BY BENJAMIN R. LEE, Assistant Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian
The old saying says we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, and if that’s the case, it certainly applies to the endorsements on the back of the cover. For some odd reason every single one would make you think that particular book is the best thing that ever happened to paper. Since my mental bandwidth is only so wide and I can’t read every book out there, I’ve learned to be more selective in the books I read. That’s why there’s not much I love more than a good book recommendation.
At the beginning of the year many readers are prioritizing books we want to engage during the year. These are some the best and, I think, most significant books I read in the past year. Some of these are Christian books on discipleship and theology. Others are secular takes on important issues. Some are just for fun. I hope you’ll take them as worthwhile recommendations and add them to your list for 2021.
Tim Keller once said that he’s pretty much always reading The Lord of the Rings. That’s me, except with Harry Potter. I love this story. It’s filled with so much that Christians ought to appreciate in a good story; love, sacrifice, virtue – not to mention the triumph of good over evil.
Do you ever feel like your faith is just too “ordinary” and that therefore it just might not be real? If so, this book is for you. I’ve never encountered a better book on living a normal, non-radical life to the glory of God like this one. This book helped me to find peace in being a non-extraordinary Christian.
Most of us exist in a state of digital overload. It might even be more of an issue currently with COVID pushing so much of our life online. For that reason, this is not a book you want to skip. Digital Minimalism forces us to ask hard questions about the ways we use technology and then to think through what technology is essential for our lives and what we could do without.
This was a book recommendation I received from my lovely wife, and to be honest, at first, I didn’t think I’d enjoy it much. I mean, who wants to read a book about education, right? But as usual, she was right. And holy cow was she right! Educated is Tara’s autobiography about growing up in an impoverished fundamentalist Mormon home in rural Idaho. This is one of those rags-to-riches page-turners you won’t want to put down.
This is one of those books that seems like it’s going to stand the test of time. It’s a brilliant and pastoral look into the heart of Christ. If you’re needing encouragement in your walk with Jesus, especially in regards to how he feels about you in spite of all your remaining sin and weakness, this is one you’ll want to pick up.
I wasn’t expecting this but Unger took John Quincy Adams from a president I knew very little about to perhaps my favorite American. It’s a masterpiece.
Okay, so I know I said these are recommendations, but from here on out I’m giving you what I consider to be required reading for Christians living in the 21st century. Ironically, only one of these was written by a Protestant, but these books deal with important issues on which Christians must educate themselves.
The transgender phenomenon is wreaking havoc in our world, especially with young women. Shrier dissects the problem and points toward solutions. It’s not written from a Christian perspective, but you will search long and in vain for a more accessible look at what’s plaguing girls in our culture. If you have or work with teenage girls this is a must read.
The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self; Cultural Analysis, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution by Carl Truman
The lone contribution from Protestantism on the “required reading” portion of this list is by Carl Truman. The brilliance of this book is that rather than just explaining where our culture is at Truman helps us to see how we got here. Where did transgenderism, gay marriage, and the like come from? What ideologies led to our current cultural moment? If you’re looking for something to help you get your mind around what’s going on in the world, this is it.
Cynical Theories; How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity, and Why This Harms Everybody by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay
I rarely read the same book more than once in the same year, but I went through this one twice in 2020 and I just picked it up again. I’m revisiting it because (1) my small brain didn’t understand it all the first (or second) time, and (2) the contents of this book are massively important. The authors help us to understand how the postmodernism of the 60s and 70s (i.e. truth is what you want it to be) has influenced the world today. Those of you in secular academic settings would particularly benefit from Pluckrose and Lindsay’s work. If there is one book here that I’ll be begging people to read in 2021 it’s Cynical Theories.
I included this one last for a reason. It is a fantastic read, but the primary reason is because while other writers help us to understand our world, Dreher (himself Eastern Orthodox) helps us learn to live as Christians in a world increasingly hostile to us. Dreher shows how the moral and political climate of our day resulting in this hostility eerily mirrors that experienced under the totalitarian Soviet bloc. Dreher is not a conspiracy theorist. His book is meant to be an eye opener that helps us to think critically and strategically about living for Christ in our day. I hope you’ll read it!
That’s my list. Pass along your recommendations! My prayer is that God will use your reading in 2021 to encourage and strengthen you in Christ.