One of the unexpected blessings of 2020 was that amidst government shutdowns I was able to surpass my reading goals for the year. But not everything I read was equally beneficial. So allow me to share the top ten books I read in 2020. (Note: these books were not necessarily released this year, although some were. It’s simply a list of the books that most impacted me this year.) I hope you’ll see something here that inspires or encourages you to pick up and read in 2021.
#1: Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund
This book has been at or near the top of nearly every top Christian book list I’ve seen this year. This isn’t hype, folks. This book really is that good. Dane Ortlund captures the heart of Jesus for His people in a way I’ve never read before. And what has most encouraged me in this book is it’s rootedness in church history. Orlund isn’t teaching something new, he’s unearthing something that many modern Christians have forgotten. Do your soul a favor and put this book at the top of your reading list for 2021.
#2: Why Social Justice is Not Biblical Justice: An Urgent Appeal to Fellow Christians in a Time of Social Crisis by Scott David Allen
Anyone who has sat under my preaching for more than a year knows that racial justice is a deep burden in my heart. For nearly a decade I have preached a sermon against racism at least once a year in the churches I have pastored. That said, Allen’s book on social justice was perhaps one of the most insightful works I’ve read on the topic. Allen clearly and carefully demonstrates how much of what we call justice today is actually rooted in a comprehensive worldview that is antithetical to Christianity. Rather than thinking critically, many Christians (at times myself included) have bought this worldview hook, line, and sinker without carefully weighing its truth claims. This book is a much needed corrective if evangelical Christians are going to resist the dangerous and deceptive lies embedded in the cultural cries for social justice.
#3: Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson, Unlikely Friends on the Passage to Freedom by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey
Loved this book! A powerful story of the unlikely friendship between Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson, a former African-American slave. This book gripped my heart and mind unlike many books I’ve read in a long time. Written like a novel yet faithfully rooted in historical events, this book is a must-read.
#4: Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World's Largest Religion by Rebecca McLaughlin
Since its inception, Christianity has been confronted with hard questions. While some Christians shy away from tackling these questions, Rebecca McLaughlin is not one of them. In Confronting Christianity she responds to twelve hard questions for the world's largest religion. These questions include:
In generations past these questions would not have crossed the minds of many skeptics, but they represent some of the toughest obstacles to Christianity today. McLaughlin addresses each challenge head-on with clarity, conviction, and compassion. Whether you’re looking for answers to these questions yourself or you’d like an example of how to respond with wisdom and grace, Confronting Christianity will be a helpful resource.
#5: Descriptions and Prescriptions: A Biblical Perspective on Psychiatric Diagnoses and Medications by Michael R. Emlet
How should a Christian think about psychiatric diagnoses? OCD, ADHD, PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, Social Anxiety are common terms in the culture, but how should a Bible-believing Christian think about these ailments?
And what about psychoactive medications? Medicines like Prozac, Paxil, Ritalin, Xanax, Zoloft and more are more heavily prescribed than ever. Is that a good thing that Christians should celebrate, or a reason to lament?
In his book Descriptions and Prescriptions, Michael Emlet (a former M.D. turned biblical counselor and Christian author) argues that Christians should adopt the “Goldilocks Principle” to psychiatric diagnoses and medications.
Many Christians are “too warm.” They affirm psychiatric diagnoses without question, despite the fact that sometimes the diagnoses in the psychiatric community are just a relabeling of behaviors the Bible calls “sin.” They promote the benefits of psychoactive medications without question, despite the fact that research shows many do better with counseling alone, or counseling plus treatment.
Other Christians are “too cold.” They dismiss all psychiatric diagnoses out of hand, despite the fact that many people are truly suffering. They view all psychoactive medication as weakness or “not trusting God,” despite the fact that some medications are proven to help the sufferer.
Dr. Emlet carefully explains a better way. Christians should adopt a middle posture between these two extremes. One based on a robust biblical worldview and a careful examination of the facts related to psychiatric descriptions and prescriptions. One leaning heavily on genuine relational care for suffering people. One that relies on biblical wisdom.
This book is short, easily accessible, and profoundly helpful. I highly recommend it for any Christian who is struggling with psychiatric issues or desires to help those who do.
#6: Eve in Exile and the Restoration of Femininity by Rebekah Merkle
I could not put this book down. Rebekah Merkle writes with beauty, passion and power as she challenges women to a faithful obedience that restores God’s design for femininity. She begins by recounting the history of the feminism movement and the ways it undermines God’s design. Merkle is careful to avoid the idealistic ditches of nostalgia we tend to fall into, like thinking Victorian femininity or 1950s femininity are the gold standard. She rightly reminds us that these eras were filled with sinful caricatures of biblical femininity, and they were in many ways the seedbeds for much of the mess we’re in.
After exposing the lies of the feminist movement, Merkle explores a biblical vision for femininity. The Bible’s glorious vision for womanhood is not a mindless subservience to men, nor is it an unfettered freedom to do whatever you want wherever you want whenever you want. It is a life by design, a life of beauty, and glory, and power.
Merkle doesn’t argue that a women’s place is in the home, but that her priority is the home. Her utmost loyalties should not be to women everywhere, but to her people. Her husband, her children, her church. Instead of assuming that biblical injunctions for women to direct their lives homeward are demeaning to women, Merkle asks a different question. How important must the home actually be if God designed his female image-bearers to direct their attentions there? How essential for filling the earth, subduing it, and making disciples of all nations must the home actually be? It turns out the answer is more than most of us have dared to imagine.
Merkle’s conclusion is a excoriating rebuke of feminism for its crucial role in welcoming many of today’s cultural ills. If we’re feasting on evil today, it’s because women have set the table. I honestly found myself cringing as I read through the first few paragraphs of her conclusion. But she masterfully turned the tables by reminding us that if women ushered in much of this cultural nonsense, women have the power by God’s grace to clean up the mess and rebuild what has been broken. Yes, it might seem like an insurmountable task. And no woman is up to the challenge alone. But if Jesus-loving women are courageous enough to be fearlessly feminine, to faithfully obey their Master and use their uniqueness as God intended than only God knows what will happen. I’m praying for more and more ladies in the church to take up Merkle’s challenge and labor to restore the beauty of femininity.
Today’s feminism promises freedom for women, but Merkle clearly and poignantly reminds us that only by living according to God’s design are we actually free.
#7: What Is a Girl Worth?: My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics by Rachael Denhollander
Rachael Denhollander was the first victim (out of over 250 young women) to publicly accuse Dr. Larry Nassar of sexual assault. What is a Girl Worth? Is the chilling yet hopeful story of her devastating abuse and her journey to bring a predator to justice. This is one of the most moving books I’ve read in a long, long time. I believe that anyone who has been a victim of abuse will find incredible hope in Rachael’s story, but it is not for those who choose to bury their heads in the sand preferring to live as if these horrors aren’t real. If by God’s grace, you’ve never been a victim of abuse, you’ll find much-needed help in understanding the trauma that victims endure.
Rachael’s final words in the aftermath of Nassar’s conviction and sentencing were particularly potent: “So much work remains. So much evil to fight. So much healing to reach for. So many wounded to love. Consider this your invitation to join that work. To do what is right, no matter the cost. To hold to the straight line in the midst of the battle. To define your success by faithfulness in the choices you make. The darkness is there, we cannot ignore it. But we can let it point us to the light.”
#8: Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter (Michael Lundy, Editor)
I have rarely suffered from depression or anxiety. I know that could change, but in my short 35 years on this earth these are unfamiliar foes. At least for me personally. That said, I care deeply about the battles against depression and anxiety because some of the people I care about most in the world are beset by these struggles. Which is why I was drawn to this book edited by Michael Lundy.
Lundy compiles and annotates the writings of Puritan pastor Richard Baxter as he counseled his parishioners who struggled with depression and anxiety. Discard every unfair stereotype you've ever heard about Puritans. If Baxter is any indication of how Puritans did soul care, these men were gentle and loving in the way they cared for sinners and sufferers.
This book was one of the most helpful books I've ever read on understanding the battle with depression and learning how to counsel those who struggle. If you (or someone you love) is suffering in this way, learn how to battle biblically from the careful and gentle teaching of Richard Baxter.
#9: Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves
Perhaps more than any other, the one doctrine that sets Christianity apart from other worldviews and religions is the doctrine of the Trinity. The idea that God is a three-personal Being is unprecedented in any belief system. Ever. Within Christianity, hundreds of cults and heresies have sprung up through the millennia, often because of confusion regarding this doctrine. Today many professing Christians ignore or overlook the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s too abstract, too complex, too cerebral, too mind-warpingly mysterious.
Michael Reeves aims to correct that imbalance. Rather than viewing the Trinity as an optional appendage to Christianity, Reeves presents it as the foundational doctrine it truly is. Rather than leaving this doctrine for Ivory tower theologians who want to dive deep, Reeves invites all believers to bask in the glories of a three-personal God.
It’s no accident that Reeves’ subtitle is “An Introduction to the Christian Faith.” After all, understanding the Trinity should be introductory. It’s foundational. It’s essential. And Reeves unpacks and explains the Trinity with winsome wit, a sanctified imagination, historical-rootedness, and a compelling clarity that invites you to know God better and delight in Him more fully. Highly recommend this book!
#10: Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land by Elliot Clark
The scriptures are clear that Christians are exiles. This world is not our home. Yet Christians in America have long enjoyed a level of comfort in our nation. For a long time this country has felt like home.
Elliot Clark demonstrates how American Christians should embrace our exile, and grow as evangelists in the process. If you’ve ever struggled in your evangelism, or if you’re concerned by the growing marginalization of Christianity in America, this book is for you. Far from a book with simple tips on evangelistic strategy, Clark offers a paradigm shift on the way we think of ourselves as Christians in America. And it turns out that’s exactly what we need.
Alright, those are the top ten books I read in 2020. What books would be on your list?