In her blog post a few weeks ago, Ana touched on the power of story and our tendency to be drawn toward narratives. Words have great power to shape our minds and hearts. In that light, it’s not surprising that Ana, Leah, and I compile a list of books, podcasts, and songs at the end of every year. 2020’s list highlights those that have inspired, encouraged, and convicted us during this rollercoaster of a year, and we hope they do the same for you. (Plus, we’ve compiled all the songs here into one playlist on Spotify!)
Lore Ferguson Wilbert released her book Handle with Care in February, and it’s one of the best books I read this year. Given the, you know, pandemic, this is somewhat ironic, because Handle with Care is a book about touch. Wilbert addresses how touch has been both used and abused in Christian and secular culture, and how it’s approached in the Bible. She evidently wrote this book with care for her readers, and it’s well worth the read.
I included some words from Mother to Son by Jasmine Holmes in a blog post this summer. The book is a collection of letters from Holmes to her young son about growing up Black in the U.S. At times, these letters are hard to read, as they should be. As a result, the book is eye-opening, filled with both truth and grace.
If you’re at all familiar with the Christian literary world, you’ve heard of C.S. Lewis—but learning how he came to be that literary figure is fascinating. Surprised by Joy, his autobiography, was my first pandemic read. It’s a whimsical window into his early life; definitely pick up a copy if you like a good memoir and/or if you’re a Lewis fan.
I am, as I’ve said many times here, hard on myself and hard on others. I find it easier to see God as Judge than as Father. A friend loaned me Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund in September, and it felt like a cup of warm tea for my soul, reminding me to rest in the simple knowledge that it is in Christ’s very nature to care for his people. Gentle and Lowly is a good read for anyone, especially if you feel that your legalistic heart would have made you a pretty decent Pharisee.
Phylicia Masonheimer is a fan-favorite around here, so it’s no surprise she made it on my Best Reads of 2020 with her latest book Stop Calling Me Beautiful. Being fully transparent, however, she was my only read of 2020 — yes you read that right. Ever a book worm, 2020 instead had me nose deep in textbooks and licensing exams with little time for reading for pleasure. If nothing else maybe that tells you just how good her book is. It was a reminder to return to Scripture and prayer for my sustenance and that God’s Word satisfies my daily need for bread. Read more of my thoughts on Phy’s book here.
The other book I have visited frequently has been The Valley of Vision. Ana and Molly gifted me this book for my birthday during August and it has become a staple in my prayer life. The book itself is a large collection of Puritan prayers that are simple, yet profound. What I love most about these prayers is that they dwell on the character of God. They draw my prayers from being self-centered, with my needs, my desires, my person, to a posture of worship because of the goodness of God.
In my post a few weeks, ago, I highlighted some of my favorite works of fiction, creative reflections, and poetry that I read this year. I won’t repeat the same descriptions here, but you can find that post at this link!
The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller has shown up on past Best-Reads posts, but I’ll highlight it again here because its influence has continued to slowly make its rounds among Leah, Molly, and I. I ended up reading the book a couple of times this year. In spite of its intimidating title, I’d recommend it to any unmarried Christians who hope to be married one day or simply want to better understand Biblical views of singleness, marriage, and sexuality. With his typical clarity and focus on the Gospel, Keller explores marriage primarily through the lens of Ephesians 5:21-33. After setting a basic framework for understanding marriage in light of the Gospel, he goes through topics like relational compatibility, gender roles, and sexuality. I can say with confidence that The Meaning of Marriage has been the most helpful resource I’ve found on singleness, dating, and marriage!
I’m still making my way through The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves by Dr. Curt Thompson, but Dr. Thompson spoke at my campus fellowship’s large group gathering this semester and it was one of the best talks I had heard in recent months. Shame is a topic that is relevant to everyone, and Dr. Thompson explores it through a unique lens that combines Scripture, theology, psychology, and neurophysiology. I’d recommend it to anyone who struggles with feelings of shame (which is, for the most part, everyone) or anyone interested in mental/emotional health!
The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together is by Jared Wilson and is an absolutely wonderful, refreshing read. With humor and clarity, Wilson writes about what discipleship should look like for individuals who are, well, imperfect. Which is everyone (so I’d enthusiastically recommend this book to everyone)! Church cultures can sometimes seem to demand perfection from members, as if trying harder and doing more might serve as a barometer of healthy faith lives. Wilson cuts through such perceptions and discusses what life with Christ should look like according to the Gospel — which is inherently premised on our individual weakness, insufficiency, and inability to attain perfection for ourselves. I read The Imperfect Disciple at a point in this year when I was really struggling, and found it immensely comforting and full of truth.
I’m not much of a podcast person (although this year I’ve gotten more into them), but Verity by Phylicia Masonheimer is a great one. I’ve especially enjoyed her series on the Canon and on women’s issues.
While I was not reading as much as usual, I was definitely listening! A favorite pastor of mine for some time now has been Jonathan Pokluda, pastor at Harris Creek Church in Texas. I will often listen to his sermons but I also enjoy his podcast, Becoming Something. With a focus on mentoring and raising up the next generation of Christians, Pokluda has partnered with numerous guests to answer frequently asked questions from young adults around the world with biblical truth and principles.
While I was working in Colorado, I had to limit the amount of books I could carry with me, and podcasts proved to be a wonderful substitute. During long hours of working outside, I would often throw on an episode of On Being with Krista Tippett. In this wonderful (and very active) podcast, Krista Tippett interviews giants in the fields of literature, philosophy, theology, and more. Their conversations are light and engaging, exploring both the interviewee’s life story and ideas from their work. Some of my favorite episodes include interviews with Ellen Davis (Hebrew Bible Scholar), Eugene Peterson (translator of the Message), Walter Bruggemann (another Hebrew Bible Scholar), and Christian Wiman (poet).
Ask Away by RZIM is a great resource for anyone interested in apologetics. In each 30-min episode, Vince and Jo Vitale answer a crowd-submitted question about Christianity, such as “Am I just my brain?” “How does prayer work?” or “Why is God Father rather than Mother?” Each episode is quite brief, and the Vitales’ answers are straightforward, engaging, and well-rooted in Scripture.
You might be familiar with the Bible Project’s archive of YouTube videos which help explain the structure, interpretation, and theology of various books of the Bible. The Bible Project is an amazing resource when it comes to increasing Biblical literacy. The group’s podcast basically consists of edited-down recordings of conversations between Tim Mackie and Jon Collins as they discuss content for upcoming videos; sometimes, guest scholars will join in on the fun. Episodes range from 30 mins to >1hr, and in addition to being super intellectually rich, they’re very entertaining!
Songs (check out the complete playlist here!)
- Sparrow by Branches
- Teach Me to Dance by Jervis Campbell
- How to Be Yours by Chris Renzema
- New Start by Weary Friend
- Highlands (Song of Ascent) by Hillsong United
- The Blessing by Kair Jobe & Elevation Worship
- Better Word by Leeland
- Nothing but the Blood by Wilder Adkins
- Psalm 1, Psalm 16 by Poor Bishop Hooper
- God the Maker by The Porter’s Gate
- We are Not Overcome by Bifrost Arts
- Starts and Ends by Hillsong Worship
Here’s to another year filled with good songs and good stories. Happy New Year!