Here’s my top ten books of 2023 in no particular order. I hope you find something that piques your interest.
Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, 2 Volumes.
Theologian Fred Sanders once said that reading Charnock’s Existence and Attributes has to become a way of life if you ever hope to finish it. Well, I made it a way of life and, after 14 months of reading, I finally finished. It was worth it. I invite others to make reading Charnock a way of life. You won’t regret it.
Abigail Favale, The Genesis of Gender.
Christians need to read this book. We need to understand the philosophical underpinnings of transgender ideology.
We need to understand how we got to this place as a society.
We need a refresher course on the Christian anthropological perspective on human nature and the human body—namely, that we view the human person as a body-soul unity and that sexual differentiation between men and women is purposeful. It is not an accident.
We need to know that transgenderism is a creation heresy because it denies the goodness of the human body and the goodness of creation. Trying to unshackle ourselves from our humanity leads only to degradation, not flourishing.
Our performative culture has given rise to what some mental health professionals call “performancism.” This is the mindset that equates what you do or do not do, what you accomplish or fail to accomplish, with who you are as a person.
If I could give the younger generation (and older generation now, it seems) one piece of advice it would be: Permanently deactivate all of your social media accounts as soon as possible.
True, as Starke points out, the world will ignore those who “don’t participate in the systems of performance” (63). But I say get out anyway.
After you deactivate your social media accounts, pick up Starke’s book on prayer. Remember: “One of the great uses of Facebook and Twitter will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time” – John Piper
David Powlison, God’s Grace in Your Suffering.
Powlison is a gifted writer whose beautiful prose, rich theological insights, and wise application of biblical truth implants within readers an empathetic disposition toward strugglers crippled with grief, disillusioned by chronic pain, and doubtful of God’s love.
Structured around the hymn “How Firm a Foundation,” each chapter orients readers to the chapter’s focus, applies a stanza to our real-life circumstances, and then concludes with a personal story from Powlison’s life. Finally, Powlison concludes with practical suggestions or questions for readers to answer—all designed to transform their lives in the present.
(Note: I read the following two books for my pastoral counseling course at Gordon Conwell)
You don’t need me to tell you that pornography addiction is a huge problem. The evidence is everywhere: High divorce rates, listlessness among young men, sex trafficking, abuse, and the degradation of women—to name only a few. Ortlund aims to counteract the scourge of pornography by reminding men of their calling and nobility.
Michael John Cusick, Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle.
As a former porn addict, Cusick writes with empathy and wisdom. He rightly notes that men who act out sexually must go “below the water-line” of their lives (42), and look beneath the surface of their actions, and unearth what is motivating their behavior.
After twenty-plus years of counseling sex addicts, Cusick delineates the seven core thirsts of every man: 1) Attention, 2) affection, 3) affirmation, 4) acceptance, 5) satisfaction, 6) significance, and 7) security (30–31). Sex addicts typically act out if these thirsts were not quenched by their childhood caregivers. While this does not excuse their behavior, it does explain it.
A second key insight was Cusick’s distinction between wounds of presence and wounds of absence. Cusick noted that sex addicts tend to suffer from wounds of absence—they were either neglected or abandoned as children.
One final insight that I will carry with me is his chapter on neuroscience. By showcasing what goes on in an addict’s brain, Cusick furnishes addicts with hope: Change is possible.
William R. Miller, Listening Well: The Art of Empathic Understanding.
Read this book if you want to have better conversations with people.
(Note: The next two books are novels.)
Penelope Wilcock, The Wounds of God.
In the second installment of The Hawk and the Dove Series, the author transports readers into a thirteenth-century monastery, detailing their daily activities and interactions with one another. As I read, I found myself highlighting large swaths of conversations between the brothers. It’s a virtual show and tell of how to engage in meaningful conversations with humility, self-awareness, and empathy.
William Kent Krueger, Ordinary Grace.
Though not classified as such, this is essentially a whodunnit.
Leif Enger, Peace Like a River.
I spent a significant amount of time reading this novel, so I feel like it belongs here—if for no other reason than to justify the hours I put into it. Good storyline, interesting characters, and lots of memorable lines.
Tim Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.
All in all, this is Classic Keller. Easy to read, excellent cultural analysis, and lots of insights to take with you into your daily life.
I do have a quibble, however. I found Keller to be uncharacteristically imprecise with regard to his treatment on divine impassibility. On more than a few occasions, Keller spoke about “God suffering,” or “the suffering of God,” without qualifying his statements.
As an ordained minister in the PCA, I know Keller affirms that “There is but one only living and true God, who is without . . . passions,” (WCF 2.1), which is why his language confused me. I would have expected Keller to specify that God the Son suffered, or that he would refer to the suffering of the Son of God. But he didn’t.
Forgive me if this seems overly scrupulous, but I can’t forget Nicholas Lash’s comment that “theology is the practice of learning to watch our words before God.”
Happy reading in 2024!