I like to give a recap of my reading for the year. I keep a document that I update with books I finish, and it is fun to go back through the list at the end of every year and be reminded of where I have been. This exercise may be only for my benefit, but I post it here as a blog in hopes that maybe some of my reading will benefit others in the coming year.
I read 28 books this year and I almost said, “only” because this number is on the lower end of more recent years. I think this is in part because I read a couple of super dense, theologically rich long boys! (one is John Piper’s magnum opus “Providence” that is over 700 pages long and I have only about 100 pages left in).
I will give my top ten and then just list the others, which include some drivel.
1. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
It is not an exaggeration to say that this is, by far, my favorite book from this year. Despite a lack of complete commitment to the Christian faith, Annie sets about to look at the world of general revelation with a powerful skill of observation. As a person who has always loved science AND faith, I was refreshed by the way that Annie looks at the world through the lens of a keen observer. The things she sees lead to the thoughts she thinks. And they are very worth taking in. The book won a Pulitzer Prize and my humble opinion, that doesn’t really matter much, is that it is a very worthy book.
2. The Gagging of God by D.A. Carson
Some may consider this book to be a bit outdated with a publish date of 1996. But that is part of the power of the book. Carson’s understanding of the cultural momentum behind post-modernism and its implications for the church and theology is spot on. In this sense it reads much more like an informative history answering “How did we get where we are?” when he wrote it originally as a cautionary “where things are going”. Carson is brainy! But he is also very rich in illustrations. For every section I had to read twice there were also sections full of quips and whit that made me chuckle. This one made my top 10 . . . But I cannot imagine that many people reading this blog will want to wade through 640 pages of cultural analysis.
3. Ride, Sally Ride by Douglas Wilson
This is a novel. It is short and easy to read. I added novels into my reading only within the past 10 years and I am glad for it. I had an attitude that I wouldn’t want to waste my pages on fiction when there are still so many facts I have to learn. But this book is an example of the way that sometimes truth is still conveyed well through fiction. This is not a tame book. It is not the best written piece of fiction out there. The character development is a bit flat and they could be considered to be mere tropes. So why would I recommend this? The cultural setting and issue the book attacks are contemporary and intriguing. It is so contemporary and awkwardly realistic, that it feels inevitable that this fiction will some day be non-fiction.
4. Love Big, Be Well by Winn Collier
This also is a piece of fiction that takes the form of pastoral letters between a young pastor and his congregation. The book comes with a subtle agenda which feels like an overall good direction for pastors. With so much in the media about domineering and quarrelsome pastors, this book clearly is seeking to reset some healthy pastor – congregation relationship. Unfortunately, I confess, that books like this often result in a mild echo chamber effect for me. I hear confirmation in what I am doing well in this book and I can quickly dismiss any correction. It’s just fiction, right? But it is a quick and easy read, and I think it is worth the read for the healthy relationship between pastor and church that is expressed in the pages.
5. Holy Sexuality by Christopher Yuan
I enjoyed this book. I met Christopher Yuan at a conference at Moody Pastor’s Conference several years back and in one short seminar, he helped me to revise and refine some very fuzzy notions regarding homosexuality and same-sex attraction. This book took that revision further into clarity. As a follower of Christ who lives with same sex attraction AND is seeking a Holy Sexuality, Yuan is positioned well to be able to speak to God’s calling to all of us to pursue a holy sexuality. This book was timely as I was approaching a sermon series on the Song of Songs. And some of the terminology I adopted in that series came from processing this book beforehand! I highly recommend this book.
6. Watership Down
I had the best intentions to read this in high school and never got to it. I read it primarily to get to it, but ended up enjoying it beyond my expectations. It is a classic, and despite the assumptions that it is a children’s book, it is very graphic in violence. Sometimes I read a classic because it is a classic. And in this case, I enjoyed it as well.
7. Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortland
I found this book to be a refreshing look at Jesus and his affinity toward the lowly and down. I read it more devotionally, taking a chapter a day for a few of weeks. I started it with a bit of skepticism to be honest. Since some anonymous donor had offered to purchase 50 copies for all churches in America, my radar was up for some type of agenda. But the book won me over with balance. I was a most concerned that this book would be all “gentle and loving Jesus” that amounted to a “never judging Jesus”. But I believe that the book does a good job of highlighting the mercy of God expressed in Christ.
8. A Burning in My Bones by Winn Collier
The closest I come to a hero in ministry is Eugene Peterson. It was NOT his translation of the Message that drew me in. As a matter of fact, the Message was a hurdle I had to overcome. I never was a huge fan of a translation that was so regional and quickly outdated (who uses the phrase ‘skid-row’ anymore?). But it was his book “The Pastor” which is his own personal memoir that made him my homeboy (speaking of out-dated). I AM currently reading “the Pastor’ for the 5th time with our associate pastor and intern. I read that book every time I am tempted to throw in the towel. I’m on the fifth reading . . . But I digress. This book by Winn Collier is a biography of Eugene Peterson who passed away in October 2018. So much of the content of this biography is merely repeated content from his memoirs. I felt like I had already read much of it. But it definitely served to help remind me why I don’t have heroes. He was not perfect and those imperfections shine through this book enough to make it a downer for me. I appreciate the honesty, but I don’t know if I always need to know the way a person sins. I have always known that Eugene Peterson sinned. But I love his memoir in that it is primarily a reflection on the way that GOD worked in his life. This one was a one time read for me. But it will not stop me from going back to his memoirs for encouragement.
9. Song of Songs by James Hamilton
I read 6 different commentaries on the Song of Songs/Solomon this year and this is the one I would highlight. I think Hamilton did a great job navigating the tricky poetry of this sexually provocative book of the Bible. I found his approach to be balanced without pulling punches or shying away from uncomfortable topics.
10. Letter to a Young Pastor by Eric Peterson
After reading Winn Collier’s biography of Eugene Peterson I was made aware of this short book of letters exchanged later Peterson’s life with his son, Eric, who was also a pastor. I enjoyed these letters as reflections on ministry from an older retired pastor to a younger pastor. There is obviously a familial relationship in there too, but this book was helpful to be as I contemplate this rapid transition between the two. I am rapidly moving into the writing instead of receiving end of this equation. And it makes me consider what I wish I had know at the start of pastoral ministry, and what I have learned that would be of value to pass along to a young pastor just getting his start.
Honorable Mention read from this year:
– How Can I Love Church Members with Different Politics by Leeman
– The Apostle by Pollock (excellent biography of Paul)
– Five Points by Piper
– Pastoral Epistles [WBC] (Mounce)
– Christ-Centered Exposition [1 Timothy] (Platt)
– The Letters to Timothy [NICOT] (Towner)
– Outlaw by Ted Dekker
– Song of Songs (Hess)
– Song of Songs (Longman) [NICOT]
– Song of Songs (Provan) [NIVAC] (do not recommend as he has a obscure angle on the book)
– Song of Songs (Akin) [Christ-Centered Exposition]
– Love of Loves in the Song of Songs (Ryken)
Because I am a geek:
– Trek to Kraggen-Cor by McKiernan
– The Brega Path by McKiernan
– Thrawn: Ascendancy by Zahn
If anybody actually made it all the way to the bottom of this, you deserve some bonus points for endurance. But seriously, you have proven yourself to be a reader by making it this far, so let me know some of the books you’ve enjoyed in 2021.