“Have you read all these books?”
I often field this question from guests who see my library. I never know quite what to say. For me, to read is to live—I can’t imagine life apart from books. Books have shaped me in countless ways; take any book off my shelf and I can tell you the ways in which my thinking has been challenged, my imagination sparked, or my spiritual life revived. I’ve marked the passing of the years with books acquired and read, marked up and sticky-noted, cataloged and arranged. Serving as TGC’s book review editor for seven years only increased my love for books even as it multiplied the volumes on my shelf. At this point in my life, I’ve stopped apologizing for my ever-growing library and embraced what Umberto Eco calls the “antilibrary.” As Nassim Taleb explains,
The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means . . . allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books.
The antilibrary reminds us of all that we don’t know as we talk to the living and, in the words of W. H. Auden, break bread with the dead.
Each year our editors, along with dozens of outside judges, review nominations from publishers using four 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.
With so many titles published each year, it’s an exciting challenge for us at The Gospel Coalition to take stock of the best Christian books across 12 categories. We’ve changed things up a bit this year: we’ve done away with honorable mentions and instead added the “Award of Distinction” in addition to the winner for each category. Using this list as a tool kit, we encourage you to pick up a book or two (or 24!)—and take advantage of steep discounts from our online bookstore. Even if you’re like me, with an ever-growing pile of unread books, don’t be embarrassed. Embrace the antilibrary life.
Congratulations to the winners of TGC’s 2022 Book Awards!
Ivan Mesa, Editorial Director
Public Theology & Current Events
Christopher Watkin, Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense of Modern Life and Culture (Zondervan Academic)
Part biblical theology, part cultural exegesis, Biblical Critical Theory is a brilliant work that traces the biblical story and shows how it speaks to challenges posed by contemporary narratives. While many recent books have attempted something similar, Christopher Watkin’s book is often more approachable (it’s written for educated laypeople rather than academics) and doesn’t offer up reductive worldview systems—such as simple atheism or even Marxism—as the foil to his Christian cultural theory. Instead, Watkin provides his readers with a map of the various lines of thought that have shaped the late-modern world, shows where those lines intersect with the biblical narrative, and explains how God’s Word redirects them from sacrilege to his sacred order for life.
The book reads like a collection of engaging exegetical sermons delivered to a carnival crowd of late modernity, with each message offering an altar call to repent from some particular idolatry of the city of man and to join oneself to the city of God. In this we find what’s so “critical” in Watkin’s critical theory. The Bible always undermines the commitments, values, and social structures that inform how we inhabit the world, calling us to rebuild them in alignment with the ways of Christ. Biblical Critical Theory provides the guide we need to understand how our patterns of life are actually on the wrong track and how the Bible provides a needed course correction.
Award of Distinction
In Cultural Counterfeits, Jen Oshman tackles some of the most pressing issues of our day with gospel-centered truth, grace, and clarity. By rooting her discussion of these issues with a firm foundation in God’s Word, she aids us in critically thinking through five empty promises of our age. She boldly helps readers navigate the issues of cheap sex, abortion, body idolatry, LGBT+ issues, and marriage and motherhood. Oshman casts a beautiful vision for biblical womanhood and reveals how to honor God’s calling for women. The good news she points us to is that every woman—regardless of age or season of life—can love God, love her neighbor, and advance human flourishing.
Judges: Samuel Bierig, Joe Carter, Dennis Greeson, Chelsea Patterson Sobolik
Timothy Keller, Forgive: Why Should I and How Can I? (Viking)
In a cultural climate of division and cancellation, Tim Keller offers a path forward—the path of forgiveness. With characteristic insight, he gently dismantles our wrong conceptions of forgiveness in favor of a gospel-fueled approach that can bring personal restoration and communal transformation. He also addresses fears about whether forgiveness impedes the pursuit of justice—and whether forgiveness is even possible without true repentance.
Forgive brims with illustrations from pastoral ministry and pop culture, reminding us how deeply our world longs for the healing that only God’s costly forgiveness can provide. Stylistically, this is perhaps Keller’s most direct, hard-hitting book—and in an age when “everything is permitted but nothing is forgiven,” the stakes are indeed high. But believers and churches have a unique opportunity to shine as we reflect the heart of our Master, who died forgiving his enemies (Luke 23:34). Forgive belongs on the shelf of every Christian home so it can be referenced and applied for years to come.
Award of Distinction
Trevin Wax, The Thrill of Orthodoxy: Rediscovering the Adventure of Christian Faith (IVP)
With trenchant insight and memorable turns of phrase, Trevin Wax beckons us to cling to Scripture’s never-changing truths amid an ever-changing world. Instead of bowing to the spirit of the age, Christians humbly stand for truth. This book explains what’s at stake, both now and for eternity, not to scare but to sober. After all, we’re not the first generation of Christians to face vexing opposition from a surrounding culture—and even from professing believers. It’s never boring to stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and to exchange the straitjacket of heresy for the freedom of gospel grace. The Thrill of Orthodoxy will fire you up for all the right reasons.
Judges: Joshua Chatman, Clarissa Moll, Juan Sánchez, Matt Smethurst
R. B. Jamieson and Tyler R. Wittman, Biblical Reasoning: Christological and Trinitarian Rules for Exegesis (Baker Academic)
What’s the relationship between the Bible and theology? Should we understand dogma as the destination toward which exegetical work points us? Or is it a starting point, a launchpad from which the work of interpretation begins? To these questions, Robert (Bobby) Jamieson and Tyler Wittman respond, Why not have it both ways? In Biblical Reasoning, they give us a dogmatic tool kit “to enable better exegesis . . . [and] ultimately, to [help us] see God.”
The book delivers applicable principles and rules that will guide readers in personal and corporate Bible study. Unlike other works that can be categorized as theological interpretation of Scripture (TIS), this resource isn’t just theory; it’s also practical. It outlines clear categories and provides examples that connect the work of historical-grammatical exegesis to dogmatic reasoning. Moreover, it combines academic rigor with a heart of worship and will lead readers to marvel at God’s Word. It’s this quality that will give the book lasting influence.
Award of Distinction
James M. Hamilton Jr., Typology: Understanding the Bible’s Promise-Shaped Patterns (Zondervan Academic)
If we’re honest, sometimes reading the New Testament references to the Old Testament can feel a bit like overhearing some locals discussing whether Pizza by Alfredo or Alfredo’s Pizza Cafe serves the best hole-in-the-wall pizza in town. We understand the concept at a high level, but we don’t understand the layers of meaning baked into the discussion. James Hamilton’s Typology introduces Christians to the embedded persons and events of the Bible that culminate in Christ. Perhaps more critically, Hamilton provides a method to discern authorial intent through repetition, parallels, and thematic equivalency, helping modern readers see intended types and avoid invented types. Typology is a blessing for students of the Bible who want to engage the text with the richness of significance experienced only by the locals.
Judges: David Croteau, Donny Mathis II, Phil Thompson, Christine Thornton, Eric Tully
Michael J. Kruger, Bully Pulpit: Confronting the Problem of Spiritual Abuse in the Church (Zondervan Reflective)
Recent years have brought patterns of spiritual abuse in churches, denominations, and parachurch entities into the light. Michael Kruger’s Bully Pulpit confronts this widespread problem with the beauty and transforming power of the gospel. Like an expert medical doctor, Kruger carefully diagnoses the disease of spiritual abuse, defining lord-it-over leadership (Mark 10:42–43) and distinguishing it from other forms of abuse. He recognizes the wreckage spiritual abuse has caused in individual lives and churches, provides both subtle and overt scenarios for how we see this type of leadership play out, and gives churches devastated by abuse a ruthlessly biblical prescription for healing.
Kruger’s book is unique in that he roots his counsel in both the biblical text and church history, demonstrating how church fathers like Chrysostom and Gregory of Nazianzus confronted “heavy shepherding” in their days. Bully Pulpit is also eminently practical. Kruger ends on two encouraging notes, providing biblical frameworks for identifying gracious and humble shepherds and for creating church cultures that resist spiritual abuse altogether. He succeeds in creating a work that will be a change agent in our time and should live well beyond it.
Award of Distinction
David Mathis, Workers for Your Joy: The Call of Christ on Christian Leaders (Crossway)
In Workers for Your Joy, David Mathis demonstrates how the qualifications for eldership can be a way of bolstering pastoral perspective and cultivating joy in our churches. The book handles the biblical text with care, applies the gospel faithfully, and offers our cynical world a much-needed reminder of God’s beautiful design for leadership. In days when pastoring can be particularly discouraging, this book is a source of guidance and a healing balm. We hope it finds its way into the hands of many church leadership teams.
Judges: Matt Hodges, Jared Kennedy, Ronnie Martin, Jeff Robinson
Evangelism & Apologetics
Glen Scrivener, The Air We Breathe: How We All Came to Believe in Freedom, Kindness, Progress, and Equality (The Good Book Company)
Christianity in the West is falling on hard times. But the irony is that the church’s strongest opponents tend to weaponize Christian values to deconstruct its claims. In The Air We Breathe, Glen Scrivener shows how values inherited from Christianity often are embedded and assumed within Western culture.
After all, why do we esteem freedom, kindness, and equality? Turns out it’s because of Christ. The Jesus revolution shaped the West so pervasively that it’s simply the air we breathe. In other words, the oxygen fueling religious doubt and suspicion in our day is in some way the by-product of the Christian ecosystem of the last two millennia in the West. A commitment to science, progress, and enlightenment hasn’t been the consensus of history across cultures. These values uniquely flourish within a Christian worldview. So, in The Air We Breathe, Scrivener asks if the cultural goods of our society might still lead us to the source of all that’s good. His book is pithy and a pleasure to read, and it helps us read the times by pointing to Christ.
Award of Distinction
A. S. Ibrahim, Reaching Your Muslim Neighbor with the Gospel (Crossway)
This book straightforwardly seeks to help Christians reach Muslims with the gospel. With nearly 2 billion Muslims worldwide, including an increasing number in the West, it’s vital we’re prepared to evangelize our Muslim friends, neighbors, and coworkers. The first half of the book is a primer for those seeking to understand Islam at the worldview level, including a surprising section on the growth of the religion. The second half provides Christians with basic tools for engaging Muslims in everyday conversation, with tips on common misunderstandings alongside examples of specific Bible passages to share. Reaching Your Muslim Neighbor is simultaneously bold, helpful, and immediately applicable.
Judges: Paul Akin, Elliot Clark, Daniel DeWitt, Jen Oshman, Mack Stiles
History & Biography
Geoffrey Chang, Spurgeon the Pastor: Recovering a Biblical and Theological Vision for Ministry (B&H)
Charles Spurgeon has an evergreen appeal among evangelical pastors and ministry leaders. In Spurgeon the Pastor, Geoff Chang demonstrates how Spurgeon was motivated by a pastoral theology rooted in Scripture and refracted through his commitment to Reformed theology, Puritan spirituality, and Baptist ecclesiology. Each chapter looks at an aspect of Spurgeon’s pastoral theology, putting his thought and practice into dialogue with contemporary evangelical trends. The portrait that emerges is Spurgeon as a pastor ahead of his time—an early model of three important movements within contemporary evangelicalism: (1) a rich gospel-centered theology, (2) a commitment to biblically faithful church health, and (3) strong leadership as a pastor-theologian.
Chang is a confessional evangelical and a serious historian who writes with pastoral sensibility. Spurgeon the Pastor is an excellent example of how to apply church history for the sake of spiritual formation and leadership development.
Award of Distinction
Nathan P. Feldmeth, S. Donald Fortson III, Garth M. Rosell, Kenneth J. Stewart, Reformed and Evangelical Across Four Centuries: The Presbyterian Story in America (Eerdmans)
No theological or ecclesial tradition is monolithic or static. In this remarkable work of synthesis, the authors knit together the stories of various strands in American Presbyterianism. In so doing, they offer readers a rich picture that explains how this transatlantic church reform movement birthed a diverse and eclectic collection of churches and institutions. The result is an accessible yet thoroughly researched book that introduces readers to the key developments and themes in the Presbyterian story.
While the authors avoid the trap of anachronistic presentism, a thoughtful reader won’t be able to help noting the significant relevance of these stories for contemporary life. If you want to think more carefully about the necessity of theological literacy in the church, the legacy of Christian higher education, and the constant need for reform and renewal within the church, you’d do well to spend time with this book. This is an important volume offering a sober, concise, fair history of Presbyterianism in America.
Judges: Nathan Finn, Matthew J. Hall, Ivan Mesa, Ansley Quiros
Esther Smith, A Still and Quiet Mind: Twelve Strategies for Changing Unwanted Thoughts (P&R Publishing)
Whether it’s the noise of news and social media or a recurring loop of anxious thoughts, few of us would describe our minds as still and quiet. But trying to turn off unwanted thoughts or will them away rarely brings peace. In A Still and Quiet Mind, biblical counselor Esther Smith gives readers a robust understanding of what the God who made our minds has to say about how they work—and about how he plans to use them for his glory.
It’s clear Smith’s wisdom is hard-won and road-tested. Her examples—both from her own life and from the lives of her counseling clients—were one of the most precious parts of the book. As bizarre as our own thoughts may sometimes seem, it’s encouraging to know others have them too. With solid theology and practical strategies, Smith’s book is a gift to every Christian who has thoughts he or she doesn’t want. In other words, it’s a gift to all of us.
Award of Distinction
Though we understand in a general sense that the digital age is negatively affecting our culture and individual lives, we may struggle to pinpoint exactly how it’s changing us and what we can do about it. In Analog Christian, Jay Kim insightfully identifies technology’s rotten fruit of discontentment, fragility, and foolishness and explains how the fruit of the Spirit is the antidote we need. By pairing specific problems of the digital age with contrasting fruit of the Spirit, Kim models Paul’s put-off, put-on framework—joy instead of comparison, kindness instead of hostility, faithfulness instead of forgetfulness. Rather than calling us to unplug and cease our scrolling and swiping, Kim shows readers how to thoughtfully engage the challenges of the digital age and—by the power of the Spirit—cultivate contentment, resilience, and wisdom.
Judges: Matt Boga, Winfree Brisley, Megan Hill, Courtney Reissig
Amy Gannett Does God Sleep? A Book About God’s Power (B&H Kids)
Does God Sleep? introduces young children to wonderful truths about God’s omnipotence. Gannett’s playful rhymes make an abstract theological concept understandable and relatable to small children. That isn’t an easy thing to do! Does God Sleep? would make an excellent baby shower gift and deserves a place of prominence in the church nursery. The playful illustrations are fitting and invite the reader to linger on each page. Both soothing and fun, this is a wonderful book for bedtime reading and discussion. Children will ask to read the book again, and adults—no matter how tired they may feel by bedtime—will be moved to marvel and worship the God who doesn’t need to sleep.
Award of Distinction
Andrew Wilson, The Boy from the House of Bread (B&H Kids)
The best books for children appeal to the senses through sight and sound while engaging minds with creative storytelling and intriguing ideas. The Boy from the House of Bread has gentle illustrations in a palette inspired by nature. It tells the story of Jesus’s life in an engaging and lyrical way through the sons of Simon of Cyrene, the man who was compelled to carry the cross of Christ at his crucifixion. This book brings the story to the reader from a child’s perspective and—as the title suggests—places a special emphasis on Jesus’s teachings and actions that involved bread. The Boy from the House of Bread reminds us that stories that appeal to children’s physical senses as well as to their hearts and minds can help parents nurture faith.
Judges: Ginger Blomberg, Jason Duesing, Betsy Childs Howard, Shar Walker
Isaac Adams, Talking About Race: Gospel Hope for Hard Conversations (Zondervan Reflective)
In tackling one of the most sensitive and difficult topics in the American church, Isaac Adams shows himself to be a multifaceted teacher. He writes with compassion, kindness, wisdom, and understanding as he tackles the complexities surrounding our conversations about race. Using narratives that illuminate rather than stereotype, he offers pastoral counsel to navigate difficult conversations with humility. This book provides practical guidance and advice for churches and individuals who want to grow in their love for one another and ultimately in their love for God. His precision in helping all the different viewpoints give voice to their deeply held feelings and beliefs allows him to pinpoint the needed application of the gospel in its multifaceted beauty.
Adams writes with the depth and understanding of a novelist as he handles with care the personal narratives of his case study characters. And he demonstrates the clarity and precision of a theologian as he handles how God’s Word speaks to us in this current moment. Talking About Race is a blessing to the church and a much-needed resource for every Christian in America, no matter how he or she talks about race. Even as Adams challenges the reader, grace permeates every page. This book will continue to equip churches for years to come.
Award of Distinction
Clarissa Moll, Beyond the Darkness: A Gentle Guide for Living with Grief and Thriving After Loss (Tyndale Momentum)
Clarissa Moll’s book stands out in a crowded field of personal reflections on grief. Every loss is different, and yet Moll brings timeless, transcendent wisdom to bear on our worst nightmares. Few can match Moll’s combination of theological depth and literary beauty. Readers are eager to see where she turns next with these noteworthy writing gifts.
Judges: Skyler Flowers, Collin Hansen, Anna Meade Harris, Melissa Kruger
Bible Study & Devotional Literature
Joni Eareckson Tada, Songs of Suffering: 25 Hymns and Devotions for Weary Souls (Crossway)
Suffering is a universal experience of all humans, and Christians and non-Christians alike are weary from fighting, fearing, and finding that their coping mechanisms for the pains of life are insufficient. In Songs of Suffering, Joni Eareckson Tada directs our gaze to the steady comfort of the cross. With healing Scripture, timeless hymns, and wisdom gleaned from years of pain, Tada in this moving devotional invites readers to find hope and solidarity in the Savior who suffers and sings.
The devotions are refreshingly rich yet warmly accessible, offering profound hope in the darkest of times. The book’s aesthetic and literary beauty is surpassed only by that of the magnificent truth found in its pages. Songs of Suffering is a meaningful gift for sufferers of all kinds, as well as an edifying addition to your own nightstand or coffee table. Tada has a tangible love for Christ that leaps off the pages and draws us into a deeper and more dependent relationship with our Savior, especially as we sing.
Award of Distinction
Kevin DeYoung, The Biggest Story Bible Storybook (Crossway)
When we understand how the big story of the Bible fits together, our lives and relationships find meaning around a biblical framework. Is there any more significant aim for families? In The Biggest Story Bible Storybook, Kevin DeYoung invites families to engage the metanarrative of Scripture through gospel-saturated texts and captivating illustrations. From Genesis to Revelation, DeYoung shares easily accessible retellings of key scriptural stories that connect the reader to the overarching storyline of the Bible. With over a hundred gospel deposits, there’s something for parents and kids alike to learn on each page. Rooting families around the gospel story strengthens not only its individual members but also God’s church. This work will become a treasured family volume and a valuable resource for discipleship of children in the church.
Judges: Missie Branch, Karen Hodge, Emily Jensen, Joanna Kimbrel
Arts & Culture
Russ Ramsey, Rembrandt Is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art Through the Eyes of Faith (Zondervan Reflective)
In Rembrandt Is in the Wind, Russ Ramsey helps Christian readers learn to love visual art through the eyes of faith. Love is key here. Ramsey writes from a place of deep passion for art, beyond mere intellectual curiosity about it. His love for the art and artists profiled in the book comes through in the writing, and it’s contagious. Readers will learn a ton of fascinating history about artists like Caravaggio, Michelangelo, and Van Gogh. But readers will also find their hearts inflamed with love for the Artist whose image every artist bears.
Few recent books have shown so powerfully how beauty can stir our affections for God and enrich our devotional lives. Part art history narrative, part theological devotional, part philosophical musing, Ramsey’s book is totally original and exciting to read. Works of visual art are daunting to many, in part because one single canvas contains layers of labor and intention. The artist behind the paintbrush is often the deepest layer of all. This is why a trip to the art museum can be overwhelming. Ramsey helps us break off bite-size pieces and savor their complexity, showing us that art appreciation is not only doable for the everyday Christian but also deeply fruitful for his or her faith.
Award of Distinction
William Edgar, A Supreme Love: The Music of Jazz and the Hope of the Gospel (IVP Academic)
What hath jazz to do with Jesus? In A Supreme Love, William Edgar explains how jazz music connects with the hope of the gospel. Clearly written and well researched, this book situates the jazz genre in the historical context of black experience in the United States as well as suggesting jazz follows the arc of the gospel message—from the darkness and sorrow caused by sin to the supreme light and joy of Christ’s salvation. Along the way, Edgar offers fascinating examples and anecdotes from the entire repertoire of jazz. His love for this music is clear and infectious.
Judges: Terry Glaspey, Aaron Lee, Brett McCracken, Rachel Wilhelm
Missions & the Global Church
Matt Rhodes, No Shortcut to Success: A Manifesto for Modern Missions (Crossway)
The message of No Shortcut to Success is timely and rare. In an age where speed and rapidity have become priorities for many in the field of missions, Matt Rhodes calls for patience and a long-term perspective. As a missionary in North Africa, Rhodes grasps the landscape of missiological debates, and his sharp epidemiologist mind and clear understanding of missions history help him evaluate the dominant methodologies of our day. The book doesn’t shy away from calling out errors, but Rhodes seeks to do so with charity and an irenic spirit.
However, he does more than critique. This book also provides a positive vision for professionalism in missions—striving for sufficient preparation and vocational competence like our missionary luminaries of the past. Throughout, Rhodes builds the case that missionaries should know the gospel well, know the church well, and know the language of the people well. Those might seem like the basics of any missionary task. If they’re debated in our day, it could reveal how muddled the current state of missions is. Thankfully, Rhodes’s gracious challenge provides a path forward to pursue patience and professionalism in the missionary task, making this book worthy of a wide readership.
Award of Distinction
J. D. Payne, Apostolic Imagination: Recovering a Biblical Vision for the Church’s Mission Today (Baker Academic)
In Apostolic Imagination, J. D. Payne seeks to renew the church’s understanding of mission by drawing on the apostolic vision of the first-century church. His goal is to recapture the best of what’s gone before, critique efforts that stray, and root it all in New Testament models. In a work that’s simultaneously academic and accessible, Payne seeks to bring clarity to our understanding of what missions is. By calling the church to renew its apostolic imagination, he envisions a future when local churches will manifest wise stewardship and carry out the global work of Christ. To that end, he offers practical suggestions that encourage pastors to develop and send teams into their community, across the country, and throughout the world to spread the gospel of Christ.
Judges: Mindy Belz, Brooks Buser, Conrad Mbewe, Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra