Category Archives: Favorite Books (Annual List)


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!


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.

Highly recommended!

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.

Highly recommended!

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.



Many other books could be on this list, and I did not include the dead authors who pushed and prodded in various ways (Tolkien, Chesterton, Augustine, even Marx).

In past years I have recommended a long list of my best reads for the year. This year, I decided to recommend only four books. There are many others I could recommend, but I thought it best to reduce my favorite reads to four so as not overwhelm you with possibilities for Christmas gifts!

Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom

We the Fallen People: The Founders and the Future of American Democracy

My interview is here:

We the Fallen People: An Interview with Robert McKenzie

Why We are Restless: On the Modern Quest for Contentment

My interview with the authors can be found here:

Why We Are Restless

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers

Wonderfully written, beautifully illustrated, and balanced in the best sense of that word. And no, the author does not present a soft and squishy God!



I must add this work to the annual books of the year list. I finished it today, so it is still 2020!

This is a short, but well-written account of America’s Christian origins. It is not one of those goofy, triumphalist books where every founder is strait-jacketed into being a devoted follower of Jesus. 

Rather, it shows quite persuasively that those who lean hard in the direction of America’s founders being formed more by the Enlightenment than the Christian faith have to be more careful with the full record.


Another great year of reading. What follows are my favorite books in two main categories (bible/theology and history) along with a miscellaneous category. Three great books, all rereads, are not mentioned, but Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners along with Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring were all formative…once again. In the case of The Pilgrim’s Progress my fifth read of that book proved to be extremely rich. I pray I can read it many more times. I will not hit Spurgeon’s 100 times reading it, but perhaps 20 or so.

In no particular order, here are the best books I read this year:


Advent by Fleming Rutledge

Run to your bookstore!

Even easier you can order this magnificent work online!

I have read and reread Rutledge’s big book on the crucifixion. I made nearly 600 notes in the margin during the first read and another 300 plus during the second read. I interviewed Fleming Rutledge in 2018. It is a brilliant and beautiful book, but Advent is now my favorite.

Advent is more accessible than The Crucifixion of Jesus because it is a collection of sermons. Don’t let that fool you. These are meaty sermons with Rutledge’s trademark goodies in the footnotes.

There are some places I may disagree with the author, but I enthusiastically recommend Advent!

A Catholic Introduction to the Bible by Bergsma and Pitre

This is a terrific, new introduction to the Old Testament. I made over 400 notes in the margins.

As a Protestant with small c catholic sensibilities, there is much to like about this book.

The writing is clear, the scholarship is impressive, and the various charts and graphs add a lot to the text.

There are certainly areas of disagreement like the immaculate conception and whether Rom. 3:1,2 about the Jews being entrusted with the oracles of God is significant for the extent of the Old Testament canon. I think it is whereas Pitre and Bergsma do not.

All in all, it is a remarkable achievement and one I will be recommending.

Open and Unafraid by David Taylor

Even though I have read many good books on the Psalms including those of David’s own mentor, Eugene Peterson, it is David’s I will now recommend as the one to grab. Beautifully written and great learning worn lightly…a wonderful combo!

My interview with David can be found here:

The Message of Lamentations by Christopher J.H. Wright

Commentaries on books of the Bible are not created equally. You have to be shrewd in what you consult. The better ones come in all different types from the devotional to the technical.

My favorite ones are those that combine great care with the text of Scripture, are well-written, and offer many connections to our own time and day. Chris Wright’s terrific work on Lamentations is a great example of these virtues. It is part of The Bible Speaks Today series (InterVarsity Press).

I have read Wright’s commentary on Jeremiah and it is terrific as well.

Lamentations is one of my favorite books of the Bible. Wright’s commentary does not disappoint!

Reading While Black by Esau McCaulley

My interview with Esau is here:

Reading Romans Backwards by Scot McKnight

Here is a conundrum: I have a lot of training in theology. I seriously considered a career in law. Knowing that you would think I would love the book of Romans, but I never have. 

I have memorized several verses in Romans, go through it on a regular basis, but it has never made my top twelve favorite books of the Bible (which can be found here: YOUR/MY FAVORITE BOOKS OF THE BIBLE | Moore Engaging (

So imagine my surprise to have a book on Romans make my favorite list for 2020. This is my fifth book of Scot’s I’ve read. All have been terrific.

Scot’s writings consistently make me wrestle more comprehensively with the text of Scripture and are always beneficial in large ways, even when our implications or applications diverge.

To tease you a bit about buying this book all I will say is that it may, no probably will, make you see Romans in a whole different light.

It would be wise to have some grounding in the history of theology before reading Scot’s book.

The Temple and the Tabernacle: A Study of God’s Dwelling Place from Genesis to Revelation by J. Daniel Hays

The Temple and the Tabernacle is one of those books I can recommend with gusto.

The text of the book is gorgeously accented with loads of pictures. Baker has done a truly stellar job with the production of this book.

Hays is a careful reader of Scripture. He does not make wild claims, yet there are many wonderful insights throughout his book.

I learned much from this book. It is accessible, but loaded with insight.

My safe guess is that it will help you make better sense of the tabernacle and the temple.


Reason, Faith, and the Struggle for Western Civilization by Samuel Gregg

I read a lot of history. Usually, I have to read long books (400 pages plus) to get as much insight as this much shorter one by Gregg. In only 166 pages the author gives intellectual insights on every page. It is a feast for both heart and mind.

The writing is clear and compelling. Gregg knows the flow of Western ideas very well. He communicates with ease some of the main currents of thought.

It is rare that the number of my markings (or marginalia) exceeds the number of the pages of a book I have read, but this is one of those rare times.

I highly recommend this balanced and beautifully conceived book!

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight

I did a Zoom interview with Professor Blight. That interview should be available soon. Check back later at

Anti-Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter

For many years I have quoted from sections of this book. This year I finally read it cover to cover. My hundreds of notes attest to what a truly seminal work it is.

I must add this work to the annual books of the year list. I finished it today, so it is still 2020!

This is a short, but well-written account of America’s Christian origins. It is not one of those goofy, triumphalist books where every founder is strait-jacketed into being a devoted follower of Jesus. 

Rather, it shows quite persuasively that those who lean hard in the direction of America’s founders being formed more by the Enlightenment than the Christian faith have to be more careful with the full record.

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Trueman

This book is getting lots of deserved attention.

My interview with Carl is here:

The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age by Leo Damrosch

Take a fascinating group of influential leaders from a variety of professions. Mix in an author’s ability to find the telling story, anecdote, or insight. Add a publisher’s penchant for producing beautiful books in both content and design and you get The Club!

Highly recommended and quite entertaining!


Pressing Forward: Alfred, Lord Tennyson and the Victorian Age by Louis Markos

My interview with Lou is here:

Mariner: A Theological Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge by Malcom Guite

My interview with Malcolm is here:

In short compass (unlike Moby-Dick!) Philbrick gives the reader a wonderful preview of the riches in Moby-Dick.

I am very interested in early nineteenth century literature (Emerson, Thoreau, Dickinson, Poe, Melville, Hawthorne, Whitman, Fuller, et al.). Philbrick’s book motivates me to revisit Melville’s great work.

Philbrick is a skilled wordsmith and offers many suggestive and wonderful insights about human life in the midst of an uncertain and many times terrifying world.

Working by Robert Caro

If Christians researched the Bible like Caro conducts his research, we would have our churches glutted with Bible scholars…and scholar is used in the best sense of that word.

Utterly fascinating and convicting to read about Caro’s work ethic even though he is 85!

Rethink Your Self: The Power of Looking Up Before Looking In by Trevin Wax

My interview with Trevin is here:

Telling a Better Story: How to Talk about God in a Skeptical Age by Josh Chatraw

The best compliment I can pay this book is that it joins my list of favorite dead and living authors for better engagement with our culture.

For the former, there are Augustine, Pascal, Chesterton, Lewis and Newbigin. For the those living there are Dan Taylor, James K.A. Smith, Tim Keller, Charles Taylor, and James Davison Hunter.

Chatraw is more accessible than many of those I mentioned. As a result, it serves as a good starting point.

Jesus the Great Philosopher: Rediscovering the Wisdom Needed for the Good Life by Jonathan Pennington

My interview with Jonathan is here:


Most Shaping Books of 2019      

By David George Moore

The descriptor was changed from favorite to “most shaping” because I wanted to ponder the books that will most likely stay with me the rest of my days. (I offer this “list” at the age of sixty-one.)


A sampling of formative reads in this category includes Known by God by Brian Rosner, Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves, Why are There Differences in the Gospels? By Michael Lincona, Caesar and the Sacrament by R. Alan Streett, A Practical Primer on Theological Method by Kreider and Svigel, and others.

It was hard to pick between the following two, so there is a tie between Everyday Glory by Gerald McDermott and Pastor Paul by Scot McKnight. My interview with McDermott is here:

Here are six things (there are more!) I like about Pastor Paul:


I did not read much in this category, but even if I had, it is hard to imagine two better books than Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church by James Beitler and Preaching as Reminding by Jeffrey Arthur.

A quick comment on Preaching as Reminding:

I have read several books on preaching. None have been duds, but this one may now be my favorite. I don’t know of any other book on preaching that accomplishes so much in so little space (under 150 pages).

Bruce Waltke and others are gushing about it and I add my name to the gushers. Short, but full of powerful and wonderful insights. Beautifully written. Integrative approach. Careful biblical studies of memory along with insights from neuroscience, psychology, etc.

You will learn how remembering is very different than recall!


I read a lot of history and this year was no different. I read two big surveys of American history: Wilfred McClay’s Land of Hope and Jill Lepore’s massive, These Truths. Both were terrific. I also read a little more than half of David Blight’s magisterial biography of Frederick Douglass. Since I will probably finish that in early 2020, it will undoubtedly appear in next year’s list. There were other wonderful reads like Redemption: Martin Luther King’s Last 31 Hours by Rosenbloom, the classic by Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of History, A Little book for New Historians by Tracy McKenzie, The People of Concord by Paul Brooks, Waiting for the Weekend by Witold Rybczynski, along with other fine books on history.

The most shaping is a tie between God Almost Chosen Peoples by George Rable and The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby. Here are my interviews with both those writers:


This category needs to be beefed up! Though I try to read many of the “great books,” this year was a poor performance in that regard. Two highlights were my reread of Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and my first read of An Experiment in Literary Criticism by C.S. Lewis.

Two books by up and coming writers could easily fit in other categories like spiritual life or culture. Both are by skilled wordsmiths and have much to say, albeit their youngish age: In Search of the Common Good by Jake Meador and Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do about It by David Zahl.

It may seem scandalous to give the award here to a living author, but it was a pretty easy choice with Virtues of Renewal: Wendell Berry’s Sustainable Forms by Jeffrey Bilbro.

My interview with Bilbro can be found here:

Wendell Berry’s Sustainable Forms


I’m with Eugene Peterson in not really liking the term “spiritual life,” for what about life is not spiritual? I use this term because many people use it as a shorthand of sorts for books that especially help them in their relationship with God.

I read two terrific books on the importance of “trees” in the Bible: Between Two Trees by Shane Wood and Reforesting Faith: What Trees Teach us about the Nature of God and His Love for Us by Matthew Sleeth. Highly recommended duo! Many other good reads, but I won’t mention them here as this list is already plenty long.

Lots of ties this year, and this category also has one, a unique, but necessary triple tie. All are beautifully written and endlessly insightful: Resilient Faith: How the Early Christian “Third Way” Changed the World by Gerald Sittser, James K.A. Smith’s On the Road with Saint Augustine and Michael McCullough’s Remember Death: The Surprising Path to a Living Hope. Here are the links to my interview or reviews of each:

Resilient Faith









It was a terrific year of reading.  Many wonderful books.  I am being a bit more generous this year with a longer list of twenty-four, but I did get to read a bit more than usual.

To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism by Ross Douthat

My interview with Douthat:

To Change The Church: Interview With Ross Douthat

Why Should the Devil Have all the Good Music? by Greg Thornbury

My interview with Greg:

The Devil’s Music?

One True Life: The Stoics and Christians as Rival Traditions by C. Kavin Rowe

My interview with Rowe:

One True Life, C. Kavin Rowe: An Interview

The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge

My interview with Rutledge:

Interview With Fleming Rutledge

An Unexpected Light: Theology and Witness in the Poetry and Thought of Charles Williams, Micheal O’Siadhail, and Geoffrey Hill by David Mahan

A rare case where I had to do the interview based on the publisher’s pdf, rather than a “real” book.  Since I am reading it with my marginalia “system” this year, it is counted for 2018.  The introduction alone would make a wonderful booklet on why Christians ought to read poetry.

My interview with Dave with some great recommendations from the readers:

Why Christians Ought To Read Poetry

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior

My interview with Karen:

Karen Swallow Prior: An Interview

Edwards the Exegete: Biblical Interpretation and the Anglo-Protestant Culture on the Edge of the Enlightenment by Douglas Sweeney

My interview with Doug:

Doug Sweeney On Jonathan Edwards

Pride and Humility at War: a Biblical Perspective by J. Lanier Burns

My interview with Lanier:

Pride And Humility At War

The Myth of Certainty by Daniel Taylor

The Myth of Certainty greatly ministered to me. It was my companion on a recent trip.

I often jest that I am a serial, not cereal (!) doubter. Dan does a terrific job of showing how the struggle to believe can (and should) be incorporated into our Christian lives.

Dan is a wonderful writer and brings into this conversation some insightful people like Ellul, Kierkegaard, Flannery O’Connor, and Pascal.

Highly recommended!

SPQR: a History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard

Mary Beard’s book on Roman History is terrific.

SPQR is the famous Roman catchphrase Senatus Populus Que Romanus or The Senate and People of Rome.

If you know anything about Mary Beard (perhaps via BBC specials) you know this Cambridge professor is as feisty as she is brilliant. Her writing is magnificent. She knows how to tell the stories of ancient Rome in a way that are accessible and entertaining.

Some who are able to spin a good yarn are not careful with the details. Beard goes no further than the evidence will allow for telling this story. In other words, she does not traffic in speculation or try to fill in details we would love to have, but simply do not.

She does include details that make the story interesting throughout, but these are details we can be pretty confident of. For example, did you know that ancient Rome had one million inhabitants and that no city would have that many people until the nineteenth century?

Ancient Roman history is extremely relevant to the hurly-burly of twenty-first century America.

These Truths: a History of the United States by Jill Lepore

You can find my extended notes here:

Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church by Michael Kruger

What do the second and twenty-first centuries have in common?

Quite a bit, it turns out.

The second century was a time when Christianity was challenged by many philosophies and religions. Because of this volatility, Michael Kruger, in his wonderfully conceived overview of the second century, convincingly shows that it has much to say to our own situation today.

Kruger’s book fits a huge need as the second century has been largely ignored.

Among other things, this was the time when key defenders of the Christian faith arose to give articulate and persuasive arguments.

Kruger’s book also does a terrific job of showing that the canon was largely determined far in advance of Nicea.

Kruger is thorough without being pedantic. He is a skillful scholar who knows how to write clearly.

A Brief History of Thought: a Philosophical Guide to Living by Luc Ferry

I have friends who are philosophers and I have gained great insights from philosophers. It is unfortunate to say, but many philosophers don’t write in a clear or compelling style.

Ferry is a wonderful exception. I’ve wanted to read his book for some time since Tim Keller refers to it on a regular basis.

I was not disappointed.

The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter by David Sax

I’ve been posing a dare to some friends. I’m daring them to read the introduction to this book and seeing if they can stop. Like one potato chip (which is hardly digital!) they will find themselves devouring the rest of the bag, er book.

The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter is a terrific book. There is hard evidence in this book that digital is not the only game in town, but studies and statistics are augmented by engaging stories. Stories of people making things that we thought went the way of the Dodo bird add to the book’s allure, poignancy, and persuasiveness.

Vinyl records and used bookstores are back! They, of course, never totally went away, but their demise had an inevitability that was widely held.

So I dare you as well: Grab a copy (you will have to go to a bookstore to do this!) and read the introduction. I think you will find yourself wanting much more.

By the way, my “Moore’s Law of Reading” held true with this book. “Moore’s Law of Reading” takes the total number of pages of a book (242 with this book) and divides by two, so 121. If my marginal notes exceeds half of the pages then it was a worthwhile read. In this case, I made 166 marginal notes of various kinds, so it definitely was a great read.

Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology by James K.A. Smith

The final volume in the “cultural liturgies” series.  I think this is the best of the trilogy.

The writing, as one expects from Smith, is consistently engaging. The author drives home his points with great examples from movies and literature.

I was glad to see Smith address the “godfather problem,” but some engagement with that challenge would have been good in Desiring the Kingdom.

As with all Smith’s books (I’ve now read six of them) you are always left pondering important truths, even when you may disagree.

The Great Theologians: a Brief Guide by Gerald McDermott

Most Christians, even if they read on a regular basis, will pretty much choose books that help them live the Christian life. Books extolling “how to” live the Christian life dominate the landscape of bookstores because that is what the market wants.

There is nothing wrong per se with giving practical suggestions for how to live the Christian life. In his terrific introduction to Puritan theology, J. I. Packer underscores how Puritan preachers gave many applications in their sermons.

Applying the truths of Scripture is critical to being a Christian who is growing. James 1:22-25 makes this crystal clear:

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.

The problem occurs when one’s reading is all about application. It is a problem, among other reasons, because we simply assume the author holds to a biblical framework. Sure the author may cite verses here and there, but are they handling Scripture responsibly? It takes biblical and theological discernment to determine whether that is the case.

What are the theological assumptions that the author holds? Those assumptions will inform how the author reads Scripture, and then makes his case for believers to apply his suggestions.

I am always on the lookout for thoughtful introductory books that help Christians think more carefully about their faith.

Gerald McDermott’s The Great Theologians: a Brief Guide is such a book. It covers eleven, perhaps the top eleven, most consequential theologians. The chapters are short, but meaty. The chapters are meaty, but accessible.

If you want to know more about the thinkers that are behind the “practical” books you are reading, McDermott’s book is recommended with gusto!

Animal Farm by George Orwell

I may have read this in high school, but since our youngest son, Chris, told me how much he likes it, I read it this year.  Orwell is a master of the English language and an entertaining writer.

The pile of books to the right has some rereads: Five Days in London, May 1940 by John Lukacs, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis by Mark Noll, and The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.  All were well worth reading again!

Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity by Charles Taylor and After Virtue: a Study in Moral Theory by Alasdair MacIntyre were definitely the most challenging reads.  My pace with both was never more than fifteen pages per hour.  Both are heavily marked up and were worth reading and discussing with good friends: Tim Taylor (no relation to Charles) and Bill Bridgman.

The Spiral Staircase: My Climb out of Darkness by Karen Armstrong

I have many theological differences with Armstrong, but this is a beautifully written and gut-wrenching book.

When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend: Reflections on Life and Ministry with Depression by Mark Meynell

My interview with Mark will be posted soon.






Yes, many do these sorts of things, but I like book lists, so here you go:

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There are many things to like about this book, no matter which one of the big three traditions (Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox) you belong to.

Chaput is a lucid writer who has clearly done his homework. His book ranges over many significant thinkers, past and present. His analysis of our cultural moment is sobering, but never gloomy. He well understands the indispensable virtue of Christian hope.

I read Dreher’s The Benedict Option, but find Chaput’s approach much more in keeping with the entire record of Scripture.

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My interview with Alan Jacobs:


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I’ve read several books on Benjamin Franklin, but this is the first on his sister.

Lepore brings all the things we have to expect from her writing, especially the telling detail.

Yes, it’s true. Women in the eighteenth century were discouraged from reading history. What’s the point? History reading is for those who serve in political and educational leadership. Since women couldn’t do those sorts of things in colonial America, what’s the point in them reading history? For a Christian this crass utilitarian notion of learning history is at odds with a faith that is historical in nature.

There are many terrific insights in this wonderfully conceived book.

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My interview with the author:
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My general rule that so far holds up is this: Take the total number of pages of a book and divide by two. If my marginal notes exceed that number, then the book, though I may have some serious disagreements with it, was worth reading.

In this case, Wood’s little book on the American Revolution is 166 pages long. My markings came in at over 150. This was an extremely worthwhile read.

I read a lot of American history, but am always looking for resources to better connect events and people. Wood’s book does not disappoint.

If you are looking for a short book to better understand the American Revolution along with a helpful explanation of the immediate years leading up to the Constitution, it is hard to imagine a better book.

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The modern notion of “politics” is much narrower than the ancient one. The modern idea thinks mainly of things like voting, lobbying for favorite causes, and those who govern.

Levin shows us in his terrific book that there is much more to politics. For example, one’s understanding of human nature and history dramatically affect how one understands political change. So-called progressives and so-called conservatives are given much to think about in this fine work.

Since I am late to the party in reviewing this book, let me close with one massive implication that came to me in reading this book and it deals with Christian theology. For those of us Christians who gladly hold to more conservative or orthodox (small o) theology, there is something terribly important we can learn from Edmund Burke. Burke believed that the best of tradition is true, but to convince more radical types like Paine, it was crucial to also show the beauty of tradition. If I were to grade us conservative Christians on how well we do in showing the beauty of truth, I would give us a very low grade.

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I’ve read several good books about President Jackson. None have been duds. All of them taught me fascinating and important things about Jackson.

Jon Meacham combines some of my favorite features for biography: wonderful wordsmithing, lucid prose, an eye for the salient details, and a nose for smelling out the proper drama.

If you are looking for a terrific biography of Jackson, this is the first place I would recommend.

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Taking a clue from Goldilocks some commentaries are too devotional, some too technical, and a smaller some are “just right.” Johnson has written one in that rarer, last category.

Johnson’s commentary has responsible interaction with the text, he does not dodge the tough issues (an occupational hazard for commentators), and the flow is terrific.

If the title of this book strikes you as odd, you will be convinced of its aptness after reading Johnson’s fine work.

Thanks to our pastor, Peter Coelho, who enthusiastically mentioned this book in some of his sermons!
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The biggest compliment I can give an author is that his or her book will be “part of our final library.” Let me explain.

Our library has about 3,000 volumes. We are constantly culling it, but we are also constantly getting new books due to library sales (good and cheap way to get great books) and publishers sending me books for possible review/interview with the author.

As I get older (I am 59) there is the need to keep culling. Fortunately, both our sons are readers so they will gladly inherit a bunch of books. Even so, there are books that should be parted with before I die. I don’t want our sons to have the burden of determining whether some books are worth keeping.

Mark Edmundson’s book, self and soul: a Defense of Ideals (neither self nor soul are capitalized) is beautifully written, insightful, and full of suggestive ideas.

It is clear that Edmundson has great respect for major religious figures, especially the Buddha and Jesus. It is not clear what Edmundson personally believes.

Regardless of whether one is religious or not, there is much to be gained by a close read of this fine book. There are many things I found fascinating, but since most don’t read lengthy Amazon reviews, I will underscore just one. A whole chapter is devoted to showing that Shakespeare’s writings don’t offer us much direction for how to be virtuous. Sure, you could extrapolate some implications based on the loathsome exploits of various characters, but there is little that goes beyond their own self-interest. Edmundson writes that characters in Shakespeare “generally speak because they are trying to get something. They want to enhance their images, improve their lots, speed their designs.” In this same paragraph Edmundson says, “When we quote them, we import their desires into our speech.” As a Christian, I greatly appreciate a writer who is not afraid to underscore the power of words to form and fashion us.

A gem of a book!

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I am coming to this terrific book about five years after its publication, so no long review here. I will say it is an extremely well done piece of work, both witty and wise, entertaining and educational. You will learn a lot about Scripture and yourself by reading it!

American Christians especially are in dire need of reckoning with this fine book.

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My interview with the author:

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I will doing a longer review or perhaps interviewing the author later so will keep this brief.  Dew is a wonderful writer, eminent scholar of the Civil War, and offers us a candid report of how he came to grips with the racism of his boyhood.  A tough read, but sorely needed.

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My interview with the author:
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Brian Matthew Jordan’s new book addresses an issue that others have either missed or been mistaken about: the poor treatment of Union soldiers upon coming home.

Since the war was fought in the South, those civilians experienced the horrors up close and personal. Their soldiers came back to a very appreciative homeland.

Since the war was not fought in the North, those civilians largely wanted to move on to more “positive” realities rather then be reminded of what the so-called Civil War had wrought.

Jordan has done yeoman’s work on the research and writing. It is no wonder this book was a finalist for the Pulitzer prize.

There are some difficult and dark issues to wrestle through when it comes to the horrors of war. It is hard to imagine a better starting point than Jordan’s fine book.

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Commentaries on books of the Bible are not created equally. You have to be shrewd in what you consult. The better ones come in all different types from the devotional to the technical.

My favorite ones are those that combine great care with the text of Scripture, are well-written, and offer many connections to our own time and day.  Christopher Wright’s terrific work on Jeremiah is one of those. It is part of “The Bible Speaks Today” series (InterVarsity Press). Here is a taste:

“The reign of King Josiah was a time of great religious fervent and national resurgence. It was all very impressive. But what was God’s point of view? According to Jeremiah God sees a people who are a disappointment to God, who are being disloyal to their covenant relationship with God, who are already feeling the shock of disasters that foreshadow worse to come, and who are living in brazen denial and delusion. It is a frightening mirror to hold up to the people of God in any generation, with stark relevance to our own.”

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There’s nothing on evangelism quite like this book.  Stay tuned for my interview with Randy!


Reading is critical to what I do, but more importantly, who I am.  My reading is divided into various categories: reading related to a writing project, reviews and/or interviews with authors, and other miscellaneous books that are significant to be conversant on.  There are many classics that I have on my list (yes, I keep many lists), so books coming off the presses today are scrutinized pretty closely.

As I get older (58 now), I find myself rereading books which have made the biggest impact on me.  This means that I am getting pickier with my new selections with each passing moment which is not a bad thing.

Instead of giving a large list, let me mention seven books all published in 2016 which I found quite good.

The very best for the entire year was a three way tie with MAKING SENSE OF GOD by Tim Keller, SILENCE AND BEAUTY by Mako Fujimura, and AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY: A LOVE STORY by John Kaag.

So here are my seven favorites in no particular order…


My interview with the author is here:

Saving the Bible from Ourselves


John Kaag is a philosopher, but don’t let that scare you away from his writing, at least not with this book.

American Philosophy: a Love Story is remarkable twin tour of a long abandoned library and the human heart. Kaag is a candid diagnostician of his own interior life with all its complexities and contradictions.

I’ve been reading some of Kaag’s interlocutors for some time, especially Ralph Waldo Emerson. As a Christian, I disagree with much of what Emerson wrote, but he makes me wrestle with important issues in ways that make me a better Christian…at least a better thinking Christian.

Kaag is vulnerable about his own personal struggles and path to happiness. Like Emerson, I don’t agree with Kaag’s philosophy of life, but reading about his pilgrimage to greater sanity was fascinating and time well spent.

This is a brilliantly conceived and exceedingly satisfying read. If scholars like Kaag wrote more books like this one there would be a whole lot more interest in philosophy!

I think a wonderful movie could be made from this book…at least a well-crafted documentary.


Dr. Bob Cutillo has written a book that Andy Crouch describes this way: “Perhaps once a year, if I am lucky, I encounter a book that addresses a supremely important topic and does so in a supremely helpful way. This is such a book…”

Cutillo is a medical doctor. He serves in various capacities: as professor at a major university, teaching at an evangelical seminary, and providing compassionate care to those on the margins of society.

How should we understand health? Well, it depends on your frame of reference. If you believe that Jesus has conquered death, then you will answer that question very differently from those who don’t.

Cutillo is not just a “science guy,” though he certainly has great competence there having earned his MD from Columbia University. Cutillo also loves great literature and philosophy. He brings in wonderful insights from wide-ranging readings of great books. This offers a real model of responsible and competent integration. I’ve read other books that seek to integrate from various disciplines, but few pull it off as well as Cutillo.


My review can be found here:

Tim Keller’s Newest


Here is my interview with the author:

Cal Newport: Focused Success in a Distracted World


My interview with the author is here:


I am writing a book on how to trust God in the midst of suffering. Recent reads were Endo’s Silence followed by Makoto Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty. I made over 200 marginal notes in the pages of Endo’s Silence. It is an extremely important work for Christians to digest deeply.

Usually a commentary on a great book may be helpful and illuminating, but hardly of the caliber of the classic. This book may break this regular rule.

Fujimura’s reflections on Endo’s classic work are simply stunning. Silence and Beauty is a wonderful companion to Endo’s Silence. In fact, I would argue that Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty is indispensable to reading Endo’s work. Silence and Beauty takes you into the heart of Japanese culture and rituals. It helps you understand why Christianity is such a threat to its cultural ethos.

Silence and Beauty is wonderfully conceived and full of compelling insights. Highly recommended.




I like reading these kinds of lists.  My own list does not mean these books were published during this year, though some were.  My list also includes a few rereads that keep on giving gold.

It was fun to see that three of my books were on Christianity Today’s Best Book List.  So, in no particular order here they are:

Surprised by Hope by NT Wright

Kingdom Conspiracy by Scot McKnight

Confessions by Augustine (reread)

Life is a Miracle by Wendell Berry

Echoes of Eden by Jerram Barrs

First We Read, Then We Write by Robert Richardson (reread)

Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter by Randall Balmer

God, Locke, and Liberty by Joseph Loconte

A Change of Heart: a Personal and Theological Memoir by Thomas Oden

Pious Nietzsche by Bruce Ellis Benson

How (Not) to be Secular by James K.A. Smith




Well, 2013 was another great year for reading.  In fact so good, I could not whittle down to the typical top ten list, so am cheating a bit with my favorite fifteen.  At the end, I will offer my top two for the year.  So in no particular order, here are my picks:

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber.  Take a great chick flick (the kind most guys would grudgingly admit they liked), mix in great writing, candor, intellectual stimulation, spiritual insight, and humor.  Voila you have Surprised by Oxford.

Reading for Preaching by Cornelius Plantinga.  My interview with the author is coming soon.

Echoes of Eden by Jerram Barrs.  My interview with the author is coming soon.

The End of Our Exploring by Matthew Lee Anderson.  My review can be found here:

The Taming of the Shrew (reread) by Mr. Shakespeare along with commentary from Brightest Heaven of Invention by Peter J. Leithart.

Sacred Scripture, Sacred War by James P Byrd.  My interview with the author is coming soon.

College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be by Andrew Delbanco.  

Heaven on Earth by R. Alan Streett.  My interview can be found here:

Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf.  I have read many books on “a theology of work.”  This one has fresh insights and is very well done.

Fateful Lightning by Allen C. Guelzo.  A master historian, especially on the Civil War, shows us a scholar at the height of his powers.  Much to ponder in this absorbing book.

Why Study History?  by John Fea.  My brief review is here:

The First Thanksgiving by R. Tracy McKenzie.  I am glad that McKenzie is beginning to write for the wider public.  May God bless his efforts!  My interview with the author is here:

Revolutionary Summer by Joseph J. Ellis.  Years ago, I read the author’s Pulitzer-winner, Founding Brothers.  This book is similar with its great story-telling and solid scholarship.

Ravished by Beauty by Belden C. Lane.  Even if you thought you knew much about the Reformed faith, this book will surprise you.  My review can be found here:

Contending for the Faith by Ralph C. Wood.  My interview can be found here:

Well, as things turn out, and it is pretty odd since I was not consciously thinking of it, my top two books are the first and last on this list: Surprised by Oxford and Contending for the Faith.