Top 10 Books of 2020

In 2020 I read many books by people who have different views than I have, I read several books on CRT and Liberation Theology as well as some written by Progressive Theologians. I found it interesting to see the world as they see it. I also found it strengthen my resolve to fight for clarity in my thoughts and charity in my interactions with those with whom I disagree. As a result, my reading list was a bit more eclectic than most years. As I look forward to 2021 I do so with a mixture of excitement and sadness as I will be finishing my Seminary degrees. I don’t know if I disliked a book that was assigned to me and will miss the rigor of reading with a deadline. I am excited however to read what I want when I want. I plan on rereading some of my favorite books I read in obtaining my degree as well as much more fiction and hope to write a devotional for pre-teens before the year is out. That being said here are my top ten books for 2020.


The Trellis and the Vine
This book has been on my reading list for a while but had not had the time to get to it. It was required for school so I read it in November. Such a timely book for any pastor to read. If ever we needed the message and strategy of connection over programs it’s now. It ends with an eerie question of what we would do if we had to lead through a pandemic.

Imagine this… As we write, the first worrying signs of a swine-flu pandemic are making headlines around the world. Imagine that the pandemic swept through your part of the world and that all public assemblies of more than three people were banned by the government for reasons of public health and safety. And let’s say that due to some catastrophic combination of local circumstances, this ban had to remain in place for 18 months. How would your congregation of 120 members continue to function—with no regular church gatherings of any kind, and no home groups (except for groups of three)? If you were the pastor, what would you do?

ColinMarshall & Tony Payne


If that quote doesn’t make you want to read this book nothing will.


Live not by lies
Such a timely book. In a world where we are constantly bombarded by what Rod calls “soft totalitarianism” Live Not By Lies teaches American Christians a method for resistance:
    SEE: Acknowledge the reality of the situation.
    JUDGE: Assess reality in the light of what we as Christians know to be true.
    ACT: Take action to protect truth.
The most powerful weapon we have against the secularism of our age is seeing the truth and speaking the truth. Every Christian should read this book.


Atomic Habits
I haven’t read a ton of leadership books over the past few years but this one was recommended by everyone. I read it and was suprised by the simplicity and practical application of what Clear argues for. Also he likes baseball.


Christ Centered Preaching
I have read several books on expository preaching this one is one of the best in terms of explaining the importance of expository sermons as well as the practical examples that walk you through the process of doing so. I read this for a class Dr. Chapell taught at my Seminary. He is an equally gifted communicator and writer.


On Reading Well
One of my Master’s Degrees is in Christian and Classical Thought. My professors reinforced to us over and over again the importance of reading the great conversation in light of the Gospel because every little story we write points to the great story written for us. Dr. Prior highlights a classical work and the corresponding virtue it exemplifies. The result of her work is a more thoughtful reading of books, many of which were written by Christians, that was written with the desire to empower and inform a more virtuous public. Dr. Prior’s explanation of Flannery O’Connor was particularly helpful to me personally as I have read most of O’Connor’s work and missed most of the beauty within them because I was so taken back by the violence and tragedy I missed the redemptive nature of her stories.


Valley of Vision
I have used Valley of Vision to aid my daily times of prayer devotional for a couple of years. Going through this book slowly to meditate and processes its content fully. I found so many of these prayers directing my thoughts and strengthening my faith like few books I have ever read.

‘When used slowly, for meditation and prayer, these pages have often been used by God’s Spirit to kindle my dry heart.’ ——MARK DEVER

I can’t agree with Mark more. I encourage you to add this to your personal time of devotion. There is something so helpful and challenging about reading the prayers of others.


Scripture as Communication
Such a fantastic book. Dr. Brown addresses both of the extremes of Biblical interpretation. In our modern culture, the Bible is looked at as a set of rules to live by or stories to inspire. A prominent pastor in a recent book said that the Old Testament is for inspiration. Brown’s argument that the Bible is communication changes how we read, interpret, and interact with scripture. It is a much-needed vantage point in the present hermetical landscape of the evangelical church.



Deep Work
This is the second book by Newport I’ve read. He is very clear and extremely practical. I have been putting his simple yet profound ideas to the test and have experienced excellent results. We as a society are more distracted than ever we must fight for focus. I used to brag about how many things we can do at once. No longer. I join Newport in striving to do one thing at a time really really well.


Persuasion
Persuasion is a story of love and loss and patient endurance. In her excellent summary of the book which was my inspiration to read it in full Karen Swallow Prior says “The essence of patience is the willingness to endure suffering.” Patience is a lost virtue in our instant secular culture. We put it off till later so we can have it now. The result of this type of living is moral and spiritual bankruptcy. The story was a story of love that lost because of obedience to authority and refined and rekindled because of divine providence. It was my first Jane Austen novel and definitely not my last.

Patience is a virtue, not in overlooking wrong, but in refusing to do wrong in overcoming wrong.

Karen Swallow Prior



Black Rednecks & White Liberals
This year I read several books on race I found Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers and if you avoid the liberation theology at the end Cone’s work on lynching. The least helpful was White Fragility. Over the course of the past several months, I saw this title encouraged by several pastors. Pastor, please don’t do that. Out of all those titles, the reason I chose Thomas Sowell is that he addresses the topic of race in a way that is straightforward and hopeful. To say that being white makes you a racist and there is nothing you can do about it is not the answer to the real problem of racism. Sowell is thoughtful, hopeful, and clear. He is also African American as opposed to DiAngelo who is white. No matter where you fall on the political landscape it is helpful to understand issues of race and how to work toward speaking against real racism in our world today. I believe that Sowell’s work is a great asset in understanding the history of race and helpful solutions for today.

Here are the other books I read this year.

  1. Growth Groups by Colin Marshall
  2. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  3. Missions by Andy Johnson
  4. Canoeing The Mountains by Tod Bolsinger
  5. The Science of Missions by J.H. Bavanick
  6. White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
  7. Center Church by Tim Keller
  8. Letters to a Young Pastor by Eugene Peterson
  9. I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown
  10. Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey
  11. The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone
  12. Suffering and Joy by Henri Nouwen
  13. The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
  14. Leadership for the Time of a Pandemic by Tod Bolsinger
  15. Confronting Old Testament Controversies by Tremper Longman
  16. Slaves, Women & Homosexuals by William Webb
  17. The Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett
  18. The Bible Tells Me So…. by Peter Enns
  19. Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill
  20. George MacDonald by C.S. Lewis
  21. Evolution and the Fall by James K.A. Smith
  22. In the Year of Our Lord 1943 by Alan Jacobs
  23. Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell
  24. American Sherlock by Kate Winkler Dawson
  25. Resilient by Valerie Bell and Matt Markins
  26. Christ-Centered Sermons by Bryan Chapell
  27. A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell
  28. Uncommon Ground by Timothy Keller
  29. Practice Resurrection by Eugene Peterson
  30. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
  31. Reading the Bible With Heart and Mind by Tremper Longman
  32. Lethal Agent by Vince Flynn
  33. The Green Ember by S.D. Smith
  34. A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible by Robert Stein
  35. Hermeneutics by Henry Virkler
  36. Color of Compromise by Jamar Tisby
  37. Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson
  38. The Joy of Fearing God by Jerry Bridges
  39. A Theory of Everything by Alister McGrath
  40. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
  41. Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson
  42. Red War by Vince Flynn

Why Our Kids Ministries Should be More Like Mr. Rogers and Less Like Disney.

One of the pressures that kids pastors face from parents, leaders, or themselves, and sometimes it’s all three, is to be like Disney. I have often looked at how Disney engages kids as inspiration in engaging the kids I lead. I have had people suggest kindly to me that we take a look at how Disney does things. I even went to Disney and have sent staff members to Disney for inspiration for ministry. The older I get and the longer I do kids ministry, the more I realize that Walt’s idea of child formation was wrong, and Mr. Rogers was right. (Editorial note I am not a Disney hater, I have taken the required pilgrimage to Orlando with my family.)

When you look at the aesthetics of the two kingdoms they both built, they reflect how each saw the world. Walt’s world was a perfect version of what our world should look like. His world is shiny songs playing everywhere. Every restaurant serves chicken strips and hotdogs. Never any dust, never chipped paint. Excellence and creativity abound. Fred’s world was simple, even plain. His puppets showed wear, and his set grew old along with Fred. Two worlds trying to reach the same kids. 

The two kingdoms they built were the result of two visions of the world. Walt created a world that was an escape from the real world. Fred lived in a neighborhood and showed kids how to navigate through the real world. 

Walt built a fantasy world. Fred lived in a neighborhood.

There is nothing wrong with fantasy. Kids need fairy stories. Tolkien and Lewis were both shaped by fairy stories. They have different takes as to the ontological value of stories. Tolkien believed that fairy stories were reflective of God in that they were an example of sub-creation. Lewis thought that you could smuggle truth in fairy stories and steal past the watchful dragons that would not give faith a hearing. In this debate, I side more with Lewis. Fairy tales are more valuable in helping us escape this world, not for the escape alone but to show us what is broken and how to fix our world. Fairy stores should not be only an escape but should contain truth that entertains our minds but be filled with truth that changes our hearts. 

Walt’s world, on the whole, is an escape from reality, sustained by entertainment. You enter the park, and you enter the world as it should be – no trash on the ground, no gum on the sidewalk, and no tears in any eye. It’s perfect. It plays to our right desire for a better world. It reminds us in miniature form that our world, the real world is a shadow, and our heart longs for a perfect world free of sin and pain. 

Fred’s world had fantasy elements in it. But Fred never lied. He said we are going to the land of makebelieve. His fiction was grounded in reality and founded in faith. Fred lived in a neighborhood like you and me. His set was old, his puppets were tired, but he connected with kids in a way few others have. Mr. Rogers had friends come by who struggled with difficult issues like divorce, physical disability, and even race. He didn’t create an alternate universe by which he could escape reality. He lived in a house and told kids when makebelieve was happening. He used fairy stories to smuggle truth.  

Walt Entertained Kids. Fred Empowered Kids.

Walt’s world is all about connecting kids to fun to entertain them. This is a trap I fell into early in my years of children’s ministry. For years I would ask kids if they had fun at the end of the service. I wanted the church to be an escape for kids from the difficulties of home and school. The problem with entertaining kids is you have to out create yourself every week. Kids go to Disney once to a few times a year max. They come to church once to a few times a month. Entertainment may bring them, but we don’t have the budget, creativity, and time to create programs for kids that rival or compete with Disney’s magic. 

What Fred did was different. He didn’t distract kids from the pain and questions that were making them sad or scared. He looked in the camera and spoke from his heart to theirs. He did this because he remembered what it was like to be a child once. He wasn’t trying to force kids to grow up and act older than who they were. He was interested in helping kids understand that we grow, learn, and love in families, communities, and neighborhoods. It isn’t castles and clouds that make us forget our problems for a day. It’s the embodiment of being in a particular time and a particular place. 

Kids don’t need to be entertained as much as they need to be loved and listened to. Anyone can put on a video and walk away. Anyone can create an event that is non stop excitement, and I think the church has gotten really good at production values and excellence. What we need to get better at is remembering that we were kids once. At telling kids the truth. At listening to kids and looking at them in the face when they are speaking to us. Kids like Disney, but they live in neighborhoods. 

Walt was more concerned about your experience. Fred was more concerned with who you are becoming. 

Walt was concerned with how his park made you feel. There is close attention to sights, sounds, and smells. Fred was more concerned with who you are becoming. In his now-famous interview with Mr. Rogers in Esquire Magazine, Tom Junod said of Fred that “There was an energy to him, however, a fearlessness, an unashamed insistence on intimacy.” This is the problem with entertainment; it leads to a consumer-driven faith where we show up and get our money’s worth. The production values are high, and we expect nothing less—excellence matters. God is a God of creativity and excellence we tell our selves. Yet when God sent his son into the world, he did so in such an ordinary way. He sent him in a way that most people missed Him because they were looking for a conquering King, not a helpless baby. 

Fred’s idea was different. He was not driven by flash but by substance. He was not about entertainment. He was about incarnation. He showed us that loving your neighbor well matters. We must be more obsessed with who our kids are becoming, not just how we can get more kids coming. Who our kids are becoming will force us to lead different to love different to focus on things that don’t just take their mind off their pain. But instead, point them to the one who can destroy their pain with the power of his love. 

Mr. Rogers was not against big things; he just knew that they came from small beginnings. “He wanted to tell children that what starts out little can sometimes become big, and so that could devote themselves to little dreams without feeling bad about them.” Mr. Rogers reminds us as kids ministry workers as parents of kids that presence trumps production value. To show up. Listen. Insist on intimacy. Tell your kids the truth; they like to be told. Remember that you were a kid once. Most of all, remember that God was a kid once.