he learned as he did some other stuff, and what he is doing now. The current model of church ministry he is doing now is very different and intriguing. In the book he nicknames it “churchbnb.” It’s a network of house churches that stay small and build very intentional communities. He explains much more of the details near the end of this book. I’d recommend this book to anyone but especially church leaders. It will help church leaders evaluate where they are at as a church and force them to ask some tough questions about their ministry.
I Will Not Fear by Melba Pattillo Beals. Beals was one of the Little Rock Nine, who in light of the Supreme Court ruling that segregation of America’s public schools was unconstitutional, enrolled at Little Rock High School in 1957. In this book she writes about that experience and how it impacted her life after. She shares about what she learned from that experience and how she has applied it to other challenges in her life. She dives into her journey of leaving the south and living out west. She also shares about her struggle to become a well-know and very successful news reporter. Her story is fascinating and at times will make you cry and other times angry. It’s a story of a woman who endured racism from an early age and how even as an adult continued to face challenges due to the color of her skin. However, she didn’t let it stop her and has shown that with God’s help all things are possible. This was an excellent read that I would recommend to everyone.
Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry. The story that makes up this book is one of redemption where the Gospel and God’s grace is on full display. In this book Jackie Hill Perry shares her journey from homosexuality to becoming a follower of Jesus. It’s real, honesty and eye-opening. There were two big things I loved about this book. First, the style of Perry’s writing is so much fun to read. She does spoken word so it’s no wonder she writes so well. It’s truly a fun and beautiful read. Second, Perry does a great job throughout the book pushing back against the idea that if a someone with same-sex attraction comes to faith in Christ they will be healed of that same-sex attraction. It’s the idea that God makes someone straight when they become a Christian. This false teaching does so much harm to the new believer and I’m glad Perry pushes back against it. She does so with Scripture and experience. Overall this was a great book and serves as a great resource for the ongoing discussion of homosexuality and Christianity.
I’m currently reading The Unsaved Christian Dean Inserra and The Praying Life by Paul Miller.
One of the goals many people have each new year is to read more. As someone who loves to read and believes in the importance of it, I always enjoy hearing people make an effort to read more themselves. But the goal of reading is not just reading more books. An important part of growing as a reader is understanding it’s not just about quantity but also about quality. With that in mind let me offer up a few suggestions on how you can read better this new year with both quantity and quality in mind.
Set a goal. Just making a goal to “read more” won’t cut it. A lot of people make that their goal and end up reading the same amount of books they have always read. If you want to read better, which includes reading more books, you need to set a goal of how many books you would like to read this year. Be sure to take into account your schedule and pace of reading when doing this. Don’t just copy what others are using as their goal. Set a goal that is attainable for you but will also require you to push yourself throughout the year.
Make a reading plan. Having a goal without a plan is futile. Stephen Covey said it like this: “Goals are pure fantasy unless you have a specific plan to achieve them.” Let me share a few ways to go about making a reading plan. One way you can make a reading plan is by listing out the individual books you want to read throughout the year. This is by far the easiest and simplest way to create a reading plan. All you’re doing is making a list of the books you want to read. I did this for many years and it worked well. Another way you can make a reading plan is by making a list of the categories of books you want to read. This is what I like doing the best and will be doing this year (click here to see my reading plan for the year). If you’re doing a plan like this make sure you have a good variety of categories so you are forced to read many different types of books. More on that later. One more way you can make a reading plan is by using one that is already made. There are many reading plans you can find online but one I’m pushing people towards this year is the 2019 Christian Reading Challenge by Tim Challies. This plan includes multiple options based on the number of books you want to read as well as forces the reader read from a variety of book categories. The most important part of having a reading plan is to use it. Don’t throw it out mid-year or give up when you get behind. Stick with it and as you do you will experience better reading throughout the year.
Read broadly. This is one of the reasons a plan is so important. Most of us naturally lean towards reading certain types or categories of books based on our interests, careers, or favorite author. Those aren’t bad things but one of the ways to read better is to broaden your reading. This means reading books you don’t normally read. For example, I have found I often don’t read books by women. I don’t have anything against women authors but over the years I’ve noticed the books I tend to migrate towards are written by men. So this year and last year I intentionally put on my list to read a book written by a woman. Another example from my own reading is church history. I don’t enjoy the subject of church history as much as other subjects within Christianity so I don’t naturally pick up church history books to read. So this year I have on my list to read one church history book. Don’t get stuck reading one type of book this year. Make sure your plan forces you to read more broadly.
Read differently. I came across this blog post a few years back that really challenged the way I read books. Basically the idea is that you shouldn’t read all books the same. Some books require more of your attention and time while others do not. Determining how you read each book will not only help you read more but will also help you read better. I’d encourage you to read that post.
Keep a list. I once had a pastor, who reads a ton of books each year, tell me that he keeps a running list of all the books he has read. He said this helps him not only remember what books he has read but also allows him to use it as a tool to recommend books to others. I started doing this as well (click here to view my list) and I have come to understand what that pastor was saying. It’s been super helpful for me and if you plan to read more I’d suggest you keep a list for your own reference as well as to recommend books to others.
These are just a few ways to read better this year. I hope you not only increase your reading in quantity but also quality. Happy reading!
When I started my ordination process one of the areas of theology I knew I needed to firm up on was eschatology. I knew enough to get by but if I was going to really defend this area of theology and clearly state where I fall on some of the finer points of eschatology I had some work to do. One of the major areas of tension for me was where I stood on the issue of premillennialism versus other views of millennialism as well as the topic of dispensationalism and the views related to it. These were the views I was taught in my younger years as a student in a Christian school as well as my time as a student in Bible college. I was presented with the other opposing views but dispensational premillennialism was the one championed as the correct view. I basically accepted this view as the correct one and leaned heavily into it until the last few years.
As I started to rethink where I stood on this area of eschatology I read three books that started to reshape my views. The first one was What is Reformed Theology by R.C. Sproul. This book really helped me understand the strengths of Reformed Theology (which I confidently hold to now). One of the chapters in particular helped me see the difference between dispensationalism and covenant theology. This chapter started showing me some of the areas of dispensationalism I couldn’t hold with confidence anymore (one example would be the separation between Israel and the church). The second book was Four Views on the Book of Revelation which helped me see some of the different ways to interpret the book of Revelation. Then lastly I read Sam Storm’s book Kingdom Come which stands in my opinion as the best defense for amillennialism out there when it comes to books. All three of these books, especially the last one, has helped me not only better understand, but lean heavily towards amillennialism in my own view of eschatology.
I want to highlight of few things about this book as way of recommending it to you.
Critiques the popular view of dispensational premillennialism. He starts by explaining this view very clearly but then does a great job of showing some of the weaknesses of it. He does so with great humility and with great scholarship. In this critique he shows some of the weaknesses in both the pre-tribulation rapture view as well as premillennialism. Many people have grown up in a church culture that held and taught these views and they have come to adopt it as their own without any critical thinking. This section helps the reader do just that.
Gives clear explanation of views the author doesn’t hold as his own. Of course much of this book is a defense of amillennialism. However, Storms spends some of the book explaining other views that he himself doesn’t even hold as his own (as seen in the example above). I think this shows Storms scholarship as well as respect for others who hold different views. In one chapter he explains very clearly the view of postmillennialism. Many times this view is seen as an evil third view of millennialism but Storms does an excellent job at showing some of the things this view does well. As much as I disagree with this view my understanding of it and respect for those that hold to it grew. He also has a section where he explains view of preterism.
Honesty. Many times throughout this book Storms admits he hasn’t arrived at all the answers. By doing this it shows the complexity of eschatology. At points in the book he admits he is still searching for where he lands on certain issues. At the end of one chapter he says this about the difficult passage of 2 Thessalonians 2: “I had hoped to be more definitive in my conclusions concerning the meaning of this passage. I had hoped that by studying the text closely I might contribute something substantive to the never-ending attempt to identity the ‘man of lawlessness’ or at least expand our grasp of what he will do upon his appearance. Alas, I fear I have failed in this regard. As much as I hate to say so, I feel compelled to agree with Augustine and say, ‘I frankly confess I do not know what Paul means’ in this text!” That’s humility and it shows throughout the book.
Strong defense of amillennialism. As I said before, as far as books are concerned this seems to be the strongest defense of amillennialism. It’s thorough, clear, and compelling. I’d even argue the conclusion where Storms sums up all the points he made for amillennialism throughout the book is one of the best reference guides for this view.
This book is a must read for anyone interested in better understanding amillennialism and eschatology in general. I’d highly recommend this book no matter what view of eschatology you hold to. It will give you a great understanding of all the views as Storms covers a lot of ground in this book by explaining and critiquing many views found within eschatology. It will stretch you and at times confuse you but will be worth the work to digest the material offered up by Storms.
Seminary was a great experience. I gained a ton of knowledge about the Bible, theology, and ministry practices. However, I quickly learned that full-time ministry came with a host of things seminary never prepared me for. There are some things you can’t learn in seminary and the only place you’re going to learn them is in the thick of ministry.
That is what this book is all about. 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me is an easy read that includes short chapters from various writers on topics you will not learn in seminary. These are topics you will only learn as you pursue ministry in the local church. Some of these topics are things like what to do when your church is dying, leading your wife, managing volunteers, handling conflict, and knowing when to leave your church. All these topics and more are talked about and the reader is given practical insight into each of these important topics.
I really enjoyed this book and there are few things stood out to me about that I’d like to mention. First, it has a Gospel and Biblical focus. The writers are not just talking about these topics and giving their opinions on what to do. The advice and application given in each area is Gospel-centered and based upon Scripture. The writers call the reader to remember the Gospel frequently and encourages them to obey God’s Word in these areas. Second, the chapters are short and practical. The topics are not beat to death but instead hit on in a timely and focused manner. Each chapter includes a ton of practical things the reader can apply to their own ministry context. Third, seminary is upheld as an important thing but not the only thing. The writers don’t bash seminary. They instead talk highly of it but are honest about its weaknesses and shortcomings. One writer says, “We do not intend to denigrate the valuable work of seminaries. Rather, we want to help young pastors, seminary students, and other aspiring ministers learn from our experience how God fits a man to be a faithful and effective minister” (page 145).
I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who is either in or has attended seminary and desires to go into local church ministry. I would also encourage those currently in ministry to read this book and gain some practical insight on these important topics.
Fundamentalist by Joey Svendsen. This was by far the most raw and honest book I have ever read. However, it was much needed in my life right now. In this book Svendsen shares about his legalistic upbringing in the church as well as his ongoing struggles with mental illness. One of the main themes throughout this book is Svendsen’s journey of understanding his own salvation. He shares about how he use to view the “sinner’s prayer” as a checklist of things he must say and how he felt guilt about certain behaviors or activities all the while wrestling with his faith. He continues to share his stories of faith, doubt, and mental illness all the way up into adulthood. The subtitle of the book gives you a peak into the beauty of this story – “Stories of a mentally ill, obsessive compulsive, legalistic youth group kid turned pastor.” It’s a book that shows how our upbringing can impact us in huge ways and how our own brokenness keeps us from seeing and enjoying the beauty of the Gospel. This was a great read but I say that with caution. If you’re offended by Christians who cuss and are comfortable with talking about sex and related issues openly this is not the book for you. If you are familiar with Svendsen and his work with the BadChristian community this will come as no surprise. I’d still recommend the book but be warned there will be things in this book that don’t comfortably fit into the “Christian book” category. But that’s ok; it’s a great book!
Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This is one of Bonhoeffer’s most popular books and it stands as a classic on the topic of Christian community. In this little book Bonhoeffer lays out what Christian community is (chapter 1) and then follows that with what daily life looks like with other believers (chapter 2) as well as with yourself (chapter 3). The final two chapters deal with ministering to others as well as confession within the Christian community. The entire book is deeply rooted in Scripture but also extremely practical for Christians among all generations. This book helped me see exactly what God calls me to when it comes to community as well as how that should practically look in my life. There are encouragements in this book that may not come naturally or easy for us in our world today but I believe Christians reading this book, including myself, would do well to follow what Bonhoeffer is suggesting. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who is desiring to get a good framework on what Christian community is and how it looks practically within the church.
Uncomfortable by Brett McCracken. This is another book on the topic of Christian community. Like the title suggest, the theme of this book is being “uncomfortable.” McCracken argues that both our faith and community as Christians is and should be a bit uncomfortable. In the first section on “uncomfortable faith” he lays out how our faith calls us towards the uncomfortable. Everything from the cross, holiness, love, mission, and more doesn’t come naturally to us. Faith propels us to believe and live out some uncomfortable truths. Then he gets into section two on “uncomfortable community.” In this section he dives into various parts of Christian community and how they are important and needed no matter how uncomfortable they make us. For example, he deals with topics like racial diversity, worship styles, and church authority. Two things really stood out to me about this book. First, McCracken rightly admits there is no “perfect church” and that searching for a church that is the perfect fit for you is the wrong approach. In our culture of consumerism this is a much needed reminder. I needed it and I think others do as well. Second, he lives out what he writes. He shares about how his own church context is not the most comfortable to him and how his church isn’t the “perfect fit” for him. He shares stories and illustrations from this part of his life and it’s extremely helpful.
Two other books I’ve recently read that I chose not to review are Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley and More Than a Carpenter by Josh & Sean McDowell.