I read a goodly number of books in 2020. In 2021, I put a slew of book selections on a “To Read This Year” Shelf, and have read a number of them, but most did not get cracked open. I wasn’t quite as prolific in 2021. For one thing, I ended up reading large portions of other books not on my list in research for my writing, and this took up some of that reading time.
Once again, I’ll clear the shelf and start over. Some titles from last year will rejoin the shelf in 2022. Others will be pushed aside and replaced by new tomes that have caught my fancy.
I tend to favor books of a certain kind, particularly theological and biblical studies. Because I want to have a variety of intellectual input, I am identifying several kinds of books that I want to read. Please note that these make up the material I read for personal instruction and development, not pleasure reading. I also do a fair amount of reading for the fun of it, and I’m not as picky on that score.
So, here goes with some of the kinds of books I want to be sure to read in 2022.
1. Some old books
There is a richness, particularly in Christian literature, in the elder works that you don’t find today. Consequently, I have picked up Volume VI of The Works of John Owen, and I intend to power through his work, On the Mortification of Sin. The full title is ever much the slog that the text promises to be: Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers; the Necessity, Nature, and Means of It: with a Resolution of Sundry Cases of Conscience Thereunto Belonging. Thankfully, the text is not overly long. However, despite its anachronistic verbiage for today’s ears, several quotes I have read from Owen are so insightful, so deep that I am sure to benefit from the effort.
2. Some new works
God is continually blessing his Church with great writers and great writings. I have picked up a brand-new title from Paul David Tripp called Do You Believe? 12 Historic Doctrines to Change Your Everyday Life. I’m always on the lookout for those works that make systematic theology accessible to the average Christian reader. And Tripp is one of the better authors I’ve read recently. At a first glance, this doctrinal survey appears to be both instructive and pastoral, as I would expect from Tripp.
3. Something borrowed, something blue…(just kidding).
3. (for real) Some books I may not agree with
Back in the 70s when I was studying in Bible college, and then in the 80s, there arose an evangelical conflict over the idea of “Lordship Salvation.” This controversy was codified in the writings of Charles Ryrie and John MacArthur, standing on opposite sides of the question of what constitutes true faith in Christ. At the earliest time of this, I recall being somewhat put off by the incongruous idea that I could somehow “believe” Christ for eternal salvation and yet even be in open rebellion to him and still be saved, as one person claimed to me. Maybe that was a caricature. And as I further studied, I came to the same conclusions as many in a more Reformed camp, that the faith that saves alone is not alone, but is accompanied by works. To others, this is akin to being saved by works.
In response to this, I have picked up a book that holds to what is now called the Free Grace position – Back to Faith: Reclaiming Gospel Clarity in an Age of Incongruence by Fred R. Lybrand. At first glance, it appears to be an attempt at a well-reasoned argument. If I’m going to read something I might not agree with, I don’t want a mere polemic that creates strawman arguments to shoot down; I want something that takes my side seriously. This book appears to do that. It is my hope that by reading a different point of view, I will come to better understand the other side, detect blind spots in my own thoughts, and be equipped to answer objections to my theology. I don’t really expect to be convinced to abandon a theology honed and developed over the course of my life, but with God, you never know.
4. A biography
Two years ago, I read a fine biography on Martin Lloyd-Jones by Steven Lawson. It especially focused on his preaching, and it really helped me solidify some thoughts on the pulpit and those times when I have the chance to preach. This year, from the same series, I am going to read The Affectionate Theology of Richard Sibbes by Mark Dever. Sibbes was a Puritan pastor, and I hope to glean from his example some pastoral skills that will be relevant in this divided time. Biographies are of great encouragement in the Christian life. Just peruse Hebrews 11 to see the power of biography.
5. A call to action
As I said, we live in divided times. Even withing the local church, there are differing opinions on civic matters. As a church elder, I sometimes feel paralyzed to speak, for I know that while the message of the gospel transcends political and social lines, some of the implications of the gospel are divisive even within my congregation. Consequently, I have picked up the book, Compassion & Conviction: The AND CAMPAIGN’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement. I am hoping that it helps shape my voice and action.
There will be plenty of other books on the “To Read This Year” Shelf. But each of these categories is a little bit out of my comfort zone for various reasons. I’m looking forward to the enrichment.