I read 54 books in 2018: about one a week. I love learning and books are one of my favorite forms of learning. I tend to read five types of books: Christian Living, Theology, Leadership, General Non-Fiction, and Fiction. If you’re interested in tracking my reading, getting fuller reviews, and sharing with me your favorites, I use Goodreads and would be happy to have you friend me there. Here were some highlights for me in 2018:
“What’s God’s will for my life?” I’ve asked that question and heard that question asked a thousand times in my ten years as a pastor. It’s a go to question I deal with when talking to middle school, high school, and college students.
Kevin DeYoung insists that the answer to the question is as simple as his title. How do I know God’s will for my life? “Just do something.” At first blush that answer sounds as reckless as it does callous.
But DeYoung builds his case scripturally that a faithful Christian life is not a life waiting to hear the whisper of God about what parking spot to take, school to choose, career to select, and spouse to marry. Instead, again and again, scripture frames the will of God in terms of the character of God. What is God’s will? The fruits of the Spirit. In DeYoung’s words, “God's will is always your sanctification.”
Obsessing over choices God wants us to make actually shackles us from living in the freedom of God’s purposes. DeYoung says, “The only chains God wants us to wear are the chains of righteousness--not the chains of hopeless subjectivism, not the shackles of risk-free living, not the fetters of horoscope decision making--just the chains befitting a bond servant of Christ Jesus. Die to self. Live for Christ. And then do what you want, and go where you want, for God's glory.” Applying Christ’s words, it sounds like this, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and then trust that He will take care of our needs, even before we know what they are and where we're going.”
1. What Works, and Doesn't Work in Raising Up Your Children in the Faith: Trevin Wax reflects on new Lifeway Research, "The biggest factor was Bible reading. Children who regularly read the Bible while they were growing up were more likely to have a vibrant spiritual life once they became adults... Two more factors follow close behind: prayer and service in church."
2. How Do You Talk to Your Child About Transgender Issues? Andrew Walker offers this practical and balanced guide. He concludes, "Don't run away from important questions about sexual and gender identity just because your pre-pubescent child, or pubescent teen, is asking hard and awkward questions... In the home, as much as in the church, we each bend toward harsh "truth" or untruthful "love"—and we need to be aware of this in our parenting...Communicate confidently, but not arrogantly. Communicate compassionately, not harshly. Communicate honestly, not simplistically or tritely."
3. Racism in America: What We Agree and Disagree On: Kevin DeYoung lays out eleven areas of agreement and disagreement. One of those areas is systemic injustice. He says, "We agree that sin is not just a matter of individual responsibility. It is possible for systems and structures to be unjust even when the people inhabiting those systems and structures may not have personal animus in their hearts. We do not agree on whether disparities themselves indicate systemic and structural injustice (see above). Likewise, we do not agree on the best remedies for institutional racism where it exists."
4. How Podcasting Hurts Preaching: Mercer Schuchardt's take here is bold and certainly could be called Luddite (and he's not even addressing newer technologies like live-streaming). I still think that it is worth us utilizing technologies as much as possible for the cause of the gospel, but his cautions ring very true. What do you think? He says, "Sermon podcasting reveals a utilitarian misunderstanding of how our messages create a sense of meaning. The sermon is not an interchangeable part that can be removed from the context of worship while still maintaining its power, its authority, and its efficacy. It retains at most one of these, diluting or eliminating the other two... For churchgoers to perceive value, churches have to maintain the scarcity of the once-a-week, in-real-life sermon experience. When pastors push their sermons far and wide via podcast, they unintentionally devalue the message they have worked hard to create and communicate. They remove the sermon from the time, context, and body of the liturgy where it belongs."
5. 12 Year Old Boy Solves 3 Rubik's Cubes While Juggling Them: This is delightfully absurd. In other news of the fantastic: I've been known to grind coffee while I make scrambled eggs.
What a unique (and desperately needed) book! In Washed and Waiting, Hill is earnest, honest, and incisive. The book is part autobiography, part practical theology, part self-help: and all of this in 150 pages.
Chapter 1 alone is worth the price of the book. After the Prelude, where Hill, sets up the book on an autobiographical level, he digs into the practical theology as it relates to homosexual practice. This book isn't the place to look for a robust defense of the orthodox theology on homosexual practice (which Hill holds to). There are plenty of other places to look for that (I would recommend Sam Alberry's Is God Anti-Gay? and Kevin DeYoung's What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?).
What Hill does do in this section is confront head-on what to do with the fact that for those with homosexual inclinations, if they are committed to following a biblical Christianity, there will always (on this side of eternity) be an unsatisfied longing. What do we make of this? How could God not want his children to be happy and to experience love?
1. Safety is Not the Antidote to Fear: A brief video by Gary Haugen that shakes our expectations of what God wants to do in the midst of our fears.
2. Learning About the Wolves: Kevin DeYoung reflects on who are wolves in the church and how we should respond to them.
3. How Our Churches Can Grow in Diversity: We have so far to go in this. I'm grateful for Greg Morse presenting not just the seriousness of the issue: "The father of lies devours minority souls, barring them from the gospel of grace and eternal life, simply by whispering, 'Christianity isn’t for you. Whites only.' When Christianity is whitewashed, when the church becomes associated with suburban country clubs, when our celebrated leaders and theologians throughout time have almost exclusively white faces... minority souls close their ears to the gospel and die in their sins." Morse also calls us forward. Among his admonitions he asks us to re-evaluate our stance on justice issues: " Social justice is not the gospel — but it is a result of the true gospel, and can be instrumental in directing souls to the true gospel."
4. Why the End of Marriage in Eternity is Good News: John Piper shares hard to believes news, " If the age to come is not only an improvement over the worst of this world, but over the best, then the end of marriage is spectacularly good news. Do you see this? Marriage in this age, at its best, offers some of life’s most intense pleasures, and sweetest intimacies. If you have ever tasted these, or have ever dreamed of tasting them, then you can feel the astonishing force of the promise that marriage will be no more because it was too weak to carry God’s best eternal pleasures."
5. Match Made in Marrow: Radiolab is one of my favorite podcasts, it is also done from a secular scientific worldview that is atheistic in slant. I was shocked when they made the story of a man who came to faith in God because of his atheist bone marrow donor the centerpiece of their podcast last week. It is a fantastic listen.
6. Penguins Don’t Belong in Antactica: Kellen Erskine is too funny: “Have you ever seen the way penguins walk? They walk the same way you would, if you were wearing cold, wet pants.”
1. Pastor, Fall on the Sword Before You Wield It: Trevin Wax with a piercing exhortation: "'Rightly handling' this sword means we should teach it correctly, and the pastor must experience the piercing of this sword before he wields it in battle."
2. How to be a Friend to those who are Same-Sex Attracted: Bekah Mason provides sage advice birthed through her own story: "In the end, both legalistic condemnation and progressive license left me seeking more contentment and completeness than either could offer. One group had fallen short of acknowledging the genuine nature of my feelings and the other had overlooked the very real conviction I held about human sexuality by explaining it away as 'residual guilt from my legalistic childhood.'" Side note: I dislike the title that the editors gave this article. Please don't be put off by it.
3. 31 Questions to Help You Be a Better Parent: Some gems in this list, like these: "3. When I’m honest, what top five values do I feel most compelled to instill in my children? Would those line up with the top five values God would want my children to have? 8. How do I believe other people see each of my children? How do I feel about that? What portion of others’ opinions could I learn from, and what should I set aside? 9. Are my children developing more into givers than takers? 11. What are the events on the timeline of my children’s lives that have the most impact? 19. In what areas are my children most vulnerable? 28. How am I doing on teaching them biblical conflict resolution? Am I teaching them to be true peace-makers … or peace-fakers, or peace-breakers?"
4. 12 Pastoral Commitments (Or, How to Pray for Your Pastor): Kevin DeYoung's list is spot on. May God shape us into pastors like this!
5. This Octopus Hunts... on Ground: Yikes. I think I might find another beach if I witness this in person.
Americans’ Not-So Warm Feelings Toward Evangelicals: I think the biggest news here is that 20% of Americans say that they don’t know an evangelical. That is fairly significant news regarding our cultural retreat.
Types of Honor and Shame Cultures: This interesting article breaks down the earth into five basic types of honor-shame cultures.
Foolish and Slow of Heart: Chris Bruno asks: How does your life fit with God’s mission? “[T]heir stupidity was not rooted in a lack of intelligence. It was rooted in their inability to see how their lives fit with the story of the Bible.
9 Myths about Abortion: Kevin DeYoung on abortion myths, including myths about the availability of abortion historically, the number of deaths from back-alley abortions, and how mainstream our abortion laws are.
Visiting Famous Sites Via Google Earth: Thanks to Tim Challies for sharing this fun video.