I knew the year would come when my reading output would decline significantly (at least in terms of books completed). Well, this year it finally did. Several factors likely account for this: we moved into a new house in January, our third child arrived in May, I took on some part time acquisition work for The Gospel Coalition, and after seven years of marriage, we finally stopped watching movies on our laptop and got an actual TV. Children didn’t entirely displace reading, of course. In fact, my most precious overall reading experience in 2019 was reading through The Chronicles of Narnia with my 4-year-old.
Notwithstanding the decline, it still seems worthwhile to offer a Top 10 list this year, as I did in 2016 and 2017. Having neglected to make one in 2018, I will remedy that by offering it here as a postscript.
In compiling this list, I once again used Kevin DeYoung’s four criteria:
• Was this book well written and enjoyable to read?
• Did I find it personally challenging, illuminating, edifying, or entertaining?
• Is it a book I am likely to reread or consult often?
• Do I see myself frequently recommending this book to others?
So here they are.
- The Collapse of Parenting– Leonard Sax. “Not a distinctly Christian book, but more helpful than most Christian parenting books I’ve read. Don’t throw out the gospel-centered parenting books (unless they’re really just antinomianism applied to parenting), but do read them in tandem with something like this…I’m afraid a lot of Christian parents my age are trying to digest meat when they haven’t yet learned to drink milk. They’re worried about the intricacies of their toddler’s heart while failing to teach them basic obedience…”
- He Descended to the Dead– Matthew Emerson. “This is a book every evangelical and Reformed pastor should read, especially those whose churches recite the Apostles’ Creed. Not everyone will agree with Emerson’s answer. But it deserves to be considered, and it has the potential to bring greater unity and understanding to the body of Christ.”
- Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible – Mark Ward. “In this unique contribution to the KJV-only debate, Mark Ward brackets the issue of text-types and focuses instead on the KJV’s readability. His central argument matches my experience. Despite being a proficient reader comfortable with “thee’s and thou’s,” I had no idea how much of a barrier to understanding its language had been until I began listening to preaching from modern translations. And while I’m eternally grateful for the real advantages of being raised on the KJV, I’d also confess that few decisions have been more beneficial to my spiritual life than switching to the ESV [in 2014]. This book will not likely convince those in the grip of conspiracy theories. But if any book out there can gently persuade level-headed KJV users to branch out, it’s this one.”
- Reforming Apologetics– J. V. Fesko. “Many moons ago I read C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and J. Budziszweski’s What We Can’t Not Know. These non-Reformed books convinced me that natural law is not only a real thing, but also a valuable tool for making Christian moral convictions more deeply rooted and less susceptible to shifting cultural winds. Reading Protestant Scholastic authors persuaded me that Reformed theologians once largely shared this judgment. Reading Fesko has helped me understand why this emphasis on “the book of nature” was rejected by so many of the 20th-century Reformed theologians I’ve read. It has also confirmed my suspicion that this rejection was a wrong turn from which we would do well to retrace our steps. Anyone interested in theological retrieval should read this volume. The chapters on common notions and the light of nature are worth the price of the book.”
- (A)Typical Woman: Free, Whole, and Called in Christ– Abigail Dodds. Christ-centered, practical, and not ashamed of (or uncomfortable with) the biblical and natural teachings about womanhood.
- Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus – Mack Stiles. Stiles helpfully explains how a local church can cultivate a culture of evangelism that goes beyond programs.
- In Search of Ancient Roots: The Christian Past and the Evangelical Identity Crisis– Kenneth Stewart. This is a good book to give to the kind of evangelical Christian you could imagine becoming Roman Catholic someday–the kind who cares about history and loves liturgy. If you know someone like that, go ahead and buy this book for them right now. It could save them a lot of trouble down the road.
- The Household and the War for the Cosmos- C. R. Wiley. Challenging book on what a household is and how it fits into the cosmos God created. His treatment of the household codes is especially insightful, particularly in how he helps us see what they would have sounded like in a pre-industrial society.
- What’s Best Next– Matt Perman. It took a few years to get to this future classic on productivity. It was everything I hoped for. I’ll definitely be re-reading this one, if only so that I can apply more of it to my life.
- All That Is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism– James Dolezal. The suggestion that God is simple would probably sound like an insult to most evangelicals today. But Dolezal explains why it’s not, and why pretty much all our Protestant forefathers believed this, following the church fathers and Medieval theologians.
Postscript: My top 10 books of 2018 were:
- Expository Exultation- John Piper
- How to Think- Alan Jacobs
- Lewis on the Christian Life– Joe Rigney
- The Conservative Heart- Arthur Brooks
- Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics– Stephen Grabill
- The Battle for the Keys– Justin Bass
- Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition– Craig A. Carter
- Eat That Frog- Brian Tracy
- When Harry Became Sally- Ryan Anderson
- Unified: How Our Unlikely Friendship Gives Us Hope for a Divided Country– Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy