By / Feb 10

Editor’s Note: We asked some of our staff members to recommend books that have influenced them in the past or that they’re looking forward to reading this year. We hope you’ll benefit from these suggestions and find something to add to your reading list.

Tom Strode

The Pleasures of God by John Piper. This insightful book about the God-centeredness of God turned me toward more God-centered thinking when I read it in 1998. It can be an important book for every disciple of Jesus to read.

Trillia Newbell

Future Grace by John Piper is one of my all-time favorites and one I return to often. The subtitle is something like “the purifying power of the promises of God.” Future Grace reminds me that right now as I fight temptation there truly is grace available to me. I don’t fight alone. It’s not a lonely battle when we remember God’s promises.

Spiritual Depression is another wonderfully helpful book by Martyn Lloyd Jones. The Christian life isn’t always rainbows and sunshine. There are times of great desperation. At some point everyone will probably experience a dryness that they had not anticipated. This book is helpful for identifying the cause and problem and sharing solutions through God’s Word. It’s just helpful to know you aren’t alone.

Dan Darling

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Tim Keller. If you haven't read this book, read this book. It's this generation's version of Mere Christianity. It's already, I think, a classic in that it tackles the most difficult arguments for the existence of God and the case for Christianity and answers them by making the skeptic lean on his own questions and in a way that is inviting to the story of Christianity. Do read this book.

The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God's Story by D.A. Carson I had the privilege of studying with Dr. Carson at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His was this book on steroids. Or maybe a better way of saying it is that this book is that class encapsulated. At any rate, Dr. Carson traces themes throughout Scripture, putting the Bible together in a way that I had never heard before.

Created in God's Image by Anthony Hoekema This is one of the best theological books I've read on what it means to be created in God's image, on biblical anthropology. It's a textbook, not a beach read, yet it will prove to be one of the most rewarding books you have ever read.

Jordan Cramer

Matt Perman's What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done. The reason why I think it should be read is because it helps lay a foundation for “getting the right things done.” I believe it also helps us look back to “work” in general and move us forward with living out the gospel in our different vocations.

Sam Dahl

I am going to recommend a book I haven't read yet but am looking forward to reading in 2015. Jesus, Continued…: Why the Spirit Inside You is Better than Jesus Beside You by J.D. Greear is one of the top books on my list for the year. I am increasingly aware of my need for the Holy Spirit in everyday life, but don't feel like understand the Spirit well, or know how to consciously rely on him. J.D.'s books have been a great encouragement to me in the past, and I'm confident Jesus Continued will be as well.

Andrew Walker

I recently finished an older, shorter volume by Carl Henry called Toward a Recovery of Christian Belief. It's only available as a used book, sadly, but is an excellent, concise explanation into Henry's approach to theology and its application to the Public Square. Fair warning: It's not necessarily an easy read at all points (Henry rarely ever was!), but it's a shorter work that will help introduce the reader to the dean of evangelical theology. Evangelicals interested in ethics and public square issues would be well served to retrieve Henry's legacy—this book will help!

Jill Waggoner

The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by David Brooks isn't a new book, but one I completed this last year. As a mom of two littles, my reading time is limited, and this book felt like I took a course in anthropology, economics, psychology and more. Brooks is one of my favorite writers, and he took a comprehensive look at the way relationships affect human flourishing. There are direct implications for social and economic policy, as well as the church. As the wife of a small groups minister, I found it fascinating how science supported what we know–that living in community with others enhances our lives in innumerable ways.

Daniel Patterson

What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman: God has given each of us different responsibilities in life, and yet all of us are called to be good stewards of that with which we have been entrusted—not only our money and resources, but also our time and tasks and work—and all of us in Christ are to live lives for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). Matt Perman's book What's Best Next is a gift to the body of Christ that helps us to think about work and productivity with a gospel focus. This book is helpful, first, because it is not just a book on getting things done, but a book that frames productivity and work in the larger context of a the Christian life. The book is enormously helpful too, though, when it moves into the specifics of thinking through how to be more productive with one's time. Particularly useful are the ways in which Perman encourages readers to plan their week, to do so according to roles God has given each of us in life, and the way in which he outlines strategies for effective daily planning and execution. Not every person will adopt Perman's system comprehensively—I haven't—but I suspect there are very few Christians, regardless of vocation or life stage, that would not find something in this book from which they would benefit.

By / Jan 1

It’s that time of year again when we break out our New Year’s resolutions and make our impossible surely-I-can-do-it this year lists. Even though we know they are tough to finish, and even harder to start, we keep coming back for more. For many of us exercise will be on top of the list, but for the Christian we often flock to Bible reading plans. I’ve been there, done that and I’d love to share with you a few reasons why, even though I’ve failed, I’m doing it again.

This year I will embark on the “How to Change Your Mind” Bible plan. The plan is simple:

  1. Choose a book of the Bible.
  2. Read it in its entirety.
  3. Repeat step number two 20 times.
  4. Repeat this process for all books of the Bible.

Here’s why:

1. It’s the Bible

This seems to go without saying but anytime we can plan to get in the Word it’s a good thing. We don’t hope in our plan and we definitely shouldn’t derive prideful satisfaction from completing our plan (all satisfaction isn’t prideful, mind you), but that shouldn’t stop us from pursuing it either. The Bible is living and active. It’s where we learn about our Living Hope. It’s how we hear from our Lord. It’s where we learn how to walk out our faith. We find out more about our Savior and rejoice. The Bible helps lead us to our Savior where we then turn all that reading into worship. Planning to read it is a good pursuit because it is the very words of God.

As Kevin DeYoung wrote in Taking God At His Word:

“When we embrace everything the Bible says about itself, then—and only then—will we believe what we should believe about the word of God, feel what we should feel, and do with the word of God what we ought to do.”

So, one motivation for starting this reading plan is simply to plan to read it because it is the Bible.

2. Saturated in the Word

Like I mentioned before, I’ve started plans and have failed. Many of the plans I’ve tried instruct the reader to skip all over the Bible and digest several passages from several books in one sitting. It’s amazing to me that people are able to sustain such reading—my husband is one of them. I’ve tried and tried again and I simply cannot do it. I get confused and find myself just trying to cram in the verses rather than soak in the truth.

Difficulty using various plans is not the case for everyone, but it has been for me. However, the idea of reading an entire book in a sitting is much more appealing.  I’ve read books at a time before, but never considered reading the entire Bible this way and not consistently (i.e. more than once). I’m excited to read books like Ephesians twenty times! Twenty times! Can you imagine how saturated you’d be in the Word if you read the same thing over and over again? I want my mind to be renewed and refreshed and I believe the Lord will provide such sweet grace as I read.

3. Pray as you read

I haven’t seen a reading plan that also encourages you to pray (I’m not saying they aren’t out there—I simply haven’t seen it). This again is a wonderful reminder that communion with God is active. I don’t want to simply read the Bible, I’d like to ask him to fill me with his Spirit, make the words make sense (illuminate them to me), give me an even greater desire for him, hunger and thirst for righteousness, and enjoy him!

I haven’t come to the Lord with such requests in a long time. In my daily work, which often involves the Scriptures, I’ve become dry and predictable. I pray but not like this…not about his words to me and for me.

4. Failure is an option

Although we don’t want to go into a plan with the expectation to fail, we also don’t want to make it so much about duty that we forget to delight. I am not condemned in the least about my past attempts and failures to complete plans. My goal was always to start reading and reading consistently. Those plans always accomplished that goal, by the grace of God. And when it became too much, I changed. Simple.

Once I get into the larger books, this reading plan will become much more difficult to accomplish. I’ll need to break up readings over a series of days and it may take months to complete reading a book twenty times. Besides being a slow reader, I’m a mom and I work (writing and speaking). I’m not putting unrealistic pressure on myself and neither should you.

Just try. Take the pressure off and enjoy the God of the Bible.

What Bible should I use?

In most cases, the version and type of Bible you use during your reading plan doesn’t matter. Joe Carter suggests using an easy to read Bible for this plan and I agree. The Bible I will be using is unique and seems like a perfect companion to the “How to Change Your Mind” plan. Because the plan requires reading through an entire book, I’ve decided to use the ESV Reader’s Bible which is designed without the added chapter headings, sub-headings, and Bible verses. This style will not only make reading easier with limited distractions, it will also facilitate my desire to simply read.

I’m easily distracted by footnotes and I cross reference often as I read. There is a time and place for that sort of Bible study (and I will no doubt continue to do so as I write) but I’d like to table the study and enjoy the benefits of reading—simply reading—during my allotted Bible reading times.

Enough about planning to read, let’s get started. Let me know if you decide to do this plan too. If not, feel free to suggest your favorite reading plans below.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Quick word about legalism. Reading the Bible only becomes legalistic if you believe that your Bible reading somehow justifies you or adds to your salvation. Please don’t be distracted by the fear of legalism. Just read and ask God to help you realize that your salvation comes only from the finished work of Christ on the cross on your behalf. It is finished! And if you are tempted to think that everyone using a Bible plan is a legalist, please have grace (love) your fellow Christian and don’t place undue burden and accusation. Let’s just enjoy God and his grace together. Read! Enjoy! Be free!