I read many good books this year, but the following twenty-three stood out.
My top two reads were Rembrandt is in the Wind and The Transcendentalists and Their World.
Discovering God Through the Arts by Terry Glaspey
If you are looking to learn more about various forms of art, but want a wise and gentle guide, then this book is for you.
Discovering God Through the Arts by Terry Glaspey recently won a Christianity Today book award.
Glaspey offers much clarity on how great art can aid our walk with Jesus. His book is full of compelling and attractive examples.
Glaspey also gives the reader a map of sorts for determining a reasonable plan for how to proceed.
Beautifully written with many well-selected pictures, this is a terrific book!
Rembrandt is in the Wind by Russ Ramsey
I am blessed to receive many amazing books from publishers.
Now almost five months into 2022, Russ Ramsey’s Rembrandt is in the Wind and Robert Gross’s, The Transcendentalists and Their World are my favorite reads of the year. (Update: This remained true throughout the rest of the year.)
As I get older (64 now), I get more selective, yet I am happy to say that remarkable books continue to be published. If you are looking for beautiful reflections on art and the Christian life, this book is for you.
Ramsey is a pastor, so he knows firsthand the troubles of a terribly broken world. He also faced his own death just shy of his fortieth birthday.
So yes, Ramsey well knows about pain and suffering. He reflects on it beautifully in this book, but he is hardly a cynic. Ramsey’s anchor is firmly placed in the truths of Scripture.
If you are looking for a careful curator of both soul and art, this book is highly recommended. I recommend it with great gusto!
BIBLE AND THEOLOGY
Who is God? by Richard Bauckham
Richard Bauckham shines again!
Richard Bauckham has become one of my favorite (living) biblical scholars. He is a careful and respectful reader of Scripture. He offers fresh insight on old truths.
This book is short at barely over 100 pages, but don’t let that fool you! More is packed in its pages than many books that are much longer.
I find that books based on lecture series, like this one, of a high quality. The lectures are written for a live audience which makes them clear and compelling.
This book is truly a treat to read and ponder!
Heavenly Participation by Hans Boersma
A challenging (in the best way) and edifying read to reconsider how to engage Scripture from an approach that was appreciated for many centuries. I’m not sure I agree with everything, but I was glad to have read it.
Talking Social Justice by Howard Lawler
A short, winsome, provocative (in the best sense), and biblical look at a topic of great importance.
It is indeed a very short read but will leave you pondering important matters for years to come.
The Thrill of Orthodoxy by Trevin Wax
My interview with Trevin:
Book Interview: The Thrill of Orthodoxy: Rediscovering the Adventure of Christian Faith by Trevin Wax
John Stuart Mill by Timothy Larsen
A fascinating study of someone we thought we knew!
This is the fourth book I’ve read by the author.
Larsen is a top-notch scholar who has a good nose for the telling anecdote. He is astute in finding evidence that corrects popular, but wrong views, especially those that relate to his area of expertise, the Victorian Era.
This biography on Mill is everything you would want. It is elegantly written, the author brilliantly corrects various misguided notions, and you learn about a person that is all too easy for us religious types to dismiss.
I should add that I am hoping Oxford offers this as a paperback at a lower price.
Mother of Modern Evangelicalism by Arlin C. Migliazzo
A woman to know!
I already knew a fair bit about Henrietta Mears prior to reading this book. My familiarity was due to the stories Dr. Bill Bright used to share about Mears. Bright along with Billy Graham and a coterie of other notables, fell under the spell of Mears.
Dr. Bright highlighted various things about Mears but sadly failed to emphasize her desire to offer rigorous education to Christians. Mears believed it was scandalous that schools offered detailed instruction, but that churches were haphazard and superficial.
J.I. Packer used to regularly say that the glaring need of the church was for catechesis or Christian education. I very much agree with Packer here and Mears modelled what this would look like.
Not only were thousands involved in the various Sunday school ministries of First Presbyterian, Hollywood, but Mears provided depth, ministry to the whole person, and engagement in all sorts of ministries.
This is a well-written and compelling account of Henrietta Mears’s approach to Christian education in the local church. We desperately need to listen to her today!
Curiosity by F.H. Buckley
There are bad types of curiosity. Roger Shattuck wrote of that type in Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography.
There is a godly form of curiosity. I wrote about its importance in my latest book, Stuck in the Present: How History Frees and Forms Christians. I’m afraid too many Christians don’t see the need for developing a godly curiosity about the world, themselves, or even the God who created them. It is the curiosity that wants to engage the world, better understand history, stops to wonder why there are so many colors when no real pragmatic benefit comes from such variety, and much more.
F.H. Buckley has written a marvelous book, Curiosity and its Twelve Rules for Life. Buckley teaches at George Mason’s law school. He has wide-ranging interests, so he models what he is writing about. Buckley also has some wise warnings about dangerous forms of curiosity, but most of the book is dedicated to unpacking what healthy forms of curiosity look like.
I highly recommend this well-written and insightful book!
The Coming of Neo-Feudalism by Joel Kotkin
First, a note about the cover design. The photo does not do it justice, but this is a beautiful and provocative cover. It is truly a work of art.
Kotkin’s book only has 172 pages of text, but it is not a quick read. This is hardly due to a lack of lucid writing. Indeed, the book is written in a very lucid manner. The reason it is not a quick read, or at least should not be a quick read, is that Kotkin packs so much in for the reader to consider.
In a nutshell, this book does a brilliant job at detailing the forces that are hollowing out the middle class.
Yes, the text only is 172 pages, but Kotkin’s prodigious research into these issue yields almost 100 pages of endnotes.
Changing Minds by Roger Kreuz and Richard Roberts
In my early fifties (I am now 64), I started to keep a designated journal on aging. It has random reflections of mine and books I’ve read.
American pastors talk very little about aging, even though the Bible has much to say about it. And aging is an important subject not only for us older folks, but those much younger are wise to think about the body’s decline (see Ecc. 12).
I picked up Changing Minds at the Harvard bookstore, one of my happy places. It was in a stack of copies at a significant discount. I also picked up some copies for a few friends.
Changing Minds is not long (166 pages), but that does not limit its brilliance. It is a careful work, but the writing is lucid along with many fascinating studies that hold the reader’s attention.
An elegant and insightful work!
Aggressively Happy by Joy Marie Clarkson
I almost did not read this book. The cover made me think it was going to be another one of those fluffy, feel-good books. You know, the kind in the end that leave you more convinced that Christians just can’t write honestly about the human condition.
Well, I am here to say that Joy’s splendid book is hardly spiritual pablum. Joy just finished her PhD at St. Andrews, she knows suffering firsthand, and yet she maintains a gritty confidence in Jesus Christ.
When you are my age (sixty-four, by the way), have a strong theological education, and constitutionally have a honed radar for drivel, you are ready to be disappointed by “popular” Christian books.
I was not disappointed!
The writing is beautiful, the insights are fresh, and the storytelling, even about the author’s own life is wonderful. Talking or writing about yourself is fraught with all kinds of potential hazards, but Joy avoids them. She is the winsome, fellow traveler you would like to have as a guide and friend.
I usually read (meaning careful highlighting and note-taking) 50-60 books a year. I peruse hundreds of others. Aggressively Happy very much deserves to be on my favorite book list for 2022, but now I feel another category needs to be added: Books that pleasantly surprised me.
I would love to open a bookstore someday. Well, not quite. Since my own teaching and writing makes that impossible, I would love to be the person who picks what gets stocked. If and when that happens, you can be sure to find this book on the shelves.
Power, Weakness and the Tabernacling of God by Marva J. Dawn
This is the third book I have read by Dawn. She is insightful and has a clear heart for the church. And she is definitely a truth-teller. This book is a wonderful adjunct to Fleming Rutledge’s big book on the crucifixion of Jesus.
The Truth and Beauty by Andrew Klavan
Andrew Klavan has written a terrific book. His keen insights and marvelous writing are on full display.
Instead of a typical book review, I am going to list six things that I appreciated about Truth and Beauty:
*Klavan is an honest, but not cynical writer. It’s not easy to write truthfully while still holding to a compelling hope, but Klavan does.
*There is a winsome and penetrating critique of materialism.
*Good sketches of key individuals and historic movements like the French Revolution provide helpful context.
*Klavan’s book contains a convincing account of how the Romantic poets (even the godless ones) have much to offer Christians.
*The author clearly did his homework by familiarizing himself with solid scholarship, but he does not write about pedantic details that most people do not care about.
* Last, and hardly least: there is a joyful confidence in the Bible. Klavan is an adult convert to Christianity, so he takes nothing for granted. His thoughtfulness and child-like faith in God are edifying.
Mere Evangelism by Randy Newman
My interview with Randy:
C. S. Lewis on Evangelism and Beauty with Randy Newman
A Non-Anxious Presence by Mark Sayers
This is the third book I’ve read by this author. All have been terrific.
Sayers has a real knack for putting things in a fresh perspective. He effectively uses history and global trends to illumine the topic at hand. In this book, it is how the church can wisely address living between eras, what Sayers describes as a “gray zone.”
There are many invaluable insights to be sure in this book, but many times I found myself launching in a direction that the author probably did not intend, but I nonetheless found fruitful.
James Madison by Jay Cost
This is a remarkable biography. It is lucid, well-written, and gives a very balanced portrait of Madison.
Cost highlights several of Madison’s mistakes, yet the author does a terrific job of showcasing Madison’s genius, not just in brain power which he had plenty, but in our fourth president’s ability to compromise in generally wise ways.
Some find Madison a typical flip-flopper, but Jay Cost convincingly demonstrates that this is a misread of Madison.
A wonderful read that will elevate your understanding of the early Republic. You will also learn much about key players, especially Hamilton.
Bullies and Saints by John Dickson
I have read many books on history and the history of the church. Church history was also my minor or cognate field of study in seminary.
There is much to like about John Dickson’s Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look at the Good and Evil of Christian History. Sometimes instead of a regular review, I like to offer five things I appreciated about a book. Here goes with Bullies and Saints:
*Dickson is balanced in laying out the good, bad, and downright ugly or evil. He does not fall prey to either the cynic on one hand or the hagiographer on the other hand.
*There is a responsible engagement with the best scholarship, yet the book remains accessible.
*Dickson is a lucid writer who knows how to find the telling anecdote or illustration.
*Unlike some Christians, Dickson does not go back to the past to find talking points he already agrees with. He allows the strangeness of the past to speak to him and by way of extension, us.
*It is the kind of book that a Christian could comfortably give to a thoughtful non-Christian. I think many non-Christians would be pleasantly surprised by Dickson’s fair-mindedness.
The Transcendentalists and Their World by Robert A. Gross
My interview with Professor Gross:
The Transcendentalists and Their World
The Tragedy of American Compassion by Marvin Olasky
This is the third Olasky book I’ve read. Though they are very different books, all three have been terrific reads.
The Tragedy of American Compassion is the book that Olasky is best known for. Even though it was published thirty years ago, it stands up very well.
A compelling case is made that the prior ways of understanding compassion and therefore dispensing aid are superior to our modern policies and programs. By “prior ways,” we are talking about the nineteenth century.
Books like this can so easily fall prey to trotting out an endless stream of statistics. Numbers matter to be sure, but they don’t tell a story. W.E.B. DuBois learned that lesson in a graphic way when he realized that his fascination with numbers could not adequately convey seeing “the barbecued parts of a lynched man.”
Olasky peppers his seminal book with loads of stories that help us better understand what true compassion entails. In other words, Olasky appropriately moves both our minds and affections to consider a wiser approach.
Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
Baldwin’s writing lingers because it is haunted.
His essay on his troubled father kept me up one night. He is describing terribly important things. Baldwin is one of those gifted and visceral writers. I’m glad to have read him but he does haunt the reader to wrestle with difficult truths.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Reader beware! Didion is a great writer, but also a haunting one.
Here she reflects on the death of her husband. She also writes about the brutal circumstances of her only child’s ailments which eventually kill her shortly after Didion’s husband.
Didion does not believe God is in control. As she writes, “The eye is not on the sparrow.”
So be careful if you choose to read this seductive and sad book. Discerning readers will be enriched, but one must be ready to face the utter hopelessness of one who does not believe there is anything/anyone beyond this world.
How to Keep Your Cool by Seneca
I am not a fan of the ancient philosophy of Stoicism, but since “all truth is God’s truth,” there is value in considering their pragmatic solutions to various challenges of the human condition. Seneca’s counsel sounds like the Proverbs in various places, but the latter is definitely preferred.