Did you make a resolution or a personal goal to read more Christian books in 2017? I have good news for you. In the past two months, I read awesome Christian books mostly scheduled for publication in 2017, and a couple published in 2016. And I am excited to recommend these books to you.
My personal motto for 2017 is “beyond me.” These simple words summarize the complexity of what it means to follow Christ in the 21st Century. And I strongly believe these books will help you to lead a life that is beyond you – a life that reveals the glory and goodness of Jesus Christ to the world.
7 Powerful Christian Books on Healthy Local Church
I love my church and I love all the churches I have attended in the past five years. But there are some troubling things I noticed in most of these churches: obsession with numbers, programs, professionalism and comfort. As a result, Christ is ignored and easily forgotten.
1. Character of the Church: The Marks of God’s Obedient People by Joe Thorn
I always thought the mark of a healthy church is increased attendance. After all, people go where they’re growing. Yet, the fastest growing in churches in Zimbabwe teach prosperity Gospel and a mild form of divination.
Jesus Christ chose the local to Church to be his hands and feet. However, if the church loses its character it become repulsive or infectious to the people it should be serving. Reading Character of the Church helped me to understand the importance of good preaching, sacraments, biblical leadership, church discipline and incarnational mission in a healthy church.
2. Life of the Church: The Table, Pulpit and Square by Joe Thorn
Is the primary responsibility of the church to make members comfortable or preserve your version of Christianity? No, the primary responsibility of the church is to make disciples. Therefore, ‘theology is incomplete if it is not both experienced and expressed.’
Your church is fully alive only when sound theology is sufficiently and clearly expressed and experienced. You can experience and express theology; when you meet with other believers in an honest and transparent small group, when you’re drawn to the Triune God in a Christ-centered corporate worship, and when you enter the public square full of the Spirit and knowledge.
3. Heart of the Church: The Gospel’s History, Message and Meaning by Joe Thorn
In 2016, I had the privilege of attending church in 3 different continents. Joe Thorn aptly summarized my experience in his opening statement to Heart of the Church, “The church today has a heart condition.” Sadly, church growth experts prescribe ‘new programs or innovative marketing tactics,’ which evidently fail to address the heart problem.
How do we address the heart condition? The Gospel of Christ is the heart of the church. When the church moves away from the message of the Gospel we fall into idolatry, a good example is the proliferation of the prosperity gospel. After all, “The gospel makes us who we are and the church what it is.”
4. Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People by Michael Frost
How can you grow in Christ, go for Christ, and grow others in Christ? Bless others, eat with others, listen to the Spirit and others, learn the Word, and lead a life as one sent (BELLS). These disciplines will help us become more generous, hospitable, Spirit led, Christ-like and missional, respectively.
Christ came and dwelt among us, so you should also dwell among those Christ called us to reach – incarnational mission. However, this requires you to make hospitality, generosity, and Christ-likeness a habit. Surprise the World offers a quick guide on how to do exactly that.
5. Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines that Shape the Church for Mission by David E. Fitch
David E Fitch’s description of most churches is quite damning.
Though there’s a flurry of activity and programming in our church buildings, it seems as if we’re avoiding something…. And when the well-produced worship experience is over and we leave the church building, something gnaws at our souls. Emptiness creeps back in, alerting us that there was something missing in that building.
How can we practice the presence of God in our churches? David E Fitch contends that disciplines such as administering communion, preaching the gospel, and being with the poor and little children helps us to experience the faithful presence of God. After all, “The church is the extension of Christ’s presence in the world, making his reign over the whole world visible.”
6. Hearts, Heads and Hands: A Manual for Teaching Others to Teach Others by M. David Sills
Hearts, Heads and Hands is an excellent pastoral ministry training college in a book. In this 843-page volume, David M. Stills teaches 9 modules that range from understanding your call to ministry, how to prepare and preach a good sermon to administering discipline in the local church.
Unlike most because on pastoral training, Hearts, Heads and Hands was written by a man with multicultural experience. His work in missions complemented this book well. And it offered diversity in cultural contexts in pastoral training that is often missing in books of its kind.
7. The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church by Peter J. Leithart
I first read Peter J. Leithart at First Things, an excellent writer who is not afraid to tackle thorny issues. In The End of Protestantism, he graciously and wisely confronts denominationalism which he claims is a product of Protestantism. He argues, “If the gospel is true, we are who we are by union with Jesus in his Spirit with his people. It then cannot be the case that we are who we are by differentiation from other believers.”
I believe few readers will agree with The End of Protestantism, rather most will be offended. Peter J. Leithart proposes that the answer to unhealthy divisions between churches, which compromise the Great Commission in the process, is returning to the biblical church. Such a shift, will result in the death of Protestantism. I do not how that will pan out, but this book offers an alternative perspective worth exploring, at least theoretically.
6 Thought-Provoking Christian Books on Engaging Your Local Culture
Christ called you to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Furthermore, he called you to me disciples of all nations. You cannot fulfill this command of you’re ignorant of the diverse cultures around you. The following Christian books will help you to go beyond your culture.
1. Is Justice Possible? The Elusive Pursuit of What Is Right by J. Paul Nyquist
I live in a country where thieves and corrupt people are awarded with ministerial jobs in the government, innocent people are punished with high taxes and unbearable living conditions. The rich don’t only get rich, they plunder the poor, politicians kill to stay in power and women are treated as replaceable ornaments.
From Jim Crow to George Zimmerman to Steve Avery, J. Paul Nyquist graciously unpacks the deafening call for justice throughout the modern American history. Privilege often blinkers us from the injustice around. The Gospel melts the blinkers and invites us to fellowship with the ‘least of these.’ Because ‘justice is the application of God’s righteous moral standards to the conduct of man. It starts with God, not man.’
2. Counter Culture: Following Christ in an Anti-Christian Age by David Platt
Kevin Vanhoozer once said the call to faithful discipleship requires us to daily answer the question, “What does it mean to follow Christ in the 21st century?” However, I have discovered that there’s one key similarity between the first century and today: hatred of Christ and his church.
After all, ‘the gospel actually creates confrontation with the culture around—and within—us.’ In Counter Culture, David Platt encourages us to be increasingly aware of their environment and continue to deepen their faith in Christ. This entails, standing up for the Gospel not only in regards to social injustice, but also divisive issues such as homosexuality, abortion and racism even though we’re uncomfortable.
3. Race and Place: How Urban Geography Shapes the Journey to Reconciliation by David P. Leong
Confession. I was a racist when I went to America 5 years ago; I believed African Americans were lazy and violent, Hispanics loved gangs and drugs, and white people were racist. It took an African American, a Hispanic and a white friend who adopted me into their family, culture and environment for my racial prejudice to melt away.
Theology is best done in community but communities often comprise of different races. Hence, “Jesus had to go through Samaria because that’s where the path of discipleship leads: right into the places where historic, systemic racial conflicts have led to division and strife.” Therefore, it is important to remember that discipleship occurs in a context of race and place.
4. Jesus among secular gods: The countercultural claims of Christ by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale
The Great Commission is an invitation to confront the secular worldviews around us. But it’s important that you understand that such worldviews are nothing but glorified idolatry. You view the world through the scales of the god you worship.
In this scholarly work written in popular language, Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale confront 6 popular worldviews with the message of the Gospel. For example, the claim there’s no God is countered by eternity, morality, accountability and charity. And an obsessive belief in deity of science is confronted by a simple story of the beginning. Thus, believers only need to believe the simplicity of the Gospel to confront secular worldviews.
5. Created and Creating: A Biblical Theology of Culture by William Edgar
What is culture? William Edgar defines culture as ‘the lens through which a vision of life and social order is expressed, experienced, and explored; it is a lived worldview.’ However, as believers Christ is our vision of life, and we all seek to express, experience and explore sound theology.
Created and Creating is an eye-opening scholarly work on how believers are not only called to engage cultures, but also create a counterculture. Furthermore, William Edgar shows the importance of obedience to Christ in cultural engagement. Because ‘Christ’s redeeming grace moves culture in the right direction, ennobles it, and allows it to extend the realm of God’s shalom, his goodness, his justice, his love.’
6. Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to life the Ancient World of Scripture by Craig S. Keener and John H. Walton
I am not a fan of consumer centric Study Bibles because I feel they rob me the opportunity to seriously read and dwell in the word by giving quick gateways to difficult passages. But reading Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, I agreed with NT Wright, “How I wish someone had put a book like this into my hands 15 years ago.”
Being a faithful follower of Jesus Christ in 21st Century requires you to engage different cultures. But of prime importance, you need to engage the diverse cultures of the Bible since God chose to reveal himself to us through a particular people in a particular culture. And this is critical for adequate Bible interpretation.
5 Christian Books on Theology You Should Read
The call to live beyond yourself demands a proper and fruitful knowledge of the Triune God. Everyone’s a theologian but you can decide today what type of theologian do you want to be in 2017. A good theologian speaks well of God and the following books will help you do that.
1. Saving Calvinism: Expanding the Reformed Tradition
I was never a fan of Calvinism because I have noticed that Calvinist are often elitist and theological segregationist. It’s not surprising that New Calvinist are a militant syndicate that prides itself for theological intolerance. I picked up Saving Calvinism because I wanted to know why Calvinists are elitist, intolerant and militant.
Calvinism from the onset was marked by a healthy entertainment of diverse views, even on the core doctrines espoused in the TULIP. Reading Saving Calvinism I learned that ‘theological traditions, like traditions more generally, are broad and deep, and wide too— like a great river carving its way through a rugged landscape.’ Therefore, if you’re an elitist Calvinist you probably need to explore more on your theological tradition and discover its richness. This book offers a good starting point.
2. Paul the Apostle: Missionary, Martyr, Theologian by Robert E. Picirilli
Recently, I was reading Paul’s Letter to the Philippians and I discovered how knowing the author helps in understanding the meaning of a Bible text. I noticed that the more I knew about Paul, his language, culture and background the better I understood his original intent when writing Philippians.
Paul the Apostle is an excellent resource for people committed to fruitful and effective Bible reading. It offers a detailed look at the life and times of Paul. For example, by looking at the history of Tarsus, Robert E. Picirilli brings meaning to Paul’s insistence on being a citizen of Tarsus. If your goal in 2017 is to read the Bible, I highly recommend this book.
3. Paradoxology: Why Christianity Was Never Meant To Be Simple by Krish Kandiah
I have always been baffled by apparent contradictions within the Bible. For example, why does Hebrews 11:2 say OT saints received their commendations yet verse 13 says they didn’t receive the things promised? I learned that when I confront these paradoxes I come out with a deeper knowledge of the Triune God.
But it takes bravery to engage the paradoxes found in the Bible and Krish Kandiah is one of the few and the brave. Krish Kandiah uses 13 paradoxes of God such as his faithfulness to the unfaithful and speaking through silence to show that ‘the paradoxes that seem to undermine belief are actually the heart of our vibrant faith, and that it is only by continually wrestling with them – rather than trying to pin them down or push them away – that we can really worship God, individually and together.’
4. God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture by Matthew Barrett
They’re at least three problems the church is facing today; Bible illiteracy among Bible thumpers is alarming, biblicism continues to flourish especially in developing countries, and more and more Christians are convinced the Bible is sometimes erroneous and contains material largely inapplicable to the 21st Century.
Using the history of the Reformed tradition, Matthew Barrett argues on the fundamental importance of believing in the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. I believe this is crucial if you want to be the salt of the earth. Your view of God, that’s your theology, is often determined by the trust and confidence you have in the method he revealed himself to you.
5. African Christian Ethics by Samuel Waje Kunhiyop
Zimbabwe has a population of only 13 million, yet they’re more than 13 languages and at least 200 different communities with unique traditions and practices. For example, in Shona it’s a sign of respect to shake a mourner’s hand at a funeral, but in Ndebele that’s a sign of disrespect. Ndebele people shake hands as a sign of joy. But you can only learn this through taboos, myths, legends, stories, proverbs and riddles.
By contrasting African, Western and Christian ethics, Samuel Waje Kunhiyop develops a compelling framework for African Christian ethics. In this college textbook, he addresses controversial issues such as abortion, genital mutilation, homosexuality, divorce, domestic violence and polygamy. However, some of his thoughts might seem controversial to a Western reader but they’re totally understandable to most Africans.
7 Books on Living Beyond Yourself You Should Read in 2017
Before you can live beyond yourself you need to be full of the Spirit and knowledge. You need to express, explore and experience your theology in your finances, parenting, marriage, worldviews and emotional and physical well-being. The following books will help you live out your beliefs.
1. No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God by Aimee Byrd
2016 exposed the dangers of Instagram faith and Facebook spirituality devoid of thorough knowledge of God. There’s no powerful force on the internet like mommy bloggers. With power comes responsibility, but several prominent female influencers chose to reject the crux of the Gospel for likes, followers and blog traffic.
Aimee Byrd argues that the false teachings that often creep into women’s ministry can be avoided if women understand they’re theologians. She writes, “No matter what our different circumstances and vocations may be, every woman is a theologian. We all have an understanding of who God is and what he has done.” As theologians, women should be free to explore, express and experience their knowledge of God in their families, local church, communities and with other women.
2. The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life by Barnabas Piper
As a kid, I always wanted to know why things do what they did. I wanted to know what happens if you mix blue ink and red ink – a mess or if you add sugar in paraffin – a serious reprimand from my mother. But when I became a human Wikipedia for my curious son, I lost my sense of awe.
The Curious Christian is a public invitation to a life of awe and wonder as you captivate your mind with the marvels of creation and the Creator. A curious mind is a good nurturing ground for innovation and creativity. However importantly, as Barnabas Piper wrote, “True curiosity is the pursuit of truth, the exploration of God’s creation and will for the world.”
3. Parenting with Grace and Truth: Leading and Loving Your Kids Like Jesus by Dan Seaborn
I really believe my parenting should improve. I am not happy with the way I have been treating my kids. As I got busy with my dissertation and job hunt, my innocent kids paid the price. In the end, they began shouting for attention through their behaviors.
Dan Seaborn offers 7 truths on parenting, ranging from how to develop good character in your children, how to be a good parent during tough times and how to identify your child’s gifts. The advice in this book is handy, practical and grounded in the Gospel. A key takeaway from this book was that as a parent I need to be honest with my children if I want them to model Christ’s honesty and integrity.
4. No More Perfect Marriage: Experience the Freedom of Being Together by Jill Savage and Mark Savage
Most people think my marriage is perfect. From the honest, my wife and I decided we will work out our marital problems on our own. I know that sounds contrary to most marriage counseling advice, but that resolve has brought us closer to each other.
In No More Perfect Marriage, Jill and Mark Savage share their experiences following Mark’s infidelity. Mark admitted, “No marriage crumbles in a day. It’s a drift of one centimeter to another, one feeling or one decision that leads to another feeling.” Throughout the book, Jill and Mark Savage offers practical tips on how to identify the slow fades and what to do about it.
5. Jesus’ Terrible Financial Advice: Flipping the Tables on Peace, Prosperity , and the Pursuit of Happiness by John Thornton
I am financially inept and this is obvious through the debts I incurred. My financial decisions and indecisions affected the people I love the most and even my general well-being. I believed I needed a high paying job, that’s why I was excited when I got a call for an on-site interview in Zürich.
John Thornton did what I contemplated doing for a long time – identifying and listing all the verses in the Bible that talk about money, wealth and possessions. He discovered a Christ who expects you to give without expecting anything in return. And he offers message of hope for debt-ridden people like me, “There is hope. Your debts may determine when you serve, and even where you serve. But they can never determine who you serve.”
6. The Axe and the Tree: How bloody persecution sowed the seeds of new life in Zimbabwe by Stephen Griffiths
This is a heartbreaking, yet extraordinary story of ordinary men and women who lost their lives trying to bring health and education to black Zimbabweans. Missionaries working at Eagle School in Manicaland were killed by an army headed by Robert Mugabe, the current president of Zimbabwe.
However, after the war, most of the people involved in the massacre surrendered their lives to Christ. As a Zimbabwean, I knew the story. Following the missionaries from their homes in Ireland and England as they take up positions with Elim Missions was painful. But it was a painful reminder of the true cost of following Christ – sometimes you serve a community that doesn’t appreciate your efforts.
7. How to Overcome Worry: Experiencing the Peace of God in Every Situation by Dr. Winfred Neely
I’m worried that my son is supposed to start first grade and I haven’t found a school that could unleash his potential to the maximum. Over the years, I have learned my worries solved anything, and in most cases things always turn up alright. But that never stopped me from worrying.
Dr. Winfred Neely offers the obvious answer to worry – pray – as highlighted in Philippians. He borrows from Joseph M. Scriven’s popular hymn, What a friend we have in Jesus, to show that ‘prayer is one of the most vital expressions of our trust in and dependence on God.’