Recommended Books (Winter 2017)

The New Year is always full of reading possibilities. If you’re like us, reading time comes at a premium and can’t be wasted on poor selections. Below are some of our favorite titles from the past quarter that we think were worth the time. Hopefully you’ll find some of your old favorites here and some new titles for consideration. Be sure to let us know what you’ve been reading in the comments section.

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Christopher Ash, Zeal Without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice (UK: The Good Book Company, 2016), 123 pages.

I have only recently discovered Christopher Ash’s excellent little book on a very serious topic: ministry burnout. Rooted in Scripture and years of personal experience and observation, Ash offers the reader practical insight into how burnout happens, and how to avoid it while offering our lives in sacrificial service to God. Ash, a British pastor and author, provides an antidote against the type of pride and ignorance that often leads to burnout by sharing some key truths about human nature and the need to help keep our work in spiritual perspective. Honestly, I wish I had read this book a few years ago, and hope that it will gain a wide reading.

Recommended by W. Jackson Watts

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Arthur Bennett, ed., The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), 220 pages.

This collection of Puritan prayers and devotions provides many rich devotional examples for us. Although I only practice extemporaneous prayer in my personal and public worship, this collection provided a good guide for praying Biblically and theologically at those times. In addition, these old prayers provide an excellent curative for contemporary mistakes such as de-emphasizing repentance, judgment, and the work of Satan in the world. This collection is especially useful for anyone who often prays publically.

Recommended by Phillip T. Morgan

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 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper & Row Publishers), 122 pages.

 One of the unique blessings of the Christian life is living in community with one another. This unity comes in and through Jesus Christ. In his book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer asserts that the “physical presences of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer” (19). Indeed, sanctification occurs through the communal worship of Christians in song, prayer, and Scripture reading. Life Together is for every believer interested in cultivating and maintaining community with other believers.

Recommended by Zachery Maloney

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G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday (1908; repr., United States of America: Watchmaker, 2010), 152 pages.

Witty, charming, delightful: this is true of Chesterton in general, and he does not disappoint with The Man Who Was Thursday. This short novel is about a detective on a quest to stamp out a certain kind of evil in the world. However, things aren’t as they appear. The story is a real treat, full of intrigue and humor as well as important Christian truths. If you like C.S. Lewis’s imaginative fiction, you’re sure to like this, too.

Recommended by Matthew Steven Bracey

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Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit (New York: Penguin, 1998), 889 pages.

Throughout his prolific career, Charles Dickens created some of the most memorable characters in literary history, such as Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and Ebenezer Scrooge. Each came with a large repertoire of equally memorable supporting characters (think of the delightful Mr. Micawber, for example). Perhaps a lesser-known yet nonetheless memorable character is Amy Dorrit, the small, industrious and faithful heroine of the novel that bears her name.

In this great work, readers are given a glimpse into the debtors’ prison system of nineteenth-century England, a world very familiar to Dickens. The story takes readers through several exciting and converging plots about sudden rises to fortune, ridiculous and ineffective bureaucracy, dangerous escaped convicts, mysterious family secrets, and unrequited love. Though this is a long book (I would highly suggest listening to the audiobook version narrated by Antony Ferguson, who is an excellent reader) it is interesting, exciting, and excellent. But, really, can anything less be expected from Britain’s great novelist?

Recommended by Christa Hill

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T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral (Orlando: Harcourt, 1935), 88 pages.

This short play by Eliot is based on the assassination of the archbishop of Canterbury Thomas a’ Becket on December 29, 1170. Four knights struck Beckett down with swords inside the monastic cloister of Canterbury, perhaps on order from King Henry II who was tired of Becket refusing to cede some of the church’s power to the state. Eliot masterfully uses this historical event to examine the roles of the church and the state in society. He suggests that Becket’s death was only a precursor to the marginalization of Christianity in modern life. Yet the church does not fight with this world’s weapons and stratagems. Instead, he presents the church gaining victory through defeat just like Christ.

Recommended by Phillip T. Morgan

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Ajith Fernando, The Family Life of the Christian Leader (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 224 pages.

The area of family ministry has experienced a resurgence in recent years. Pastors and para-church organizations alike have refocused on what it means for parents to lead their families in spiritual formation. Ajith Fernando’s wonderful book joins this chorus. Speaking from the heart of a pastor and Christian leader, Fernando offers a guide to holistic Christian family-life that is saturated in the principles of Scripture. I recommend this book specifically for Christian leaders trying to balance ministry and home. Also, a book review will be forthcoming on this site.

Recommended by Christopher Talbot

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David W. Jones, Every Good Thing: An Introduction to the Material World and the Common Good for Christians (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2016), 113 pages.

Christians tend to have the problem of compartmentalizing the gospel so that they view it as having only spiritual value. However, the gospel should (and can) relate to all areas of life. In Every Good Thing, David Jones helps the reader understand that the “material here-and-now is just as important as the sweet by-and-by” (3)

The redemptive work of the gospel and the created order are certainly not at odds with one another. Once this holistic picture of the gospel is realized, Christians will see a wide-ranging obligation to think through areas of work and vocation, rest and Sabbath, wealth and poverty, creation and stewardship. This is a great book for anyone interested in making gospel applications to their everyday life.

Recommended by Zachery Maloney

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Colin Marshall, Growth Groups: A Training Course in How to Lead Small Groups (Waterloo, Australia: Matthias Media, 1995), 179 pages.

This is a marvelous resource for those who already have or are looking to start small groups, which Colin Marshall calls “growth groups.” The name isn’t arbitrary since Marshall is implying that these groups must be intended to grow people in their knowledge of God and their faithfulness to His word. They’re more than get-togethers. Marshall masterfully, and practically, helps the reader train others to lead such groups. He even includes strategies for dealing with personalities in growth groups that might turn every study into an argument or those who might monopolize the conversation. This resource will help pastors who want either to start or refine growth groups and their leaders.

Recommended by Jesse Owens

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L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables (New York: Sterling, 2004), 304 pages.

Though I’m 27 years old, and though I’ve been a reader since childhood, I am somehow only now reading Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series for the first time. As the saying goes, though, it is better late than never. The first novel in the series is just wonderful. In it, readers are introduced to Anne Shirley, a witty, resourceful, intelligent, imaginative, kind, and absolutely delightful heroine. Montgomery has a wonderful ability to convey both hilarity and sadness well in her work. Her characters are round and believable, and her writing is lively and interesting. Anne’s adventures bring laughter and empathy; we have all had lessons in life that we learn the hard, and sometimes hilarious, way. Furthermore, in Anne, readers, particularly young girls, have a relatable role model with whom they can both empathize and emulate (though I would not suggest that anyone try to dye red hair black). I wish I had met her sooner.

Recommended by Christa Hill

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Stephen J. Nichols, For Us and Our Salvation: The Doctrine of Christ in the Early Church (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), 172 pages.

Conservative Evangelicals spend a significant amount of time blogging, tweeting, and arguing over soteriology (election, predestination, perseverance, etc). These are vital topics. But we don’t seem to spend nearly enough time talking about Christology, which should inform our understanding of soteriology. In other words, how can we adequately discuss the work of Christ if we haven’t properly thought through the person of Christ? The early Church seems to have more clearly seen the connection between the two. Stephen J. Nichols, in For Us and Our Salvation, not only tells us what the early Church taught concerning the person of Christ, but he actually guides the reader through key primary sources from the Church’s first five centuries. He helps us see not only the logic of the Incarnation, but the biblical basis for it. This is an accessible, concise work that will equip thoughtful Christians on an essential biblical doctrine.

Recommended by Jesse Owens

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Thom Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive (Nashville: B&H, 2014), 102 pages.

One thing is clear from considering the work of Thom Rainer: he loves the local church. While I don’t always agree with his analysis or advice, more often than not I have found him to be a very reliable guide, especially in the most practical aspects of Christian ministry. In this brief book, Rainer draws from his analysis on churches that no longer exist, offering insight into the common symptoms of dying churches. He also gives some Biblical ways to help churches not only to avoid death, but to thrive.

The book is designed for pastors and laymen of all kinds. It provides two user-friendly apparatuses that make it conducive to a small or large-group usage, including commitment prayers and discussion questions at the end of each chapter.

Recommended by W. Jackson Watts

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J.C. Ryle, Thoughts for Young Men (Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 1865), 64 pages.

Few authors have the gift to write in an accessible, yet truthful, tone—speaking clearly, yet not “watering down.” What is even more rare is finding an author from Church history who reflects this rare characteristic. J.C. Ryle does exactly this. In his brief book Thoughts for Young Men, Ryle exhorts the young men of England to pursue a fully Christian life, admonishing them away from temptations and towards the holiness of God. While this book was written more than 150 years ago, it’s as relevant today as it was when it was first penned. This book would be a wonderful choice for a Church book club or discipleship program with young men.

Recommended by Christopher Talbot

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Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876; repr., United States of America: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006), 400 pages; and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885; United States of America: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998), 416 pages.

Somehow as a boy I missed reading these books. I rectified that this past summer. These novels are delightful. They reminded me of me of being a boy—exploring the woods, hanging out with friends, playing with animals, swimming in creeks. The books, of course, follow the exploits and shenanigans of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. The Sawyer novel is a lot of fun. But it doesn’t compare to the Finn novel, frequently called the great American novel. Indeed! Huck Finn is one of the great novels of the United States, with strong character development, pacing of plot, motifs, and so forth. If you need some fun reading, I recommend these books.

Recommended by Matthew Steven Bracey

Author: The Helwys Society

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