Ten Books for 2021

Ten Books for 2021

Every year in December, Christian blogger Tim Challies posts his annual “Reading Challenge,” with the goal of helping his followers set reading goals for the coming year. The 2021 Reading Challenge is now available and offers plans for readers of varying degrees of voraciousness.

While I don’t plan to follow Challies’ reading program this year, I wanted to share a list of 10 books I’ve chosen to read in 2021 and offer some reasons for each selection. I hope to read more books than these in the coming year (in addition to commentaries and other reading related to sermon preparation), but these are the books I’ve resolved, by the grace of God, to put at the top of my reading list for 2021. Perhaps you’ll join me in reading one (or a few!) of them. If so, I’d love to discuss what we’ve been reading together.

My Ten Books for 2021

1. Thomas Boston, The Crook in the Lot. This is a Puritan devotional classic available from Banner of Truth Trust here. One thing we can take with us as we come to the end of this Year of Our Lord 2020 is a renewed appreciation for the sovereignty of God. Boston helps us to see three things that are most useful in difficult times. First, if there is any “crookedness” in our “lot” in life, it is of God’s making. Second, whatever God has made crooked, He has done so for a purpose, and there is nothing we can do to make straight what God intends to be crooked. And third, understanding that God, in His Fatherly kindness toward us, is the Author of all the crookedness in our lives is the very best thing we can know in order to live in submission to God’s will for us and to learn the lessons God has for us in every affliction He graciously sends.

2. Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God. The four-volume systematic theology of Herman Bavinck has been recently translated into English in its entirety for the first time. If you can read only one complete systematic theology set in your lifetime, let me recommend that it be Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics. But I know that’s a pretty daunting goal. Wonderful Works is Bavinck’s own distillation of his Reformed Dogmatics. In the words of a fellow OPC minister, Craig Troxel, “You don’t just read Bavinck. You drink Bavinck. You savor words that beautifully wrap lucidity. Your face smiles even as your heart worships, saying, ‘O Lord, you are my God…I will praise Your name, for You have don wonderful things.” The book is available from Reformation Heritage Books here.

3. Sinclair Ferguson, Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification. This is one of the books we are working through together in our Men’s Leadership Class. So far, it has been a very rich and rewarding read. Ferguson’s goal is to approach the subject of sanctification not so much by asking what sanctified people do, but rather by considering what it means to be in union with the God who sanctifies. He does this by drawing upon several key biblical passages that, taken together, give us a “blueprint” for our growth in the lost art of cultivating biblical piety. True godliness is not focused on what we do to achieve a “successful” Christian life (whatever that might mean!). Rather, we need to understand who God is in Himself. He is holy in and of Himself in His Triune Being as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And in the Trinity, there is an eternal devotion of the three Persons to one another in perfect holiness and love. Thus, to be holy means, simply put, to be “devoted to God.” I’ve written summaries of the first two chapters of the book that you can read here and here. The book is available from Banner of Truth Trust here.

4. L. Michael Morales, Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption. Dr. Morales is a professor of Old Testament and Biblical Theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. However, I’m not just reading and recommending this book because Dr. Morales was one of my professors in seminary. The book is a sweeping overview of one of the most important themes in the Bible–the theme of exile. One of the profound mysteries of Scripture is that God takes His people far from Him in order to draw them near to Himself. The theme of exile is at the heart of understanding the history of redemption, which culminates in the exile of Christ from the presence of God for us at the cross. Dr. Morales examines four aspects of the theme of exile in the Bible, beginning with the exile of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, then moving to the Exodus of Israel from exile in Egypt, to the prophecies of an New Exodus throughout the Old Testament. Finally, he considers the fulfillment of the exodus theme in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. An excellent interview with Dr. Morales on the book can be found here. One of the interesting points discussed in the interview is how the theme of exile helps us live the Christian life in the confusion and constant change of the 21st century. The book itself may be purchased here.

5. Jonathan Cruse, What Happens When We Worship. This book was written by a fellow OPC minister and friend, who is also the author of some of my favorite “contemporary” hymns published in the Trinity Psalter Hymnal. The subject is one that couldn’t be more relevant for the times in which we live. Cruse’s central contention is that worship is “a supernatural event” (p. 1). Something is happening when God’s people gather together in His presence to give glory to His name–something that cannot be explained in natural or secular terms. This is crucial for us to understand in an age which wants us to believe that physical and corporate presence are “immaterial” when it comes to worship. As one political leader here in Virginia recently told us, “God is everywhere. It doesn’t matter where you worship Him.” This book will help you understand why that profoundly theological statement is actually false, and offers no true comfort to the people of God. In this book, Pastor Cruse helps us to see that worship is meeting with God to be shaped by Him as He works in His people by His Word and Spirit. Worship is communing together with God as the gathered people of God. You’ll see this as soon as you open the book and glance at the chapter titles. This is a book that promises not only to teach me what worship is, but to help me cherish the God who calls me, my family, and our whole congregation to Himself from one Lord’s Day to the next. The book is available from Reformation Heritage Books here.

6. Axe, Briggs, and Richards, The Price of Panic: How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic into a Catastrophe. In one sense, this is not a “spiritual” book. However, in another sense, I’m convinced that many in the church would benefit spiritually from reading it. In order to understand how to respond to what is happening in the world around us, the church must rightly understand what is actually happening in the world around us. We need to be aware of other interpretations of events than those interpretations that are put before us as “official.” We need to be aware that there is such a thing as propaganda and that propaganda has been used throughout history precisely because it works. The central thesis of this book is one that you are free to either accept or reject. But I would argue that it’s a perspective that needs to be evaluated and discussed, not dismissed simply because it raises questions we are too uncomfortable to face. This book may actually help us to live by faith and not by fear when we consider the facts about COVID-19 and (what these authors believe to be) the extreme overreaction to it by experts, government officials, and the mainstream news media. You can read a helpful summary of the book by OPC pastor Andy Wilson here.

7. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism. This book is part of the history of our denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Machen is generally considered the founder of the OPC, having been forced out of the mainline Presbyterian Church during the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy of the 1920’s and 1930’s. The argument of the book is simple. Many in the Presbyterian Church in those days claimed that it was possible to reconcile the claims of the modern world with Christianity. Machen believed this was impossible because at the root of modernity was a denial of the supernaturalism inherent to biblical faith. The modernists in the church wanted to have their secular cake and eat it, too. They argued that you could be a faithful Christian without believing in the inspiration of the Scriptures, the deity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, and the reality of Christ’s miracles–or even of the resurrection, for that matter! Machen demonstrates in Christianity and Liberalism that these are not simply two competing ways of looking at Christianity–rather, Christianity and liberalism are two different religions altogether. I plan to read this book again this year because the church, sadly, appears in our day to be making many of the same errors that Machen warned against in the early part of the 20th century. There is nothing new under the sun. The liberalism flooding into Reformed churches today is not exactly the same as it was in Machen’s day. It is far more subtle. Machen was fighting against an open denial of the truth. What the church faces today is not always exactly that–more often it is simply an addition of ideas and interpretations and theories and “tools of analysis” that come not from the Bible, but from secular academia. We have much to learn from our spiritual forebears in regard to guarding the faith once delivered to the saints. Here is a good place to find the book in digital format.

8. P. B. Power, A Book of Comfort for Those in Sickness. One of the great blessings for the church that the coronavirus health crisis has brought us is a sense of our vulnerability to sickness and disease. This has been good for us in a number of ways. It causes us to ask questions that we might not have asked otherwise. What is God doing in all this? Am I really trusting in the Lord, or am I trusting in health, healthcare, and the illusion that I am in control of my life? As a pastor, this season of sickness throughout the world, and even among some that I know on a more personal level, has forced me to face difficult questions about my own responsibilities when people I am called to minister to are sick. This little book focuses on the comfort that the Gospel supplies to those who are sick and dying. It examines some of the hindrances that keep us from believing that God is a God of all comfort. It then offers helps to persevering in believing that God is a God of comfort. Every sickness is a mercy of God to remind us that we depend on Him alone for life, and that our bodies will soon go to the grave. But every sickness is also an opportunity to rely on God for strength and hope. There is then comfort for us even in the thoughts that come to us in sickness: comfort in our being useless, comfort in our feelings of unworthiness, comfort when we are tempted to envy the health and prosperity of others, comfort in the thought that we are a burden to those we love, comfort in our fears about how long we will be sick, or if we will ever recover, comfort that we might lose hope in Christ in the midst of our affliction, and even comfort in the thought of going to be with Christ, which the Bible teaches is “far better.” This might be a book to read and give to someone you know who is sick. It can be found here.

9. John Flavel, Facing Grief: Counsel for Mourners. We live in an age that has not thought deeply about death and dying. I’m thankful that we have books like this one to turn to for help in rightly thinking about the feelings of grief that come when someone we love has died. John Flavel buried three wives and one of his children. He was a man well acquainted with grief, and thus, a helpful guide along the path of sorrow. He takes as his text for the book, Luke 7:13, “And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.” Flavel distinguishes between moderate and immoderate sorrow. He shows that it is not wrong to grieve so long as we grieve in a manner glorifying to God. He shows when and how grief can become sinful and immoderate. He gives counsel both to believing and unbelieving mourners. Finally, he gives some helpful instruction on how to glorify God even in our grief. The book may be purchased here.

10. Sinclair Ferguson, Some Pastors and Teachers: Reflecting a Biblical Vision of What Every Minister is Called to Be. You can never go wrong reading a book by Sinclair Ferguson! This book, however is written especially by a minister for ministers. He begins by profiling the lives and ministries of three significant, but very different, Reformed ministers: John Calvin, John Owen, and John Murray. Other chapters focus on the Puritans and the ministry, the work of preaching and teaching, and the pastor’s role as a shepherd of the sheep. This is a very long book, full of the insights of a lifetime of preaching and pastoring. While you may not have the time or the inclination to read this book, my prayer is that you will benefit by my reading of it. The book may be found here.

That concludes my list. I hope you’ll find something here worth reading, and that you’ll grow in Christ in the coming year as you find all your satisfaction and hope in Him.



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