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I like to read. I like to read for self, whether for study or for fun. I want to continue to cultivate this habit as it sharpens my mind and often carries my thoughts to the throne room of heaven. If I had to summarize my year I would say that much of my heart (time and money) was placed into books. That is not to say that words have replaced friends but my hope would be means to help me love horizontally and vertically. I would say that I have read more for myself this past year than the previous ten years combined and have seen much fruit borne from endeavors, from both the Bible and extracurricular reading. Much of this was possible due to my convictions in spending time well and guarding myself from vanity. I do not think the puritans were far off when they said the two best uses of time are spent in prayer and reading, which are clearly not mutually exclusive. The apostle says to give thyself unto reading and I pray that I have honored that calling. The Bible is obviously the greatest and most marvelous book which goes without saying – the following list are merely supplementary. I also read some things that in all honesty, would qualify as duds (Spiritual Leadership by Oswald Sanders comes to mind) so some books will go unmentioned on this post. Again, these are in no particular order because they have helped me in different areas. I would be happy to expand on a book recommendation, just shoot me a message! If you do not trust me, check out the Amazon reviews.
Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, by Tim Challies
This would be the shortest of the five books on this list. I read this on Alex Yi’s suggestion. This is a very helpful book, giving clear and necessary exhortations to a primary purpose of Scripture which leads to the necessary goal of the Christian life. He unpacks how discernment leads to holiness, with without no one shall see the Lord. It was a foundational book for me because I began to shape much of my Bible reading from principles Challies explains. It is well written, easy to read, and there are lots of examples – there are even study questions for every chapter! Paul Hsu and I read it over the summer together and traded answers for the q’s at the end of every chapter which was helpful for processing the book. I definitely recommend this one!
Systematic Theology, by Wayne Grudem
Hmm, there is not a whole lot to say … or there is too much to say for this book. I actually started this book between my freshmen and sophomore year but I finished it this last quarter. Never mind I fibbed – I stopped right before the last section on the end times only because I figure I will know how all those things work out when Jesus comes back and there is a lot of debate over that stuff. Regardless the first 1000 pages are helpful to say the least. I would say the first 100 or so pages on the doctrine of Scripture were vital to my understanding of the necessity of the Bible. I read it straight through which I am not sure I would recommend. For the most part I simply read through the chapters while briefly thinking over the discussion questions. I outlined the “Ordus Salutis” part of the book, which are the ten or so steps of salvation, but other than that there was just a lot of information to absorb. I appreciate Grudem because he is easy to read and he quotes the Bible a lot. I know some people knock on systematic theology as a field in general, but this was a very helpful read and continues to be a good reference guide. It is intimidating at first but well worth the endeavor.
Mission of God, by Christopher Wright
I read this on Pastor Aaron’s recommendation and it did not fail to disappoint. I decided to take up PA’s bold Bible study declaration that apart from understanding Genesis 12:1-3, you would have difficulties understanding the Bible and this was the book he pointed me to. This book blew me away: I was astounded by the coherency of Scripture and how Christ really is the central message of the Old Testament and New Testament. Wright is an OT scholar so he relies heavily on the OT to magnify God’s ultimate story. This book was perhaps the most theologically mind-blowing Christian piece of literature I have ever read to date. It is not particularly hard to read but some chapters do lean on the dry side. However if you want to understand the Bible and its primary message I would point you first to Wright’s book. It is a little intimidating (600+ pages), but believe me it is well worth the read. From Genesis to Revelation this thick and often confusing book called the Bible will make a lot more sense.
A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, by William Law
William Tell writes in such a way that there can only be one response: discomfort. The reason why I downloaded the PDF book was because some good friends of mine, namely C.S. Lewis, George Whitefield, and the Wesley brothers said this was integral to their growth as young Christians – I can now see why. I do not know what it is about the mannerisms of dead white guys, but they speak clearly and often bluntly to my soul even though they are hundreds of years removed from my time. Generally this is a book about discipline and holiness but it hit me where it hurts most. It touches on topics of prayer, money, time, and vanity. It hits on character and practical things that Christians can improve if they would only think deeply about the subject. This book destroys but also builds back up … and it is free here. http://www.jesus.org.uk/vault/library/law_serious_call.pdf
Cross of Christ, by John Stott
This book is all about the Gospel and communicates the truths powerfully. If your heart desires to be filled with a thousand songs singing the glories of Calvary, this book will incline your heart to the truths and glory of what Jesus has done for men. It is longer than the average Gospel book (certainly longer than the standard Cross-centered life) but is helpful even in noting the response we ought to have. This is a well-written and timeless classic. Much thanks to Josh, Mike, and Tammy for the gift!
Honorable Mention: Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, by Martin Luther (FREE); The Theology of Holiness, by Dougan Clark (FREE); The Ministry of Intercession A Plea for More Prayer, by Andrew Murray (FREE); George Whitefield, by Arnold Dallimore; Son of Hamas, by Mosab Yousef; Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis; Freaknomics, by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt; The Blank Bible (portions), by Jonathan Edwards; The Diary of David Brainerd (portions), by David Brainerd edited by Jonathan Edwards
I also started and finished a short classic over the past few days, Thoughts for Young Men, by J.C. Ryle. This is a thrice excellent read which I heartily recommend to any male (and female). It is small, between 40 to 60 pages depending on the book format, but serves as a good reminder for anyone who is young. Best of all, it is also free so do not miss the following link! http://www.wholesomewords.org/etexts/ryle/ryleyouth.pdf