NASHVILLE—It’s often said that “reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” Because of too many international flights, I did not exercise my body nearly enough in 2017. But those same flights that prevented physical exercise afforded plenty of time to read. I don’t sleep on planes—I read and occasionally watch a free movie or two. Thanks to the magic of Kindle, I get to carry a whole library on every flight.
To encourage my friends to read, at the end of most years, I post a Top Ten recommended reading list. Here are some of my previous lists: 2016, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2008. Books on my Top Ten lists are not necessarily the best books, the most popular books, or the most important books. They are simply the ten books that impacted me the most in the past twelve months.
MY TOP TEN BOOKS OF 2017:
1. Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (2017) by Eric Metaxas. Eric Metaxas, known for his biographies of William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, has written another classic. With a gripping narrative and fascinating detail, Metaxas gives us an up-close look at Martin Luther the man, as well as big-picture perspective on the global implications of the religious revolution he started.
2. Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service (2006) by Stephen Seamands. This was on the reading list for my Asbury Seminary course. If you are a pastor, church planter, campus missionary, or any other type of vocational minister, please read this one. As good as the book was, the classroom lectures by Dr. Seamands were even better. Dr. Seamands started and ended every lecture with a few minutes of worship. What a humble and godly man. I hope and pray that my sermons and messages impact people the way his impacted me.
3. The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission (1995), by Lesslie Newbigin. Originally given as lectures to men and women preparing to go on the mission field, Newbigin’s introduction to the theology of mission has a palpable sense of urgency and the marks of deep theological reflection—a powerful combination that I hope will infect emerging leaders and missionaries in Every Nation.
4. The Missional Church and Leadership Formation: Helping Congregations Develop Leadership Capacity (2009), edited by Craig Van Gelder. From a professional perspective, this is one of the most helpful books I read in 2017—exactly what I needed as we begin building Every Nation Theological Seminary (ENTS) to train future pastors, church planters, and missionaries. Van Gelder writes that theological education is at a “crossroads of Christian formation (paideia) and academic acumen (Wissenschaft).” At ENTS, we don’t want to choose between academic acumen and spiritual formation—we plan to do both. Our goal is to inform the mind, transform the heart, and train the hands for ministry. I especially enjoyed Van Gelder’s brief history of theological education in America and his two-word descriptions of pastors in each period. He divided American seminary history into 6 periods—Colonial Period: Resident Theologian; Early 1800s: Gentlemen Pastor; Late 1800s: Churchly Pastor; Post WWII: Pastoral Director; 1970s/1980s: Therapeutic Pastor; Entrepreneurial Leader: 1990s/2000s.
5. The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World Leader (2015) by Peter Scazzero. I never read psychological, introspective books unless I have to. Since this book was on my Asbury required list, I had to. It was painful but in a good way. I never realized how emotionally unhealthy I was until reading this. It helped me understand myself and my friends. Read it at your own risk.
6. Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization (2009) by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey. Despite being another introspective psychological thriller and another Asbury required reading, this might be the most important organizational and relational leadership book I have read in the past decade. It forced me to ask this question to my colleagues: “What one change can I make that will have the greatest impact on this organization?” As uncomfortable as their answers were, I think they helped me to lead better. This comes highly recommended for top leaders in all walks of life (it was originally written for corporate executives).
Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors (2017) by George W. Bush. From the dust jacket: “A vibrant collection of oil paintings and stories by President George W. Bush honoring the sacrifice and courage of America’s military and veterans.” Each portrait and story features a soldier who sacrificed much when W was Commander in Chief. The proceeds of the book go to President Bush’s Military Service Initiative that focuses on helping post-9/11 veterans and their families successfully transition to civilian life. I was moved by each story and by the generosity and compassion of President Bush towards these men and women, some of whom lost limbs, family members, and friends in combat. I also appreciated the presidential art.
8. A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (2011) by Miroslav Volf. It is easy to say that the gospel can and should impact every area of society. But in an increasingly pluralistic world, it is not easy to figure out exactly how the gospel relates to politics, education, economics, the arts, etc. In this helpful book, Volf attacks this issue head-on and explores some better (and worse) ways to think about Christianity as a public faith.
9. The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (2010) by Christopher J. H. Wright. If we want to bring the gospel into public life (see Volf’s book above), then we have to be clear about who “we” are. This is what Christopher Wright’s book is all about. Helping us understand the identity and the mission of the church in light of God’s mission for the world. Read it and have your understanding of mission expanded and your understanding of church deepened.
10. IVP Biblical Background Commentary: New Testament (2014) by Craig Keener. This has become one of my favorite commentaries. Sometimes I just read it for fun, even when I’m not doing sermon research. Because, like all Keener books, it is a heavyweight, I suggest you purchase a digital copy.
RUN: Endure the Pain, Keep the Faith, Finish the Race (Releasing 2018) by Ferdie Cabiling with Walter Walker. The only reason this book is not at the top of my list is because it doesn’t officially exist yet. It will certainly be on my 2018 list. I had the privilege of reading an advanced unedited version of Bishop Ferdie’s soon-to-be-released book. It encouraged, convicted, and inspired me—and even made my eyes sweat. You will love to read Run, even if, like me, you hate to run.
Churches, Cultures, and Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations and Ethnicities (2011) by Mark Lau Branson and Juan F. Martinez. If you are attempting to plant or lead a multiethhnic church or campus ministry, you are a member of a multiethnic church or campus ministry, and/or if you are in a multiethnic marriage, PLEASE READ THIS BOOK!