This time of year, I always post about the best books I’ve read over the last twelve months. I set myself a goal to read 52 books a year — one per week. It’s an ambitious goal and I rarely hit the mark. By the time I finish my current read, I’ll be at 43 books read in 2022. (If you’re interested in seeing my year-to-year list of Best Books dating back to 2006, you can find it here.)
Even though I continue to aim for one book per week, over the last few years I’ve tried to focus even more energy on quality over quantity. I’ve read some really great books this year. As you can tell from the list, I’ve been pretty much focused on non-fiction this year and I continue to dive deeper into works that emphasize Christian apologetics, primarily due to my desire to understand some of the cultural changes we’re living through today. As always, my interest is in a thoroughly biblical and theological way of interpreting things, so this year’s list leans in that direction more than other years. But if these types of issues are of interest to you, I highly recommend the following works.
These are the 10 best books I’ve read this year, with a few honorable mentions as well.
- The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution by Carl R. Trueman. This is one of the most important and insightful books I’ve read in the last few years. Based on the biblical narrative, you could argue that humanity’s besetting sin has always been an idolatrous exaltation of the self. And yet, we find ourselves in a unique moment in which the pursuit of one’s “true” identity has taken a radical turn toward expressive individualism. Descartes got it all wrong. Rather than, “I think; therefore, I am,” the mantra of our current cultural moment is, “I feel; therefore, I am.” Trueman traces a line back to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the philosophical underpinnings of Roussea, Nietzsche, Marx, and Darwin to explain out shift toward a self-defined morality based on one’s self-actualization. To be “authentic” is the cardinal virtue of our day. Conversely, to deny someone’s felt identity is our cardinal sin. That’s how we arrive at the statement, “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body,” an inscrutable assertion just years ago but increasingly common today. But this is the inevitable outcome when personhood is detached from its historical mooring in the biblical story. I have to tell you: this book is not for the faint of heart. For starters, it’s long, as in more than 400 pages long. Also, it’s dense. You’ll probably have to reach for your thesaurus a time or two while reading. But if you stick with him, Trueman will pay off this patience. (Remember what I said about quality over quantity?) I think it’s vitally important for Christians to understand how we ended up here: for our sake, for the sake of imparting the faith to the next generation, and for the sake of faithful Christian witness. Personally, I hope Trueman will follow up with a more accessible volume that distills his core arguments for a mainstream audience. But until then, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is required reading, a landmark volume of cultural analysis from a Christian perspective.
- Telling a Better Story: How to Talk About God in a Skeptical Age by Josh Chatraw. Apologetics have always been vital to the Christian story, but it has taken on even greater urgency as we live through tremendous shifts in our culture. This book caught my eye when it was named Christianity Today’s Apologetics / Evangelism Book of the Year in 2020. Chatraw repeatedly argues that the Christian story as revealed in the Bible offers a more compelling vision of meaning, self, and reason than the limited scope of so many secular metanarratives. The Christian gospel is the better story, Chatraw claims, because it offers the most satisfactorily systematic answers to our most pressing philosophical questions. His “inside out” approach to apologetics is at once generous, winsome, and engaging. I think every Christian would benefit greatly from reading this book. (You can find my full review here.)
- Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity — and Why This Harms Everybody by Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay. About eighteen months ago, I began a deep dive into an idea that was fairly new to me: critical race theory. That led me to explore the even broader field of critical theory, which in turn led me to this text. Pluckrose and Lindsay are liberal in the classic “pre-woke” sense of the term and they argue that bad ideas about who we are seem to be unquestionably accepted across the board. Although their approach is fairly academic and they do not seem to be writing from a Judeo-Christian perspective, they nevertheless provide a thorough explanation of the new religion of social justice, rooted as it is in postmodernism. The essential idea of critical theory boils down to one of power and oppression. Dominant power groups have created systems to consolidate their power, thereby oppressing those in minority groups. These ideas are proliferate today, at least to those who are awakened to their presence (thus, “woke”). The manifestations of this include postcolonial theory, queer theory, critical race theory, intersectionality, transgenderism, feminism, disability studies, and fat studies. Exhausting as all of this might seem, proponents of these movements continue to distort reality toward extremism. As you read, you’ll feel as if you’re auditing a grad school course, but you’ll also come away with a better understanding of our present cultural moment in all its postmodern flavor.
- Live Your Truth and Other Lies: Exposing Popular Deceptions That Make Us Anxious, Exhausted and Self-Obsessed by Alisa Childers. Childers is another important voice in the apologetics discussion right now. I loved this book so much that I couldn’t put it down, reading it in one day. Childers has a knack for presenting throughly biblical critiques of culture in a firm and loving way. If you’d like an introduction to her thoughts, you should also check out her podcast.
- Live No Lies: Recognize and Resist the Three Enemies That Sabotage Your Peace by John Mark Comer. Comer is also writing a critique of our cultural moment, but he couches his discussion in the context of spiritual warfare. There are three enemies of the soul: the world, the flesh, and the devil. He uses this consistent framework throughout: Deceptive ideas (the devil) play to our disordered desires (the flesh) before being normalized in a sinful society (the world). Comer follows by arguing for the importance of spiritual formation and discipleship in this ongoing spiritual struggle.
- Trains, Jesus, and Murder: The Gospel According to Johnny Cash by Richard Beck. A theological reading of Cash’s recording career and singular life. You know I’m going to be all over something like this. I heard Beck talk about this book a few years ago and I had been wanting to read it ever since.
- The Nineties: A Book by Chuck Klosterman. The 90s were a formative time for me: high school, the death of my mother, a re-conversion back to my Christian faith, college, a call into ministry and getting my first “real” job at a church in East Tennessee. Klosterman walks his readers through the highs and lows of that particular decade, using the lenses of pop culture and politics and sports. A great read.
- QB: My Life Behind the Spiral by Steve Young. I always appreciated Young’s greatness as a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. But I had no idea that he was such a man of character. This biography was equal parts football and faith.
- Another Gospel: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity by Alisa Childers. This is Childers’ first book, describing her turbulent journey out of progressive Christianity.
- K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches by Tyler Kepner. If you’re a baseball fan, you’ll appreciate this book. And if you have a son who pitches (as I do), you’ll really love this book. Joshua and I listened to this together while we were driving to all of his summer ball tournaments this year. He even picked up a few pointers along the way!
And here are the honorable mentions I promised:
The Dynasty by Jeff Benedict. Benedict’s chronicle of the dominant era of Brady, Belichick, and Kraft. I don’t claim to be a Patriots fan, but I found myself rooting for them based on Benedict’s masterful storytelling and reporting.
Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear. An easy read. But Clear’s advice could actually change your life.
From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life by Arthur C. Brooks. I’ve been a Brooks fan since hearing him keynote the National Prayer Breakfast in February 2020, just a month before COVID upended everything.
Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story by Bono. Probably could’ve been trimmed by about a hundred pages. But if you’re a superfan, this is a must read.
Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe by Voddie T. Baucham. Another solid entry in the social justice studying I’ve been doing.