Pooping Elephants

BOOKS OF THE YEAR! 2020 VERSION

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:

BIBLE/THEOLOGY:

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:

https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2020/october/open-and-unafraid-interview-with-david-taylor.html

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: 

https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2020/october/esau-mccaulley-interview.html

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.

HISTORY:

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!

MISCELLANEOUS:

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

THE CLUB

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!

REPORT: YOUR/MY FAVORITE BOOKS OF THE BIBLE

Thanks to all of you who were a part of this unscientific, but still revealing poll.

Here is the previous post with all your votes. Below it is the wrap up and a few reflections.

YOUR/MY FAVORITE BOOKS OF THE BIBLE

Number of people who participated: 46

Top four books listed:

First place: Psalms received 34 votes

Second place: Genesis received 33 votes

Third place: John received 31 votes

Fourth place: Romans received 27 votes

(Over twenty of you listed all three of the top three books: Genesis, Psalms, and John)

Number of books in the Bible included on someone’s list: 56/66

32/39 in OT (missing I Chron., Ezra, Joel, Obadiah, Nahum, Haggai, and Malachi)

24/27 in NT (missing II Thess., II and III John)

Most surprising book(s) picked: Tie with Numbers and Zephaniah (But it took two professors to include these books!)

Books picked only one time:

Numbers

II Chronicles (Mrs. Moore)

Lamentations (Only picked by yours truly and I am lamenting that fact!)

Hosea

Amos

Micah

Zephaniah

Zechariah

Titus

Jude

“Brother from another mother” vote: Mark Meynell (a writer and teacher in the UK) was the only other one besides yours truly to include both Ecclesiastes and Habakkuk on his list. May his tribe increase!

Most surprising book(s) not picked: For me, there were no real surprises. I did not expect Nahum or III John to make anyone’s list.

It is a good reminder that the entire Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit but that does not mean that every book of the Bible is equally important/relevant.

And yet, it should be said that there are gems everywhere in Scripture so reading through the whole of the Bible is indispensable for knowing where these may be found.

Some other reflections:

This exercise confirmed to me that a “Reading the Bible Fast and Slow” method is a good one. See my description of that method here: 

https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2020/january/reading-bible-fast-and-slow.html

I am more convinced than ever that solid growth as a Christian comes from sustained engagement and unhurried reflection on the totality of Scripture.

Having written a commentary on Ecclesiastes I was thrilled by how many put It on their list: fifteen of us!

Another encouragement was seeing how many put I and II Samuel on their lists. These and I and II Kings almost made my own list. Recent meditation on them convinced me even more that they have much to offer.

 

YOUR/MY FAVORITE BOOKS OF THE BIBLE

I am curious to know the ten, or at most twelve books of the Bible that have made the biggest impact on you. 

Two on my list, and no surprise to many of you, are Ecclesiastes and Habakkuk. I have published a commentary on the former and am hoping to do so with the latter.

My other ten would be: Genesis, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Jonah, John, Acts, and Colossians.

What about you? I would love to know.

I am a big advocate of constantly reading the totality of Scripture, but God moves us in a variety of ways, and some books of the Bible make a bigger impact on us.

Give me your own list.

Only rule is no more than twelve.