My Top 10 Books of 2021


I like to read books, and people like to read Top 10 lists. In celebration of these two facts, here is my annual Top Books list for 2021.
(previous lists: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2015 ... yes, I missed a few years)

Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self - I feel like a parody of myself for putting this book at the top of my list. Oh well, it's that important. Carl Trueman traces the modern conception of the self, beginning with Rousseau (a starting point he admits is mostly a function of having to start somewhere). He has a shorter and more popular-level version forthcoming. I will probably buy that to give to some folks, but if you want to contemplate how unusual our plastic understanding of personhood is, then pick up the original. The material is dense, but Trueman is an excellent writer, so reading through is an achievable task. 

Hearers & Doers - In this book, Kevin Vanhoozer gives pastors and church leaders a vision for building disciples fit for following Christ using the tools of Scripture and doctrine. The model he puts forward is not "make sure everyone learns a Bible verse for every situation." Rather, pastors should seek to form the social imaginary and theological imagination of the body through the teaching of the Scriptures, that as believers encounter various circumstances in life they know how to "improvise" in a fitting manner, as they participate as actors in God's story.  


Deep Work - Cal Newport argues that the most valuable skill in today's world (or at least one of the most valuable) is the skill of focused, or deep, work. Complex problems can be solved, and high quality work produced, more efficiently by deep, focused labor. Sometimes that's the only way a particular problem or task can be solved/accomplished. But at the same time that this skill is increasingly valuable, it is increasingly rare. Newport not only advances these arguments, he gives practical help for how to build rhythms of Deep Work into your life. 


Grasping God's Word - Scott Duvall and Daniel Hays provide one of the best books I've ever read on Biblical study for the lay person / undergrad level. I've been looking for something with more meat than Knowing Scripture or Women of the Word, that was not in any way technical, but that also provided helpful exercises. This is that book. I anticipate using it to teach in the future. 

Gentle and Lowly - Dane Ortlund's surprise best seller is worth any hype you've heard. There is great balm for the soul to be found in meditating on the person and work of Jesus Christ. "There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole, there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul." Friends, do your soul a favor, and read this book in 2022. 


What Christians Ought to Believe - Michael Bird has written a superb, brief, an very readable
introduction to the Christian faith following the outline of the Apostles' Creed. Are you looking for a refresher on the fundamentals of the faith? This is a good book to look at. Helpful suggestions for further reading on each topic, too.


Wingfeather Saga - Our family has only read the first two of Andrew Peterson's saga, "On the Edge of
the Dark Sea of Darkness," and "North! Or be Eaten." A.Maz.Ing. Fun books for the whole family, the three year old loves them, the older kids love them, and Andie and I are laughing just as hard and sometimes harder. 

Why Johnny Can't Preach - T. David Gordon has written a brief, but powerful, manifesto. If you're wondering, Johnny can't preach because Johnny can't write, and Johnny can't write because Johnny can't read, and Johnny can't read because churches and seminaries don't value close reading of texts, and therefore ministry training and churches are not structured to support the habits necessary for skillful reading. If I had a complaint it was that the book was so short, but that may have been part of its brilliance. 


1 Samuel: Looking at the Heart - I finished preaching 1 Samuel earlier this year. No matter how crunched I was for time, I always read Dale Ralph Davis's commentary. It is homiletical in style, so there is tons of heart searching application, but not in a "let's make the Bible relevant" sort of way. It  the eternal principles and truth from God's word and pressing them straight into the chest of the reader. It was like being preached to as I got the sermon together.


We Were Soldiers Once, and Young - Wow. This book, by Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway, gives you an eyewitness account of the early days of the Vietnam War in the Ia Drang Valley. I walked away with a fresh horror at war, and admiration for those who, whether by volunteering or being drafted, have been called by their country to put their lives on the line. 


Worth a mention:

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America by Crawford Gribben (this would certainly be in the top 10 if I were done with it...next year)

Prayer by John Onwuchekwa 

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity by Carlo Cipolla

Inferno, Dante

Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray

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