by John Ellis
As 2016 came to a close, I began noticing a multitude of blog posts and articles listing the author’s 2016 reading list. I like the concept, but, not to brag, well, too brag a little, my year-end reading list would be incredibly long. I have no idea how many books I read in 2016, but my goal for 2017 is two hundred books (I’m working on another article fleshing out that goal a little bit). If I were to go back over 2016, I wouldn’t be too surprised to discover that I surpassed my 2017 goal in 2016. Even if I fell short of two hundred books by, say, fifty, an article listing the books with a short blurb about each would be well over 15,000 words. At that point, I may as well write my own book.
In order to participate and still keep the articles a manageable length, I’ve decided to write month-end reading lists throughout 2017. Sadly, my reading list in January puts me behind the eight-ball when it comes to my reading goal for 2017. Thankfully, it’s the first month of the year, so I have plenty of time to catch up. One note – I’m including books that I finished reading during the month. Three of the books on this list were begun in December. It will all work out because when December 2017 ends, there will undoubtedly be three or four books that I will be reading but will not finish until 2018. For example, I am currently reading four books that I started in January that will not show up until the February list.
Confessing the Faith: A reader’s guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith by Chad Van Dixhorn
When Chad Van Dixhorn was in Cambridge working on his PhD, he talked his church into letting him start a Sunday School. Apparently, Sunday School isn’t a thing in many of the churches in England. The Elders of his church agreed, but they only gave him fifteen minutes before the worship service. He created a series fifteen-minute-long Sunday School lessons out of the Westminster Confession of Faith. He later turned those lessons into this book.
At over four-hundred pages, Confessing the Faith is packed with substance but isn’t so long as to be daunting for the average reader. In fact, it’s a book that I’m going to begin recommending to those who want to read a Systematic Theology book but who find the size and scope of the stereotypical Systematic Theology book to be intimidating.
Why Christ Came: Meditations on the Incarnation by Joel R. Beeke and William Boekestein
There are thirty-one chapters in this book, one for each day of December. I can’t stress enough how edifying Why Christ Came is. Read it by yourself or read it aloud with your family, but, please, read it. If you’re interested in finding out more of my thoughts about Why Christ Came, I included it on my “5 Best Books for Family Devotions” which you can read by clicking here.
The Rise of Silas Lapham by William Dean Howells
William Dean Howell’s classic statement on the Gilded Age and the moral pitfalls that come with money. While it’s true that there are great moral pitfalls that come with money, there are also great moral pitfalls that come with having no money. The self-righteous preening of the nineteenth century realists gets on my nerves; The Rise of Silas Lapham is no exception. This was my second time reading the novel, and it may very well prove to be my last.
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli – As 2016 spun to its conclusion, articles and blog posts filled the internet touting the best books of the year. Making many of those lists, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics was originally published as a series of newspaper articles in Italy during 2014. The following year, those articles were turned into a book in Italy and England. Last year saw the publication of the American edition; hence the book’s presence on most of the 2016 year-end lists. Many of my friends and acquaintances included Rovelli’s short book on their lists of the best books that they had read during 2016. So, with great anticipation, I ordered Seven Brief Lessons on Physics.
The book, however, did not match my anticipation, nor did it rise to the superlative heights that people heaped on it. Upon showing the book to a nuclear engineer friend, his tepid response should have given me a clue to my coming disappointment. Honestly, I’m not sure what others see in this almost empty book. If you have interacted with physics on any level, there is nothing in this book that you don’t already know. To top it off, it’s not really that engaging of a book. Off the top of my head, I can think of several popular-ish physics books that are far more interesting and informative. Plus, the phrase “rebuilding the Tower of Babel” kept entering my mind while reading Seven Brief Lessons on Physics.
God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants by Peter J. Gentry & Stephen Wellum
This book was a gift from my Pastor. Well, not so much a gift as required reading. I was happy to oblige. If you’ve ever heard me preach, teach Sunday School, or have simply heard me talk about the Bible (or read things that I’ve written about the Bible) then you know that I gravitate towards Biblical Theology, as opposed to Systematic Theology. Although, I love Systematic Theology, too. However, because of my theatre training, the love of story is deeply embedded within me. Gentry and Wellum’s book (for the record, this is the shorter version of a longer work) definitely scratches that itch. More importantly, the book is a serious reflection on the story of Redemption as told through the overarching structure of the Bible – Covenants.
There is a lot more that I’d like to say about God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants, and maybe I’ll write a proper review of it one day. For now, I’ll say this, if you are Baptist and consider yourself Reformed, this book is a must read. God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants is one of the most hermeneutically and exegetically rigorous books on the structure and story of the Bible that I’ve ever read.
The Big Fight: Christian Men VS The World, Flesh &Devil – edited by Tim Thornborough and Richard Perkins
I’ve become a big fan of The Good Book Company, and not just because Tim Thornborough retweets me. The English publishing company has several very practical books for those who desire to pursue holiness in faithful obedience. Like Why Christ Came, I’ve written about The Big Fight elsewhere. You can read it at the link provided here.
The Malaise of Modernity by Charles Taylor
The Malaise of Modernity tackles the rising problems of disconnectivity within a society that values individualistic self-fulfillment. Charles Taylor correctly diagnoses at least part of the problem when he warns about the problems inherent in finding, “Our moral salvation [that] comes from recovering authentic moral contact with ourselves.” Part of the problem, according to Taylor, is the slide into soft-relativism and the disruption to the ties that connect humans with each other. However, Taylor wants to have his cake and eat it too. Instead of calling people to find their fulfillment in Jesus, he tries to find a middle ground between a culture of individualistic self-fulfillment and adhering to cultural landmarks. Even if I don’t’ agree with all of Taylor’s conclusions, The Malaise of Modernity is an interesting and informative book by one of Canada’s foremost philosophers. Honestly, all pastors should consider reading it in order to get a better grasp of the spirit of the age.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
Some friends at my church have coerced me *cough* into heading up a Shakespeare reading and discussion group. A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been chosen as our first selection. Having been in several stage productions, this play is very familiar with me (I think I still have Demetrius’ lines memorized). I read it again, anyway. For one thing, it’s a great play and I always enjoy reading it. Secondly, I try and Shakespeare on a regular basis – kill two birds with one stone kind of thing. Thirdly, I have over a dozen people coming over to my house this Saturday to read and discuss A Midsummer Night’s Dream; there is no such thing as too much preparation where Shakespeare is concerned.
The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel by James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken
Boice and Ryken’s book is one of the most winsome, comprehensive, and helpful treatises on the Doctrines of Grace, or, as many people know them, the Five Points of Calvinism. With the Bible as the foundation, walls, and rhetorical decoration, The Doctrines of Grace is a substantial and edifying defense of Calvinism. For those who are unsure about what Calvinism actually is, those who believe Calvinism to be contra-Biblical, or those who are looking for a Biblical defense of Calvinism, I highly recommend The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel.
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot by Stephen Adly Guirgis
Like all well written plays, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is powerful. The play by Stephen Adly Guirgis evokes a strong visceral and empathetic response in the reader (I can imagine how much sharper the response is from those watching a well-done production of the play). And that’s a problem. With a pagan’s smugness, Guirgis interacts with what he believes may be the stickiest wicket of sticky wickets within the Christian faith – the paradox of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. Mix Guirgis’ unnuanced and man-centered views of human freedom with a profane treatment of Christian mysticism, a little sprinkling of the heresy called universalism, and an overall disdain for orthodoxy, and Guirgis’ well-written and entertaining play has the potential to provide readers/viewers with a few extra bricks to help them with the construction of their own personal Tower of Babel.
Thoughts for Young Men by J.C. Ryle
While Ryle’s specific audience was young men, the noted nineteenth century pastor could’ve easily titled this excellent little book Thoughts for Humans. If you struggle with sin and having your affections turned away from God (hint, you do), you should prayerfully read and heed Thoughts for Young Men.
Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer
Originally, I wasn’t planning on including Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God on this list. Not because I didn’t read it this month (I did), but because I read it last month, too. I don’t generally reread books in that short of a time span. However, I am in the middle of a writing project, and believed that rereading this classic from J.I. Packer would be beneficial. It was. For the record, even if the book wasn’t related to a writing project, it would’ve still been beneficial to reread in such a short span of time. If you are curious about how the antinomy of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, especially as it relates to the gospel, works, this book is for you.
 This article is over 2,000 words, and there only twelve books listed. Assuming that I read 150 books in 2016, a quick look at the math reveals that my 15,000 words is a low estimate. Using this post as the template, and subtracting the intro, writing short blurbs for 150 books would easily pass 20,000 words. Ain’t nobody got time to read that!
 I’ve made a friendly wager with my eleven-year-old daughter. For the record, I made that wager fully expecting to lose. I thought that I read a lot until I met her.
 The love of money is the root of all evil. You can love money and not have any. You can have money and not love it. It’s a pretty simple concept, but self-righteous moralizers who want to spend other people’s money refuse to see it that way.
 By me.
 Thoughts for Young Men is lifted out of a longer collection of Ryle’s sermons called The Upper Room.
 By “generally” I mean “never.”