It’s December, which means the time of year to share the top reads of the year. My ten books below are mostly 2016 releases, with three being from 2015. For more complete descriptions and recommendations on each title, follow the links to my reviews and interactions. Hopefully this list will give you an idea or two for your reading list or Christmas list. (Browse all of the books I read this year on Goodreads or my top reads of 2015, 2014, or 2013.
1. Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne
This is my book of the year for 2016 because in it, Wilbourne presents a vitally important, yet complex issue in compelling clarity. While reading this book, I found myself stopping to worship and contemplate the riches of this glorious doctrine that many haven’t heard of.
From my review: “Union with Christ is immensely practical, well-written, and Tim Keller-esque—it presents a complex issue in compelling clarity, interacting with a number of sources, both secular and sacred, to present readers with a book that powerfully speaks to our situation and daily lives… Every Christian would value reading this book to go deeper on a crucial topic that is both so misunderstood and so transformative. I expect this to be a very helpful book for small groups that will spark many fruitful discussions.”
2. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical by Timothy Keller
I’ve been a big fan of Timothy Keller’s writings ever since I first listened to The Reason for God audiobook five years ago. His clarity in explaining the secular mindset is second to none, and his compelling presentation of the God of the gospel makes me love and appreciate Him more. That is why Making Sense of God, the ‘prequel’ to The Reason for God makes this list. While The Reason for God focused on rationality for God, Keller realized many people wouldn’t care about rational arguments for God—and so he took a few steps back to make the cultural and emotional case for Christianity’s relevance. From my review:
Keller is masterful at examining secularism and skepticism with a surgeon’s precision. Like its predecessor, this book is a must read for communicators of the faith and believers trying to live faithfully in a secular age. You will know how to engage skeptics better by understanding the thought processes that drive their beliefs and decisions. If you are like me, you will also be convicted and discouraged by seeing how our secular culture has influenced you. Most important of all, Keller’s work will make you more confident that the God of Christianity is not only relevant for today, but the only One that makes broken humans whole and human existence in this crazy world understandable.
3. The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Around Disciple Making by Tony Payne and Colin Marshall
This book would have been my top pick for the year if it was a book for everybody; instead this will have to be my top pick of the year for pastors and ministry leaders because it provides a comprehensive guide to implementing the disciple making vision first presented in the bestselling The Trellis and the Vine. From my review on The Gospel Coalition: “The Vine Project sharpens, clarifies, and builds on the principles of The Trellis and the Vine in a cohesive way aimed at implementation. It’s one sequel you don’t need to have read the original to appreciate. I suspect this book, like its predecessor, will be a game-changer for churches looking to cultivate a culture of disciple-making and gospel growth.”
4. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
This was a fascinating read on the life and upbringing of a lower-class white ‘hillbilly’ raised in Ohio. Vance shares dynamics of his broken family and provides valuable insight into an often forgotten demographic, the rural white lower class. Many have commented on how Hillbilly Elegy helped them understand the Donald Trump phenomenon, and I can only agree. One minor critique: I wish Vance explained more how religion influenced him throughout his life, especially from later-teen onward. Language warning: Vance’s family (especially his Mawmaw) often curses like sailors.
5. The Family Life of a Christian Leader by Ajith Fernando
One cannot overestimate the importance of family life for a Christian leader—managing it well is a potential reason for disqualification from the ministry. I’m glad Fernando, a seasoned ministry leader working with Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka, wrote this book with a focus on the gospel and joy that should characterize every ministry family. Read my full review.
6. The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson and Momentum: Pursuing God’s Blessings Through the Beatitudes by Colin Smith
I’ll admit this pick is cheating: I haven’t finished either of these books yet. But based on the recommendations of many people I highly respect of The Whole Christ, I couldn’t help but sneak this book on the list. (You may be interested in these lectures presented by Sinclair Ferguson on the topic.) This book is extremely important because it precisely explains gospel truths of legalism vs. antinomianism—something that should give each of us a greater sense of God’s grace and the great responsibility we have on earth as His children.
Momentum: Pursuing God’s Blessings Through the Beatitudes by Colin Smith is based on the sermon series that has most impacted me as a believer. (You can watch the sermon series here.) The way Colin Smith, my pastor, unpacked Matthew 5:3–12 changed my view of the Christian life and understanding of what it means to be humble, meek, merciful, focused on God, and more.
Although some may see picking two books I haven’t finished for my top 10 as ‘cheating’, I instead see it as a huge vote of confidence for both authors and titles. Both could change your life!
7. Unashamed by Lecrae
I still remember how excited I was when I first heard Lecrae in the dorm room at Taylor University. Great rap music with life-giving theology? Sign me up! What I didn’t know at the time was where Lecrae had come from, nor to where the Lord would take him and his gifting. Unashamed, Lecrae’s biography, shares about his troubled past and the ups and downs of being a Christian rap star, even highlighting blessings and struggles of seeking a wider audience than the ‘Christian’ label could offer to reach more people for Christ. It helped me appreciate the man behind the music and his desire to glorify Christ in outside-the-box ways. Read More: 5 Lessons Learned from Lecrae’s Biography Unashamed
8. Wisdom in Leadership: The How and Why of Leading the People You Serve by Craig Hamilton (2015)
From my review: “When I first heard about Wisdom in Leadership, I groaned and thought it was the last thing busy leaders would need. “Another leadership book?—this time 500 pages?!” As I browsed through the table of contents, introduction, and first few chapters, my opinion quickly changed. I realized the five hundred pages weren’t philosophical fluff and needless stories—they were 78 powerful lessons and principles combining wisdom from several different worlds: theology, leadership, management, and productivity. The comprehensive scope of this book is what sets it apart. This unique combination makes for a very practical book—one that I wish I had read while I was in seminary.”
9. Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and other God Substitutes by Nancy Pearcey (2015)
Nancy Pearcey, author of Total Truth, provides believers with 5 principles for dismantling every idol-based worldview in her newest book, Finding Truth. You’d be wise to read through my short summary of the five principles. “Not many books impact me like Finding Truth did. Finding Truth drove me to worship as I contemplated the infinite wisdom of God and drove me to prayer as I thought about the spiritual warfare and bondage behind faulty worldviews.”
10. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (2015)
This was my first Erik Larson read, and definitely not my last. He is the master at nonfiction narrative, as this story on the crossing and sinking of the Lusitania can testify. He transported me into another world and showed me what it was like to live in political turmoil of the nineteen teens and live aboard a large vessel like the Lusitania. Another interesting feature of this book was the constant drumbeat of opportunities for the captain and crew of the Lusitania to avoid torpedo danger from German U-Boats. A great read for history buffs or those looking for a great story. (Also worth noting that before winning in 2016, the last Cubs World Series title was seven years before the sinking of the Lusitania!)
Other top reads in 2016:
- Creativity Inc.
- The Glory of Christ by John Owen
- Animal Farm and 1984 by George Orwell
- 60 Days in Hebrews with John Owen
- C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy. I’ll definitely reread these.
- On the Incarnation by Athanasius
- Let the Earth Hear His Voice: Strategies for Overcoming Bottlenecks in Preaching God’s Word by Greg Scharf
- John in Read/Mark/Learn Series
- A Peculiar Glory by John Piper (my review)
- Calling on the Name of the Lord: A Biblical Theology of Prayer by J. Gary Millar (my review)