Reading during a pandemic? For some, with increased pressures at home and at work and perhaps even facing sickness and the death of others, it seems fanciful. For others, reading has been a lifeline. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, at the end of 2020 it’s good to take stock of the year’s Christian titles and select the most helpful, edifying, and truth-filled books.
If we need reminding of why we read—and teach, and build, and garden, and go on about our lives—during these uncertain times, then C. S. Lewis’s sermon “None Other Gods: Culture in War-Time” (later published as “Learning in War-Time”) can help. Lewis posed the question about whether it’s worth pursuing academic study during a war. For Lewis, war wasn’t a new thing, since it “creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice.” Whether it’s living through global war or pandemic, Lewis’s address reminds us that ventures like reading aren’t only permissible but good. Our labors in the Lord—including time invested in reading—aren’t in vain (cf. 1 Cor. 15:58).
Each year our editors, along with dozens of key contributors, review the nominations from Christian publishers using the following fourfold criteria:
- offers gospel-centered argument and application;
- includes faithful and foundational use of Scripture, both Old Testament and New Testament;
- fosters spiritual discernment of contemporary trials and trends; and
- encourages efforts to unite and renew the church.
We have so much to thank God for as we look back over the past year. Make sure to pick up a book or two from the list below—take advantage of steep discounts from our online bookstore on all of these titles. And as you prepare for 2021, subscribe to TGC’s monthly books newsletter to receive book recommendations, reviews, links for the reading life, and more.
Congratulations to the winners of our The Gospel Coalition 2020 Book Awards.
Public Theology & Current Events
Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Crossway)
Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is perhaps the most significant analysis and evaluation of Western culture written by an evangelical during the past 50 years. Any Christian who wants to understand the social, cultural, and political convulsions that the West in general, and the United States in particular, are now experiencing should read this book. Trueman’s work is undergirded by a sound biblical, historical, and systematic theology, conversant with many of the most important primary texts and works of cultural commentary, and written in a lucid and readable style. It’s a tour de force of intellectual history that will serve the church well for generations to come.
Judges: Joe Carter, Bruce Ashford, Jacqueline Isaacs, Vermon Pierre
- Russell Moore, The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear without Losing Your Soul (B&H)
- Rachel Gilson, Born Again This Way: Coming Out, Coming to Faith, and What Comes Next (The Good Book Co.)
Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (Crossway)
“Classic” isn’t a word that should be trotted out lightly. Indeed, only future generations can determine what’s worthy of the name. But it’ll be surprising if Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers isn’t still being read and relished in 100 years. It is that unique. Over the course of 23 short chapters, Ortlund models patient biblical reflection and channels the best Puritan thought in this searching and multifaceted study of Jesus’s heart. Ortlund wrote the book for “the discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty. Those running on fumes.” In other words, for ordinary believers—especially, it turns out, those living in a year like 2020. If you’re looking for a book of devotional theology that will invigorate your drowsy heart with the wonder of God’s love, it’s hard to imagine a better one.
Judges: Matt Smethurst, Rebecca McLaughlin, John Onwuchekwa, Juan Sanchez
- Esau McCaulley, Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope (InterVarsity Press)
- Jared Wilson, The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies about God that Sound Like the Truth (Thomas Nelson)
L. Michael Morales, Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption (IVP Academic)
In this extraordinary book, Morales examines the redemptive-historical theme of exodus, a pattern with deep theological roots in Scripture that finds its apex in the resurrection of Jesus. This biblical theology shows how the redeemed of God enjoy liberation from the bitter bondage of sin. Morales demonstrates how the Old Testament is illumined by the light of Jesus’s suffering and glory, an illumination that in turn offers deeper insight into the New Testament’s portrait of salvation. Thus, the blood of the Passover lamb, the Lord’s defeat of Pharaoh, and the crossing of the Red Sea are among the events that shed light on the significance of God’s new creation. This volume is a pleasure to read. Every sentence is a victory, every paragraph a triumph, as Morales not only imparts theology but also inspires worship of the God who delivers his people.
Judges: Chris Castaldo, Justin Dillehay, Ernest Gray, Blair Smith
- Gregg Allison and Andreas Köstenberger, The Holy Spirit, Theology for the People of God (B&H Academic)
- Mitch Chase, 40 Questions About Typology and Allegory (Kregel)
Paul David Tripp, Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church (Crossway)
Because pastoring has never been more fraught with difficulty, evangelical churches are facing a leadership crisis. Pastors, both well-known and unknown, are leaving the ministry in droves. Some estimates put the numbers at more than half of all seminary graduates departing the pastorate—never to return—after three to five years. Paul Tripp has witnessed this decline from the front row as a pastor and counselor over the past several decades. Following his excellent book Dangerous Calling, Tripp may now have written his most important manifesto for pastors, Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church. What does a pastor need to survive? Basic but irreducible fundamentals such as humility, dependency, and accountability. Here is a vital survival guide for any pastor in any church.
Judges: Jeff Robinson, Jason Cook, Phil Newton, Mike Bullmore
- Joel Beeke and Nick Thompson, Pastors and Their Critics: A Guide to Coping with Criticism in the Ministry (P&R)
- Eric Redmond, ed., Say It!: Celebrating Expository Preaching in the African American Tradition (Moody)
Evangelism & Apologetics (tie)
Rebecca Manley Pippert, Stay Salt: The World Has Changed: Our Message Must Not (The Good Book Co.)
Trevin Wax, Rethink Your Self: The Power of Looking Up Before Looking In (B&H)
Trevin Wax and Rebecca Pippert are thinking and writing about critical issues confounding the Western church’s witness: individualism eating up the gospel (Wax) and a crisis of confidence in sharing the gospel (Pippert).
In Stay Salt, Pippert follows up on her classic evangelism primer Out of the Saltshaker (1979). But this new book is more than a redux of old themes. Cultural climate change has left many Christians timid to share their faith. Even when they feel deep empathy for non-Christian friends, would-be evangelists imagine a barrage of questions and objections they’re unprepared to answer. Pippert cuts through this by first emphasizing the role of the Holy Spirit, debunking the notion that one has to be “good at evangelism.” She convincingly argues that as we trust the Spirit and listen to him, we can have the courage as well as the capacity to share the gospel. She then focuses on the message itself, showing how the gospel can be surprisingly attractive to secular people. All of this is punctuated by moving conversations with nonbelievers where the author doesn’t make herself out as especially competent but shows that the gospel is.
Trevin Wax steps further back and examines one dominant theme in the modern zeitgeist that is obscuring the gospel: how we construct a sense of self. In Rethink Your Self, he observes that 91 percent of Americans agree with the statement, “The best way to find yourself is by looking within yourself.” In common discourse this shows up in all kinds of pop proverbs—“follow your heart,” “you are enough,” “you do you,” “be true to yourself.” Jesus’s teaching, however, can’t be squeezed into this container. In fact, his call to repent is a radical challenge to it. Wax unpacks Jesus’s countercultural message in a voice that is provocative, smart, and inviting, showing that our new self in Christ is truer and better.
Judges: Hunter Beaumont, Jen Pollock Michel, Doug Logan, J. T. English
- Joshua Chatraw, Telling a Better Story: How to Talk About God in a Skeptical Age (Zondervan)
- Justin Bass, The Bedrock of Christianity: The Unalterable Facts of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection (Lexham)
History & Biography
James Eglinton, Bavinck: A Critical Biography (Baker Academic)
James Eglinton’s Bavinck: A Critical Biography reflects a combination of readability, rigorous scholarship, and really good timing. The study of Herman Bavinck, the Dutch author of Reformed Dogmatics, has enjoyed a recent renaissance as evangelical and Reformed theologians have sought modern successors to luminaries such as Calvin and Edwards. The Bavinck renaissance has put his works on many pastors’ bookshelves and seminary reading lists. Tim Keller simply calls Bavinck the “greatest Reformed theologian of the 20th century.” Eglinton’s biography comes at the right moment to catch the crest of the Bavinck wave, since Bavinck offers a model for faithful orthodoxy in our secular age. Eglinton reveals startling parallels to questions and tensions the larger church is facing now. If you want to understand the life and world of the man behind Reformed Dogmatics, this book is for you.
Judges: Thomas Kidd, Karen Swallow Prior, Geoff Chang, Michael McClymond
- Gina Dalfonzo, Dorothy and Jack: The Transforming Friendship of Dorothy L. Sayers and C. S. Lewis (Baker)
- Crawford Gribben, An Introduction to John Owen: A Christian Vision for Every Stage of Life (Crossway)
Wendy Alsup, Companions in Suffering: Comfort for Times of Loss and Loneliness (InterVarsity Press)
This book is perfectly timed to help suffering Christians love one another well. The past year unexpectedly plunged many of us into isolation and compounded our preexisting trials, but Alsup provides a beautiful picture of how to suffer in community, how to serve fellow sufferers, and how God meets us through the body of Christ. Vulnerably disclosing her own hard experiences, she not only sympathizes with our common experience of human suffering but also points us to authentic faith in Christ amid trouble. In the pages of this accessible book, Alsup draws on psychological best practices while grounding her counsel in a rich exploration of Scripture and an emphasis on the importance of the local church. It would be a beautiful book for any season, but 2020 has made it essential reading.
Judges: Megan Hill, Ameen Hudson, Courtney Reissig, Garrett Kell
- Matt Chandler and Adam Griffin, Family Discipleship: Leading Your Home through Time, Moments, and Milestones (Crossway)
- Kristen Wetherell, Fight Your Fears: Trusting God’s Character and Promises When You Are Afraid (Bethany)
Betsy Childs Howard, Arlo and the Great Big Cover-Up (Crossway)
Bob Hartman, The Prisoners, the Earthquake, and the Midnight Song (The Good Book Co.)
Arlo and the Great Big Cover-Up relates a familiar scenario to kids and parents alike: Arlo is tempted into disobedience while he’s supposed to be having quiet time in his room—and then he attempts to cover up his sin. Arlo’s mom leads the way in humble parenting: she confesses that she, too, longs to hide when she sins. Mother and son share honestly about how silly they both are to try to hide from God, who already knows everything. The illustration of cleaning something up instead of covering it up is a tidy metaphor for the gospel, one that children can readily grasp. The book’s illustrations are simple, bright, and engaging even as we’re reminded about the forgiveness found in Christ. This story-driven book will be one that kids will want to read again and again.
A strong argument can be made that at least half of the instructive value of a children’s picture book comes from the illustrations. The Prisoners, the Earthquake, and the Midnight Song recounts Paul and Silas’s gospel proclamation to the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:25–40). In this book for young children, we have perhaps one of the best visual summaries of the gospel: whenever someone in the story proclaims the gospel, we see a word bubble with three icons—a cross, a tomb, and dove—representing Jesus’s death, resurrection, and sending of the Holy Spirit. Near the end of the book readers see the same gospel in the mouths of all kinds of people in all kinds of settings. By this simple motif, children can see that the good news spreads by our words to the ends of the earth—and it invites children to participate in Paul and Silas’s evangelistic adventure.
Judges: Ivan Mesa, Ginger Blomberg, Tilly Dillehay, Kelly Keller
- Scott James, Where Is Wisdom?: A Treasure Hunt Through God’s Wondrous World, Inspired by Job 28 (B&H Kids)
- Melissa Kruger, Wherever You Go, I Want You to Know (The Good Book Co.)
Jay Kim, Analog Church: Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age (InterVarsity Press)
You might think the pandemic has rendered Jay Kim’s debut work obsolete. What good is a book extolling the virtues of face-to-face life in the church when our faces spread sickness and death? On the contrary, nothing could better show “why we need real people, places, and things in the digital age.” Many church leaders may wonder if they should embrace our digital future by moving more and more community online, even when “normal” returns. This Bay Area pastor’s timely work will help them understand why this move will not make the body of Christ healthier. We need each other, face to face, as soon as possible. Read and ponder this book proleptically—you can’t put it into practice now, but you’ll need it to convince church members to opt back in and renew the habits of body life we lost in 2020.
Judges: Collin Hansen, Eugene Park, Anna Harris, Jaquelle Ferris
- Irwyn Ince, The Beautiful Community: Unity, Diversity, and the Church at Its Best (InterVarsity Press)
- J. T. English, Deep Discipleship: How the Church Can Make Whole Disciples of Jesus (B&H)
Bible Study & Devotional Literature
Mary Wiley, Everyday Theology: What You Believe Matters (LifeWay)
Everyday Theology by Mary Wiley meets a fundamental need among Christians—both new believers and longtime disciples. Many want to understand what the Bible says about the most important truths, but often they’re intimidated and don’t know where or how to begin. Everyday Theology is both accessible and enjoyable, with a layout that appeals to a wide variety of learning styles, presenting opportunities to summarize, explain, draw, memorize and reflect. Wiley breaks down the key concepts of faith and presents them in bite-sized chunks so that a student at any level can understand both basic and complex ideas—truly savor the milk and the meat of the Word. This study winsomely presents difficult concepts in a helpful and inviting way, while faithfully pointing back to Scripture for the answer to every question. It’s an excellent discipleship resource for both personal and group studies!
Judges: Melissa Kruger, Amy Whitfield, Vanessa Hawkins, Amy Gannett