Book Plan for 2020

open-booksLast year, in an effort to read more of the books on my list, I dropped the number of books on my book plan to 24. I still was only able to get through a little more than one third of those books.

It hasn’t discouraged me at all that I’ve never made it through a year having successfully read all the books on my book plan. Life has a way of taking us through twists and turns that we never expected. I find myself picking up books that have sat on my shelf unread for a long time only to find that when I come to that book, it’s the perfect moment in time for its contents to hit me in a way that I will be shaped and formed by it.

Some of these books are carryovers from last year, books that I never finished or didn’t even start. Hoping to get through those. If I can get through half this list, I will be happy. Having a focus is the most helpful thing about this list.

Without further ado, here is my plan. Feel free to comment or add your suggestions. I am always open to hear new thoughts and ideas.

James Baldwin “Notes of a Native Son”

Samuel Chand “Leadership Pain”

Ashley Cleveland “Disunity in Christ”

James Cone “The Cross and the Lynching Tree”

Matthew Everhard “A Theology of Joy”

Dominique Gilliard “Rethinking Incarceration”

Darrell Guder “Missional Church”

Daniel Hill “White Awake”

Wesley Hill “Spiritual Friendship”

Alan Hirsch and Debra Hirsch “Untamed”

Alan Hirsch & Mark Nelson “Reframation”

Zora Neale Hurston “Their Eyes Were Watching God”

John Irving “A Prayer For Owen Meany”

Philip Jenkins “The Next Christendom”

Tim Keller “Ministries of Mercy”

Tim Keller “Center Church”

Jack Kerouac “On the Road”

Stephen King “It”

Patrick Lencioni “The Ideal Team Player”

Alister McGrath “C.S. Lewis”

Sally Morgenthaler “Worship Evangelism”

Michelle Munger “Margins of Grace”

Carey Nieuwhof “Didn’t See It Coming”

John Pavlovitz “A Bigger Table”

Soong-Chan Rah “The Next Evangelicalism”

Alan Roxburgh “The Missional Leader”

Fred Schruers “Billy Joel”

Robin Scruggs “The New Testament and Homosexuality”

Sylvia Thomson-Smith, Johanna W.H. Van Wijk-Bos, et. Al. “Called Out With”

Howard Thurman “Jesus and the Disinherited”

Jemar Tisby “The Color of Compromise”

Frank Viola “Reimagining Church”

Mark Yarhouse “Understanding Gender Dysphoria”

Books Read (and finished) in 2019

20180103_090939In 2019, I read 51 books. That’s down from 2018 when I read 66 books. Of the 51 books that I read, 14 were books that were reviewed for publishers (that’s about 27% of my total 51). 9 of the books were from my reading plan (about 18% of my total 51). My reading plan for 2019 contained 24 books total, so I didn’t quite get through half of the books that I planned to get through.

I’ve been doing this for about 5 or 6 years and I continue to set myself up to be as successful and efficient as possible, but focus has never been one of my strengths and I easily get like a dog with a squirrel when it comes to books. Distracted. But having a list is helpful to provide some amount of focus that I don’t have without it.

Out of all the books that I read in 2019, these were among the top. Two of the five of them have reviews written on them by me, click on the titles to get to those reviews.

Tod Bolsinger “Canoeing the Mountains”

David Kinnaman & Mark Matlock “Faith For Exiles

Will Mancini “Church Unique”

Simon Sinek “Start With Why”

Ryan Thomas “You of Little Faith

Here are the other books read this year:

Mark Achtemeier “The Bible’s YES to Same Sex Marriage”

Vicky Beeching “Undivided”

Nadia Bolz-Weber “Shameless – A Sexual Reformation”

D.A. Carson “Basics For Believers”

Edmund Chan “A Certain Kind”

Francis Chan “Letters to the Church”

Phil Collins “Not Dead Yet”

Andy Crouch “Culture Making”

Dominic Done “When Faith Fails”

David Duchovny “Bucky F*cking Dent”

Shusaku Endo “Silence”

Christopher L. Heuertz “The Sacred Enneagram”

Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers “I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening)

Brian Hunter “The Hunter Equation”

Wayne Jacobsen, Arnita Taylor, and Robert Prater “A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation”

Skye Jethani “Futureville”

Beth Felker Jones “Faithful – A Theology of Sex”

Erik Larson “The Devil in the White City”

Lecrae “Unashamed”

Justin Lee “Talking Across the Divide”

Patrick Lencioni “Death By Meeting”

Tremper Longman III “Confronting Old Testament Controversies”

Bryan Loritts “Right Color Wrong Culture”

Eric Mason “Woke Church”

Alister McGrath “Narrative Apologetics”

Cara Meredith “The Color of Life”

Henri Nouwen “Adam: God’s Beloved”

Barack Obama “The Audacity of Hope”

Kevin Palau “Unlikely”

Jackie Hill Perry “Gay Girl, Good God”

Kara Powell and Steven Argue “Growing With”

Thom Rainer “Scrappy Church”

Jim Russell “Between the Ears”

Fleming Rutledge “Three Hours – Sermons for Good Friday”

Scott Sauls “Irresistible Faith”

Francis Schaeffer “The Church at the End of the 20th Century”

Nelson Searcy and Jennifer Dykes Henson “The New You”

Kim Walker-Smith “Brave Surrender”

Steven K. Smith “Ghosts of Belle Isle”

Ron Stallworth “Black Klansman”

P.L. Travers “Mary Poppins”

Dee Ann Turner “Bet On Talent”

Timothy B. Tyson “The Blood of Emmett Till”

Dan White Jr. “Love Over Fear”

Albert L. Winseman, D. Min, Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D., and Curt Liesveld, M. Div. “Living Your Strengths”

J.R. Woodward “Creating a Missional Culture”

Ravi Zacharias “The Logic of God”


Book Plan for 2019

Library with a book ladder and lampWhen it comes to focus, I’m not always very good. At this point in my life though, I’ve learned that it’s a weakness and so I’ve tried my best to create guardrails along the way that help me to stay a little more focused than I naturally would. White boards. Notebooks. Post-It notes. Whatever it takes to help me get brought back to center after veering off the path. Yearly book plans, for me, act as a sort of guardrail to help me stay somewhat focused on what to be reading.

Over the last few years, I’ve been doing this with mild success. Mild success means that I haven’t ever read more than 50% of my list. At the same time, I’ve averaged about five and a half books per month, nothing to shake a stick at. So, success, in my book, isn’t making sure that I conquer my list, it’s helping me stay focused on something. I’ve learned that if I focus on nothing, I’ll hit it every single time.

Still doing my best to diversify my list. I’ve had a knack for choosing non-fiction books that would be most likely categorized as evangelical and Christian and span around two hundred pages. Pretty consistent with that here with a few diversions thrown in here and there for good measure. A few novels. Some books that peers read decades ago. Doing my best to round the list out as best I can.

So, without further ado, here is my list for 2019. This is no promise to get through all these books, it’s just helping me to stay more focused than I would have if left to my own devices.

G.K. Chesterton “Orthodoxy”

Zack Eswine “Preaching to a Post-Everything World”

Matthew Everhard “A Theology of Joy”

Darrell Guder “Missional Church”

John Irving “A Prayer For Owen Meany”

Philip Jenkins “The Next Christendom”

Tim Keller “Ministries of Mercy”

Tim Keller “Center Church”

Jack Kerouac “On the Road”

Stephen King “It”

Erik Larson “The Devil in the White City”

Justin Lee “Talking Across the Divide”

Patrick Lencioni “Death By Meeting”

Will Mancini “Church Unique”

Alister McGrath “C.S. Lewis”

Sally Morgenthaler “Worship Evangelism”

Barack Obama “The Audacity of Hope”

Jackie Hill Perry “Gay Girl, Good God”

Soong-Chan Rah “The Next Evangelicalism”

Alan Roxburgh “The Missional Leader”

Francis Schaeffer “The Church at the End of the 20th Century”

Nelson Searcy and Jennifer Dykes Henson “The New You”

Simon Sinek “Start With Why”

Frank Viola “Reimagining Church”

Like I said, there isn’t a huge expectation that I will complete this list. Fifty percent completion is good for me. There will be book reviews along the way (they accounted for 44% of books read last year). There will also be books that grab my attention along the way, books which have been recommended to me which feel significant enough to me that I need to set other things aside to pursue.

My biggest concern in all of this is that while filling my mind with what’s in these books, I miss what’s going on around me. Doing my best to remain present and focused at the same time.

Books Read in 2018

open-booksIn 2018, I read 66 books. That’s two less than 2017. Of the 66 books that I read, 29 were books that were reviewed for publishers (that’s about 44% of my total). 11 of the books were from my reading plan (about 17% of my total). My reading plan for 2018 contained 30 books total. Considering that I read the same number of books from my reading list in 2017 and 2018, I think lowering the number makes more sense for 2019 (I will post the Reading Plan for 2019 next week).

Out of all the books that I read in 2018, these were among the top. Four of five of them have reviews written on them by me, click on the titles to get to those reviews.

George Barna “The Power of Vision

Michael Frost “Incarnate”

Bryan Loritts “Insider Outsider

Grant Skeldon with Ryan Casey Waller “The Passion Generation

Lance Witt “High Impact Teams


Here are the other books read this year.

Michael Anthony “A Call For Courage”

Sarah Arthur “A Light So Lovely”

Jay Asher “Thirteen Reasons Why”

David and Jason Benham “Miracle In Shreveport”

Chad Bird “Your God Is Too Glorious”

Rosaria Butterfield “Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert”

Rosaria Butterfield “The Gospel Comes With a House Key”

Benjamin Campbell “Richmond’s Unhealed History”

D.A. Carson “The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus”

D.A. Carson “The Cross and Christian Ministry”

Steven Curtis Chapman “Between Heaven & the Real World”

Bruce Cockburn “Rumours of Glory”

Mike Cosper “Faith Among the Faithless”

Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile “The Road Back To You”

Kevin DeYoung “The Hole in Our Holiness”

Nicole Doyley “One – Racial Unity in the Body of Christ”

Rachel Held Evans “Inspired”

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch “The Shaping of Things to Come”

Maria Furlough “Breaking the Fear Cycle”

Keith and Kristyn Getty “Sing!”

Patrice Gopo “All the Colors We Will See”

David Gushee “Still Christian”

Hugh Halter and Matt Smay “And”

Hugh Halter and Matt Smay “The Tangible Kingdom”

Hugh Halter and Matt Smay “The Tangible Kingdom Primer”

Colin Hansen and Jeff Robinson, eds. “12 Faithful Men”

Mo Isom “Sex, Jesus, and the Conversations the Church Forgot”

Kathy Izard “The Hundred Story Home”

Caleb Kaltenbach “Messy Grace”

John Kotter “Our Iceberg Is Melting”

Patrick Lencioni “Getting Naked”

Joseph Loconte “A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War”

Aubrey Malphurs “Developing Emotionally Mature Leaders”

Steve Martin “Born Standing Up”

Knox McCoy “The Wondering Years”

Rick McKinley “Faith For This Moment”

Robert Murray M’Cheyne “Songs of Zion”

Matt Mikalatos “Good News For A Change”

Bart Millard “I Can Only Imagine”

Albert Mohler, Jr. “The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down”

Henri J.M. Nouwen “A Spirituality of Fundraising”

Nancy R. Pearcey “Love Thy Body”

John M. Perkins “One Blood”

Eugene Peterson “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”

Francis Schaeffer “The Church Before the Watching World”

Francis Schaeffer “Escape From Reason”

Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas “Activate”

Jack Shitama “Anxious Church Anxious People”

Ed Stetzer “Planting Missional Churches”

Bryan Stevenson “Just Mercy”

Charles R. Swindoll “Elijah”

Joni Eareckson Tada “When Is It Right To Die?”

Hudson Taylor “The Autobiography of Hudson Taylor: Missionary to China”

J.R.R. Tolkien “The Two Towers”

Chris Tomlin and Darren Whitehead “Holy Roar”

Tish Harrison Warren “Liturgy of the Ordinary”

Timothy Z. Witmer “The Shepherd Leader”

J.R. Woodward and Dan White, Jr. “The Church As Movement”

N.T. Wright “Paul – A Biography”

Justin Zoradi “Made For These Times”

Darlene Zschech “The Golden Thread”

The 2018 Book Plan

20180103_090939This is Year #5 for me doing an annual book plan. I’ve been trying to streamline the process year by year to see if I can get better. Last year, I read 69 books. My book plan had twenty-two books total of which I read eleven. So, 50% isn’t a horrible number, but I certainly want to do my best to move closer to achieving 100% read on my list.

I never used to be the guy who would read halfway through a book and then just leave it, but it’s been happening more and more. A number of the books on my list for this year are books that were started in 2017 or before which I never finished. Call it a Year of Jubilee, trying to play catch up a little bit.

I’ve tried to pepper my list with books that are strictly for enjoyment. Finally going to finish the Lord of the Rings trilogy of books for the first time in my life.

I’ve also got a number of books that are related to my position as a pastor. They run the gamut on topics as my role is fairly diverse. Just like baseball teams have utility players, I feel like I’m a utility pastor in many ways, playing roles across the board and filling in gaps as they need to be filled.

There are 30 books total on this list, a bolder number than the 22 books that were on last year’s list. But I have been intentionally setting aside books over the last few months, piling them up on my desk and keeping them in front of me as I’ve looked towards compiling this list.

As always, I am open to book suggestions. As I’ve posted my Books Read In 2017 post on social media, I have had people make recommendations which I hope to follow through on in 2018.

Here’s hoping for a more successful completion of my list in 2018!

Bill Bryson “A Walk in the Woods”

Steven Curtis Chapman “Between Heaven & the Real World”

G.K. Chesterton “Orthodoxy”

Bruce Cockburn “Rumours of Glory”

Chris Crowley & Henry S. Lodge, M.D. “Younger Next Year”

David Daniell “William Tyndale – A Biography”

Kevin DeYoung “The Hole in Our Holiness”

Shusaku Endo “Silence”

Zack Eswine “Preaching to a Post-Everything World”

Michael Frost “Incarnate”

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch “The Shaping of Things to Come”

Nicky Gumble “Alpha – Questions of Life”

Caleb Kaltenbach “Messy Grace”

Tim Keller “Center Church”

Erik Larson “The Devil in the White City”

Joseph Loconte “A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War”

Barack Obama “The Audacity of Hope”

Stacy Perman “In-N-Out Burger”

Eugene Peterson “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”

John Piper “Brothers, We Are Not Professionals”

Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin “Growing Young”

Soong-Chan Rah “The Next Evangelicalism”

Francis Schaeffer “The Church Before the Watching World”

Francis Schaeffer “The Church at the End of the 20th Century”

James K.A. Smith “You Are What You Love”

Paul Tillich “Dynamics of Faith”

J.R.R. Tolkien “The Two Towers”

J.R.R. Tokien “Return of the King”

J.R.R. Tolkien “The Tolkien Reader”

Tish Harrison Warren “Liturgy of the Ordinary”

Books Read (and finished) in 2016

open-booksIn 2016, I read 52 books. Out of those 52 books, 16 of them were read for publishers and reviewed on my blog. 9 of those books were on my 2016 Book Plan (which consisted of a total of 28 books). So, I struggled again to even hit the 50% mark of books that had been on my plan. While that may be discouraging to some people, it’s not so to me. This is not a science and I just see every year as an iteration to work towards making this process more efficient. If I’m not enjoying what I’m reading and having fun with what I read, there’s really no point in doing any of this.

Seeing as I’m a pastor, the bulk of my reading focused on spirituality. I went on a three month sabbatical this past summer. 3 of the books that I read this year were included in my sabbatical plan. These are the books that I read this year that focused on spirituality: 

Michelle Anthony “Spiritual Parenting”

Eugene Cho “Overrated”

Michael Frost “The Road to Missional”

Bob Goff “Love Does”

J.D. Greear “Gaining By Losing”

Craig Groeschel “#struggles”

Abraham Joshua Heschel “The Sabbath”

Kent Julian “99 Thoughts on Leading Volunteers”

Madeline L’Engle “Walking On Water”

C.S. Lewis “Mere Christianity”

Brennan Manning “The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus”

Russell Moore “Onward”

Steven L. Ogne and Kenneth E. Priddy “The Leadership Ladder”

Eugene Peterson “Five Smooth Stones For Pastoral Work”

Nik Ripken “The Insanity of God”

Bob Roberts, Jr. “The Multiplying Church”

Nelson Searcy “The Renegade Pastor”

John Stott “The Radical Disciple”

Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird “The Multi-Site Church Revolution”

Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird “Multi-Site Church Road Trip”

John Van Sloten “The Day Metallica Came to Church”

Ravi Zacharias “I, Isaac, Take Thee, Rebekah” 

Reviewing books for my blog is a big part of my list (about 30% of the total books that I read). I reviewed the following 16 books for my blog in 2016:

George Barna “America at the Crossroads”

Jimmy Evans & Allan Kelsey “Strengths Based Marriage”

Elyse Fitzpatrick “Home”

Brandon Hatmaker “A Mile Wide”

Michael Horton “Core Christianity”

Bryan Loritts “Saving the Saved”

Erwin Lutzer “Rescuing the Gospel”

Albert Mohler, Jr. “We Cannot Be Silent”

Mac Pier “A Disruptive Gospel”

Matt and Beth Redman “Finding God in the Hard Times”

Judah Smith “How’s Your Soul?”

Scotty Smith “Every Season Prayers”

R.C. Sproul “What Is Reformed Theology?”

Chad Veach “Unreasonable Hope”

Jon Weece “Me Too”

Jared C. Wilson “Unparalleled” 

I also read a few biographies/autobiographies (not sure all of these qualify for that category, but if they were on the edge, I put them here):

George W. Bush “41 – A Portrait of My Father”

Alan Chambers “My Exodus: From Fear to Grace”

Martin Dugard “To Be A Runner”

Laura Hillenbrand “Unbroken”

Jennifer Knapp “Facing the Music”

Nabeel Qureshi “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus”

Gene Simmons “Kiss and Make Up”

I tried to branch out and read some books that focused on business, marketing, or other leadership principles. Here are those books:

Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves “Emotional Intelligence 2.0”

Jim Collins “Good To Great”

Seth Godin “Tribes”

Patrick Lencioni “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”

I didn’t read many novels this year, just one to be exact, but I did read a few plays by August Wilson after hearing about him over the years. Here are the novels and plays that I read:

Stephen King “11/22/63”

August Wilson “Gem of the Ocean”

August Wilson “Fences”

While the books that I read in 2016 can’t very well be called diverse, I think I had a fairly decent mix of genres this year. I will continue to try to mix things up this year. My Book Plan for 2017 can be seen here.


After the publishing of this post, I started and finished “How Full Is Your Bucket?” by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton. It’s tied into some of what I did on my sabbatical and actually brings my total books read number up to 53 to equal my total in 2015.

Book Plan for 2017

Library with a book ladder and lampThis is my fourth year of putting together a reading plan. I’ve still not got a good rhythm on it. I think there are far too many unknowns for me and there are far too many good books out there that I am longing to read. So, I’ll keep plugging away and trying.

I’m trying to broaden my horizons a little bit more. I’ve been feeling a pull to more diversity in my plan, so I’m adding some touches here and there. I know that there will be blog books as well, books that I will review for my blog, which is always an unknown. I’m, never quite sure just what kinds of books will be offered, so it’s hard to predict those books. 

My plan for 2017 will be to lessen the number of books in the plan in hopes that I will be able to be more efficient in reading books from this list. It hasn’t gone well in the past when I have tried to read books on my plan when I’ve had an extensive list. Out of the 28 books on my plan for 2016, I only finished 9 of them, but I still managed to read 52 books for the year, one less than 2015, an average of one book per week. 

Maya Angelou “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”

Rachel Held Evans “Evolving In Monkey Town”

Victor Frankl “Man’s Search for Meaning”

Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch “ReJesus”

Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon “Resident Aliens’

Howard V. and Edna H. Hong, editors “The Essential Kierkegaard”

Walter Isaacson “Steve Jobs”

Tim Keller “Center Church”

Tim Keller “Preaching”

Stephen Mansfield “The Search for God and Guiness”

Brenda Salter McNeil “Roadmap to Reconciliation”

Matt Mikalatos “My Imaginary Jesus”

Jürgen Moltmann “A Broad Place”

Flannery O’Connor “The Complete Stories”

Andrew Peterson “The Warden and the Wolf King”

David Platt “Counter Culture”

Preston Sprinkle “Living In a Gray World”

Preston Sprinkle “People To Be Loved”

John Steinbeck “Of Mice and Men”

Howard Thurman “Jesus and the Disinherited”

Mark Twain “How To Tell A Story and Other Essays”

N.T. Wright “Simply Jesus”

This is my plan which I know will most likely shift and change a little bit, but if I don’t start out with something, I’ll have a hard time hitting anything.

Would love to hear about some of your favorite books and whether or not you have interacted with any on this list.

Happy reading!

At Just the Right Time

IMG_4276I love to read. It’s not uncommon for me to be in the middle of 3 or 4 books at a time. I have stacks of books that I am waiting to get into. I have a reading plan that I do my best to follow throughout the year (check it out here). I review books here on my blog. People give me books that they recommend.

With all of the books that I have waiting in the wings to be read, I don’t always follow an order or a linear path. I’ll often put aside some books and pick up others that weren’t even on my radar before I pick them up.

I say all this because I am constantly amazed at the countless times in life when I have pulled a book off of my shelf that has sat their idle for months or even years only to have it drip with relevance as soon as I start reading it. It seems that the moment I crack the book open and begin reading was ordained so much that it hits me square between the eyes, speaking to me in the intimacy of my own thoughts and exposing me at the very moment in which I find myself. It’s almost as if I had purposely waited for just that moment to begin reading.

A few weeks ago, I finally got around to a book that had been on my radar for at least a year, Brennan Manning’s “The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus.” My lead pastor and friend had recommended it sometime last year. I ordered it, put it on my shelf, and then promptly forgot about it.

As I journey through the sabbatical that I am on, it seemed incredibly relevant for me to read these words, “Am I getting too serious about life? Have I let my sense of childlike wonder fade? Am I so caught up in preaching, teaching, writing and traveling that I no longer hear the sound of rain on the roof?” As those words jumped off the page at me, I silently snickered as I thought of how apropos these words were for such a time as I am in.

In the middle of a section of the book where he talks about Christmas, I read the above phrase. It struck me as even more relevant because for the past few years, I have worked hard to slow myself down in the midst of one of the busiest times of the year: Christmas. I’ve realized that the four weeks of Advent can too easily be lost to me if I don’t intentionally journey through them.

But these words could hardly be relegated to just the Advent season. Looking at my children, I can see that childlike wonder of which Manning speaks if I simply stop and pay attention. If I look hard enough and silence myself and all that is within me long enough, I can see a living example of wonder right there before my very eyes.

To read this during a sabbatical seemed like so much more than just coincidence. It was as if I was supposed to be reading it at this time and place in my life.

No sooner had I read these words about slowing down and taking things in then I read this, “The early Christians considered themselves supermen not because of superhuman willpower but because of reliance on the supernatural power of the Spirit.” I was pretty sure that I had said something similar in a sermon as one of my “go to” Greek words is the word dunamis which means, “power.”

These two points were incredibly relevant and poignant to read in this season of life. Reminders to not take myself too seriously and to try to keep a childlike wonder about myself, but also a reminder that I’m not nearly as important as I might convince myself and that the power that I have to do things doesn’t originate from me.

As John the Baptist said, “I must decrease and he must increase.” The Apostle Paul spoke of his boasting in his weakness and his boast being in Christ alone. My confidence and strength resides within me, but it does not originate within me, it comes from outside of me, and I can never forget that.

Brennan Manning continues to stretch me and challenge me every time that I engage one of his works. I am not nearly as gracious to myself as I need to be. I far too often find my flaws and flagellate myself with them rather than releasing them or, as Paul did, rejoicing in them. My flaws don’t show my weakness so much as they show Christ’s strength, and that’s an important distinction that I can’t forget.

I know that there will be other books that have been collecting dust on my shelves, waiting for me to pick them up, that will speak to me at the particular and specific moment in which I pick them up. It’s happened far too many times to be considered coincidence. For now, I’ll rest in the lessons that I’ve learned in this reading and do my best to savor them and soak them in.

Core Christianity – A Book Review

core christianityWords matter. So does what you believe. When you can express in words what you believe, you’re doing very well. Beliefs that help you connect your story to the bigger story are important as well. Michael Horton believes that this is essential and the key element to living our lives. He writes, “The plot with Christ as the central character ties it all together. Every story in the Bible points not to us and how we can have our best life now, but first to Christ and how everything God orchestrates leads to redemption in him.”


Horton’s “Core Christianity” is a primer of sorts on theology and the basics of the Christian faith. He brings the reader through some key and essential beliefs and teachings in Christianity. He covers Jesus, who he is and how he fits into the bigger God picture of the Trinity. He talks of God’s goodness and greatness and the problem with evil. He addresses God’s Word, both the written word and the incarnation, the Son in flesh and blood. Horton also writes of sin, death, and everything after.


Horton addresses these topics with a conversational approach that adequately gets his point across without getting bogged down in hefty language. When there are topics or terms that he feels may need a more focused approach, he sets them off to the side in the column to specifically address certain terms and topics. It’s a helpful approach that leaves the reader feeling more informed and better able to continue on through the book.


The lens through which Horton is addressing these topics is important to understand for the reader. Horton has a Reformed and covenantal approach towards the theological topics which he addresses. That’s not to say that he does it poorly, he does not, but those who may approach these theological topics from a different camp would be best served understanding this at the outset.


Ultimately, Horton addresses these topics with the reader in order that the reader can best approach their life. In fact, Horton writes, “What I mean is that, ironically, it is only when we know how to die properly that we finally have some inkling about how to truly live here and now.” In order for us to truly live, we need to have a better understanding of how to die. It’s a topic which may seem a bit out of place amidst the subject matter until one realizes that Horton’s goal is to connect the reader to a story that exists outside of themselves.


As Horton wraps up the material in the book, he address the topic of God’s will in our lives. It seems that Christians have become very good at obsessing on this subject. Horton speaks of the “calling” which is a common term among Christians. Many may seek to find God’s explicit will for their lives, wanting the details of just what it is that they are called to do with their lives. Horton writes, “Don’t worry about the other callings – especially those that may lie in the future. Just be who God has called you to be right where you are, with the people he has called you to serve.” Glory to God becomes the primary calling that Horton emphasizes.


I’ve read other books my Michael Horton and have appreciated them. This book does not share anything earth shattering or new, but Horton does condense some hefty material into one hundred and seventy pages. This isn’t a book which needs an advanced degree or seminary degree to appreciate and understand. Horton has a way of approaching these topics with sensitivity, class, and intelligence without losing the reader along the way. As I read the book, I thought about people who I could possibly share this with to give some explanation of these topics.


As I said, the information that Horton shares in this book is not new, but he shares it in such a way that it can easily be understood by the average person seeking to dig deeper in their understanding of Christianity. Loftier and thicker works may exist which cover these same topics, but Horton’s book is a simple and easy way to give someone an overview. It may serve as an appetizer for some and a main course for others, either way, Horton does his job well and “Core Christianity” is a worthwhile resource for anyone who wants simple and easily explained methods of talking about theology.


(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

On the Job Training

learningSince I graduated from college, I’ve spent two decades in two distinctly different fields of work. I graduated with a civil engineering degree and worked for consultants while I got a Master’s degree in environmental engineering.

After 10 years in engineering, I felt a call to go into full-time vocational ministry. I was called to be a pastor in a church in Asheville, North Carolina. The denomination in which I was serving did not care so much that I didn’t have a seminary degree, they were more concerned with what I believed and whether or not I really felt that God was calling me to do this. I eventually went to seminary, successfully achieving a graduate degree in both of the fields of work in which I had spent my time.

In both my engineering career and my ministry career, I experienced on the job training. Most of the things that I had to do once I started as a consulting engineer were not things that I had been directly taught in college or in graduate school. I had a great mentor for those first few years in engineering who showed me an awful lot. We got along fairly well, which was helpful considering the amount of time that we spent together.

The same was true when I went into ministry. Considering that I had not gone to seminary when I had first started as a pastor, I felt that I was even more behind the eight ball. Every week, I was reading two or three books about ministry or theology or some subject that was relevant to what I was doing. In those first few years as a pastor before I went to seminary, I was learning on the job and I was soaking in any and every nugget of information that I could find in the books that I read, the people that I met, and the experiences that I had.

My doctor while I was in high school and through college was a doctor that my parents had used for a number of years. He was a nice guy, personable and winsome with a great bedside manner. As can often be the case with those kinds of doctors, we would get to chatting whenever I would go to the office for a checkup or visit. In our conversations, I discovered as I was getting ready to go off to college that he had graduated from my alma mater, Lehigh University.

I’ll never forget what he said to me that day. He told me that he had gone to medical school up at Yale. I thought about how smart he must have been and imagined where my next move would be after college. But he told me that he had a harder time getting good grades at Lehigh than he had at Yale. I kind of scratched my head considering all that I had heard about Ivy League schools. Then he said, “The thing is, at Lehigh they taught me how to learn.” Those words always have stuck in my head, in college, I learned how to learn.

While I rarely touch on the things that I spent hours and hours studying in college, the act and process of learning were just as important, if not more so, than the actual subject matter. Learning how to learn was an important life lesson that set the way for the rest of my life.

Since that day, I’ve laughed often as I’ve taken personality and strengths assessments that tell me of my love for learning. Anyone who knows me knows that on any given day I am probably reading three or four books. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I still have to learn, but that’s not reason to give up, it just makes me hungrier to know more, not so that I can lord it over anyone or brag but so that I can engage with as many people as possible.

I love to talk with new people. I love to hear their story and to know where they’ve been and where they’re going in life. As I delve into different subjects in my life, I find that it helps me to connect with others because I can always find some common topic to vamp on for some amount of time.

I’ve been grateful to have had some pretty great work environments where I can learn as I go. I’ve had some great mentors along the way. It certainly didn’t hurt my entrance into ministry that my dad and I had a good relationship. Having served as a pastor for about 36 years by the time I became a pastor, he was a great mentor to me. I miss him every day and long to have conversations with him, to glean his wisdom, and to hear his insights and thoughts.

As I watch my children grow, I’m thrilled to see a strong love of reading in both of my boys (my daughter hasn’t reached the reading stage yet). That love of reading and of learning will help them wherever they go. I’m looking forward to the day that I can share some of the same insights that have been shared with me. If they crave learning and learn to learn, they’ll go far.