Archives For January 2020

Top 10 Books of the 2010s

January 26, 2020 — 12 Comments

The 2010s were for me the decade I learned to love reading. In 2015 I decided I wanted to read more – I read 17 books. The next year 52. In 2017, 100. And 100 again in 2018. In 2019 I wanted to read less and synthesize more, so I read 67.

Of the close to 400 books I read this decade, these are the 10 best. Or I should say – these 10 books changed my life in the 2010’s. They’re ranked in order of impact on my life. Because one thing I like more than reading, is sharing life-changing books with others!

1) The Next Story by Tim Challies

Of all the books on this list, this one probably changed me the most. When I read this in 2011 I was very addicted to this new technology called an iPhone.

The key to loosening its hold – trying to understand the “why.” What was I looking for in constantly checking my phone?

For me it was Informationism. Informationism is “a non-discerning vacuous faith in the collection and dissemination of information as a route to…personal happiness.” If I just read one more blog post on marriage, parenting, ministry…THAT would be the key that solves everything (can any other Enneagram 5s relate?).

Major takeaways:

Distraction is the biggest threat to my walk with God. “Distraction is the enemy of deep thinking.” A distracted life is a shallow life.

I believe that more information is what I need. When in fact, “More information may lead to less wisdom.” I need to take in less information and seek more wisdom.

“We need to devote more time to less things.”

The two chapters on distraction and the flood of information are worth the price of the book.

You can read my full GoodReads review here.

2) 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson

No one has shaped my thinking more in the past few years than Jordan Peterson. In 12 Rules, Peterson is essentially asking – “How can one live the good life?” Though not a Christian, Jordan Peterson gets so much right. SO much. In his words:

  • We all fall short of the glory of God
  • We have missed the mark because of original sin
  • And the goal is to get back to walking with God
  • What do we do with our falling short?
  • Dr. Peterson’s answer is “grow the hell up.” He is unable to see grace.

The foreword by Dr. Norman Doidge ends on this intriguing note: “Perhaps, as unfamiliar and strange as it sounds, in the deepest part of our psyche, we all want to be judged.”

You can read my full GoodReads review here.

3) The Epidemic by Robert Shaw M.D.

This is my favorite parenting book. As I spent much of the 2010’s parenting our 5 kids, this book was incredibly helpful. It’s not a Christian book but it provides a framework for parenting that is very helpful. A few key concepts:

  • Ages 1-4 are foundational
  • Children crave firm, consistent boundaries (they want to know what is permissible).
  • A child’s world must not revolve around themselves (they need to hear no in order to develop empathy and to learn to think of others first).
  • “There is almost no normal situation in which you should be asking your child’s permission” (ending sentences with “OK?”).
  • The key is always choosing to engage- to follow through on what you said you were going to do (and not ignore small disobedience). Even when you’re exhausted, if you said, “if you do that one more time I’m gonna_____” then if they do it one more time you must follow through.

4) The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling

Besides being my all-time favorite work of fiction, this series, more than anything else, made me a reader.

I started reading it out of a combination of wanting to keep up with what my kids were reading (and loving!) and my wife encouraging me that I would really like it. I discovered something – reading is fun! Before reading Harry Potter, I hadn’t read a fiction book in over 15 years. I thought it was a waste of time. I’d read an occasional leadership or devotional book. But I was not a reader. 

Takeaway- the way to be a reader is to read what you want to, and slowly work your way into more challenging books!

5) Atomic Habits by James Clear

A major key to life is “to emphasize any single moment less and the accumulation of moments more.”

Few things have shaped my learning this decade more than the idea of habit: we are what we repeatedly do. I could have also listed The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Power of Habit is more stories and the “why” behind habits. Atomic habits gives very practical ways to make small changes that will yield big results.

“If you want to predict where you’ll end up in life, [just] follow the curve of tiny gains/losses…how your daily choices will compound 10 years down the line. Are you spending less than you earn each month? Are you reading books & learning something new each day?”

6) The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

Maybe more than any other secular book, Paradox of Choice gets to the heart of our current malaise.

“As a culture we are enamored of freedom, self-determination, & variety, & we are reluctant to give up any of our options. But clinging tenaciously to all the choices available to us contributes to bad decisions, to anxiety, stress, & dissatisfaction—even to clinical depression.”

“If unrestricted freedom can impede pursuit of what we value most then it may be that some restrictions make everyone better off. If ‘constraint’ sometimes affords liberation while ‘freedom’ affords enslavement then we’d be wise to seek out some measure of appropriate constraint”

5 keys:

  1. We’d be better off embracing voluntary constraints on our freedom of choice, instead of rebelling against them.
  2. We’d be better off seeking what’s “good enough” instead of seeking the best
  3. We’d be better off lowering our expectations about the results of decisions
  4. We would be better off if the decisions we made were nonreversible.
  5. We would be better off if we paid less attention to what others around us were doing.

You can read my full GoodReads review here.

7) Reappearing Church by Mark Sayers

Mark Sayers brings much needed HOPE to the dismal realities of our modern world. His most helpful insight: times of crisis are actually opportunities for God to move in revival.

Sayers combines a broad understanding of modern times with a historical pattern of how revivals happen.

He thinks we are time is primed for revival: “history shows it’s precisely at moments like this—when the church appears to be sliding into unalterable decline, when culture is shaken by upheaval, when the world globalizes, opening up new frontiers & fostering chaos/change—that God moves again”

You can read my full GoodReads review here.

8) Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions by Russell Brand

Recovery is a vulgar, brutally honest, modern day Ecclesiastes; with Brand, a self-described “half-wit King Solomon”.

Drugs, alcohol, sex, fame, fortune- Brand tried it all and found it wanting. Brilliantly insightful into the human condition and very helpful re how to escape the bondage of desire.

Almost daily, I find myself thinking about the wisdom in this book. Especially his “Step 1” (from Alcoholics Anonymous): I am “powerless over this and my life has become unmanageable.”
Fair warning: LOTS of cuss words!

“Counterintuitively, in our culture of individualism and self-centred valour, it is by surrendering that we can begin to succeed. It is by ‘admitting that we have no power’ that we can begin the process of accessing all the power we will ever need.Where I have found this program most rewarding and yet most challenging is in the way that it has unravelled my unquestioned faith that I was the centre of the universe and that the purpose of my life was to fulfill my drives…Can I now accept there is a power greater than me at work in this cosmos? I don’t have to ally with it yet, all I have to do is accept that my thoughts and I are not the apex of human experience.” 

You can read my full GoodReads review here.

9) Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

Written in 1985, Amusing could not be more relevant to our modern world and humankind’s endless appetite for distraction. Postman has an incredible ability to make sense of vast amounts of history- to explain how (and why) we got to now, especially as it relates to technology.

Postman explains so much of our world- how technology affects our ability to think, and the resulting effects: anxiety and outrage (instead of reasoned discourse).

Postman puts into words what many of us feel – the glut of information causes anxiety, incoherence, and impotence. In the place of meaning, technology gives us amusement. 

You can read my full GoodReads review here.

10) The Next Evangelicalism – Soong-Chan Rah

Dr. Rah makes a compelling case that the future of Christianity in America rests on the shoulders of immigrants and ethnic minority leaders (owing much to their “liminality”- ability to move fluidly in between cultures). He opened my eyes to the work God is doing in our country and around the world (along with the book The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South). A few key takeaways:

“Unless [churches/parachurches] see growth among the ethnic minority population within their [congregation] they will experience steady decline.”

“Contrary to popular opinion, the church is not dying in America; it is alive and well, but it is alive & well among the immigrant & ethnic minority communities”

The flood of immigrants in the past few decades has been a God-ordained action to save the American church.

You can read my full GoodReads review here.

Honorable Mention: For the Love of God by DA Carson

Not a traditional book – more so a Bible reading plan/devo. But truly life changing. I’ve read the Bible using Carson’s plan/devo for each of the last 5 years. NOTHING has changed my life more than consistently reading through the Bible. And Carson’s devo/plan was the key to making that a reality in my life.

I’d love to hear from you – what books changed your life in the last decade?

An annual tradition on my blog – My Top 100 Songs of the Year.

But this year as we wrap up a decade of music I ranked my top 200 favorite songs of the 2010’s.

To further explore amazing music, here are my (946 favorite!) Best Songs from the 2010’s (click “Follow” at the top of Spotify if you want to add any of the playlists to your sidebar of playlists)

Here’s my top 100 from 2019 on Spotify.

Click to play all 200 on Spotify, but here are the top 20 of the decade:

20 Holocene by Bon Iver

19 Get Real Get Right by Sufjan Stevens

18 Retrograde by James Blake

17 The Boulder by Geographer

16 Nancy From Now On by Father John Misty

15 O.N.E. by Yeasayer

14 Hometown by Twenty One Pilots

13 Two Weeks by Grizzly Bear

12 The Gold by Manchester Orchestra

11 Ready to Start by Arcade Fire

10 Beige by Yoke Lore

9 Fountain by iamamiwhoami

8 Obsessions by MARINA

7 Myth by Beach House

6 Wanderlust by Wild Beasts

5 Civilian by Wye Oak

4 Bats In The Attic by King Creosote & Jon Hopkins

3 Conversation 16 by The National

2 Half Gate by Grizzly Bear

1 Madder Red by Yeasayer

My Top Books of 2019

January 3, 2020 — 1 Comment

A key to reading more is to read good books. Good books are hard to put down. The way to find good books? You want book recs from people who read A LOT.

I’d highly recommend all of these books listed below. They’re all good.

Overall, here’s my Top Books I read in 2019:

  1. Reappearing Church: The Hope for Renewal in the Rise of Our Post-Christian Culture – Mark Sayers
  2. Echoes of Exodus: Tracing Themes of Redemption Through Scripture – Alastair J. Roberts
  3. Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions – Russell Brand
  4. The Burnout Society – Byung-Chul Han
  5. The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less – Barry Schwartz 
  6. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion – Jonathan Haidt
  7. The Second Mountain – David Brooks

And here they are, ranked in order of amazing-ness, by genre (all links are to my full Goodreads review).

Christian Devotional Books

  1. Reappearing Church: The Hope for Renewal in the Rise of Our Post-Christian Culture – Mark Sayers
    • Easily my favorite book of 2019.
    • Mark Sayers brings much needed HOPE to the dismal realities of 2019. His most helpful insight: that times of crisis are actually opportunities for God to move in revival.
    • Sayers combines a broad understanding of modern times with a historical pattern of how revivals happen.
    • He thinks 2019 is primed for revival: “history shows it’s precisely at moments like this—when the church appears to be sliding into unalterable decline, when culture is shaken by upheaval, when the world globalizes, opening up new frontiers & fostering chaos/change—that God moves again”
  2. Echoes of Exodus: Tracing Themes of Redemption Through Scripture – Alastair J. Roberts
    • Do you want the Old Testament to come alive? Read Echoes of Exodus. The idea is simple- the Exodus story is the key to understanding the Old Testament, even the whole Bible.
    • Roberts takes top shelf, profound thinking & puts it on the bottom shelf. A short book with poetic prose- each sentence packed with insight. He communicates more in 176pgs than most books do in 700.
  3. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion – N.T. Wright
    • What a challenging book. This is the first NT Wright book I’ve ever read and boy did I enjoy him. I now want to read every book he’s written. 
  4. A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story – Michael W. Goheen
    • My favorite type of book – an expert who has done a TON of reading, synthesizes and organizes all his learnings into a cohesive, accessible book (it would take you decades to read all the books that Goheen cites- 622 endnotes in a 226 page book!).
    • Goheen’s book will help you read your Bible better.
      “Mission is . . . a major key that unlocks the whole grand narrative of the canon of Scripture.”
  5. Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing – Andy Crouch
    • Like everything I’ve read by Crouch – profoundly wise.
    • Crouch makes the case that flourishing and abundant life come from the intersection of authority and vulnerability
  6. Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books – Tony Reinke
    • “Reading is a difficult pleasure.”
    • Lit! will make you want to read more and give you practical tips on how to do just that.
  7. Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences – Carey Nieuwhof
    • A great read for middle age ministers (like me!).
    • Worth reading for his chapter on Cynicism:
      • “Cynicism begins not because you don’t care but because you do care. It starts because you poured your heart into something and got little in return.
      • Most cynics are former optimists.
      • Of all people on earth, Christians should be the least cynical. After all, the gospel gives us the greatest reasons to hope.”
  8. The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home – Russell D. Moore
    • “Sometimes people will ask me what I think is the best biblical counsel for parenting. 
    • I choose: ‘For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you’ (2 Chron. 20:12).”

Understanding the Times 

(once again this year, this was my favorite category!)

  1. Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions – Russell Brand
    • Recovery is a vulgar, brutally honest, modern day Ecclesiastes; with Brand, a self-described “half-wit King Solomon”.
    • Drugs, alcohol, sex, fame, fortune- Brand tried it all and found it wanting.
    • Brilliantly insightful into the human condition and very helpful re how to escape the bondage of desire.
    • Fair warning: TONS of cuss words!
  2. The Burnout Society – Byung-Chul Han
    • Crazy insightful. Really difficult 70 page read if you’re (like me) not fluent in psychology and philosophy (Nietzsche, Freud; etc).
    • Han’s greatest insight – we are an achievement society. We are on an achievement treadmill “that is generating excessive tiredness and exhaustion” because “the feeling of having achieved a goal never occurs”
    • Anxiety, depression, exhaustion are ALL the flip side of the Achievement coin
  3. The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less – Barry Schwartz
    • This book explains so much of our modern world.
    • We are the most prosperous land that has ever existed, yet Americans are less and less happy.
    • The cause? “The overabundance of choice.” Choices are exhausting and make us less happy.
    • The solution: Limit your options/freedom by living according to rules. Rules are the pathway to freedom.
  4. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion – Jonathan Haidt
    • Haidt wants “to show you that an obsession with righteousness… is the normal human condition…We’re born to be righteous.”
    • Haidt is a lifelong Democrat and Atheist who is VERY fair-minded and unbelievably aligned with Biblical truth.
    • Fascinating book on how people change their mind on two of the most polarizing topics: politics and religion.
    • His conclusion: The main way that we change our minds on moral issues is by interacting with other people that we like.
  5. The Second Mountain – David Brooks
    • Full of wisdom.
    • I read two incredible books in 2019 that portrayed the emptiness of the two ways to pursue life apart from God:
      – Russell Brand pursued pleasure to the nth degree and found it lacking
      – David Brooks pursued achievement in work, succeeded, and found it lacking
    • I think the gospel preached to this generation: Work Is the New God.
      A great antidote is reading Brooks’ The Second Mountain.
    • Worth reading if only for his chapter on his Christian conversion (from secular Judaism). It’s beautiful & profound.
  6. The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism – Carl F.H. Henry
    • Written in 1947 by one of the fathers of Evangelicalism. If we listened to Henry, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in today. A call to not divorce Christian belief and ethics.
  7. Strange Days: Life in the Spirit in a Time of Upheaval – Mark Sayers
    • Sayers is brilliant. My goal for 2020= read everything he’s written.
    • The question that Strange Days answers: “Why has the church failed to address the epidemic of anxiety & depression, the distance between the promises of consumer culture and the reality of life, and the emotional fragility/lack of resilience created by the self-esteem ethos?”
  8. The Closing of the American Mind – Allan Bloom
    • Though written in 1987, perfectly applicable to the world/college campus today.
    • I hope to one day have 1/100th the breadth of knowledge of Dr. Bloom. Incredibly helpful for understanding who are the key influencers that shape our current intellectual and cultural landscape. 
    • His call is to lay aside our shallow modern certainty and plunge into the depths of the great thinkers and books that asked the “permanent questions” of life: why am I here, who am I?
  9. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community – Robert D. Putnam
    • Putnam describes the adverse effects of the decline of in-person social interactions in America.
    • Quite repetitive and dry. But there are nuggets of gold. Worth reading simply for the fact that few sociology books are referenced more than Bowling.
    • My favorite review of it: “This one’s a doozie. I don’t recommend it unless you are a naturally optimistic and mentally stable person.” 😂
  10. The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis – Alan Jacobs
    • Very challenging read. Very apropos for 2019.
    • Jacobs brings together the 1943 writings of Christian intellectuals Jacques Maritain, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, W. H. Auden, and Simone Weil, who “sought both to articulate a sober and reflective critique of their own culture and to outline a plan for the moral and spiritual regeneration of their countries in the post-war world.”

NonFiction

  1. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion – Robert B. Cialdini
    • Widely regarded as THE book on persuasion. After seeing it on countless “must read” lists, I picked it up.
      It did not disappoint. AND it’s an easy fun read. 
    • Our brains don’t function well with overwhelming input.
      And our modern world has “created an environment so complex we are reverting to animal like instinctual autopilot decisions.” Which is not good. We’re making unthinking decisions.
    • This book will make those techniques visible so you can fight them.
  2. The Lessons of History – Will Durant
    • Packed with pithy wisdom and deep understanding of the human condition.
    • You could either read the Durant’s Pulitzer Prize winning 11 volume ”The Story of Civilization” or you could read this 100 page book that summarizes everything they learned over 50 years of research and writing.
    • This is why we study and learn from history:
      “No one man, however brilliant or well-informed, can come in one lifetime to such fullness of understanding as to safely judge and dismiss the customs or institutions of his society, for these are the wisdom of generations after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history. ”
  3. American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation – Jon Meacham
    • Fascinating overview of the religious faith of the founding fathers all the way through modern presidents. A very fair and honest look at what they really believed.
  4. The Cross and the Lynching Tree – James H. Cone
    • As you would guess, not an easy book to read. Cone is a controversial theologian but I found it helpful to read outside of my theological persuasion.
    • “The cross helped me to deal with the brutal legacy of the lynching tree, and the lynching tree helped me to understand the tragic meaning of the cross.”
  5. Letter from the Birmingham Jail – Martin Luther King Jr.
    • Every American should be required to read this short book every MLK day.
    • A letter from MLK to white church leaders in the south.
    • Aside from its brilliant content, the letter is a masterpiece of persuasion (especially among believers).
  6. Educated – Tara Westover
  7. Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45 – Barbara W. Tuchman
  8. Becoming – Michelle Obama
    • Michelle Obama can WRITE! Fascinating to see the inner workings of the campaign trail and White House.
  9. The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism – Doris Kearns Goodwin
    • The early 2000’s is the early 1900’s on steroids: 
      – Overwhelming flood of information 
      – Nonstop pace/noise 
      – Overwhelming/sensationalist news that leaves us sad yet impotent to affect change
    • Great book – just super long (900 pages!)
  10. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI – David Grann
    • Especially interesting if you live in or near Oklahoma.
  11. Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela
  12. How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie
    • Brilliant insight mixed in with LOTS of boring stories.
    • I typically despise Executive Summaries but this is one book you could probably read the executive summary or the chapter headings and walk away with 90% of the helpful content.
  13. Dare to Lead – Brené Brown

Fiction

  1. Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe
    • Can’t recommend this book enough. It is good on so many levels:
      1. It changed the world. When President Lincoln met Stowe, he remarked: “So you’re the little lady who wrote the book that started this great war!”
      2. It’s a great novel
      3. Stowe powerfully shows both sides of Christianity as it relates to slavery: it’s complicity in slavery (and how that is out of line with true faith) and as the source for emancipation and the brave endurance of countless Christian slaves. Both her villains and her heroes profess Christ. But her villains are sophisticated fools and are shown to be false Christians who have a superficial knowledge of the Bible. Her heroes are unsophisticated, brave, sacrificial and true followers of Christ who are rooted in the Bible and compelled by a deep faith in a just and merciful God.
  2. The Three-Body Problem – Liu Cixin
    • This is the Harry Potter of China- VERY popular. It’s super nerdy. But a great story and actually very spiritual (shocking as it was written by a Chinese and translated to English).
  3. The Jungle – Upton Sinclair
    • Like Uncle Tom’s Cabin- a book that shows the power of the pen.
    • Teddy Roosevelt read The Jungle and made sweeping changes to improve life for millions of suffering workers. 
    • As a Christian, one thing that stood out to me is how churches failed to lead the way in fighting inhumane conditions for immigrants.
    • In The Jungle, Socialism is man’s only hope with the church nowhere to be seen.
  4. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
    • Another searing critique of Christianity – how imperialistic Christian missionaries rip apart the family structure of an African village (though the village is rooted in witchcraft and abusive patriarchy). It’s a tragic story and great novel.
  5. The Road – Cormac McCarthy
    • Inspiring and really dark. A father and son trying to survive (and do good) in an apocalyptic world of bad people. “This is what the good guys do. They keep trying. They don’t give up.”
  6. Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    • Eye opening account of the life of an African immigrant in America. Full of insight on race in America.
    • This one makes an especially good audiobook because of all the African accents.
  7. A Study in Scarlet and the Sign of the Four (Sherlock Holmes,1 & 2) – Arthur Conan Doyle
    • First time reading Sherlock Holmes and loved him. Full of so many good quotes:
    • “I cannot live without brain work! What else is there to live for?”
    • “The proper study of man is man”
    • “From long habit the thought came to me instantly”

Would love to hear from you – what were your favorite books you read in 2019?