We are drawing near the end of another year—a year in which I did a lot of reading. Today I want to give some of my top picks of the 100 or so books I read in 2016. First, though, let me offer a few caveats: First, these are almost certainly not the best books of 2016 in any objective sense; rather, they are my favorites, the ones that have remained in my mind and impacted my life since I read them. Second, they are in no particular order. And finally, at the request of several readers I am posting this list before the end of the year because some people would like to refer to it as they do their Christmas shopping. Enjoy!
Sexual Morality in a Christless World by Matthew Rueger. Though the last few years have brought us no shortage of books on how to live on this side of the sexual revolution, Matthew Rueger offers something unique in examining and explaining the historical and cultural backdrop to the New Testament’s teaching on sexual morality. In this way he shows that Christian sexual morality has not always been traditional but was at one time its own revolution. In other words, Christians have been here before, and there is much we can learn from our own history. (Read my review | Buy it)
Married for God by Christopher Ash. It’s not like we’re hurting for books on marriage. In fact, there may be more Christian books on marriage than on any topic besides prayer. This means that any new book has to be awfully good to stand out from an already-crowded field. It was pure joy, then, to read Christopher Ash’s Married for God: Making Your Marriage the Best It Can Be and see it do exactly that. It is one of the very best books on marriage I have ever read—and I’ve read a lot of them. (Read my review | Buy it)
Conscience by Andy Naselli & J.D. Crowley. This is a wonderful introduction to the exceedingly important area of conscience. The authors give great care and attention to expositing the appropriate Scripture passages while drawing application suitable to all Christians. They stay deeply grounded in Scripture without swerving into the dangerous ground of binding the reader’s conscience. I’m very glad I read it and am convinced it has equipped me to better honor and represent God in this world. I believe that if you read it, you will say the same. (Read my review | Buy it)
Sojourner Songs by Ben Palpant. Sojourner Songs is a collection of poetry that I found thoroughly enjoyable and, at times, deeply moving. Palpant “discovered late in life that poetry is a necessity, like our need to be touched” and learned this only through a period of deep physical suffering. His poetry flowed out of his experiences and helped bring sense to it. He has collected the best of his work into this volume which he structures around the traditional liturgical hours. Each section is markedly different from the others and each contains some powerful poems. Let it prove to you that there is still a place in the world and in our hearts for good poetry. (Read my review | Buy it)
Black and Reformed by Anthony Carter. As Christians there is a lot of value in learning about experiences that are not our own, experiences we, by definition, have not been able to have. There is value in perspectives on life and theology that we have not been able to see before. Black & Reformed offers what for many of us is an unknown perspective. As such, it is an excellent primer on one of the most pressing issues in American Evangelicalism today. It is equally at home in the hands of an African-American Christian investigating the claims of Reformed theology and in the hands of a white Christian seeking to better understand his African-American brothers and sisters. (Read my review | Buy it)
Rescuing the Gospel by Erwin Lutzer. As the 500th anniversary of the Reformation approaches, this is just one of many books that recount those events. Lutzer’s work is an excellent introduction to the Reformation—easily one of the best I’ve read. It is a reader-friendly introduction that is fair to the diversity of Protestantism, and this is indicated in the breadth of those who have offered their endorsements for it: Joel Beeke (Dutch Reformed), Al Mohler (Reformed Baptist), Burk Parsons (Presbyterian), and John Warwick Montgomery (Lutheran) among others. It accomplishes exactly what it promises, delivering a riveting account of the Reformation and an explanation of why it matters today. (Read my review | Buy it)
For the Glory by Duncan Hamilton. There are some historical figures who stand out because of their amazing accomplishments and there are some who stand out because of the depth of their character. There are a select few who stand out for both accomplishment and character, and prominent among them is the Flying Scotsman, Eric Liddell. Liddell accomplished great feats of athleticism, then left behind fame and fortune to pursue a much higher calling in the dangerous mission field of China. He did it all with the highest character, living a life that was very nearly unblemished before it came to an untimely end in a Japanese prison camp. His story has been told through books, movies, and documentaries, and it has just been told anew through this new biography, easily my favorite on Liddell. (Read my review | Buy it)
The Temple and Tabernacle by J. Daniel Hays. This book, as the title suggests, is a study of the Old Testament temple and tabernacle. Yet it is much more than that. So central are these buildings to Old Testament worship and New Testament symbolism that understanding them, understanding the roles they played, understanding the way they were made, understanding their function to Old Testament worship, and understanding the key differences between them illumines so much of the Christian faith. We better understand who we are and who God is when we understand these buildings. (Read my review | Buy it)
Big Beliefs by David Helm. This book is a series of short devotionals written for families and based on the Westminster Confession of Faith. We have been using it in our family devotions and finding it a solid resource. Helm says “One of the exalted privileges of the church is the opportunity to help young and eager minds to get an early grasp on Christian doctrine. At Holy Trinity Church in Chicago, we have a commitment to provide fresh gospel resources for our many young families who are attempting to instruct their children in the Christian faith.” They have done this through a series of books, this one among them. It’s an excellent choice for families to read together or for young people to read as a daily devotional. (Read my review | Buy it)
Core Christianity by Michael Horton. This is Michael Horton’s attempt to tackle the essentials, the basic beliefs that all Christians share. “The purpose of this book,” he says, “is to help you understand the reason for your hope as a Christian so that you can invite others into the conversation. This book is for those who are tired of being starring characters in their own life movie. You want to be written into God’s unfolding drama. But where do you start?” You can start with this book which immediately takes its place as one of my favorite introductions to the Christian faith. It is one I will recommend often and distribute widely. Scot McKnight observes that it is fit for today’s generation in much the way John Stott’s Basic Christianity was fit for his generation. I couldn’t agree more. (Read my review | Buy it)
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. This posthumously released memoir is a beautifully-written, haunting book that shot straight to the top of the bestsellers lists and has sat there nearly all year long. Did Kalanithi become a believer at the end of his life? He may have. He was certainly moving in that direction and it is fascinating to trace his spiritual journey. I sure hope he found the Lord before he died. This is a powerful, beautiful book that will move and encourage you. (Buy it)
Author of the Year: Sinclair Ferguson
I would like to make special mention of Sinclair Ferguson and his contributions to Christian reading in 2016. He released three new books this year—a feat in its own right—and all three are excellent; two of the three are must-reads. (Remarkably, he also released another book at the very end of 2015.)
The Whole Christ. This must make the list as one of the absolute most important books of 2016 and perhaps as one of Sinclair Ferguson’s all-time bests. While the book may begin with a rather dry subject matter—a theological controversy from 250 years ago—it opens a powerful, important discussion of two of the Christian’s greatest enemies: legalism and antinomianism. I don’t know that there has been a better treatment of these two. The Whole Christ bears reading and re-reading. (Read my review | Buy it)
Devoted to God. Then we come to Devoted to God, a book about sanctification. According to Ferguson, it “contains no novel teaching. But it sets out with a distinctive goal: to provide a manual of biblical teaching on holiness developed on the basis of extended expositions of foundational passages in the New Testament. By the end of the book we will have worked our way together through some of the most important biblical blueprints for building an entire life of holiness.” That is exactly the case and I believe it may prove to be a new classic in the area of holiness and sanctification. There isn’t a Christian live who will not benefit from reading it. (Read my review | Buy it)
Church History 101. Unlike the two preceding books, Church History 101 is no great achievement in either history or theology, but neither was it meant to be. It is simply an edited collection of lessons Ferguson taught his church as he introduced them to church history—one lesson (or chapter, in this case) for each century of the church. In this way it makes a unique and uniquely helpful contribution to those who are developing an interest in the history of Christianity. (Read my review | Buy it)
Together, these three works (and especially The Whole Christ and Devoted to God) mark an exceptional year for those of us who love to read Sinclair Ferguson’s books. He has served us well. He is my author of the year.
Note: Someone is bound to mention that there are no female authors on this year’s list. To that observation I offer a three-point response. First, the best book by a female author I read in 2016 will not be published until 2017 and I can’t talk about it until then. Second, I read some excellent books by women that were published in previous years, but wanted this to be a list of books published in 2016. Third, I still have some 2016 reading by female authors to complete, but have been asked to publish this list early so people can use it as guidance for their holiday shopping. I expect if I were to publish it a month later, I would have another book or two to add.