Good books are a gift from God. They inform, provoke, strengthen, and counsel us. Here are a few titles I’ve especially enjoyed reading in 2020 and commend for your benefit. Not all of them are written by Christians. Some require more concentrated energy than others. All of them will help you understand and effectively engage with God’s Word, your own heart, or the culture around as a follower of Christ. I have included a small summary and a favorite quote for each book.
(Helen Pluckrose & James Lindsay)
Postmodern thought has birthed some culturally destructive children. If you want to know how race and gender became the lens through which we view the world, or why being oppressed became the new morality, Pluckrose and Lindsay are well worth your time. Sharp without being snarky, incisive without being ponderous, it’s not a Christian book by any stretch, but as a critique from a secular insider, it’s the most illuminating volume I’ve read.
“Theory assumes that objective reality cannot be known, ‘truth’ is socially constructed through language and ‘language games’ and is local to a particular culture, and knowledge function to protect and advance the interests of the privileged. Theory therefore explicitly aims to critically examine discourses. This means something specific. It means to examine them closely so as to expose and disrupt the political power dynamics it assumes are baked into them so that people will be convinced to reject them and initiate an ideological revolution.”
From Every People and Nation
(J. Daniel Hays)
When racial tensions erupted anew this summer, I found myself immediately swimming in a murky sea of what different people thought (Christians included). It was tremendously refreshing to read a rigorously exegetical book that carefully walks through God’s perspective on race from the Old and New Testament alike.
“Part of God’s redemptive plan as revealed in Genesis is to save and bless individuals from all peoples of the earth and to reunite them as the people of God. Racialization or racial division in the Church thwarts the plan of God and is in direct disobedience to this central biblical theme. Racial segregation among the people of God is a movement…backwards toward Genesis 10-11, rather than an obedient movement forward toward the fulfillment of Gen 12:3 as described in the New Testament.”
God, You, and Sex
There are plenty of solid, Christian books that address particular sexual topics such as sex in marriage, talking to children about sex, sexual abuse, homosexuality, or fleeing sexual temptation. What I have wanted for some time as a pastor is a single, accessible volume that first revels in the beauty of God’s purpose for sex and only then makes application to various seasons of life. In a world filled with every form of sexual brokenness, we desperately need to remember what we’re actually fighting for as believers so we don’t lose heart in the battle.
“Sex is about God. He invites us into a deeper understanding of who he is by creating us in his image as sexual beings. Because this is a fundamental aspect of our humanity, regardless of whether we are single or married, all Christians have much to learn about God through their sexuality.”
Act of Grace
When was the last time you heard a Christian say, “I’m struggling to not be selfish with my money. Could you pray for the grace of giving?” We don’t typically go there because respectable Americans treat anything related to money as a private matter. The Lord begs to differ. He goes public in his Word with all manner of instructions, warnings, promises, and commands about the dollars in our wallets and bank accounts. Part 1 of Petty’s book defines the biblical purpose of money through a survey of key passages. Part 2 applies those principles in various areas of church life. My big takeaway from the book was how easy it is to give God his due, so to speak, and then selfishly think of the rest of my money as mine to use however I want. It’s a great book to read with a Christian friend or small group so you don’t avoid the hard questions.
“Biblically, self-support is meant to be a means to another end: generosity. This generosity is not limited to a traditional 10 percent tithe but extends to all our funds. Under this scheme, we might chart our priorities for our money this way: (1) All our funds are assigned to us from God, so we are stewards and trustees of all of it for kingdom purposes, (2) We must first use our money to meet our needs and to love our dependents, so that they will not be a burden or need the help of others but will be equipped to serve to the full extent of their strengths and gifts, (3) The balance is to be given to love others, as guided by the commands and commissions of Christ.”
The Glory of Christ
I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t Owen that old, dead guy who wore a funny hat and used English words that only an advanced Scrabble player knows? Fear not. The Puritan Paperbacks series includes a version of his classic meditation on the goodness of Jesus “abridged and made easy to read by R.J.K. Law.” Earlier this year, I wanted to find a short devotional book to help me be more amazed by Jesus and less amazed by what people think of me (whether good or bad!) Owen did not disappoint. Slowly reading a few pages at a time helped me start my workdays with a deeper awe of God.
“Therefore the one thing most needed in our recovery and revival is a steady view of the glory of Christ, in his person, grace and office through faith, or a constant, lively exercise of faith in him as he is revealed to us in Scripture. This is the only way to be revived and to receive such grace as will keep us fresh and flourishing even in old age.”
On Desperate Ground
Common grace is an amazing thing. I love to read history and marvel at how image-bearers of God reflect his loyalty, courage, strength, or long-suffering, even before they come to know him. “On Desperate Ground” chronicles the hubris, self-sacrifice, and sheer grit displayed by U.S. Marines during the Chosin Reservoir campaign during the Korean War. The author, Hampton Sides, is a journalist by trade, which means he knows how to tell a good story. I stayed up way too late at night finishing this one. Suffice it to say, I was a little less likely to grumble about minor inconveniences the next day. Sides’ account also reminded me of the dignity of humbly submitting to God-given authority, even when you know it will cost you dearly.
“God created war, Twain wrote, so that Americans would learn geography, and the men of the First Marine Division were about to learn a lot about this tough, sorrowful scrap of land. While some would find a deep affinity for it, many would come to hate it, for all the things it was and for all the things it wasn’t. But to most of them, more than anything, Korea just seemed a long way from home – a long way to come to fight and bleed and die, in a war that was not officially a war, for a cause that at times was not altogether clear, for an endgame that was anybody’s guess.”