What I Read in 2020

What I Read in 2020

See also my lists from 2017, 2018, and 2019.

I read 42 books this year. This is a bit less than in 2019, likely because I spent much less time in the car and so didn’t listen to nearly as many audiobooks. A good minority of these were assigned reading for my doctoral program. A few brief thoughts:

  • I am increasingly frustrated with theological writing that is ponderous and just plain bad. This isn’t a unique observation, but I grow weary of passive voice and bloated writing that just can’t get to the point. It was a joy to discover Jurgen Moltmann is a jewel of clarity and conciseness.
  • The books I read to better understand the racial issues in American history were profoundly moving and sobering.
  • It was refreshing and paradigm-shattering to read theologians from outside (sometimes far outside) the normal conservative evangelical bubble.

I hope you find my brief notes on the following volumes helpful. There is some very good stuff here. You may disagree with my comments on some of these volumes, and you’re certainly welcome to. Reading thoughtful people is always rewarding, even if your basic takeaway is negative!

A ho-hum book of essays of varied quality. Al Mohler contributes a workmanlike chapter on the necessity of expository preaching. J. Ligon Duncan offers up two chapters making a representative, Reformed case for the regulative principle of worship. Derek Thomas presents an often angry response to common objections to the regulative principle, full of arcane insider-baseball discussions and so many strawmen that his chapter ought to come with a disclaimer from the fire marshal.

There is nothing new here for any pastor who received training from a decent seminary.

An unnecessary and ponderous text that sets out to prove the biblical authors were aware of and expanded upon previous revelation. There is nothing new here for any pastor who believes and holds to the three Chicago Statements on inerrancy, hermenutics and application. I suspect Chou’s intended audience is a bible major undergraduate. Pretend you just read 350 pages in which the author labors to prove to you the sky looks blue, and you may begin to understand the depth of my exasperation.

See my review.

A great book. An important book. Here is a worthy review.

Kaiser’s work is a good introductory book for a new pastor or a seminary student. I think Kaiser’s preaching methodology is mechanical and artificial. See my review.

I think Alexander needs to be read with caution. He falls victim to the siren song of parallel-o-mania. But, his basic framework in this biblical theology text was helpful to me. See my review.

A very great book. Kuruvilla is the best writer I’ve yet encountered on preaching. He has helped me greatly. I can’t recommend enough! See my review.

A very helpful book comparing different homiletical styles.

Burton wrote an outstanding book about the various replacements for religion that have cropped up in recent years. Very helpful. Frightening. It helps you better understand this mad, mad world.

A good book by the now-former Roman Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia. Like Strange Rites, it’s a cultural analysis book that helpfully frames what’s happening in the West.

A provocative book by a rebel theologian. Moltmann explodes the categories of classical theism and advocates a social, relational framework for understanding the Trinity. In short, Moltmann’s theology proper is everything the classical Reformed theologians hate.

A good book, despite the fact Tripp is a more than a bit removed from the life of a “normal” pastor and this makes some of his anecdotes more annoying than helpful. See my review.

A wonderful little book which charts the history of the American flavor of this movement. Kidd offers some excellent pushback against the evangelical machine’s obsession with politics during the last two generations.

A disappointingly weak entry in an otherwise outstanding series from Oxford. White has a thematic arrangement, rather than a chronological focus. This makes his book hard to follow. I gave up about two-thirds of the way through. Disappointed.

A very important book. Essential for gaining a well-rounded understanding of an important and tragic time in our nation’s history.

Perhaps the saddest book I’ve ever read. Absolutely horrifying.

A helpful little book.

King earned a Pulitzer for this one. Shocking. Horrifying. Beautifully written. Sobering. Probably the best book I read in 2020.

A great book from the Oxford series. I learned a lot. One of the most enjoyable books I read in 2020.

The was just the worst book ever. Terrible. I can’t describe how awful it is. Read my review, if you dare.

Like Stott’s work (above), this is a helpful little book.

A great read. Nothing new here at all, but enjoyable. Atkinson’s specialty is exhaustively documented narrative history, and he doesn’t disappoint in this first entry in his Revolutionary War trilogy.

I read this to get Gregory’s opinion on the doctrine of eternal generation. I sure got it!

Outstanding book. The best thing I’ve ever read on teleology.

Great book. Allport attempts to rescue Chamberlain a bit, and does a persuasive job of it.

Good book. A bit breezy and light, but that’s what you get when you commission a historian to take a history text up to the year 2000.

Another wonderful book from the Oxford series. Great stuff. I learned a lot.

Frightening and sobering book.

A provocative little book by Jenson, a late Lutheran theologian. Again, this guy’s theology proper makes the Reformed crowd spit fire.

It’s a classic for a reason.

A helpful book. I corresponded with the author a bit. See my review.

An inspiring, classic missionary biography.

The best book on the Trinity I’ve ever read. Erickson imbibes a non-classical theology proper and a social, relational Trinitarian frame work from Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jurgen Moltmann and Leonardo Boff, then baptizes them in the laver of evangelical orthodoxy and presents it to the Church as a gift. I read this in 2019, and re-read it again this past year.

I re-read this book this year.

Good, thought-provoking theology from a theologian outside the American evangelical bubble.

A wonderful theology. It’s fair to say Brunner does not like classical theology proper. He presents a much more relational, personal, loving God than the typical Reformed works that come from a classical perspective. His translator was superb.

Brunner’s comments on the Church and the nature of faith and belief are excellent. His eschatology falls off a cliff into mysticism.

Thought-provoking and important book. See my review.

Helpful.

Good little book.

Another good little book.

I really hated this book. See my review.

Boff presents a social, relational framework for the Trinity and uses that as a platform for church government and society. Boff is a Roman Catholic, Marxist liberation theologian.

A basic little book that I found unnecessary and ultimately unhelpful.

This is Brunner’s eschatology, which is the genesis of what he later covers in volume three of his dogmatics. As I mentioned above, Brunner falls off the cliff into mysticism here. His constant refrain runs thus: “the New Testament says xxx, but modern man can’t accept that kind of thing, so it can’t mean xxx, but I don’t really know what it means … but when Jesus returns it’ll be wonderful!” That’s cute, but it’s a bit like eating a Rice Krispie treat. It might taste ok, but it’s pretty insubstantial and might even make you sick.

What I Read in 2019

Here is my annual list of the non-fiction books I read last year. 12 of these are for a Doctor of Ministry class I was prepping for; this accounts for the unusually high total book count.

I had great fun reading this year. About half of these I actually listened to on digital audiobook, and never read. It’s a great way to redeem the time you spend in your daily commute. Who knows what books 2020 will bring …

1: God in Three Persons: A Contemporary Interpretation of the Trinity by Millard Erickson

An excellent book; the most helpful work on the Trinity I’ve read, along with Carl Beckwith’s The Holy Trinity. I reflected on some lessons Erickson’s book taught me about what to emphasize when I teach about the Trinity in a systematic, comprehensive fashion … if I ever manage to do it!

2: Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Great book. Franklin was truly a genius, blessed by God with many talents and abilities. It’s a shame his enlightenment context prevented him from seeing his need for salvation through Jesus Christ.

3: Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? by John Fea

I’ve never appreciated revisionist or partisan attempts to re-frame history to suit a particular narrative. Christians are very guilty of this crime. John Fea, a Christian historian at an undergraduate liberal arts institution, does an excellent job of analyzing this question from many different angles. The answer is “it depends,” and he spends the book explaining why.

This book’s chief value to me, besides the analysis of a complicated historical question, are the numerous titles in the footnotes that will lead me to further reading.

4: The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America by John Fea

The title says it all. John Fea uses Fithian, a Revolutionary War-era Presbyterian minister from rural Pennsylvania, as a foil to discuss how the enlightenment impacted educated colonists in rural America. Good book.

5: Who’s Tampering With the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate by Millard Erickson

This is only one of three books, that I’m aware of, that contends that the eternal functional subordinationist position with regards to Christ is a dangerous teaching. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It’s a watershed look at a very dangerous teaching. Erickson, in his trademark way, examines the other side fairly and objectively, then presents his own analysis. He does a masterful job. Indeed, this is perhaps the last great work from one of the best conservative theologians of the 20th century.

6: American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham

I gave up this book halfway through. I didn’t enjoy the detailed discussions about the gossipy intrigues of Jackson’s extended family. I understand it was part of the context of Jackson’s presidency, but I still didn’t want to hear about it. I’d have preferred to read a history about Jackson “the man,” and an analysis of his accomplishments and missteps as President. If I wanted a soap opera, I’d have turned on When Calls the Heart – at least that show always has a happy ending.

7: Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life by William Deresiewicz

8: No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington by Condoleeza Rice

9: Jesus and Pharisees by A.T. Robertson

10: The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America by Frances Fitzgerald.

Good book. See my review.

11: Sketches of the Life and Character of the Rev. Lemuel Haynes, A. M.: For Many Years Pastor of a Church in Rutland, Vt., and Late in Granville, New-York by Timothy Cooley

12: A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre

13: Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

14: John Adams by David McCullough

15: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer

16: The Korean War by Max Hastings

17: Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield

18: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

19: The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

20: Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Geesen

21: God the Father Almighty: A Contemporary Exploration of the Divine Attributes by Millard Erickson

22: The End of White Christian America by Robert Jones

Great book; see my review.

23: Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon

24: The Confessions by Augustine

25: Leading in Prayer: A Workbook for Ministers by Hughes Oliphant Old

26: Gathering: A Theology and Spirituality of Worship in the Free Church Tradition by Christopher J. Ellis

27: Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings

28: One in Hope and Doctrine: Origins of Baptist Fundamentalism 1870 – 1950 by Kevin Bauder and Robert Delnay.

Read this one a few years ago. Read it again, and absorbed much more. Northern Baptists need to read this book and understand their history – especially my brethren in the GARBC or one of its regional associations.

29: To the Praise of His Glory: B. Myron and Thelma M. Cederholm by Larry Oats

A short, breezy biography of the founder of Maranatha Baptist Bible College, now University. I attended Seminary here, and will forever be glad for the precious theological education I received.

For me, this book’s value was not in gaining insight into Cederholm, who I never knew and whose legacy had no impact on me. Rather, it helped augment the story of northern Baptist fundamentalism in my mind, as I’d just finished Bauder and Delnay’s One in Hope and Doctrine. That story ended in 1950, and Cederholm entered from stage right with the Conservative Baptist movement in 1947. If you view Cederholm as a foil to tell the story of the Conservative Baptists, then this book is very helpful and very nice. Truth be told, I’d likely have gone with the so-called “soft core” Conservative Baptists in the big split in the early 1960s.

Larry Oats, the former Dean of Maranatha Baptist Seminary, wrote the book and the University published it. So, it isn’t surprising to see that it’s rather hagiographic. This is not a critical look at Cederholm or the Conservative Baptist movement. It’s a light, insider view of a man who played a pivotal role in northern Baptist fundamentalism for many decades.

30: Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology by J.P. Moreland

31: Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea by Edmund S. Morgan

32: Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends by Mark Yarhouse

One of the best books on the homosexual issue from a traditional perspective. See my review.

33: Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis by William J. Webb

Excellent and insightful. See my review.

34: Those 7 References: A Study of 7 References to Homosexuality in the Bible by John Dwyer

Dwyer is a gay Episcopal priest who argues that the Biblical authors didn’t have a Biblical worldview, that all sexual relations in the ancient world were about power, lust and violence, and that all homosexual references in the Bible aren’t really saying what we think.

I emailed Dwyer about his “sex in ancient world = lust, power and violence” thesis, and asked whether Song of Solomon hurt his thesis. He didn’t respond. I wonder why …

35: Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry

No, He’s anti sin. A good book. See my review.

36: God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships by Matthew Vines

A very dangerous and very important work. A prototype of how to misinterpret and twist the Scriptures for narcissistic ends. See my review.

37: The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics by Robert Gagnon

38: What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung

Gagnon-lite. See my review.

39: Transforming Homosexuality: What the Bible Says about Sexual Orientation and Change by Denny Burk and Heath Lambert

Perhaps the best book available on this topic. See my review.

40: Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian by Wesley Hill

An important book from a same-sex attracted Christian committed to celibacy. See my review.

41: Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate: A Complementarian Response to the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic by Benjamin Reaoch

One of the most frustrating and disappointing books I’ve ever read. See my review.

42: God and the Gay Christian?: A Response to Matthew Vines ed. Albert Mohler

See my review.

43: When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment by Ryan Anderson

Horrifying; see my review.

44: Onward! by Russell Moore

45: Letters to My Students: Volume 1: On Preaching by Jason Allen

Very basic. Probably won’t buy the next volume.

46: Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow

Probably the most enjoyable book I read last year.

Books!

These are the books I got for Christmas:

All but two I purchased on Kindle. I have gone all-in on Kindle books. I probably won’t “read” any of these. Instead, I’ll play them via the “text-to-speech” feature on my Kindle Fire while I drive to and from work each day. It doesn’t have the polish of a professional audiobook narrator, of course, but it’s good enough. I bought a Kindle Fire on sale for $29.99, and it’s only purpose is to be an audiobook player.

A word or two on the books …

  • Systematic Theology by Robert Lethem. I bought a physical copy. I’m looking forward to referencing this new book by a well-respected Reformed scholar. I have many systematic theology texts. My go-to systematic is written by Millard Erickson, who I respect profoundly.
  • The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark. Looks to be a fascinating book by a Christian sociologist.
  • Impossible People by Os Guinness. Guinness is always worth reading, and is perhaps the most astute Christian thinker alive today on the practical intersections between the Church and culture.
  • Lord Jesus Christ by Larry Hurtado. The magnum opus of a legendary New Testament scholar on my favorite topic – Christology.
  • Who is an Evangelical? by Thomas Kidd. Looks to be a fascinating book. It continues a trend I began earlier this year of reading books about the evangelical movement.
  • Retro Christianity by Michael Svigel. I read this a few years ago. I want to read it again. It’s a warm exhortation to reclaiming a conservative, Catholic view of church. It challenges me to go far beyond my own fundamentalist training in a conservative, more irenic direction that appreciates the larger traditions of the Church.
  • Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Butterfield. Anything Butterfield writes is excellent.
  • Christ and Culture Revisited by D.A. Carson. Carson wrote it. Need I write more?
  • Adopted by Kelley Nikondema. An interesting-looking book on the concept of adoption by God in salvation.
  • The Care of Souls by Harold Senkbeil. Looks to be a very helpful book. I’ve seen a lot of buzz about it.