If you're the type to make New Year's resolutions, hopefully one of yours is to read more books in 2016. In case you're in need of recommendations, I've stolen an idea from my friend, Barnabas Piper, and am sharing some of the books that have most impacted me in recent years. I've divided the twelve books into two posts, mainly because Barnabas did 11 and I want to be better than him. So stay tuned for part two.
Here are the first six, in alphabetical order:
According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible by Graeme Goldsworthy
Prior to reading this book I knew that every page of the Bible somehow pointed to Jesus, but I had no idea how. Some passages and books were obviously connected to Jesus, but many others left me confused and asking, "In what way can this possibly speak of Jesus?" Then I read Goldsworthy's According to Plan and suddenly the entire Bible opened up to me. Not only did it help me see how every single passage is connected to Jesus but, because of that, it also helped me see how every single passage (even the strangest) is connected to me. Perhaps most impressive of all is that it does this in a mere 251 pages, intentionally written on a lay-level so that any member of any church can benefit from it.
If you like Goldsworthy, also check out Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (which takes these principles of biblical theology and applies them to preaching) and Prayer and the Knowledge of God (which takes the same principles and applies them to the work of prayer).
The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni
I am not a huge fan of business books, because they generally take a single principle worthy of one or two chapters and simply repeat it over-and-over again for 200 pages - which I guess is good for (their) business. Yet this particular business book is different. It does not just show us why organizational health is important, it also gives us very practical steps to take in order to improve the health of our organization. Reading the book is like having your own personal business consultant at the price of $16 instead of $16,000. I read this book six years into pastoring the church I planted and it had immediate impact on the health of our church. I believe the same would be true for any organization, whether church-, business-, or community-focused.
The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther
Imagine a book that was written 500 years ago in response to a specific teacher's philosophical argument, but feels like it was written today, just for you, in response to your specific questions. This was that book for me. At a time when I was deeply wrestling with the theological and philosophical questions of free will and grace, Luther spoke to me with clarity and authority through his examination of the topics through a thoroughly biblical lens. This book forever changed the way I see God and myself and continues to produce both humility and worship in my heart - both of which I desperately need.
I confess that when this book was first recommended to me my tendency toward theological arrogance stood in the way of reading it. "I'm sure Stanley's a great guy," I thought, "but he seems theologically shallow. What can he teach me about preaching?" Well, I eventually picked it up and learned that he can teach me a lot. In fact, his simple 208-page book improved my preaching more than any preaching class I ever took or book I ever read. It did this by showing me how to take deep theological ideas and make them easily accessible and relevant to my audience. To this day, the compliment I most often receive as a preacher (other than being abnormally good-looking) is that I make complex things easy-to-understand. If that is true, it is due to the influence of Stanley's book and the members of my congregation.
I don't watch TED Talks and I don't watch Oprah. So I know next to nothing about Brené Brown. What I do know is that her book found me when I was most weak and most in need of the courage to be vulnerable. It provided me with the comfort of knowing I was not alone in my temptation toward shame, nor in trying to guard my shame through the strategic avoidance of being vulnerably honest about certain parts of my life and being. It also helped me see that by doing so I was actually harming myself, and that the most effective strategy for protection and healing was to be vulnerably honest to anyone who would listen.
Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace by Heath Lambert
As a man, I have had to reckon with the enemy of lust since the age of 4, when my friend and I unintentionally discovered pornography. As a pastor, I have had to help countless men and women reckon with this very same enemy. Until recently, I had never encountered a resource that I could wholeheartedly recommend for the fight. Most resources on the topic tend to focus on one of two things: 1) the fact that lust is bad (which those who read such books already know) or 2) practical disciplines you must employ to defeat lust (which those who read such books find to be insufficient). Yet Heath Lambert's Finally Free ignores the first - since we already know lust is bad - and adds to the second. In addition to providing sound and useful practical resources, he also points us to our even more powerful spiritual resources, and shows us how to employ both types of resources in our fight against lust. In other words, he doesn't just say "you need Jesus to help you," he tells us specifically how Jesus can help us. This is the book I recommend to others who are tempted by lust, and the book I personally revisit when I feel lust trying to rear its ugly head.
Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of Emmaus Church, a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. Connect with him on twitter or facebook.
image credit to Andreas Levers: https://flic.kr/p/5S32Zv