What’s Pastor Kevin Reading: A LOT of Books


Long time followers of this blog (again, really, just my mother and I think at this point her uncle Paul) know that my huge goal for the 2016 calendar year was to read 100 books.  Well, as of yesterday around 3pm I read the last words of Marilynne Robinson’s wonderful novel Lila and let it slowly dawn on me that I had actually succeeded.

Then I went to my list of books and went to publish them here only to realize I had accidentally listed one book twice which meant I still had another book to read!  So I frantically downloaded a Walter Brueggemann volume on the life of David, read it over the last 36 hours and can now proudly say I read 100 books this year!

This part of 2016 has been brutal but well worth it.  I do not sit still well and I have always found reading boring but several times this year I forced myself to sit for hours at a time and work through a book when I rather would have been doing anything but.  That is the real victory.

I made up some other rules as the year went on to keep myself in check.  At one point it occurred to me I had not reread any books from previous years so I continued that, meaning the list below were all brand new to me this year.  At another point I realized the oldest book I had read was from the 1960s and that bothered me so I began reading older books.  Then I noticed that some books I read were kind of short so I forced myself to read a string of longer, harder books to make up for it.

So after a long year of averaging 2 books a week, I proudly publish my list.  I broke them into categories for you all.  I wanted to do an official ranking but that was taking way too long.  But I do have categories for the top five and for “forgettables.”  I didn’t include those in other categories.  I typed some sarcastic or noteworthy comments on the ones that felt like they deserved it.  This is for your perusal and I hope you spot one or two you would like to read in the next year!

(Oh and if you spot another book I listed twice, just go ahead and keep that to yourself.  Ignorance is bliss!)

Top 5

  1. Prophetic Lament by Soong Chan Rah (Not only the best but also the newest. I think I bought it two days after publication.)
  2. Gilead by Marilyne Robinson (Robinson’s three novels about pastors and their families are on this list but this one, the first one, stands above the others as a triumph in literature.)
  3. A Failure of Nerve, by Edwin Friedman
  4. Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson
  5. The Social Animal by David Brooks


*I honestly did read these books but I also honestly have no recollection of doing so.

  1. The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen 
  2. Story-Shaped Worship, by Robbie Castleman (Sad story: this book was listed twice on my original list which meant I had to read another book at the last minute to get over the 100 mark.)
  3. Move on By Vicky Courtney
  4. Growing God’s Church by Gary L. McIntosh (I remember this book now! It was stupid in every way.  I hated it.  I wrote a blog about it too!  I am still leaving it here though in the hopes that I forget it again.)
  5. Charles Finney Biography
  6. Essential Beliefs by Mark Maddix and Diane Leclerc
  7. God Dwells Among us by G.K. Beale and Mitchell Kim
  8. Jesus the Pastor by John Frye

Most Unique

  1. The Sacred Diary of Plass by Plass (A friend lent me his copy. Good luck finding another one.)

Bible Books

  1. Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson
  2. Kings and Presidents by Tim and Shawna Gaines
  3. Our Father Abraham, by Marvin Wilson
  4. Carolyn Sharp Old Testament Prophets for Today
  5. Interpreting Prophetic Literature by James Nogalski
  6. Challenging Prophetic Metaphor by Julia M. O Brien
  7. The Theology of the Book of Amos by John Barton
  8. The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel by Paul Anderson
  9. Cycle of Victorious Living by Scott Daniels
  10. Paul by Rowan Williams
  11. Who’s Got Your Back by Eddie Estep
  12. The Rapture Exposed by Barbara Rossing
  13. The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter (I am ashamed to admit that I had not read Alter or Brueggemann before this year. But at least I remedied it now.)
  14. The Art of Biblical Poetry by Robert Alter
  15. Spirituality of the Psalms by Walter Brueggemann (I feel like Brueggemann’s books are cheating because they are short but every word is packed with incredible meaning. The point to page ratios are outstanding!)
  16. David’s Truth In Israel’s Imagination by Walter Brueggemann

The Cheaters

*With low page numbers, these count as books but barely.  Most were read in a day or even an hour when I was down, unmotivated and desperate to catch back up.

  1. Trinity: The God We Don’t Know by Jason Byassee
  2. 30 Days with Wesley by Mark Harmon (a wonderful Wesleyan devotional meant to take a month. I was behind by four books in late July so I read it in an hour and a half.)
  3. Antagonists in the Local Church by Brian Samsen (This was actually a thesis for a D.Min but it was 120 pages and very good)
  4. Missions Mosaic by Donna Wilson (This is one of the Church of the Nazarene Missions books. I could have read and counted all six but that really would have been cheating)
  5. Church History for Modern Ministry by Dayton Hartman (This is not the worst book but it is the most disappointing. I bought it thinking it would be a long primer in church history and found it was 4 chapters and 80 pages talking about why pastors should study church history)

The Grossly Overblown Discussions of Meaningless Data

  1. Meet Generation Z by James Emery White (Spoiler alert, the next generation is being raised by the current generation so James Emery White is fairly convinced they are going to be bad at everything, mostly God stuff)
  2. Reaching Millenials by David Stark
  3. America at the Crossroads by George Barna

More Theological and Academic

(Three of these are about Martin Luther and one is by Martin Luther.  It is kind of fun to just dig deep into one historical person and their theology.  This category also wins the award for most books written by people I know!)

  1. Holy Trinity: Holy People: The Theology of Christian Perfecting, by T. A. Noble
  2. The Uncontrolling Love of God by Thomas Jay Oord
  3. Wholeness in Christ by William Greathouse
  4. Theology of Martin Luther by Paul Altheus
  5. Martin Luther’s Theology by Lohse
  6. Freedom Regained: The Possibility of Free Will by Julian Baggini
  7. Christian Ethics and the Church by Philip Turner
  8. Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology by Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy
  9. The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther (By far the oldest book I read!)
  10. Union with Christ by Braaten and Jensen


  1. Home by Marilyne Robinson
  2. Watership Down by Richard Adams
  3. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  4. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig (This is written like a novel but could easily fit in three or four categories. It is a must read and fascinating in every way.  I still find myself quoting it in my head.)
  5. Lila by Marilynne Robinson
  6. Far Side of the World by Patrick O’brien
  7. The Prestige by Christopher Priest (The Christopher Nolan movie based off this book is way better. One of those rare cases where cinema was an improvement.)

Pastor and Church Helps

  1. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor or Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
  2. How Odd of God: Chosen for the Curious Vocation of Preaching by Will Willimon
  3. The Cross Shattered Church by Stanley Hauerwas
  4. The Art of Pastoring by David Hansen
  5. The New Parish by Dwight Friesen and Paul Sparks
  6. The Power of Loving Your Church by David Hansen (Hansen’s books are now sacred to me because they were given to me by a mentor during a difficult time.)
  7. Time Bomb in the Church by Daniel Spaite
  8. Fellowship of Differents by Scot McNight
  9. The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson
  10. Bridging the Divide: The Continuing Conversation Between a Mormon and an Evangelical by Robert L. Millet and Gregory C.V. Johnson
  11. The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson (see below comment about point to page ratios. This book easily could have been fifty pages long and instead was 350.)
  12. On Leadership by John Gardner

Devotional.  .  .Maybe? or Mostly Just Self Helpers

  1. The Homebrewed Christianity Guide to Jesus: Lord, Liar, Lunatic or Awesome? By Tripp Fuller
  2. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
  3. Life in the Spirit by A.W. Tozer (It is quite possible Tozer would turn over in his grave to be included on a list between Tripp Fuller and Rachel Held Evans. . .or maybe he would be honored. The jury is still out on this one.)
  4. Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans
  5. Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans
  6. Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves Adam Hamilton
  7. The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
  8. Love and Respect by Emmerson Ebberichs
  9. A Woman of Strength and Purpose by Cynthia Tobias
  10. Grace Walk by Steve Mcvey
  11. Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God by Lauren Wiener
  12. The Reason for God by Timothy Keller
  13. In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day by Mark Batterson
  14. Wild Goose Chase by Mark Batterson (I judge books by the point to page ratio, asking “how many legitimate points did this person make per page?” Batterson fails every time.  He makes one point for every two hundred pages, making 90 percent of his words superfluous.)
  15. Grace by Max Lucado
  16. Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker

From or About History, Recent and Long Ago

*Let’s just assume that almost every single one of these books was incredible!  I love history.

  1. Truth and Duty by Mary Mapes
  2. Nazarene Roots by Stan Ingersol
  3. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
  4. Natural History Essays by Henry David Thoreau (This was the oldest book until I read Luther’s “Bondage of the Will”)
  5. The Big Short by Michael Lewis (The movie and the book are must read/must watch to understand just how disgusting the 2008 market crash was.)
  6. America’s Original Sin by Jim Wallis
  7. The Great Crown Jewels Robbery of 1303 by Paul Doherty (Have you guys seen Braveheart? Well, true story, it turns out while Edward the Longshanks was defeating William Wallace at Falkirk a bunch of monks and thieves broke into his treasury and scattered the contents across London.)
  8. Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel
  9. A History of Davis County by Glen Leonard (Picked up this 400 page volume at my local library. It is a history of the county where I live and a fascinating one at that)

Memoirs of the Living

  1. Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton (A fascinating account of the trials of a suburban, church mom. I wonder how many like her sit in our pews every week?)
  2. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisis Coates
  3. The Blood of Lambs by Kamal Saleem
  4. The Pastor by Eugene Peterson
  5. Usain Bolt’s Autobiography

Technology Culture

  1. Alone Together by Sheryl Turkle
  2. Screens and Teens by Kathy Koch
  3. Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle

What Bernie Sanders Should Have Said About Abortion


I am fully aware that this is a risky blog post.  In no other area are social conservatives and progressives so much divided as in the debate about abortion.  Both sides have fully made up their minds and whenever abortion comes up they talk over and under and around each other, repeating the now very old talking points that score points with their bases while alienating any who are still undecided.

With that said, the political scientist in me absolutely loved Bernie Sander’s address to Liberty University’s chapel on Monday.  I love that they invited him to speak and I love that he accepted the invitation because, as he put it, “I believe it is vitally important for those of us who hold different views to be able to engage in civil discourse.”

And for the most part, that is what happened at Liberty University last Monday, though Sanders certainly still spoke very forcefully about this own moral/ethical views.  He was the most at his game when he spoke about how we treat our children who are living in poverty.  In fact, he put it most poignantly and poetically when he asked, “Are you content? Do you think it’s moral when 20 percent of the children in this country [are] living in poverty?”

He goes on to describe how our economic system ravages our most vulnerable children in order to show favor to the “billionaire class.”  It was the best part of the speech.

As was fully expected during the brief Q&A, abortion came up.  The question, stated by Liberty University’s Vice President, went like this, “You have talked about how it is immoral to protect the billionaire class at the expense of our most vulnerable children.  A majority of Christians would agree with you but would also go further and say that children in the womb need our protection even more.  How do you reconcile the two?” (39:20 in the clip below)  The Vice President also noted that it was the most popular and most asked question, which was substantiated by an almost standing ovation as the question was asked.

Despite how obvious the question is, it is still a very brilliant and fair one.  Sander’s answer was no less obvious but far less clever.  He reiterated the standard talking points of pro-choice types, muttering something about how the government shouldn’t be telling every single woman how to make health choices about her body.  His official answer was something like, “I understand the very painful and very difficult choice that women have to make and don’t want the government telling them what they have to do.” (40:30 below)

That is a fair answer but a tired one and one that doesn’t quite understand the underlying pathos of the pro-life movement, whose reasoning is more along the lines, “God all ready told them what to do and it is just the government’s job to enforce God’s decision.”  But I do not expect a Jewish Progressive to fully realize or answer that line of thinking.

Putting that aside, this whole interchange (or lack thereof) felt tired and it annoyed me a little, more so as I thought about it this week.  I understand the debate about abortion is now 40-50 years old and it barely registers as a talking point any more except in early voting conservative states and the deep south Bible belt.

Yet there is still progress to be made here for children, the unborn and their mothers who are in those difficult days making those difficult decisions.

For one there is still the underlying hypocrisy on both sides of the debate.  It is a hypocrisy a now retired college professor of mine summed up perfectly when he said, “Democrats don’t seem to care about a child before it is born.  Republicans don’t seem to care about a child after it is born.”  It is a scathing reality underlying this whole debate and there is a fair amount of propaganda pointing at it on both sides but the propaganda never goes so far as to answering that hypocrisy with honesty.

So without digging my grave any deeper, I admit that I wish Sanders would have risen to the challenge and addressed his own hypocrisy and the opposing hypocrisy of the evangelicals.  I wish there was room on both sides to admit we are all being hypocrites.

Therefore, I would like to step into Sanders’ shoes and offer my own answer to the hypocrisy question.

Here is what I might have said, “Yes, the unborn children in this country are very vulnerable.  The recent headlines about Planned Parenthood have made that abundantly clear.  Yes, I care about the mothers in unfortunate situations who are having to make the very difficult decisions during these unexpected or unwanted pregnancies and I question how effective the government can really be in helping them make the most informed and compassionate decision.

However, I also fully acknowledge that a child’s vulnerability does not end at birth!  The most important and crucial development happens in the first 4 years of a child’s life.  We have an economic system that heaps abuse and insults on these children, especially if those children are born with the wrong skin color, in the wrong country or to low income families in low income neighborhoods.  They are not getting the nutrients they need.  They are not getting the exercise they need.  They are not getting the love and support from parents and grandparents they need (which is why family values are still extremely important).  We must do more for children both born and unborn!  We must do it consistently and compassionately all throughout their childhoods and even into adulthood, not just stopping at birth or a few weeks after.”

Such an answer would have at least acknowledged the hypocrisy and allowed for a greater discussion that might just expose how limited our care and concern for the “vulnerable” really is.  Or maybe I am just daydreaming carelessly about a world where we can actually talk to each other, not around each other.

I will let you decide.  Be that is it may, the full speech with Q&A is below.

Also here is a link to Rachel Held Evans’ 2 year old post about abortion that is one of the best I have ever read.


Low Church Numbers Vs. High Church Numbers: The Stories Are Not Adding Up


Like many of you, this week I have seen many posts and re-posts of that chart from PewForum detailing the current rises and falls in religious demographics.  (Spoiler Alert: It was mostly just falls.)  The nones stole the show again and rightly so as they are booming.

Click to read full report.

But the second place winner seems to be us evangelicals who have decreased by less than 1% in 7 years.  This is noteworthy because 1% is well within the margin of error, which may mean we shrunk a bit more or that we even (*gasp*) grew.

This was very curious to me considering for the last year I have been inundated with articles claiming that evangelical youth are fleeing evangelicalism at rapid rates and that evangelicalism is all but dead.  I have heard that an overwhelming number of millenials are finding safe sanctuary in more ancient, high church traditions like Catholicism and Mainline Prostestantism.  I had a sneaking suspicion this claim was not true because those articles never gave any sort of hard data.  They just quoted popular millenials and assumed their narratives were normal.

I bring this up because I just got done reading another such article called “Dear Church: An Open Letter from One of Those Millenials You Can’t Figure Out.”  I agreed almost wholeheartedly with the author’s theological standpoint.  I too am sick of flashy worship and very skeptical of “church mascots.”  I really loathe the patriotic moralism that fuels evangelicals.  And I want a higher church and a truer church with more Eucharist and less pyrotechnics.

But I am not meeting too many other millenials who agree with me.  And when I read the actual studies done by people who know how to compile and interpret data, I am realizing that I am a rare breed.  The numbers just don’t add up and have not for some time.

The mainline churches with their liturgies, liberal theologies and well developed ecclesiologies are still hemorrhaging members while the low church, coffee selling, cowboy mimicking, America loving Evangelicals are at least holding their own.

There is a huge disconnect between the narrative that millenials are fleeing into the arms of the loving high church and the data that says high church’s doors are all but closed.

Where did this come from?  I have a few guesses:

1) Nobody listens to the millions of uneducated, never churched.  The dominant stories filling our headlines are almost always the stories of wealthy millenials who grew up in the church and hold master’s degrees, usually in Philosophy or Theology.  These wealthy theology buffs are frustrated that the church of their theology classes is not the church of their childhoods.  I definitely share that frustration but no one who has not taken a theology class does.

Instead anybody who has worked with poor, uneducated, never churched millenials knows their story is vastly different.  They still want the booming worship and religious paraphernalia and silly mascots and rock bands and they are absolutely okay with the patriotism.

If it is true that we are not listening to them, I think that is sad.  After all, us educated church types are always talking up a great game about loving the marginalized and outcast.  Yet we are refusing to hear their stories.  Is it possible that those cowboy church, honky tonk evangelical churches are listening to them better than we are?

2) We assume that because someone’s story is popular, everybody agrees.  Therefore we focus on the blogs that get the most clicks and assume everybody who is clicking has the exact same story.  This is not true.  Those blogs are certainly relatable, but they are not normative.  Take for example my wife, who has read every Rachel Held Evan’s book and is leading discussion groups on them but isn’t about to go join the Episcopals.  .  .I hope.  Likewise, I very much relate to Rachel Held Evans but I am not going to become Episcopal.  .  .unless my wife does.

This is compounded by the reality that a high for Christian blogs is 10,000 clicks.  There are 80 million millenials.  That means if only millenials are reading those blogs (which isn’t true) there are 79,990,000 millenials who aren’t reading them.

3) The Baby Boomers might still be alive and important to America’s religious landscape.  I am not naive.  I know that the Evangelical statistics could have absolutely nothing to do with my generation.  It might be about the great retention of baby boomers, who love everything that booms especially worship services.  These baby boomers might still be alive and still loving their low church, yeehaw praising, mascot leading, rock worship services.  And that might not be a bad thing.  There are still quite a few Baby Boomers who don’t go to church or never have. (source).  And though their attendance numbers are declining, they are mostly declining in mainstream churches.  If the current model of evangelicalism is reaching them or retaining them, than the church is better for it.


I am also reading reports this week that a huge blockbuster movie about superheroes punching robots has managed to fill auditoriums with those from every age.

It would seem you don’t need the Holy Spirit or liturgy or sacraments to fill up a venue.  You just need theatrics.  And if the theatrics of evangelicalism are keeping their pew chairs full, it means absolutely nothing.

Because our God given call is not to fill auditoriums.  We are definitely not called out of the world, equipped with good gifts, empowered with the Holy Spirit and sent out so that we can draw in the millenials, or the baby boomers or even the silent generation.

We are called, equipped, empowered and sent so that we can love.  If love works, praise the Lord of Love.  If Love does not work we still serve the Lord of Love.

And my frustrations with evangelicalism have nothing to do with their failure to fill pews.  We have always been very good at that part and still are.  My frustrations stem from our failure to fill the world with love.

All of the generational headlines are dominated by this idea that the church should do what works.  But if church is about what works then it is not about what loves.  And if we don’t love, we have nothing and are nothing and will accomplish nothing.