Favorite Books (2020 Edition)
2020 was a bad year for lots of things, but maybe you found more time to read. I actually felt pulled to do less casual reading in order to spend some extra hours with my kids, often late at night. However, I still read incredible books that I’m eager to recommend.
The Deeply Formed Life : Five Transformative Values to Root Us in the Way of Jesus
I don’t try to order my whole list, but this book is on top for a reason. I’ve come to deeply respect Villodas, his preaching, leadership, and measured engagement on social media, so I was eager to read his book. He stresses the value of maturing through wide, not just deep, roots. He teaches five practices, each anchored in Scripture, explained through his personal experience, and doable for any person: contemplative rhythms, racial reconciliation, interior examination, sexual wholeness, and missional presence. Often times people ignore either the Gospel’s implications for our private lives or social engagement. Villodas doesn’t let us off the hook for either.
Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory
Explorers Lewis and Clark were prepared to find a waterway to the Pacific Ocean, but instead they found the Rocky Mountains. Many of us feel that we are leading in a cultural context we were not expecting. Hello, 2020! Bolsinger writes that both leader and follower must be committed to learning and adapting. They must be ok with failure. They must press on. The book weaves the harrowing journey of Lewis and Clark with insightful leadership principles that are critical for this day.
Mark Moore is the best I know at helping people understand big Biblical ideas. Core52 is a fifteen-minute daily guide to help people learn the 52 most important themes of the Bible. Each chapter includes teaching, a memory verse, Scriptures to read, and steps to apply it. If you are interested in taking the Core52 journey with our church, we begin on January 4th. You are welcome.
The Message of Ezekiel: A New Heart and a New Spirit
I did a deep dive into the book of Ezekiel this year. Wright’s commentary was a faithful, enlightening companion.
Compassion & Conviction: The And Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement
Justin Giboney, Michael Wear, Chris Butler
Voices from both political parties entice us to idolize their agenda above all else. Christians are called to place the Kingdom above all else. This book is the best resource I’ve found for helping Christians engage politically without sacrificing their Christian convictions. If you think this book tilts towards one partisan side or the other, you are mistaken. Prepare to be challenged, encouraged, and equipped. (Note: Giboney’s podcast, The Church Politics Podcast, is fantastic.)
Christians in the Age of Outrage
People are angry about everything. For Christians, it ought not be so. Stetzer makes several important points: 1-God has not called us to live angry lives. 2-Research shows that Christians are easily duped into believing untrue things that add to the collective outrage. 3-History shows that things for the church are often not as bad we’re told. 4-Don’t insult the very people whom God has called us to reach. This fourth point is the most important to me. I had the chance to talk to Stetzer this past year. It seems as though our books could be packaged together (with a few others). God is calling his church to rise above the destructive culture wars and be about His mission.
The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism
This book stings! The content of this book is hard to accept, but not because it’s untrue. Tisby goes to great lengths to historically document the number of times the American church wronged (often by lacking the courage to do right) people of color. I’ve listened to Tisby enough to know that he loves the church; it’s why he wrote the book. Christians would be wise to lower their defenses and come to terms with our history so we can be more faithful in the future. Thankfully, in the closing chapters, Tisby offers excellent, practical steps that we can take. (Note, you can also access this teaching on Amazon Prime Video).
Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People
You can read this book in an hour. You can practice the five, life-changing habits for a lifetime. If you struggle getting to know people who need the Gospel, put this book at the top of your list. I’ll admit, the Pandemic makes some of the habits tricky, but I think a little creativity can be applied.
Bell Hammers: The True Folk Tale of Little Egypt
Schaubert is hysterical. He’s such a fun writer that I’ve now read the blurbs (the section where other people say nice things about the book) multiple times. I even read them outloud to others. You probably will too. You’ve never seen anything like it.
Schaubert lets you listen to the banter, legends, and prank-planning of a band of underdogs from Little Egypt (Southern Illinois). There are stories of hardship, laughs, and love. In the end, their future is hinged to the greatest prank of all. Schaubert’s style might take you a minute to catch, but you’ll be along for a wild ride (and grow your literary acuity) when you do.
Table Talk: Rethinking Communion and Community
I almost highlighted this book to death. Our souls long for communion, community. Graves shows how we’ve too often cheapened, overly-formalized, or just missed the meaning of communion. Scripture teaches us about it, often in places we’ve missed (see the language of the Feeding of the 5000 or Paul’s shipwreck account). Church leaders ought to read this soon. I’m so thankful for this book!
Nobe Chase’s life was full of pain from a lousy father, desperate mother, wicked sheriff, and constant poverty. But Nobe made a friend – one “from the other side of the tracks.” In this historical fiction, Myers tells a story about friendship, family, poverty, and racism. The characters live in a small town, just outside of Tulsa in 1921 – the year of the Tulsa Race Massacre.
Small Town Stories
Allen (my uncle!!!) has written a series of fictional short stories about equally fictional people in Carthage, Missouri. Here’s how it begins: “Mrs. Courtney didn’t like people. At least not in person. She did like people around though, because she was afraid to live alone. So she lived in town, fought with her neighbors, and called the police on a regular basis on Thanksgiving, Christmas, VE day and July 25th.”
Worst. President. Ever.
Strauss has written a great, easy-to-read biography of James Buchanan. Our fifteenth President bungled everything he touched as POTUS. His lack of moral courage and unwillingness to assert strength doomed any hopes for peace before the Civil War. He said he was for the Union but almost always sided with the slave-owning Southerners. He seemed to just hope the problem would go away. Strauss covers important historical ground (especially how his support of the treacherous Dred Scott decision doomed his presidency before it began), adds plenty of personal touch, and hilariously pokes fun of our desire to rate everyone at everything.
Strauss worded one section so well that I had to share it with you. He easily dispels a myth that is still continually perpetuated today:
“When the bicentennial…of the Civil War occurs years from now, there will still be those who will rear and posit that the war was all about something called states rights and barely at all about slavery. They will say that the Confederate flag is just a banner for those who identify with Southern culture, no less benign than a high school mascot, not nearly a symbol of a society that believed people of one skin color were so far inferior to those of another that they should only have been chattel. Were they able, though, to transport themselves back to the early 1860s, they would find that the only state right that any Southern secession document talked about was related to the institution of slavery.”
Return to the Reich: A Holocaust Refugee’s Secret Mission to Defeat the Nazis
Book by Eric Lichtblau
Lichtblau’s story of Fred Mayer is better than a James Bond movie: a Jewish man, whose family had fled Germany years earlier, jumps out of plane. At night. In winter. Behind Nazi lines. Onto a glacier. With plans to ski to a village and infiltrate the Nazi ranks. Spoiler alert: He did!
This true story is a page-turner. Lichtblau’s unspeakable courage was borderline crazy. His ability to impersonate, persuade, and manipulate the enemy played an enormous role in the war. His story deserves to be told.
Bonus: My favorite magazine is CT
I subscribed to Christianity Today this past year. I’m glad I did. The subscription provides access to their online articles (and archives), along with a monthly print edition that I really enjoy.
As my English teacher used to say, “Read til you bleed.”
I’d be glad to hear about your favorite books!
I’d also love to stay in touch. You can subscribe to my email list to be entered into a drawing (along with those already subscribed) to win your choice of: The Deeply Formed Life, Canoeing the Mountains, or Color of Compromise. I’ll also send you an autographed copy of my book, Dancing in No Man’s Land.