Pastor John’s Top Ten Books of 2021
Rev. Dr. John H. Fullerton, Jr.
Here are ten of my favorites from the past year in no particular order.
Doing Life with Your Adult Children: Keep Your Mouth Shut and the Welcome Mat Out by Jim Burns, 2019. A church member recommended this to another church member. I heard about it and read it. This book acknowledges that for many, parenting gets more complicated when children become adults. The author covers how to deal with children who make decisions counter to what was taught by parents, bringing them back to faith, and how to leave a legacy as a grandparent. As a parent of adult children, I was taking notes throughout and found it good counsel.
Confessions by Saint Augustine, 397-400 AD. I have read parts of this book at different times, but never the whole book. Pastor Zac mentioned a mutual acquaintance of ours reads this book cover-to-cover annually, and it inspired me to read it cover-to-cover once. I read Oxford World’s Classic version translated by Henry Chadwick. This book is a classic in theology, philosophy, church history, and early autobiographies. Augustine tells his own story in which he portrays himself as a converted sinner, not a holy man. Anyone who has an overt sin past and has turned from it at conversion to Christ will find solidarity with Augustine. In the 13 sections of the book, he covers his early life of sin, his pagan religious commitments, his conversion to Christianity, and subsequent discussion on creation, time, and the nature of God.
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris, 1979. I wanted to read something on the life of a president about whom I knew little. I read a book on Ulysses Grant not long ago and enjoyed it, but Roosevelt was one whose story I wanted to learn. Then, earlier this year, I conducted a funeral for a church member whose grandfather rode with Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in Cuba. That was it. Time to read about the man. This was the first of a highly rated three-volume set written by Edmund Morris. This book covers Roosevelt’s life from his birth through his selection as vice president under President McKinley. It was as much a read of early 20th century American culture as an examination of the inner workings of the rising career of this energetic man who was at once a naturalist, writer, cowboy, war hero, and politician.
9 Things You Simply Must Do: To Succeed in Love and Life by Henry Cloud, 2004. Dr. Paul Suich recommended this one, and it is packed with good life wisdom. It felt less like a self-help book and more like a manual for life. The book has counsel like playing out a scenario to the natural end to see how the decisions in that scenario will affect the future, continually asking what a person can do to make a situation better, or not making decisions based on other people’s reactions. It is a short, but effective read.
Blood Brothers: The Dramatic Story of a Palestinian Christian Working for Peace in Israel by Elias Chacour ,1984. This is the story of a boy who grew up in a small Palestinian village in Galilee prior to the 1948 establishment of Israel as a sovereign nation. He tells how, after 1948, once friendly relationships between Arabs and Israelis were damaged, which led him to be a life-long advocate for peace between the two. I used a great quote in a sermon this year from this book where Chacour quotes his professor, “If there is a problem somewhere. . .this is what happens. Three people will try to do something concrete to settle the issue. Ten people will give a lecture analyzing what the three are doing. One hundred people will commend or condemn the ten for their lecture. One thousand people will argue about the problem. And one person—only one—will involve himself so deeply in the true solution that he is too busy to listen to any of it.”
Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard A. Swenson, 1992. In a COVID-frenzied world, I found this title to be spot on for any who may feel the weight of the past 20 months. The book is not about pandemic living, but it is about dealing with overloaded lives. This book is timely for someone like me who has emphasized sabbath rest as a reality made complete in Jesus yet still to be practiced. The author encourage people to “Reevaluate your priorities, determine the value of rest and simplicity in your life, and see where your identity really comes from.” In short, the author calls for people to pay attention to creating adequate “margin,” or space for rest, rejuvenation, and availability for God’s purposes.
Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels by Kenneth E. Bailey, 2008. I started this when we were doing the series on the prodigal son in church. Bailey brings a scholarly, refreshing, boots-on-the-ground perspective of middle eastern life learned from his many years living there. He peels back layers of modern interpretations to present the stories of Jesus in light of his actual cultural setting. Right up there with my Jewish New Testament Commentary and Everyman’s Talmud, this book sets the stories we love about Jesus in their own place in history.
Christianity and Wokeness: How the Social Justice Movement Is Hijacking the Gospel—And the Way to Stop It by Owen Strachan, 2021. This book had several helpful elements to it, beginning with acknowledging the desire for social harmony across backgrounds and skin colors, massive failings in American and Western history with sustained patterns of racist thought and practice, and troubling trends of partiality in one’s own national, regional, or familial heritage. Though written from the conservative Reformed perspective, the author also did well in several places to present a range of options of how people deal with various issues of the day. This book presented a biblical view on race, ethnicity, and the call for unity based on the gospel of grace. The author also gave a primer on critical race theory, intersectionality, and white privilege, subjects that have been divisive to some and liberating to others. This, along with a few other books, was a start for me. I will continue my study, including more seminal books and varied books on the issues.
Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change by Tod Bolsinger, 2020. Worn down by the multiple challenges they faced since March 2020, pastors and other church leaders have been walking away from their churches. They are tired of the pressures, stresses, arguments, and uncertainty. What the author brings is a word of hope. His previous book, Canoeing the Rockies, was about learning to adapt as leaders. Tempered Resilience is about being the kind of leader who can initiate change and see it through. The title is from the main metaphor of the book taken from blacksmithing. To be useful, the metal in the hands of a blacksmith is heated and cooled repeatedly. It is in the “heat” of the challenges of ministry that leaders and churches are strengthened.
Post Christian: A Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture by Gene Edward Veith Jr., 2020. Beyond the presenting issues of the last 20 months is a deeper cultural shift. This book is about that deeper shift. The author walks the reader through the shifts that have taken place in four areas: reality, body, society, and religion. He describes what was true and what has shifted. Many have written about the shift from modernism to post-modernism. Veith takes it a step further and says we have come to post-secular and post-Christian times. The point of it all is to say to that Christians are not to insulate ourselves from the world, but to engage the world thoughtfully and well-informed.
Here are a few others I enjoyed but did not make the top ten list.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, 1878. In classic Tolstoy fashion, he builds a collection of characters and walks us through heartbreak, conflict, and tragedy all leading, in this case, to answer the question of how to live a fulfilled life.
Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath, 2020. This was about getting ahead of the problem solving or crisis management mode and getting “upstream” of the problems and addressing them before they happen.
If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty by Eric Metaxas, 2016. A woman once asked Benjamin Franklin what kind of government he wanted for the new country. “A republic,” he said, adding, “if you can keep it.” This book unpacks what once made us, “One nation, under God.”
Night by Ellie Weisel, 1956. I know. You probably read it in middle school. I didn’t. It is the tragic fate of the Jews told through the eyes of a 14-year-old Jewish boy. The people did not believe it was going to get this bad until they were loaded onto cattle cars and taken to Auschwitz. It is agonizing, memorable, and horrific. We cannot forget it.
The Sea-Wolf by Jack London, 1904. I had to have a fun one in the midst of all of the others and this was a fun adventure. A man is rescued and brought aboard a ship with Captain Wolf Larsen, a “ruthlessly Nietzschean skipper” with whom he enters into an epic duel for seven months.
Anxious People: A Novel by Fredrik Backman, 2019. Since reading his A Man Called Ove, Cile and I have enjoyed Fredrick Backman’s quirky characters, winding storylines, and wild, often humorous, ways he pulls the characters toward plot resolution. In a season when many are anxious, this brought the value of community, forgiveness, and hope.
There were some duds this year too, but I’ll save that for another list. As always, if you come across meaningful titles, forward them to me.
Rev. Dr. John H. Fullerton, Jr.
Dr. Fullerton has served as our senior pastor since September 2019. Prior to Lakeland, he served churches in Scotland, Ohio, Tennessee, and, most recently, in Dunedin, Florida. While serving local churches, he has also taken leave to teach in theological seminaries in Madagascar and Russia. After earning his Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Florida, he worked in business for nine years. God then had other plans for his life that led him to Princeton Theological Seminary for a Master of Divinity and then ordination as a pastor. In 2010, he received his Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary. He grew up in a military home that took him all over the United States but considers Palatka, Florida, his hometown. He and his wife, Cile, have been married since 1983 and are proud parents of three daughters who have given them five grandchildren. His hobbies include reading, running, golf, and spending time with family.