Top 10 Reads of 2020

One of my goals this year was to read more widely than I have in the past. I still majored in theological non-fiction, but it was a joy to expand out of that to some other genres.

Below is a list of 10 of my favorite reads from 2020–honestly, narrowing it to 10 was a challenge. Since it’s difficult to say which was my “favorite,” they’re not listed in any particular order. I’d love to hear what your favorite reads were this year–maybe it will help inform my reading next year! Drop me a note in the comments below.

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

By Dane C. Ortlund

I imagine many year-end lists are going to have Ortlund’s book on it. It really was fantastic.

We cannot present a reason for Christ to finally close off his heart to his own sheep. No such reason exists. Every human friend has a limit. If we offend enough, if a relationship gets damaged enough, if we betray enough times, we are cast out. The walls go up. With Christ, our sins and weaknesses are the very resumé items that qualify us to approach him.

How Can I Love Church Members with Different Politics?

By Jonathan Leeman and Andy Nasalli

Navigating 2020 as a pastor has been no easy task. I found this book so helpful that we immediately gave it out to our whole congregation.

The gospel does not automatically resolve all our wisdom-based political judgments in the here and now. It helps us love and forbear with one another amid those different wisdom-based judgments. It creates unity amid diversity, not uniformity.

p. 26
Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul

By Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

I read this off a recommendation from a friend, and it is well worth your time. Whatever you may think about the conclusions he draws, the book is extremely thought provoking.

We keep treating America like we have a great blueprint and we’ve just strayed from it. But the fact is that we’ve built the country true. Black folk were never meant to be full-fledged participants in this society.

The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap

By Mehrsa Baradaran

This book was so good! I cannot recommend it highly enough.

We might want to apply the following short litmus tests to any policy proposal: does the program require some collective sacrifice or does it place the burden of closing the wealth gap entirely on the black community? If the latter, this is a cop-out that refuses to acknowledge that the black community did not create the problem in the first place.

Jesus, Justice, & Gender Roles: A Case for Gender Roles in Ministry

By Kathy Keller

This was Keller’s contribution to a small, three-book series published by Zondervan called Fresh Perspectives on Women in Ministry. Of the three, I found her contribution to be the most biblically compelling and logically sound case for the robust role of women in the chruch.

Justice, in the end, is whatever God decrees. So whether or not you are able to see justice in divinely created gender roles depends largely on how much trust you have in God’s character.

p. 38
Analog Church: Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age

By Jay Y. Kim

This may have been one of the most providential books of 2020. Released in March, right after everyone was forced indoors, Kim makes the case for why we need “analog” and not “digital” Christian community.

The only way to experience the full depth and complexity of its unfolding story is to give it time. In the digital age, our tendency is to microwave everything. We’ve grown so impatient and we have a hard time waiting. But in order to experience the Bible at a deep level and allow it to do its work in us, we must understand it will take dedication, devotion, and commitment over the long haul.

p. 153
“He Descended to the Dead”: An Evangelical Theology of Holy Saturday

By Matthew Y. Emerson

Emerson’s thoughtful argumentation changed more than one of my previously held opinions.

We could say, in fact, that it is precisely because Christ’s death is penal and substitutionary that his life, death, descent, resurrection, and ascension are vicarious and victorious. And, vice versa, we can also say that Christ’s penal, substitutionary death is only ultimately effective because of his victorious resurrection. Victory and substitution go hand in hand.

p. 170
The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism

By Jemar Tisby

Too many thoughts and feelings brought out from this book to summarize in just a sentence. You can read more here and here.

It should give every citizen and Christian in America pause to consider how strongly ingrained the support for slavery in our country was. People believed in the superiority of the white race and the moral degradation of black people so strongly that they were willing to fight a war over it. This is not to suggest that the South had a monopoly on racism, but we cannot ignore that its leader took the step of seceding from the United States in order to protect an economic system based on the enslavement of human beings.

pp. 86-87
Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage

By Gavin Ortlund

In a year filled with hills, Gavin helps pastors (and anyone, really) determine where we should “plant our flag” and where we can agree to disagree.

Pursuing the unity of the church does not mean that we should stop caring about theology. But it does mean that our love of theology should never exceed our love of real people, and therefore we must learn to love people amid our theological disagreements.

pp. 36-37

By Bram Stoker

This may have been the only fiction book I finished this year (for shame!).

Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain.

Honorable Mentions:

The End of the Christian Life, J. Todd Billings

Deep Discipleship, J.T. English

The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin

The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb, Jamin Goggin & Kyle Strobel