Ah yes…books! Some people hate them, some love them. Some have too many, some don’t have enough. Reading is essential for many reasons. On a mental, physical, emotional and intellectual level there are myriads of benefits to daily reading. [Google it! I’m not kidding!]
But on a spiritual level, especially as it pertains to growth in spiritual maturity. It’s CRITICAL. How else can we get information into our brains and hearts? Yes, hearing sermons is all well and good, but reading Scripture and solid books on the application of Scripture is critical to growing mature as a disciple of Jesus Christ. So…if you are looking for a solid resolution for the New Year…consider reading. [especially old dead guys, but I digress…]
OK, rant over. Onto some of my favorite books from 2021. These are books that I have found particularly impactful. Hopefully you will benefit from some of these suggestions. On with the list!
The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution. Carl R. Trueman, Crossway Books, 2020.
This was the year I truly discovered Carl Trueman and I have found him profoundly helpful. [Even though he hurts my head sometimes.]. Dr. Trueman is a professor at Grove City College, but before that he taught at Westminster Seminary for many years and holds a PhD in Church History from the University of Aberdeen. The central thesis of this book explores how we arrived in the new world of the sexual revolution and particularly the transgender self. An expert in history, Trueman traces the development of the self through key thinkers like Charles Taylor and Freud until we arrive in the new concept of how the self is the one that brings meaning to the world, instead of the world bringing meaning to the self. In short, we don’t discover objective meaning, we create meaning. And if that is the case, then any and all truth is up to the self. [Bonus – for more fun with Dr. Trueman, listen to his podcast that he co-hosts – The Mortification of Spin]
A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life. J. I. Packer, Crossway Books, 1990.
Truth be told, this was one of those books that I received for free some time ago and it sat on my shelf so long that the pages started to yellow. But then I came across someone mention it in another book and immediately remembered I owned a copy and I devoured it. The Puritans were the reformers of the English church, many of whom ended up coming to the new world in America. They prioritized holiness and looked at their faith as an all encompassing worldview, not just something they did on Sunday. In that worldview they had a very realistic perspective on life – which includes developing a deep maturity through normal suffering in a fallen world. Packer asks the question – “Why do we need the Puritans?” in the introduction and the first answer he gives is this: maturity. “The Puritans exemplified spiritual maturity, we don’t. We are spiritual dwarfs…the Puritans, by contrast, as a body were giants.”  This book will give you a wonderful sense of conviction and inspiration to live lives that are glorifying to God and worthy of our calling.
Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior. Bart D. Ehrman, HarperOne Publishers, 2017.
Some of you may be shocked at this, especially if you know who Dr. Bart Ehrman is. Ehrman is a highly respected biblical scholar, college professor, best-selling author and a raging atheist who once professed faith in Christ. I was forced to read this for one of my doctoral seminars and I complained immediately, but then I got into this book and I was very thankful that I did read it, and wanted to read more. Christians – we have to know the other side and we have to know what millions [Ehrman’s books are massive successes] are being told about the authenticity of the Bible. Rest assured, it’s all utter nonsense. I can remember reading it and thinking – “That’s it? This is all he has? This is the almighty Dr. Bart Ehrman?” The vast majority of his assumptions are flat misunderstandings/misapplications of the context of Scripture, and my theory is that they are intentionally so, because he is a highly intelligent man who is now very wealthy and famous. I hope that you read this book and it does what it did for me – serve to only deepen my faith in the Bible as the true word of God and Biblical Christianity as the only consistent worldview.
The Bruised Reed, Richard Sibbes. Puritan Paperbacks, 2021 Edition.
Sibbes was one of the most prominent Puritan authors and pastors. This book, although I still have a few pages left, is profoundly helpful to me. Originally written in the 1600s, this book is just as helpful today for the Christian seeking to grow in maturity. [Remember what Packer said above!] It is a small book, and worth soaking in it and reading some every morning…and re-reading. Your heart will be encouraged as we remember the kindness of our Savior and the seriousness of our calling.
Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. Richard A. Swenson, M.D., NavPress, 2004
As you may well imagine, I read this book on Sabbatical this Summer and it was very helpful. Many of us can deeply relate to the subtitle, and also the reality that living an overloaded life is not being a good steward of what God has called us to. “Margin is the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits.”  We all need margin and Swenson, a medical doctor, provides an accessible guide to getting some control back into our overloaded lives.
Other Helpful Books:
- R.C. Sproul, A Life. Stephen J. Nichols. [Excellent biography of a remarkable man of God]
- 21 Servants of Sovereign Joy. John Piper [Coming soon to a MidWeek near you! Piper surveys 21 ‘giants of the faith’ in mini-biographical sketches.]
- Total Truth. Nancy Pearcy. [An apologetics text with a helpful focus on the evangelical worldview. The “how we lost our mind” chapter is outstanding!]
- Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine. Gregg Allison. [Yes, it’s a text book, and one I read for my Church History doctoral class. It’s an excellent and very well organized theology text on core doctrinal issues, surveying what the church has believed throughout its history. We need to know our history, people!]
- Helpful Non-Christian Takes on Society:
- The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. Jeff Lukianoff, Jonathan Haidt. [An incredibly sharp analysis of what is happening on our college campuses, how our kids’ thinking is being shaped, and the effects is has on society.]
- The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race, Identity. Douglas Murray. [a shockingly honest take from a non-Christian on the damage being done to society by the blistering speed of change in critical issues]