Best Books for 2011


Considering we’re over two weeks into 2012 and I’ve had this on my to-do-list since the end of December, it’s time for me to compile my list of favorite books I’ve read and reviewed in the last year.  But I’m going to do this a little differently than you’d probably expect.  I’m not going to pick my highest-rated books based on my reviews, but I’m going to list the books that have had the biggest impact on my life.  Yes, I read for enjoyment, but most of the books I’ve reviewed on this blog have also been because I’m seeking to learn and grow, so at the end of the year I’m looking back to reflect on which ones led to the most growth and change in my life.

So here goes – my best books of 2011 – and what I learned from them (for the record, these are listed in the alphabetical order, not in rank-order):

  • Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge – This one almost seems obvious, given my love of Eldredge’s works, but when you also consider that I’ve reviewed other books by favorite authors (Yancey and Lucado to name a couple) and not included them on my list, you’ll realize this isn’t an exercise in listing my favorite authors. No, this is an exercise in listing those books that had the biggest impact on my growth over the past 12 months. It’s sad to say, but when I looked at the list of all my reviews I found myself saying, “Wow – I don’t even remember what that book was about!” That’s not the case with this one, though. Beautiful Outlaw challenged my view of Jesus in a way that few other books have ever done so. While I have some reservations (mentioned in the two reviews I post), I put this book down with a desire to know Jesus more personally and deeply than I had when I started – and it motivated me to spend more time in the Word and in conversation and fellowship with Him and others. To me that’s the mark of a book leading to change and growth.
  • Behind the Veils of Yemen by Audra Grace Shelby – just like Now I Walk on Death Row and While the World Watched helped me once again see the world through another’s eyes: this time through the eyes of those who are lost believing the lies of Islam. And it opened my heart to the necessity of reaching those people through my own actions – including gifts and prayers.
  • Church Diversity by Scott Williams – take Transformational Church and combine it with While the World Watched and you have an idea of the impact of Williams’ book. This book challenged me to think about worship and leadership in many new ways, it confirmed much of what I thought was happening in situations I was facing at various times throughout the year, and it offered insight into how I needed to approach some of those situations. This book is definitely deserving of being named to my list.
  • Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron – Here’s the surprise book on my list, especially considering I gave it such a horrible review. But here’s why I’ve got to put it on my list of best reads: it caused me to reflect on how often I share Jesus with other people and ask myself the question, “Do others see Jesus in me?” My complaint about the book was that it didn’t focus me enough on the life and work of Christ – which then convicted me to say, “How can I do a better job than this book did?” I guess it’s like the old adage that says “You can learn just as much (if not more) from a non-example than you can from an example.” As I said in my original the review, the book is an absolute blast to read – it just didn’t have the focus I was looking for. But, six months after I read it, I still find myself thinking about it and recognizing it had a positive impact on my spiritual growth, so I’ve got to put it on my list.
  • Money & Marriage by Matt Bell – I wish I could say that all our money struggles were fixed after I read this book and that I was able to take every suggestion Bell had and put it into practice. What I can tell you is that it did lead to changes in how I view and manage money – all for the better – and so in that sense this book marked the beginning of a slow process for the better.
  • Now I Walk on Death Row by Dale Recinella – Here’s a book that tells the story of a real-life person who gives up everything this world counts as precious and trades it for the opportunity to minister to “the least of these”. I’m not suggesting everyone needs to be a prison chaplain, or even that I am looking to be one, but this book helped remind me there are lost and hurting people everywhere who need the love of Jesus – and that it is possible to be an agent for good in a lost and hurting world.
  • Radical by David Platt – to this day I still think back to the seemingly simple challenge Dr. Platt refers to as “radical” (read your Bible, pray, and give). And to this day I still struggle to do it! One of the best lessons I learned from the book, though, is the importance of sharing Jesus with other people and being motivated to do it. Platt’s comment that there “is no plan B” has been on my mind practically every day for the past year – and I find it convicting and motivating.
  • Simply Sacred by Gary Thomas – I’m still reading this book every day and finding more and more truth in it than the first time I read it. Melissa and I have been working through it as our daily devotional now for a couple of months and the insights Thomas shares have caused me to really examine my own beliefs and behaviors as I work to match them up with what God has called us to be and do. And since it’s the book we’re using for our couple’s devotional, it’s also challenged me to reflect on how we can grow spiritually as both a couple and family. Perhaps more than any other book on the list, this book has led to real change in how I act.
  • Transformational Church – I’ve spent the last eight years studying and working to better understand what it means to worship and what a church should be. Transformational Church is one of the best book I’ve ever read that answers that question. Without going into a lot of detail, the concepts and teachings in this book are ones that I applied in my own ministry and ones everyone in ministry should study, learn, and implement.
  • While the World Watched by Carolyn Maull McKinstry – I really didn’t anticipate or plan for this to be a “Top 10” list, but I guess it has ended up that way. This book really helped me see what it was like to live in a segregated society through the eyes of a black person. While segregation is something we learn about in school, since I was born after it was illegal (and because I grew up in the North) it was never anything I experienced. When I moved to North Carolina eight years ago I was shocked by the amount of racial tension I found here. While the past certainly doesn’t justify certain actions and policies that are present now, it absolutely helps explain them. This book really helped me see the world through someone else’s eyes.

So there you have it – my list of the most influential books on my life for the year 2011.  While I don’t make resolutions, I did start last year with a goal of reading at least one book a month – a goal I more than kept when I looked back and realized I reviewed 33 books last year.  While most were wonderful (and there are some I really considered putting on this list), the ones listed here are the ones that a year after reading them I can look back and say (without even looking at the list of my reviews), “I remember reading this book – here’s what I thought of it and here’s how it changed me.”  To me that’s what reading to grow is all about.  Sure, in reviewing the list of books I read I saw titles that caused me to say, “Oh yeah, I remember that – that was a great book!”  But their recollection needed a little reminder.  The ones on this list, though?  No reminder at all was needed.

So what’s coming next?  Here are some on my “To Read” shelf that will have reviews posted as soon as they’re completed:

  • Real Marriage by Mark & Grace Driscoll
  • Every Body Matters by Gary Thomas
  • Radical Together by David Platt
  • Out of a Far Country by Christopher Yuan
  • Why Jesus? by Ravi Zacharias
  • Doctrine by Mark Driscoll and Gary Breshears
  • Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson

That’s just a small list – thank you to all those who follow this blog and listen to my ramblings and reviews.  Hopefully you find them enlightening, encouraging, and maybe even a little entertaining.  Here’s looking forward to another year.

Radical by David Platt


Radical by David Platt is one of the few books I would consider “life changing” and is definitely in the top 10 – if not top 5 – most influential books I have ever read.  Dr. Platt challenged me in many ways, more than I can include in a brief review here, but the one thing I have been constantly reminded of and had a renewed understanding and appreciation of is the grace of God in my life today.  And as I reflect further on the grace God has shown me individually I am more motivated to respond to Him in a lifestyle that shares his love with those around me.  I am more convinced than ever that I need to do a better – meaning more intentional – job of sharing Jesus with people I come in contact with every day; and I also need to be prepared to share Christ with those outside my own little circle of influence.

I would highly recommend this book to everyone who is serious about their faith, but I would caution you that you may walk away convinced you need to dramatically (ie, Radically) change your attitude and actions.  Dr. Platt bases everything in the book soundly on scripture and shares very moving and personal testimonies throughout the book that serve to both challenge and convict readers to live out the life God has called them to live.  I remember specifically, over 10 years ago, sitting on a couch several months after the death of my younger, teenage sister.  I was angry with God and couldn’t understand why he had allowed her to die.  He very directly spoke to me and said, “Tom, it is time for you to either live what you say you believe, or change what you believe to match how you live.”  That was a turning point in my life that radically altered my faith and trust in Him – for the better.  This book is now serving that same purpose in my life today.

You can download a free sample of chapter one by clicking here.

Rate this Review

One disclaimer, I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review, but am not required to post a complimentary review in exchange for it.  Even if I had not received it for free it would have been worth paying twice what it cost.

Book Review: Radical


I just finished reading Radical by David Platt and I can’t begin to even describe how good of a book this is.  I share this on this blog because of my premise that worship is how we respond to Jesus, and this book has challenged me to consider how I am responding to him.  While I don’t post to this particular blog very often, I have a feeling that may change as I blog about how this book is challenging me to respond to God’s grace offered in Christ in new and different – even profound – ways.

For now, though, I’d just like to share with you the original review I did for the book.  What is below has been cross posted on my new blog Book Reviews for Spiritual Maturity.

Radical by David Platt is one of the few books I would consider “life changing” and is definitely in the top 10 – if not top 5 – most influential books I have ever read.  Dr. Platt challenged me in many ways, more than I can include in a brief review here, but the one thing I have been constantly reminded of and had a renewed understanding and appreciation of is the grace of God in my life today.  And as I reflect further on the grace God has shown me individually I am more motivated to respond to Him in a lifestyle that shares his love with those around me.  I am more convinced than ever that I need to do a better – meaning more intentional – job of sharing Jesus with people I come in contact with every day; and I also need to be prepared to share Christ with those outside my own little circle of influence.

I would highly recommend this book to everyone who is serious about their faith, but I would caution you that you may walk away convinced you need to dramatically (ie, Radically) change your attitude and actions.  Dr. Platt bases everything in the book soundly on scripture and shares very moving and personal testimonies throughout the book that serve to both challenge and convict readers to live out the life God has called them to live.  I remember specifically, over 10 years ago, sitting on a couch several months after the death of my younger, teenage sister.  I was angry with God and couldn’t understand why he had allowed her to die.  He very directly spoke to me and said, “Tom, it is time for you to either live what you say you believe, or change what you believe to match how you live.”  That was a turning point in my life that radically altered my faith and trust in Him – for the better.  This book is now serving that same purpose in my life today.

You can download a free sample of chapter one by clicking here.

Rate this Review

One disclaimer, I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review, but am not required to post a complimentary review in exchange for it.  Even if I had not received it for free it would have been worth paying twice what it cost.