2020 Book Recommendations

Since this is the time of year for reflection and goal-setting, here are some of the books I read in 2020 that I recommend. I’ll write a short blurb and give some favorite quotes for most of them. I’d love to hear any book suggestions you have for 2021!

  • Living by the Book – Howard Hendricks
    • This book is great for an overview on different ways to read the best book of all time, The Bible. Hendricks has a great way of explaining complex ideas in a really understandable manner. He offers ten different strategies for “first-rate reading” of the Bible and offers examples in each chapter. He also goes over how to observe, interpret, and apply scripture in really straight-forward but refreshing ways. Hendricks’ love for scripture is really contagious as you read this book.
    • I learned about this book from the free online course offered by Dallas Theological Seminary. Hendricks teaches it via video and they give you different things to read each week, like this book.
  • Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free– F.F. Bruce
    • I was encouraged by my father-in-law to read this book and I’m really glad he told me about it. Bruce takes you through the life and journeys of the Apostle Paul in an incredibly detailed way. There are 38 chapters, which was great for me because they were short enough to treat the book like a devotional and read a chapter or so a day. 
    • Favorite quote: “According to Paul, the believer is not under law as a rule of life- unless one thinks of the law of love, and that is a completely different kind of law, fulfilled not by obedience to a code but by the outworking of an inward power” (192). 
  • The Mark of the Christian– Francis Schaeffer 
    • This is an old favorite, one I’ve read many times before. It is only 59 pages but it packs a huge punch. I actually talked about this book towards the end of my last blog, which you can read about here. This book would be my #1 recommendation. 
  • The Truth About Us – Brant Hansen 
    • We read this one together as a home church over the summer. Brant is super funny, relatable, and humble. In this book he talks about how we are all really bad, but if that leads us towards being authentic with God, then that’s actually really good news. He fights a lot against hypocrisy and self-righteousness, too. That hit home for me. 
    • I also have to mention, even though I know people will make fun of me for it, that this book is free to read or listen to on Hoopla.
  • Unleashed by Sam Stephens 
    • This book is written by Sam Stephens, who leads up India Gospel League, an organization of church planters in rural India. Our friend Heidi helped with the organizing/writing of this book and other friends are mentioned throughout. My wife Elli used to work for them and we both went to India to visit some of the churches, so naturally we were really excited to read this when it came out. Sam offers up some needed wisdom on how the church is growing overseas and what the American church can do to see that growth again. 
  • The Lord of the Rings
    • I finally finished reading all three books over winter break. I have tried multiple times before, because they are Elli’s favorites, so I’m glad I did it. Now I just need to read them about 100 more times to be on her level. It’s pretty wild how spot on the movies are in some regards, but also how many details are left out as well. It’s true what they say- the books are better. 
  • Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas
    • This is a great biography on Martin Luther. It is long but really worth reading. Luther was, on top of being an incredible force for salvation by grace, really hilarious. 
  • The Plague by Albert Camus
    • I read this in the beginning of the pandemic around March or April. It is really wild how Camus, who tells the story of a town in French Algeria going through a plague in the 1940’s, pretty much hits the nail on the head with how people view pandemics and strange seasons. I’m not a Camus expert, and I don’t agree with a lot of his thoughts on human nature, but he did a great job with this story. I want to check out some more of his writings again. He definitely makes you think about important questions in life, whether or not you agree with his conclusions. 
    • Favorite quotes. 
      • “The fact that the graph after its long rising curve had flattened out seemed to many, Dr. Richard for example, reassuring. ‘The graph’s good today,’ he would remark, rubbing his hands. To his mind the disease had reached what he had called the high-water mark. Therefore it could not ebb.” Sound familiar? 
      • “Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world, yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history, yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.”
      • “I can understand this sort of fervor and find it not displeasing. At the beginning of a pestilence and when it ends, there’s always a propensity for rhetoric. In the first case, habits have not yet been lost; in the second, they’re returning. It is in the thick of a calamity that one gets hardened to the truth — in other words, to silence.”
  • On Marriage/Birth/Death series by Tim Keller
    • These are nice and short little reads on what the Bible has to say about three big stages of life: Birth, marriage, and death. Keller argues that people are most likely to have spiritual conversations around these times. These books were pretty good but I wish they had some more meat to them. 
  • Men of Courage- Larry Crabb
    • This book is all about being a spiritual man and would be good material for discipleship. I read it in the beginning of 2020 and can’t find my copy to give many specific details, but it was worth reading. Some parts can be skimmed. 
  • A couple books about raising kids 
    • How to Really Love Your Child by Ross Cambell 
    • Christian Parenting by Dennis McCallum
  • Here are some other books I read and taught this year for work that are great & worth a look.
    • Dreamland by Sam Quinones 
      • In this recent book (2015), Quinones writes about the opioid epidemic that our country has been quietly dealing with. He does a great job of taking readers through all sorts of different places to show how opioids have been affecting America, and specifically the “heartland” of America. Stories from Ohio are mentioned many times, sadly enough. My dad’s friend, who lost his son to heroin, has a large section of a chapter devoted to their story. It’s an eye-opening read. 
    • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
    • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
      • In case you haven’t read one or more of them, all three of the above books are great classics.
    • Fences by August Wilson
      • This is a play set in Pittsburgh that hits on all sorts of important topics, among them being race, fatherhood, marriage, and pursuing dreams. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis perform this play in their 2016 film, which is really well done and a word-for-word depiction of the original play. 
    • Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance
      • This book came out in 2016 and depicts what life was like for Vance growing up split between Kentucky and Ohio. It was also made into a movie on Netflix this year, which was reviewed pretty poorly but I thought it was actually a decent movie.  

Thanks for taking the time to read through this. I hope it at least helps one person find a good book to read this coming year. Please feel free to give any book recommendations in the comments! 

See you next year… 

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