2016, So Far—In Books

I read—a lot; when my mind isn’t engaging with new ideas, I’m not at my best. Here’s what I’ve been reading since the year started (and a few I read right as 2015 reached an end).

Bible and Theology

Most books on theology and Scripture are used as I prepare a sermon series—either so I can understand a key theme in the book I’m working through, or for my own personal engagement. 

Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin by Cornelius Plantinga Jr.

Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ by Alec Motyer

The New International Version Application Commentary: Exodus by Peter Enns

The Five Books of Moses: A Translation and Commentary by Robert Alter

I first read Robert Alter’s text on Old Testament narrative in college; his translation and commentary of the first five books of the Old Testament 41l3S5L5FJL._AC_UL320_SR208,320_.jpgare great fun to read, and his notes on the text are immensely helpful for understanding how Hebrew narrative works. 

Mark (N. T. Wright for Everyone Bible Study Guides) by N.T. Wright

I used N.T. Wright’s guide for my own personal study and benefitted greatly. I’m now working my way through his study on Revelation. 

Ministry and Leadership

Lately I’ve focused less on books on leadership and more on books on discipleship, preaching, and culture. Here’s some highlights. 

Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen

This is the book that gives language to discipleship—the book I’ve been looking for. 

515XatoWK1L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgPreaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism by Tim Keller

It’s been a really long time since I read a book on preaching, but boy am I glad I read this one. I devoured this volume in a weekend and it’s been tremendously helpful to my preaching in the last few months. It’s quick, helpful, and like all Keller books, filled with thoughts you just didn’t see coming.

Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by Os Guinness

One-to-One Bible Reading by David Helm

This is the tool I’ve been looking for in making disciples for a long time. 

Science Fiction and Fantasy

I’ve been reading sci-fi and fantasy novels since The Lord of the Rings captured my imagination in middle school. I usually read these novels before bed, to get out of my head and relax. 

Morning Star: Book III of The Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown

Where the second book in a trilogy is usually the weakest, Morning Star was the hardest book to slog through in this series. 

The Autumn Republic: Powder Mage Series Book 3 by Brian McClellan

The Crimson Campaign: Powder Mage Series Book 2 by Brian McClellan

Caliban’s War: The Expanse Book 2 by James S.A. Corey

The Expanse is now a television drama on the SyFy channel; the first book in this series was tremendous, and each successive volume has been a great read. 

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Gatefather: A Novel of the Mither Mages by Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card has been a favorite author since high school, when I read Ender’s Game. The Mither Mages series is been classic card: imaginative, fun, with memorable characters. 

On Becoming a United Methodist: I’m Not Crazy

This is the first of a four-part series in which I reflect on my journey toward becoming one of Wesley’s people—a pastor in the United Methodist Church. 

True confessions: when I tell people I work at a United Methodist Church, I feel a great urge to quickly follow it with, “But I’m not crazy.” 

For many who know me, and many who don’t, I am an anomaly. Raised in a conservative Evangelical home, trained at two conservative Evangelical colleges, for many (including me) there is something wrong with this picture. 

How did this guy become a Methodist?

People who know me, and people who don’t, often have a lot of questions. As well they should—it’s no secret that the UMC is in decline, and that it is a strikingly different tradition from the one in which I was raised and the one in which I studied. There are, rightfully, many concerns about the denomination’s stance on well, more issues than I’d like to admit (chief of which is the definition of marriage, and in some places, issues of biblical authority).

I often wonder if people think I went off the deep end. You might feel this if you knew me in years past, and now see that I’m pastoring in the UMC. You might feel this if you’re in the UMC and see me through more mainline eyes, and find out where I went to school.

So why become a pastor in the UMC? I could write about this for ages, and of course God’s leading had something to do with it. But if I were being honest, I came to the UMC not because of where I wanted to work, but for whom I wanted to work. 

Rick and Brigitta at Our Wedding! My boss is one of my closest friends and most trusted counselors. I interned for Rick throughout my years at Moody, and he performed my wedding ceremony. We’re close, and had always talked about working together—though to be truthful, I never thought it would happen. But it did, and I really enjoy working for him. 

Oddly, I’ve also grown to love being a United Methodist. In a culture of Evangelicalism that is inundated by the Reformed thinking of John Calvin and others, it’s hard to imagine anyone choosing a Wesleyan tradition. But I’m choosing a Wesleyan tradition, not necessarily because of his soteriology (read: his theology on how a person is saved) but because of his ecclesiology (read: his theory and practice of what it means to be the church). 

I’ll write more on this later—I’m spending this year reading Calvin’s Institutes and a collection of Wesley’s sermons and other writings at the same time, and coming to surprising conclusions. But for now, here are three things you might not know about the United Methodist Church, and why I’m coming to love it. 

1: The United Methodist Church is an explicitly global church. Unlike other mainline denominations in the US, the UMC can only make practical or theological decisions when gathered as a global church every four years at the General Conference. This is why the UMC hasn’t ‘officially’ changed their policy on marriage—Conferences in the Global South, especially in Africa and India, refuse to go with the West’s cultural flow. 

2: The United Methodist Committee on Relief is an incredibly effective organization. Hang around the UMC long enough and you’ll dissever we can out-acronym any Bible college in the continental US. UMCOR is one of the largest relief organizations in the world (I’ve heard it’s the largest, but I can’t substantiate that fact yet). It serves more than 80 countries—and get this: 100% of money given to UMCOR goes right to those in need. If you know anything about relief organizations, this should stun you as much as it did me

3: A rich tradition of Gospel-centered ministry expressed in a deep concern for the least, the last, and the lost. Anyone who balks at the Wesleyan tradition, Arminian theology, or just thinks that they are a Reformed smarty-pants hasn’t read Wesley’s A Plain Account of the People Called Methodists. No one, and I mean no one, in the history of the church developed a more robust, relational, Gospel-focused movement of discipleship. From the earliest moments of the Methodist movement (which began as a renewal movement within the Church of England) there was a concern for those in need—spiritually and materially. 

I recently began the process to become a candidate for ministry in the UMC, the first step toward ordination. These reasons, and more, have compelled me to become one of Wesley’s people. There is a tradition here that still lives, in some corners, to be about the Gospel and about the business of saving souls. 

That’s why I’m becoming a United Methodist—not because I’m crazy. Or, maybe, because I’m just crazy enough. 

What has been your opinion of the United Methodist Church? How does this post inform the way you think of the UMC?