Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My Top Books of 2016

The wild ride of 2016 has almost wound down, and it's time again to report on the good things I've had the privilege of reading this year.

What I Mean By "Top Books"

As in past years [2013 Top Books2014 Top Books2015 Top Books], my "Top Books" list is not necessarily the best books that were published that particular year or the most enjoyable either. I intend it to be a list of the Christian nonfiction books I read:

- that had the most personal impact on me, my thinking, my heart.
- that I was the most consistently enthusiastic about.
- that I kept coming back to again and again.
- that I couldn't help recommending to others (and recommend without reservations and significant caveats).

And so [drumroll please!], here they are:

5. The Radical Book for Kids by Champ Thornton

[Read my interview with the author.]

The book I was probably the most excited about in 2016 wasn't really written for guys like me. It's a kids book that I wish I had gotten to read when I was a kid.
I had the privilege of reading an advanced version of The Radical Book for Kids and got to offer this endorsement:
The Radical Book for Kids is deceptively fun! While preteens are utterly enjoying themselves with the creative games, hands-on projects, laugh-out-loud jokes, and cool stories, Champ Thornton is radically discipling them with a crash course on Bible study methods, hermeneutics, church history, biblical theology, and Christian life and ethics. This is the kind of book that stealthily helps parents, pastors, and teachers make young followers for Jesus Christ.
Here's what I added in my review for Amazon:
The Radical Book for Kids is a book you give your kids when they are too old for a Bible story book yet still too young for the book you're reading. I wish I knew all of this stuff when I was 10! I wish I had this book when my kids were 10! I can think of 10 kids that I want to give it to right now.
When I got my copy, I read parts out loud to my family, and they chuckled, hooted, and hollered at all the right places, and they didn't realize that they were learning something important. That's a mark of a great book!

4. No God But One by Nabeel Qureshi

[Read my Goodreads review.]

This one was probably not written for me, either, but I thought it was really well done and a wonderful resource for both Muslims and Christians to read.

I was first introduced to Nabeel Qureshi through reading his testimony in Christianity Today magazine and then picked up his second book Answering Jihad. No God But One is his third book and is laid out something like a debate. Qureshi has been a passionate apologist on both sides of the question of who is the true God, and he presents the best arguments for Allah and for Jesus in an incredibly fair way.

I'm biased, of course, being a Christian pastor, but I also believe that we should be comparing apples with apples and not stacking the deck (or mix in your favorite metaphor here). Highly recommended.

I've started his first more biographical book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, to finish off the trilogy this year.

3. Good and Angry by David Powlison

This one was written for me (I unfortunately need it!), and I had been waiting for it for a very long time. Ever since I learned of the ministry of CCEF and the Journal of Biblical Counseling, I've been reading the excellent (though sporadic) articles that David has written on this difficult subject, and I've also heard him teach on it in person. And for all of those years, he's been promising a book-length treatment but has been providentially hindered from producing it. But now in 2016, Good & Angry has finally arrived, and I will be sharing it with others for a very long time.

Here's what I said in my Goodreads review:
David Powlison has a unique way of seeing and saying truth. He's both feisty and humble at the same time. In Good & Angry David captures both the essence of anger and all of its contours. David is one of the wisest people there is when it comes to understanding how people tick and how the Word of God meets and changes them.
Even the title says so much. I've been reading another pretty good book recently about how not to be personally offended, and I've been helped very much by it. But the author basically argues away the concept of righteous anger as a self-justifying fiction. Powlison, alternatively, would see anger redeemed and gives us biblical categories for understanding good anger (i.e. "the constructive displeasure of mercy"). Yet at the same time, Powlison never excuses sinful anger and constantly offers helpful counsel for change.
Not only does he break new ground, but he does it with gentleness and grace. He writes as one struggler to other fellow strugglers, and it feels like a personal conversation. I can hear his voice in every sentence. This book is biblical counseling at its best written by one of its leading theorists and practitioners.

2. The Imperfect Pastor by Zach Eswine

This one was (unfortuately) also written for me.

I did not enjoy this book, but, boy, did I need to read it.

Eswine's message in a nutshell:

"Mark this down, okay? You and I were never meant to repent for not being everywhere for everybody and all at once. You and I are meant to repent because we've tried to be" (pg. 74).

Reading The Imperfect Pastor quietly and slowly was an exercise in repentance for me and good medicine. There's nothing wrong with the book. It's so well-written it doesn't even taste like medicine going down. It's just that I'm sick with the disease that the author describes: pride.

I highly recommend it for new pastors just learning their craft and for older pastors who have not yet discovered joy in their limitations.  [From my Goodreads Review.]

1. God the Son Incarnate by Stephen Wellum

I just finished reading God the Son Incarnate on Christmas Eve, so I haven't had time yet to write a review, but it was definitely the topmost book I read.

Wellum has done a completely masterful job of unpacking the classical teaching on the person of Christ in 467 pages. His arguments are clearly written, sufficiently nuanced/complex, and virtually comprehensive. I learned so much about my Savior and was led into true worship of the Incarnate Son. It was a perfect read for this Christian pastor during the Advent Season. More books like this need written, and I need to read more of them.

 What a privilege it is to get to read and recommend valuable books like these!