Pastor J.D. is an avid reader—both by personality and by conviction. But you don’t have to devour books as ravenously as he does to benefit from his erudite ways. In fact, you can do what I do: Let him read all the books and tell you which ones are worth your time.
The books below are Pastor J.D.’s best reads of the past 12 months. You now have your summer assignments!
(Note: While Pastor J.D. liked some of these books more than others, the task of ranking all of them was too herculean for a mere mortal to bear. So I’ve arranged these alphabetically by author.)
In a day when socialism is on the rise and runaway capitalism is seen as an instrument of oppression, Kenneth Barnes writes with clarity and fairness about what capitalism is, how it goes right, and how it can go wrong. He explains how the good parts of capitalism have lead to one of the most prosperous economies ever conceived, but how those principles must be matched with virtue in order for the blessing to be extended to all. It’s a much-needed book in our cultural conversation right now.
Wounded Tiger is a phenomenal book that traces the parallel experiences of two soldiers—one Japanese and one American—in WWII. The Japanese soldier was a commander who led a strike against Pearl Harbor. The American soldier was one of the bombers in the Doolittle Raid. Mostly told from the Japanese perspective, this book helped me understand both the frustrations of the Japanese leading up to WWII and some of the causes of war on their side. The book also explains how the American soldier came to Christ and eventually went back to Japan after the war to bring the gospel to the Japanese, as well as the surprising intersection of these men’s’ lives. It’s a very inspiring, moving, and illuminating book. If you love WWII stories, you’ll love this book.
I’ve written on this before on the blog, but this is one of the most helpful evangelism books I’ve read in my life. Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian professor of literature and queer studies at Syracuse University, became a Christian a couple of decades ago, is now married to a pastor, and lives in Durham, NC. From her experience, she explains that the principles about hospitality she learned in the gay and lesbian community are the key to crossing the cultural divide and reaching people who are very unlike us. She also shares how in the New Testament, we see a lot of evangelism happening in homes around meals, as Jesus basically eats his way through the gospel of Luke, using meals to share the gospel with sinful people.
I’ve recommended a number of evangelism books to people in our church, but this is one that the ladies in our church, in particular, have responded to, saying that it was the most helpful book they’ve ever read on how to use their homes and the rhythm of their lives as an evangelism tool. I had our staff read it, I preached a couple of sermons on it, and made it available for our church. You won’t be sorry. It’s good on so many levels, not least of which is Rosaria’s insight into the gay and lesbian community and how to point that community to faith in Christ as well.
For you historical fiction junkies, this was a fascinating trilogy. Bernard Cornwell is a meticulous researcher who writes in great detail about the economic, social, and spiritual practices of certain time periods with great specificity as he weaves engaging fictional narrative through them with intrigue, suspense, and drama. This one is about the times of King Arthur. Of course, historians aren’t sure if Arthur ever even existed, but if he did, you’d imagine that the story unfolded a lot like Cornwell tells it.
Warning: This book is laden with profanity, but it is a moving, inspiring story of a man who grew up with all kinds of disadvantages but would never assume victim status. He always overcame. Page after page, he shows you there are ways to succeed if you’re willing to dig deep enough and pay the price. It is not a Christ-centered book by any stretch of the imagination, but it helps demonstrate why we often give up way too quickly and leave a lot of successes on the table.
This book takes a fascinating look at the lives of four of the most significant presidents in U.S. history: Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson—two Republicans and two Democrats. Though I often disagree with some of her perspectives, Goodwin is one of my favorite biographers, paying careful attention to relevant detail, helping to both humanize the characters, and showing you the sources of their greatness. This is not hagiography (writing about the saints), but it also shows you how the character of these men shaped the nation.
On a related note, I actually listened to this one on Audible. They use four different narrators for each president and the voices are extremely well chosen, helping you match the timbre of the voice to what we know about the person. I found it very enjoyable for that reason alone, but the content is great and it’s one of the most enjoyable biographical leadership books I’ve ever read.
This is an amazing book by one of my favorite opinion journalists. Noonan often writes in the Wall Street Journal nowadays, but she began her career as a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and other presidents. She provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into just what goes on in the White House and how speeches are produced, including her analysis of both historical and current speeches to illustrate what makes certain speeches effective. Perhaps my favorite chapter was when she talked about how oratory can move people for a moment, but clear logic moves people for a lifetime.
One disadvantage of this book is that it was written in the late 90s, so it doesn’t go beyond the presidency of Bill Clinton. I’d love to see her update this book and re-release it.
John Perkins is one of the greatest men of the last century. A devoted Christ-follower who walked side-by-side with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he offers a prescription now for the way ahead—one full of forgiveness and hope, free of bitterness, and oozing with optimism and love. We’ve had the privilege of having John Perkins at The Summit Church, and he is the same in person as he is in this book. You’ll find yourself challenged, convicted, and most of all, stirred to action.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up Peterson’s book. Peterson is a clinical psychologist from Canada. He is not a Christian, but he writes with extreme insight into human character and the pitfalls of political correctness. The book is moving, entertaining, and insightful, as he challenges a lot of narratives that we hear in the media, such as the differences between men and women, civic responsibility, victimhood, and capitalism.
This one’s for Luther junkies and bibliophiles alike. Written unlike any other biography I’ve read on Luther, Pettegree explains how Luther’s reformation took off, not just because discovered truth the church had forgotten, but because he mastered the new media. From the printing press to book layout and design, Luther’s ability to adopt the new ways of communicating made me reflect on how communicators today can capitalize on the new media to continue to spread the gospel.
I read this book years ago, but it’s been great to get back to it. Walking through the primary teachings of Jesus, Piper teaches readers that what Jesus demands from the world: to seek him is to seek the Father. It surprised me sometimes how, even as a Ph.D. in theology, I find myself yearning to go back to the simple truths of who God is and how he is revealed in Christ. Anyone wanting to plumb the divine mysteries of God should delve deep into the simple teachings of Christ.
I am personally committed to reading everything Ben Sasse writes. I loved his first major book, The Vanishing of the American Adult. In Them, he continues the same type of themes. It’s not an overtly political book, nor is it a book on parenting; however, speaking in the context of a father raising children, he shows what values have caused America to prosper and which values can help both us and our children thrive in life and society. A Republican senator from Nebraska and a very committed Christian, Sasse talks about how the restoration of civic responsibility, personal initiative, and virtue could lead America out of the polarized quagmire it is in.
Practicing the Power was one of the most helpful and challenging books I’ve ever read on the Holy Spirit. Sam Storms, a very responsible theologian, walks through what Scripture promises about the Spirit and what we ought to expect in the church. He unpacks how we should expect to see prophecy be exercised in the church, how to engage with the demonic, what the gift of faith is, and where we should be expecting great outpourings of power that are not common to today’s evangelical churches.
I’ve had our staff read sections of the book and hope to see many of these principles more deeply embedded in the life of The Summit Church. There were a few things in there I didn’t quite agree with (or at least wasn’t sure of), but I found Sam’s exegesis and his application thorough and helpful. It’s a very readable book filled with great insights that come from a lot of experience.
In this book, the author lays out the case that, from Nixon onward, the success of the presidency was determined not by the intelligence of the President, but by their ability to use a gatekeeper (Chief of Staff). From Nixon to Carter, to Reagan to Obama, the departure of a Chief of Staff led to the downfall of a presidency.
It’s one of the most helpful books I’ve read on learning how to work with a staff with lots of responsibility. Particularly, as I’ve served as President of the SBC and pastor of The Summit Church, it’s helped me keep things effective. I’m so grateful for those leaders who work side-by-side with me. This book taught me how to appreciate them and platform them even better. Plus, it’s just a fascinating look behind the scenes of what goes on in the White House.
Two Navy SEALs share how the character and leadership principles from their training can help ordinary people succeed in life and business, all centering around the theme: A real leader never passes the blame. And even if a leader’s team or others failed them, a leader takes responsibility. This kind of mindset leads you to creative solutions and bringing other people on board to find a way to make it work. In battle, that makes the difference between life and death. In life, that makes the difference between success and failure. The authors explain that there is no such thing as bad teams, only bad leaders. It all reminded me of something I heard many years ago: “As a leader, you can delegate opportunity but never responsibility.”