At the end of each year I look forward to hearing what books people enjoyed over the past 12 months. My good friend Jeff Purswell posted a great list for pastors at the Sovereign Grace website, although anyone could benefit from them. I also appreciated these lists from Kevin DeYoung and Tony Reinke.
I read fewer books than I had hoped to in 2014 but these three stood out.
1. Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Christopher Ash
In recent years I’ve intentionally read through Job 5 or 6 times each year, making notes as I go. I’ve learned a great deal about suffering, about God’s sovereignty, and how not to counsel those who are going through difficult times. But this commentary, recommended to me by C.J. Mahaney, shed light on passages I didn’t even know were dark! Three things I most appreciated about this book. First, Ash walks through every verse in a thoughtful, contextually sensitive manner. He’s done the hard work of making connections you’d easily miss while staying on firm exegetical ground. He also helps us see where Job got it right and where he got it wrong. I especially appreciated his explanation of Leviathan as the worst Satan can throw at us. Second, he writes pastorally, exposing the misguided comfort of Job’s counselors and pointing us to true, God-honoring wisdom. Third, and most importantly, Ash consistently helps us see how Job prefigures Christ, the truly innocent sufferer. I don’t think I saw before how important the book of Job is to the story of redemption. A few favorite quotes:
We need to be on the lookout not only for the wrong teaching Bible teachers give but also for vital Biblical ingredients they habitually omit. p. 94
If there is no undeserved suffering, there can be no redemptive suffering, no sacrificial substitutionary suffering. And if there is no substitutionary suffering, there can be no grace. p. 138
When we listen to Job’s speeches, we need to bear in mind the distinction between Job’s perception and Job’s heart…We will hear Job say some things that are plain wrong, and yet we hear him say them from a heart that is deeply right. p. 139
It is utterly stupid, and deeply hurtful, to suppose that we can deduce from someone’s situation in this age the true state of his or her heart. A bad person may enjoy a good life, and a good person may suffer the pain of a bad life. Only the end will reveal the heart. p. 234
Three is not one inch of strange wildness that lies outside the counsel of God. p. 396
2. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God – Timothy Keller
I actually finished this book in 2015, but wanted to include it. Reading books on prayer is like reading cookbooks. You might be fascinated by what you read, but you don’t know how good the book is until you actually follow the directions. Reading Keller’s book both motivated and equipped me to press into prayer more thoughtfully and biblically. It’s changing the way I pray. Here’s what I wrote on my Amazon review:
I’ve read numerous books on prayer through the years, seeking to inspire a greater passion, consistency, and depth in my own prayer life. This is without question one of the best I’ve read. It is at once insightful, motivating, and practical. One of the things that makes Keller so helpful is his breadth of reading which gives clarity, depth, and variety to his own thoughts. Most of all, he constantly roots practical application in the gospel and Scripture, avoiding the twin errors of experiential mysticism and dry orthodoxy.
A few of my favorite quotes, with Kindle locations:
The life of true faith cannot be that of cold metallic assent. It must have the passion and warmth of love and communion because communion with God is the crown and apex of true religion. loc 240
We are so used to being empty that we do not recognize the emptiness as such until we start to try to pray. loc 356
To fail to pray, then, is not to merely break some religious rule—it is a failure to treat God as God. loc 376
We can pray because God is our loving Father, because Christ is our mediator giving us access to the throne of the universe, and because the Spirit himself indwells us. loc 1139
Through prayer our somewhat abstract knowledge of God becomes existentially real to us. We do not just believe in the glory of God; we sense his greatness. We do not just believe that he loves us; we find our hearts flooded with it. loc 1807
If you don’t believe in the Trinity, you do not merely misunderstand prayer, but you twist Christianity completely out of shape so it is not itself. loc 4186
3. Look and Live – Matt Papa
I didn’t expect that a book by a young Christian musician would be one of my favorite books of the year. But it was. This is Matt Papa’s first book and effectively captures the qualities I love about him. It’s biblical, Jesus-exalting, engaging, passionate, creative, personal, and relevant. It’s a book that will awaken a fresh desire to treasure God’s glory in Christ above everything else and give you practical tools to do so. I read through the book at night and was drawn in by Matt’s pointed, crisp, and imaginative prose. I actually had a hard time putting the book down. Matt effectively and consistently uses the “look and live” theme as a way to communicate that “Christianity’s first call is not ‘behave! but ‘behold! It is first a call to see Jesus.” Matt draws from a variety of writers but has been heavily influenced by Jonathan Edwards and C.S. Lewis. Good guys to draw from. For a fuller review check out Nate Brooks’ post. Some quotes:
If the gospel has never broken you, you have never really heard it.
Christianity is the hard, joyful journey of beholding Jesus by faith until the day you behold Him by sight.
Idolatry looks at the world in amazement. Worship, true worship, looks through it in amazement. To its source. To the One who is infinitely more amazing.
Worship begins with a focus upon some glory that has mesmerized us, and culminates with the sharing of the glory that has satisfied us.
We were made to be swept up into the embrace of the Trinity. We were made for grace-filled human community and all its inebriating unity and diversity. We were made to “get in.”
Suffering is bitterly painful. And it is making you breathtakingly beautiful.
A few other books I enjoyed were:
- Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of Creativity (Ed Catmull) – Fascinating book about the inner workings and philosophies of Pixar.
- God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World – David F. Wells – Top level commentary on culture and how the gospel changes our perspective on it and response to it.
- Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God – Timothy Ward – Outstanding introduction to the nature and authority of Scripture as God’s Word.
I’ve found that when I stop reading, I stop growing. So in 2015 I want to read more books. Good books. Books that point me to Scripture, root me in the gospel, and broaden my appreciation for God’s world.
Feel free to join me.
(Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com)
Loving Papa’s book as well. Just wondering, have you read “Worship Leaders we are not Rock Stars” by Stephen Miller, yet? Also, I’ve found some deep wells in the penmanship of Jared C. Wilson… some of his books have had me in tears over God’s grace in the introduction. Encouraged reading.
Shannon, yep Stephen’s book is good, especially for young leaders who have a self-promoting perspective on what leading music is about. And Gospel Wakefulness was my top book the year it was written.
Thank you so much for taking the time to put this list together! Such a blessing/help to know what other godly men/leaders are reading and then dive into a few of the books myself!
Thanks again! Looking forward to some God-honoring & edifying reading!
Thanks for the encouragement, Jason. You’ll never regret reading good books.
Bob-Thanks for the list of books- I struggle to get through books, so hoping the ones I do read deepen my faith. Finally getting though “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn. Also like his book “If God is Good.” Small group went through “Christian Beliefs” boiled down Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Getting ready to start “Taking God Seriously” by J.I.Packer.
Roger, just keep reading. You’ll be amazed what God will do. I find it hard as well, but if I just take it one chapter at a time, eventually I get through a book!
Bob, I know it was in the list of others at the end of your post, but the Ed Catmull book is a really great resource for worship pastors who need to manage creative people. I am a worship pastor from Nashville, TN and that book gave me ideas for helping direct my team of creatives. Good call! -Micah