“When you come, be sure to bring the coat I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and the parchments.” 2 Timothy 4:13
At the end of the final letter that Paul wrote to his young protege Timothy from prison, he asked for books (literally translated scrolls and parchments). He was near the end of his race in this world, and yet right up until the end, he craved good, God-glorifying scrolls and parchments.
We will never outgrow the beauty and need for good books that, above all, grow us in our understanding and love for the Book, the Bible itself. Each year, there are an estimated 2-3 million new books published worldwide, and in my little corner of the world I was able to read 70. Below are my favorite reads of 2021 broken up by category, finishing with my top five from this past year.
Church Ministry and Leadership
Redeeming Power by Diane Langberg: Langberg differentiates between power that is rightly deployed to glorify God and raise others up, and power that is abused to prop ourselves up and pin others down. She particularly speaks to the abuse of power that so often manifests itself in the church and is covered up “for the sake of the mission” while victims are silenced, bullied, and driven out to protect the institution. A sobering, but important book for our day.
Corporate Worship by Matt Merker: One of the final installations of the 9Marks Building Healthy Churches series, this book did much to affirm the importance of the regular gathering of the church. I especially enjoyed the chapter on why we gather to worship: Exaltation, Edification, and Evangelism.
Rediscover Church by Jonathan Leeman and Collin Hansen: A timely book that concisely but clearly lays out the purposes, functions, and structures of a healthy church in a time when the questions, “what is church and why do we need it?” has re-emerged in the midst of the pandemic.
Christian Worldview Herman Bavinck: I bought this book while reading the biography of the Dutch theologian Bavinck, and while Worldview was written over 100 years ago, I found it stunningly relevant in many ways. “The problems that confront the human mind always return to these: What am I, What is the world, and What is my place and task within this world?”
Say It! Edited by Eric Redmond: A book on expository preaching in the African American tradition, and I found it to be a perfect blend of men writing about preaching, and reading actual sermons they preached to their congregations. “I believe clarity should be a relentless aim of the preacher in Sunday morning preaching. The sin of many messages is that they are good but unclear.”
Gender Ideology by Sharon James: “The question boils down to this: if sex is assigned at birth, is gender a social construct? If so, gender theory is right. If not, gender theory is not only wrong, but dangerous. Christianity and God’s design for the world stands at the crossroads of this debate, for in Genesis 1 God created man and woman in his image.”
Finding Holy In the Suburbs by Ashley Hales: The first three chapters and the final chapter were the best in my opinion. The gods of consumerism and individualism kept hitting a familiar note that is spot on. Fruitful ministry in suburban contexts can be hard, one of the biggest reasons being it’s so easy for churches to be complacent and pursue comfort as opposed to living sacrificially for the sake of making disciples.
Weep With Me by Mark Vroegopp: I did not read Vroegopp’s earlier book on Lament, but this was a shorter and more direct work that applies the work of lament specifically to race and racial reconciliation. The modern church
The Dad Difference by Bryan Loritts: This book speaks of the fierce love of a father, which needs to be both tender and firm. The book revolves around parenting the “RITE” way (relationship, integrity, teaching, experiences). All were helpful, but I particularly found the relationship section to be the most compelling.
J.I. Packer: His Life and Thought by Alister McGrath: A short biography and overview of Packer’s theology and pathway through his career. I appreciated his bridge between theology and spirituality, with the connection between theological depth and practical life, and then I loved the behind the scenes chapter of his famous book, Knowing God.
Letters of John Newton by John Newton: The line on this book from Spurgeon says it best: “in few writers are Christian doctrine, experience, and practice more happily balanced than in the author of these Letters, and few write with more simplicity, piety, and force.” This book has also made me think how much of a loss it is that Christians (particularly men) don’t write these kinds of letters to each other anymore. While we are “connected” more often through social, text, email, etc., we are less intimately connected when we don’t take time to sit down to write and encourage, challenge, exhort, lament, and celebrate with one another.
Caste by Isabella Wilkerson: The book is not only history, but an indictment on the present day as well. This system of racial caste is still in place in many ways, even if it’s a little harder to spot than it was in the past, and that is because we never truly came to terms with it as a country but rather just tried to move on as opposed to dealing with it.
God and Liberty by Thomas Kidd: A helpful overview of the intersection between faith and politics in the pre-Revolutionary period and ending with Jefferson’s election in 1800. Biggest takeaways: Was America founded as a Christian nation? No. Was America founded as a nation that was heavily influenced by Christianity? Yes.
The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee: “In the early twenty-first century, the place of Asian Americans in American society is a paradoxical one. While making great strides economically, academically, and politically, Asian Americans are still vulnerable to global economic shifts and political struggles. To be Asian American in the twenty-first century is an exercise in coming to terms with a contradiction: benefiting from new positions of power and privilege while still being victims of hate crimes and micro-aggressions that dismiss Asian American issues and treat Asian Americans as outsiders in their own country.”
The Stranger by Albert Camus: This was a strangely compelling book, and reflective of the nihilistic attitude after WWII. The meaningless of life is examined, and it showed me how hollow everything is without the God-given purpose to glorify His name in our lives. The last chapter was both haunting and enlightening, talking about death and the pointlessness of whether it happens now or later.
Top 5 Books in 2021:
- Letters of John Newton
- Corporate Worship
- The Making of Asian America
- Redeeming Power
- Rediscover Church