Community, Love, and Epidemics: 12 Great Reads from 2020

Ah, December. The month of reflection. The month of lights. The month of lists. Don’t you love them? I love reading about what other people have been doing over the year, or thinking about, or reading. And I enjoy the reflective action of thinking through the books I have read this year.

So, here is my year end list–books about communion, love, and epidemics. Some of them older books, some are brand new, and one of them was a reread. Each is linked for your purchasing pleasure. Whenever possible, I have referred you to as my preferred Christian book seller (available first in the UK).

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves. I am a little behind on getting to this one, but, man, was it helpful! I think it will be an annual revisit as I closed the last page in worship of our Great God. Michael Reeves has the gift of explanation! Part history and all theology. “The fact that God the Father is happy and even delights to share his love for his Son and thus be known as our Father reveals just how unfathomable gracious and kind he is. And it really is with ungrudging delight that he gives us the privilege” (p. 76).

Caring for One Another: 8 Ways to Cultivate Meaningful Relationships by Ed Welch. Who couldn’t use additional meaningful relationships? I could hear Dr. Welch’s calm, measured voice in my head as I read this little booklet. Designed to help people in churches care practically for each other, the suggestions and discussion questions would be helpful for formal counselors and friends alike.

Leadership is Language: The Hidden Power of What You say–and What You Don’t by L. David Marquet. Written by a submarine captain, this text examines how we communicate. While this is a book really written for business contexts, anyone would benefit from the the lessons of controlling the clock, learning to pause, and making incremental advancements among others. Marquet writes not only with fascinating leadership experience, but also the keen eye of a social researcher.

The Works of John Newton, vl. 2. I have made no secret of my affection for John Newton. I am working my way through these 4 volumes slowly, just a few pages at a time. This volume contains letters, sermons, and accounts of church history. Here is just one gem: “Our Lord did not come to tell us that there is a God, (the devils know this, and tremble,) but to reveal to us such a knowledge of God as may stand with our comfort; to teach us how poor, guilty, hell-deserving sinners may draw near to God with hopes in his mercy, and call him their Father and their Friend” (p. 242).

Life Together: A discussion of Christian Fellowship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I revisit portions of this text every few years, and it seemed that in the absence of much fellowship in the shutdown early in the year, that this would be a good time to think again with this German pastor who was imprisoned during World War II. “Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian Life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren” (p. 20).

Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church by Paul David Tripp. I finished this one up last night and am already planning to reread it over the holidays–and lead a book club for my colleagues in the spring. Although this is billed for leaders in the church, Tripp includes those in Christian ministry. His candor is disarming as you sink into the brief prose and then get kicked in the teeth time and time again. Every seminary student, potential seminary student, pastor, pastor’s wife, and pastor’s assistant, Resident Assistant, counselor, boss, and husband and discipler should pick this up to evaluate and remember who we serve and how. “He knows that everyone to whom you minster is a person in process. He knows that this will make what you have been called to do difficult. But it has to be said that the hardship, messiness, and unpredictability of ministry is his workroom of grace” (p. 53).

Made for Friendship: The Relationship that Halves Our Sorrows and Doubles Our Joys by Drew Hunter. This text was a birthday gift from dear friends. It, like the ones who gave it to me, challenges the reader to recognize the eternal value of friendship–with each other and with our Savior. “The whole of that happiness merely gestures in the direction of the joys to come. History ends with neither a bang nor a whimper, but with the laughter of friends. History tells the drama of friendship created, lost, and then restored” (p. 137).

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund. I think you will see this book on lots of the lists this year! What a refreshing text exploring how Jesus cares for His people. I have written study questions for this as I have been reading, and I hope they are helpful for you.

What If I Don’t Feel Like Going to Church by Gunner Gundersen. I was at my friends’ house recently, and their 8 year old son asked, “Can’t we just stay home and watch church on TV?” Gunner answers this question, and as always, gently reminds God’s people that we need each other. We need to be together, and I’ll just add in here, I need you!

Caffeine by Michael Pollan. What happens when a food writer (The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food, Inc. are fascinating!) begins to research the history and impact of our favorite legal addictive stimulants–and gives up coffee cold-turkey? This audiobook is part biology and part the history of empires. Pollan never disappoints.

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. Six months after finishing this book, I still think about it every day. Tracing the awful shipwreck of the Endurance in the Antarctic in 1914 and the long months of survival under the bitterest of conditions, Lansing explores the themes of leadership, fortitude, and contentment. “They were castaways in one of the most savage regions of the world, drifting they knew not where, without a hope of rescue, subsisting only so long as Providence sent them food to eat. And yet they had adjusted with surprisingly little trouble to their new life, and most of them were quite sincerely happy. The adaptability of the human creature is such that they actually had to remind themselves on occasion of their desperate circumstances. On November 4, Macklin wrote in his diary: “It has been a lovely day, and it is hard to think we are in a frightfully precarious situation.””

Polio: An American Story by David M. Oshinsky. This chronicle of the decades polio epidemic and the frantic search for a cure was the first book I read when the world ground to a halt back in the spring. Unlike our current pandemic, polio stalked the young, crippling and killing its victims without. Oshinsky traces the development of the polio vaccine, its testing, and the relentless fundraising needed to provide ongoing care for polio victims. Who can forget the image he weaves of children dancing in the clouds of DDT being sprayed in an attempt to control polio’s spread? You will find amazing parallels between the fights against Covid and Polio, including fear-mongering and politics as well as clashes over ethnic and class divisions.

Do you have any suggestions of what I should pick up next?

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