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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Storm-Tossed Family | Book Review


After a years-long journey from foster care to adoption, my wife, son and I welcomed our two girls into their forever family on Friday, December 9, 2016. Family and friends crowded into the courtroom to witness the formal adoption ceremony. Afterward, we trooped over to our house for cake and presents for our daughters. Their adoption was a joyous event, well worth celebrating.

And yet, as is always the case with adoption, a tragedy lurked in the shadows. You cannot build an adoptive family unless a tragedy, neglect or abuse has broken the biological family first. And though our girls are young, they have memories of their bioparents, and thus an inchoate sense of loss.

The family makes us and breaks us. It is the source of celebrations and tragedies. Our highest joys and our deepest pains typically come from no place like home.

Commentators often speak of “the crisis of the family” when they talk about long-term, systemic changes to the nuclear family that have occurred over the past few generations. These changes include increased levels of nonmarital cohabitation and childbirth, high percentages of marriages ending in divorce, and the rise of nontraditional family structures. When I picked up Russell Moore’s The Storm-Tossed Family, I assumed it would be a polemic addressing the decline of family values in our nation and arguing for a return to those values.

As much as such a polemic may be needed, and as much as Moore would be the person to write it, that isn’t what this book is about. (Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, well-known for his thoughtful conservatism, both theological and political.) It is not about “the crisis of the family” in general as much as it is about “the crises in my own family” in particular, that is, the milestone events in a family’s life cycle, whether for good or bad.

More than that, it is a Christian account of those milestone events, one that interprets them through a cruciform hermeneutic, one that shows “how the Cross shapes the home,” as the book’s subtitle puts it. Three points stood out to me particularly.

First, family values are not ultimate. “The kingdom is first,” Moore writes; “the family is not.” This sounds radical, and it is, but what else should we make of Jesus’ teaching that His disciples must “hate” their family members (Luke 14:26). Moore rightly notes that hate here means “priority of affection” rather than “hostility or disrespect.” Still, the priority of the Kingdom reminds us that humans can turn any good thing into an idol, even the family. By contrast, he argues, if “we give up our suffocating grasp on our family — whether that’s our idyllic view of our family in the now, our nostalgia for the family of long ago, our scars from family wounds, or our worries for our family’s future — we are then free to be family, starting with our place in the new creation family of the church.”

Second, and building directly on the first point, family is more than the nuclear family. The focus of The Storm-Tossed Family is dad, mom and kids because that’s a fundamental building block of humanity. But the New Testament treats the Church itself as a family. It portrays the Church as the bride of Christ and also as a fellowship of adopted siblings who have one Father in heaven, for example. Regarding those outside the Church, those without a spouse or kids, Moore asks fellow Christians: “Will they hear from us the good news that Jesus invites them, and us, into a family we never could have imagined, a family united through not the blood in our veins but the blood shed from his?”

Third, family points to the gospel. “The family is one of the pictures of the gospel that God has embedded in the world around us,” Moore writes. “Through a really dark glass, we can see flashes in the family of something at the core of the universe itself, of the Fatherhood of God, of the communion of a people with one another.” A family’s joys point to the greater joys of the Kingdom. Its sorrows point them to the Cross, where Christ both suffered and saved. In the depths of misery, family members can look to Christ on the cross and know, “Oh, the Lord redeems all of that.”

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.”

Book Reviewed
Russell Moore, The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home (Nashville: B&H Books, 2018).

P.S. If my review helped you form an opinion of the book, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Russell Moore on Why Christians Should Fight for the Religious Liberties of False Religions


Over at The Gospel Coalition, Russell Moore explains why Christians must advocate religious freedom for adherents of non-Christian religions too.