Best Books I Read in 2013

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2013 was not a huge reading year for me in terms of academic learning given most of it was spent preparing to move out of the country and the other half was spent learning to live and work in another country.  More of my energies have gone to life management and adjustments and my new role as IGSL faculty has required me to invest all of my creative energies into teaching various classes for the first time.

That being said, 2013 was a year where I read fewer books than normal yet there was some quality and depth to several of them.  Here’s the top 5 that impacted me this past year along with some honorable mentions. I’ll be blogging more in detail on some of them as time allows as I get back into my blogging rhythm.

The short version (with brief reflections to be done further down)

The Prophets by Abraham Heschel, Misreading Scripture through Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Prototype by Jonathan Martin, When Helping Hurts Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert , Leading Cross-Culturally by Sherwood Lingenfelter, and then Deepening the Soul for Justice by Bethany Hoang

Top 5 Books of 2013

1. The Prophets (Part 1) by Abraham Heschel – I’ll confess I’m not finished with this.  But because it’s so long (650 pgs) and so dense and challenging to read, I am going to give myself credit for the first half of the book which is more quantity and quality than most academic books already.  It’s a study of the Old Testament prophets that is one of the deepest and most profound of anything I’ve read.  I could highlight most of the book and I’ve been left amazed and deep in thought frequently.  It’s a Biblical studies book, a theology book, a philosophy book, and a social ethics book all rolled into one.

My attempts to capture the book will fall short, but it’s becoming one of my top 5 books of all time in its impact on me and it’s deepened my worship of God as well as given even more clarity to what God calls His people to in terms of relationship and in terms of social responsibility.  Beyond being a book about the prophets, it is a book that is itself very prophetic in its articulation of the God of the prophets and the dynamics of discipleship in community and in social context.   If you have the determination and resolve and motivation – I recommend it fully!

2. Misreading Scripture Through Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien – This was perhaps the most immediately helpful book this year as I read it while adjusting to a new culture in which I am living amidst and ministering to people and leaders from over 20 countries, all eastern.  It doesn’t provide black and white solutions to all the west v. east tensions, nor should it.  But it highlights the tensions really well with great real life examples and solid exegesis.

It’s a phenomenal resource as a western thinker and leader to continue looking at what assumptions I may bring to my study of the Scriptures. If you have a western orientation and want to expand your mind and the way you think about the Scriptures, I encourage you to check this out.  In fact, I would require all western leaders in my organization to read this as part of their new staff training.

3. Prototype by Jonathan Martin – I came across Jonathan Martin’s blog a while ago randomly, I think through a retweeted blog post related to reflections on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  I was struck by the authenticity and depth by that post and others that I was motivated to read this initial book by Martin when it came out.  I took a break halfway through with my move to the Philippines, but sometimes you read an author’s words and it’s life giving because it captures exactly what you are fighting for, what you teach, and what you advocate for. This was such a book for me.

Several chapters I could have written myself. Several chapters I wished I could have written, but represented core tenants of my theological and ministry convictions. And several chapters I could not have written and I was just blessed by his insight and perspectives into the Scriptures and a philosophy of ministry that truly reflects the amazing power and mystery that is the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  I was blessed by this book in the way one is blessed by sitting down with a kindred spirit.

4. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert  –  I was familiar with some of the concepts before I read it, but it was such a powerful book to really go through.  Having been working in ethnic minority ministry for several years, everything here was so relevant. It continues to be relevant now that I’m serving in an international context.  I described this initially as a book that would make most church missions’ pastors or committees want to throw up because there is so much that is convicting and so much tough truth.  However, there is great hope and vision in this book too and I hope that anyone seeking to minister across cultures and especially across power distance to read it. It’s a paradigm shaping book.

5a. Leading Cross Culturally by Sherwood Lingenfelter  –  Just a really good book on cross-cultural leadership that had great input related to ministering across cultural difference and especially power difference and gaps.  I’ve used several chapters of this in my classes and it has been a very helpful resource.  This wasn’t a life changing read for me given my immersion in cross-cultural leadership for a while, but I was refreshed by the resource and it’s applicability to many that I am serving. I recommend it often.

Honorable Mention:  Deepening the Soul for Justice by Bethany Hoang, Mud and the Masterpiece by John Burke, The Power of Negative Thinking by Bob Knight, The Significance Principle by Les Carter and Jim Underhill

5b. Deepening the Soul for Justice was a short, but powerful read for me.  It had as much immediate impact on me as any book I read.  It probably deserves to be in the top 5. It is about what it takes for us to expand our capacity to handle what’s involved in advocating for the oppressed and marginalized. It spoke to my reality and what was weighing heavy on my heart the last couple years.  I just was growing weary and couldn’t absorb the pain and the many injustices I was seeing in different contexts.  I was tired of fighting, of advocating. This book helped connect me with what God wanted to and needed to do in the deepest parts of my life if I was to continue on in my ministry.

I hope to read more in 2014 so if there’s any life changing books that you read in 2013, please send me your recommendations!!

For my past “Best books read” lists check the links below:

Best books read in 2012

Best books read in 2011

Best books read in 2010

Best books read in 2009 and earlier

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2 thoughts on “Best Books I Read in 2013”

  1. OK, I’m going to commit to The Prophets for 2014. May take me the whole year if it is taking you as long as it sounds.

    1. yeah – it’s a grind and even finishing 10 pages feel like an accomplishment, but there’s a few chapters in there that are just incredible. Waidley read it (I think he may have actually finished while my move to the other side of the world set me back by several months). but it’s really good stuff so you’ll have to let me know when you read it

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