Yesterday we took our daughter for a drive by last day of Kindergarten. She hasn’t gotten to have a kindergarten graduation, but her teacher made sure to celebrate the end of the year for all of the kids. In fact, the entire preschool did a drive by end of the year celebration complete with balloons, gifts, free pizza vouchers, and beach balls for the kids! In our daughter’s bag of end of the year goodies and things worked on throughout the year was a summer calendar with things that we could do as parents every day in June, July, and August to keep our daughter on track with learning before first grade.
My first thought was, “Seriously, summer school at home?!?” But, I then thought through the need to continue learning, no matter what phase of life you are in. Albert Einstein once said something to the effect of anyone who spends 15 minutes a day learning something new would be an expert in the matter of a year. How are you doing with that? I know I am about 362 days shy of being an expert!
What would happen if we applied that summer learning to our spiritual growth as followers of Christ? I am convinced that the weight of the Gospel beckons us to learn as much a we can about God and our faith. Donald Whitney wrote a book years ago titled Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. In his chapter on learning, he makes this statement:
“Growth in Godliness involves a mental renewal that cannot happen without learning…We will not grow much in Godliness if we do know what it means to be Godly. We will not becoe more like Christ if we don’t know more of what Christ is like.”
This assertion is primarily the reason so many of our churches are unhealthy. I love Sunday Bible Study, Midweek, and our worship services, but they will not accomplish the level of spiritual learning that is necessary to grow in Godliness.
Let’s consider it this way: how much of what you put into your heart and mind each day promotes Godliness or Christlikeness? Does that series we like to binge on Netflix? What about our talk radio (sports, politics, NPR, etc)? For the movie buffs out there, are the movies we watch promoting Christlikeness or worldliness? Some of us are readers. Are those books challenging our mind as followers of Christ or lulling us to sleep with the values of the world? Would a scan of the presets on our radio elevate our relationship with Christ or our enjoyment of the world’s entertainment? How does our 24-hour news cycle draw us closer to understanding God?
I do not ask these questions of us to be damning or to bring shame. These are only to help us see that much of what stifles our growth in Christ is the worldliness that is promoted by everything else in our lives. It would be silly for me to run 5 miles every day in hopes of losing weight and getting in shape only to have a dinner made up of supreme pizza, hot wings, Pepsi, and an ice cream sundae each day!
So, in order to promote spiritual learning that will help us grow toward Godliness together, I am offering you a summer reading list. The fifteen books that you will see listed below have been instrumental in my own spiritual growth and maturity. There are other books that I could add to the list, but let’s start here. Between now and Thursday, August 27 I will offer a high light each of these books to encourage you to read and grow. I want to encourage you to pick a few of these books to read and digest. Some of them are deeper reads and some of them are spiritually challenging without the mental fatigue.
These works are in alphabetical order by author, not intended to give an order of priority or my own favor. You will also find an Amazon smile link with each book (the link has been shortened to a tinyurl to save space). You can use this link to order the book, if you find that it is one you want to read. Using Amazon smile, you can designate our church as a nonprofit beneficiary from your purchase.
Without further ado, here is the 2020 Summer Reading List:
- Plain Theology for Plain People – Charles Octavius Boothe; Boothe was an African American pastor in the late 19th Knowing that many of his congregants were uneducated and poor, Boothe sought to break down the great truths of our faith and theology in a way that would not require a seminary degree. Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/yddbadnd
- Respectable Sins – Jerry Bridges; This work exposes how we can become comfortable with our own “pet sins” because we can readily identify the big sins within our culture. Bridges presses us to holiness by confronting these sins in a way that brings hope and not condemnation. Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/y9kksk3s
- Forgotten God – Francis Chan; Francis Chan has given this book as a great reminder of the important role that the Holy Spirit plays in our Christian lives. Sometimes we are prone to be all about God the Father and Jesus (which is great!), but leave the Holy Spirit on the back burner. This book has been an instrumental challenge in my own life to recover the vitality of the Holy Spirit in my life as a Christian. Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/yc8mw8ht
- The Explicit Gospel – Matt Chandler; Matt Chandler’s book brings us back to the core of what the Gospel is and what the Gospel means. If you have been in church your whole life or if you are relatively new, we can unfortunately adapt ideas that sound good but are not related to the Gospel into our minds. This book is a good read for reclaiming the Gospel according to the New Testament. Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/y8vy2zla
- Vintage Jesus – Mark Driscoll; While culture has an idea of Who Jesus is, their portrayal is distorted a best and heretical at worst. You and I live in culture, so what the world says will often shade our thinking. Remember when Jesus asked the disciples what everyone else said about Him? The permeating question was “Who do you think that I am?” Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears take this approach in a book that is not just for the church, but for anyone wanting to truly know Who Jesus was. Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/ybv2vbhp
- Kingdom Man: Every Man’s Destiny, Every Woman’s Dream – Tony Evans; Men, if you read one book on this list, let this be the book. The standard that the world has set for us is so far removed from who God created us to be as His people. Take the first step towards being God’s man this summer and read this one. Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/ycfhzb7g
- Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be with God – Bill Hybels; Life is busy and crazy, right? I know I have struggled with prayerlessness as a pastor because there is always something to distract me. This book has been instrumental in drawing the urgency of the day back to our need to pray! Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/yad2v25y
- Not a Fan – Kyle Idleman; Idleman pastors a church in Louisville, KY and has seen the full gamut of church goers: the ones that are serious about Jesus and the ones that know enough to get by. He asks a simple question: are you a fan of Jesus or a follower of Jesus? Choose to be a follower. This book mixes humor and discipleship in innovative ways. I encourage all believers to read this book once in their life. Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/y7bpp98b
- Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God – Tim Keller; Tim Keller has given me my go to book for what it means to grow in prayer. This book shapes the heart and mind toward prayer as it looks at different ways that prayer is expressed in the Bible. This is a great growth tool for anyone who feels stuck in a rut when it comes to prayer. Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/ybffo4ha
- Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis; If there is one book that I suggest everyone on the planet read other than the Bible, it is this classic by C.S. Lewis. It is a good, solid read to help you set our faith apart from common practice. Books like this challenge our thinking in ways that cause us to grow, but also compel those outside of our faith to take a closer look to what Christianity actually holds. Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/ycjc4rh5
- Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel – Russell Moore; Moore is the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. His position exposes us to legislation that could compromise our free practice of religion and calls us to faithfulness to who we are in Christ. This work demonstrates that it is not enough to take the moral high ground in culture, we must tether everything to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/y77csnb8
- Knowing God – J.I. Packer; If the goal of this newsletter is to challenge our church to learn in ways that promote Godliness, then how about a book that is titled Knowing God?!? Packer is one of the modern classics in theology and understanding. This will not be a weekend read, but it will be one of the most formational books you can read (outside of the Bible) on what it means to understand and know God. You will wrestle with Who God is, much like Jacob at the river Jabbok in Genesis 32. However, instead of a limp, you will walk away with a richer relationship with Almighty God. Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/ycr3tkfm
- Let the Nations Be Glad!: The Supremacy of God in Missions – John Piper; While I do not always agree with John Piper, I cannot argue with his passion and enthusiasm for God’s sovereignty. Here, Piper demonstrates that worshiping God must compel missions within the Church. However, that doesn’t start with the congregation, it starts with you and me. This will be a book that changes your drive to do missions wherever you are. Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/y6uy9qss
- Holiness – JC Ryle; I have struggled with this quote from JC Ryle since I first read it in 2007 as a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary: “The immense importance of “adorning the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:10), and making it lovely and beautiful by our daily habits and tempers, has been far too much overlooked. Worldly people sometimes complain with reason that “religious” persons, so-called, are not so amiable and unselfish and good-natured as others who make no profession of religion. Yet sanctification, in its place and proportion, is quite as important as justification. Sound Protestant and Evangelical doctrine is useless if it is not accompanied by a holy life. It is worse than useless; it does positive harm.” What stands out so much to me is that Ryle did not write this about modern Christianity, but about his contemporaries in 1877! You will not be sorry you read this book! Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/y9or5nzm
- Knowledge of the Holy – A.W. Tozer; Tozer has given one of the greatest works on understanding the nature of God and what that means for our life and practice. This book carries great weight in how we address prayer, life in the Holy Spirit, and grow in the Word of God. If you want to take your faith to a new level, read this book! Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/y8spjujv
Now that you are set for your summer reading, let me encourage you to pray with each page you read. God will use this time to help us all grow together as His people. Next week, we will talk about Plain Theology for Plain People and work through the list together!
Let me know how your reading goes!
 Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1991), 227.