Although 2020 has been a tough year in many ways, one positive aspect of the year has been ample time for reading. This was another year filled with a number of excellent reads, below are my top five non-fiction books that I read throughout this year in descending order.
#5: Apologetics at the Cross: An Introduction for Christian Witness, by Joshua D. Chatraw & Mark Allen
I first came across Joshua Chatraw and Mark Allen in a breakout session at The Gospel Coalition conference I attended a few years ago. I had been on the fence about purchasing their book prior to the session, afterwards it was a no brainer. The apologetic methodical approach that they outline in this book is a gold mine of gospel-centered wisdom and modern day relevance. Anyone looking to understand what apologetics is all about as a discipline and how best to integrate apologetics into one’s witness can’t pass this book up.
#4: Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton
I always make sure that I spend at least a little time each year reading something several decades removed from our current moment. Reading Orthodoxy reminded me once again of just how relevant that practice can be. Chesterton wrote his positive case for Christianity with passion, rigor, and beauty. His style is captivating and his arguments for the reasons that led him to convert to Christianity pack a punch even if at times they take unique turns, such as his chapter titled, “The Ethics of Elf Land.” Chesterton had an influence on C.S. Lewis and with this work it is easy to see why. Much like Mere Christianity, Orthodoxy will be a book that I will return to time and time again.
#3: Beauty, Order, and Mystery: A Christian Vision of Human Sexuality, edited by Gerald Hiestand & Todd Wilson
The Center for Pastor Theologians has lived up to its name with this magnificent volume, the essays within are full of profound scholarship and deep pastoral concern with a clear aim at edifying the Church with sound theology and Christ-centered love. Despite a wide variety of authors, the central theme of casting a robust vision of human sexuality is never lost, an impressive feat. Many individual subjects are addressed, such as the expected issues of transgenderism and same-sex marriage, and the less expected which included my favorite chapter offering a powerful theodicy in reference to male and female power differences; all subjects are handled with care, nuance, and a discernible hunger for an orthodox vision. Although scholarly in its presentation, the book is very accessible and it easily holds the readers interest with its varied voices and strong, yet warm, arguments. As can be expected with any volume of this kind, I found myself in disagreement with one of the essays, yet even there I found that there was a “core” agreement, I simply believed that the practical conclusions drawn were wildly unhelpful. That said, Beauty, Order, and Mystery is a refreshing treatment on a topic that no Christian can ignore, and with the vision cast here, a topic that no Christian will want to ignore.
#2: Reading Genesis Well: Navigating History, Poetry, Science, and Truth in Genesis 1-11, by C. John Collins
Reading Genesis Well is the single most important book I’ve read from a personal apologetic standpoint, ironic, as Collins explicitly states that it’s not an apologetic within the work itself. I’ve always found the Christian holistic worldview arguments to be exceptionally strong (think those similar to Keller and McLaughlin) or, if nothing else, they’re a whole lot stronger than the competitors. My main faith struggles have been in the derivatives, with perhaps no area being greater than the fact that if Christianity is true then it logically follows that Gen. 1-11 should be substantively true as well, and should, at least at a core level, be compatible with Jesus’s and Paul’s interpretations of it, and therefore historical. And this historical reconstructive conviction has always caused a significant portion of what Collin’s elsewhere calls an intellectual honesty tension. Thankfully, Reading Genesis Well applies intense intellectual rigor and faithfulness toward the Biblical text while also not neglecting every other area of knowledge (or, if we prefer, General Revelation), and the result gives the gasping Christian room to breath. I’m truly thankful for this book and Collin’s wider body of works as well. Some of the insights from this work can be read in a previous post I wrote this year: Reading Genesis 1 as Science Dishonors the Text and Distracts the Reader.
#1: Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage, by Gavin Ortlund
So much of American Evangelicalism, and perhaps the history of Protestantism, has been plagued with unnecessary and unbecoming division. Surely Scripture speaks to both a deep call for unity and a clear demand for division. But how do we determine where lines should be drawn? What amounts to theological compromise and what displays prideful arrogance? Set within his nuanced framework of a historical theologian and his own doctrinal shifts these matters are what Gavin Ortlund sets out to address in Finding the Right Hills to Die On, and the results are full of wisdom, charity, and fidelity. The book is short, about a four hour read, yet it is worth much more time in reflection and prayer. As the footing of Evangelicalism shifts under our feet from secular ideologies, progressive theologies, and deconstruction this book is a needed gift to the Church. As someone committed to paedobaptism, I hold strongly to important theological convictions that are contrary to Gavin’s (as most readers will at some point), but Gavin argues judiciously for how these theological differences ought to shape our local churches, wider fellowships, and our ongoing debates. His writing style is easily approachable, deeply nuanced, and wonderfully articulate. Several of his sentences throughout the book put together years worth of thoughts I’ve had. As a millennial who has been frustrated by a preponderance of straw-men arguments against opposing ideas in this overloaded information age, this book is a step forward for the Church in knowing how to think carefully, critically, and charitably about competing interpretations. Finding the Right Hills to Die On was not only my personal favorite read of the year, but it is also my highest recommended book published this year; it will service all types of readers, but especially those who long to see the Church display a strong commitment to orthodox doctrinal confessions while living out a radical vision of unity.
Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation: Ancient Wisdom for Current Controversy by Gavin Ortlund.
This was the hardest book to leave out of my top 5. Although I disagree with Ortlund on a few conclusions I still found it wonderfully helpful. You can read my detailed review of this book here.
Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design by Stephen Meyer.
There is a reason why Yale computer science professor David Gerlenter was convinced that “Darwin has failed” and wrote that Darwin’s Doubt was one of the most important books of our generation: it throws a serious intellectual and academic punch against standard evolutionary theories committed to strictly materialist mechanisms.
Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA That Challenges Evolution by Michael Behe.
Although I don’t consider Behe to be as careful an arguer as Meyer, nevertheless this is yet another important work that helps further demonstrate that evolutionary diversification of species is primarily driven by the loss, deterioration, and destruction of genetic information; it doesn’t take a scientist to figure out the implications of such a conclusion.
7 Myths about Singleness by Sam Allberry.
Singleness in the Evangelical Church is so often misunderstood, underrepresented, and unappreciated, Allberry is a welcomed guide back to a Scriptural understanding of singleness.