Another year, another list of top books. This year I read and enjoyed more children’s books than ever before thanks to my four-year-old who loves to read. I also spent a good amount of time in Bible commentaries for teaching and writing. But out of all the books I read cover to cover, here are ten that stood out.
(Follow me on Goodreads to keep up with what I’m reading.)
1. Mountain Rain: A Biography of James O Fraser, Pioneer Missionary to China by Eileen Fraser Crossman
Not many books have inspired me like this one. Fraser (1886-1938) evangelized the unreached Lisu people of Western China, and saw great hardship in his life and ministry. He also saw tremendous, God-sized fruit, that could only be explained by a special work of God. Fraser traveled up and down steep mountain terrain sometimes for weeks to reach another unreached mountain town to evangelize, and after years of faithful proclamation and prayer, saw massive fruit. Paul Miller in A Praying Church uses James Fraser as an illustration of “Praying Big”, and readers will be encouraged to do just that. As I read, I became convicted of how small, faithless, and status-quo-maintaining my prayers often are.
Like any good biography, so many nuggets of spiritual and practical wisdom are interwoven on trusting God in difficulty, the power of the gospel over demons, praying in faith, missions work, and much more. The book is also chock-full of illustrations that could be useful for teaching. I love the anecdote (spoiler alert!) of a young boy who “stole” a Gospel of Mark booklet from Fraser to give to his father who loved to read. (The boy didn’t know it was free for the taking!) God used that “stolen” Gospel of Mark to convert the boy’s father and, through his father’s witness, many in their village. A few themes that struck me were Fraser’s dedication to prayer, his recruiting and communicating with a prayer team, and his strategy of equipping nationals for missions work, something controversial in his day.
Fraser’s daughter wrote this particular biography, which is a special tribute to the father she didn’t know for very long due to his early death.
2. Why We Love Baseball: A History in 50 Moments by Joe Posnanski
After reading The Baseball 100 last year and loving it (a major understatement), I couldn’t wait for Posnanski’s love letter to baseball called Why We Love Baseball. I didn’t look at the Table of Contents; I didn’t want to ruin the surprise of each chapter. And I’m glad I didn’t. I read the Kindle version of this book and flew through the 377 pages in just a few days.
Posnanski has been seeped in the baseball world for a long time, and the depth of his experiences, relationships, and knowledge make his writing—and this book—one-of-a-kind. He brings the humor and humanity out of nearly every story. One good example is for Hank Aaron’s 715th Home Run. Posnaski talked about the two teenagers who ran out of the stands to run the bases alongside Aaron, exploring how they decided to run onto the field, their lives after their fifteen seconds of fame (immortalized forever on video), and even mentioning that “Aaron’s bodyguard did consider shooting them.”
I also appreciated how Posnanski dug out some incredible stories from the minor leagues, international baseball, and even women’s baseball to remind us that baseball is bigger than just the big leagues.
Every fan of baseball history should read this book. You’ll laugh, you’ll tear up, and have a good list of anecdotes to impress your friends next time at the ballpark.
3. Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection by Gary Bates
This is a review I never meant to write about a book I never meant to read. Books about aliens are for crazy people, right? Well, I recently found myself down a rabbit hole of listening to podcast episodes about aliens from a biblical perspective, and it made total sense. In these podcast conversations I kept hearing one book that everyone recommended: Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection by Gary Bates, an Australian apologist who works for Creation.com.
Yes, the topic of aliens and UFOs is one that attracts conspiracy theorists, hucksters, hoaxers, and other tin-foil-hat-wearing crazies. But it’s harder and harder to deny the unexplained phenomena around the topic. Consider recent US Congress hearings on UFOs or NASA reports. Something is happening, and God’s Word has something to say. It shouldn’t be surprising that it’s the most coherent explanation out there.
Alien Intrusion exposes many of the lies, hoaxes, and false worldviews behind belief in UFOs and extraterrestrial aliens. Bates also argues convincingly that the true “alien encounters” (as opposed to a huge swatch of encounters that are hoaxes or explainable) are DEMONIC in nature. Biblically, we know Satan and his minions disguise themselves as angels of light and in different forms to deceive humanity. If we need to be aware of the possibility of entertaining angels in our everyday lives (Hebrews 13:2), why wouldn’t the same be true for fallen angels? Why wouldn’t demons dress as ETs with superior technology to fool an age that worships science and technology?
Bates’ scientific argument is a fascinating one. Many of the top Ufologists and government officials dealing with UFOs and aliens claim they are of paranormal origin. It’s also fascinating to consider the lack of evidence that supposed extraterrestrial aliens or their craft actually come from space—often they just appear out of nowhere, leading some scientists to claim they seem like they’re coming from a different dimension (a believer would say the spiritual realm). Other scientists claim to communicate with higher intelligence extraterrestrials, but their practice for doing so looks just like the occult summoning demons.
One highlight of the book is how two unbelieving UFO researchers came to faith once they realized so many stories of alien encounters featured the supposed “alien” fleeing the scene when the attacked person says the name of Jesus. Jesus is Lord of all! Another fascinating observation is that a good number of people who have had experiences with aliens or UFOs had been involved with the occult. (Mess around with the enemy and get messed with!)
Overall, Alien Intrusion is a well-researched and well-argued book. It’s 400+ pages will turn off many casual readers (you might prefer to watch a DVD documentary based on the book or read this article by Dr. J. Brian Huffling for Southern Evangelical Seminary that shares a helpful overview of the topic), but I know no other book that so clearly and thoroughly explains alien and UFO phenomena from a biblical perspective. If you do read the book, read the 2021 version with an eleventh chapter where Bates a thought-provoking update.
Let me also share a warning: studying this topic, while interesting, has limited value. Studying God’s Word and drawing near to the One who reigns over the spiritual realm has limitless value. May that principle govern your interaction with this topic!
My daughter and I love each of these books. Read my full review of the trilogy here or see the mini-review below:
Besides children’s Bibles, I know no better children’s book that teaches the faith and captivates the imagination like Little Pilgrim’s Big Journey. Not only is the story an all-time classic (based on The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan), the engaging illustrations and end-of-chapter summaries make this an effective tool for teaching children what it means to follow Christ through the challenges of our world. Thank you, Lithos Kids and author Tyler Van Halteren for your work on this book! The Halloran family will read, enjoy, and recommend the Little Pilgrim’s Big Journey trilogy for years to come.
5. The Lord of Psalm 23 by David Gibson
Gibson presents a rich, comforting, and worshipful treatment of a beloved passage of Scripture. Gibson shares literary and pastoral insight on nearly every detail of the text. This book will warm your heart and deepen your love for your good Shepherd.
6. A Praying Church: Becoming People of Hope in a Discouraging World by Paul E. Miller
Author Paul E. Miller is back with a follow up to his excellent book A Praying Life. Like A Praying Life, A Praying Church is profoundly encouraging and practically helpful. Perhaps what encourages me more than anything is Miller’s vulnerability and honesty about his own prayer life. Yes, he has some triumphant stories we can praise God for. But he also has failures that any honest person can relate to.
The depth of Miller’s faith (and his father, Jack Miller’s faith) challenged me to grow. Miller puts his faith to work by investing time and energy in prayer as an individual and with groups. He dedicates a good chunk of his life to seeking God and inspires readers to do the same.
My favorite story is when his adult special-needs daughter would pace in the hallway of their home early in the mornings. For years (perhaps 20 years!), Miller would just yell from his bed for her to go back to bed. Then one day he decided he would pray with her and seek God’s help to calm her down. That began a fruitful season of seeking God together with his daughter, and strengthening her prayer life in the process. The experience was also instrumental in writing a widely-used special needs curriculum.
I love what Dane Ortlund wrote in the foreword: “A Praying Church is not a book telling us to scurry faster on our hamster wheel of prayer. It is an invitation to step off of that hamster wheel by looking to the Spirit of Jesus and letting him lead us forward as we commune with him. Wonderfully simple, widely neglected, deeply liberating…For it is not, finally, a book about prayer. It is a book about God, and how we move through life as a church as if he is actually there.”
I wouldn’t call A Praying Church a “must read” (I don’t give many books that honor), but I would say we all need continual encouragement in prayer, and this is another great book to add to your to-read pile for that purpose. Check this Instagram post with favorite quotes.
7. The Toxic War on Masculinity: How Christianity Reconciles the Sexes by Nancy Pearcey
I reviewed this book. Here’s how I concluded the review: “[The Toxic War on Masculinity] left me wanting to be a better man, husband, and father. There aren’t a lot of women who can do that, but Nancy Pearcey sure has.”
8. All that Jesus Commanded by John Piper
I read this book because of the premise: Since Jesus commands us in the Great Commission to teach disciples to “observe all that I have commanded you”, it’s worth studying all the commands of Jesus in the Gospels. This book does just that. Each command gets about 8 pages of unpacking and application.
I found the book excellent. (It’s the first long Piper book I’ve finished in a while!) As you’d expect, Piper shares great explanation and insight. It’s worth reading a book on the commands of Jesus at least once in your life, and this is a great choice.
9. In the Presence of My Enemies by Gracia Burnham
Wow. A truly amazing (and tragic) story of faith, perseverance, and loving your enemies. For a summary of Gracia Burnham’s story, listen to this episode of the Compelled podcast.
10. Write Better: A Lifelong Editor on Craft, Art, and Spirituality by Andrew T. Le Peau
An immensely helpful and well-rounded book. Now my top recommendation for writers. A lot for me to keep in mind as I work on my next book.
- The Thrill of Orthodoxy: Rediscovering the Adventure of Christian Faith by Trevin Wax
- The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments by Dr. Thomas Schreiner. I’ve been reading this off and on for a couple of years and find it a clear, insightful, and accessible volume.
- A Change of Affection: A Gay Man’s Incredible Story of Redemption by Becket Cook
- Always Good News: Why the Message of Jesus Is Good News Every Day by Scott Lothery. I recommended this book and free course here.
- The Wolf in Their Pockets: 13 Ways the Social Internet Threatens the People You Lead by Chris Martin. An important book for leaders!
- Delighting in the Law of the Lord: God’s Alternative to Legalism and Moralism by Jerram Barrs
Others Worth Mentioning
Two books I had the privilege of endorsing:
- Trading Faces: Removing the Masks that Hide Your God-Given Identity by John and Angel Beeson
- Taking No for an Answer: How to Respond When God Says No to Our Prayers by Blake Long
One book I put together:
- God’s Purpose for Your Suffering by Charles Spurgeon