It’s time again to give you my ten favorite books of the year.
Below are my top ten books of 2020. I read them in 2020, although they may have been published in a different year. And maybe I didn’t read every word of some of them (there is a reference book and a commentary on the list), but I read enough of the book to consider it one of my top books of the year. Sometimes just one beautifully written sentence is enough to edify your life.
My Top 10 Books of 2020
10. The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry by R. Kent Hughes and Douglas Sean O’Donnell
This is a reference book for pastors that provides step by step instructions for common how-to pastoral ministry tasks — tasks like planning worship services, conducting funerals, home visitations, and much more. An invaluable resource for pastors.
9. The Gospel according to John by D. A. Carson
I think it’s only fair to include at least one commentary on the list since I spend a bulk of my reading time throughout the year reading biblical commentaries as I prepare to preach and teach God’s Word. And I (along with my co-pastor) are currently preaching through the Gospel of John. We started in January and we still have a few more chapters to go. I like consulting 5-8 commentaries (and sometimes more) when preaching. Even if most of that content doesn’t make the sermon, I still consult that many commentaries simply because the learning is a thrill for me. Of all the commentaries I’ve used for the Fourth Gospel, Carson’s is the best.
8. The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel
A far different kind of book than I usually read. This is the story of the last living hermit in America, a man who somehow learned to survive in the woods alone for over 20 years. A fascinating read.
7. Write Better: A Lifelong Editor on Craft, Art, and Spirituality by Andrew T. Le Peau
I don’t want to turn writing prose into an idol, and I myself don’t want to become a perfectionist who can only post perfectly written sentences. As I see it, the two big reasons why writers don’t produce as much as they could is perfectionism and the fear of man. Content is superior to prose, and 52 pretty good articles a year is more valuable than one masterpiece.
And yet, writing is a craft, something I enjoy, an area in which I want to improve. So I try to read at least one book on writing per year. The biggest takeaway from Le Peau’s book is how to argue better, which means (and I’m putting this in my own words) you have to: (1) state the problem; (2) show the possible solutions; (3) reveal the strengths of the possible solutions, but why they don’t measure up; (4) give the solution (see p. 54-56).
Simple, but that is a super helpful framework for me.
6 Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund
This book will rank as the #1 book on many top ten book lists this year. For me, I read it too fast, and I think I need to go back and allow the material to sink in more. The fact that this book is getting so much attention is probably a sign that ministry leaders need to do a better job of telling God’s people how much God loves them. We need to talk more about the heart of Christ.
5. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs
The puritans have a way of creating material that is blunt, meaty, and convicting, but at the same time humbling and doxological (makes you want to praise God). Reading about contentment has a way of magnifying God’s mercies and making me more thankful.
4. The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges
Books on preaching and pastoring are in my regular reading repertoire, and this classic — one that is probably a bit underrated — will make the pastor take seriously his calling into the ministry.
3. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
I’m officially a big Malcolm Gladwell fan. I can’t believe it took me this long to jump on the bandwagon although, just like anyone who is enormously popular, Gladwell has his fair share of critics. In this book, Gladwell writes about success and why some people, the outliers, are massively successful, but others aren’t. Turns out success is far more than just personal talent and hard work. According to Gladwell, factors such as who/how rich your parents are, where you’re from, which generation you belong to, and the opportunities you are given, will determine how fruitful your endeavors will be. I couldn’t help but think of the providence of God as I read the book. A wildly entertaining read.
2. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
This excellent book on productivity is now one of my all-time favorite secular books. Newport argues that focus has become the superpower of the 21st century, and in order to excel and succeed, one must be able to master hard skills and produce quickly. This requires that you work hard, in a distracted-free state, on a consistent basis. In other words, you need to learn how to focus deeply. I have applied so many principles of this book in my own personal life and have seen great results.
1. The Doctrine of God by John Frame
John Frame is one of the best, most prolific theologians of our day. I decided to read this book as I aim to read at least one big theology work every year. Frame writes in an extraordinarily clear and compelling way. He is ruled by Scripture, and is unwavering on his convictions, even if unpopular. As you read the book, you get the sense that he’s not even trying hard, that putting together a clear and insightful sentence, one after another, is effortless for him. He makes it look easy. I have since purchased all of the remaining volumes in his A Theology of Lordship series that I did not own. Lord willing, I’ll try to read every volume. Praise God for good theologians.
My Top Books from Previous Years
If you’d like to see my top ten books from previous years, you can do so by clicking here.
Or you can just select a year below.