My 14 Favorite Books in 2018


I read many good books in 2018. Here are my 14 favorites, alphabetized by author’s last name. For each, I’ve excerpted a paragraph from my review of the book and provided a link to the full review on Amazon. If you like my review of a particular book (or of all of them), please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page for it. That will help me to achieve my #NerdGoal of being a Top 100 Reviewer on Amazon. I’m currently ranked 351st.

Ryan T. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally (Encounter)
Popular culture and political action may have normalized transgender identity, but Anderson reminds readers how radical it is. “At the heart of the transgender moment are radical ideas about the human person — in particular, that people are what they claim to be, regardless of contrary evidence. A transgender boy is a boy, not merely a girl who identifies as a boy.” This is a metaphysical claim, one that needs to be subjected to more scrutiny than it has been. When Harry Became Sallyoffers a multidisciplinary critique of transgender identity

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Mary Eberstadt, How the West Really Lost God (Templeton Press)
I haven’t yet written a full-blown review of this one yet, but here’s what I have up on Amazon right now:

Eberstadt is to be commended for writing a thought-provoking book, even if you don’t agree with all her thoughts. At a certain level of abstraction, I think the Family Factor makes sense as an explanation—a theory of variation—as to why Christian faith and practice has declined in some places and at some times, and why it has risen at others. At least to a degree. With Eberstadt, I do not think one can entirely discount other explanations, however. Moreover, as a Pentecostal, I don’t track with her fingering sixteenth-century Protestant Reformers as the first link in the chain toward family decline. The centuries between Luther and the 1960s are just too long. Still, I found How the West Really Lost Godan interesting, page-turning read and commend it to you to read.

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Doris Kearns Goodwin,Leadership in Turbulent Times (Simon & Schuster)
The best way to study leadership is to study leaders. How they exercised influence in their contexts provides examples of how we can do so in ours. For this reason, it is paramount for leaders to be well-versed in biography and history, the knowledge of people and their times Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times provides case studies of the leadership of four U.S. presidents at critical junctures in their administrations:

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Timothy Keller, The Prodigal Prophet (Viking)
The ProdigalProphet makes for compelling reading. It explains the meaning of the Book of Jonah in its original context, but it draws out the implications of that meaning for our context. It shows the baleful ways Christians can worship ideological idols, misuse Scripture, and fail to love their neighbors as they should. But it also shows what a gospel-centered mission looks like, as well as how the gospel shapes our relationship with neighbors in our everyday lives.

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Matthew D. Kim, Preaching with Cultural Intelligence (Baker Academic)
America is increasingly diverse, and so are American churches. Matthew D. Kim wants “to prepare twenty-first-century preachers for the realities of congregational diversity in North America and beyond.” To do so, he outlines a “homiletical template” to help preachers more effectively take into account their communities’ diversity in their preaching. He focuses specifically on diversity of denominations, ethnicities, genders, locations and religions. Preaching with Cultural Intelligenceis a must-read for preachers who want to effectively minister to people different from themselves.

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind (Penguin Press)
As I mentioned at the outset of this review, I am serious when I say that every American concerned with the future of our nation’s public discourse and democratic culture should read The Coddling of the American Mind. It stimulated my thinking as a parent and helped form a better opinion of contemporary events as a concerned citizen. As a person, it provided an accessible introduction to cognitive behavioral therapy, identifying the cognitive distortions that misshape our opinions and hence misguide our actions. And it reminded me that people across the aisle from me—politically and religiously—are also intelligent and public-minded and can have things to say I need to hear. So, buy this book. Read it. Then share it.

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Christian B. Miller, The Character Gap (Oxford)
The cover of Christian B. Miller’s book, The Character Gap, has a picture of Gandhi at the top and Hitler at the bottom with a graded spectrum between them. The picture is fitting, for one of Miller’s central theses is that most people are neither as bad as we could be nor as good as we should be. We are, instead, a muddle. The question that arises, then, is how we can become better than we are.

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Russell Moore, The Storm-Tossed Family (B&H Books)
The Lord redeeming the mess we have made of our families constitutes the bulk of Moore’s book. He discusses family milestones such as gender differences, marriage, sexuality, childbearing and adoption, parenting, divorce, trauma and aging. His words are wise, irenic and filled with astute theological insight, often expressed in memorable aphorisms. I’ll conclude with just such an aphorism, for it succinctly captures the theme of the entire book: “The only safe harbor for a storm-tossed family is a nail-scarred home.”

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Jonathan Neumann, To Heal the World (All Points)
Tikkun olam is Hebrew for “to heal the world.” It has become a popular catchphrase among leftwing American Jewish rabbis and social activists. According to them, it is an ancient teaching of Judaism, and therefore a religious foundation for their politics. The only problem is that it isn’t. At least that’s what Jonathan Neumann concludes in To Heal the World. He argues that tikkun olam provides a religious covering for a political ideology that has been arrived at via nonreligious means. And that political ideology is “social justice.”

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Karen Swallow Prior, On Reading Well (Brazos)
I have nothing but praise for this book. It exemplifies how to read well, both in the sense of reading closely and of reading through the lens of moral analysis. Perhaps the highest praise I can give the book is that when I turned its last page, I wanted to read (or re-read) the works of fiction it studied.

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Joy E. A. Qualls, God Forgive Us for Being Women (Pickwick)
Even as hundreds of early Pentecostal women pioneered mission fields and planted churches, they often met resistance from men (typically) who felt the need to put them in their place by limiting their authority in the local church. My friend Joy Qualls explores this tension — between Pentecostal empowerment and hierarchical resistance, especially in the Assemblies of God — in her new book, God Forgive Us for Being Women.

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Hans Rosling, Factfulness (Flatiron Books)
I highly recommend reading Factfulness. Learning about material improvements to the human condition is exciting. But I also recommend it because it offers sound guidance about how to interpret the barrage of information presented to us daily. Knowing how to read, interpret, and filter out the noise in trends is a necessary component of a contemporary worldview, leading to better informed—and hence more productive—action.

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Ed Stetzer, Christians in the Age of Outrage (Tyndale Momentum)
The vicious cycle of outrage and counter-outrage has got to stop, for the good of our culture and for the sake of the gospel. Christians need to demonstrate a better way. After all, if the Church is “the hermeneutic of the gospel,” as Lesslie Newbigin put it, then our unrighteous outrage may lead people away from God, giving Him a bad reputation in the process. You can be outraged or you can fulfill the Great Commission. You can’t do both. That’s why I highly recommend both Christians in the Age of Outrage and its author. If you’d like to see how he deals online with controversial issues in a Christian manner, follow @EdStetzer on major social media. Or check out his blog at ChristianityToday.com.

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Karl Vaters, Small Church Essentials (Moody)
Small Church Essentials isn’t anti-big church by any stretch of the imagination. By the same token, though, it’s not uncritically pro-small church. “Small churches are not a problem, a virtue, or an excuse,” Vaters writes. “Jesus calls every church and every church leader for a purpose,” he concludes, “and He equips us with everything we need to accomplish that purpose.” Regardless of size. If you’re a small-church pastor who wants to increase your own capacity and your church’s capacity for effective ministry, I highly recommend this hopeful, helpful book.

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

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God Forgive Us for Being Women | Book Review


In 1924, Ruth and Elizabeth Weidman — my great-aunt and grandmother, respectively — sailed from the U.S. for China. Like many Pentecostal women, they felt God had called and empowered them to share the gospel as missionaries. Other Pentecostal women felt a similar call and empowerment to minister in the United States.

This call to ministry was part and parcel of their baptism in the Holy Spirit, an empowerment for service promised by Jesus Christ in Acts 1:8 and first realized on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1–11. The apostle Peter interpreted the event of Pentecost as the fulfillment of God’s promise through the prophet Joel, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy… Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17,18, emphasis added; cf. Joel 2:28,29).

These passages, especially alongside Galatians 3:28, seem to equalize the ministries of men and women. Yet Pentecostals also read passages from Paul’s letters — 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:11–15, especially — that appear to order hierarchically men’s and women’s ministries. (I would argue that this hierarchy is more apparent than real.)

Thus, even as hundreds of early Pentecostal women pioneered mission fields and planted churches, they often met resistance from men (typically) who felt the need to put them in their place by limiting their authority in the local church. My friend Joy Qualls explores this tension — between Pentecostal empowerment and hierarchical resistance, especially in the Assemblies of God — in her new book, God Forgive Us for Being Women.

She takes the book’s title from the exasperated complaint of Mae Eleanor Frey, an early Pentecostal evangelist affiliated with the AG. From 1914 to 1935, the Fellowship debated what level of credentials women could hold. In a 1928 letter to a national executive, Frey wrote: “At this last Council I felt like a criminal as they brought up this foolish woman question again …. One felt like asking God to forgive us for being women. There is nothing in the word of God that forbids a woman from preaching the Gospel or conducting a work.”

Qualls is a lifelong AG adherent and professor of communications at Biola University in La Mirada, California. Her book, a revision of her doctoral dissertation, explores how the Fellowship negotiated the tension between the Pentecostal rhetoric of empowerment and the hierarchical rhetoric of authority.

In 1935, the General Council settled this debate, at least in principle, by affirming that God’s call and empowerment to all levels of ministry are equal for men and women. In practice, however, as Qualls shows, there remains a gap between what we believe and how we behave. Though women can receive ordination to all ministry levels by the denomination, they often find the doors to leadership in the local church locked because of their sex.

God Forgive Us for Being Women occasionally makes for difficult reading. This is partly because of the academic tone of the writing, but mostly because it’s heartbreaking to see the challenges women have faced in their efforts to pursue God’s call on their lives. Dr. Jim Bradford, former general secretary of the Assemblies of God, recently preached a sermon that included this exhortation to women in the congregation: “You should never be in a place where men are putting you in your place.” After reading this book, I fervently hope that I never become that kind of man nor the Assemblies of God that kind of Fellowship.

Book Reviewed
Joy E. A. Qualls, God Forgive Us for Being Women: Rhetoric, Theology, and the Role of Women in the Pentecostal Tradition (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

P.P.S. This is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission and will appear in the July-August 2018 print issue of Influence magazine.

Tuesday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Dr. George O. Wood — aka, “Dad” — and I have a wide-ranging conversation on the Influence Podcast about leaving a legacy of influence in ministry. Dad is retiring as general superintendent of the Assemblies of God (USA), and has a lot of wisdom to share about this topic, based on over 50 years of gospel ministry.
  • Dr. Joy Qualls reminds pastors that when a person comes to church, the entirety of what they experience is sending a message. “Too often, when we think about message delivery, we focus only on the pastor’s sermon,” she writes. “I want to challenge that limited notion and encourage the view that the act of moving people toward a response begins the moment they pull into your parking lot…” Joy outlines four questions to help pastors figure out what message their church is actually communicating to attendees.
  • Carter McDaniel reviews Clay Scroggins’ new book, How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge (Zondervan), which released today. Carter summarizes the book’ message this way: “Great leaders lead when they are needed, regardless of their position or level of authority. And great leaders know how to lead when they are in charge because they have been leading that way long before they were in a position of authority.” After you read Carter’s review, listen to my Influence Podcast with Clay Scroggins…then buy the book. It’s really good.

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Tuesday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • I write about the Lord’s Prayer: “we need to remember G.K. Chesterton’s advice: ‘If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.’ Even if we stumble to our knees and mumble through our requests, even if we talk to God inconsistently or incoherently or inconsiderately, it is better that we pray badly than that we not pray at all. Of course, it would be best if we prayed well, but that takes a lifetime of practice, and all of us must start somewhere. So why not start where we are, wherever that may be?”
  • Joy Qualls offers expert advice to preachers about how to break bad verbal habits when speaking: “The frequent use of filler words or other meaningless language can detract from the message and the credibility of the speaker. As communicators of the gospel, how can we keep our delivery uncluttered and on point so that people will hear the Word, not our filler words?”
  • We note a new report form Gray Matter Research about the discrepancy between how much people give and how much they think they give. “Just 8 percent of American donors give 10 percent or more of their household income to charitable organizations and places of worship, the report found. Yet the average donor believes he or she gives 8.4 percent of household income to charitable organizations, not including places of worship — a figure that far exceeds reality.” I wonder if stewardship sermons don’t accomplish their aims because listeners think they’re already giving generously…even though they’re not.

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Monday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Joy Qualls joins me on the Influence Podcast to discuss how to debate hot button social issues well. Perhaps Christianly is the better adverb to use. “In an increasingly pluralistic and polarized culture, this skillset is an absolute must-have for Christian leaders.”
  • We note a new Barna study about how parents’ giving patterns affect their children’s giving patterns. “Respondents who said generosity was extremely or very important to them were most likely to report having extremely or very generous parents. On the other hand, people who placed little or no importance on generosity tended to rate their parents as less generous.” Teach your children well!

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Joy Qualls | Influence Podcast


People in America are increasingly divided ideologically and politically, and our public discourse reflects those divisions. Too often, however, our rhetoric becomes toxic, leading many to worry whether hateful words will result in violent deeds.

This worry came up again last week when Rep. Steve Scalise (R_LA 1st District) and several congressional staffers were shot by a man who didn’t like their politics. Few political disputes result in violence, but this incident is a good reminder to watch how we speak about others in the public square.

This week, I talk to Joy Qualls about how to have a constructive debate about hot-button social issues. In an increasingly pluralistic and polarized culture, this skillset is an absolute must-have for Christian leaders. Qualls is chair of the Communications Department and professor of Communication Studies at Biola University in La Mirada, California…and a personal friend with whom I have occasional disagreements on politics.

Take a listen!