Top Books I Read in 2021
Written by Pastor DeAngelo
In 2021, I read precisely 50 books. I am a pastor and also a Doctor of Ministry student, so I read my share of theology (and this year, taking four classes, my balance leaned more toward theology than in previous years), but I also pursue reading a variety of content as well. This year, my reading included history, fiction, children’s fiction, coaching, self-help, current issues (at times, on both sides of the issue), psychology, and even a book by a Muslim trying to persuade me to consider converting to Islam.
I LOVE to read…because I LOVE to LEARN. If an author provides me with even just a few thoughts or viewpoints that I had not previously considered or at least considered with the depth that they are conveying, I esteem that read to be well worth my time.
As one of the self-help books I recently read encouraged, “cut your goal in half.” As you set your trajectory for the upcoming year, I want to nudge you to make reading a pursuit that is on your radar!
- Start small.
- Start with a book on a subject that fascinates you.
I cannot tell you how much my life is enriched and energized when I am reading a book (or books) that feed my mind and my soul.
So, in no particular order, here are the top 15 books that I read in 2021 (with a few honorable mentions). I hope that you enjoy!
- Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund – I understand that I am not very original here – every Christian reader who compiles a top ____ list of books in 2021 included this one also. But I will say, if I had to choose the “best” book that I read this year, it would be this one. Ortlund combines devotional insights with perspectives from the past to paint a beautiful picture of the heart of Jesus. This work blessed me, and I recommend it highly.
- The First Days of Jesus; The Last Days of Jesus; Signs of the Messiah by Andreas Kostenberger – Dr. Kostenberger was one of my seminary professors this year, so I was required to read multiple books by him. (As a note, I am listing three different books here…so I am recommending more of an author here than an individual book.) I wrote an Amazon review for Signs of the Messiah (7 people found my review “helpful”!)…here is an excerpt: “Dr. Kostenberger writes with accuracy combined with an evident heart of worship, awe, and love for the main character of the Gospel of John, the Lord Jesus Christ.” If you read a book by Dr. Kostenberger, you may be reading a book by the most brilliant author you will interact with this year (yes, he is brilliant)…and yet you will absorb his humility and his heart more than you will his intellect.
- Limitless by Jim Kwik – Limitless was recommended by a friend who heard Jim Kwik as a motivational speaker. As a child, Jim was “diagnosed” by one of his teachers as having a “broken brain.” Kwik then proceeded to work, experiment, learn and train his brain, and in this book, he shares his insights. Limitless is a fun self-help read with many life hacks that you can immediately implement into your life. (His method of remembering “brain foods” is “memorable”!)
- Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing our Daughters by Abigail Shrier – When you find a book that was targeted by Amazon and actually removed from Target.com because of its controversial content, you know that the author has struck a nerve. This bestseller discusses a lightning rod topic, specifically as it relates to teenage girls.
- Bracketology by Joe Lunardi – Bracketology is Lunardi’s story of how an average guy became a celebrity now known in ESPN circles as “Joey Brackets.” If you enjoy college basketball’s March Madness anywhere near as much as I do, you will enjoy Joe’s story. And you will enjoy the story of the evolution of college basketball’s March event into a time of year that is now firmly embedded into American culture.
- Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe by Voddie Baucham – Voddie Baucham is an African-American Christian leader who grew up in the United States and now serves at a seminary in Zambia. Baucham possesses a unique perspective about maybe the biggest hot button issue in both the US and the Evangelical world right now. (As a note, I have read a few books on the subject, and at this point, I have found Bachaum’s to be the clearest and most readable.)
- In 2021, I also read Robin DiAngelo’s New York Times bestseller, White Fragility. Besides having a great last name, I felt that DiAngelo was an engaging writer who challenged my thinking. I do not agree with DiAngelo’s overall premise (in fact, the more I learn, the more I disagree with her main argument), but she does provide a viewpoint that many people and many evangelicals have embraced. In 2021, I also read Woke Church by Eric Mason.
- The Gospel According to Satan by Jared Wilson – Bottom line: I enjoy reading Jared Wilson, and I enjoy hearing him speak. While being fun to read, he is consistently thought-provoking as well. In this book, Wilson challenges what he perceives to be lies, such as “God just wants you to be happy,” “God helps those who help themselves,” and six other “lies.” In one chapter, Wilson even targets the popular philosophy of YOLO!
- I read another book this year that possessed a similar format called Good News for Anxious Christians by Philip Cary. Cary pulls a Berean on well-known evangelical concepts such as separating the head from the heart and whether or not “finding God’s will” is a legitimate Scriptural concept.
- Sex, Dating, and Relationships: A Fresh Approach by Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas – I don’t have to agree with everything an author says or even his overall premise to enjoy his perspective. That is true when it comes to this book. But I do commend these writers – this book contains an approach to dating that I have not previously considered. (They would call it biblical or at least biblically based.) While I may not find their argument completely compelling, I believe it is worth considering.
- Killing Reagan by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard – Killing Reagan is not a new book, but I did enjoy this inside scoop on the American president who was in office while I was growing up.
- Why Four Gospels? By David Alan Black – Okay…so I had to throw in a “nerdy” theology book here. Have you ever wondered why the four gospels in the New Testament are given in the order they are listed? Have you ever thought about the “story” behind the writing of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? This work presents an interesting theory that is slightly off of the beaten path.
- Two Views on Women in Ministry, edited by James Beck – Two Views is a book that is a part of a series called Counterpoints in which (in this case) four authors write and respond to essays arguing for opposing viewpoints. I felt like the fourth essay in particular (Tom Schreiner) was extremely well-done. I do believe that the role of women in our local churches, in most local churches, does need to be explored and clarified biblically…and if it is not, the church may be “missing out.”
- Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done by Jon Acuff – A friend gave this to me as a Christmas present, and Finish was the last book I read in 2021. (Isn’t that ironic?) I enjoy quality self-help books – I always enjoy challenging my processes and thought patterns when it comes to getting things accomplished. Acuff has written a few of these, and he genuinely is a lot of fun to read. My only urging to you: If you are going to start Finish, then you need to finish Finish!
- Lifestyle Evangelism: Learning to Open Your Life to Those Around You by Joe Aldrich – This book was initially published back in the 1980s and has generated a bit of controversy. Aldrich essentially started an evangelism movement away from the “old-fashioned” method of door-to-door, confrontational evangelism that was more prevalent in the 1980s. I wrote a critique of this important book and its current ramifications. While there is a good amount to like about what Aldrich says (and does), I am critical of some of the confusion that I believe his philosophy has generated.
- I also read Organic Outreach for Churches by Kevin Harney, which I enjoyed and was challenged by.
- Fresh Wind by Jim Cymbala – It’s not the first time I am a little late to the game, but I finally got around to reading Cymbala’s classic work. Fresh Wind is partially biographical and partially exhortation. It is an inspirational read regarding faith and practice of Holy Spirit-led, persistent prayer as Cymbala tells the story of the Brooklyn Tabernacle.
- On the Edge of the Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson and Joe Sutphin – This was a fun fiction book (part of the Wingfeather saga) recommended to me by one of the teens in our church. I didn’t read enough fiction this year, but this was one that I enjoyed.
- The Pastor Theologian by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson
- College Ministry 101 by Chuck Bomar
- High Pressure by Dan Blank (subject of coaching soccer)
- Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
- Day of Infamy by Walter Lord
- Why is that in the Bible? by Eric Bargerhuff
- Hidden in Plain View by Lydia McGrew