Every year there are endless lists produced by innumerable people sharing their favorite books. Why read my list? Mine is not claiming the books listed are the best, but my favorite. This matters because this list is primarily intended for the church I pastor, for the people who know me and are walking through this life with me, making the list a bit more personal…I hope. Either way, it’s enjoyable to look back at the great books I read and how they changed me. Enjoy!
Favorite Overall Book
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck has written classics like Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath. However, he believed this was his best book and I cannot agree more. The writing is impeccable and the storytelling is so haunting and beautiful that you feel the story through each and every turn. In one sense, this book is like a real life example of Ecclesiastes where darkness and sorrow seem so daunting, yet, little glimmers of hope continue to shine against the dark backdrop. I truly didn’t want this book end.
R.C. Sproul: A Life by Stephen Nichols
R.C. Sproul had a very rare gift of communicating biblical and theological truths in a compelling and heart-warming way. Nichols gives readers an inside look at the life of Sproul and I found myself laughing, praying, and getting teary-eyed at times. Great read about one of the greatest men of the modern era.
Favorite pastoral theology
The Unwavering Pastor: Leading the Church with Grace in Divisive Times by Jonathan Dodson
Dodson has created a friend for pastors. What I mean is that this little treasure of a book has given pastors the hope that they are not alone in traversing these divisive times we live in. Using 2 Timothy as his guide, Dodson is honest and compelling about the call and life of a pastor. The book is gospel-centered and continually moves weary hearts towards a satisfying Savior. This book, in a real sense, helped me in a time when I had a lot of questions about pastoral ministry.
The Green Ember Series by S.D. Smith
This four book series was so fun, and truly unpredictable at times. It was similar to The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson, and I mean that as a high compliment. My oldest daughter enjoyed them so much that she is asking to read them again. What I loved so much about this series was the focal points about adversity and how it is walking through difficulty and suffering that truly produces character and hope (Romand 5:4). The characters are great and the story flows in a readable and exciting way.
FAVORITE MILITARY HISTORY
Tip of the Spear: The Incredible Story of an Injured Green Beret’s Return to Battle by Ryan Hendrickson
Ryan Hendrickson has given readers a look into perseverance in a way that can help people who feel like obstacles are the end of their journey. His honesty and up close look at his own failures prior to becoming a Green Beret are encouraging. However, the main thrust of the story is the journey Hendrickson walked through after an awful injury in combat that would make most people give up. The journey back to service was a grueling one, which Hendrickson himself admits the pain, sadness, and difficulty along the way. I’m so proud of Ryan for writing this and letting us all get a glimpse into overcoming loss and difficulty.
Favorite bible commentary
Psalms Volumes 1 and 2: Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary: James Hamilton Jr.
A friend and I spent the year going through the Psalms with Hamilton’s 2 volume set for help. First of all, the need for commentaries that are exegetically faithful, tease out the biblical theological themes, and have devotionally heartfelt application is high but also hard to do well. Hamilton has succeeded. I found so much depth in each chapter, along with an incredible demonstration of how the Psalms have structure and are integrated together. The most encouraging part for me personally was the way he traced the Psalms to new exodus and new creation themes, all centers around the true Davidic King: King Jesus. I cannot recommend this set more highly.
From the Manger to the Throne: A Theology of Luke by Benjamin Gladd
Gladd has produced a readable and worshipful biblical theology of Luke’s Gospel. His ability to show the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament is thrilling and doxological. I’m not sure I’ve underlined and highlighted a book this much in years. Gladd has a unique ability to bring together faithful exegesis, biblical theology, and application in a succinct way that I have found to be rare with most biblical theology books. Buy this one and enjoy.
Why God Makes Sense in a World that Doesn’t: The Beauty of Christian Theism by Gavin Ortlund
Most apologetics books are a bit dry, in my opinion. Ortlund has written something unique and faithful. His foundation for his apologetics is beauty and it is alluring to say the least. He looks at music, art, and math and other various things we consider beautiful or truthful and helps us follow those things back to the Creator. The tone Gavin writes with is charitable, truthful, and beautiful in its own right. I will return to this one many times.
FAVORITE PRACTICAL THEOLOGY
Forgive: Why Should I and How Can I? by Timothy Keller
For me personally, actually forgiving others can be truly difficult. Using the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Keller walks through the non-negotiable call for followers of Jesus to forgive. This was one of those books that truly changed me and made me wrestle and claw through wounds and pain, moving daily towards forgiveness. I truly enjoyed his critique of cancel culture and how our culture demands justice while simultaneously trying to erase true forgiveness. This book was one I will remember for a long time to come.
The Happy Rant: Wandering To and Fro Through Some Things That Don’t Matter All That Much by Ted Kluck, Ronnie Martin, and Barnabas Piper
This one may not be for everyone but it should be. I’ve been a regular listener of The Happy Rant podcast for years. The book is basically the podcast in book form. The guys address issues in the church and culture in a way that can be both deep and thoughtful while also making fun of things that should be made fun of…including themselves. They aren’t fans of booklists so this better not end up on their social media.
Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri
The incredible story of a refugee coming to America. I laughed (hard), got angry, and cried. I don’t want to ruin one aspect of the story but highly recommend this fascinating journey of a young boy trying to figure out all the oddities of being in a new country, with a new language, and new cultural practices. Fun and easy read that made me want to someday get lunch with the author, thank him, hug him, and rejoice in Jesus with him.
–Aggressively Happy: A Realist’s Guide to Believing in the Goodness of Life by Joy Clarkson
–You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World by Alan Noble
–The Nolan Variations: The Movies, Mysteries, and Marvels of Christopher Nolan
-Resurrection Hope and the Death of Death by Mitchell Chase
–Lou Gehrig: The Lost Memoir
Thanks Wes, I’m constantly amazed when I see your book lists how you can possibly find the time with all your responsibilities to digest and critique these great books 🤯🙏🧐 but I’m sure glad you do! Have you mastered the art of reading in your sleep 😊 you get a lot done brother and I praise God for your influence in my life. Love you much and extremely glad that you are my neighbor, Pastor, and friend – Dave
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Thanks, Dave. Love you very much. It’s mostly trying to make the best use of my early mornings.
This list is inspiring, brother! The truth is the more I read, the more I know how much other great stuff is out there to be read. May 2023 be another great year of learning and reflecting!
Thanks, Ryan! There really is so much great stuff out there. I’ve really tried to be selective the last few years but it’s hard. I hope the next year is another great one for us both.
Being a story lover, so thankful that you are as well and that you weave that into your sermons. Great list! I’ll have to put east of Eden on my list once I finish the ten books I’m already reading 🤣. The best motivation for finishing a book is so that you can start another one haha 😄
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Thanks, Stephen. I love discussing books with you.
As a story lover, so glad you share that interest and weave it into your sermons! I’ll have to put east of Eden on my book list along with the ten other books I’m working through ,🤣 The best motivation to finish a book is so that you can start another one! 😄
I appreciate so much that you placed East of Eden at the top of your list. For me that adds a lot of weight to your other suggestions. Thank you.
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Thanks! I appreciate it.