Top Books I Read in 2021
I am a reader. I am constantly reading at least two books at a time. My reading pattern looks like this:
Reading a nonfiction book during the early evening, after supper, with a cup of coffee. The coffee is enjoyable as much as it is a “prop” to put me into reading mode. The nonfiction is normally something Christian and/or helpful/equipping for me.
Reading a fiction, history, or “fun” read later at night right before bed.
In 2020, I had a sabbatical and read voraciously – completing 58 books. This year, I’d set a goal (loosely) on Goodreads of reading 40 but only got through 35.
Here’s the pretty graphic from Goodreads, but keep scrolling for my top 10 books of 2021 and commentary about them:
Here’s my top
10 11 books I read (with 10 being the best):
Breaking the News by Alex Marlow
This was a fascinating and disturbing read by the Editor-in-Chief of Breitbart News. It’s both an expose and an astonishing documentation (the back of the book is chock-full of footnotes) of mainstream media’s bias, corruption and affiliation of the Democrat Party. You’ll be shocked as you learn how so much cross-pollination exists (people serving on boards of corporations/entities). My B.A. was in Communications, with a heavy emphasis on journalism, so it was a depressing survey of the state of what passes as “journalism” today.
Faultlines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe by Voddie T. Baucham Jr.
One of my goals this year was to read more about the social justice movement and learn about its history and how it relates (or rather doesn’t) to the biblical teachings on justice. Baucham’s book (and Harris and Robles books – see below – were excellent and helpful). They don’t shy from naming leaders in modern evangelicalism who were quick to embrace hashtag movements without deeper consideration of scriptural truths. Only time will tell whether they did this to appease or appeal to cultural forces.
The Heir by Paul Robertson
Paul is a friend and member of our church. I was stunned last year to finally “discover” his books and also to truly enjoy them. He is a great writer! The Heir is a Grisham-esque thriller/mystery/morality tale that I could not put down and hated to finish.
Receive by Natasha Caravati
The remarkable thing about this book is how extremely helpful it is while being so short. I think its readability is such that it will be a gift and blessing to a LOT of people who need to grasp how the content of their thoughts dramatically impact – for better and worse – the experience of their lives. Caravati does a wonderful job of blessing the reader with brevity while also bestowing biblical perspectives on the ten most common unhelpful thinking styles. Her writing style is clear and her vulnerability throughout adds to the exceptional content. Truly, this is a gem of a book and will be helpful to many.
Social Justice Goes to Church: The New Left in Modern American Evangelicalism by Jon Harris
A very, very good historical overview of progressive/liberal Christianity that is dispassionate and rather objective. He does a great job identifying the core values of the movement (social justice, feminism, sexual identity and gender issues).It’s interesting to realize that the progressive leaders since the 1960s have been more embracing of political involvement and clout than traditional evangelicals.Highly recommend for a solid grasp on where we are today in American Christianity and why so many contemporary evangelical leaders seem to be parroting ideas of the 1960s/1970s New Left leaders.
How Your Church Family Works: Understanding Congregations as Emotional Systems by Peter L. Steinke
I saw this book recommended for a PhD program on Organizational Leadership at a seminary, and I ordered it along with a few other books that were recommended for the program. It was eye-opening and deeply helpful. It gives practical insights into how churches function and how leaders of churches can encourage and serve their congregations in healthy ways.
The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher
This was a very challenging read. I really enjoyed Dreher‘s book “Live Not by Lies.” When I picked this up, I was ready for his prophetic insight. I am not convinced yet that Christians need to retreat and abdicate cultural ground in the areas of academia, politics and the media. We’ve done that at least twice historically with the result of those vocations being a theological wasteland. However, his book is a much needed thought-stirrer to approaching culture in these days of post-Christendom in the west.
Politics According to the Bible by Wayne Grudem
I had no idea this book would become such a compelling read. It’s BIG but I highly recommend it for all Christians. When people say they “don’t like politics,” they don’t realize how naive that statement reveals them to be.
Our grasp of the multiple issues necessary for human flourishing, government, peace and development of society IS politics. To hate “politics” is to hate humanity. You can’t have one without the other. Having no government is not n option, especially since scripture clearly teaches that God established governments, laws and that they have foundational role in all of human society.
Grudem clearly communicates and distinctive biblical vision and perspective on issues as wide ranging as the economy, foreign affairs, war, racism, economic principles and justice.
This book will make you uncomfortable as you realize your uninvolvement or apathy has significantly contributed to the current mess of culture we find ourselves in. It will also remind you of our biblical hope in King Jesus who is above all earthly authority and through whom we can influence our current political leaders and policies.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Wow. This was a fantastic book. It was the longest book (818 pages) I read this year, but it was endlessly informative. I took great comfort from learning about the contentious 1800 election between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Could it be that the role of the press in those days was even more polarizing and aggravating than today’s? I walked away with a broader perspective of today’s partisan politics and deeply appreciated the crazy amount of research that Chernow invested. He is definitely a Hamilton fan. It’s difficult to like Thomas Jefferson after reading this book. I read John Adams by David McCollough in 2019, and this book offered more insights into just how much of an unlikeable character Adams was.
Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents by Rod Dreher
My goodness, I had no idea what to expect. The gravity of this book coincides with the tumult of our times. It was the most influential book I read this year, and I can’t think of a more timely and urgently needed book to digest and then to recommend to others. It is what I would call “tribulation training” for our soft, comfort-addicted, risk-averse and safety-worshiping western church. May we take up our crosses and drink deeply of the abundant life of joyful abandon that our Messiah Jesus calls us to. The reward of His fellowship is uncomprehendingly wonderful.
Your God Is Too Safe by Mark Buchanan (ok, I had 11 top books! It tied with Dreher’s)
I recommend this to every Christian or spiritual seeker who is weary of their spirituality and wary of those who offer only a stale religiosity. I read/reviewed The Rest of God last year, and I loved Buchanan’s writing style. It’s not just a great book. It’s a deeply enjoyable read. It will encourage and inspire you.
Why Social Justice Is Not Biblical Justice: An Urgent Appeal to Fellow Christians in a Time of Social Crisis by Scott David Allen
A much needed, urgent read for Christians and their leaders in this full-court-press of a cultural overtime. Understanding biblical justice and speaking with humble boldness against the false narrative of ideological social justice is nonnegotiable for 21st believers.
Rejoice and Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord by Michael Reeves
It was good! Not the best Reeves’ book I’ve read, but still very good. His focus on unpacking the joy of fearing God was beautifully helpful. While seeming contradictory, he was consistent in showing the scriptural teaching that those who fear God most are those who are most aware of God’s love and as a result love God with holy, wonderful fear. If you haven’t read a book by Reeves, I would urge you to read Rejoicing in Christ.
Dark in the City of Light by Paul Robertson
Another great book by Paul! Set in the 1870s and centered around the Franco-Prussian War, its characters were deep and truly fascinating.
Social Justice Pharisees: Woke Church Tactics and How to Engage Them by A.D. Robles
I actually connected with Robles on Gab, and after following him, saw he’d published this book last year.This is a very direct, often “harsh” book. He named names and calls out our popular evangelical “heroes” for their abdication of scriptural teaching to cultural forces. I wasn’t comfortable many times throughout the book as he dealt with Matt Chandler, David Platt and many SBC leaders.And yet, Robles’ scriptural interpretation and points are convincing. It was not until page 154 when he offered some self reflection, “I used to be way less hardcore.” He explained why that shifted in October 2019. I wish he’d begun the book with this insight so that we could grasp more of his perspective and journey.I’m afraid some who need to read this won’t because they are more concerned about their heroes being called out than the points the author is making.All the same, read it. It’s a powerful contribution to waking up the woke church.
Here are some series that I read:
What Darkness Brings by C.S. Harris (#8 in the Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series) I’ve been devouring these and love how they’re set in 19th century England.
The Fix by David Baldacci (#3 in Amos Decker series) I didn’t know it was a series, but I’ll definitely be reading more!
The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell (#1 in The Saxon Stories) I love Cornwell’s writing. I’ll be reading more of this series!
The City of Ember (#1) and The City of Sparks (#2) by Jeanne DuPrau. Entertaining and also interesting dystopian books about the future and humanity’s return to the surface after years of living underground.
Books I Stopped Reading:
Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen. I have heard so much about this book over the years. The title of it speaks volumes and deep truths. God always seems to use healers who themselves have been wounded (especially Jesus). However, this book was a colossal disappointment. I can’t recommend it at all.
Mysteries of the Middle Ages by Thomas CahillI’ve really enjoyed Cahill’s other books, but this one… was hard to finish and easy to put down. In spite of his wonderful writing, the book just fell flat with me. It was far more anecdotal and subjective than any of the other books in this series.His cloaked sniping at the Christian church throughout and his evident arrogance/ignorance of the true content and meaning of the gospel wore me out. For someone so intelligent, this book was not “learned” but more snarky and opinionated.One sober and powerful chapter was his postlude “Love in the Ruins” in which he took the historic and current Catholic Church to task for its corruption and enablement of sexual sins and perversions in its clerics. It was a jolting but needful and brief expose of why the Catholic Church has lost its saltiness in the world and a somber warning to Protestants to live in humility and intimacy with Jesus.
The Mystery of Christ, His Covenant, and His Kingdom by Samuel Renihan. I gave up. Plodding and tedious. I just couldn’t force myself through it.