Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Rich Reading in 2021

Yesterday, I shared the shortlist of Christian non-fiction books that made the biggest impression upon me in 2021, but they were not the only good books I read nor the only kind of book I profited from this year. As the saying goes, “All Christian non-fiction doctrinal reading makes Matt a dull boy.” (Or something like that.) Today, I want to share some of the other books that, for me, made 2021 such a rich year of reading.


My sanity has been retained throughout the pandemic by returning to my favorites in fiction. This year, I finished another sail through Patrick O’Brian’s British navel novels set in the Napoleonic Wars (fourth time?) and another trek through Edith Pargeter’s (i.e. Ellis Peters) detective stories featuring the family of George Felse (third time?). Heather and I also began another (lost-count) loop through the Lord Peter Wimsey canon from Dorothy Sayers. I got to read the latest wry installment from Daniel Taylor’s unlikely detectives Jon and Judy(!) Mote, Woe to the Scribes and the Pharisees. I also discovered E. C. Bentley and his genre-introducing gentleman detective Philip Trent whose delightful twisty first story was entitled, Trent’s Last Case, of course. I also got to read Trent Intervenes and Trent’s Own Case to round out the series.

You might discern from the previous paragraph that I like to escape most of all into the comforting and conclusive world of detective fiction, and you’d be right. But I also enjoy other kinds of storytelling when the storyteller is excellent at his craft. This year I was enchanted with the interwoven tales of Daniel Nayeri’s Everything Sad Is Untrue, engrossed in the intertwined lives of Anxious People and Britte-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman, and enthralled by the interlaced narratives of Amor Towles’ latest yarn, The Lincoln Highway

Biography and Memoir 

Perhaps the most significant work I read (or had read to me via audiobook actually) this year was the Pulitzer Prize winning Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight, read by Prentice Onayemi. What a work of scholarship! What an amazing life! I will be contemplating the facets of that biographical diamond for many years to come.

I also read two very different memoirs: A Promised Land by former President Barack Obama which chronicles his experiences from the period just before his election up to the death of Osama bin Laden and Where the Light Fell by Philip Yancey which tells the complicated story of the fundamentalist legalism and ugly bigotry of his Southern religious upbringing and Yancey’s unlikely discovery of the amazingness of grace. It’s interesting to me, looking back, to realize how much the ongoing fight against racism figured into these three life stories. 

Other Rewarding Reads

For my work, the kind of thing I read the most were commentaries on the Psalms. In a future post, I’ll try to explain which ones I found the most helpful as I preached through almost a third of the Psalter in 2020-2021

Heather Joy has fibromyalgia, and this year I became intent on understanding better both (1) what that is and (2) how to walk with my wife through it. I found the Mayo Clinic Guide to Fibromyalgia by Andy Abril and Barbara Bruce to be helpful for the first and The Fibro Manual by Ginevra Liptan to be best for the second.

The silliest thing I read in 2021 was probably The Quintessential Grooming Guide for the Modern Gentleman by Capt. Peabody Fawcett RN (who I believe to also be entirely fictitious), but it was fun to read in conjunction with sporting the longest (and greyest) beard I have ever grown.

I have the sweet privilege of serving as the book review coordinator for the EFCA Blog which puts me in touch with even more great books and insightful church leaders to review them. This year we published thoughtful reviews of Help! I’m Married to My Pastor by Jani Ortlund, Handle With Care by Lore Ferguson Wilbert, Embodied by Preston Sprinkle, and Reading the Times by Jeffrey Bilbro.

And that’s just scratching the surface. This year I discovered the work of Hannah Anderson (I read All That’s Good and anticipate reading many more), Thaddeus Williams (I read Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth and look forward to hearing him in person at our EFCA Theology Conference in February), and John Onwuchekwa (I read Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church with our church’s elders). I also swallowed Jesus the Great Philosopher by my former classmate Jonathan Pennington almost whole. It was a great year for reading.

Books By Friends

This year I got to read three books written by real-life friends:

In October, Alejandro Mandes published Embracing the New Samaria. I’m glad that Alex finally distilled his thinking into a readable little manifesto for Christians to open our eyes to the multi-ethnic future of both the United States but especially to the church of the eschaton.

Our friend Katie Faris has written He Will Be Enough: How God Takes You by the Hand Through Your Hardest Days (foreword by Joni Eareckson Tada) which is slated to be released in the Spring. This November, I got to read a pre-publication version and offer my official endorsement. Katie’s newest looks to be a beautiful book overflowing with the precious truth of God’s sufficiency. I’ll be handing out copious copies when I get them in my hands.

And lastly, the EFCA Spiritual Heritage Committee of which I am a member, has just finished a full revision of Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America. When the conference revised Article 9 of our doctrinal statement in 2019, we set out to not only update the chapter on the Return of Christ (surveying the now broader set of acceptable views on the millennium and emphasizing the glorious character of our Lord’s second coming) but also to improve the whole thing. So this Fall, I got to re-read the work of my fellow committee members and provide (hopefully good) suggestions for bettering the second edition. It’s off to the printer right now, and I look forward to EC2 helping to strengthen another generation of church leaders in the EFCA.

I know that I am blessed to get to do so much reading, and I look forward to what rich things I may be allowed to explore in 2022. Tolle lege!