The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Reading in 2019

Regular readers of The Doc File know that I keep track of what I read each year, and that I enjoy chronicling that here on the blog and offering some reflections about my favorite reads from the previous year.

Without further ado, here is my list from 2019:

  1. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, by Jeff Hobbs
  2. The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story From the New Testament World, by Bruce W. Longenecker
  3. Enter the Water, Come to the Table: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in Scripture’s Story of New Creation, by John Mark Hicks
  4. Success Sparklers: A Treasury of Quips, Quotes and Sparkling Sayings for the Positive Person, compiled by Ivy Conner
  5. The Honorary Consul, by Graham Greene
  6. Small Group Strategies: Ideas & Activities for Developing Spiritual Growth in your Students, by Laurie Polich and Charley Scandlyn
  7. Walking Away From Idolatry, by Wes McAdams
  8. The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis
  9. Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, by Eric Metaxas
  10. The Hidden Harbor Mystery, by Franklin W. Dixon
  11. Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys
  12. My Brother Sam is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
  13. The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition, by Caroline Alexander
  14. Selected Stories of O. Henry, Introduction and Notes by Victoria Blake*
  15. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
  16. Beyond Atonement: Recovering the Full Meaning of the Cross, by N.T. Wright, Gregory Boyd, and Ruth Padilla DeBorst
  17. The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It, by Lawrence S. Ritter
  18. God, Guys, and Girls, by Derry Prenkert
  19. Sabbath Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, by Walter Brueggemann
  20. Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring our Best When the World is at Its Worst, by Ed Stetzer
  21. How To Lose a Kingdom in 400 Years, by Michael Whitworth
  22. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
  23. The Cross & the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants, by Kenneth E. Bailey
  24. Rich Dad Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki
  25. I Am A Church Member, by Thom S. Rainer
  26. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary, by Robert Alter
  27. That’s Why We Sing: Reclaiming the Wonder of Congregational Singing, by Darryl Tippens
  28. Fire Upon the Earth: The Story of the Christian Church, by Norman F. Langford
  29. The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, by Wes Moore
  30. Family Worship, by Donald S. Whitney
  31. The Shepherd’s Ring, by Whit Jordan
  32. The Yellow Feather Mystery, by Franklin W. Dixon
  33. The Clue in the Embers, by Franklin W. Dixon
  34. Murder at Wrigley Field, by Troy Soos
  35. Visions of Restoration: The History of Churches of Christ, by John Young
  36. New Day: Restoring the Revolutionary Mission of Christ’s Church, by David M. Young
  37. Gorky Park, Martin Cruz Smith
  38. The Greenest Island, by Paul Theroux
  39. Disrupting for Good: Using Passion and Persistence to Create Lasting Change, by Chris Field
  40. The Secret Agent on Flight 101, by Franklin W. Dixon
  41. Jesus for President, by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw
  42. Discipeshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples, by Jim Putnam & Bobby Harrington with Robert Coleman
  43. Faith Unraveled: How A Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions, by Rachel Held Evans
  44. Practical Wisdom for Youth Ministry: The Not-So-Simple Truths That Matter, by David Fraze
  45. 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson
  46. The Fourfold Gospel, by J.W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton
  47. Prayer, In Practice, by J.L. Gerhardt
  48. It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff, by Peter Walsh
  49. Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing—and How We Can Revive Them, by Jonathan Merritt
  50. D2: Becoming A Devoted Follower of Christ, by Phil McKinney II
  51. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander
  52. One Loaf and One Cup: A Scriptural and Historical Survey, by Clinton De France

A few observations before I talk about my favorite books of the year:

  • My reading total decreased from 54 books in 2018 to 52 in 2019. I was pleased with this number considering that we moved in the middle of the year, my life was crazy busy preparing for that move and adjusting to it, and my reading time was (probably) somewhat less.
  • For the last several years, I have been between 48-54 books per year. This really seems to be my sweet spot.
  • This was my first full year removed from grad school, so I wondered how that would affect my reading. I still read a lot, with a decent amount of reading still geared toward faith, ministry, discipleship, biblical studies, etc.
  • I enjoyed my reading this past year. There were some books I didn’t love, but really, no major disappointments.

I want to share my Top 10 books for the year, but before I do so, I wanted to offer some brief thoughts on a few books that didn’t make my Top 10, but I still wanted to comment on:

  • The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It, by Lawrence S. Ritter: this was a great book of memories of baseball players from the early 1900s. As a huge fan of Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball, I was delighted to recognize that this book was a major primary source for many of the quotations for that series.
  • Family Worship, by Donald S. Whitney: This was a very short, yet very convicting, read. Christan parents, we really don’t have a good excuse for not having regular worship or devotional time at home with our families. If you want motivation, guidance, or conviction related to this, read this book.
  • The Shepherd’s Ring, by Whit Jordan: This was a novel for children written by a friend, and I loved it. It is currently unpublished, and I read an early draft. I can’t wait to hold the real thing in my hands and tell you about it.
  • Gorky Park, Martin Cruz Smith: This is one of my all-time favorite books. I read it frequently. It doesn’t make my Top 10 list because that feels like cheating. Otherwise, it would be there almost every year.
  • Faith Unraveled: How A Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions, by Rachel Held Evans: RHE was just a couple years older than me, and tragically died from an illness earlier in 2019. I am not really the audience for this book, but I listened to the audio version (read by the author) and am so glad I did. I disagree with Evans on a variety of issues, but she is incredibly likable and it is clear that she genuinely loved God and other people, and wanted to remove barriers that prevented people from knowing the God she loved so much. It was good for me to read.

My favorite books from 2019.

Regarding my Top 10 books for the year, here are some brief thoughts on those (presented in order of when I read them, not ranked 1-10):

  • The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, by Jeff Hobbs: This was a fascinating and tragic true story of a man who grew up in the rough neighborhoods of Newark but managed to find his way out and graduate with honors from Yale, only to end up back in his former neighborhood where he ultimately was murdered in a drug-related crime. This story was well-written and gripping, and also filled with impending dread, as you knew from the title that it would not end well. Memoirs are not the best way to analyze complex social issues, but this book did provide for thoughtful reflection on racial issues (which, between this book, The Other Wes Moore, and The New Jim Crow {described below}, was a repeated focus for me in 2019).
  • The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story From the New Testament Worldby Bruce W. Longenecker: Longenecker, a well-known biblical scholar who specializes in the origins of Christianity, writes this epistolary novel that consists of a series of letters between several characters, including Luke the Evangelist. What results is a moving story that helps to illuminate the New Testament world including aspects such as honor-shame culture, patronage, the nature of letter writing, and Roman persecution. It took a little bit for me to get into it, but by the end, I absolutely loved it.
  • The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expeditionby Caroline Alexander: This was a fascinating account of Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition complete with penetrating character studies and amazing photographs. This is simply an incredible, unbelievable tale. I really didn’t know what to expect going in, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
  • The Nightingaleby Kristin Hannah: I have discovered that I love reading fiction set in WWII, and this is a good example of this. This novel tells the story of two sisters living in Nazi-occupied France, and the very different ways they seek to survive and resist during a very difficult time.
  • The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentaryby Robert Alter: Alter is a world-renowned expert on the Hebrew Bible who gives special attention to its literary features. This is his own translation along with commentary, which I used for my daily Bible reading early in the year. I don’t know Hebrew well enough to evaluate how great his translation is, but it was certainly readable, and I found his commentary to be frequently insightful.
  • New Day: Restoring the Revolutionary Mission of Christ’s Church, by David M. Young: I mentioned this book, and Young, in my recap of this past year’s Harding Lectureship, where I heard him speak three times. The short version of the book is that Churches of Christ (and really, churches across the spectrum) are declining in the United States, and the solution to this problem is to get serious about prayer, making disciples, and planting churches. If you have come to suspect that church should be about more than a social gathering, worship wars, and a consumeristic buffet of programs catering to the whims of members, this book is for you (wow, that was a little preachy!).
  • Disrupting for Good: Using Passion and Persistence to Create Lasting Changeby Chris Field: I did not have high expectations for this book, but I really liked it. Basically, it is a book about how to bring about culture change: you have to find a problem that really bothers you, and then attack it with creativity and perseverance. Most of the book is a series of inspiring vignettes of people who did exactly that. This was a really encouraging book for me.
  • Practical Wisdom for Youth Ministry: The Not-So-Simple Truths That Matterby David Fraze: I already reviewed this book here on the blog, so I don’t feel the need to say much here, other than the fact that this is now one of my favorite youth ministry books (I read a lot of them), and I plan on using it from now on with all of my youth ministry interns.
  • 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaosby Jordan B. Peterson: Although I have friends who are big fans of Peterson, I was not a fan, and actually began to read this book with a great deal of skepticism. Peterson’s breadth of knowledge is so vast that I found it difficult to evaluate at times (Is this brilliant? Is this nonsense?). At other times, when he crossed into areas I could better evaluate, I was blown away: his handling of the biblical text, especially the Book of Genesis, was very impressive (he is a little shakier on the teachings of Jesus—on a very deep level, I don’t think Peterson knows what to do with Him). Ultimately, what I would say is that each of Peterson’s rules range from helpful to profound, even if I don’t fully agree with all of the reasoning he uses to arrive at them. I “read” this book in audio format, and will likely reread it, soon.
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindnessby Michelle Alexander: This is not a fun read. On the contrary, it was devastating. Alexander has two basic arguments in the book: (1) the American criminal justice system disproportionately punishes people of color (specifically through the War on Drugs), relegating a large chunk of African American society to being residents of an “undercaste”, and (2) this has been done intentionally. Although I don’t believe she established her second argument (to be fair, I don’t want to believe it), her first point seems absolutely clear to me. For those who do not understand (or worse, deny) the reality of systemic racism, this is a great book to read.

That was my reading for 2019. For comparison’s sake if you are interested, you can see my reading lists from previous years:

As always, I have a bunch of books lined out to read in 2020, and can’t wait to get into them.

What are some of the best books you read this past year?

*Books that I did not read in their entirety, but read significant portions of.

7 Comments

  1. Thanks for providing this list every year Luke. I enjoy seeing what other people are reading, and it is because of these lists that I started keeping a list of what I read each year. I hope you are blessed in your family and ministry. Happy New Year!

    Grace and Peace,
    Ethan

    • Luke

      January 8, 2020 at 12:33 PM

      Hey Ethan, great to hear from you! I like to keep records and lists, so it’s always enjoyable for me to do this every year.

      I hope you and your family are doing well.

  2. Luke, here are some of my best reads this year!

    The Righteous Mind — Jonathan Haidt: I found this a refreshing and great read on some of the psychological research coming out today. I also appreciated some frank lines he dropped like psychology is not trying to describe “what should be, but rather what is.” Great stuff there. I highly recommend engaging with it, and potentially his other book The Coddling of the American Mind. I think he’s doing some fascinating research that a lot of people would benefit from knowing.

    Delighting in the Trinity — Michael Reeves: Very accessible book on the Trinity. Great launching point for a renewed interest and understanding of the Trinity’s importance within the Christian faith. I did not really understand how it is probably the singular different doctrine that Christians hold to compared to every other world religion, and it made me appreciate the reason we call God, “Father.” That really impacted my prayer life understanding the significance of that as his primary and most revealed name to Christians.

    Steal Away Home — Matt Carter & Aaron Ivey: A fun blend of historical fiction with a heavy dose pulled from real journals of Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson. I liked hearing about this unlikely relationship that came together across oceans and led to the first missionary presence in Cameroon. Wonderful tale that made me cry a few times! Easy read. I recommend.

    A Practical View of Christianity — William Wilberforce: I highly recommend if you read his biography! Surprisingly, you don’t hear almost anything about slavery here! But it does reveal a man who was passionate and sincere about God’s word transforming society. I think I had not appreciated the genius of Wilberforce’s “reformation of manners” that helped spearhead the point that also broke up the slave trade so well. Beautiful book and very thoughtful. Was blown away to see into the heart of the man through his book.

    Doctrine That Dances — Robert Smith: Loved this book on preaching. Compares it to jazz and how to deliver and think through what is happening when we preach. I found it very helpful and exciting! He holds preaching with a high regard, and finds the only way to sustain an excellent preaching ministry is to have a strong tonic in the Gospel of Christ that we can always return to and build all of our melodies off of.

    The Whole Christ — Sinclair Ferguson: Wonderful book on the Marrow Controversy and how we should not separate any of the blessings of Christ from Christ himself. I really, really liked this book. I also found it helpful how he sees that antinomianism and legalism, surprisingly, come from the same heart. At first, it is shocking, but as you enter into his though process more; it really starts to stick out that it is true.

    Kingdom Through Covenant — Peter Gentry & Stephen Wellum: I know you’ll disagree with some of their conclusions. 😉 But I really enjoyed this discussion of the covenants, God’s kingdom built through covenants, and the applications of the realities for our churches. Really helped me understand my theology. My biggest takeaway that I appreciated more was how central the Davidic Covenant really stands in the Old Testament. Probably something I had not accountfed for very well.

    From Eden to the New Jersualem — T. Desmon Alexander: Loved, loved, loved this book. Probably the best Biblical theology book of its size that I can think of. His initial questions/purpose statement are a bit odd. But ultimately, he is inviting, warm to read, and just rich in thinking through what goes on between the pages of Bible from Genesis 1-3 to the last image of a new city, in a new creation, and invites the reader to come out of Babylon and into the eternal city of Christ. He also hits on some themes like Satan’s presence, etc. that some books don’t do as good of a job with. So I really, really like some of what he included. Excellent book I would recommend to any Christian.

    Is There A Meaning In This Text — Kevin Vanhoozer: I’m not even sure how to describe this book as I’m still reading it. But it is, hands down, one of the most impactful things I have ever read. It studies literary theory and seeks to ask, “Can we speak truly?” It delves into the futility of words, their imperfections, and ontology vs. epistemology and the frictions there, and comes out the other side with articulating a robust literary theory that understands how it is only in God himself as a Trinitarian God, revealed in a Logos (the word) who is the exact imprint of everything he says he represents, that we escape the madness of language, meet the great noun who is a proposition (“I AM”) and can start to speak truly and transcendently again. He makes you realize how much of a gift it is to be a communicative agent, how much we rely on God for our words to mean anything, and how much we should then spend those words trying to truly describe the one true Word, Christ. This is an advanced and technical book. But so worth it, if you have time.

    I enjoyed your list. I may have to pick up a few of them!

    • Luke

      January 8, 2020 at 12:37 PM

      Jacob, good to hear from you!

      I really like your list and especially the comments about them. There are several I am interested in. I know I need to read both of Haidt’s books, and have tentative plans to do so this year (I own one of them already). Delighting in the Trinity and Eden to New Jerusalem are other books I have previously come across and been really interested in.

      I hope you are well; I miss our lunches and our handling together!

  3. I too read Family Worship last year (in Don Whitney’s class) and The Lost Letters of Pergamum in another class…good books! Thanks for sharing these lists each year…always fun to see what others are reading 🙂

    • Luke

      January 8, 2020 at 12:41 PM

      Great to hear from you, Daniel! Glad you enjoyed the list—it’s so cool that you had Whitney for class. I didn’t include his book as one of my Top 10 because it was so short that it felt like cheating. But I really liked it.

      Hope you are well!

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