Books I Read in 2020

As many of you know, I love reading. So each year, I commit to reading as much and as widely as possible and (as a means of remembering everything I’ve read and holding myself accountable to my reading goals) I track the books I’ve read each year. (Click here to see what I read in 2019)

Now, a couple of notes before my list. First, I read a fair amount of churchworld and theology, so don’t read this as a “what you should read” list. Second, I continue to push myself to read more fiction, so those works are separated from non-fiction in my reckoning.

Third, please note a couple of special markers. My favorite books (and the one’s I recommend you consider reading) are marked with an asterisk and hyperlinked. Additionally, the books I’d read prior to this year but re-read are marked with a [re-read] notation.

Finally, my goal the past several years has been to read 150 books (~3/week). There were moments this year when I was not sure that was going to be possible (I worked more hours in 2020 than in 2019, at least in part due to COVID). However, I’m pleased to say that this year’s list of books read includes 170 titles completed.

So, without further ado, what I read in 2020 (presented in chronological order of reading):

Non-Fiction

  • Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl
  • The Name of God is Mercy, Pope Francis
  • Crazy Busy, DeYoung*
  • Talking to Strangers, Gladwell*
  • How to Lead in a World of Distraction, Scroggins*
  • The Rise of Rome, Everitt
  • The Parables of Jesus, Jeremias
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Kondo
  • Short Stories by Jesus, Levine
  • Something Needs to Change, Platt
  • The Benedict Option, Dreher*
  • Hope in the Dark, Groeschel
  • The Point of It All, Krauthammer
  • The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Maxwell
  • Unfreedom of the Press, Levin
  • Color Outside the Lines, Hendricks
  • The Case for Jesus, Pitre*
  • The Infinite Game, Sinek
  • Cur Deus Homo, Anselm [re-read]
  • The Secret Lives of Color, St. Clair*
  • Preaching Parables to Postmoderns, Stiller
  • Our Father, Pope Francis
  • Who Was Jesus?, Morgan
  • Fifty Great American Places, Glass
  • Almost Everything: Notes on Hope, Lamott
  • The Joy of Discipleship, Pope Francis
  • The Parables of Jesus, Schottroff [re-read]
  • Speaking Parables, Buttrick
  • Preaching the Parables, Blomberg
  • A Diary of Private Prayer, Baillie [re-read]
  • The Devil in the White City, Larson*
  • The Right Side of History, Shapiro
  • Divine Direction, Groeschel
  • The Big Short, Lewis
  • You Are Not Special, McCullough Jr.*
  • Love Does, Goff
  • I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Channing Brown
  • Everything Happens for a Reason an Other Lies I’ve Lived, Bowler*
  • Purple Cow, Godin
  • The Liturgy of the Ordinary, Warren *
  • Erasing Hell, Chan and Sprinkle
  • How to Hide an Empire, Immerwahr*
  • K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches, Kepner
  • Parables for Preachers: Year A, Reid [re-read]
  • Out of the Treasure: The Parables in the Gospel of Matthew, Lambrecht [re-read]
  • Failing Forward, Maxwell
  • Sitting at the Feed of Rabbi Jesus, Spangler and Tverberg
  • Planting: Principles for Starting New Churches, Bustle and Crocker
  • Follow Me, Platt
  • The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, Maxwell
  • Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us, Sprinkle*
  • Liar’s Poker, Lewis
  • Death on a Friday Afternoon, Neuhaus
  • Rooting for Rivals, Greer and Horst*
  • The Explicit Gospel, Chandler and Wilson
  • The Road to Character, Brooks
  • The 5 Levels of Leadership, Maxwell
  • Passion: The Bright Light of Glory, Giglio et al
  • Range, Epstein
  • The Bomb, Kaplan
  • 360 Degree Reading, Esler
  • The Oxford Handbook of Prayer, ed. Appleton
  • Boundaries: Updated and Expanded, Cloud and Townsend
  • The Clash of Civilizations, Huntington
  • Streams of Living Water, Foster
  • The Externally Focused Church, Rusaw and Swanson
  • Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times, Steinke
  • Euthyphro, Plato [re-read]
  • Apology, Plato
  • Seven Lessons for Leading in Crisis, George
  • Crito, Plato
  • Phaedo, Plato
  • Leading Change, Kotter [re-read]
  • The Twelve Caesars, Suetonius
  • 40 Days Living the Jesus Creed, McKnight
  • The Apostles’ Creed: Together We Believe, Chandler
  • The Creed, Bauman [re-read]
  • Finding the Right Hills to Die On, Ortlund*
  • Surprised by Scripture, Wright*
  • Call Sign Chaos, Mattis
  • A Little Book for New Preachers, Kim
  • The Lean Startup, Ries
  • Friendship, Denworth
  • The Lost Art of Scripture, Armstrong
  • To Be a Christian, Approved Edition*
  • Dark Agenda, Horowitz
  • The MVP Machine, Lindbergh
  • 1, 2, 3 John (NAC), Akin
  • Old Testament Legends, James
  • The Great Bridge, McCulloch
  • A Brief History of Time, Hawking
  • United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity, Newbell
  • 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus For Everyone, Wright
  • The First One Hundred Years of Christianity, Schnelle
  • Educated, Westover*
  • The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass
  • Waco: A Survivor Story, Thibodeau
  • The Splendid and the Vile, Larson*
  • Inspired, Held Evans
  • The Next Evangelism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity, Rah
  • Canoeing the Mountains, Bolsinger*
  • Jesus among Other Gods, Zacharias
  • The History Buff’s Guide to the Presidents, Flagel
  • Until Every Child Is Home, Chipman
  • You’ll Get Through This, Lucado
  • The Church of Mercy, Pope Francis
  • Gospel Allegiance, Bates*
  • Crossing the Ling: Culture, Race, and Kingdom, Burns
  • Just Mercy, Stevenson*
  • God is Not Great, Hitchens
  • The Drama of Scripture, Bartholomew and Goheen [re-read]*
  • Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Tippett
  • The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, Comer*
  • The Screwtape Letters, Lewis [re-read]*
  • Compassion and Conviction, Giboney, Wear, and Butler*
  • Genesis: A Translation and Commentary, Alter
  • Happiness in This Life, Pope Francis
  • Genesis 1-15 (WBC), Wenham
  • The Shame and the Sacrifice: The Life and Martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Robertson
  • The Soul of Science, Pearcey and Thaxton
  • An Unconventional God, Levison
  • Raising White Kids, Harvey
  • Boundaries for Leaders, Cloud
  • Recreatable, Scott [re-read]
  • Survive or Thrive, Dodd
  • The New Testament: A Translation, Hart
  • 3000 Questions about Me, Piccadilly
  • The Need for Creeds Today, Fesko
  • God Wins, Galli
  • Isaiah: Life Change, NavPress
  • Boomerang: The Power of Effective Guest Follow Up, Smith and Hofmeyer
  • Isaiah (TOTC), Motyer [re-read]
  • The Book of Isaiah, Young
  • Isaiah: NIVAC, Oswalt [re-read]
  • The History of the Ancient World, Wise Bauer
  • Letters to a Young Pastor, Peterson and Peterson*
  • Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends, VanHoozer
  • The Maxwell Daily Reader, Maxwell
  • The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Butterfield*
  • The Forgotten God, Chan

Fiction

  • Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck
  • Dave Berry’s Greatest Hits, Barry
  • Thrawn: Alliance, Zahn
  • Lost Stars, Gray
  • Beowulf, trans. Gummere
  • Thrawn: Treason, Zahn
  • New Dawn, Miller
  • Tarkin, Luceno
  • Remembering, Berry*
  • Lords of the Sith, Kemp
  • Star Wars: Aftermath, Wendig
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Rowling [re-read]
  • Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, Rice
  • World War Z, Brooks
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Rowling [re-read]
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Rowling [re-read]
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Rowling [re-read]
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Rowling [re-read]
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Rowling [re-read]
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling [re-read]
  • The End of October, Wright
  • The Magician’s Nephew, Lewis [re-read]
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lewis [re-read]
  • Prince Caspian, Lewis [re-read]
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lewis [re-read]
  • The Horse and His Boy, Lewis [re-read]
  • The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Collins
  • The Silver Chair, Lewis [re-read]
  • The Last Battle, Lewis [re-read]
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: A Clash of Kings, Martin
  • Till We Have Faces, Lewis

Acts of Baptism

This post originally appeared at Conciliar Post.

As anyone even somewhat familiar with Christianity knows, various Christian denominations have different, specific approaches to baptism—that all important rite involving water and the Holy Spirit.

Depending on its theological commitments, a church may expect the person being baptized to be an adult (or, at least old enough to make a conscious decision to be baptized), to be fully immersed in water (rather than sprinkled or poured upon), to be triple immersed (rather than once), to have undergone rigorous catechesis prior to baptism, to manifest miraculous spiritual gifts (before or after), or to fulfill any number of other practices. It really depends on the church. I once spoke to someone who seemed to believe that the only true way to be baptized was to be triple immersed while wearing a white gown in the cool running water of the river near their church.

In principle, Christians taking Jesus’ command to baptize seriously should be celebrated; in practice, however, our obsession with making sure that everyone is baptized our way—the right way—poses some problems.

Some Problems with Right Way Obsession

In the first place, there is the problem of rebaptism. Many people enter a new church having already been baptized. Or at least, under the impression that they were already baptized. That is, until someone convinces them their previous baptism was invalid and they should be baptized the right way. While there are probably some circumstances where a serious discussion about rebaptism may be permissible, making rebaptism commonplace seems to oppose the very unity that the Apostle Paul calls the Church to in Ephesians 4:1-6.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. [Emphasis added]

Second, a focus on making sure that everyone has been baptized the right way potentially corrupts what baptism is. Romans 6:1-4 closely identifies the effects of baptism with the salvific work of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Orthodox Christians of all denominations confess that salvation comes through this work of Jesus and is granted to humanity by God’s grace. To then turn around and assume, as certain denominations do, that baptism must be undertaken in a highly specific manner undercuts that message of grace. It’s like saying, “Yes, Jesus graciously offers you life, but only if you do the right (baptismal) works to get there.”

Finally, a focus on making sure everyone has been baptized the right way tends to be utterly confusing for congregants. This is particularly true for those who are new to faith, on the fringes of belief, or in the process of changing churches. In some contexts, the emphasis on being baptized the right way can even lead people to question their relationship with God—or to doubt someone else’s relationship with God. Beyond the differences in how different denominations baptize, such confusion can lead people to question the value of baptism itself.

Right Way versus Big Tent

Although nothing apart from the Second Coming is likely to get Christians on the same page when it comes to baptismal practice, I think there is an approach to baptism that is scriptural and can help cut through some of the problems fostered by a right way approach to baptism. I call this perspective the big tent approach to Christian baptism.

The big tent approach to baptism recognizes the internal diversity of baptismal practices recorded within scripture and recognizes as valid differing contemporary baptismal practices when they conform to the diversity of these scriptural models. This approach fits best in a big tent approach to Christianity more generally; but it is also tenable in ecclesiastical contexts that work with the diversity of contemporary Christian instruction and practice.1 Indeed, many denominations already practice this kind of big tent thinking when it comes to baptism.

Acts of Baptism

The book of Acts serves as the best example of the big tent approach. Luke records about ten distinct narratives of baptism in Acts2 and, although there are clear theological parameters governing these baptisms, no two are precisely alike. Consider that:

  • Some baptisms occur “in the name of Jesus Christ” (8.5-13; 10.44-48; 19.1-5), others appear to be “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (8.36-38), and still others are silent on the matter of “in whom” people are baptized.
  • At least one baptism narrative is preceded by repentance of sin (2.37-41), another seems to make confession of faith central (8.36-38), another baptismal narrative is preceded by speaking tongues (10.44-48), and still others focus on the importance of belief (8.5-13; 16.13-15; 16.27-34).
  • Some water baptisms precede the baptism of the Holy Spirit (19.1-5), other times the Holy Spirit is poured out before water (9.17-19; 10.44-48), and many times water baptism is not explicitly connected to the baptism of the Spirit.
  • Finally, some passages record individual baptisms (8.36-38) while others use household language (10.44-48; 16.13-15; 16.27-34; 18.5-8) that, if nothing else, set the stage for infant baptism.

Clearly Acts records significant diversity of baptismal practice in the early church. Why then are contemporary Christians so committed to picking-and-choosing a handful of these examples (or other New Testament references to baptism) and interpreting them as the right way to baptize? A big tent approach better reflects the diversity of practice within the New Testament itself—as well as Christ’s prayer for unity among His followers.

Conclusion

The New Testament consistently portrays baptism as an essential3 part of what it means to follow Jesus—as a matter of obedience to the command of Jesus (Matt. 28.18-20), as a sign of entrance into God’s new covenantal family (Gal. 3.27; Col. 2.12; 1 Cor. 12.13), and as a seemingly salvific act of God’s grace (1 Pet. 3.21; see also Mark 16.16). What the New Testament does not portray as essential is the precise method of baptism; to the contrary, a variety of specific practices seem to be affirmed. Accordingly, Christians should baptize new believers in a manner consistent with New Testament models and recognize as valid baptisms by other Christians that fit these big tent parameters.

God’s work through baptism is a gracious gift, one we should continue to celebrate, practice, and reflect upon. In the spirit of Christian unity, however, we should adopt a big tent approach to recognizing the validity of baptism at the hands of others. For scripture itself suggests that we make our acts of baptism a little less about us and a little more about the God who is at work in His people.


Notes

1 For instance, the increasingly common practice by many denominations to recognize the seminary degrees, communion practices, or theological perspectives of other denominations.

2 Depending on how you subdivide narratives.

3 Here, of course, we must draw the distinction between essential and required. If we take Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross seriously, then we cannot expect that no one who has not been baptized belongs to the family of God. Still, exceptional theology should not undermine normative theology. Accordingly, it’s appropriate to confirm the long-standing practice that every person who is able who follows Jesus should be baptized.

On Beginning

Everyone experiences new things. By nature of who we are and the world in which we live, no one lives a completely sedentary life. From new jobs to new cars, from getting married to buying a house, from having kids to moving across town, we all encounter newness.

While many new experiences are joyful occasions, not all are. Sometimes new things are sad, uncomfortable, or even depressing. A new job, for instance, could indicate a step forward in a person’s career; it could also represent a changing career field that is now fraught with uncertainty. Likewise, a woman who has been married for fifty years experiences many new things after the death of her husband, few of which will bring her any joy.

Even when an experience is new and exciting, it can be accompanied by feelings of anxiety and loss. My first semester of college, for example, was a wonderful time, full of adventure, excitement, and opportunity. But it was still difficult to transition from the comfortability of home and the routines of high school that I knew so well. Yet even in their discomfort, new things can stretch us, helping us grow and learn not only about them but also about ourselves. Continue reading

Orthodoxy and Relevance

Christians have long talked about life as a journey, whether as runners or pilgrims or travelers or something else. Journeys tend to involve forks in the road, decisions to make, and obstacles to overcome. Sometimes, the decisions of this journey are between light and darkness, holiness and sin, redemption and backsliding. In these instances, the follower of Christ is called to choose the path of faithfulness. Other times, however, the decisions we make along the way do not seem to be inherently good or bad—it’s not immediately clear whether one path is better than the other.

Such an image of journey has been on my mind lately as I’ve wrestled with what seems to be an increasingly common trope for contemporary Christians: the ongoing debate between orthodoxy and relevance.

Per Merriam-Webster, orthodoxy means “right belief, sound doctrine” and relevance means “the quality or state of being closely connected or appropriate.” Based on those definitions, you wouldn’t expect contemporary Christians to believe that orthodoxy and relevance are at odds with one another. But if you talk to many Christians, you’d be wrong. Let me explain. Continue reading

Recommended Readings: February 2

Happy weekend, dear readers. As I attempt to get back into the swing of posting more regularly, I’m going to revisit the practice of sharing some recommended online readings. Below are this week’s selections, though I hasten to note that they were not all published this week (or even this year). They are, however, articles that I’ve found interesting, informative, and intellectually stimulating; I hope you find them to suit you similarly. Enjoy! Continue reading