My Favorite Reads of 2021

My Favorite Reads of 2021
Photo by Aleksandra Sapozhnikova / Unsplash

My reading list looks a lot different this year. Only two of my ten titles were not connected to my reading in the Ph.D. program in biblical spirituality at Southern Seminary. I didn't have a chance to read a lot of the great new books that came out this year. I'll get to those after I graduate. Maybe.

About the books. My seminars and colloquia reading were eclectic and exciting. My doctoral reading covered the first eight centuries of Christian spirituality, Reformation and Puritan spirituality, eighteenth century spirituality, studies on preaching the New Testament, Christian mysticism, and deepened studies in the spiritual disciplines around the Bible and prayer. Here are the books, in no particular order.

Small Preaching: 25 Little Things You Can Do Now to Make You a Better Preacher by Jonathan Pennington

I love the premise of Pennington's book. Change doesn’t always come with big swings, new paradigms, and rethinking everything. Often, great growth can be found just by tweaking what’s already there, by paying attention to what you are already doing, a little step in the right direction can change everything. Pennington delivers.

The Rule of St. Benedict: An Introduction to the Contemplative Life

Benedict (5th–6th century) provides his rule—instruction or guides—for his fellow monastics. He covers humility, sleep schedules, work ethic, and time in study. You won’t agree with everything, I sure don't, but the concern for holiness, discipline, and devotion unto the Lord ought to resonate.

Sweet Communion: Trajectories of Spirituality from the Middle Ages through the Further Reformation by Arie de Reuver

This book shows how guys in the century following Luther and Calvin—who both died in the 1500s—interpreted the Song of Solomon as a book of sweet communion with the living Christ. I was so floored by this book that it made me retool the direction of my dissertation. More on that another day. I really enjoyed this book. Not always the most accessible read, but easily the most rewarding read for me in 2021.

Spirituality Old & New: Recovering Authentic Spiritual Life by Donald Bloesch

A great introduction to the framework of biblical spirituality, mysticism, and the prevailing spiritualities of our day. I found myself underlining a lot in this book. Easy to read, informative, tweetable.

The Cross Is Not Enough: Living as Witnesses to the Resurrection Paperback by Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson

Amen, amen, amen. If you are familiar with some of my writings, sermons, and conferences talks, I'm troubled that the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t get the airtime it deserves in our day. The point of this book is that without the resurrection of Christ, the cross of Christ means nothing, zero, zilch. I'm all for talking cross-centered and preaching the cross—it's essential! I hope we will talk about the empty tomb as much as we do the bloody cross. The cross and resurrection are two events of the same work—redemption. (I have a large research paper on the topic I'm hoping to have published, but in the meantime, here’s my article at Phoenix Seminary: Why Preaching the Cross is Not Enough.)

Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D. A. Carson

Carson takes readers through the prayers of the apostle Paul in the New Testament, teaching us how to pray and what to pray. It’s a great work of exegesis, pastoral application, and spiritual theology.

Luther’s Spirituality edited by Philip D. W. Krey & Peter D. S. Krey

Don’t get confused and think this book is someone giving an explanation of the German Reformer’s spirituality. This is a presentation of it, a demonstration of it. This book provides the parts of Luther, in his own words, that capture his view of the Christian life and the spiritual practices of reading the word, how to pray, etc.

Refuge of My Weary Soul: Selected Works of Anne Steele edited by Alex J. Webster

For my seminar on the spirituality of eighteenth-century evangelicalism, I read through all of Anne Steele’s (d. 1778) hymns, poems, and prose. I had never heard of her until this class. Her hymns are lovely. Steele was the preeminent female hymn-writer of her day, writing in the time of Isaac Watts, John Newton, and the Wesleys—and she held her own. Her hymns are Christ-focused, honest, biblical, and minister to Christians in the twenty-first century. I was stirred by reading Steele this semester.

A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson by Winn Collier

Peterson was a humble giant in the area of Christian spirituality. From paraphrasing the Bible, pastoring, and his prolific writing on the Christian life, Peterson is always interesting to read. And this authorized biography of Peterson was hard to put down.

The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin (2 Vol)

I’ve read bits and bobs of Calvin from time to time, but this year I finally read all of the Institutes, yes, both volumes. (Because a professor made us, and I’m glad he did.) Calvin is a prime example of spiritual theology. He is committed to doctrine and how it plays out in the Christian life. One of the longest sections in the Institutes is on prayer. I really enjoyed reading Calvin this year.

Honorable Mention:

Be Thou My Vision: A Liturgy for Daily Worship By Jonathan Gibson

A wonderful guide for personal or family devotions. Gibson provides readings from creeds and confessions, prayers from figures throughout church history, and readings from the Old Testament and New Testament. I'm really enjoying using this guide during my devotions.

Other Items for this Month

Talking at A29 Europe. I had a blast being a guest on the Acts 29 Europe Podcast. Come for the great accents of Steve and Dan, stay for the talk about assessment in Acts 29.

Writing at TGC. The Gospel Coalition asked me to contribute to their series on Philippians 4:8. I wrote on what it means to "think on whatever is excellent."

Think About Such Things: Whatever Is Excellent
Look for moral excellence around you and imitate it.

How could I not think about Wayne's World and Mr. Burns from the Simpsons?