top books 2017

Solomon was right when he said, “of making many books there is no end” (Eccl. 12:12). Reading has always been important. In fact, Christianity, while it is a religion of action, is a religion in which reading plays a prominent role (Eph. 3:4; Rev. 1:3). Christians need to be readers of scripture, but it is also good to read other books to help us understand the world we live in and learn from the wisdom of others.

I try to read a book a week, though I often fall short of this goal. Here are a few of my favorite books from this year in no particular order and a few honorable mentions. The mentioning of these books is not a full endorsement of the writer and all that he or she may believe, I just like the book.

Ben Giselbach, You are a Theologian: Thinking Right About God

Ben has begun a series of books concerning every Christian, and every individual for that matter, being a theologian. We need more writers in churches of Christ and more books that address systematic theology. Ben has been doing good with this. The book is well researched and addresses the nature of God that is often misunderstood by Christians and misrepresented by Calvinists. The book communicates in such a way that the average Christian can pick it up and understand it. One of my favorite quotes comes from his chapter on the Trinity where he writes the following:

When we strip God of His three-in-oneness, we end up forfeiting the God of the Bible. No matter how much we may have to mentally wrestle to better understand Him, knowing God is the heart of what it means to be a Christian. The more you come to know God, the more you will love Him (1 Jn. 4:19). And when you gain a better understanding of the triune nature of God, you will inevitably become a better spouse, church member, and friend to those around you.

I would recommend this book to any Christian as we seek to understand the God of the Bible.

Michael Reeves, Theologians You Should Know: An Introduction From The Apostolic Fathers to the 21st Century

This book introduces the reader to a few well known and some lesser known figures from church history. The author describes some of their strengths and some things you may have a disagreement with. Near the end of each chapter, he gives information that would guide you through these theologians’ published works if you wanted to study them further. Some of the theologians covered are Justin Martyr, Martin Luther, and Thomas Aquinas.

Christopher Ash, Zeal Without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice

We live in a busy time, and sometimes busyness is confused with being a fruit of the Spirit. For those of us who are busy and often juggling too many tasks, this is a great book. Even if you are not involved in ministry, this book helps you to see that rest is not only recommended but vital. Ash says there are things that we need that God doesn’t and when we behave like we do not need these things we are trying to be too much like God.

He says we need: sleep, Sabbath rests, friends, inward renewal, warning, and encouragement. Ash helps the reader to see that one can work hard and please God without killing oneself. One of my favorite quotes from this book is, “The Lord does not need us to do his work and it isn’t what defines us—some of us have had to learn that the hard way.”

Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You

This was my favorite read from this past year. Reinke strikes a delicate balance by not calling for us to trash the smartphone but warning us that it may be trashing us. He gives helpful pointers and calls for each reader to decide whether or not their phone has consumed them. Reinke argues, “While technology makes life easier, immaturity makes technology self-destructive.”  He gives helpful advice on how to be sure that we keep our phone use in check and gives well-researched data concerning phone use in our country. This book will make you think in a good way.

W.E.B. Dubois, The Souls of Black Folks

While I have not finished this one yet, I include it because it is already an awesome read. Dubois wrote this in 1903 and this book is a collection of essays on race as Dubois addresses the state of the black race in America during his lifetime. Rich with history and clear in writing, this book is enjoyable. One of the best things about this book is how Dubois treats people he disagrees with.

While he did not agree with Booker T. Washington’s views on how to handle the race issue, in the chapter where he discusses this he highlights all of the good Washington has done and is gracious even in areas where he disagrees with him. As an educated black man in a time of intense racial persecution, Dubois does not forget the struggle of others but he is also not blind to the progress being made and the good being done. I’m enjoying this one so far.

Everett FergusonThe Early Church & Today, Vol 1: A Collection of Writings 

Everett Ferguson is a church historian and a scholar in the church of Christ. While he is known for his writings on the issue of instrumental music in church history, Ferguson has written on more than just that issue. This collection of scholarly essays addresses the way early Christians worshipped, how they were organized, and how they became Christians.

Ferguson is obviously well researched and knows his stuff but doesn’t write over your head. While the writings of church fathers are not inspired, we are foolish to totally neglect them as they give us a window into Christianity in the centuries following the apostles. Ferguson helps with this. I am reading Volume 2 now.

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

This is another I have not completed but it is a fun read. I read this years ago as a kid and thought it would be good to revisit. This is a classic in American fiction and on to revisit. Tom is a mischievous young dude and likes to have fun at the expense of others. I do not read much fiction but this one has been good to go through again.

The Inerrant Word: Biblical, Historical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspectives (Edited by John McArthur)

This is a collection of essays on the Word of God. It is written by evangelical scholars and seeks to uphold and defend the inerrancy of scripture. The writers address the need to address the theme of inerrancy, how this should play a role in the pulpit, and events from church history that show the price that is paid when this is not done. Sometimes the Calvinism of the writers clouds their judgments, but overall it’s an informative read. The Bible is being attacked every day and we need to be ready to defend it.

Alvin L. Reid, Sharing Jesus without Freaking Out: Evangelism the Way You Were Born to Do it

I read this book straight through on a plane ride home from Africa. The author argues that we have complicated evangelism. While he believes in a quick sinner’s prayer conversion and I do not, he does encourage readers that sharing their faith should be more natural and easy than we think. Some highlights from the book are: “We all learn best what we put to practice the most.” “Our desire to share Jesus with people is not because we want to convert them, but because we are converted!” “Sharing Jesus with others regularly starts with preaching the gospel to yourself daily.”

Timothy and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

I read anything Keller writes and I think he communicates well. This book on marriage is no exception. Keller shows throughout that if we misunderstand the purpose of marriage we will always be disappointed throughout it. Keller writes, “The new conception of marriage –as- self- realization has put us in a position of wanting too much out of marriage and yet not nearly enough–– at the same time—Simply put––today people are asking far too much in the marriage partner.”

This book will cause you to think about God’s design for marriage and your role toward your spouse biblically. He even includes a good chapter on singleness and addresses how easy it is to make marriage the ultimate goal when it should not be.

Ellsworth Kalas, Preaching in an Age of Distraction

This was a good book to read as it helps preachers see that the people we are preaching to have changed because there are more distractions in our world. Kalas also helps the preacher to see that he is distracted as well and distractions are not all bad. How can I hold the attention of people who are used to something changing on a screen every second? How can I preach the unchanging word of God in a changing world? Kalas gives great advice on how to do this and shows that scripture is well able to perform this task.

He argues we can grab and hold listeners attention without scratching itching ears.  Some of the gems from this book are: “It isn’t easy to be a preacher, but it isn’t easy to be a layperson either,” “The motto on the wall of a preacher’s study may be, ‘Be still and know that I am God,’ but the unwritten message for many of our congregations is something like, ‘hurry up you’re already late.'”

Honorable mentions:

Brant Pitre, The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ

Jack P. Lewis, Between the Testaments

Francis Chan, You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity

Anthony Lee Ash, Pray Always: What the New Testament Teaches About Prayer

A.W. Tozer, The Crucified Life: How to Live Out a Deeper Christian Experience

A.W. Tozer, The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship

Steven Hunter, Being Phoebe: How Women Served in Early Christianity

Albert A. Bell Jr, Exploring the New Testament World: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Jesus and the First Christians

That’s it for now. There were more I could have mentioned but these caught my attention the most this year. I did not read enough fiction this year so I might do more in 2018. What are you reading that is helping you? Feel free to share that with me. Hope these books help, read widely and read regularly. But if you can only read one book, read the Bible (2 Tim. 2:15).