Challenge for the New Year
As we are entering a new year we normally begin to think about setting some new goals. One of those goals that I normally try to set is that of reading good books. In Northwest Indiana as we enter into the January through April frigid season, it’s a good time to spend inside the warm confines of your house sipping coffee and reading a good book, right? Some of you might agree with that statement until the “reading a good book” part! I know for some, reading books, or even a single book, is like someone has said - “it’s like trying to drink down a huge vitamin…you know you’ll be healthier for it – but everything within you refuses to swallow!” 1 Some Christians see reading good Christian and non-Christian literature as something maybe assigned to those in the professional ministry, but not an essential part of their own spiritual growth. But unfortunately, even some who are Christian leaders/pastors do not see as essential the discipline of reading. And even those who would agree that reading is important rarely pull themselves away from the myriad of distractions begging for their attention, almost without pause. After all, it’s not like we’re not reading at all. We’re locked into our social media feeds reading the latest post on Facebook or Twitter. We go to our favorite sports apps on our smartphones to read the latest recruiting rankings for our favorite college football teams or to read about the latest injury reports for the Bears. Many of us are reading, but we’re not reading books, because reading books (at least important books) is hard work…it requires mental focus and concentration, and a sanctuary of time free of distractions.
I believe that reading is essential for Christian discipleship. Obviously that begins with reading the most important book – the Bible. But I believe it also means reading other literature as well. As believers, we are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Matthew 22:37). We are to love God with all our minds and the way we accomplish this is through saturating our minds with not only the Scriptures, but with great books written over the centuries. As the Scottish-born American industrialist Andrew Carnegie, once said, “Man’s reading program should be as carefully planned as his daily diet – for that is food without which he cannot grow mentally.” With that being said, I’d like to give a list of books that have been important in my life, and that you might consider choosing, one or more, to read this coming year. These books come from authors from different theological perspectives …but all conservative Bible believers. In addition, I will give some non-Christian books that have been impactful. The following are in no particular order, nor are they broken down into categories.
Knowing God by J.I. Packer – A classic work on the challenge of getting to know God as ultimate point of our existence and the most rewarding pursuit of life.
Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer – A classic work on getting to know God built around investigating the attributes of God. Guaranteed to make you uncomfortable!
The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer - Another Tozer classic for those who thirst to know God more- which should be all of us.
The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul - I read this book over 20 years ago…I’d have to read a little and then repent and then read, repent, read, repent etc.! It was a life changer!
The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges – One of the most practical and balanced works on our role in our spiritual growth (sanctification). If you’re stuck in your spiritual growth, this is a good one for you.
The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman – This is really a classic book on discipleship, more than evangelism. This book looks at the strategies Jesus employed to train the Disciples - a must-read for anyone planning to get involved in ministry.
The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer – A classic by a Christian martyr murdered by Hitler’s regime who shined a much needed light on the “easy believism” of the professing church.
Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine by Wayne Grudem – Simply the best resource for both laypeople and ministers for understanding biblical doctrine. A must have for every serious student of Scripture.
Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness by Edward T. Welch - The best practical and biblical work on depression I’ve come across. Great resource for those either struggling with depression or wanting to help someone who is struggling.
Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan – The best Christian allegory ever written, and maybe the best allegory ever. Every Christian ought to read this once in their lifetime. A great one to read with your children (Use a children’s edition or a more modern translation).
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis – Every parent should read through these series of Children’s classics with their children. It was a highlight in our home.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Lawson - Living in the Chicagoland region motivated me to read this book this past year. It’s a fascinating historic novel about the events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair which follows the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair’s construction and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand – A fascinating biography of Louis Zamperini that reads like a novel.
How to Read the Bible for all its Worth by Gordon Fee - This is a easy to understand guide to interpreting the Bible.
On Preaching: Personal and Pastoral Insights for the Preparation and Practice of Preaching by H.B. Charles – A very practical and concise guide to every aspect of preaching. This is helpful for new and seasoned preachers as well as short and clear enough not to bury you in complexity as some other books do on preaching.
The Life and Diary of David Brainerd by Jonathan Edwards - Brainerd was an 18 thcentury New England missionary to the Native Americans. He died at an early age of 29 but his journals report the truth that God can and does use weak, sick, discouraged, beat-down, lonely, struggling saints, who cry to him day and night, to accomplish amazing things for his glory.
Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper – As the title suggests, this is a book about the realization that only what is done for Christ will last. This is an important book for all Christians, but is especially a great gift for graduates and college students.
The Prodigal God by Tim Keller - A book looking at the parable of the Prodigal Son dealing with not only the rebellion of the irreligious (younger son) but the rebellion of the religious (the elder son). Every Christian, but especially every pastor in NWI, needs to read this book with church cultures that have many “elder brothers” that have not understood the nature nor their need for the Father’s grace.
Center Church by Tim Keller – Probably the best book I’ve read on how to interact with our culture without compromising the truth of God’s word. It’s an essential read if you’re looking for a theological approach to contextualizing the Gospel. His chapter on Gospel contextualization is worth the purchase.
Breaking the Missional Code: Your Church Can Become a Missionary in Your Community by Ed Stetzer – A great introduction to understanding the shift that the American church has to make in relation to reaching today’s 21 st century culture.
Small Church Essentials by Karl Vaters – This is a book I’ve just recently picked up, but this is one that every pastor in NWI needs to dive into. It is encouraging as well as challenging to the small church pastor…and provides needful perspective and practical tools for the small church shepherd.
This is just a small sampling of the myriad of great books that will help your grow deeper personally and in your ministry. I hope this will help prime your reading pump! My hope and prayer is that you will choose the love the Lord your God with your mind this year by investing in reading.
In His Service,
Wes Rankin Director of Missions Northwest Indiana Baptist Association
1 Reinke, Tony (2011-09-07). Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books (p. 15). Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.