S3, Ep. 11: The best leadership books to read

Reading Writers

Leadership books are tricky to recommend, largely because there are so many bad books out there. But there are some that are incredibly helpful. Today, Dave and I share a few of the books that we’ve found most helpful.

Among the books highlighted in this episode:

Sharing is caring!

Please consider leaving a rating and review on iTunes. This only takes a second and will go a long way to helping other people find the show. Finally, if you know someone who would benefit from listening, share it on your favorite social media network.

You can also connect with me on Twitter at @aaronstrongarm, on Facebook or via email to share your feedback.

Five (more) classic books we should read


Last week, I indulged myself a little and started thinking about old books I love to read. Specifically, a few classic books that were particularly helpful for me as I’ve grown in my faith. But these aren’t the only sorts of classics any of us should read. There are more—a lot more, in fact. Whether for pleasure, knowledge, or spiritual or personal enrichment, we should always be looking for opportunities to expose ourselves to great works of the past. In light of this, I want to share a few more recommendations of various sorts and kinds for your consideration.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Of all the Lewis books I’ve read so far, this one is probably my favorite. Some have criticized it for being overly clever, but that’s what makes it work. You need a special sort of cleverness to pull off what Lewis did in this book, both negatively communicating truth while exposing falsehood. It’s brilliant stuff.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. There isn’t really anything I don’t love about this book. The characters are rich. The plot is compelling. The writing itself makes my heart happy. Read it, then read more Dickens. (A Tale of Two Cities is stunning, as well.)

The Iliad and The Odyssey. Telling the tales of the Trojan War, and the journey of Odysseus, king of Ithaca, as he journeyed home following the fall of Troy, these epic poems are some of the finest works of ancient Greek literature still in existence.[1. Fun fact: though it’s believed these were produced originally around the 8th century BC, the earliest extant copies we have today are from the 10th century AD.]

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Of all the books on this list, this is probably the most difficult to read in the sense that it requires much of you. The book is filled with philosophical discussions of the deepest sort, explored through a tale of patricide in a Russia rapidly moving into the industrial era.

Again, as with my previous recommendations, there are so many others that could be added to the list: The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost, A Wrinkle in Time, and too many others to mention. The point here is not to be exhaustive, but to give a starting point.

[Reading Writers] Five fiction books you should read

Reading Writers episode 11 art

Many Christians of a certain persuasion seem to struggle to read fiction. At all. But fiction is a powerful tool for engaging the culture and is especially helpful for those of us who are writers.

In this episode you’ll hear:

  • How I got back into reading fiction
  • Five fiction books for you to consider
  • A semi-dramatic reading of Douglas Adams

A few of the books and resources discussed in this episode

What’s happening on the next episode of the podcast?

Next week, I’ll hopefully be returning to our regular format with a new series of guests.

Can I sponsor Reading Writers?

Want to sponsor a future episode of Reading Writers? Send me a note and let’s talk.

Subscribing, sharing, and your feedback

You can subscribe to Reading Writers via iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast catcher. Please also consider leaving a rating and review on iTunes. This only takes a second and will go a long way to helping other people find the show. Finally, if you know someone who would benefit from listening, share it on your favorite social media network.

You can also connect with me on Twitter at @aaronstrongarm, on Facebook or via email to share your feedback.

Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Reading Writers!

Five books by J.I. Packer every Christian should read

Five books by J.I. Packer every Christian should read

There are few theologians whose work has had as profound an affect on me as J.I. Packer. What I’ve learned from his work over the last 10 years has challenged me in my assumptions, brought clarity to my thinking, and sharpened a number of my convictions. With the news that his writing ministry has come to an end due to his development of macular degeneration in his right eye (a condition that has affected his left eye for the last 10 years), and he is now blind, I wanted to share with you a few of the books I’ve most enjoyed and think every Christian should read:

“Fundamentalism” and the Word of God. This is actually one of Packer’s earliest books, rooted in the British fundamentalism controversies of the 1950s, but its message is as deeply important for North American evangelicals today. It’s also among my favorites for a couple of reasons: First, reading a younger, slightly rougher around the edges Packer is just fascinating to me. Second, because there is virtually nothing Packer writes in this book that is not immediately relevant to our own context, especially as he calls readers not to stop thinking, but to stop thinking sinfully. (For more thoughts on this book, here’s a review I wrote back in 2009.)

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. There’s lots to say about it (which is why I reviewed it in 2014 and write things inspired by it frequently, such as this) because what Packer reminds readers is that there is no more loving thing that we could could than tell those around us about Jesus. To share the gospel with someone who is lost in their sin is the most loving thing we can do. This is one of the many reasons why I think it’s one of the best books on evangelism anyone could read. Hopefully you’ll agree (if you read it).

Growing in Christ. This book is actually where shorter works such as Affirming the Apostles’ Creed and Keeping the Ten Commandments (the first Packer book I ever read) were first published. This, in a nutshell, is Packer’s catechism, taking readers through two critical passages of Scripture (the Lord’s Prayer and the 10 Commandments), as well as an examination of the Apostles’ Creed and the nature of conversion and baptism. The most important thing to keep in mind: these are devotional writings. They aren’t written with a cool academic tone—they are directed at transforming the heart.

Knowing God. Perhaps his most-read work, Knowing God is one of those books that you have to read slooooooowly. Like, read a few pages, put it down for a week while you ponder what you’ve read, and then come back to it. It was probably the most challenging book I read as a brand-new Christian, and continues to be thought-provoking and encouraging each time I revisit it

Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J. C. Ryle. This is an inspiring and profound introduction to the life and ministry of J.C. Ryle, a 19th century Anglican minister. Packer’s biographical sketch, which highlights 12 aspects of Ryle’s character and ministry prepares readers for the main course: a reprint of the first edition of Ryle’s best-known work, Holiness, which is as close to a must-read as any book can be—especially for new believers. (You can find more of my thoughts about this book in a review I wrote in 2011.)

These are just a few of the books by J.I. Packer I’d recommend every Christian read. If you’ve benefitted from Packer’s ministry, what would you add to the list?

My favorite books of 2015

That season has come around once again, where top ten lists abound! As you know, reading is one the few hobbies I have, regularly reading around 100 books a year. With that much reading, it’s no surprise that there’s a range of quality. Most are in that “good, but not earth-shattering” category, some were terrible… but a few were legitimately great. Here are the ones that made the cut this year—but this year, I’m doing it a little differently by sharing from a few different categories. Check it out:

Books for Christians

The Prodigal Church by Jared C. Wilson (Crossway). This is the book I want to put in the hands of every church leadership team. It’s extremely challenging, convicting and God-glorifying—and one those of us who read it need to apply to ourselves first, before we start pointing fingers to determine what’s wrong with our churches. (For more on this book, read my review.)

Good News About Satan by Bob Bevington (Cruciform Press). Most books on spiritual warfare are—how do I put this delicately?—completely and irredeemably whack. Bevington, rather than getting all hoobity boobity and indulging in too much fanciful speculation, does something unique: he sticks entirely to Scripture to try to paint a picture of the reality of the spiritual opposition we face. And in doing so, he shows us both how serious a threat demonic powers truly are while proving that they are no match for Christ.

Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney (Crossway). In all honesty, if I had to choose, this would be my top book of the year. It’s the book I’ve most immediately applied to my life and found great benefit from (I even used it as a guide for a staff prayer chapel at the ministry I work with). It is one of the most practical and easy to apply books on prayer I’ve read possibly ever, and  one I’m happy to commend to any Christian seeking to improve their prayer life. (For more on this book, read my review.)

Preaching by Timothy Keller (Viking). As I shared in my reviewPreaching is not a book on “how to preach the Tim Keller way”. And for that I am grateful. It is a book about the primacy of preaching, a call to put our trust in God’s word on display, and to rely on the Spirit to work through our preaching as we strive to show Jesus as the real answer to those the late-modern mind cannot answer.

Books to shepherd your kids

The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung (Crossway). As I wrote in my review, if you’re looking for a book to introduce your kids to the story of Scripture, The Biggest Story is one you’d want to strongly consider. It’s honest and faithful to the Bible, but balances that well with a kid-friendly tone and beautiful illustrations. I’m glad to have been able to share this book with my kids. I hope you’ll enjoy doing the same.

God Made All of Me by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb (New Growth Press). The Holcombs give parents a tool with which to teach their kids about their private parts, consent, and what to do if they need help. It’s thoughtfully written, easy to understand and explain, and very helpful for preparing you for difficult conversations. (For more thoughts on this book, read my review.)

Books about Canada

How To Be A Canadian by Will and Ian Ferguson. This is actually a bit older than most everything on this list, but it’s fantastic. The Fergusons gently poke fun at all that it means to be Canadian from our inefficient government and universal health care to our exotic cuisine and our peculiar proclivity to say “sorry”.

Books for fun

Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson. I bought a copy of this to share with my oldest daughter, though so far I’m the only one who has read it (she’s not into it at the moment). It’s a super-compelling, fast read that leaves most other modern fiction books eating its dust. If you’re looking for something quick to read this Christmas, this is one I’d highly recommend.

Books with pictures

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick (Random House). As a fan of Frumpy the Clown and Barry Ween (which are so not appropriate for children in any way, shape or form), this is a book I’ve been waiting a looooong time for. Winick hits just the right balance of drama and comedy in the first part of his new graphic novel series for the all-ages demographic. My two oldest children adore this book. I’m looking forward to seeing it fall apart from being well-loved.

Star Wars Vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes by Jason Aaron and John Cassaday (Marvel Comics). I normally don’t read comics based on movies, but Marvel’s doing a brilliant job with their entire line of Star Wars books. The storytelling is compelling, the artwork is top-notch, and most importantly, they feel like they matter to the overall story. Though they may not be everyone’s cup of tea, these are great fun if you’re a fan of Star Wars.

The Batman Adventures by Kelley Puckett, Mike Parobeck, et al. (DC Comics). I used to love the 90s Batman animated series, which inspired this all-ages series which has been out of print for far too long. Thankfully, DC has started collecting and republishing the series as graphic novels.


Here are a few books I really enjoyed, but didn’t quite make the “best of the best”:

See what made the cut in years past:

7 books Christians should read on abortion and adoption


One of the most frequent charges laid against Christians who oppose abortion is that we care about a child’s life before they’re born and once they die, but don’t really give a rip about anything in between. This, of course, is absolute bunk, especially when you consider the number of Christians who are passionate adoption advocates, who are assisting those in need through organizations like Compassion International.

But even though the charge is bunk, it persists. And Christians would do well to educate themselves about the realities of abortion and its alternatives. Here are a few books I’d recommend to help in this area:

Innocent Blood by John Ensor

Here’s what I wrote about this book in my review from 2011:

Innocent Blood is perhaps the most personally convicting and challenging book I’ve read—so much so that I’m still wrestling with what needs to change, of what I need to repent and how to move forward. You will not enjoy reading this book, but you would do well to do so.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon | Cruciform Press (download half the book)

The Case for Life by Scott Klusendorf

The Case for Life provides intellectual grounding for the pro-life convictions that most evangelicals hold. Author Scott Klusendorf first simplifies the debate: the sanctity of life is not a morally complex issue. It’s not about choice, privacy, or scientific progress. To the contrary, the debate turns on one key question: What is the unborn? From there readers learn how to engage the great bio-tech debate of the twenty-first century, how to answer objections persuasively, and what the role of the pro-life pastor should be.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

Abortion: A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue by R.C. Sproul

In this book, Dr. R.C. Sproul employs his unique perspective as a highly experienced pastor-theologian and a trained philosopher to provide well-considered and compassionate answers to the difficult questions that attend termination of pregnancy.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

Adopted for Life by Russell Moore

The doctrine of adoption—God’s decision to adopt sinful men and women into his family—stands at the heart of Christianity. In light of this, Christians’ efforts to adopt beautifully illustrate the truth of the gospel. In this popular-level and practical manifesto, Russell Moore encourages Christians to adopt children and to help other Christian families to do the same. He shows that adoption is not just about couples who have struggled to have children. Rather, it’s about an entire culture within evangelicalism—a culture that sees adoption as part of the Great Commission mandate and as a sign of the gospel itself.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

Reclaiming Adoption by Dan Cruver

Here’s what I wrote about it in my review:

Reclaiming Adoption packs a convicting punch. As Cruver unpacks the importance of the doctrine of adoption over his four chapters, he shows readers just how much it impacts everything. To understand the love of God for His people—those He chose to adopt before He even created the universe—completely transforms how we think, live, feel and act.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

Orphanology by Tony Merida and Rick Morton

Orphanology unveils the grassroots movement that’s engaged in a comprehensive response to serve hundreds of millions of orphans and “functionally parentless” children.

You’ll see a breadth of ways to care with biblical perspective and reasons why we must. Heartwarming, personal stories and vivid illustrations from a growing network of families, churches, and organizations that cross culture show how to respond to God’s mandate. The book empowers:

  • churches—to plan preaching, teaching, ministering, missions, funding adoption, supporting orphans;
  • individuals and families—to overcome challenges and uncertainties;
  • every believer—to gain insights to help orphans in numerous ways.

Buy it at: Amazon

After They Are Yours by Brian Borgman

Christians considering adoption should also be aware that not everything is smiles and sunshine.

After They Are Yours: The Grace and Grit of Adoption talks transparently and redemptively about the often unspoken problems adoptive parents face. Combining personal experience, biblical wisdom,  and a heart for people, Borgman recalls the humbling and difficult lessons God has taught him and his wife. This is not a success story, rather it’s a story of struggles and failures set in the broader context of a God who is gracious and continually teaches us the meaning of adoption.

Buy it at: Amazon

If you had to rebuild your library, where would you start?


Imagine for a moment all your books were gone, fellow book hoarders.

Terrifying, I know.

Perhaps some sort of disaster befell your home, leaving everyone in your family perfectly fine, but all your books were destroyed. Or perhaps you were moving a long distance, and the only things lost in the move were your books.

How would you start over? If you had to rebuild your theological library from the ground up, what would be the first books you’d include?

A number of years ago, I was asked this question by an acquaintance online. It’s something I’ve thought about a great deal—and continue to do so—in part because I’ve had to do it. When I became a believer, I rebuilt my library because I found I had far too much that conflicted with my newfound faith and weren’t helpful for me to read any longer. As I developed my theological convictions, I had to rebuild my library again as I increasingly found the books I once enjoyed to be problematic (thankfully at that point my library was still quite small so it didn’t hurt too much to get rid of a number of books).

Today, my library is always in flux. Books are always coming and going. The last time I purged, I found somewhere around 300 books I had to get rid of. And if we ever move houses again (we’ve been in our current rental home for almost four years as of this writing), I’ll probably have to get rid of even more.

So what would I do if I had to start over again? Here’s how I’d probably do include:

Start with a good study Bible. Although they’re limited in terms of depth and focus, study Bibles work well as a commentary in a pinch. And for the average person, really, you don’t need more than that. I’d recommend the HCSB Study Bible, the Reformation Study Bible or the ESV Study Bible.

Add at least one book on Church history. For a single volume edition, I’d go with Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley. However, this is probably the most necessary (yet neglected) category, so it’s unwise to stop with one (I have a few more recommendations here).

Then include a biography. We should have lots of these, but if you’re looking to get started, I’d recommend pretty much anything from Reformation Trust’s Long Line of Godly Men series. Douglas Bond’s volume on John Knox is wonderful.

Follow that up with a classic or three. In my opinion, every Christian should own a copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and Augustine’s Confessions.

Don’t forget a book or two on the disciplines of the faith. Tim Keller’s Prayer would be one I’d want right away, as would Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Finish it off with a systematic theology. These are really helpful tools to have available. Frame’s Systematic Theology is one I’d lean toward adding if I could only include one, though Sproul’s Everyone’s a Theologian is nice for those who want something a little more accessible. Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion is very nice as well if you want to go a little older.

There are lots more I’d add, but if I were starting from scratch, those are the books I’d most likely include right from the get-go. At least this week. Ask me again and you might get completely different answers.

What would you include if you were starting from scratch?

Five books Christian dads should read

I’m a first generation Christian—meaning I’m the first in my family (as far as I’m aware) to come to faith in Christ. As you can imagine, that means I’m flying by the seat of my pants as a Christian parent. Though, to be fair, that’s probably all parents (at least more than we’d like to admit). As a dad, I’ve tried to read as many helpful books as I can, as well as modelling for my kids what a Christian man looks like (and often having to apologize for not modelling it well).

Thankfully, I’m not alone in this. No matter if we were raised in a legacy of faith or are coming to faith as a parent, we all have a ton of room to grow. Here’s a look at a few of the books I’ve found particularly helpful as I’ve been trying to figure out this whole parenting thing.

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller

Parenting doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Our marriages are the context in which we raise our children. So we would be wise to do all we can to make sure our marriages are actually healthy. In The Meaning of Marriage, the Kellers reflect on their 30-plus years of marriage to offer a very strong and biblically faithful look at what makes a lasting marriage. Read it carefully and make lots of notes. (For more on this book, read my review.)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books

Intentional Parenting by Tad Thompson

Intentional Parenting is among the most practical and insightful guides to family discipleship available. Its “Now Make It Stick” section, a series of questions for personal reflection that allow the reader to take stock of how they’re doing, where they’re strong, where they’re weak and what they can do to change, is probably the most helpful (and challenging element). Dads, you need to read this book. (For more on this book, read my review.)

Buy it at: AmazonWestminster Books | Cruciform Press

Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson

The difficulty some might face reading the book is because the focus is on bringing God’s grace into your parenting, it’s not as easy as following steps one, two and three. It’s offering more of the theological framework for parenting instead of drilling down into the nitty gritty details of specific situations, though many practical examples of how grace-filled parenting looks (and doesn’t) are presented. (For more on this book, read my review.)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp

This is one of those “gold standard” books among many Christian parents, and for good reason: it’s biblical, compassionate, and extremely practical:

Shepherding a Child’s Heart is about how to speak to the heart of your child. The things your child does and says flow from the heart. Luke 6:45 puts it this way: ‘…out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.’ Written for parents with children of any age, this insightful book provides perspectives and procedures for shepherding your child’s heart into the paths of life.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books

The Shepherd Leader at Home by Timothy Z. Witmer

This one has received a ton of acclaim from its readers as it compellingly addresses the important role of dad in the family:

Husbands and dads play a crucial role in the health and survival of the family. That’s why leadership expert Tim Witmer has written this book—to strengthen our efforts to lead well. He applies a biblical framework to the role of leadership in the home, showing how effective shepherding involves “knowing, leading, protecting, and providing for your family”; all the while communicating solid principles with a down-to-earth, relatable tone.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books

Have another book you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments!


Six books I want to read this summer

summer reading

Summer vacation is already here for some of us, and nearly upon us for others. Although my reading has left me feeling a little unfulfilled of late, I’m still looking forward to what some time off with a good book or two will bring. Here’s a look at what I’m planning to read this year:

The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo by Jared C. Wilson

This is one I’ve been meaning to get to for a while now. I’ve read a few pages, though, and it’s delightful.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

The Return of the King by JRR Tolkien

I’ve been reading the Lord of the Rings series for the last little while, so it’s going to be fun to finish it up.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore (trilogy box set)

Newton on the Christian Life by Tony Reinke

I am a big fan of the Theologians on the Christian Life series from Crossway, and based on what I’ve seen so far, this volume looks pretty spectacular.

Buy it at: AmazonWestminster Bookstore

Onward by Russell Moore

Though this one has the least practical relevance to my life (since I live in Canada), it should be a thought-provoking read nonetheless.

Buy it at: Amazon (pre-order)

Preaching by Timothy Keller

The people we have the most to learn from about preaching (aside from those to whom we preach) are those who have done it for a long time. Given Keller’s decades of pastoral ministry experience, I’m really looking forward to learning from this one.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

The Batman Adventures, vol 2 by Puckett, Parobeck, and Burchett

For an entire generation, Kevin Conroy’s Batman from Batman: the Animated Series is the definitive Dark Knight. I finally introduced Abigail to this staple of the 90s, and she thinks it’s pretty rad. It’s also one of the few superhero comics I’ve been able to find that isn’t kind of porny or otherwise wildly inappropriate to share with my kids (but that is a story for another time…).

Buy it at: Amazon

That’s a quick look at what I’m trying to read. Some of it I’ll be done sooner than others, naturally, but I think it’s a reasonable goal. What’s on your reading list?