New Year, New Books.
The first month of this new year has almost come to a close and already it seems like a whirlwind. Next week I will be heading to Honduras to teach pastors and church leaders with our Global Network for Theological Training. But before I head south for better weather I wanted to scratch out a quick review of a few of the books I read in the month of January.
January usually proves to be a good month for reading. The weather is cold and rainy. We tend to be more committed in January than in other months. I don’t know, it just seems to be a good month for reading.
This month I read three books. All three came as recommendations from friends and all three were pretty good. They were all out of my normal (comfort zone) reading. For those of you that know me I usually read stuff that is (1) Old, as in more than 100 years old, and (2) Non-devotional in nature (usually more theological or expositional). These books were all three written with in the last 100 years (within the last 25 for that matter), and they are all (for the most part) devotional in nature. They certainly have expositional and theological elements but, on the whole, they are written with a devotional purpose in mind. But I am okay with it. I am okay with the fact that these books all brought me out of my comfort zone. They were great reads and a great way to kick off this year’s reading. So let me give you the rundown.
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson (2000)
Spoiler Alert: this was by far the best book I have read in a long time. Now I will admit, I was skeptical. I saw the author. I was familiar with Eugene Peterson. I had read some snippets of his other work. But nothing I had ever read had ever come close to what I read in this book. Let me make some bold and emphatic statements that I am sure you will disagree with and that we can argue about at a later date… (1) This is hands down the best book on discipleship that I have ever read. And yes, I have read Bonhoeffer. (2) This is the best hermeneutical handling of the Psalms I have ever read. And yes, I have read Peter Liethart, Goldsworthy, Spurgeon, and Carson. (3) I believe it is one of the most exhortative and encouraging books available today.
So, what is the book about? Peterson takes the 15 Psalms of Ascent from the book of Psalms and he uses them as a framework for discipleship. He draws an overarching theme from each Psalm and then shows how each Psalm and its theme works towards building progressively toward a long, faithful, obedient relationship with God by His faithful work in us and our faithful and loving obedience to Him. I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about discipleship or go deeper in their own discipleship journey.
They Smell Like Sheep by Lynn Anderson (1997)
When I first received this book in the mail I thought my friend who recommended it to me must have been pulling a prank on me. It looked so outdated and so, well… 1980’s… From the fuzzy, airbrushed font on the front cover to the typical chin holding, turtle neck wearing headshot of the author on the back cover, I thought I was in for a real terrible read. But then I got into the book and I realized that it was anything but a prank.
I will say that the book is obviously a bit dated. It was published in 1997 and it shows. It was also written primarily for pastors and elders (terms used synonymously throughout the book… so if you are uncomfortable with that sort of think you may want to pass… or just change your position). The main idea of the book is that good pastors are good shepherds, and good shepherds are recognizable because they smell like sheep. They smell like sheep because they are always with their sheep. From that main idea you can tell the book works out a relational, mentorship type leadership model that is build around the shepherding model demonstrated by Jesus in the New Testament.
Anderson divides the book into two major sections. The first section addresses what sort of things good shepherds do and the second section addresses what type of people good shepherds are. The book is extremely practical in nature and is very helpful and encouraging. It was a challenge to me personally. Relational leadership on Jesus’ level is difficult in the technical age that we live in. We can be “connected” in so many different ways without ever REALLY being connected to someone in the culture we live in. Anderson challenged my understanding of pastoral leadership and I think he will yours as well.
Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church by John Onwuchekwa (2018)
Onwuchekwa… I find myself just saying that name throughout the day. It really has a great ring to it. I have a friend and leader at our church who keeps me up with all the latest installments of the 9Marks books and for that I am grateful. I have yet to run into one that I have not found enjoyable and useful.
For those of you who are not familiar, 9Marks is a series of resources put out by Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. and their pastor, Mark Dever. Dever wrote the original book, “Nine Marks to a Healthy Church,” in which he outlined the nine marks that he believed were essential to having a healthy biblical church as defined by the New Testament. Dever now has a team of pastors and authors who publish new books and material regularly that expand upon that original idea.
This latest installment by John Onwucheckwa (say it again) is a really great addition. Onwucheckwa is actually a pastor in Atlanta and serves as a council member for The Gospel Coalition. What is so interesting about this book is that it is not about personal prayer. It is about corporate, or church prayer. The reason that is so interesting is that there is so little out there that is like this. There are plenty of resources out there giving instruction about how to improve your personal prayer life. But there is SO little available on the importance of praying IN THE CHURCH. There is so little on HOW to pray in the church and on WHY we pray in church and on how those prayers shape everything else we do in the church. So this book really is a unique resource for all Christians. And at only 127 pages it isn’t a huge commitment either. So why not give it a try?
Get Out of the Zone.
I will admit it, I am SO much more comfortable reading The Mortification of Sin by John Owen or The Nature and Attributes of God by A.W. Pink or Biblical Theology by Geerhardus Vos, and you should read those books. You should. You really, really should. But we should all also read books that are outside of our norm. We should read books that bring us out of our comfort zones. What is your comfort zone? Is it history? Is it devotional? Christian living? Fiction? Harry Potter? Reader’s Digest? Whatever it may be, go find yourself a book that is outside of your comfort zone and get it. Read it. Enjoy it. It is good to get out of our zone some times.
I just began reading Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray and Six Ways the Old Testament Still Speaks Today: An Interactive Guide by Alec Motyer. Obviously I am getting back into my comfort zone. Hopefully you will pick up one of the books above and enjoy them. Or this will encourage you to pick up a book outside of your comfort zone. Maybe you will explore a book that you never imagined you would explore before. Go ahead, try it.