2020 In Books

One of my favorite parts of the year is when prominent Christian pastors, theologians, and websites begin posting their top ten book lists. This allows me to peruse these lists in hopes to find some good books to read in the upcoming year.

In what follows, I’ll post the ten books that I most enjoyed reading this year (in no particular order), and then I’ll post a link to top ten book lists from other pastors, theologians, and websites. My list will include books from any particular year, while other people’s lists will usually pertain to books that came out in 2020. My hope is that you will find some good Christian books to read throughout 2021 that will stir your affections for Jesus.

My List

Tethered to the Cross: The Life and Preaching of Charles Spurgeon by Thomas Breimaier – Though this will probably not appeal to some readers, as a lover of all things Spurgeon, it certainly appealed to me. Breimaier navigates Spurgeon’s writings and sermons to show his readers that Spurgeon’s hermeneutic, no matter what Scripture he was looking at, was crucicentric and conversionistic. For me, this book had the same result as Spurgeon’s sermons and writings do, it made me want to love Christ more!

To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson – If you lost your job, depleted your savings account, and lost all your investment in cryptocurrency, you should still find a way to buy this book. I find biographies on missionaries to be gripping, and Anderson’s To the Golden Shore was the best missionary biographies that I’ve ever read. It was thrilling reading about the life and ministry of Adoniram Judson. Few men have accomplished so much for the name of Christ as Judson. And few men have endured so much suffering for the name of Christ as Judson. After reading this book, you will find Adoniram Judson to be one of your heroes in the Christian faith.

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund – The puritans used to say that certain books were a balm to every wound. In contemporary terms, I guess this book would be Neosporin for your every spiritual wound. Ortlund uses the Bible and voices from the past to show his readers that Christ is not a Savior that reluctantly deals with sinners. Rather, Christ is a gentle and lowly Savior that delights in showing mercy and steadfast love to sinners. You will find this book immensely encouraging. Make sure you have it on your reading list for 2021!

The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance-Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters by Sinclair Ferguson – I know what you are thinking, “What a remarkably long and uninteresting title!” Before you scroll past, though, listen to what Alistair Begg said about this work, “I know of no one other than Sinclair Ferguson who has the capacity, patience, and skill to unearth an ancient debate, set in a Scottish village with an unpronounceable name, and show its compelling relevance to gospel preaching and Christian living. This may be Sinclair’s best and most important book. Take up and read!” This book really is an important read. It reveals how we can indiscreetly fall into legalism. It teaches us how we are prone to separate the benefits of salvation from union with Christ. And it reveals how we, as Christians, can gain gospel assurance.

The Person of Christ by Donald Macleod – This book was written in 1998. I determined to read a lot of books on the person of Christ this year, and the newer books I was reading were regularly referencing Macleod’s The Person of Christ. I light of this, I went and bought it. Let’s just say that I was not disappointed. As a matter of fact, I was so pleased with Macleod’s insights in The Person of Christ that I bought and read two more of his books. Anyhow, I found this book to be very good!

A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life by J.I. Packer – The Puritans believed that all biblical knowledge should lead to godly living. As they read the Bible, they believed that God was teaching them how to live as exiles here in this wilderness of a world. When they preached sermons, they drove home the main point of the passage and then labored extensively to apply it to their hearers. Needless to say, the Puritans knew how to live God honoring lives. In this book, Packer teaches us how we might imitate the Puritans in their quest for godliness.

Spurgeon on the Christian Life: Alive in Christ by Michael Reeves – Here is the thing, I love Charles Spurgeon and I love Michael Reeves. And God, in his grace, made Michael Reeves a Spurgeon scholar. This means that whenever Michael Reeves writes a book on Spurgeon, I must read it. So what about this book? I don’t think it is the best biography on Spurgeon, but I think it is a great book to introduce people to Spurgeon’s life, ministry, and teachings. If you don’t know much about how God mightily used this 19th century English Baptist pastor, then this book will give you a good introduction to him.

Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George M. Marsden – This is considered one of the most important biographies ever written about Jonathan Edwards. I, personally and embarrassingly, had never read a biography about Jonathan Edwards, so Marsden’s biography was a bit overwhelming! Marsden shows EXTENSIVE knowledge of the times of Edwards, the life of Edwards, and the impact of Edwards. So this is probably not the best biography to introduce you to Edwards, but it is certainly an important book for knowing and understanding Edwards. If I were you, I would read some shorter biographies about Edwards first. Then I would read this one a little later on.

The Holy Spirit by Sinclair Ferguson – Just the other day I was talking with a man entrenched in the Charismatic Movement. His claim was that Baptists are scared of the Holy Spirit. My claim was that Baptists aren’t scared of the Holy Spirit, but have a completely different understanding of the role of the Spirit in the life of a Christian. He placed overwhelming emphasis on his experiences (being slain in the Spirit, speaking in tongues, slithering on the floor like a snake, etc.), while I placed my emphasis on the biblical teaching of the Spirit. I say all that to say this; Ferguson, in the pages of this book, will give you a healthy understanding of the Holy Spirit. This book is thoroughly biblical and grounded in good sound theology.

Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind by Owen Strachan – This is an important and timely book. Throughout history, major current events usually lead to greater theological precision in the church. For example, in the days of the Reformation, there was greater theological precision on the biblical doctrine of justification. During the 19th and 20th century, there was greater theological precision on the inspiration of the Bible. Current events fueled the church to be more precise! And in our day, where women claim to be men and where men claim to be women, the church needs greater theological precision in what it means to be human. This book will help the church in this area.

My Wife’s Top Three

My wife always wants me to put a few of her favorite reads of 2020 on here, so here are a few that my wife thoroughly enjoyed reading.

Knowing God by J.I. Packer – In 2006, Christianity Today said that Knowing God was one of the top fifty books that have most shaped evangelicals. Though Christianity Today said that in 2006, it is still true today, fourteen years later. Packer is both precise and lucid in Knowing God. He will teach you a great deal about the triune God that we, as Christians, know, love, and serve.

Devoted: Great Men and Their Godly Moms by Tim Challies – It is hard to overstate the simple fact that, behind many of the great men throughout church history, there were godly mothers. These women loved the Bible, Christ, and their families. They relentlessly evangelized and taught their children all that they could about the Christian faith. And God, in his grace, used their ministry to shape their children for the remarkable labor He would use them for later on. This book will allow you to learn more about these stories.

Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan – Since this book has been published many times throughout hundreds of years, there are a ton of different versions of it. I prefer the classic with the old English. Others prefer a modernized version. The link that I have attached is to the modern version. With all that said, Pilgrim’s Progress used to be one of the most popular Christian books of all time. Sadly, however, we may be the first generation of Christians that are largely unfamiliar with this book. In all honesty, the more I talk to people, it seems like our generation is even unfamiliar with the title of this book. . . . . which is incredibly sad. I say all that to say this; as a Christian, you need to read or listen to this book at least once. There is a reason the majority of Christians have had this on their bookshelves over the last three hundred years!

Other People’s List

Kevin Deyoung’s Top Ten Book List

The Gospel Coalitions 2020 Book Awards

For the Church | The 2020 FTC Book Awards

Tim Challies’ Top Ten Book List

Trevin Wax’s Top Ten Book List

9Marks Pastor’s Talk on a Bunch of Fun Biographies

More Lists Will Come

There will be more lists that come out. As they do, I will try to add them to this blog. I hope this allows you to find some good books!

Why Read Christian Biography?

I have enjoyed reading Christian biography ever since the Lord saved me my freshmen year of college. To put it in perspective, I have been a Christian for a little less than ten years and have read (or listened to) forty-three biographies. Reading Christian biography is a discipline that I have cultivated, and this is not without reason.

God has used Christian biography to stir my affections for Christ. And, as I heard Matt Chandler say many years ago, find whatever stirs your affections for Christ and keep doing it. Therefore, I pick up different Christian biographies throughout the year and let the Lord minister to my soul as I read about His dealings with other Christians throughout history.

With that said, what I want to do now is list out five reasons why I enjoy reading Christian biography. After I lay out the five reasons, I will recommend some Christian biographies that you may be interested in.

Christian Biography Demonstrates the Cost of Discipleship

Though salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, a life of discipleship, of following Jesus, will cost you everything. In Matthew 16:24-26, Jesus said:

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Just as Peter denied, completely disassociated himself, with Jesus later on in Matthew’s gospel, so the disciple of Jesus must deny, completely disassociate, with himself. He must realize that Christ “died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor 5:15). This is what Christ demands of those who follow him.

And as one reads Christian biographies, they begin to see what this looks like. The lives of individuals like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Whitefield, Judson, and Spurgeon allow us to see that faithfully following the Lord Jesus Christ comes with a cost. More importantly, they allow us to clearly see that a life of denying self for the purpose of living for the fame of Christ is completely worth it!

Christian Biography Reveals God’s Providence

The 1689 Baptist Confession defines God’s providence as:

God the good Creator of all things, in his infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were created, according unto his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will; to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy.

That is one amazing sentence. This confession goes on to say, “As the providence of God doth in general reach to all creatures, so after a more special manner it taketh care of his church, and disposeth of all things to the good thereof.” As you can tell, this is a comforting doctrine.

However, God’s providential governance is mysterious to us. After something happens, we often times do not know how God is disposing all things for our good. We cannot immediately trace God’s hand to see all the good that He is bringing about out of suffering, hardship, pain, difficulty, and even death. Most of the purposes in his providential dealings with us are not able to be discerned until much later on in our lives. Therefore, during these times of difficulty, we have to trust God’s heart even though we cannot trace His hand.

Though this is the case for us individually, Christian biographies reveal God’s providential dealings with His children. As we read about the lives of these individuals, we are able to see how God disposes all things (suffering, hardship, pain, difficulty, and even death) for the good of His people. Simply put, in Christian biography we are actually able to trace God’s hand as He worked ALL things for the good of the Christians we are reading about (Rom 8:28).

Christian Biography Shows God’s Patience

There are no great Christians. The Christians you read about in Christian biographies would not have said that they are great Christians. They would  have said, with John Newton, that they are great sinners and that Christ is a great Savior. This is what makes Christian biographies so fascinating. These men and women battle their sinful flesh by the power of the Spirit, humbly cast themselves upon God, and God patiently deals with them as a loving Father.

Let’s be honest, none of us would have patiently dealt with Luther, Zwingli, or Calvin. As we look into our heart of hearts, we see that we are prone to be impatient and quick to get frustrated. This is not the case with God! Even in the midst of His children’s weaknesses, He is patient with them. Very few things reveal the loving patience of our God as an extensive Christian biography that probes the infirmities of one of our heroes in the faith. As we see this, our hope is stengthened in knowing that the God that was patient with them is the same God that is patient with us.

Christian Biography Displays Christian Living

If you are anything like me then you are well aware that gaining proper theological knowledge is much easier than living a practically godly life! I can read a whole book on a certain theological topic and not be any godlier. Though this is a sad reality, I think that it is understandable.

You see, we not only have a hard time living a godly life because our sinful flesh wages war against us; we also have a hard time living a godly life because we do not know how to apply the theological knowledge that we do have. Christian biographies can help us with this.

For example, I know what the Bible says about marriage. I know the theme of marriage throughout the Bible. However, I don’t always treat my wife in a manner that reflects the sacredness of the marriage covenant. Honestly, I don’t always know how to treat my wife in a manner that reflects the sacredness of the marriage covenant. Then, as I read about Charles Spurgeon and Susanna Spurgeon, I see how Spurgeon treated his wife. I see how he spoke, lead, wrote, and loved his wife. In reading this, I am learning how my theology should be applied. I am gleaning how to live a practically godly life in light of the theological knowledge that I have.

Christian Biography Gives Ideas for Good Works

In Titus 2:14, Paul gives us three purposes for Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection. Christ gave himself for us in order to: 1) redeem us from all lawlessness, 2) purify us, 3) make us zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). I think the last purpose that is mentioned, to make us zealous for good works, is often forgotten. We, as a redeemed people, are to relentlessly devote ourselves to good works that will bring honor to God.

This is something that certain brothers and sisters of ours throughout history understood. They were zealous for good works. Seriously, there would not be biographies written about them if they weren’t zealous for good works! Who wants to read about a half-hearted slothful Christian that lived a bulk of his life for himself? Nobody! But who wants to read about a Spirit empowered Christian filled with fervor and zeal that joyfully spent his life making Christ famous? Everybody!

And as Christians in the 21st century, we can look at all of their good works and get ideas. We can see particular ways they served the Lord and think through what that might look like in our own lives.

Christian Biographies I’ve Enjoyed

Biographies of Missionaries

Biographies of Pastors

Biographies of Ladies

Extensive (Auto)Biographie–(not for the faint of heart)!

 

 

January & February in Books

My goal in doing this type of blog every two months is to give you, the readers, an opportunity to look at certain books that you may like to read. So, here are the books that I have read throughout January and February.

honest evangelism

Honest Evangelism by Rico Tice

I try to read one book on evangelism every six months or so. There are numerous reasons for this. One reason is because it is so easy to lose sight of the discipline of evangelism. If we are not mindful of it then we simply won’t do it. Reading a book on evangelism helps me to be mindful! Another reason is because each individual says something different about evangelism. Everybody has a different technique that they use. For Rico, it is Jesus’ identity, Jesus’ mission, and Jesus’ call. So, in a conversation, find a way to talk about Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, His mission in rescuing sinners, and His call for individuals to repent and place their faith in Him. I found this to be helpful and will seek to put it in my evangelism tool kit. The last reason I read books on evangelism relatively often is because I want to be more faithful as a Christian. These little Christian living books on evangelism teach me how to be more faithful.

pastoral theology

Pastoral Theology by Daniel Akin and Scott Pace

This was a book that I had to read for a seminary class. This is not a ground breaking book when it comes to pastoral ministry. It reads somewhat like a miniature systematic theology with brief sections on the practical implications of certain doctrines in regards to the pastorate.

on pastoring

On Pastoring by H.B. Charles Jr.

I also had to read this book for a seminary class. Though this book was not theologically deep, it was really entertaining to read. H.B. Charles Jr. was the son of a pastor, he began pastoring when he was seventeen years old, and he has many friends that are pastors. So, inevitably, he has made some mistakes, he has done a lot of things well, and he has innumerable stories to tell. This allows him to write this book that is filled with practical pastoral wisdom for young pastors.

the betrayal

The Betrayal: A Novel on John Calvin by Douglas Bond

This is a fictional work by Douglas Bond that lets you in on the life and times of John Calvin. Bond’s aim was to write an intriguing book from the view point of one of Calvin’s enemies that debunks all the negative modern caricatures (and there are a lot) that people have of Calvin. It is a very interesting read and I found myself admiring this theological giant even more by the way that Bond presents him throughout this novel.

Also, there are two reasons that I am reading this book. The first reason is because my wife gave this to me as a Christmas present. The second reason is because a brother of mine in Christ thought that reading some fiction would help me be more creative in my transitions, illustrations, and word choices during the preaching moment. I am taking heed to this counsel in hopes that reading fiction will help me to be a better preacher.

the temple and the church's mission

The Temple and the Church’s Mission by G.K. Beale

This is a biblical theology book that I picked up because I have a desire to become a better theologian. Often times, our theology is a little off because we misunderstand the overall message of the Bible. Books like these help us to see broad sweeping biblical themes (in this case the Temple) which, in turn, help us to better interpret particular passages of Scripture.

In this books G.K. Beale argues this (I am just going to quote him at length):

God created the cosmos to be his great temple, in which he rested after his creative work. His special revelatory presence, nevertheless, did not yet fill the entire earth because his human vice-regent was to achieve this purpose. God had installed this vice-regent in the garden sanctuary to extend the boundaries of God’s presence there worldwide. Adam disobeyed this mandate, so that humanity no longer enjoyed God’s presence in the small Garden. As a result, all humanity and all creation became contaminated with sin. Therefore, in view of the storyline of the Bible, the assertions about God’s inability to exist in any building on earth include allusion to the old earth and temple not being an adequate abode for him because of being polluted with sin and the need for purification and restoration before God’s Shekinah presence, limited to heaven and the holy of holies, could dwell everywhere throughout the cosmos. All human attempts to extend God’s presence throughout a sinful earth met with, at best, limited success. The successful fulfillment of the Adamic commission awaited the presence – and obedience – of the last Adam, Jesus Christ.

Susie

Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susanna Spurgeon by Ray Rhodes Jr.

While many people know of Charles Spurgeon, very few know much about Susanna Spurgeon. This biography allows you to walk back into the 19th century to look at this godly wife, mother, author, editor, book distributor, and church planter. She persevered through affliction. She honored Christ with both her life and her death. She abounded in the work of the Lord. She did this even when she was bed ridden because of chronic illness. You will not regret reading about this woman. Moreover, you will not regret seeking to imitate many of the ways she imitated Christ.

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How Shall We Then Live? By Francis Schaeffer

This book was first published in 1975. Schaeffer sought to reveal to his readers that how we think directly impacts how we live. He says, “What we are in our thought world directly determines how we act.” This is the thesis of this book. He then walks through 2000 years of history (from the time of Ancient Rome to our modern day) to reveal the effects of certain world views (pagan gods, emperor worship, renaissance humanism, modern humanism, a belief in an infinite personal God, the enlightenment, etc.). Schaeffer studied this so much that the end of his book is prophetic. For example, after diagnosing the world view that lead to the passing of Roe vs. Wade, he writes, “In regard to the fetus, the courts have arbitrarily separated ‘aliveness’ from ‘personhood,’ and if this is so, why not arbitrarily do the same with the aged? So the steps move along, and euthanasia may well become increasingly acceptable.” This is just one example of how Schaeffer foresaw the trajectory of our western culture.

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Christianity at the Crossroads by Michael Kruger

When we think about the history of Christianity, we often think that it was Jesus, Paul, the reformers, and then Billy Graham! This is not the case though. After the death of the apostles, churches were gathering, men were preaching the gospel, people were fighting for orthodoxy, the Scriptures were being copied and circulated, apologists were defending the validity of the Christian religion to the Roman elite, and theologians were writing major works. This book will really help you to appreciate what our brothers and sisters in Christ did throughout the second century. It will also open up your eyes to the historicity of the Christian faith!

What are you Reading?

Let me know what books that you have been reading!