Home for the holidays, a first-year Every Nation cross-cultural missionary asked me to recommend books that might help her as she helps pioneer a new church and campus ministry in a new nation. I rattled off a couple of my favorite missionary biographies, plus some basic theology books and Craig Keener’s Bible Background Commentary (the most important book in every minister’s library, besides the ESV Study Bible.)

She pulled out her iPhone and promptly ordered some of the books I recommended. Why? Because leaders are learners and, therefore, readers.

For those who do not have the opportunity to ask me about books over a family dinner, I write my annual top 10 book list blog. Here are some of my past lists: 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016.

This is not a list of the most enjoyable books I read in the past twelve months (except #2 & Snub #5)—some were extremely unenjoyable and disturbing (#3). Others were tedious but important (#7). Others were just what I needed to read when I read them (#5 & Snub #2) and might not have made my Top 10 if read in a different year.

This is a list of the books I read this year that helped me personally and vocationally (as a preacher, teacher, and ministry leader). I think most of them will help you, no matter your vocation.

Here we go, in random order.

1.  In the Name of Jesus—Reflections on Christian Leadership

by Henri Nouwen

The shortest and most important book I read in 2022. If you serve in a leadership position now or if you think you might be a leader of something someday, please read this book. Then read it again, slowly. Then pray it, and read it again. In less than 100 pages, Nouwen captured the heart of Christian leadership. If you only read one book from this list, this is the one.

One of the greatest ironies in the history of Christianity is that its leaders constantly gave in to the temptation of power—political power, military power, economic power, or moral and spiritual power—even though they continued to speak in the name of Jesus, who did not cling to his divine power but emptied himself and became as we are.

2. Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who

by Frederick Buechner

Preacher, professor, theologian, Presbyterian minister, author of 39 books, including Pulitzer finalist Godric, Buechner died six months ago at 96. Starting with A (Abel, Abraham, Adam) and ending with Z (Zechariah, Zerubbabel, Zipporah), Peculiar Treasures is a collection of brief, insightful, humorous, and contemplative bios of famous and infamous Bible characters. I laughed, cried, repented, and prayed my way from A to Z.

Buechner’s take on the musings of Adam, as a dying old man.

The leopard . . . the starling . . . the rose—he remembered giving each its name, remembered the green river, the shy green girl. He could no longer remember why it was he had felt compelled to leave it except that it had something to do with asserting his independence. Beyond that, he had only the dim sense that somehow a terrible injustice had been done, or possibly a terrible justice.

3. Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters

by Abigail Shrier

Definitely the most disturbing book I read all year, and maybe the most important. Highly recommended to all youth ministers, campus missionaries, and parents, especially parents of girls. Shrier is a journalist with degrees from Columbia, Oxford, and Yale Law. Irreversible Damage is filled with statistical data, testimonials, and interviews all painting a terrifying picture of the “transgender craze” that is wreaking havoc on girls globally.

This is the story of the American family—decent, loving, hardworking and kind. It wants to do the right thing. But it finds itself set in a society that increasingly regards parents as obstacles, bigots, and dupes.

4. Dreaming in White and Black

by Brett Fuller

It has been my privilege to work in ministry with Brett Fuller for almost four decades. We’ve been all over the world together. Everyone who experiences Brett’s preaching is immediately struck by his scriptural depth and his oratory skills. Most who hear him preach do not know the lifelong spiritual formation that made Brett the man and preacher he is today. Dreaming in Black and White will fill in the blanks. Brett’s message and ministry of reconciliation has made me a better human. May it do the same for you as you read his new book.

This book is about believing for, creating, and capturing iconic moments of resolve and healing. . . . It is about understanding the fears, confusion, and concerns of the white population, while rightly processing the deep pain of the black. It will present a way to inform the ignorant without being offended by their ignorance, how to lead with mercy in a way that never bypassed truth and justice. How to listen. How to give people a piece of heart, when you desperately want to give them a piece of your mind. How to grow from being just a point-maker to a peace-maker.

5. Terms of Service: The Real Cost of Social Media

by Chris Martin

I have read quite a few books about the impact of the “social internet” on our lives and have even recommended a few of them here. Terms of Service might be the best because it addresses the issue from a Christ-centered perspective. The author spent over a decade as a social media professional, so he speaks with authority on the topic. At the beginning of this year, before I read Terms of Service, I deleted every social media app from my phone because I knew they were distracting me from the relationships and the mission God has called me to. (The Every Nation global communications team manages my social media platforms.) I think I am a better husband, father, grandfather, preacher, leader, and Christian since eliminating that distraction. I am not suggesting that you follow my example, but I do hope that you read this book. It will help you to think more critically about how and why you engage the internet. As Martin says, “Social media may not cost anything, but it isn’t free.”

The social internet is designed to be addictive. It is not a neutral tool humans discovered and decided to use nonstop on their own. Since the start, and especially in the more recent iterations, the social internet has been designed with the intent to get people addicted. . . . Many of us are addicted to the social internet because we are addicted to attention and affirmation. We seek to be attention rich because we are joy poor. In our sin, we believe we are to be the hero and center of our lives, and if we play the social internet game correctly, we can find the attention and affirmation online that we so desperately long for offline.

6. Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer challenges and encourages every reader to embrace the call to Christian community. Though the title might not suggest it, Life Together spends as much time on the individual Christian’s need to grow in humility and character as our obligation to participate in community. In a time where the world is obsessed with self-love, self-expression, and self-actualization, Bonhoeffer’s call to something greater than self is refreshing. Life Together was written in the context of the underground seminary that Bonhoeffer started in Nazi Germany, where he and others did community despite the danger and risks. Community is costly, but not as costly as isolation.

Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. . . . Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. . . . Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.

7. Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution

by Carl R. Trueman

All over the world, there is major confusion about human gender and sexual identity. Trueman’s Strange New World addresses these topics from a biblical perspective, wrapped in a historical narrative of how human thought has transformed over the past several hundred years. This transformation has left modern humans thinking that self-actualization is the ultimate goal of the individual. Rather than orienting ourselves outwardly toward a common good or divine being, we orient ourselves around our feelings—our “most authentic” source of truth. The result is that people are trained to accept and affirm every feeling, desire, and thought that they have as the truest thing about themselves. Trueman originally wrote a longer (inaccessible) work—The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self—that contains a more academic explanation of his argument. But Strange New World simplifies those arguments for people who are not professional philosophers or public intellectuals. Whether you are engaging gender and sexuality conversations on campus, in discipleship groups, or at your dinner table, Strange New World will help.

To respond to our times we must first understand our times. That is my goal.

8. Christian Martyrdom

by Edward Smither

I read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs as a new believer. Christian Martyrdom covers the same topic but from a more modern and accessible perspective. Highly recommended to vocational ministers, especially cross-cultural missionaries working in “creative access” nations.

Martyrdom is extraordinary, but it is not unique. Jesus of Nazareth, ten of the twelve disciples, and the apostle Paul all died as martyrs. Their testimonies shaped the early Christian community, setting the tone for an expectation and embrace of suffering.

9. R.C. Sproul: A Life

by Stephen J. Nichols

As a new Christian, the two writers who shaped me the most were Derek Prince and R.C. Sproul. I constantly read Sproul’s works, including Tabletalk magazine, and it formed my theology. Nichols has written one of the best ministry bios I have read in the past decade.

He labored to help others know what they believe and why they believe it, because, as he would often say, it’s not a matter of life and death; it’s a matter of eternal life and eternal death.

10. 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity: A 21st Century Look at Church History from a Pentecostal/Charismatic Perspective

by Eddie Hyatt

If you love history, especially church history, you will love this book. Hyatt makes the case that the Azusa Street Charismatic/Pentecostal renewal that quickly went global was not something new but rather a continuation of outpourings of the Holy Spirit and manifestation of spiritual gifts that has happened in every century since Pentecost. Rather than restoring something that had been lost since the early church, the modern Charismatic/Pentecostal revived or refreshed what was always present, but periodically waned.

Through him (Antony 251–356) the Lord healed the bodily ailments of many present, and cleansed others form evil spirits.

Hyatt includes similar first-hand accounts of miracles in every century, from a who’s who of church history.

Top 5 Snubs of 2022: 

1. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

I always enjoy reading or hearing about the exploits of pastors’ kids. (In the case of Orville and Wilber, bishops’ kids.)

2. The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationship in a Technological World by Andy Crouch

Similar to Terms of Service (#5 above), so this was a toss-up as to which to include in my top 10 and which to snub. My apologies to Andy for the snub.

3. Intellectuals by Paul Johnson

Covering some of the same topics and characters as Strange New World (#7), including harrowing mini-bios of Rousseau, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Sartre, James Baldwin, and others. Intellectuals made me wonder how people with unusually high IQ could have such low EQ (Emotional Quotient) and non-existent SQ (Spiritual Quotient). Nothing enjoyable about this book, but it was educational.

4. God’s Messenger: Emanuele Cannistraci By David Matheson

Finally, an authorized bio of my friend and mentor, Pastor C, who recently turned 92 and continues to preach with his signature energy.

5. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

A birthday gift from William Murrell. A Pulitzer Prize winner has to at least make my snub list. I really enjoyed this book. You will too.