My Top Books for 2020

I’m getting in early this year by releasing my list of top reads a few weeks before we see the back of 2020. For the last six years I’ve posted about what I’ve read each year and I might as well continue the tradition into a seventh. 

I’m not sure whether it was because of what 2020 became but I have smashed any reading goals I had this year. Each year I aim to read, on average, one book per fortnight, that’s 26 books per year. By the end of May I had reached that goal. What this meant was that I had plenty of time to read more over the coming months, and as it stands today I’ve read 53 books for the year. This is really pleasing and definitely my best reading year ever. 

Throughout I’ve read a range of genres – sport biography, missions history, theology, politics, church leadership, fiction, biblical theology and commentaries, a couple of books my daughter is into, and more. There is a sense my reading this year was a bit more balanced than other years, which was also pleasing. 

So, without any further ado, I present below a list of books I thought were 5 out of 5 stars. And if you’re interested in reading my top reads from previous years you can do so here too: 20142015201620172018, 2019). 

Enjoy. 

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer

I started off the year wishing for more rest, space, and slowness in my life. This book articulated the importance of rhythms and rest and Sabbath, and many other spiritual practices that help ground us in life in God. I found this an excellent book, and it’s probably time to read it again. As I look at my bookshelves I do notice it missing so it evidently was kept by someone who borrowed it! Good books always disappear. In any case, this is a helpful book that gives rise to habits and systems in life that contribute to sustaining a life-long, well-paced, Christian life.

Along Came A Spider by James Patterson

The best fiction book I’ve read, this year at least and possibly ever; although who can top The Partner by John Grisham–I digress. This is a serial killer crime thriller, one of Patterson’s first ever novels published in 1983. The suspense and the build up is terrific, and there’s a great twist at the end which gets you. It’s violent and disturbing, but what do you expect from this kind of genre? Top shelf fiction. 

On Being A Pastor by Derek Prime and Alistair Begg

Improving in my vocation and my particular role as pastor is always high on the priority list each year. And this book was certainly a big help in doing so this year. I really appreciate everything Alistair Begg shares, his sermons, conference messages, and witings. Here he partners up with his former mentor-pastor Derek Prime and they take you through the theological and practical of operating as a pastor. I found this immensely helpful to think about in my role and in developing others in the ministry. It also provided many tips to help in areas of preaching, pastoral care, time management, and the like. This along with some broader chapters dealing with calling and vocation as a whole were useful. 

The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis

Once we got into lockdown for a second time I became obsessed about re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia. Since finishing the series again I have been listening to the theatrical audio series produced by the BBC and others. I’ve been listening to them as audiobooks while in the car and doing chores, and they were easily found on YouTube. They’re so good. Anyway, a particular shout out to The Horse and His Boy and also The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (my favourite of the series). If you’ve never read this series of seven short books that detail the story of Narnia then do yourself a favour. Lewis is such a good writer and his illusions to the Christian life are throughout. 

The Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren

I’ll admit, there was a theme in my reading regarding spiritual practices. This was another of at least 3-4 I read overall this year. Warren really writes in an engaging way, she’s so good. And here in The Liturgy of the Ordinary she writes in the intersection of ordinary life and the Christian faith. She takes big theological understandings and helps us see their relevance in the mundane everyday practices and rhythms of life. Whether it is waking up and making your bed, to preparing food and eating with others, or doing the dishes after a meal, each has relevance to the Christian life and at times it’s a mindblow. I highly recommend getting your hands on this, I even borrowed it from the local library! 

Owen on The Christian Life by Matthew Barrett and Michael Haykin

Each year I usually read a few biographies and this year I landed on John Owen. Owen is a Puritan from the 17th century, and extremely influential in the Reformed and Presbyterian church. This book details his life alongside the theological contributions he has made to the faith. Owen is well-known for his writings and sermons, particularly around the doctrines of the Trinity, communion with God, and sin and sanctification. For example, when writing about communion with God he says:

“When the believer has a taste of this communion with his Savior, sin is bitter on the tongue. Furthermore, says Owen, the believer is on guard against sin, lest it should interrupt and disrupt this sweet communion he enjoys so much with his Savior. Owen writes: When once the soul of a believer hath obtained sweet and real communion with Christ, it looks about him, watcheth all temptations, all ways whereby sin might approach, to disturb him in his enjoyment of his dear Lord and Saviour, his rest and desire. How doth it charge itself not to omit any thing, nor to do any thing that may interrupt the communion obtained!”

Great book. Have a read. 

The Sermon on the Mount by DA Carson

I hung out reading the Sermon on The Mount for most of the year. It goes hand in hand with the themes of spiritual disciplines and grounding faith in action, among other things. And so to help understand the various sections of the sermon I read Carson’s commentary on it alongside. Carson is always clear, concise, and compelling. He’s one of the best commentators in the world and is highly regarded. This was originally a series of lectures turned into a brief commentary. Whether devotionally like me, or for preaching and teaching, I’d recommend dipping into this one. 

Anyway, there’s my list for this year. Let me know what you read and enjoyed this year, I’ll add it to my list!

Podcast: #38 of The Sean & Jon Show

Well here it is folks, a year gone by,
We’ve battled, we’ve won, we’ve laughed we’ve cried.

And while it’s a tough year when we look to review,
It’s a year I’ve loved, just podcasting with you

We’ve talked COVID, Quarantine, and everything in between.
And our emotional state has always been easily seen.

Three weeks in and we were mourning being apart, 
We did not know the distance from the end to the start.

We’ve talked Lycra and pets,
Televangelists and awkward texts.
 
We’ve critiqued sermons and each other, 
Eaten spicy food, and disc golf with brothers,
 
Jon has gotten real old, and keeps getting older, 
While Sean is young Spurgeon, and his preaching gets bolder.
 
We have screamed from our porches, and felt the COVID dread,
As Jon demolished Supercoach and let it go to his head.
 
We have had guest speakers, and forgotten about Sean,
We’ve talked mental illness, and mowing our lawns.
 
We played table tennis to fight slavery, 
And seen how poor supervision let Jon’s hamsters be free.
 
We’ve talked Easter, Christmas, and swimming in seas,
We’ve gone from life, to lockdown, to finally being free.
 
Well what a time it has been, to grow through this season.
And as we look at each moment, it’s hard to see rhyme or reason.
 
But through it all, in every moment and strife,
We have seen God’s eternity meet ordinary life.
 
And through every trial we know we withstood,
Even in COVID, God is good.

You can listen here, and also subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Published: Choosing Love by Heidi Johnston

After a long absence I had a book review published at TGCA recently. I wasn’t really the intended audience of Choosing Love by Heidi Johnston, however it was still worth the read. It would be particularly helpful for parents to talk through with their daughters, or a youth ministry leader with their youth group or small group.

You can find the review here.

“From the outset, Johnston puts these themes of love, relationships, marriage and sex into perspective by reminding us that we are all created in God’s image: made for relationship, and therefore are to express our love and desire for one-another in the way God intends. The foundation of the imago dei, and the defining of love as that which comes from God, and shown through his Son Jesus, is an important truth to be understood for teenagers and adults alike.”

Other writing can be found here

My Top Books of 2019

Well, it’s that time of year folks.

The unveiling of the top books I’ve read for 2019.

Exciting, isn’t it?!

Continuing my long-standing tradition of pretentiously blogging a list of books I read and rated highly, I submit my 2019 edition to you.

Oh, and here’s the previous years if you wish to read those lists too: 2014201520162017, 2018.

My Top Books of 2019

Excellent. This is an excellent book. Theology of sleep. Theology of rest. Theology of living by grace. Theology of sustaining ministry. Excellent. I don’t think I could’ve started the year off with a better book. In this age of hurry, burnout, and distraction this book is a good reminder we need to slow-down in this hurried life.

A different approach from Grisham in some ways. I found the storyline great, although I know plenty of people who didn’t. As usual it’s fast-paced, full of intrigue, and picking up themes of race and culture in the American South.

I haven’t read this since I read a children’s version when a child. It was good to listen to the audiobook and I found myself reminded of how good the story of ‘Christian’ is. Some terrific Christian themes and a good reminder of what it takes to remain faithful and persevere in the marathon that is the Christian life.

This was the best youth ministry book I read all year. It only came out mid-year and I was keen to get my hands on it. As I wrote in a review:

I have not read a youth ministry book which actually quotes Hebrew and Greek in its pages. But now I have. And it’s not just quoted for McGarry to look scholarly, it’s quoted to show the meaning behind a number of texts in the Old and New Testaments that build towards the book’s aim of,

…presenting a clear and simple but thoroughly biblical framework for thinking about youth ministry as the church’s expression of partnership with the family for co-evangelising and co-discipling the next generation. (p3)

Sam Allberry writes really well about biblical sexuality and same-sex attraction. A same-sex attracted minister himself, Allberry writes this brief book about the biblical understanding of homosexuality and what it means for those who are same-sex attracted. I found this a very helpful primer on these themes.

Continuing in a similar vein, DeYoung dives deep into the various passages in the Bible which speak of homosexuality. Furthermore, he writes to those who are critics of Biblical sexuality seeking to winsomely show the fault in their understandings. It is very good on the exegetical front and a good resource for teaching on such a topic.

For a personalised summary of all the books I read this year you can check out my Goodreads infographic for 2019.

Exploring The Habits of The Christian Life: Reading The Bible For Application

In recent time I’ve been exploring what modern Christianity would call the ‘spiritual disciplines’. These are the habits, the actions, the lifestyle, the regular practices, which shape spiritual formation for the self.

As you can imagine these practices are centred around the Word and prayer. However, they also bring with them other practices that can help in our communion with God (think: fasting, solitude, silence, giving etc). And in the end that is the purpose of these practices, to help in our communion with God, leading us to enjoying Him in greater depth.

Modern proponents of the spiritual disciplines are people like Dallas Willard, Eugene Peterson, Richard Foster, Donald Whitney and others. But generally when reading their books they are often footnoting the divines of ages past. This week, as I’ve been reading David Mathis’ book, The Habits of Grace, one such quote from the Puritan preacher Thomas Watson caught my eye enough to highlight. He writes,

“Take every word as spoken to yourselves. When the word thunders against sin, think thus: “God means my sins;” when it presseth any duty, “God intends me in this.” Many put off scripture from themselves, as if it only concerned those who lived in the time when it was written; but if you intend to profit by the word, bring it home to yourselves: a medicine will do no good, unless it be applied.”

How often do we read the Bible and seek to apply it to ourselves in a way that brings it home to ourselves? Often we can read the Bible for the sake of understanding more of the Bible, it’s history, it’s context, the people it was originally written to, but how often do we apply it to ourselves in a way that means we need to apply it?

For those of us who have been walking with Jesus for a while, who are familiar with the Bible, and understand many of its contours we can easily skip the application of the text for us.

As Mathis rightfully highlights following this quote, it is important to understand the Word in its context, how it relates to Jesus and the cross, before seeking to apply it to ourselves. But after reading it in this way, do we take the next step in applying it for ourselves, meditating on it to find where it may be speaking to us, insightfully helping us to see how we may need to change our thinking or actions?

Published: A Biblical Theology of Youth Ministry by Michael McGarry

A friend of mine from the USA, Mike McGarry, recently published this great book, A Biblical Theology of Youth Ministry. It’s an excellent read, and a much needed contribution on the theological foundations for youth ministry.

I reviewed the book and had the review published at TGCA. You can read the whole thing here.

Screen Shot 2019-09-06 at 10.43.43 am

You can find my review of A Biblical Theology of Youth Ministry here.

 

Published: The Power of Two by Danny Hunt

My friend and colleague, Danny Hunt, recently wrote a book about being a second-chair leader. That is, a leader that has a boss.

It’s a short book but packed with wisdom and reflection from his 30-plus years of experience in church leadership. It is aimed mainly at those who are involved in church life, but would be suitable for other industries as well.

I was fortunate to read the book recently and have a review of it published on TGC Australia.

You can find it here.

Published: Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry

I recently read the book Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry.

It’s a book I’d highly recommend. And it is a book I found time to write a reflection on to better process some of the content.

As it happens, I’ve had that reflection published as a book review at The Gospel Coalition Australia site. You can read it here.

“I couldn’t be more different from Jackie Hill Perry.

I’m a man, she’s a woman.

I’m white, she’s black.

I’m from the wealthier side of Melbourne, Australia. Jackie is from a rougher area in Chicago, USA.

I’m hetero, she’s a former lesbian.

There’s a few differences, yet at the same time we now find ourselves brother and sister in Christ. No matter the differences of the past, or the differences now, our stories intersect as part of God’s grander story in Christ. And what a privilege that is having now read Jackie’s memoir, Gay Girl, Good God.”

I found it to be a great memoir, exploring the intersection of God’s story upon Jackie’s story as she wrestles with her sexuality and upbringing. It’s well worth reading if you have the time.

The full review can be found here.

Other books I’ve read recently, and written short summaries on, can be found here.

Recently Read: April 2019

Here are some short summaries of books I’ve read recently. I haven’t been reading as much as I’d like in recent time, but here are some of the books I’ve dipped into.

Recently Read_ April 2019

1. The Reckoning by John Grisham

This is the best Grisham book I’ve read in a long time. It is his usual fiction, but this time structured differently as he delves into one of the character’s past in particular detail. This is a very sad story in many ways, but keeps you interested as there are plenty of turns and twists and secrets, only to come together in the final few pages. A great read.

2. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

I hadn’t read The Pilgrim’s Progress properly, well, not that I can remember. I certainly remember the child versions I had when I lived at home. But thanks to Christian Audio I listened to it via their app. It was a great reminder of the trials and joys it is as a believer. This is Bunyan’s classic work and is an allegory for the Christian life, following Christian and his wife and family as they seek the Celestial City.  Definitely worth the read (again) and encouraging for my walk with Jesus.

3. Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry

This is a memoir, which details Jackie’s life as she has wrestled with her sexuality and lesbianism. It tells of the horrific situations she has experienced in her childhood, everything from abuse, to being discarded by her father, to family breakdown, and more. But then she tells of how she has been be called by God to follow Him and in turn find her life transformed. This is a powerful story, and great story that points more to God than it does to Jackie herself. It’s certainly worth the read.

I’ve written a more in-depth review here.

4. Tactics for Teen Ministry by Scott Petty

Scott is a youth minister up in Sydney and has written a whole selection of books for young people. This one targets the youth pastor and volunteers.

I found this book really helpful, and will most likely use some of the content to help train my leaders. It gives a good theological and ministry philosophy foundation at the beginning. The book then moves into more practical and specifics aspects of youth ministry, everything from team meetings, youth group meetings, how to prepare a talk, how to communicate to kids, parents, leaders, and the church etc. It also comes with good resources very clearly laid out in the appendices. And, it’s short – 100 pages or so.

I’d recommend this to any average youth pastor like me.

5. The Autobiography of William Jay by William Jay

I’m still working through this second half of this book but it is excellent. Jay was a minister and preacher in England during the 19th century. He was pastor of Argyle Chapel in Bath for 63 years. His story is amazing; but his reflections on life, discipleship, evangelism, church, and preaching, and writing are even better. He writes these reflections in 19 letters to his children, about ten years prior to his death. There is a wealth of gold in these letters and reflections, some of which I’ll no doubt write about in due course. You can read a little something I wrote about his views of writing memoir and keeping a diary here.


You can also read more book summaries I’ve written at the following posts: 

William Jay On Writing Memoir And Keeping A Diary

For over a decade I’ve wanted to read the autobiography of William Jay, ever since I heard the sketch of his life delivered by Iain Murray. It’s been years in the making, which includes his memoir sitting on my bookshelf for about five of those years. By the looks of it, through my pencil markings in the margins, it seems I’ve tried to read it before but only made it so far. Nevertheless, this past little while has meant I’ve devoured it and come to appreciate much of the content. With slight warning, I think it is highly likely I’ll be using William Jay as a topic for writing and speaking in coming weeks and months!

The memoir portion of this work is set out as 19 letters, written from Jay to his children. They cover much of the main elements of his life and ministry. Astoundingly, he served as the preacher and minister of Argyle Chapel in Bath for 63 years. He has much wisdom and godliness to share. And I should probably mention he lived from 1769-1853.

In his first letter Jay outlines some of the reasons for his writing such a memoir. There seems to have been a slight hesitation about it, even though he was a reasonably prolific writer on spiritual things. One of these reasons is the amount of books, memoir, and autobiography written in his day. Imagine what he’d think of these days when every person in public seems to have a biography written of them, or they feel compelled to put together something themselves.

Jay writes this,

“The present rage for biography is excessive and notorious, such is the voracity of its appetite, that it frequently waits not for the licence which death is supposed to give. It falls upon its prey, and devours it alive; and many a man may be himself the reader of his own character and history, furnished by some anonymous or even know writer.”

Evidently Jay looks down upon those who forcefully push through and write of themselves for all to read.

On the question of what to add into such a memoir Jay reflects on how biographers are a good witness of a person, but that self is the best witness for such a task. He comments on how the public wish to know the salacious details of a persons life rather than being satisfied with the content of the life.

“By a competent writer, the public life of an individual is easily supplied; but people are seldom satisfied without some insight into his more private retreats and recesses. They would know, not what he did, but why he did it. They would know, not only the direction in which he moved, but whether he was led into it by design or accident, and what retarded or aided his progress.”

And Jay also highlights the difference in where the information about a life may come from by making a distinction between memoir and keeping a diary. Jay says,

“A diary regards chiefly a man’s intercourse with God; and the variations of his religious views and feelings there recorded are designed to promote self-acquaintance, and not to divulge himself to others. Such a work is devotional rather than narrator, and will abound with much that is not proper for public observation.”

It is this final quote, with its definition of what a diary is, that I find interesting.

Keeping a diary or a journal is a great way to note down the events and feelings of a particular day, circumstance, or season. Moreover, it is a terrific way to reflect and commune with God. In a diary we can write what we are feeling about what God is doing, through his Word or through others, in a private manner. It is through a diary we can find ourselves learning more of how we are to think of who God is. And we can come to find ourselves writing in a devotional frame of mind, pondering and thinking on the things of God.

In a day and age where the temptation to think and share our thinking publicly through our social media streams this is refreshing. There are private thoughts meant only for private consumption. The ability to reflect for ourselves, and keep it private, is best for all parties–ourselves and others. While we may be tempted to share the all and sundry of our life perhaps it’s best to begin with a diary and actually work out what we think, believe, and hope.