Despite all of its bitterness, 2020 also shared its slice of sweetnesses. For me, I thank the Lord for concentrated time with our little family and extra bandwidth for reading and reflection. I enjoyed, learned, and grew through reading a number of books this year, and here are my top choices from 2020. Five were published in 20202, and six were books I read this year (several of which I wish I had read much earlier!).
Top 5 Books Published in 2020
Katerine Sonderegger, Systematic Theology, Volume 2, The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity: Processessions and Persons. In full disclosure, I am reading this one slowly and intentionally, and I haven’t quite finished it yet. Nevertheless, it clearly stands high on any list for 2020. Sonderegger’s prose exhilirates me (and often exhausts me) every time I move through a new section. She grounds a huge section of her explication of the processional life of God in the sacrifical cultus of Leviticus. We will be processing this volume for years to come.
James Eglinton, Bavinck: A Critical Biography. I devoured this book in a few days, because I could hardly close the cover once I had opened it. Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics mark a high-water point of Reformed theology, and this book pairs compelling with Bavinck’s own work. I enjoyed learning about the way Bavinck engaged his culture through theological and political public service. Bavinck integrated a Christian theological vision that we would do well to let instruct us today.
Zena Hitz, Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life. This book delightfully explored the joy of a life of thought and reflection. In our world flooded with images and messages from without, we often lose the joy of images and messages cultivated from within. We should treasure the joy of quietly sitting alone, with no one but God and our own thoughts.
David French, Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation. I have learned that I can trust David French’s insights on politics and American cultural life, so I was glad to read his new book. He exposes the negative polarization of our national political life, and envisions a few rattling scenarios for how our nation could crack into pieces. That said, he encourages us to recapture the Federalist vision of the American founding, allowing a truly diverse, pluralistic nation to thrive. Is this likely? French convinced me that it might not be. Is it necessary and possible? French convinced me that it definitely is.
Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. This book help convinced me (again) that Jesus loves me. This book so profoundly influenced me that I created a “summer book club” reading plan for our church to read it together. Jesus is better that we believe. He loves more us strongly and he holds us more tightly, and Ortlund reminds our sin- and self-weary hearts of this.
Top 5 Books (+1) Not Published in 2020
Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West. This book started slowly but haunted me for months after I had finished it. McCarthy masterfully, artfully, and brutally describes the activities of a group of Western renegades. I personally like McCarthy’s other great work, The Road, better, but Blood Meridian is a masterwork that displays evil and (in my opinion) a hopeful glimpsing of the triumph of the good.
Tom Holland, Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind. (No, not the Spider-Man actor). Here Holland leads us across a stunning landscape of biblical and Western history, demonstrating the overt and subtle ways Christian teaching has become woven into the fabric of our culture. Long story short: every aspect of Western (and some non-Western) culture lives and moves and has its being under the shadow of the cross––sometimes corrupted by sinful people for bad, but often (and in surprising ways) by God’s grace for tremendous good.
Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal. I have had this book on the shelf since 2011 (I checked my Amazon purchase history), but I finally read it this year. I wish I had read it at the beginning of my ministry. Here I found where Tim Keller (among others) found their theological vision. Here I heard a hopeful and realistic vision of renewal that takes evangelism and justice seriously, seeing them as friends rather than enemies. Here I realized that my spiritual legacy grew out of the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, as my parents were saved in its ebbing wake in the early 1980s when I was two years old. I now believe this is one of a handful of books every pastor should read.
Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography. I already knew the contours of Augustine’s story and had read a good chunk of his most important work, but this book filled in the story with higher definition imagery and context. It made me even more grateful for the legacy of Augustine. He stands above every other doctor of the church as the preeminent post-biblical theologian. He was not a perfect man or theologian (and he would have been the first to admit that). He was a pastor-theologian, who displayed theological preaching with a heart for his people alongside history-shaping works of philosophy and theology.
Stephen King, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. For decades, I have claimed the movie version of this novella as my favorite. At 111 pages, it is short (by Stephen King standards), but longer than I expected. Mostly, the story was familiar (as the movie follows it fairly closely), but I found a few surprising and beautiful nuggets that the movie didn’t capture (you can listen to my sermon from December 6 to hear one of them). We need hope now more than ever, and this story, ultimately, bubbles over with hope.
Ed Bolian, For the Record: 28:50: A Journey toward Self-Discovery and the Cannonball Run Record. Bolian runs the succesful YouTube channel VinWiki, and he tells here the story of setting the record for the Cannonball Run, driving from New York to Los Angeles in under 29 hours. This book was just a lot of fun in a not-so-fun season.