5 books Christians should read on Islam

books-islam

What do Christians really know about Islam and Muslim people? It’s tempting to view them solely in light of what we see in the news, and hear in the rhetoric of many commentators. While it might be easier to treat all Muslims as though they are sleeper agents for ISIS, I’m pretty sure it’s not going to help us actually reach them with the thing they need most: the gospel.

And if we’re going to do that, we need to have a better idea of what they actually believe, the questions they are really asking, and the objections they hold about Christianity. So, here are five books you should read that will help:

The Gospel for Muslims by Thabiti Anyabwile

This was the first book I read on this subject years ago, and it’s still one of the best I’ve found. It offers a great deal of thoughtful explanation and critique as well as pastoral encouragement. This combined with Thabiti’s personal story of converting to Islam and then Christianity, make it a must-read. (For more, read my review).

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an by James R. White

White, one of the finest apologists and debaters of our day, has spent a great deal of time investigating the claims of Islam and the particulars of the Qur’an, and it shows. As one review puts it, “Dr. James White has exemplified how Christians should speak to Muslims in accordance with their respective worldviews.”

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

Breaking the Islam Code by JD Greear

Born out of his personal experience living within a predominantly Muslim community for two years, Greear writes this book to help us “see what questions Muslims are asking, and how the gospel provides a unique and satisfying answer to them.” (15) Trevin’s written an excellent review of it, which you can read here.

Buy it at: Amazon

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi

This, like Thabiti’s, is worth reading because of the author’s personal experience with Islam. A formerly devout Muslim, Qureshi “describes his dramatic journey from Islam to Christianity, complete with friendships, investigations, and supernatural dreams along the way.”

Providing an intimate window into a loving Muslim home, Qureshi shares how he developed a passion for Islam before discovering, almost against his will, evidence that Jesus rose from the dead and claimed to be God. Unable to deny the arguments but not wanting to deny his family, Qureshi’s inner turmoil will challenge Christians and Muslims alike.

Buy it at: Amazon

Jesus, Jihad and Peace by Michael Youssef

My wife found this book particularly helpful. She says, “If you want to get a first-person take on what it’s like to live in a Muslim world and understand the worldview underpinning the militant Islamic world, and the passages used to support, this book will help.”

Buy it at: Amazon

Those are a few of the books I’d suggest checking out. What would you add?

5 books our kids should read

books-for-kids

I love reading great books—and really love introducing new books to my kids.

My oldest (at the time of this writing) is coming up on eight years old, but she’s already a super-reader, having recently completed abridged (child appropriate) versions of Moby Dick and Treasure Island. Our middle child is nearly five and has a strong grasp of the basics (she just needs to develop her attention span a little). Our youngest, well… at almost three, he’s only really starting to identify letters, which I think is pretty good. He’s also memorized Beatrix Potter’s The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit, particularly loving the line, “This is a man with a gun…”

Sometimes in my zeal, I get a little ahead of myself, though. I want to share really great books with them, but there are so many they’re just not quite ready for yet. But they’re getting closer. Here are five that I’m looking forward to sharing with them (some of which are series, which may or may not be cheating), and think every kid should read, too:

1. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. This one should be obvious to everyone: Lewis’ writing is spectacular. The story is compelling throughout each volume in the series. And you get the added bonus of having some really fantastic faith-related conversations with your kids as they work out what they’re reading.

2. The Ashtown Burials and 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson. I actually picked up these two series for myself—not because I’m an avid Y.A. reader, but because Nate Wilson’s got style. He knows how to spin a good yarn, to keep it entertaining for both children and parents. He even manages to keep things clean (some violence, but nothing graphic, and no teens with “the feels” for one another), but doesn’t play things safe.

3. A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond. Bond’s stories of a talking bear from “darkest Peru” are some of my favorites. I recently picked this one up as my oldest is actually at the right age to read it, so she may start digging in as part of her homeschool curriculum, or in reading time with Dad.

4. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I remember loving this book as a child, but I never realized it was actually part of a series of books until much later in life (which means I may need to go and get the rest out of the library).

5. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. This one is probably the biggest challenge my kids. Tolkien does so much world-building in his books, they can be a tad impenetrable if you’re not willing to put the work in. Nevertheless, The Hobbit is a terrific place to start as it is by far his most accessible work (and far more interesting than the recently released—and extremely bloated—movie trilogy).

Those are just a few of the books (and series) I’d recommend for kids to read. There are, of course, so many others that could be added—what’s one you think should be there?

New and noteworthy books

New and noteworthy

One of my favorite times of the day, after coming home and greeting my family is seeing what mail has arrived. This is not because I love finding out how many bills there are each moth, but because there’s often a new book waiting for me from one of the many Christian publishers out there. It’s been a while since I’ve shared what’s made its way into the house, so here’s a quick look at a few of the most interesting in the latest batch:

Ordinary by Tony Merida (B&H Publishing)

Ordinary is not a call to be more radical. If anything, it is a call to the contrary. The kingdom of God isn’t coming with light shows, and shock and awe, but with lowly acts of service. Tony Merida wants to push back against sensationalism and “rock star Christianity,” and help people understand that they can make a powerful impact by practicing ordinary Christianity.

Buy it at: Amazon

Who is Jesus? by Greg Gilbert (Crossway)

Intended as a succinct introduction to Jesus’s life, words, and enduring significance, Who Is Jesus? offers non-Christians and new Christians alike a compelling portrait of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, this book encourages readers to carefully consider the history-shaping life and extraordinary teachings of the greatest man who ever lived.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

Behold the King of Glory by Russ Ramsey (Crossway)

In this carefully researched retelling of the story of Jesus, Russ Ramsey invites us to rediscover our wonder at his sinless life, brutal death, and glorious resurrection.

Featuring forty short chapters recounting key episodes from Jesus’s time on earth, this book expands on the biblical narrative in a fresh and creative way—giving us a taste of what it would have been like to walk next to Jesus and experience his earthly ministry first hand.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

The Things of Earth by Joe Rigney (Crossway)

This looks to be excellent:

In this book, Joe Rigney offers a breath of fresh air to Christians who are burdened by false standards, impossible expectations, and misguided notions of holiness. Steering a middle course between idolatry on the one hand and ingratitude on the other, this much-needed book reminds us that every good gift comes from the Father’s hand, that God’s blessings should drive us to worship and generosity, and that a passion for God’s glory is as wide as the world.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

Look and Live by Matt Papa (Bethany House)

All of us live in the tension between where we are and where we ought to be. We try our best to bully our desires into submission. And we all know, this is exhausting.

Are you tired? Stuck? Still fighting the same sin you’ve been fighting for years? The call in these pages is not to work or to strive, but to lift your eyes. You don’t need more willpower. You need a vision of greatness that sweeps you off your feet. You need to see glory.

Buy it at: Amazon

Jesus Outside the Lines by Scott Sauls (Tyndale)

I’m curious about this one:

Whether the issue of the day on Twitter, Facebook, or cable news is our sexuality, political divides, or the perceived conflict between faith and science, today’s media pushes each one of us into a frustrating clash between two opposing sides. Polarizing, us-against-them discussions divide us and distract us from thinking clearly and communicating lovingly with others. Scott Sauls, like many of us, is weary of the bickering and is seeking a way of truth and beauty through the conflicts. Jesus Outside the Lines presents Jesus as this way. Scott shows us how the words and actions of Jesus reveal a response that does not perpetuate the destructive fray. Jesus offers us a way forward – away from harshness, caricatures and stereotypes. In Jesus Outside the Lines, you will experience a fresh perspective of Jesus, who will not (and should not) fit into the sides.

Buy it at: Amazon

Comfort the Grieving by Paul Tautges (Zondervan)

Until the end of time, when the curse of sin is finally removed, suffering will be a large part of the human experience and a large part of that suffering will be walking through the painful reality of death.… Those who shepherd others through the pain and loss that accompanies death should seek to offer wise and biblical counsel on these precious and painful occasions. This book is a treasure chest of pastoral theology that will equip you to reach out to those who grieve with the Christ-centered comfort of God rooted in the gospel. The theological foundation espoused here, as well as the numerous practical helps that are included, will help any servant of the Lord to point the hearts and minds of the bereaved to the ‘man of sorrows’ who is ‘acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53:3).

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

The Happy Christian by David Murray (Thomas Nelson)

I started reading this, but had to put it on hold due to course priorities. However, what I read was excellent:

Hopelessness has invaded much of our culture, even reaching deep into the church. But while the world is awash in negativity, Christians have resources to live differently.

In The Happy Christian, professor and pastor David Murray blends the best of modern science and psychology with the timeless truths of Scripture to create a solid, credible guide to positivity. The author of the acclaimed Christians Get Depressed Too, Murray exposes modern negativity’s insidious roots and presents ten perspective-changing ways to remain optimistic in a world that keeps trying to drag us down.

Buy it at: Amazon

Romans 8-16 For You by Timothy Keller (The Good Book Company)

Look for a review of this in the next week or two:

Join Dr Timothy Keller as he opens up the second half of the book of Romans, beginning n chapter 8, helping you to get to grips with its meaning and showing how it transforms our hearts and lives today. Combining a close attention to the detail of the text with Timothy Keller’s trademark gift for clear explanation and compelling insights, this resource will both engage your mind and stir your heart.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

5 books Christians should read on Church history

5 books

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it, as the old saying goes. And while you might want to roll your eyes, here’s the rub: it’s absolutely true. I’ve outlined my reasons for encouraging Christians to read church history in greater detail previously, but it bears repeating: if we do not know the issues the church faced in the past—particularly our conflicts and controversies over doctrine—we will absolutely fall prey to those errors once again.

Here are five books (plus a little something extra) I’d recommend every Christian read on Church history:

Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley

Now in its fourth edition, this is by far one of the most accessible and helpful overviews of the entire history of the Church—from the time of Christ right up to the turn of the 21st century—you’ll ever read. Without question, if you only read one book on this list, make sure it’s this one.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


Know the Heretics and Know the Creeds and Councils by Justin Holcomb

Although published individually, these two volumes should be read together. The first outlines 14 major turning points in church history—moments where, had a different decision been made, we would have lost the gospel altogether. The second looks at 13 creeds, confessions, and councils from across the spectrum of the Christian faith, with an emphasis on these still matter to us today and the impact they have on our faith. Both are absolutely essential reading for those taking their first steps into studying church history.

Buy Know the Heretics at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon

Buy Know the Creeds and Councils at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon


Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe

This is a fairly gruesome book, which should be no surprise given its title. But this book is a recounting of the persecution faced by Protestants (and proto-Protestants) during the time leading up to the Reformation and beyond (it has subsequently been updated into the present day, with a somewhat broader focus). Although some—notably Catholics—have questioned Foxe’s work as a historian, this is still a volume worthy of consideration.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


2000 Years of Christ’s Power by Nick Needham

This is a tricky one because it’s actually the title on the list I’ve not read (yet). So why include it? Because it comes with highest of recommendations from many people I trust, including the pastors of my local church. This three (someday to be four) volume series is provides an overview of the major eras of the Christian faith: the Early Church Fathers, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance and Reformation.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


Bonus resource: Church History courses at Ligonier Connect. Ligonier has a number of interactive, video-based courses on church history taught by W. Robert Godfrey, Stephen Nichols, Michael Reeves, and R.C. Sproul. These are well worth checking out.

6 books I’m reading on apologetics and outreach

And so, the day has come: my reading has been assigned.

In just a few weeks, I’ll be starting my first course at Covenant Seminary, Apologetics and Outreach with Jerram Barrs. As you can imagine, I’m pretty excited about this course—but I’m also pretty keen on starting digging into my textbooks.

Here’s a look at what I’ll be reading over the next few weeks:

Lost In Transmission?: What We Can Know About the Words of Jesus by Nicholas Perrin:

lost-transmission

Bart Ehrman, in his New York Times bestseller, Misquoting Jesus, claims that the New Testament cannot wholly be trusted. Cutting and probing with the tools of text criticism, Ehrman suggests that many of its episodes are nothing but legend, fabricated by those who copied or collated its pages in the intervening centuries. The result is confusion and doubt. Can we truly trust what the New Testament says?

Now, Wheaton College scholar Nicholas Perrin takes on Ehrman and others who claim that the text of the New Testament has been corrupted beyond recognition. Perrin, in an approachable, compelling style, gives us a layman’s guide to textual criticism so that readers can understand the subtleties of Ehrman’s critiques, and provides firm evidence to suggest that the New Testament can, indeed, be trusted.

Buy it at: Amazon


The Heart of Evangelism by Jerram Barrs:

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This biblical study of evangelism gracefully reminds us that the New Testament model of witnessing is not a one-size-fits-all methodology. With compassion for the lost filling every page, Jerram Barrs shows the variety of approaches used in the New Testament—where the same uncompromised Gospel was packaged as differently as the audience—and calls you to follow its example.… And as you watch God work in the lives of others and see the great blessings He brings, you’ll discover what a privilege it is to live out the heart of evangelism: truly loving others to Christ.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore


Learning Evangelism from Jesus by Jerram Barrs

learning-evangelism

Studying Jesus’ conversations with diverse people in his day, Jerram Barrs draws lessons and principles for attractively communicating the gospel to unbelievers in our day.

Living in a culture that is opposed to Christianity tempts God’s people to conform, to retreat, to be silent. But Jesus showed the way to live faithfully before an unbelieving world.

As the greatest evangelist, Jesus exemplified how to attract people to the gospel. He modeled how to initiate spiritual conversations full of grace and truth. Christian evangelism, then, both in theory and practice, must be shaped by his pattern. … This highly practical book will guide Christians in how to live before unbelievers and how to love them into the kingdom, just as Jesus did.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore


Evangelism in the Early Church by Michael Green:

evangelism-early-church

Evangelism in the Early Church provides a comprehensive look at the ways the first Christians — from the New Testament period up until the middle of the third century — worked to spread the good news to the rest of the world.

In describing life in the early church, Green explores crucial aspects of the evangelistic task that have direct relevance for similar work today, including methods, motives, and strategies. He assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the evangelistic approaches used by the earliest Christians, and he also considers the obstacles to evangelism, using outreach to Gentiles and to Jews as examples of differing contexts for proclamation. Carefully researched and frequently quoting primary sources from the early church, this book will both show contemporary readers what can be learned from the past and help renew their own evangelistic vision.

Buy it at: Amazon


Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times by Os Guinness

Renaissance-The-Power-of-the-Gospel-However-Dark-the-Times-0

Throughout history, the Christian faith has transformed entire cultures and civilizations, building cathedrals and universities, proclaiming God’s goodness, beauty and truth through art and literature, science and medicine. The Christian faith may similarly change the world again today. The church can be revived to become a renewing power in our society—if we answer the call to a new Christian renaissance that challenges darkness with the hope of Christian faith.

In this hopeful appeal for cultural transformation, Guinness shares opportunities for Christians, on both local and global levels, to win back the West and to contribute constructively to the human future. Hearkening back to similar pivotal points in history, Guinness encourages Christians in the quest for societal change. Each chapter closes with thought-provoking discussion questions and a brief, heart-felt prayer that challenges and motivates us to take action in our lives today.

Buy it at: Amazon


Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality by William Edgar

schaeffer-christian-life-spirituality

Francis Schaeffer was one of the most influential apologists of the 20th century. Through his speaking, writing, and filmmaking, Schaeffer successfully transformed the way people thought of the Christian faith, from a rather private kind of piety to a worldview that addressed every sphere of life. This volume—written by a man converted from agnosticism within days of meeting Schaeffer—is the first book devoted to exploring the heart and soul of Schaeffer’s approach to the Christian life, and will help readers strive after the same kind of marriage of thought and life, of orthodoxy and love.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

Now I just have to figure out where to put them…

A year of time-tested theology: the Bavinck reading plan

time-tested-theology

The new year is nearly upon us, and this year I’m spending a great deal of time reading time-tested works of theology. The first work on the list? Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics.

Thanks to the tools in Logos 6, I’ve put together a reading plan for each volume. The goal is to complete read each volume over about five weeks, give or take. Here’s what the plan for volume one, Prolegomena, looks like:

  • January 1: Editor’s Introduction (optional)
  • January 2: Editor’s Introduction (optional) – Dogma, Dogmatics, and Theology
  • January 5: The Content of Theology – Apostles, Bishops, and the Return to Scripture
  • January 6: The Turn to the Subject – The Impact of Philosophy
  • January 7: The Foundation and Task of Prolegomena – Christian Theology and/ or Philosophy: Two Ways
  • January 8: Dogma and Theology in the East – Chapter 5: Lutheran Dogmatics
  • January 9: The Beginning of Lutheran Theology – The Beginnings of Reformed Theology
  • January 12: Reformed Scholasticism – Theological Prolegomena
  • January 13: Foundations of Thought – Objective and Subjective Religion
  • January 14: Piety and Worship – The Whole Person
  • January 15: The Origin of Religion – Nineteenth- Century “Recovery” of Revelation
  • January 16: Mediating Theology – Chapter 11: Special Revelation
  • January 19: Modes of Revelation – To Fallen Humanity
  • January 20: As Triune God – The Reformational View
  • January 21: Rationalistic Naturalism – The Witness of the New Testament
  • January 22: The Testimony of the Church – Differing Views of Inspiration
  • January 23: Organic Inspiration – Descriptive and Prescriptive Authority
  • January 26: Moral Authority Only? – The Conflict with Rome
  • January 27: Tradition and Papal Infallibility – Religion is Always Concrete
  • January 28: Theology’s Distinct Method – The Speculative Method
  • January 29: Triumph of Reason: Hegel – Albrecht Ritschl and Moral Religion
  • January 30: The Search for the Unity of Believing and Knowing – Two Kinds of Faith
  • February 2: Faith as Intellectual Assent – Scripture is Self-Authenticating
  • February 3: Divine and Human Logos – Faith’s Knowledge
  • February 4: Dogma and Greek Philosophy – end of volume one

A couple of things you might be wondering:

Why no weekends? I intentionally limited this to weekdays only for a couple of reasons. First, I want to make sure everyone who participates has time to adequately process what they’re reading each week. I don’t want anyone to just consume Reformed Dogmatics, I was to think about it. Second, I felt it important to build in some buffer. I don’t want anyone to get caught in is the “desperate catch up” trap if we get behind in our reading (which shouldn’t be an issue, but you never know).

Where are the page numbers? Each entry shows the section heads where we’ll be starting, rather than a page number as this is built using the editions available through Logos Bible Software. If you’re following along with a hard copy edition, it works out to reading roughly 30-ish pages a day.

How long will it take to read all four volumes? The way the plan is structured, we’ll have completed the four volumes by by May 19th. This is a fairly comfortable pace.

How can I get a copy of these plans? Copies of the plans for each volume are available in PDF format and for iCal. You can download the PDF versions here and the iCal version here.

Enjoy!

Breaking out of the reading rut (the re-read recap)

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At the end of 2013, I shared about a project I was undertaking to diversify my reading a little more in 2014—reading at least one book a month that I’d read and enjoyed in the past. This week, I’m finishing up the last book of this endeavor, Why We Love the Church by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck.

In a lot of ways, this wasn’t a major challenge, at least when it comes to quantity of reading. The challenge came as I continued to read more recently released titles, and found myself less feeling kind of… meh.

I realized my reading habits had become a bit boring.

There wasn’t a lot of risk. Many of the books I enjoyed, I was fairly certain I’d enjoy before I finished the first chapter—and often, before I’d turned to the first page. The authors are trustworthy and reliable, and I therefore knew what to expect. But I found the same issue crop up with the books I didn’t particularly enjoy, too. Not that I was intentionally pre-judging, but that there wasn’t really anything that surprised me. The arguments were predictable in most cases, and often far too easy to refute.

But even going back a few years to Why We Love the Church, and Why We’re Not Emergent before it, I remembered reading these with a sense that there was some risk in writing and publishing these titles. Writing critique books that don’t come across as crabby or needlessly divisive is difficult, to say the least. Being willing to call a spade a spade, or in these books’ case, the trajectory of the emergent movements and churchless Christianity cuckoo for Coco Puffs… Well, that takes some guts, especially at a time when many of the major publishers were supporting and profiting from the message.

And moving back further in time, to a book like The Screwtape Letters, there’s risk involved in the book’s concept itself. For C.S. Lewis to write from the perspective of a senior demon to a junior one, as those plotting to cause a Christian to stumble… It’s a clever idea that, in the hands of a lesser writer, would have completely and utterly failed.

Many of the other books I read had much the same kind of feel to them—there was a freshness that comes from an author trying to do something interesting or different (though rarely coming across as trying to be s0). I didn’t get that same sense from many of the more recent books I read, which is a shame. And when that’s missing, after a while, it’s easy to get bored. Going back to older books is helping me shake off my reading rut—and more importantly, reminding me why I love about reading good books.

11 books I want to read 2015

This year, I have a feeling my reading is going to look a lot different. I’ll be doing a bunch of reading for my courses at Covenant Seminary, and I’m spending a good chunk of the year reading time-tested works of theology. But even so, there are some new books coming out I’m genuinely excited about. Here are a few of the ones I’m most looking forward to reading in 2015:

Good News About Satan by Bob Bevington (Cruciform Press).

Most books on Satan are pretty… well, crazy. But, this one “walks the reader through the plain teachings of Scripture regarding Satan, demons, and spiritual warfare, at all times from an explicitly gospel-centered perspective that exalts the sovereignty of God and the finished work of Christ as paramount. Because of this focus, the book, while treating our enemy soberly and seriously, is devoid of the unfruitful speculations and illegitimate extrapolations so common to this topic.”

Can’t go wrong with a book that’s sticking strictly to Scripture, huh?


The ISIS Crisis by Charles Dyer and Mark Tobey (Moody Publishers)

I’m hopeful this book will be helpful for many seeking to make sense of what’s going on in the Middle East (and increasingly touching us here in the West):

ISIS—a name that inspires fear, a group that is gaining momentum. Horrors unheard of are plaguing the Middle East, and ISIS may be the responsible for the worst among them. And yet there is so much we don’t know about ISIS.… Drawing from history, current events, and biblical prophecy, they guide readers through the matrix of conflicts in the Middle East. Then they explore the role of ISIS in all of these matters. Finally, they encourage Christians to look to Jesus, the Prince of Peace.


Fear and Faith by Trillia Newbell (Moody Publishers)

Trillia’s tackling a subject that hits close to home with many people I know in this one:

In Fear and Faith, we will look our fears in the face, name their root cause, and learn together how to lean on the One who we can and should trust. Fear has a way of whispering lies to our souls about who God is. But the Lord is better and through exploring what the Word says about our sovereign, good, and loving God, we can learn to rest in His ever-open arms. Ultimately we fight fear by trusting in the Lord and fearing Him.


Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down by Tony Merida (B&H Publishing Group)

I’m glad there are more books coming out like this:

Ordinary is not a call to be more radical. If anything, it is a call to the contrary. The kingdom of God isn’t coming with light shows, and shock and awe, but with lowly acts of service. Tony Merida wants to push back against sensationalism and “rock star Christianity,” and help people understand that they can make a powerful impact by practicing ordinary Christianity.

Through things such as humble acts of service, neighbor love, and hospitality, Christians can shake the foundations of the culture. In order to see things happen that have never happened before, Christians must to do what Christians have always done­. Christians need to become more ordinary.


The Mingling of Souls by Matt Chandler with Jared C. Wilson (David C. Cook)

I’m looking forward to seeing how this differs from the hyper-sexualized approach of his contemporaries:

The Song of Solomon offers strikingly candid—and timeless—insights on romance, dating, marriage, and sex. We need it. Because emotions rise and fall with a single glance, touch, kiss, or word. And we are inundated with songs, movies, and advice that contradicts God’s design for love and intimacy.

Matt Chandler helps navigate these issues for both singles and marrieds by revealing the process Solomon himself followed: Attraction, Courtship, Marriage … even Arguing. The Mingling of Souls will forever change how you view and approach love.


Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send by J.D. Greear (Zondervan)

If this is as good as it sounds from the description, it might be the best book on ministry in ages:

Though many churches focus time and energy on attracting people and counting numbers, the real mission of the church isn’t how many people you can gather. It’s about training up disciples and then sending them out. The true measure of success for a church should be its sending capacity, not its seating capacity.… In Gaining By Losing, J.D. Greear unpacks ten plumb lines that you can use to reorient your church’s priorities around God’s mission to reach a lost world. The good news is that you don’t need to choose between gathering or sending. Effective churches can, and must, do both.


The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to Be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World by David Murray (Thomas Nelson)

This could be really great:

Hopelessness has invaded much of our culture, even reaching deep into the church. But while the world is awash in negativity, Christians have resources to live differently.

In The Happy Christian, professor and pastor David Murray blends the best of modern science and psychology with the timeless truths of Scripture to create a solid, credible guide to positivity. The author of the acclaimed Christians Get Depressed Too, Murray exposes modern negativity’s insidious roots and presents ten perspective-changing ways to remain optimistic in a world that keeps trying to drag us down.


The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo by Jared C. Wilson (Crossway)

Whenever Wilson writes on church ministry, I pay attention. So should you:

Pastors want to reach the lost with the good news of Jesus. However, we’ve too often assumed this requires loud music, flashy lights, and skinny jeans. In this gentle manifesto, Jared Wilson—a pastor who knows what it’s like to serve in a large attractional church—challenges pastors to reconsider their priorities when it comes to how they “do church” and reach people in their communities. Writing with the grace and kindness of a trusted friend, Wilson encourages pastors to reexamine the Bible’s teaching, not simply return to a traditional model for tradition’s sake. He then sets forth an alternative to both the attractional and the traditional models: an explicitly biblical approach that is gospel focused, grace based, and fruit oriented.


What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung (Crossway)

There have been a lot of really great books out on this subject, but I’m looking forward to seeing what DeYoung adds:

In just a few short years, massive shifts in public opinion have radically reshaped society’s views on homosexuality. Feeling the pressure to forsake long-held beliefs about sex and marriage, some argue that Christians have historically misunderstood the Bible’s teaching on this issue. But does this approach do justice to what the Bible really teaches about homosexuality? … Examining key biblical passages in both the Old and New Testaments and the Bible’s overarching teaching regarding sexuality, DeYoung responds to popular objections raised by Christians and non-Christians alike—offering readers an indispensable resource for thinking through one of the most pressing issues of our day.


Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate,and Commissioned Church by Collin Hansen (Crossway)

Christians talk a lot about church unity. Unfortunately, however, God’s people are often better known for their divisions and disagreements than for a common commitment to the gospel. At the root of this disunity are the blind spots that prevent us from seeing other points of view and reevaluating our own perspectives. In this provocative book, Collin Hansen challenges Christians from various “camps” to view their differences as opportunities to more effectively engage a needy world with the love of Christ. Highlighting the diversity of thought, experience, and personality that God has given to his people, this book lays the foundation for a new generation of Christians eager to cultivate a courageous, compassionate, and commissioned church.


Experiencing the Trinity: The Grace of God for the People of God by Joe Thorn (Crossway)

This might be the book I’m most looking forward to of all:

For Christians, there is only one simple yet profound answer: turn to the triune God. Born out of lessons learned during one of the most spiritually challenging periods of his life, Experiencing the Trinity by pastor Joe Thorn contains 50 down-to-earth meditations on God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Overflowing with scriptural truth, pastoral wisdom, and personal honesty, this book reflects on common experiences of doubt, fear, and temptation—pointing readers to the grace that God provides and the strength that he promises.


Those are a few of the titles I’m looking forward to in 2015. What about you?

My favorite books to review in 2014

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Recently, I shared some of my favorite books to read in 2014 (many of which I reviewed). Today, I want to share a few of my favorite books to review.

These are not all books I enjoyed, nor are they all books I’d recommend you read yourself. But all were books that challenged me in some way as I tried to figure out how to best review them, whether because of disagreements with the content or because the genre was something I’d never tackled before.

So, with that in mind, here are the reviews I most enjoyed writing in 2014:

Rising Above a Toxic Workplace by Gary Chapman, Paul White, and Harold Myra

Why’d it make the cut? Business books in general are pretty tough to review. And this one was especially tricky given the content of the book, and avoiding speaking ill of others.

You and Me Forever by Francis and Lisa Chan

Why’d it make the cut? This was fun to review simply because it wasn’t a typical marriage book—since it isn’t really a book about marriage.

Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick

Why’d it make the cut? Because writing anything that remotely resembles a balanced review of a book by someone as polarizing as Furtick is nigh-on impossible. (Read the review at TGC.)

Why We’re Not Emergent by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck.

Why’d it make the cut? Okay, this wasn’t a review in my traditional style. However, reading the book again after several years away from it, it was fun to see what would still be relevant in it today. Apparently, quite a bit.

Is it My Fault? by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb

Why’d it make the cut? There was a lot that hit close to home reading and reviewing this one, which made both a lot more challenging than I anticipated.

The Adam Quest by Tim Stafford

Why’d it make the cut? While last year’s Mapping the Origins Debate was a good—if a bit stuffy—take on the origins debate, this book was all about the people behind the views. We often leave out the human factor in these debates, but it is absolutely necessary if we intend to have meaningful discussion with those holding differing views.

Invest by Sutton Turner

Why’d it make the cut? In some ways, this was even harder to review than Driscoll’s A Call to Resurgence, the book that spurred the events that ultimately brought an end to Mars Hill Church. Why? Because it was, ultimately, a book about turning your senior pastor into a celebrity, rather than making much about Jesus.

The Gospel Transformation Bible

Why’d it make the cut? Because it’s a BIBLE.

Jesus > Religion by Jefferson Bethke

Why’d it make the cut? Bethke’s youth—both in age and experience in the faith—shines in the book, for better and worse. The entire time I read this book, and as I reviewed it, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was really the right time for him to have written this. It’s not bad, but his strongest ideas are heavily borrowed from others.

A year of time-tested theology

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It’s easy to get stuck in a reading rut. When you read the same kind of stuff, over and over, year after year… you get a bit worn out, y’know? That’s why, each year, I put together a new project to keep my reading from becoming stale. In 2014, I had the re-reading project, going back to a book I’d read in the past—some Christian, some non—to add a little more variety.

In 2015, one of the new projects I’m taking on is a fairly big one:

A year of time-tested theology. 

Beginning January 1, 2015, I’ll be reading (and in some cases, re-reading) a number of time-tested, trustworthy works of theology. My goal is to read four major works in the year, the first two being:

The remaining two I’m still deciding on, but I’m open to recommendations. One I’m considering, though, is Augustine’s Confessions.

This is going to be a fun project for a few reasons:

1. 2014 was a pretty dry reading year for me. There were a lot of really good books, but I felt pretty “meh” about the year overall. But old books are a lot of fun. I like seeing how people used language in the past and seeing how it’s evolved over time.

2. I really need to reconnect with theology that predates the Internet. I’ve been spending a lot of time with books written in the last 60 years or so, to some degree at the expense of far too many older, time-tested works. It’s time to correct that, lest I become guilty of chronological snobbery.

3. The reading is spread out. I’m not trying to set myself a crazy goal of reading one of these every couple of weeks or anything like that. These works take time to digest. My schedule for this project means I’ll be reading each work over the course of three months, on average. In some cases, this will still be fairly aggressive, but in others, it’ll lots of space. And with school coming up, I’ll need to make sure I have that space.

Some of my reading will inevitably be discussed here over the course of the year (but I’m not committing myself to a strict weekly series or anything like that). I really want this to be an enjoyable project for me—and if you’d like to join me in it, let me know what you’re planning on reading!

My favorite books of 2014

That season has come around once again, where top ten lists abound! As you know, reading is one the few hobbies I have, regularly reading around 100 books a year. With that much reading, it’s no surprise that there’s a range of quality. Most are in that “good, but not earth-shattering” category, a few were so bad I wished I had a back… but a few were legitimately great. Here are the ones that made the cut this year.

Prayer by Timothy Keller. From my review:

Keller’s message challenges us, but reminds us of the grace of God. … It is rich in its theology, winsome in its approach and wise in its application. There may be few good modern books on prayer, but Prayer is one of them—and among the finest I’ve read of any era.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung. From my review:

Taking God At His Word is one of the few books I want to hand out to everyone I know. It really is that helpful. Its punchy and powerful message is exactly what so many new and mature believers need, and I trust it will be a great benefit to all who read it.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


United by Trillia Newbell.

This is a wonderfully encouraging and challenging book on a really big problem: racism and the need for ethnic diversity. In it, Trillia presents a compelling argument for the necessity of reclaiming a sense of diversity within the church from a perspective one doesn’t see often enough: that of someone who has experienced racism firsthand. Learn more about this book from my conversation with Trillia.

Buy it at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon


Evangelism by Mack Stiles. From my review:

We should want this for our churches. We should want to be the kind of people who take risks in order to share the gospel with others, who understand that entertainment doesn’t equal ministry, that God truly rejoices when one lost sheep is found. This is the vision Mack Stiles presents in Evangelism.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


The Gospel at Work by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert. From my review:

The Gospel at Work may not be a theology of work proper, but make no mistake: it is as intensely theological as it is practical. Idleness and idolatry in work are theological problems and they’ve got serious practical implications. One makes work a burden, the other makes you work’s slave. But the gospel frees us from both idleness and idolatry.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novack.

Funny story: My daughter, Abigail, and I were in Chapters a while back enjoying a post-dance class hot chocolate, and we picked up this book to read together. As I told her, “I am a monkey who taught myself to read,” her eyes lit up. As I read the entire book, a big smile never left her face. When I put it down, I asked her, “So, did you like it?”

She looked me right in the eye, and said, “Not really.”

Liar.

Buy it at: Amazon


Is it My Fault? by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. From my review:

What I hope [this book] does is remind us all that none of us can stand by when abuse occurs in our homes or in our churches. In those situations, our goal should always be to bring hope into the darkness of abuse of all kinds. To humbly, earnestly and uncompromisingly call perpetrators to repentance, and allow them to experience the consequences of their actions. To offer compassion to victims and allow them to begin to experience some form of healing, while holding out the promise of the final restoration Jesus will bring when He comes to wipe every tear from every eye. This is what victims of abuse need, and by God’s grace, it’s what we can offer, if we’re willing.

Buy it at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon


The Gospel by Ray Ortlund. From my review:

Though particularly aimed at pastors and church leaders, The Gospel is valuable for any reader. It is not a how-to for ministry; it is a rallying cry for revival. It leaves you with a desire to see the kind of culture Ortlund talks about (and has nurtured at Immanuel) birthed in your own life and church. … Where even as some are hardened to the gospel, others are softened and welcomed into God’s family. When that happens, when our gospel doctrine leads to a gospel culture, it’s a wonderful thing indeed.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior.

I love good biographies, and Karen Swallow Prior has produced an excellent one in this volume on Hannah More, the most important social reformer you’ve probably never heard of.

Buy it at: Amazon


PROOF by Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones. From my review:

There’s nothing stealth about the Calvinism in PROOF. There’s nothing hostile or conspiratorial. This is not a grim tome filled with condemnation. What Montgomery and Jones offer is a picture of grace—grace that is to be meditated upon, sung about, worshiped through. Pure, undiluted grace; the kind that truly changes lives, the kind that is meant to be engaged in all of life.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever by Thor Ramsey.

Two things that never (usually) go together: Hell and humor. But Thor Ramsey makes it work, and rarely goes over the top. Instead, he presents a clear case for what we lose when we lose Hell and why it matters. If you’re looking for a good entry level book on the subject, this is the one for you.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


The best of what wasn’t released in 2014

Not everything I read (thankfully) was released this year, nor were all my favorites. So, as a bonus, here are my top three vintage (ish) books read in 2014:

How Should We Then Live? by Francis Schaeffer.

This should be required reading for every Christian.

Every.

Single.

One.

You can tell I feel strongly about this, huh?

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. From my review:

I can imagine some reading this book as though it were an authoritative treatise—that this is the way that demons act in our world and act against us, in the same way some treat Left Behind as gospel truth on the end times. But this would only do injustice to what Lewis is doing here.

Lewis doesn’t want his readers to be looking for the devil behind every corner after reading this book. Nor does he wish for them to be shouting, “the devil made me do it!” whenever they go astray.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Few authors can blend the mundane with the absurd as masterfully as Adams. This is probably my favorite work by Adams (I know, heresy!). I’ve read it multiple times over the year, and I never tire of it.

Buy it at: Amazon

So that’s my list—what were a few of your top reads this year?

See what made the cut in years past:

The worst books I read in 2014

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Yeah, I’m going there.

Usually at the end of the year, us blogger types only talk about the books and articles and moments and cookies we really loved. The ones that really mattered to us (at least for a few minutes).

I’ve got lots of that coming up, have no fear. But what I want to do today is I want to kick off the “best of” season with a bit of a twist, and share a few of the really bad books I read in 2014. Some (most?) were released this year. Some were crazy popular. But none of them were particularly good. Ready? Let’s go!

That time R.C. Sproul wrote a bad children’s book

The King Without a Shadow by R.C. Sproul. Okay, this might be a shocker to some. But if I’ve got my timeline right, this is Sproul’s first children’s book, and it shows. My wife and I read it to our kids and it was

so

very

loooooooong.

It’s so long that Emily lost focus while reading it. I may or may not have feel asleep while reading it, too. We love Sproul’s other children’s books (although none of them are really all that short), yeah, this is one we’re not planning on going back to any time soon.

The one that put a cramp in my soul

Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick. You may have seen my review over at TGC a while back. (And if you haven’t read it, will you please? I’m quite pleased with how it turned out.) That review, incidentally, took ages to write as I had to try really hard to not go all ad hominem on Furtick. Its false premise, defensiveness and hopeless help isn’t worth your time.

The other one that put a cramp in my soul

Killing Lions by John and Sam Eldridge. There’s a review coming. The first line: “I don’t even know where to start with this book.” True story.

The one that didn’t really say anything

The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. I know this book is a business classic and all, but I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if I can figure out why. So many pages, so little content. If you want to save yourself some trouble, just read the opening and final pages of each chapter; you’ll get everything you need from those. Then go read something by Patrick Lencioni, because he’s way more fun.

The one that is sincere, but sincerely wrong

God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines. This is another one I’ve been struggling to review, not because I don’t have a lot to say, but because I want to be as thoughtful as possible in doing so. My central point of contention is that while Vines relies on the standard—and largely disproven—arguments for homosexuality’s compatibility with Christianity, he bases his arguments in experientialism and emotionalism disguised as “fruit.”

Bonus: The one that was too obviously ridiculous to even bother reading

The Zimzum of Love by Rob and Kristen Bell. C’mon, like you didn’t know this book wasn’t going to be a complete waste of time from the title alone. When a supposed Christian ex-pastor starts spouting pagan1 nonsense about increasing the energy flow between you and your spouse, and the displacement of God’s omnipresence (something that, by definition, is not even possible), you know you’re going to crazy town.


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Write More Better: a new eBook on writing well

I wasn’t a writer until I was one, and I didn’t plan on being one at all. I started writing out of pure desperation. It wasn’t a perceived calling. I didn’t have a fire in my bones or any such thing. I was thrown into a writing job and needed to figure out how to not suck at it.

I approach giving advice on how to write well cautiously because of this. This is not because I don’t know what to say, but because I often feel like I’m making it up as I go along (even when I’m not). Nevertheless,

If you’re in the same boat I was a few years ago, or are just looking for some advice on how to write well, this book is for you: Write More Better: Unoriginal (but helpful) tips for writing well:

This is not the work of someone who has “arrived” or anything like that. Nor is a “here I write, I can do no other” type piece. Just as in the blog series that preceded it, what you’re going to find in its pages that follow are the tips that I’ve found helpful on the journey to becoming a writer.

Download a copy of Write More Better: Unoriginal (but helpful) tips for writing well.

I hope you find the book helpful. Enjoy!

Five books to read near Christmas

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Yeah, I know. You probably don’t want to think about that word any more than I do right now. I mean, Christmas has so much baggage surrounding it that it’s hard to have much fun. But it’s coming (just a few weeks away, friends).

Despite how we might feel about travel, awkward conversations, and the risk of really loud toys entering our homes, there is so much for us to be thankful for in the season, particularly as we remember the significance of the birth of Christ.

In light of this, we’ve been working to develop traditions in our family to help us be mindful of this truth. And, because it’s us, many of those traditions happen to revolve around books. Here are a few recommendations for books worth reading as we lead up to Christmas, both for personal enjoyment and family use:

Peace by Steven J. Nichols

This is a stunningly beautiful devotional that Ligonier Ministries and Reformation Trust released last year. Peace offers readings for the Advent season (four Sundays and Christmas Eve), as well as hymns and carols, readings from Christian theologians throughout history (such as this one from Augustine), and most importantly reminds us of the “earth-shaking implications of Christ’s appearance.”

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore


God Rest Ye Merry by Douglas Wilson (read a review here)

Okay, yes, Wilson is not for everyone. Some find his writing style pretty off-putting (he’s clever and he knows it). But in this volume, Wilson deconstructs the many false reasons for the season, provides an answer to the all important question, “how then shall we shop,” and shares how Santa Claus may or may not have slapped Arius across the face at the Council of Nicaea.

Buy it at: Amazon


The Lightlings by R.C. Sproul

An Armstrong family favorite, The Lightlings weaves an allegorical tale of redemption, focusing specifically on the incarnation. “A race of tiny beings known as lightlings represent humanity as they pass through all the stages of the biblical drama creation, fall, and redemption. In the end, children will understand why some people fear light more than darkness, but why they need never fear darkness again.”

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper

This is the latest Advent devotional written by John Piper (the 2013 edition, Good News of Great Joy, is also well worth revisiting). Piper offers short daily readings (25 in all), intended to guide us in experiencing the joy of Christ in this season. I particularly enjoy the fact that Piper doesn’t stick to traditional Christmas passages, leading off with Luke 19:10, and Jesus’ declaration that He came to seek and save the lost:

So Advent is a season for thinking about the mission of God to seek and to save lost people from the wrath to come. God raised him from the dead, “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). It’s a season for cherishing and worshiping this characteristic of God—that he is a searching and saving God, that he is a God on a mission, that he is not aloof or passive or indecisive. He is never in the maintenance mode, coasting or drifting. He is sending, pursuing, searching, saving. That’s the meaning of Advent

Buy it at: Amazon | iBooksDesiring God (free PDF download)


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

This is one of the stories we’ve been waiting for a loooong time to share with the kids, and probably need to wait a while longer yet. I’ve long been a fan of Dickens, and am eager to share this classic tale of transformation with the kids as they get older.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

What are a few books you’d recommend reading for personal reflection or family enjoyment as we prepare for Christmas?


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