Books of the Year

Books of the Year December 28, 2020

Here is a good idea for spending the Amazon gift cards that you got for Christmas:  Pick out some of the winners of this year’s Christianity Today Book Awards.

The quarantines, shut-downs, and lockdowns of 2020 were miserable, but at least they made time for reading.  I’m told that book  publishing was one of the industries that more or less held its own during the year’s economic woes.

Every year, Christianity Today comes out with its awards for what its panel–I used to be a member–considers to be the top Christian books in multiple categories:  Apologetics/Evangelism, Biblical Studies, Children & Youth, Christian Living/Discipleship, the Church/Pastoral Leadership, Women, Culture & the Arts, Fiction, History/Biography, Missions/Global Church, Politics and Public Life, Spiritual Formation, Theology/Ethics, and “Beautiful Orthodoxy.”  A “Book of the Year” and an “Award of Merit” are given in each category.

Browse the list, but I want to highlight two titles.  (Note: If you buy any of these books from the links to Amazon, I’ll get a small commission.)

Bezalel’s Body:  The Death of God and the Birth of Art, by Seattle Pacific art historian Katie Kresser, took the Award of Merit for the Culture & the Arts category.  My first book, The Gift of Art (expanded into State of the Arts) focused on Bezalel, the artist called and equipped by God to craft the art of the Tabernacle.  I’m glad to see that this long-neglected Biblical figure has since then been getting his due.  This book approaches Bezalel and the Bible’s legacy for the arts with great sophistication.

She argues that the art of Bezalel is different from the graven images of the pagans.  Whereas the latter made it possible for worshippers to identify with and manipulate their gods, the sacred art of the Tabernacle–which could not even be touched– required and created distance.  Similarly, Christianity emphasizes a personal relationship with God, which requires that He be “other” than ourselves.  This is manifested in Christ’s crucifixion–what she means by the “death of God” in her subtitle–and His ascension.  Conceptually, these mindsets made what we consider art today to be possible. She says that the value of art is that it makes us encounter and treasure “otherness,” as opposed to fixating on ourselves.  This is contrary to the views of art that focus on “self-expression” and the inwardness of the self, and strikes me as a very salutary and exciting approach, which Prof. Kresser develops with theoretical and scholarly expertise.  I haven’t read it yet, but the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon is tantalizing, and it’s first on my list.  (It is illustrated with pictures of works of art, which I have found are hard to page back and forth to on Kindle, so I’ll be getting a hard copy.)

I was also thrilled to see that my long-time friend Harold Senkbeil has a book on this honors list for the second year in a row.  Last year his The Care of Souls took the top prize for The Church/Pastoral Leadership.  This year the Award of Merit for “Beautiful Orthodoxy” went to his Christ and Calamity:  Grace and Gratitude in the Darkest Valley.

I was sort of in on the beginnings of that book.  Lexham Press wanted him to toss off a quick book in response to the Coronavirus Rev. Senkbeil agreed to give it a try, but, in doing so, put together the makings of a spiritual classic.  He sent me the manuscript and asked for a rushed endorsement.  Here is what I wrote:

As we face sickness, death, economic disaster, uncertainty, fear, and every other kind of suffering, we need consolation. In this little book, in just a few pages, Pastor Senkbeil gives us the consolation of Christ.

This is not just good advice or positive thinking or abstract theology that tries to explain why God allows suffering.  Rather, this is the cure of souls.  Pastor Senkbeil takes us into the depths of spiritual reality.  Here, in the midst of our actual tribulations, we encounter God, not as a being far above us looking down, but with us, in His cross.

This is a book to read and to read again whenever we need it, a book to give away to people who are hurting.  This book will be a classic.

Rev. Senkbeil–former seminary professor, founder of the ministry to pastors Doxology, and, above all, a pastor–has written a masterpiece.

This is a small book, only 168 pages.  Pastors should buy it in bulk to give away to people they are ministering to.

Check out too the Gospel Coalition Book Awards.  I’m especially interested in Carl Trueman’s analysis of the huge worldview shift entailed in the phenomenon of transgenderism and the notion of sexual identity:  The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution Hardcover.  

 Other suggestions for spending your gift cards:  the eye-opening Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World
by British historian Tom Holland, a 2019 title that completely upends the criticisms of the New Atheists.
And I had a book that came out in 2020: Post-Christian:  A Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture.
 What other books from last year would you recommend?


Illustration:  award book by Flatart from the Noun Project

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