My Top Reads of 2018

by Mike Phay

  1. The Letters of John Newton by John Newton. Newton’s letters accompanied me throughout the year, even during some very dark days. At their core was the truth, purportedly spoken by Newton on his deathbed: “I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great savior.” This truth continues to shape me: Jesus shows me my sin because he loves me. Every Christian should be required to read Newton’s letters.
  2. Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. One of the greatest American authors of our time, Berry’s fiction is incredible. This was a beautifully written picture of a courageous and full life, well-lived. I will read it again.
  3. Revival and Revivalism by Iain Murray. This one, again, took me a while to get through. It reads as history, and can sometimes be dry, especially as many of the characters are unfamiliar to the modern reader. Murray’s point is clear, though: the way we see and understand revival, evangelism, and conversion has changed dramatically in the last 300 years largely due to the influence of “revivalism.” I came to faith in a culture highly influenced by revivalism, even though I’ve moved away from it–both practically and theologically–over the past two decades. Murray’s look at it was helpful in explaining why. Well worth the read.
  4. Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton. This is the best leadership book I’ve read in a while. Barton looks at the life of Moses and applies it to the spiritual life of the reader as a leader. A helpful book that skips over the pragmatic and goes straight to the heart.
  5. Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene H. Peterson. One of my favorite authors, Peterson uses the story of Jonah to nail our church and pastoral culture between the eyes by calling pastors and leaders to return to the calling of spiritual leadership. Peterson stretches the bounds of interpretation with the story and the points he draws from it. However, in looking beyond that, his is one of the clearest prophetic voices of the last 50 years that consistently urges pastors to return to their biblical calling.
  6. A Praying Life by Paul Miller. Miller’s book is a fresh take on living a life of prayer. Not a list of “how-tos” but an invitation to enter into a God-bathed reality. When you’re able to see the invitation into a praying life, the “how-tos” become life-giving rather than moralistic.
  7. Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree. I’m a natural critic, and Sam’s book was convicting to me on multiple levels. Simple yet truthful, it was a call to envelop relationships with 80% affirmation and 20% critique or correction. I usually get this ratio backward, and I find it’s like kryptonite to my relationships. This was the most helpfully practical book I read this year.
  8. The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus by Alan J. Thompson. A scholarly book that focused on the overarching theological vision of the Book of Acts. I read this during a retreat as I was preparing to begin preaching through Acts. It was the most helpful book I could have read, clarifying the overarching theme of Acts as Jesus’ Kingship over the spread of the church.
  9. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. I read a lot of history and biography this year, but this one was the most fun. It helped, I think, that I listened to it as an audiobook, as the narration was well-done. An interesting story that I had never heard before.
  10. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin. I had never heard of Le Guin until she passed away in 2018, even though she was a resident of Oregon (like me). I threw a dart, and this is the book that I hit, and man was it incredible. The main character is cursed with the power to alter reality through his “effective” dreams. Though probably unintended by the author, I saw this as a metaphor for the “prayer of a righteous man” which “has great power as it is working” (James 5:16b).

Published by Mike Phay

Husband. Father. Pastor. Teacher.

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