Below are my top five reads of 2020...just in time for Christmas. (If you missed part 1, click here).
5. Suffering is Never for Nothing - Elisabeth Elliot
Most people know about Operation Auca and Jim Elliot's death, along with four other missionaries. Many probably don't know Jim isn't the only husband Elisabeth lost during her life. This woman has suffered more than most ever will, but writes from a posture of humility and wisdom that is exceedingly rare. The insight combined with her short anecdotes make this a must read in 2021!
4. Beyond Racial Gridlock - George Yancey
In addition to being the year of COVID, 2020 has been the year of racial strife. Works on the topic are being published at breakneck speed. Sadly, few are written from a worldview shaped by Scripture. Yancey's work is quite the contrary. Dr. Yancey spends the first half of the book critiquing secular models of racial reconciliation, pointing out strengths and highlighting shortcomings. Then in the second half of the book, he posits his own "paradigm" which I found to be shaped by a robust biblical worldview. What makes this book quite striking is how prophetic it has turned out to be...it was published in 2006.
3. Where Was God When That Happened? - Christopher Ash
Everybody knows about the perennial problem of reconciling an all-powerful, all-good God with the existence of evil. Massive anthologies have been written tackling the apparent contradiction. Very few works have been written that are short and easy to understand - at least that I'm aware of. Christopher Ash's little book (96 pages!) is a wonderful gift to the Church. He's clear, but remarkably thorough for such a short book.
2. Rethink Yourself - Trevin Wax
Both #2 and #1 on my list this year tackle an ever increasing challenge to Christians and church ministry: "expressive individualism." Never heard the term before? That's OK, you know the concepts...
"Follow your heart."
"Chase your dreams."
"You are enough."
"You do you."
"No matter what, be true to yourself."
Wax writes, "...the purpose of life is to discover yourself by looking deep down, and then express yourself to the world, no matter what anyone else - family members, friends, colleagues, previous generations, or religious institutions - might say." Just think of the many Disney movies that follow a narrative plot line of someone finding and forging their self-identity in opposition to the naysayers!
Needless to say, this is a serious problem because it causes the individual to stick their foot in the ground and declare to the world, "This is me!" But only God has the right to say and do that and the "me" in the statement is a deeply flawed one in need of change.
Wax's book is an eye-opening critique of a worldview that many Christians now imbibe.
1. The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self - Carl Trueman
Bad news: this is the most difficult to read and longest book on the list.
Good news: I'm not even done with it and I can already rank it #1.
Trueman's opening sentence is tantalizing. "The origins of this book lie in my curiosity about how and why a particular statement has come to be regarded as coherent and meaningful: 'I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.'"
At this point, you might think this is a book about the sexual revolution - and it is - kind of. But it's so much more than that.
"At the heart of this book lies a basic conviction: the so-called sexual revolution of the last sixty years, culminating in its latest triumph—the normalization of transgenderism—cannot be properly understood until it is set within the context of a much broader transformation in how society understands the nature of human selfhood."
Trueman contends, rightly, that the sexual revolution is just one manifestation of how humanity in the West has come to understand the purpose of life. This is where "expressive individualism" once again plays a leading role. It is the "prioritization of the individual's inner psychology - we might even say 'feelings' or 'intuitions' for our sense of who we are and what the purpose of our lives is."
Let me summarize what Trueman's book is about with a single question: why does society think and behave the way it does? This is what the book is about. It's essentially a theory about everything. This is why I have found it to be an absolute goldmine.
I found reading to be more difficult this year. As I was looking back at my reading log, I was surprised I had more than ten reads to work with. Nevertheless, here they are... just in time for Christmas.
10. Gus Loses His Grip - David Powlison
I actually have two kids books on this list this year - but they are worthy of being here. The late David Powlison was a first-rate biblical counselor whose (adult) books have been incredibly influential on me. This one, for kids, is a very well-written story that gets across the sometimes complicated concept of idolatry. I have read it multiple times to my kids and it will be part of their development for years to come.
9. Sophie and the Heidelberg Cat - Andrew Wilson
Gospel, gospel, gospel - that's what this book is about. Like the work of Powlison, this book is a truly attention-retaining story that drips with the gospel of grace. I found my own soul soaring even as I read it to my kids before bedtime.
8. The Ten Commandments of Progressive Christianity - Michael Krueger
As a pastor, I spend quite a bit of time reading and re-reading the Pastoral Epistles (1, 2 Timothy and Titus) because they are written to pastors. One of the striking features of those letters is Paul's emphasis on sound doctrine. In the first century and in every age, the gospel has been subjected to mistreatment. Michael Krueger provides a short tutorial on how "Progressive Christianity" is warping the gospel and offering firm, but gentle, nudges back in the direction of what the Scriptures actually say. Could you identify "Progressive Christianity" if you heard it? If you read Krueger's book, you'll be on firmer footing to do so.
7. None Greater - Matthew Barrett
Just when you think we've exhausted all that can be said about the attributes of God, another book comes out ruminating on them. The difference with Barrett's book, however, is the close attention he gives the "so what?" question we often throw out there when pondering the attributes of God. If you read this book, I think you'll find it to be more devotional than most books on this topic.
6. Competing Spectacles - Tony Reinke
Reinke defines his book as a "theology of visual culture." Ours is a world of images on screens: phones, tablets, computers, TV's, theaters. Reinke writes, "...in this ecosystem of digital pictures and fabricated sights and viral moments competing for our attention - how do we spiritually thrive?" He sounds the alarm that our addiction to the image is competing not just for our time and attention, but our affection and devotion. What we need is a superior "spectacle" that outshines the rest.