Pastor Joel's Top 10 Books of 2018

Around this time of year, many "Top 10" lists are published, recapping the best of the best of the previous year.  My favorite version of these lists is a top 10 list of books.  Several authors, bloggers, writers, and preachers and pastors release such lists, and I confess that I get almost all of my reading material for the coming year from such lists.  Not to be outdone, I figured I'd produce my own Top 10 list of books that I read that were influential in my thinking, or challenged me in some way, or that I simply enjoyed. This isn't the first time I've produced a list like this (click here for my favorite books from 2017).  For some reason, in 2018 I felt compelled to keep a spread sheet of the books I read, and this year I read 28 books in their entirety. Some were just for fun, some were recommended, some focused on spiritual things, and others were just fiction. While in this post I'll be focusing on books that enhanced my spiritual walk, I'll be making a more diverse list over on my personal blog.  

Before checking out my list below, there are a few things you should be aware of:

1. My favorite genres of literature are biography, memoir, history, and other non-fiction.  In fact (and surprisingly to me), there is no fiction on this year's list.  I did read some fiction in 2018, but apparently none of it struck me too much because no works of fiction appear on this list.  

2. Some of these books are included in Riverview's library.  I'll note their inclusion when appropriate.

3. I realize that not all of these books were published in 2018.  But nevertheless, it was 2018 by the time I got around to reading them.  So although this is a list of some of my favorite books of 2018, the "2018" qualifier only refers to when I actually read them.

4. I don't have a lot of time to read.  I'm a busy guy with a full time job, a marriage to nurture, and two young kids to raise.  I don't have a lot of extra time.  For this reason, I rely a lot on recommendations.  So if you have a good book worth sharing, let me know.  

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10. The Imperfect Disciple by Jared Wilson (available in the Riverview Library).  Let’s face it: the Christian life is messy. This book acknowledges this fact and plays off it to accentuate the grace that accompanies Christian life and growth. If you feel sometimes that the Christian life is hard, and even so hard as to be impossible, take a look at this book and be encouraged. If nothing else, it’s a great reminder of the daily gospel grace in which Christians live, and a challenge to recognize it every day.

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9. Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry. I’ve appreciated Jackie for a while now. She has a unique artistic talent, and has been a great voice in the reformed world for some time now. In this book she tells the story of her life, focusing on the formative experiences of her younger years which ultimately drew her into a homosexual lifestyle. But, as Perry notes, these experiences weren’t the only reasons. She also recounts her eventual conversion, and in the process conveys what is truly an almost one of a kind look at homosexuality and faith. This is a book worth reading for Christians who are wanting to engage in the conversation on homosexuality and faith, where the two meet, and God’s love for people and their response. There’s a lot to think about with this book.

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8. Jonathan Edwards: A Short Life by George M. Marsden. I have a confession to make: until this year, I’ve never read a Jonathan Edwards biography, and the one I did read was relatively short. Being a Christian who holds to reformed theology, this is almost unheard of. Nevertheless, it was true of me. For those (like me) who have never ventured into an Edwards biography, this is a great place to start. It’s always interesting to me to learn about how those who have gone before have lived out their faith. This is especially true for Edwards, who many consider to be the most influential Christian in American history. Edwards had his flaws, to be sure, and it is also interesting to read about his struggles.

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7. The Fisherman's Tomb by John O’Neill. My son recently got to watch the Indiana Jones movies, which, of course, tell of Dr Jones’ adventures as he raids ancient tombs and discovers priceless relics. If you like that storyline, you’ll love this book, except unlike Indiana Jones, this story is true. This book tells the story of the archaeological excavations that took place which led to the ultimate discovery of what is believed to be the tomb(s) of Peter (yes, that Peter). The book is written from a Catholic perspective, so there’s a bit of that to wade through, but the explanations of the excavations, the drama that ripped through the Vatican as a result of the digs, and the ultimate discovery and characters involved is fascinating and fast paced.

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6. For the Glory by Duncan Hamilton. When I was very young I saw the movie Chariots of Fire, which told the story of Eric Liddell. I remember the main musical theme from the movie, of course, but not much about the story itself. It was a great experience to pick up this book and read about Liddell’s olympic accomplishments, his faith, and his ultimate service and death on the mission field. There’s a lot to inspire Christians in this book, both in giving their all and their best to God no matter what they endeavor to do, and in being willing to follow him where he leads no matter the cost.

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5. Educated by Tara Westover. This book was probably the most difficult on this list. It took a lot of reflection on the content to really digest what was happening and what was being communicated by the author. The book functions as a memoir of the author, a woman who recounts her experiences being raised in a fundamentalist Mormon household by parents who seem to have some degree of mental illness. As you might expect, her childhood and teenage years were troubled, at best, until she eventually left the house against the wishes of her parents to attend college. It was in her education that she found her freedom and the ability to put her life, family, and faith into context. The challenging parts about this book have to do with religious extremism, and the ideas of victimhood and privilege, although probably not in the way those ideas are thought about in our culture in general. Reader beware: there are disturbing accounts of abuse in this book and a significant amount of foul language.

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4. 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson. Jordan Peterson might be one of the most talked about people on the internet this year, and for good reason. The man is absolutely brilliant, can think on his feet, and speaks with a bluntness that is absolutely refreshing. For these reasons I wandered into his newly released book. Peterson, to me, is a conundrum: he is overflowing with what could be categorized as biblical wisdom, yet the man is not a Christian (although he says that he lives his life as though God does exist, whatever that means). For this reason, the reader should be aware: what Peterson espouses as truth sounds biblical, but finds its root in secular psychology and evolutionary theory. Nevertheless, all truth is God’s truth (even when it comes from the mouth of a mule), and Peterson speaks a lot of truth in this book. But at the end of the day, the best that Peterson offers is behavior modification with no real heart change. While his “rules” might be wise, they are devoid of supernatural power.

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3. Letters to the Church by Francis Chan. This book challenged me. Actually anytime I hear Francis Chan preach or read something he has written, I come away challenged. Chan is obviously zealous, and I have a desire to emulate his zeal, which is good. This book tells of his experiences in organizing what is essentially a house church movement in the San Francisco area, and along the way he makes applications from his experiences to the modern church in America, most of which are poignant and convicting. If you’ve never read or heard Chan before and you decide to pick up this book, be ready for an “all or nothing” approach to the Christian life. Again, Chan’s zeal is evident and worthy of emulation, but I sometimes fear that he takes some ideas to extremes, which become a detriment to his ideas in general. That being said, I appreciated this book a lot.

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2. The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield (available in the Riverview Library). When I got convicted by this book during the Introduction, I knew I was in for a spiritually challenging read, and I was right. If you’re not familiar with Rosaria Butterfield, she’s a former lesbian, feminist college professor who was converted to Christianity and is now a pastor’s wife, homeschooling mother. Her first book tells the story of how she came to faith primarily through the ministry of Christian hospitality. In this book she lays out a plan of action for all Christians to be able to show this kind of hospitality, and the wonderful fruit it produces when practiced regularly in the church. Not only are the lost brought in, but the church is built up in a myriad of ways you would never think. All Christians should read this book and learn about how they can serve God and participate in the change of others in “radically ordinary” ways.

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1. Out of a Far Country by Christopher Yuan (available in the Riverview Library). This book, by far, was the most moving book I read all year. Christopher Yuan is a former homosexual and convicted drug dealer (who spent significant time in prison) who came to faith primarily through the prayer and persistent ministry of his mother. To be sure, the story of Christopher’s life prior to his conversion is dramatic and the story is fast paced and engaging. But what I found to be most provocative was his mother’s love and concern and how she communicated it to him. It was her Christ-like love (about the most Christ-like love I’ve ever heard of in my life) that God used to bring him to faith. This book, like others on this list, is a wonderful instruction about how to engage the issue of homosexuality, and is even better for those parents who have wayward children of their own. This book will show you an example of how to love your prodigal and show them Christ.