Recommendations and Highlights from my 2020 Reading List

I’m arguably addicted to reading analogue books and listening to audiobooks. I’ve never been one to enjoy e-books. This year I’ve read more titles than any previous year, the resources of the Grand Rapids Public Library have been such a blessing. Here are recommendations and highlights from my 2020 reading list. These titles fed my soul, challenged my thinking, were educational, and/or were just fun to read.

I’ve sorted them by category for your convenience. Feel free to comment with your favorite reads or with suggestions for 2021.

-Erik Martin

The Major Works -Anselm
The Pleasures of God -John Piper
The Holiness of God -R.C. Sproul
Fight -Preston Sprinkle
Reenchanting Humanity -Owen Strachan

Kingdom Through Covenants -Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum
Regnum Caelorum -Charles Hill
The Temple and the Church’s Mission -G.K. Beale
The Bible and Future Events -Anthony Hoekema
Revelation -G.K. Beale

Christian History and Biography:
The Korean Pentecost -Bruce Hunt
Gay Girl, Good God -Jackie Hill Perry
Confessions -Augustine

Racial Issues:
Free At Last? -Carl F. Ellis
The Color of Law -Richard Rothstein
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl -Harriet Ann Jacobs

History and Biography:
Alexander Hamilton -Ron Chernow
Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee -Dee Brown
A Promised Land -Barack Obama
No Higher Honor -Condoleezza Rice
The Room Where It Happened -John Bolton

On Reading Well -Karen Swallow Prior
Daring Greatly -Brené Brown
Personality Isn’t Permanent -Benjamin Hardy.
The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up -Marie Kondo
Digital Minimalism -Cal Newport

Classic Fiction:
The Deerslayer -James Fenimore Cooper
Dawn -Elie Wiesel
East of Eden -John Steinbeck

Newly-written Fiction:
All the Light We Cannot See -Anthony Doer
The Girl in Cabin 10 -Ruth Ware
Thrawn – Timothy Zahn
Deep Storm -Lincoln Child

Here’s the full list of what I’ve read this year:

Richards: We Should Seek Justice, but not Because It’s the Cool Thing to Do

“Dear friends,

The prophet Amos proclaimed God’s word against the nations surrounding Israel and Judah. When pronouncing judgment against Tyre and Gaza and Damascus and Edom, etc., those hearing him would have cheered. What person wouldn’t want to hear how angry God is with his enemies? If nothing else, hearing of God’s anger and judgment on those enemies affirms the animosity felt toward those enemies. But then Amos turns his focus onto Judah and Israel, and especially Israel.

“Thus says the LORD: ‘For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted; a man and his father go in to the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned; they lay themselves down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge, and in the house of their God they drink the wine of those who have been fined.’” Amos 2:6–8 ESV

Amos uses the Ancient Near Eastern pattern of ‘not only this, but also that’ to highlight Israel’s sins. We know the ‘for three…and for four’ is idiomatic as he lists seven sins. Each of these seven is an oppression of the weak.

The righteous were sold for silver. By referencing those oppressed as ‘righteous’ Amos is indicating that the issue is money lenders were abusing those who had committed no wrong, but were unable to pay for their loans. The law of Moses regulated how Israel was to care for those in need. Instead of caring for them as people, they were being forced into slavery as a result of being unable to pay their debts. Even those with insignificant debts (‘the needy for a pair of sandals’) were being exploited instead of being given time to pay back what was owed—or better, have their insignificant debts forgiven.

The powerless were being abused and ‘trample[d]…into the dust of the earth’. Those with power, whether social or political, were humiliating those without. We don’t know the exact issue but it’s clear that the power imbalance was being used against the weak. The powerless were being ground into dust.

Those with power would ‘turn aside the way of the afflicted’. In 5:12 Amos uses this phrase to refer to court cases. Those with power easily manipulate and push around those without power, and often use the legal system to do so.

Amos mentions a man and his father going ‘in to the same girl’. Sexual abuse has been rampant throughout human history and female employees are especially at risk. Powerful and wealthy men have often used their resources—which they could easily withhold—to exploit those in particular need. In this case father and son are complicit in their evil exploitation of the weak.

Amos identifies two more ways in which the powerless were being exploited. He says they—the powerful—‘lay themselves down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge’. The law of Moses required that when the destitute gave their clothing as collateral on a loan, that clothing had to be returned by nightfall as it would be the only thing keeping them warm at night (Exodus 22:25-27). Here the rich were sleeping next to altars on those garments, indicating they had not returned them. They took the garments in pledge and then went to a worship celebration of some sort, as if God would be impressed at their ability to exploit others. This mockery of right worship is further demonstrated as they would ‘drink the wine of those who have been fined’ at these worship festivals. If a civil fine were charged the guilty party could pay the fine with wine. Judges were using their civil power for their own gain, and doing so while worshiping God.

God’s response to these seven ways the powerful were exploiting the powerless was to remind them of what he had done for them all those centuries before.

‘Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars and who was as strong as the oaks; I destroyed his fruit above and his roots beneath. Also it was I who brought you up out of the land of Egypt and led you forty years in the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite.’ Amos 2:9–10 ESV

When Israel was powerless, God took down the powerful. He did this when he brought them out of Egypt and he did it again when he conquered the land of Canaan for them. Just as God had brought down the oppressor and fought for the oppressed, so should they. God’s anger was directed at the injustices perpetrated by the powerful. His anger was compounded by the fact that Israel had forgotten what it was to be oppressed and had become the oppressor. Rather than reflect the character of the God who had fought those who had exploited them in Egypt, they had begun reflecting the character of the very people who had exploited them. The oppressed had become the oppressor.

The simple truth is we must treat others as God has treated us. God has shown us mercy and grace and is patient with us. God seeks our good and desires that we begin to look and act like him. Not all of us are rich and powerful, yet each one of us has been given a measure of influence and social capital. We must use whatever resources God has given us to stand up for the weak and the powerless and to fight oppression. We do not stand against social injustices because it is the cool thing or because it is the current spirit of the age, but because God in Christ has rescued us from our oppression and fought for us when we were completely and utterly powerless. As the apostle Paul wrote in Romans,

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5:6 ESV

Let us use our influence to fight against injustice. Let us speak up for those being oppressed and harassed by the powerful. Let us care for the poor and protect the vulnerable among us. Let us show the world who our God is and what he is like. Let us fight for justice, for our God has done so for us.”

-J-T Richards

Augustine: Calling Upon God

‘You are great, Lord, and highly to be praised (Ps. 47: 2): great is your power and your wisdom is immeasurable’ (Ps. 146:5). Man, a little piece of your creation, desires to praise you, a human being ‘bearing his mortality with him’ (2 Cor. 4:10), carrying with him the witness of his sin and the witness that you ‘resist the proud’ (I Pet. 5:5).

Nevertheless, to praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.

‘Grant me Lord to know and understand’ (Ps. 118:34, 73, 144) which comes first—to call upon you or to praise you, and whether knowing you precedes calling upon you. But who calls upon you when he does not know you? For an ignorant person might call upon someone else instead of the right one. But surely you may be called upon in prayer that you may be known. Yet ‘how shall they call upon him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe without a preacher?’ (Rom. 10: 14). ‘They will praise the Lord who seek for him’ (Ps. 21: 27). In seeking him they find him, and in finding they will praise him.

Lord, I would seek you, calling upon you—and calling upon you is an act of believing in you. You have been preached to us. My faith, Lord, calls upon you. It is your gift to me. You breathed it into me by the humanity of your Son, by the ministry of your preacher.

How shall I call upon my God, my God and Lord? Surely when I call on him, I am calling on him to come into me, But what place is there in me where my God can enter into me? ‘God made heaven and earth’ (Gen. 1:1). Where may he come to me? Lord my God, is there any room in me which can contain you? Can heaven and earth, which you have made and in which you have made me, contain you? Without you, whatever exists would not exist. Then can what exists contain you? I also have being. So why do I request you to come to me when, unless you were within me, I would have no being at all?

-Augustine, Confessions, Book I, i.

Bonhoeffer: Cheap Grace

“Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?…

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion with out confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘ye were bought at a price,’ and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

He Who Is Mighty

Oh, the mercy our God has shown
To those who sit in death’s shadow
The sun on high pierced the night
Born was the Cornerstone

Unto us a Son is given, unto us a Child is born

He Who is mighty has done a great thing
Taken on flesh, conquered death’s sting
Shattered the darkness and lifted our shame
Holy is His name

Oh, the freedom our Savior won
The yoke of sin has been broken
Once a slave, now by grace
No more condemnation

Unto us a Son is given, unto us a Child is born

He Who is mighty has done a great thing
Taken on flesh, conquered death’s sting
Shattered the darkness and lifted our shame
Holy is His name

Now my soul magnifies the Lord
I rejoice in the God Who saves
I will trust His unfailing love
I will sing His praises all my days

O Savior of Our Fallen Race

O Savior of our fallen race,
O Brightness of the Father’s face,
O Son who shared the Father’s might
Before the world knew day or night,
O Jesus, very Light of light,
Our constant star in sin’s deep night:
Now hear the prayers Your people pray
Throughout the world this holy day.

Remind us Lord of life and grace
How once, to save our fallen race,
You put our human vesture on
And came to us as Mary’s son.
Today, as year by year its light
Brings to our world a promise bright
One precious truth outshines the sun:
Salvation comes from You alone.

For from the Father’s throne You came,
His banished children to reclaim;
And earth and sea and sky revere
The love of Him who sent You here.
And we are jubilant today,
For You have washed our guilt away.
O hear the glad new song we sing
On this, the birth of Christ our King!

O Savior of our fallen race,
The world will see Your radiant face
For You who came to us before
Will come again and all restore.
Let songs of praise Your name adorn,
O Christ, Redeemer, virgin-born
Whom with the Father we adore
And Holy Spirit evermore. Alleluia!

-Christie Resemptor Omnium, Latin Office Hymn, circa 6th Century, translated by Gilbert E. Down, Jr, (1930-), Adapted by Kristyn Getty. © 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship, Admin by Augsburg Fortress Press.

Fullness of Grace

Fullness of Grace in man’s human frailty,
This is the wonder of Jesus.
Laying aside His power and glory,
Humbly He entered our world.
Chose the path of meanest worth:
Scandal of a virgin birth.
Born in a stable, cold and rejected:
Here lies the hope of the world.

Fullness of grace, the love of the Father
Shown in the face of Jesus.
Stooping to bear the weight of humanity,
Walking the Calvary road.
Christ the holy Innocent
Took our sin and punishment.
Fullness of God, despised and rejected: Crushed for the sins of the world.

Fullness of hope in Christ we had longed for,
Promise of God in Jesus.
Through His obedience we are forgiven,
Opening the floodgates of heaven.
All our hopes and dreams we bring
Gladly as an offering.
Fullness of life and joy unspeakable:
God’s gift in love to the world.

-Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townsend, ©2004 Thankyou Music.

Tonight Is Born (Or Tonight We Commemorate)

“Many ages after God created the heavens and the earth, when man and woman were formed in God’s own image; long after the great flood when God set the rainbow in the clouds as a sign of the covenant.

Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah; thirteen centuries after Moses led God’s people to freedom and Miriam danced in celebration; eleven centuries from the time of Ruth and the judges; a thousand years from the anointing of David as king; in fulfillment of the times and years and months and days discerned by the prophets; in the sixty-fifth week as Daniel’s prophecy takes note;

in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
the seven hundred and fifty-second year from
the founding of the city of Rome; the forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus; in the sixth age of the world, all earth being at peace,

Jesus Christ, eternal God, Son of the eternal Father, willing to hallow the world, and desiring to reconcile the world to God by his most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit and growing to term in the womb of his mother, was born of the virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judea.

This night is the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, God made flesh!”

-Augsburg Fortress, edited.

Doddridge: Show Me the Way from Your Word

Blessed God, I humbly adore you as the great Father of lights, and the Giver of every good and every perfect gift (James 1:17).

I seek every blessing from you, and especially those which may lead me to yourself, and prepare me for the eternal enjoyment of you.

I adore you as the God who searches the hearts and tries the reins of the children of men (Jeremiah 17:10).

Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts. See if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24).

May I be renewed in the spirit of my mind (Ephesians 4:24).

You give me a new heart, and place a new spirit within me (Ezekiel 34:26).

Make me a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), and as he who has called me is holy, may I be holy in all I say (1 Peter 1:15).

May the same mind be in me which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5), and may I walk even as he walked (1 John 2:6).

Deliver me from being carnally-minded, which is death; and make me spiritually-minded, since that is life and peace (Romans 8:6).

And may I, while I pass through this world, walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7) and be strong in faith, giving glory to God (Romans 4:20).

May your grace teach me to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly (Titus 2:11-12).

Work in my heart the kind of godliness which is profitable for all things (1 Timothy 4:8).

Teach me by the influence of your blessed Spirit, to love you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).

May I yield myself to you, as alive from the dead (Romans 6:13) and present my body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable in your sight, which is my most reasonable service (Romans 12:1)! Amen.

-Philip Doddridge, Piercing Heaven: Prayers of the Puritans, Robert Elmer Ed., 32.