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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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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Three Book Recommendations


Each issue of Influence magazine carries three book recommendations, which I usually write. Here are my three recommendations from the May/June 2018 issue. (They are cross-posted here with permission.) Yesterday, I posted a longer review of Immerse: The Reading Bible, which also appears in that issue.

Celebration of Discipline (40th Anniversary Edition)
Richard J. Foster (HarperOne)
“Superficiality is the curse of our age,” writes Richard J. Foster in Celebration of Discipline. “The desperate need for today is … deep people.” These words ring as true in 2018 as they did in 1978 when Celebration of Discipline was first published. And spiritual disciplines are still the way to produce depth. As Foster summarizes the matter in the book’s new foreword, spiritual disciplines are “the means God uses to build in us an inner person that is characterized by peace and joy and freedom.” If you’re looking for help in overcoming the superficiality and distractedness of the current age, start with this book, which is 40 years young.

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

From Jerusalem to Timbuktu
Brian C. Stiller (IVP Books)
“For two thousand years, the rise and fall of Christian faith has had much to do with renewal and revival,” writes Brian C. Stiller. The last century especially has witnessed the largest sustained movement of people to faith in the Church’s history. In From Jerusalem to Timbuktu, Stiller identifies five “drivers” behind this growth: the Holy Spirit, Bible translation, indigenous leadership, engagement of the public square, and holistic forms of ministry. “Living in the midst of this resurgence,” he asks, “we can’t help but wonder: will it carry on?” The only way to find out is to lean in to the Spirit even more.

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

Small Church Essentials
Karl Vaters (Moody Publishers)
“Your church is big enough,” writes Karl Vaters in Small Church Essentials. “Right now. Today, at its current size.” That’s good news for small-church pastors, but it doesn’t let them off the hook. “Small churches are not a problem,” Vaters writes, but neither are they “a virtue, or an excuse.” What small-church pastors need is a broader understanding of church health and growth. “We are always striving to increase our capacity for effective ministry,” Vaters writes. If you’re looking for “field-tested principles” for leading a small church, check out this hopeful, helpful book.

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

How to Lead a Small Church | Influence Podcast


The vast majority of churches in America are small. In the Assemblies of God, for example, 75 percent of all churches report fewer than 200 people in weekly attendance. Nearly 60 percent report fewer than 100. And nearly one-third report fewer than 50.

Unfortunately, there are few books about how to lead a small church. Karl Vaters’ new book, Small Church Essentials is one of the best, and it’s both hopeful and helpful. (See my review here.)

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I talk to Vaters about the unique challenges and opportunities facing small-church pastors. Vaters is teaching pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California, and an Assemblies of God minister. He blogs regularly about small-church leadership at NewSmallChurch.com.

P.S. This podcast first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com and is posted here with permission.

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