Favorite Books for 2019

Let the reader understand: This list would almost certainly be longer if I had read every book I had planned on reading in 2019. There are some notable books still on my desk which I have not yet begun but which I am quite sure are excellent. Nevertheless, among the many wonderful books I read that were published in 2019 these are my top picks...

Theology / Biblical Studies / Ministry:

Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord by Michael Morales
I cannot say enough good things about Dr. Morales’ moving and thought provoking study of the Book of Leviticus. You’ll never think of Leviticus – and perhaps the Old Testament – the same way after reading this wonderful book.

None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God by Matthew Barrett
Dr. Barrett has been instrumental in the current recovery of Classical Theism. In the midst of Barrett’s stunning output of excellent books, he added this popular level introduction to what he calls “the undomesticated attributes of God.” It is his way of introducing to contemporary evangelicals those doctrines which were treasured by the great theologians of the early church. Put this on your night stand, read it in your small group, build a Sunday School class around it.

The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart by Harold Senkbeil
Like most years, 2019 saw the publication of many different books related to pastoral ministry. Of those that I read, The Care of Souls was the most rewarding, convicting, and comforting. Given that the author is a Lutheran, Presbyterian ministers like me will find a few points here and there to quibble with. That said, my copy is high-lighted and marked up extensively. This will be one I return to from time-to-time.

God Breathed: Connecting Through Scripture to God, Others, the Natural World, and Yourself by Rut Etheridge III
Earlier this year I received a manuscript for God Breathed in preparation to interview the author for Mortification of Spin. At the time I had no idea I was holding what would be one of the most moving and delightful books I had read in a long time. In God Breathed Rut Etheridge manages to do something very difficult: He has written a book that is both highly attentive to sound doctrine and steeped in great insight into the human heart.  Please read God Breathed. Get this into the hands of university students and high school seniors who will resonate with the way Etheridge engages cultural idioms. Pastors, read God Breathed as a master class in illustrating biblical truth and its wealth of moving word pictures. Christian, read this to deepen your knowledge of and appreciation for God’s Word.

Systematic Theology by Robert Letham
I received Dr. Letham’s new work on December 2 so I have not finished it. That said, I am happily devouring it. Though many of the great systematic theologies are multiple volumes, Letham’s is a hefty but manageable one volume. I consider this a strength and something that sets it apart. Dr. Letham’s will probably be one my two favorite Systematic Theologies from contemporary theologians along with Douglas Kelly’s as yet to be completed 3 volume work (we are eagerly waiting for the arrival of the third volume).

Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament by Mark Vroegop
This is now my “go to” book on the subject of lament and suffering. Vroegop helps us to be honest in our wrestling with difficult questions. The sufferer is neither shamed or patronized. This book is a full meal of doctrinal faithfulness and tender care.

Non Fiction:

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep
A remarkable account of Harper Lee’s unfinished record of a sensational crime in her home state of Alabama. The first half of the book details the crime itself: A flamboyant preacher with a penchant for murdering family members for their life insurance. While standing trial for his crimes, the preacher was shot and killed by the brother of one his alleged victims. The second half of the book recounts Lee’s efforts to write her own In Cold Blood. Furious Hours is “un-put-down-able.”

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
Growing up in 1970’s and 80’s I remember well the frequent news reports on the violence in the UK between Northern Ireland’s Irish Republican Army (IRA) and England. Say Nothing is an engrossing account of the Troubles told through the story of Jean McConville, a widowed mother who, suspected of being an informer, was murdered and “disappeared” by IRA operatives. Keefe delves deeply into the key players and events of the Troubles. The result is a stunning narrative; an un-put-down-able account of political intrigue, generational hatred, lives wasted, and the futility of terrorism.

Plagued by Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright  by Paul Hendrickson
Frank Lloyd Wright was not a good man. He was unfaithful, dishonest, and arrogant. Those facts are not ignored in this extensive new biography of the man who has been called the greatest architect of the 20th century. Wright caused nationwide scandal when he left his wife and children and set up house with his mistress at Taliesin, his home in Wisconsin. That relationship would end in violence when a household servant murdered Wright’s mistress her two children and several other workers and then set fire to the iconic house. Though praised by many, Hendrickson’s book has been criticized by some for devoting too much time to tangential persons and events. But I found these explorations to be quite helpful in shedding light on the Wright enigma.

Norco ’80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History by Peter Houlahan
If you are interested in the 1970’s and 80’s, bank robbery, guns, dispensationalism, Calvary Chapel, or the Jesus Movement and how all those things might fit together then I have the book for you. Norco ’80 is the account of perhaps the most brazen and violent bank robbery of the 20th century. Are you interested in how dispensationalism figures in? You’ll have to read the book.

Pagans and Christians in the City: Culture Wars from the Tiber to the Potomac by Steven D. Smith
It would be difficult for me to praise this book more highly than it deserves. It is probably the very best commentary I have read on the West’s current state in terms of religion, religious freedom, and various cultural pathologies. Put this one on your “must read” list.

The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race, and Identity by Douglas Murray
The always readable Douglas Murray has done it again with this deeply insightful examination of our culture’s growing obsession with gender, sexuality, and race as markers of personal identity. The fact that Murray is an atheist and homosexual makes his sympathy for conservative Christians all the more fascinating. Murray challenges quite convincingly some of the new and most treasured tropes of our culture.