It’s that time of the year again, the unveiling of my Top 10 Books list!
I was encouraged to hear from a pastor’s wife who reported that her husband read more books this year than ever before because of last year’s list. Here are some of my past lists: 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016.
I hope this annual list not only inspires you to read more books but also to read a wider variety of topics, and to meet authors you didn’t know existed.
1. The Son of Laughter
by Frederick Buechner
An interesting take on a well-known Bible character, The Son of Laughter is a contemporary retelling of Jacob’s story. Like every Buechner book, this one resulted in an equal amount of learning and laughter, reflection and repentance, insight and inspiration.
The Shield was another of the Fear’s names. According to Laughter, it means he shields the seed of Abraham the way a man starting a fire shields the flame. When Sarah was about to die childless, the Fear gave her a son. When Abraham was about to slaughter the son, the Fear gave him the ram. He is always shielding us like a guttering wick, Laughter said, because the fire he is trying to start with us is a fire that the whole world will live to warm its hands at. It is a fire in the dark that will light the whole world home.
2. Total Forgiveness
by R. T. Kendall
I highly recommend Total Forgiveness for all pastors and leaders. It might be the most profoundly painful (and liberating!) book you will read this year. The lessons are ridiculously elementary, but unforgettably essential.
The ultimate proof of total forgiveness takes place when we sincerely petition the Father to let those who have hurt us off the hook—even if they have hurt not only us, but also those close to us.
3. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible
by Michael S. Heiser
If you enjoy Dr. Heiser’s podcast, The Naked Bible Podcast, you’ll love his books. In The Unseen Realm, he examines Scripture in the context of the supernatural. Sounds simple, but too often, we read the Bible from a devotional or academic perspective, ignoring the supernatural world-view of the writers.
(For a more accessible less-scholarly treatment of the same topic, see Heiser’s Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World.)
The realization that I needed to read the Bible like a premodern person who embraced the supernatural, unseen world has illuminated its content more than anything else in my academic life.
4. Miracles Today: The Supernatural Work of God in the Modern World
by Craig S. Keener
After hearing Dr. Keener talk about miracles on a podcast, I immediately ordered a dozen copies of Miracles Today for EN leaders and invited him to teach at Go 2023 in Cape Town.
Naturally, fewer miracles occur within the US than outside the US because the US contains less than 5 percent of the world’s population. North America as a whole has roughly 8 percent of the world’s population.
Miracles follow those who seek Jesus and his purposes, not those who seek miracles.
5. Impossible Love
by Craig Keener & Médine Moussounga Keener
This book should be a Hollywood (or Bollywood) movie! It has everything—romance, violence, war, refugee camps, seminary life—the whole kitchen sink. You won’t be able to put this down.
This is the story of two people struggling to hold on to the belief that God’s heart was bigger than our pain. Two people longing for closeness, but separated by continents, cultures, government regulations, and war. But two people who believed that faith, hope, and love can surmount even the most overwhelming obstacles.
The loss of center in Christian education is arguably due to a serious default of pastoral leadership; when the teaching elder does not teach, the effect is felt throughout the entire Christian congregation.
7. The Pastor: A Memoir
by Eugene Peterson
In The Pastor, Eugene Peterson simplifies what it means to be a pastor from his own life story and faith as opposed to the commercialized and celebrity-driven version of a pastor. I encourage every pastor to read it.
My work [as a pastor] is not to fix people. It is to lead people in the worship of God and to lead them in living a holy life.
8. My Father’s Son: A Generational Journey
by Wayne Alcorn
My friend Wayne Alcorn has written one of the best books I have ever read about the importance of fathers and the Father-heart of God. Bible truth is wrapped around the narrative of Wayne’s life, his relationship with his preacher father (who passed away during the writing), and the transformational power of God’s love.
All of the men who shared their stories as I prepared this book are of mature age now. They are thriving in life, but that didn’t happen by accident. It’s only because they discovered the pathway to wholeness—the love of their heavenly Father.
9. Unreasonable Hospitality
by Will Guidara
Another recommendation by my son Jonathan, and another book that I purchased multiple copies for the leaders in my life. Will Guidara, former co-owner of renowned restaurant Eleven Madison Park and disciple of Danny Meyer (the saltshaker restaurant guy) shares insights on hospitality and leadership that can help any business (and ministry) succeed. Enjoy.
Criticize the behavior, not the person. Praise in public; criticize in private. Praise with emotion, criticize without emotion.
10. The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions
by Arthur Bennett
A gift from my campus pastor, writing coach, and friend Walter Walker, this is one of my all-time favorite daily devotionals. I read it every two or three years.
Let me live a life of self-distrust,
dependence on thyself.
There it is, my 2023 Top 10 Book List. Whether or not you read any of my top books, I hope you will read more (and better) books in 2024 than in 2023.
And finally, I am happy to see impactful books written by Every Nation leaders. EN books would have dominated my 2024 list, so I’ve designated a special section for them. Here are five important books by EN leaders for EN leaders. Enjoy.
When God Seems Gone by Adam Mabry
I was privileged to read an advanced copy of Dr. Adam’s newest book, which presents a refreshing take on the art of lament from a place of faith and hope. I encourage you to buy it and read it. Or do what I did and buy a dozen to give to friends and families who feel like God is gone.
Ready to Lead by Brian Taylor & Chris Johnson
A new book by my Asbury Seminary classmates Brian Taylor and Chris Johnson is now available. If you lead a multiethnic church or campus ministry, if you want to lead a multiethnic church, or if you are part of a multiethnic ministry team, then you need to order Ready to Lead today! This is a great book to discuss together with your leadership team. Well done, Dr. Brian and Dr. Chris!
Mental Health for Spiritual People by Keith Tower & Marcy Verduin
As a pastor and minister of the gospel, I am extremely grateful for Pastor Keith Tower and Dr. Marcy Verduin’s new book Mental Health for Spiritual People. With skill, experience, and compassion, they take complex issues and make them relevant to the reader, facing head-on the stigma often associated with mental health needs. This is a much-needed book that will have a real and long-lasting impact on the overall health of the Church.
The Leadership Runway: A Strategy for Ministry Succession, Leadership Transition, and Post-Founder Sustainability by Me
Finally, after more years than I want to admit, The Leadership Runway is offcially finished! May this book help you do succession planning wisely and leadership transition humbly, so that your ministry will not crash-land but will multiply and thrive 100 years from now.
Friendship Can Save the World: The Book of Ruth and the Power of Diverse Gospel Community by Carrie & Morgan Stephens
Friendship Can Save the World: The Book of Ruth and the Power of Diverse Gospel Community is at the top of my reading list for 2024.