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!

The Danger of Theological Indifference

The Christian faith lends itself to mental effort. Just think about this: we serve a God that has revealed himself in the Bible. In other words, we serve a God that has revealed himself in letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, books, and one body of books…the Bible!

And the Bible is filled with rebukes of false doctrines and explanations of sound doctrines. It is filled with arguments against certain systems of beliefs as well as clarifications on what to believe. It is filled with inferences, explanations, and reason. It is loaded with certain biblical themes that span across all its sixty-six books.

Because God has revealed himself this way, it is an invitation for us to use intellectual exertion; to toil and labor to acquire knowledge. He is calling us to follow the evidence that led to the inference; to follow the reason that made up the argument. He is enticing us to trace the themes that span across all sixty-six books of the Bible. He is bidding us to use our God given mental capacities in order to rightly know Him and the teachings He has left us.

Contemporary Christianity-Anti Intellectual

Though the Christian faith lends itself to mental effort, there does seem to be a growing anti-intellectualism in the church today. There are many in the church that distrust the Christian that spends his time reading, memorizing, developing arguments, and striving to become a good theologian. You can hear people say, “We don’t care about all the details. Just stick to the main things like the Bible, the gospel, the cross, salvation, and heaven.” Or maybe they say, “We can’t possibly know things like the Incarnation, Trinity, or God’s purpose in election. Those things are mysterious. Just stick to Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!” And when a Christian persists in studying and talking about the particulars of certain theological beliefs, fellow Christians begin to distrust him.

Now, for those of you that may not agree that there is an anti-intellectualism in the church today, maybe you will agree with me when I say there is a growing disinterest in intellectual toil within the church today. People seem to be indifferent to the things of God. They have reduced the Christian faith to the Bible, the gospel, the cross, Jesus, salvation, and heaven. They are not interested in anything other than these aspects of the Christian faith. And, in all honesty, they are not interested in studying these in too much detail.

Right Emphases in Light of the Whole

Here is the thing though, throughout Church history, Christians realized that what they emphasized was important. Therefore, the main emphases throughout Church history have been on the Bible, the gospel, the cross, Jesus Christ, salvation, and heaven. They were not reducing Christianity to these teachings. They were not intending on isolating these points of emphases in order to make them the whole of the Christian faith. Rather, after a thorough study of the Bible, they realized that, at the end of the day, these where the key points of the whole. As a result, they emphasized them.

But, and this is very important, they viewed these key points in light of the whole. These emphases were viewed in light of a good and proper understanding of the Biblical narrative. Behind these key points, there were good arguments for what each point meant in light of what God has revealed in the Bible as a whole.

Right Emphases Without the Whole

Within the contemporary church, we still make the right emphases. We emphasize the Bible, the cross, Jesus Christ, salvation, and heaven. However, due to many Christians’ anti-intellectualism or indifference, these main topics have been separated from the whole of the Christian faith.

At first glance, this doesn’t seem that bad, but, upon further study, it is very bad. Since we have isolated these key points of the Christian faith, they have begun to be understood apart from the whole. As a result, they have begun taking on different meanings; meanings that are quite contrary to the biblical narrative.

A Test Case-Heaven

To get a better understanding of what I have been saying throughout this brief blog, let’s think about heaven. Heaven is an emphasis throughout church history as well as the contemporary church. Yet, the contemporary church has developed a concept of heaven that is quite different from what we find in the Bible. In all seriousness, the present church’s understanding of heaven is in line with what we find in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

At one point in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Miss Watson explains heaven to Huck. According to Huckleberry, “She went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever.” As you can see, Huckleberry wasn’t that intrigued by heaven. And honestly, because of most Christians’ similar misconceptions of heaven, they aren’t intrigued either.

For instance, as one pastor was talking to Randy Alcorn about heaven he said, “Whenever I think about Heaven, it makes me depressed. I’d rather just cease to exist when I die.” But what was his reasoning for this? Well, the pastor goes on to say, “I can’t stand the thought of that endless tedium. To float around in the clouds with nothing to do but strum a harp. . . . it’s all so terribly boring. Heaven doesn’t sound much better than Hell. I’d rather be annihilated than spend eternity in a place like that.”

This is honestly what many people believe. They still emphasize heaven, but they have isolated heaven from the biblical narrative. As a result, it has taken on a different meaning than what we find in the Bible. They speak of a heaven as a disembodied spiritual existence where we sing Amazing Grace for 10,000 years; as an endless church service where we grow in our ability to play a harp! This is what happens when an important biblical emphasis becomes isolated. It begins to take on an unbiblical meaning.

The heaven the Bible talks about is a restoration of all that Adam lost……and then some! Adam was supposed to dwell on earth, exercise a God honoring rule as a king, and spread the knowledge of the glory of God over creation. Adam failed at this God given commission. With Adam’s sin, humanity fell from its original royal dignity.

Then Christ came to redeem humanity and to restore humanity back to its royal dignity. In Christ, human beings are being enabled to fulfill God’s original purpose for them. As Alcorn said, “God never gave up on his original plan for human beings to dwell on Earth. In fact, the climax of history will be the creation of the new heavens and a new earth, a resurrected universe inhabited by resurrected people living with a resurrected Jesus.” And as we, a resurrected humanity, reign on a non-cursed new earth with Jesus Christ, our resurrected King, we will dwell everlastingly in complete bliss.

This is the heaven that the Bible teaches about. It deserves to be emphasized, but it must be emphasized in light of the whole. My fear is that we have detached it from the whole, continued to emphasize it, and allowed it to lose its biblical meaning!

Where Do We Go from Here?

We must begin realizing that the Christian faith lends itself to mental exertion, and we must be willing to exert our mental capacities in order to better understand the things of God. As we do this, we will not merely emphasize what needs to be emphasized (the Bible, Jesus, the cross, salvation, heaven), we will have proper understandings of these key tenets of the Christian faith in light of the overall biblical narrative. In doing this, we will emphasize them for the same reasons Christians throughout history have emphasized them, rather than simply emphasizing them as a crutch to avoid mental effort.