We wanted to share with you our favourite books of 2019. To that end, TGC Canada editors and council members have provided us with a list of their favourites.
Any list is subjective, and there are thousands of other possible books worthy of your attention. Still, as fellow learners, we hope you consider what we at TGC Canada have read in the past year and now recommend. We hope it is a blessing to you as you consider what to read in 2020.
Joshua Tong — Council Member
Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke
The first book I read from Reinke was his insightful and timely reflection 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. In Competing Spectacles, Reinke expands his commentary to include various ways in which technology competes for our attention and challenges his readers to spend less time dwelling on the world and more time meditating on Christ.
Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden
Marsden does masterful work weaving the life and thought of Jonathan Edwards together in this comprehensive biography of one of the greatest Reformed thinkers in Western Civilization. This book provides the reader with a deeper understanding of Edwards’ theology as well as the personal struggles that led him to find his greatest delight in the Triune God of Scripture.
God the Son Incarnate by Stephen Wellum
In this book, Wellum combines his skills as a theologian and a philosopher in helping the reader understand not only what the Bible teaches about Christ, but what the philosophies of the world have done to undermine orthodox Christology. The clarity of Wellum’s writing makes this a highly readable resource for anyone who is concerned about knowing and worshiping Christ, not as revealed by the world, but as revealed by God’s Word.
Winston Bosch — Council Member
Seeking God’s Face: praying with the Bible through the year by Philip F. Reinders
A wonderful resource for daily personal scripture reading and prayer. This book will deepen your prayer life and structure your personal devotions around the church calendar in a refreshing way. I use this book every second year (switching in off years to a different devotional) and continue to find it a real blessing. Meditative prayerful reading.
Delighting in the Trinity: an introduction to the Christian faith by Michael Reeves
We recite or sing a Trinitarian creed every Sunday in my church and I regularly teach on the apostles’ creed, but this popular-level book just opened me up to a whole other realm of practical everyday wonder and worship of our Triune God. Absolutely fantastic, and of all the books I read in 2019 this was my favorite. Delightful theological reading.
Echoes of Exodus: tracing themes of redemption through Scripture by Alastair Roberts and Andrew Wilson
The authors trace what they call the melody of the exodus story through all of Scripture, finding musical echoes of redemption from slavery resounding across the Bible. Their grasp of the interconnectedness of the canon will make you want to read again all the stories you thought you knew so well, praising God for the wonder of his inspired Word. Surprising, beautiful reading.
Our secular Age: ten years of reading and applying Charles Taylor, edited by Collin Hansen
I once heard the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor speak in a dim Montreal pub, but I’ve only ever done cursory reading of his work. This collection of essays takes several of Taylor’s central themes and considers what they teach Christians about everyday life in a secular age. I learned a lot and made me want to go and read Taylor for real. Invigorating, philosophical reading.
Expository Exultation: Christian preaching as worship by John Piper
Both a passionate plea and a practical plan for rigourous and redemptive preaching that not only exalts God, but lifts the preacher into worship as he delivers his sermon. This book will motivate you and equip you; one of the best books I’ve read on preaching. Inspirational, instructive reading.
George Sinclair — Council Member
I confess that I mainly read fiction written by non-Christians. I also am slow to get around to new books. But here are the five best books I read in 2019.
God’s Battalions by Rodney Stark
I am by nature skeptical about “what everybody knows to be true.” So, I have long been skeptical about the claims made around the Crusades. Rodney Starks’s book is a great antidote to “what everyone knows is true.”
Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensee’s Edited, Outlined, and Explained by Blaise Pascal with notes by Peter Kreeft.
I read this book when it first came out and loved it. This year I have been slowly re-reading it. Pascal was amazingly prescient about the intellectual habits of his age and ours.
A Change of Affections by Becket Cook
Powerful and moving. Becket was an openly gay man who reached the pinnacle of Hollywood. This book tells the story of his conversion.
Confronting Christianity: Twelve Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion by Rebecca McLaughlin.
Cambridge educated Rebecca McLaughlin is an adult convert to Christianity. This book gives outstanding short treatments of 12 big challenges to the Christian faith.
Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of John (3 volumes) by J. C. Ryle
Every person who teaches on John’s Gospel should read this Commentary written around 1880. Ryle has a short simple devotional followed by very long expository notes. He interacts with almost 60 commentary writers from the early church fathers through the reformers to the puritans to his own day.
Clint Humfrey — Council Member
Faithful Endurance, eds. Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson, Sr.
As the Young, Restless and Reformed get older and more settled, they are needing to be encouraged in their ministries now that the initial zeal of the work has possibly waned. Hansen and Robinson’s edited book should be read by every pastor who is more than a few years into the work.
If each job has its industry secrets, the pastoral vocation is no different. Faithful Endurance touches on these ‘insider’ concerns that are well known to all pastors. Topics covered range far and wide, such as: feeling listless (Keller), considering quitting (Carson), mundane preaching (Chapell) criticism (Doriani), friends leaving (Harvey), stress on the wife (Sanchez), and financial struggles (Shields). There are more topics than these, and some will apply to certain pastors more than others. The relevance is often determined by which season you’re in, as in, “been there done that”, or “I know what’s coming”.
Faithful Endurance is rounded out by a warm interview with John MacArthur who has endured in his own pastorate for half a century. In the absence of wise mentors nearby, a pastor would be well-served to learn from the experience compiled in this book.
Evangelism as Exiles by Elliot Clarke
If you’re like me you might have an instinct to pass up books on evangelism. It’s not that we don’t need help. We need a lot of help. But most of the evangelism books out there offer the latest technique or the new redemptive analogy for a select subculture (remember The Matrix?).
Clarke’s book is something refreshingly different. It is a critique of Western evangelical timidity (cowardice?). This simplicity and freshness of Clarke’s observations may come from his experience living as a missionary in Central Asia. He offers the remedy of simply having confidence in the gospel’s power, stating it without apology, and trusting God for the consequences.
When read as a corrective, it gives the reader a sense that they know what he’s talking about, but they haven’t been practicing it. Instead, most of us have been too concerned with being experts in other religions or worldviews, or working so hard at the “friendship,” we forget to simply announce the good news.
Drawing from 1 Peter, Clarke encourages an appropriate winsomeness in our approach but also emphasizes that suffering is not a bug, but a feature of Christian witness.
It used to be that the only time you might hear about “network” was when Wayne Gretzky set up behind the goal to make a play. Now “networking” is a verbal noun which all of us are compelled to employ. The historian Niall Ferguson looks at the way networks develop, and how they can fracture or be controlled.
From a Christian perspective, it is noteworthy to see Ferguson’s analysis of the Protestant Reformation. He explains it as a networked revolt against a hierarchy; namely Roman Catholicism.
Ferguson literally plots out the various nodes of networks throughout history. At times this level of analysis gets boring to non-specialists like myself. But what became clear to me was the way that an individual can be widely connected to many others. That individual’s influence may not be recognized in the results of others. But the individual has a catalytic effect on people, and so becomes essential for “network effects” that create movements.
Read this book if you wish to consider how the conversion of one person could be used of God to catalytically launch gospel advances among tribes, tongues, and nations. Who knows what God might do through the person you are talking to?
Paul Carter — Council Member
I try to read a book a week and I attempt to alternate between a variety of categories: biography, history, theology, apologetics, missiology, commentaries, biblical studies, preaching, ministry, philosophy and fiction. I also read through the Bible every year using the Robert Murray M’Cheyne (RMM) Bible Reading Plan.
Here are a few of my favourite reads from 2019, in no particular order.
Written by renowned psychologist and author Dr. Jean Twenge, I found this book to be absolutely fascinating and have recommended it to every pastor and parent that I know. I have five children who have been born and raised in the smartphone era and I have watched these shifts occurring before my eyes. Make no mistake; things have changed. There are dangers and opportunities that must be understood by influencers, educators, parents and legislators as this generation comes of age and begins to take centre stage in our culture. Warning: There is some strong language, particularly in the testimonial sections, but it is well worth pressing through. Highly recommend.
The Gospel Comes With A House Key by Rosaria Butterfield
I found this book to be equal parts challenging, convicting and inspiring. I doubt that there are too many people who could or should duplicate what Butterfield and her husband have modelled here but I’m absolutely sure that most of us should be doing far more than we are in this area. Butterfield addresses many of the barriers that tend to keep us from engaging with our neighbours and suggests several practical adjustments—mostly in terms of mindset—that can help us press through and step out into this type of ministry. It would be worth buying and reading this book simply as a testimonial to God’s power, kindness and grace. Butterfield’s personal story is woven throughout the book and adds depth and humanity to her commendation of this work. Warning: this book may wreck your life, challenge your values and poke a giant whole in your future plans and aspirations, but it may also open up a whole new front in your outreach and mission to your community. Highly recommend.
Can We Trust The Gospels? by Peter J. Williams
This book is probably more necessary today than at any time in recent history. We live in an age of acidic relativism that insists upon leveling any claims to truth and authority. Fueled by the half-truths and amateurism of the internet, there exists a widespread scepticism as to the reliability of the New Testament documents—despite the overwhelming evidence as to their authenticity and consistency. Williams provides a thoroughly researched and entirely readable defense of the New Testament text that should be required reading for anyone interested in discussing issues of faith with friends and neighbours. Highly recommend.
I read a lot of commentaries—18 in 2019—in preparation for sermons and also as related to the Into The Word devotional podcast. One of the best commentaries I read this year was by Dr. M. Daniel Carroll R.(Rodas) (PhD, University of Sheffield); Earl S. Kalland Chair of Old Testament at Denver Seminary. I often find that I have to read 3-4 commentaries in order to get the perfect balance of critical insight, structural analysis, Gospel connection and personal application but Carroll’s work on Hosea covered all of those bases in a single volume. While I did make use of several other commentaries for the Hosea series, I found myself coming back to Carroll’s work again and again and again. Useful for the pastor and accessible for the lay reader, I highly recommend this series in general and this volume in particular.
All the best in your reading in 2020!
Trevor Peacock – Council Member
Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop
This an amazing book to help a believer through difficult times. Vroegop elaborates on the power of lament and shows how the Psalmists and Jeremiah worked through the pain and trials of this life while calling out to God. Whether you are in a difficult season or know someone who is, I believe you will find this book to be very beneficial.
Evangelism as Exiles by Elliot Clark
Clark does a great job of taking the truth of 1 Peter and showing how relevant it’s teaching is for today specifically when it comes to evangelism. This book is a great reminder of the call that every believer has to be witnesses. In North America we may think that times may be getting more difficult for Christians, Clark shows us that this is a great time to be salt and light for Christ.
Rob Godard — Council Member
Reading should always start with God’s Word, and stay there. Read in quantity and depth, and don’t excuse the sacrifice of either for lack of discipline to delight in the Bible. For me, I do two big picture reads of the entire Bible each year, and follow that up with more intense studies using other helps in between those reads. God’s Word is the only LIVING AND ACTIVE book that has the power to transform your life.
Robert Murray Mccheynne by Andrew Bonar
This is a book that I have long wanted to read, and this year finally did. It was a treat that welcomed me to a man who lived life for the glory of God, and did it with all his might. Worth the time and effort and as Piper would say, dead heroes are the best ones.
The Compelling Community by Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop
I would joyfully read anything that has Dever’s name to it, and this book was excellent in terms of helping the church realize what it means to live in light of the Gospel together. After reading it, bought it for our Elders board, and encouraged them to read it. Is short, and worth the time.
This was my first Greear book, and I loved it. Easy to read and points to a Gospel centred life in ways that are practical and possible. Made me pick up and read more of his books, but so far this one is my favourite. Read and enjoy, take the time to experience the reality of the Gospel as you read it in its simplicity.
The Prayers of Jesus by Mark Jones
Mark’s books are worth reading, he is thoughtful and has the amazing gift of making the complex simple using many in church history to drive home the truths he is teaching. His book, Knowing Christ, is better, but this book was one I read this year, and we bought for our leadership team as we made it our passion to improve our prayer lives for God’s glory, and Christ’s pattern of prayer, the best in HISTORY!
Something Needs To Change by David Platt
This was a raw, hard book to read that grabbed my mind and my heart and made me want to be a part of the solution. When I finished reading this book (took me a day, it is not long and it grabs your heart), I immediately gave it to one of my sons who is a Platt fan, and recommended it to one of our pastors sons who is studying to be a missionary that takes care of the less fortunate. Platt is a serious follower of Jesus who causes me to want more for my own life, and although this book does not give a clear answer, certainly whetted my appetite for seeing the power of God at work through the people of God for accomplishing His good plan in this world.
There are so many other great books, but of the many I read this year, these five have risen to the top of my pile
Wyatt Graham — Executive Director
Justification by Michael Horton
Michael Horton ably explains one of the most important Christians teachings: how God justifies by faith in Jesus. The historical and theological argument throughout the book will help any interested reader, pastor, or academic to grasp this teaching. By the way, I cheated a bit as I read volume I in 2018 and finished volume II in 2019.
On the Incarnation by Athanasius
Here is one of my favourite books that I re-read this year. It is the classic treatment that seeks to answer the question why did God become man? Or more accurately, the work seeks to explain why Jesus ascended the cross.
Reforming Apologetics by J.V. Fesko
Fesko retrieves the traditional reformed view of apologetics that dives deep into scripture and natural law. We must recover natural law in particular since the next decades will bring increasingly complex challenges when it comes to human nature—transhumanism being one such challenge.
Chance Faulkner — Editor
The Seven Laws of Teaching by John M. Gregory
For those of us responsible for teaching, formally or informally, and want to become more useful, this book is an important tool. Gregory’s seven laws are simple, profound, and will help you become not only a better teacher, but also a better learner. Whatever your philosophy of education, this book will prove to be a blessing. The Seven Laws of Teaching is clear, concise, and immediately practical.
The Missionary Fellowship of William Carey by Michael A.G. Haykin
Much has been written about the famous missionary to India, William Carey. What isn’t as well known is the friendships that played a vital role in his life and ministry. In this volume, Michael Haykin shows the importance of such a role in the life of William Carey. Truly, a lone Christian is a dead Christian, and when Christian friendships are not at the heart of our lives, ministries, and institutions, they can easily go wrong. I loved this book so much I bought a copy for the leaders of the Peterborough Gospel Union. May we all strive to cultivate biblical friendships that are far less interested in “receiving and possessing” and far more interested in “sacrifice and giving.”
What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman (expanded edition)
In a reaction to unbiblical “self-help” advice, some Christians can fall into the opposite ditch and “downplay [productivity practices] in the church on the altar of over spiritualization.” In Matt Perman’s work What’s Best Next, he helpfully shows how being productive is also a means by which we can love God and our neighbour. What Christ has done for us in the gospel ought to transform the way we get things done. Truly: “being gospel-driven … means knowing how to get things done so that we can serve others in a way that helps, in all areas of life, without making ourselves miserable in the process through overload, overwhelm, and hard-to-keep-up systems.”
As we enter a new decade, would you commit with me to being more productive—for the glory of God and the good of other people?
Baiyu Andrew Song — Editor
Loving God and Neighbor with Samuel Pearce by Michael A. G. Haykin and Jerry Slate.
Samuel Pearce (1766–1799), an eighteenth-century English Baptist, was known by his contemporaries as a “man of love.” With his piety, marriage, ministry, and public life, the authors skillfully presented Pearce as a faithful disciple of Christ. By reading this biography, we can confirm the words of William Carey’s colleague, William Ward (1769–1823): “I have seen more of God in him than in any other person I ever knew.”
This work is the first of its kind, as Chow presented an in-depth theological study of contemporary Chinese Christian thoughts. Without being ambitious to represent all Chinese Christians, Chow aimed to focus on “how Confucian understandings have influenced Chinese Christian intellectuals.” With a detailed study of three generations of Chinese Christians, Chow provided a plausible framework and direction for understanding contemporary Chinese Christianity.
On the Holy Spirit by Basil of Caesarea, trans. Stephenson Hildebrand
Toward the end of his short life, Basil of Caesarea (329/330–379) found strong disagreements with his mentor Eustathius of Sebaste (c. 300–377/380) over the person of the Holy Spirit. After failing to persuade Eustathius, Basil remained silent while being abused by his friend. Two years later, Basil penned this work as requested by Amphilochius of Iconium to answer a pastoral question: should we praise and worship the Holy Spirit? On the Holy Spirit, as a spiritual classic, should be rediscovered by pastors in particular.
Benjamin Inglis — Editor
A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
Though not exactly a truism, most would likely agree that the language of grief is best understood between those who have experienced it. While studying at Oxford in the 1940s, Vanauken would meet C.S. Lewis, who would not only be his guide from atheism to Christianity, but, in years to come, his confidant and fellow sufferer in the wake of his wife Jean’s death.
Written autobiographically from the perspective of Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy is poignantly written and filled with refreshingly human insights about marriage, friendship, and the hard road of repentance. I highly recommended this book to Lewis enthusiasts, reluctant atheists, and those wrestling with grief.
The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin
Like many, I have skirted around reading the Institutes for several years; on the one hand, fearing to neglect such a seminal work of systematic theology, on the other hand, fearing what I assumed would be a dense treatment of topics couched in stodgy, academic language.
With the Banner of Truth’s publishing of Calvin’s own “Essentials” edition however, it turns out there was nothing to fear. Translated directly from Calvin’s own french edition by Robert White, Banner’s edition of the Institutes is beautifully typeset and reads warmly and effortlessly. Clearly Calvin wrote such a work not only for the sake of Christianity proper, but also for the benefit of individual Christians everywhere.
On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior
On Reading Well is not a book that should be read through quickly; rather, it should be consumed with all the mindful enjoyment of an exquisitely cooked meal. Prior writes with all the incisiveness and erudition of an english professor, and all the passion of a lover—a lover of books that is. Using the twelve classic virtues as guideposts, the author leads the reader through a veritable feast of great literature, explaining how their respective motifs illustrate a universal human longing for “the good life,” and how such a life, ultimately, can only be found through Christ.
Sam Chua — Editor
Christmas in the Crosshairs by G.Q. Bowler
G.Q. Bowler does an excellent job tracing the history of how the modern Christmas came to be. The origins of Santa Clause and how the jolly man in the red suit became an ubiquitous, global phenomenon is explored. An excellent read for those wanting to understand why the modern Christmas appeals to our fallen condition.
Worship in the Early Church by Ralph P. Martin
Martin discusses the pattern of worship in the life of the early church. Worship is more than just singing as Martin demonstrates by looking at not just the hymns and spiritual songs, but also the Jewish heritage of the church, the usage of creeds, preaching, and the observance of the ordinances.
Lovin’ on Jesus: A Concise History of Contemporary Worship by Swee Hong Lim and Lester Ruth
Lim and Ruth discuss the distinctives of the “contemporary worship” service and how the understanding of worship has evolved in the last 100 years. Lim and Ruth document not just the changes in music, but also the change of language, prayer in services, and modern preaching. This is a helpful volume for those seeking to understand just how church services in the English-speaking world have changed in recent history.
Dave Rennalls — Editor
The Essential Trinity, ed. Brandon D. Crowe & Carl R. Trueman
The Doctrine of the Trinity has a reputation of being an academic affair, far removed from Scripture. Crowe and Trueman set out to “show that faithful exegesis of biblical texts necessitates a trinitarian reading of the biblical texts” (p.20). The essays trace the trinitarian themes and implications that we often miss and the textual evidence surges in an exegetical tsunami! Compelling reading!
God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ by Stephen J. Wellum
Full disclosure: I’m currently studying under Dr. Wellum and he may be disappointed that I didn’t read this book until 2019, but his work in this book reminded me of why I wanted to learn from him in the first place. Wellum is especially helpful in outlining the underlying issues and assumptions which lead to Christological disagreements. He addresses these foundational issues and then shows how the Doctrine of Christ is derived from Scripture, how it was refined as questions were posed throughout church history, and how understanding the exegetical grounding and historical development helps us assess competing proposals in our own day.
A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture by Mark D. Thompson
In my opinion, the Doctrine of the Clarity of Scripture is under constant threat in the minds of Canadian church members, pastors, and academics because of the dominance of postmodern thinking in our culture. We face the constant subtle suggestion that we’re naïve (and maybe bigoted!) if we believe the Bible speaks clearly. Thompson provides a great service to the church by tracing the theme through Scripture and showing that the clarity of Scripture is grounded in God’s ability to successfully communicate with the people he created.
Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture by David Murray
This book is refreshing. Anyone feeling weary, joyless, or stressed, will do well to start 2020 with this helpful book from David Murray. He points to the grace of God and helps his readers recover joy and peace by adjusting their thinking and patterns of life to align with what the Bible says is true about God and about us and about the gospel.
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