The Summer is here! As a church family, this is typically a time when members are around and about going to the beach, an island somewhere, Disney World, out of the country, or perhaps somewhere more exotic, like Bluff City. Many people have a summer reading list. I even know people that don't read that will gather a list and purchase a book that they never finish. Anyways, summers are for reading!
I read a lot of books for personal and spiritual growth. I read a lot of books or portions of books for sermons, theological studies, and things we're doing in ministry or aim to do both inside and outside of our ministry. I read books about things that interest me, interest others, and allow me to have a conversation with others. Truthfully, I don't read as many books as I did before I had a 3 year old and a 1 year old. But I still aim to make it a priority. Leaders are readers, leaders are learners!
Here are some books that I have read this year and recommend or plan to read this summer and my interest in them is just enough to recommend them to you. Happy reading!
1) God and Politics by Mark DeverIn a society where religion is increasingly private, and faith is OK as long as it's not shared, many would seek to keep God out of their politics. But is that right, and is it biblical? I shared with some church leaders recently that we need to prepare to learn how to live in Babylon without compromising our faith. Mark Dever unpacks what the Bible has to say on this topic, and teaches how we can Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's without compromising on what we believe. We'll see that our duty to God is comprehensive and that there isn't an area of life that we can separate from His influence. Brief, instructive little book.
2) Storm-Tossed Family by Russell MooreTo follow up with how we think about politics, inevitably it leads to how the Bible would instruct us to think about the family. Family is difficult because family—every family—is an echo of the gospel. Family can be the source of some of the most transcendent human joy, and family can leave us crumpled up on the side of the road. Family can make us who we are, and family can break our hearts. Why would this social arrangement have that much power, for good or for ill, over us? As Christians, how do we think about the God-designed role of the family and it's place in today's society? 3) Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene PetersonI'm excited to do a second, more thorough reading on this in preparation for our Summer Course @ The Fort Academy. I've been reading a lot of Peterson's work in the last few months, but I'd recommend this one first. As a society, we are still obsessed with the immediate; new technologies have only intensified our quest for the quick fix. But Peterson's time-tested prescription for discipleship remains the same―a long obedience in the same direction. Following Jesus in this way requires a deepening life of prayer, and throughout history Christians have learned to pray from the Psalms. Going through The Psalms (120-134) Peterson shows how the psalms teach us to grow in worship, service, joy, work, happiness, humility, community, and blessing. 4) Preaching and Preachers by Martin Lloyd JonesIf you're in a vocation you love with people you love, that you feel called to, we should always want to develop and grow and sharpen in the things that God has called us to for the people He has called us to. Many have said there was a time when preaching from a pulpit probably became over-emphasized...as in...it was THE ONLY THING. Probably true. Preaching by itself won't make disciples. I believe church culture may have over-corrected and de-emphasized preaching as a reaction. It's something we need to get back to and understand what God says about preaching and why it still matters. I've read a lot of preaching books and this is a classic I look forward to digging into.
5) The Gospel Commission by Michael HortonSpeaking of Making Disciples, this has been one of the most helpful books I've ever read on the nature of making disciples and what that looks like for ANY CHRISTIAN and ANY CHURCH. I'm not a Reformed Presbyterian, so there were a couple of inconsistencies and disagreements I had when he discussed infant baptism and thinking about the context in where we live. HOWEVER!!!! This book has been helpful in shaping the nature of our Fort Academy course and how we think about and talk about Making Disciples and our own Discipleship. We have so many resources and strategies for "mission" or "disciple-making" so we assume that we already know the nature of the Great Commission and the appropriate methods of carrying it out. But Michael Horton contends that it too often becomes our mission instead of God's. At a time when churches are zealously engaged in writing up mission statements and strategic plans, he argues that we must ask ourselves anew whether we are ambassadors, following the script we've been given, or building our own kingdoms with our own blueprint. In the end, we can think we're making disciples, when we really are not.
6) Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson, Unlikely Friends on the Passage to Freedom by Matt Carter and Aaron IveyI like to read about dynamic pastors, missionaries, and leaders before me. I like history. I like to think about racial reconciliation in today's culture and the journey it has been on in the church. This book dives into all three aspects. Johnson, an American slave, born into captivity and longing for freedom--- Spurgeon, an Englishman born into relative ease and comfort, but, longing too for a freedom of his own. Their respective journeys led to an unlikely meeting and an even more unlikely friendship, forged by fate and mutual love for the mission of Christ. Steal Away Home is a new kind of book based on historical research, which tells a previously untold story set in the 1800s of the relationship between an African-American missionary and one of the greatest preachers to ever live.
7) Barracoon by Zora Neale HurstonThis is a book I plan to read this summer. It won numerous awards last year and has been on my shelf for a few months. You may have read "Their Eyes Were Watching God" in school. Same author. In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation’s history. Hurston was there to record Cudjo’s firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States. As I think about the ancestry of our two kids, naturally, I think of Africa and what their biological ancestors may have endured. As their father, it's part of my responsibility to know that story and share that story with them.
8) Range by David Epstein Why Generalists triumph in a specialized world. That's the subtitle. I consider myself a generalist so it piqued my interest. I heard Epstein on a leadership podcast talking about his new book so I bought it. David Epstein examined the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists. He discovered that in most fields—especially those that are complex and unpredictable—generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see. Listen, God loves and uses specialists too. I'm not trying to take over the world, just so you know. Just fascinating sociology studies that I'm prepared to agree and disagree with. If I am a Generalist and if you are too, why not find out more about how our minds work?
9) Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed CatmullWrigley has finally discovered Toy Story and with some help, he found Nemo. Well the 4th installment of Toy Story is coming out in a couple of weeks and I'm planning to read this book. Written by the creator of Pixar, Ed Catmull, it's part biography, part events leading to success with Pixar, and part leadership gold. "...Toy Story was released, changing animation forever. The essential ingredient in that movie’s success—and in the thirteen movies that followed—was the unique environment that Catmull and his colleagues built at Pixar, based on leadership and management philosophies that protect the creative process and defy convention." As a pastor, I help lead a church, not an animation and entertainment studio. But I do help lead a team. If there are books to be read that will help me better steward that, and enjoy reading it in the process, I want to be responsible.
10) Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the U.S.F.L. by Jeff PearlmanIf you're over 40, you may remember a football league that has all but vanished from most memories. The United States Football League. It became a serious competitor to the NFL from 1982-1986 that played in the SPRING! Steve Young, Reggie White, Herschel Walker, Jim Kelly, Doug Flutie are just a few names who started out in the USFL. The AAF started and folded earlier this year. Vince McMahon is giving the XFL another shot. So it was interesting to see how all the pieces worked and what caused what appeared to be a rising, successful league to fall apart. It was a fun read about football and I'm always on the hunt for those. (Caution: it doesn't always paint our president, Donald Trump in a great light. But this was in the 1980s and he DID own a USFL football franchise, the New Jersey Generals).
11) The Watchmen by Allan Moore and David GibbonsTime Magazine says, "One of the greatest English-Language novels since 1923. Entertainment Weekly says, "A masterwork representing the apex of artistry." "Lost" co-creator said, "The greatest piece of popular fiction ever produced." This work is studied on college campuses. Ok, but it's a comic book??? Kinda. So this was a new journey for me. Graphic Novels. And I was blown away. In an alternate world where the mere presence of American superheroes changed history, the US won the Vietnam War, Nixon is still president, and the cold war is in full effect. WATCHMEN begins as a murder-mystery, but soon unfolds into a planet-altering conspiracy. They wrestle with the past, psychology, and the moral dilemma of good and evil. Who makes the call on that? Who really decides what is best for humanity? HBO is coming out with a TV series this fall based on this graphic novel. And since it's on HBO, as a pastor, I can't say I recommend it, because...you know...it's HBO. Usually not good for the family and not good for my heart. The book is far more mild than what HBO will do with it. Anyways, don't think of this as a comic book. This is just a great novel with pictures.
12) X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent AndersonMaybe it's a fad with this comic book stuff. But X-Men: Dark Phoenix came out last week. The dilemmas in many comic books written today are not foreign to us. In the books, or on the screen, one of the only differences...they just wear a cape. Or claws. The "enemy" in this book is a Crusade & TV Evangelist who tries to cleanse the earth of all Mutants (i.e., the X-Men). This book does not set out to portray God as a tyrant (hence, the title), but it points to a topic Christians must think a lot about: What is true tolerance of people who are not like us and that we may disagree with? Can we be civil? And what is the cost of tolerance? How bad does the culture war have to be?