Pastor’s Good and Great Reads of 2021

Books

Voddie Baucham once commented that a preacher’s input needs to exceed his output. In other words, if you want to do a lot of teaching, you need to prepare by doing a lot of reading. So, over the course of the last year, I’ve done a fair bit of reading. Here are a handful of books that I found especially meaningful this year and you may too.

1. Faith in the Time of Plague. Edited by Stephen Coleman and Todd Rester

This book is a collection of Reformed theological writings on plagues. The treatises are not hypothetical explorations of this topic. They were written during the plague-riddled times of the Reformation. Most of the treatises are by Reformed theologians like Theodore Beza, Ulrich Zwingli, Gisbertus Voetius, Zacharias Ursinus, and others. Part of my appreciation of this book is that it’s a good cross-section of Reformed thought on questions like: Where is God in a plague? What are a Christian’s responsibilities during a plague? What is the civil magistrate’s responsibilities during a plague? What a gift to our times that the same theological masters that laid out the Reformed system of doctrine also wrote on these topics! The preface which gives historical context to the writings was almost worth the price of the book by itself. It would seem very little of the social, political, and medical turmoil caused by a disease like COVID is very unique in history. One qualifier I would give on this book: it’s good, but it is really dense in places. These are high-level theological writings, and they will be slow-going at points. The authors address questions that it wouldn’t occur to you or me to even ask (or answer) at times. But there is some real gold in their writings. I, personally, found it worth the struggle to gain time-tested wisdom from Reformed stalwarts, especially as we wrestle through some of these same questions in our own day. [Note: This book is in the church library.]

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers: Ortlund,  Dane C.: 9781433566134: Amazon.com: Books
2. Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. By Dane Ortlund

This is a great study of the heart of Christ towards sinners. It is full of Gospel encouragement and draws heavily upon Biblical passages and the treasure-trove that is English Puritan devotional writing. It will be an encouragement to your soul. A caveat on this book: as strong as it is on the Gospel, there are places were it wanders into error related to the doctrine of God. There are a couple of places where the author could be interpreted as suggesting that certain attributes of God are more central to his essence than others. But that is out of step with the biblical doctrine of divine simplicity, which teaches that God is all of his attributes equally all of the time–really that God’s attributes are one in him. If you keep that in mind, you can read the rest of the book with great benefit as it leads you more deeply into the wonders of the Gospel.

3. Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth. By Thaddeus Williams

This is the book on social justice that I have been waiting for someone to write. Certainly in our culture social justice has become a very hot topic. I have been a little distressed at how many conservative Christian teachers have framed this discussion entirely in the negative: “Social justice is bad.” This has happened even though there is a pretty long evangelical tradition of affirming a version of social justice. What I appreciate about this book is that rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, it seeks to distinguish two rival versions of social justice: the evangelical version which it calls “Social Justice A” and the Progressive/Marxist version which it calls “Social Justice B.” Most of the book consists of critiquing Social Justice B (and it does this very ably), but it does so in a way that recognizes there is another, biblical way to talk about social justice.

4. Companions in the Darkness: Seven Saints Who Struggled with Depression and Doubt. By Diana Gruver

This is a book of brief bios of great Christians of the past that struggled with depression (Martin Luther, William Cowper, David Brainerd, to name a few). It documents their struggles, and also how they sought to battle through it. This book is so helpful because the main point is: for those who chronically struggle with depression, you are not alone. Many great and godly Christians have struggled with chronic depression too. A couple of the figures included in the book may raise eyebrows, but even so I found their testimony encouraging.

5. Plugged In: Connecting Your Faith with What You Watch, Read, and Play. By Daniel Strange

This is a really nice, readable book on engaging pop culture from a theological perspective. What I especially appreciated about this book is that it is deeply rooted in Reformed theology and presuppositional apologetics. So it works through questions on pop culture using concepts like: the antithesis between sin and righteousness, the noetic effects of sin, common grace, points of contact, and the soul satisfaction that is found in Christ alone. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Even apart from pop culture, I think it models well what Christian cultural engagement should look like.

6. The Trinity: An Introduction. By Scott Swain.
This is a very nice primer on the doctrine of the Trinity, written by one of the preeminent Reformed theologians of our day. Scott Swain has produced a very good, clear, and concise book on the Trinity. In places it is a little analytic and deep, but even so, he’s laying out a biblical approach to the Trinity. If you have ever asked, ‘What is the Trinity and how do you talk about it properly?’ this is the book for you.

7. Habits of the Household: Practicing the Story of God in Everyday Family Rhythms. By Justin Whitmel Earley.

A nice book on bringing God into the mess and ordinariness of family life. The book covers many different aspects of family life (Waking, Mealtimes, Disciplines, Screen time, Work, etc). It offers examples of how to use these occasions to deepen family discipleship. The main gist of the book is: you need to be intentional about seizing opportunities to disciple your kids, and you need to set routines for doing this because kids thrive on structure. Caveat: one thing that I was not fond of in the book was its reliance on monastic life as a model for family life. Maybe I’m just being a crusty Protestant, but that dog don’t hunt for me. Nevertheless, I agreed with the author that intentionality and consistency of routine are pivotal to good discipleship in the home. This book has been helpful to me and my family in our covenant home discipleship.

8. The Wisdom Pyramid: Feeding Your Soul in a Post-Truth World. By Brett McCracken.

I have been deeply troubled by the growth of conspiracy theory thinking among Christians over the last year or two. It seemed that a couple of years ago we were all in agreement that the internet is a terrible source of information. But then something happened and now many look to the internet and other questionable channels to give them reliable information on virtually anything. This book is helpful because it re-trains us to think hard about where we are getting our information from. It replaces the “Food Pyramid” with the “Wisdom Pyramid.” The idea is to set up a structure for thinking through which sources of information should hold most authority for us and be used more than others. Scripture is the foundational and most important level, and then others build on top of that. (You will not be surprised to hear that the internet and social media play the smallest role in the wisdom pyramid).

I enjoyed these books a lot. Perhaps you will too.

~Pastor Brandon