Deciding on a “best book” is often very difficult, even when it is limited to the books read in one year. What makes a book “the best”? Is it the skill of the writer? Is it the impact of the content on one’s life? Is it the ground-breaking-ness of the content? These and many other criteria may come to mind when the idea of “best book” is under consideration. Tracing out all those ideas, and other important ones, would make for a massive portrait which I neither desire to create nor have the ability to accomplish.
I’ll keep it simple. I’ll tell you the books I thought were best and a quick snapshot of why I think so. I will begin with 3 honourable mentions and then reveal the best book I read last year.
Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage by Gavin Ortlund. This is an excellent, short-ish book that gets an honourable mention because of the wise, practical way in which it deals with a serious issue. Further, the timing of its release—during a global pandemic in which people in general and Christians in particular were choosing to die on every hill—makes this book notable. From the publisher’s summary: “In theology, just as in battle, some hills are worth dying on and others are not. But how do we know which ones? … Pastor Gavin Ortlund implores us to cultivate humility as we prioritize doctrine into four ranks—essential, urgent, important, and unimportant—so that we will be as effective as possible at advancing the gospel in our time.” I found this book on theological triage timely and practical.
Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement by Donald Macleod. Before reading this book I would have proclaimed, “The best book on the atonement of Jesus is The Cross of Christ by John Stott.” And I will continue to proclaim that. But, having read Christ Crucified, I am very likely to stick an “and” on the end of my statement and endorse Donald Macleod’s book as equally helpful, insightful, and inspiring. Macleod has taken the topic the Apostle Paul called “of first importance” and explains and exposits the wonder of the cross. Every Christian is obligated to understand the atonement and this book is a guide for the believer into the glorious and sublime doctrines of the atonement.
Men and Women in the Church: A Short, Biblical, Practical Introduction by Kevin DeYoung. DeYoung’s books find a regular spot on my “Best Book” lists. They are concise; they are biblical; they are able to cut through the fog of difficult topics and deal with the issues in helpful ways. Men and Women in the Church deals with a perennially difficult topic. Thomas Schreiner, one of my favourite living theologians, confirms the value of this book in his endorsement declaring, ““This is the first book I will recommend to those who want to study what the Scriptures teach about the roles of men and women both in marriage and the church. . . I was amazed at how much wisdom is packed into this short book. Everything in the book is helpful, but the practical application section alone is worth the price of the book.” I will join Schreiner in quickly suggesting DeYoung’s book for any who are looking to learn about a biblical understanding of a controversial issue.
The Best Book of 2021
The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution by Carl Trueman. This book is fascinating. It is also very educational. And pastorally speaking, this was the most helpful book I read in 2021. Trueman writes, ““Every age has had its darkness and its dangers. The task of the Christian is not to whine about the moment in which he or she lives but to understand its problems and respond appropriately to them.” And in writing this, he really does explain the purpose of his book. He wants Christians to understand the many problems associated with the sexual revolution in order to move believers to responding to them appropriately. Wyatt Graham, Executive director of TGC Canada, summarizes Trueman’s excellent book: “Carl Trueman describes how we have entered into a world in which society understands and generally accepts the notion that a biological male may self-identify as a woman. Even fifty years ago, people generally assumed that a person’s biological makeup defined their sex. The notion that a person could individually express a deep, internal sexual identity regardless of one’s biological makeup was not an available idea within the social imaginary of earlier generations. Certainly, sexual boundaries had been crossed and precursor ideas existed, but that society would understand—simply even to have the intellectual framework to understand—what it means for someone to say that they are a woman trapped within a man’s body is new. Trueman’s work The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self then explains how this came about.” This book was helpful for me beyond understanding and responding to the fallout of the sexual revolution. It also helped me wrap my mind around how many in the younger generations think about themselves, their world, and the ways in which we ought to live. I highly recommend this book.