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 (twocities.org)
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 www.mooreengaging.com
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: https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2020/november/david-moore-interview.html
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: https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2020/july/interview-about-pressing-forward.html
Mariner: A Theological Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge by Malcom Guite
My interview with Malcolm is here: https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2020/may/mariner-theological-voyage-with-samuel-taylor-coleridge.html
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: https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2020/november/interview-trevin-wax.html
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: https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2020/december/interview-with-jonathan-pennington.html