Once again, I am pleased to share with you my favorite books from this past year! I am trying more and more to read for quality, not quantity; and while reading felt harder this year (kids, anyone?), it was worth the extra effort.
So here is my roundup of favorite titles from 2021. (This doesn’t necessarily mean they were published in 2021.) Their mention doesn’t mean I agree with everything in their pages, but that they follow the criteria I first used in 2015’s Reading Favorites article:
If one of the main purposes of books is to make the reader think, then these are the ones I’d say made me think most deeply, curiously, and enthusiastically this year. I’ve chosen a first prize and a runner-up for each genre.
First Prize: Providence (John Piper)
If you’ve ever asked the question, “What is God doing?” (and I think we all have), this book is for you. During especially hard, perplexing seasons, we need to rest in our good God’s perfect, fatherly care over all things. Piper defines God’s providence as “his purposeful sovereignty by which he will be completely successful in the achievement of his ultimate goal for the universe.” Piper has clearly spent decades thinking about this, and what follows is a beautiful exploration through Scripture (from Genesis to Revelation) of the trustworthy providence of God. Providence is a thick book but moves quickly.
Runner-Up #1: Fix Your Eyes: How Our Study of God Shapes Our Worship of Him (Amy Gannett)
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Amy’s book, which is an accessible read on theology, the study of God. I especially valued her chapters on the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the church. Her warm and inviting writing style made me laugh out loud several times, which I always appreciate.
Runner-Up #2: God’s Kingdom Through God’s Covenants: A Concise Biblical Theology (Peter J. Gentry & Stephen J. Wellum)
Whew—this book is one I’ll need to read again. Dense, but worth it! From the back cover: “Tracing the significance of the concept of ‘covenant’ through both the Old and New Testaments, this book charts a middle way between covenant theology and dispensationalism―exploring the covenantal framework undergirding the history of redemption.”
Biography, Memoir, & Historical Fiction
First Prize: Becoming Elisabeth Elliot (Ellen Vaughn)
I couldn’t put this book down. I’ve only recently come to know more about Elisabeth Elliot, and boy, was she an amazing woman. Ellen Vaughn beautifully tells the story of her beginning, from childhood to marrying Jim Elliot to the mission field, where Elisabeth experienced loss and hardship like many of us will never know. Read this biography, and your heart will be encouraged to take up your cross and follow Jesus, no matter the cost.
Runner-Up: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Isabel Wilkerson)
This book could receive a tie for First Prize, as I couldn’t put it down either! Unfolding three primary stories from The Great Migration (along with many secondary stories), Wilkerson masterfully looks at a part of American history that is largely unknown, unrecognized, and undervalued in its significance. The Warmth of Other Suns is a brilliant narrative history that will open your eyes.
First Prize: Bible Delight: Heartbeat of the Word of God: Psalm 119 for the Bible Teacher and Hearer (Christopher Ash)
One question I ask myself before I write or teach anything is, “Has this first been written on my heart?” Christopher Ash gives a similar test for Bible teachers in his short commentary on Psalm 119: Do we love and delight in the Word we are teaching? Can we sing the word like the singer does? If not, how can we get to that place of loving Scripture? I enjoyed every chapter of this convicting book.
Runner-Up: Keeping the Heart: How to Maintain Your Love for God (John Flavel)
Another heart-searcher, Keeping the Heart examines the command to keep the heart with all diligence, and how we can do this in various seasons and scenarios of life. This is a short and very practical book that blessed me.
Vocation & Learning
First Prize: The Shaping of a Christian Family (Elisabeth Elliot)
Notice a theme here? After reading Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, I had to pick up one of her own books. As a mom myself, I was so helped by the stories, lessons, and examples in this memoir. Elisabeth remembers her childhood and adolescent years with fondness, levity, and a needed sober-mindedness about faithfulness to Christ.
Runner-Up: Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making (Andrew Peterson)
“Uh huh.” “Yep.” “Me too.” My husband will attest to my solidarity with Peterson’s book as I was making my way through it. A singer-songwriter, author, land-cultivator, father, and husband, Peterson writes about his journey in the creative arts, the hard-good calling of creating for God’s glory, and the support we yearn for along the way. I felt seen and known in this compelling memoir.
First Prize: Home (Marilynne Robinson)
I relished Home the second time more than the first, as I made my way through the Gilead series again this year. Robinson is my favorite modern fiction writer with a proficient ability to show you a character or situation without telling you. Her worlds seem more real than most. Home tells the story of a delinquent son, a faithful daughter, an ailing father, and the place that ties them together.
Runner-Up: Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)
My current goal is to read at least one classic novel every year, and Great Expectations was a wonderful one! It’s a long book, but since Dickens’ writing is compelling, humorous, and thought-provoking, it was worth the time. Great Expectations tells poor Pip’s story of inheriting “expectations” from an unknown beneficiary, how he deals with the sudden shift in status, what he leaves behind, and what he truly gains in the end. A fascinating character study.