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December 18, 2020Culture, Research

A Look at Notable 2020 Publications

Continuing the tradition of reflecting on some of the year's noteworthy publications.
A Look at Notable 2020 Publications
Image: Nick Fewings/Unsplash

I trust that the forthcoming holiday period will provide moments for rest and renewal for many from what has been an exhausting 2020. Perhaps these days will even provide an opportunity for some of us to catch up on some of the important publications that have been released since last year’s holiday period, which now seems like a long time ago. While the list of quality books published in recent months is lengthy, here are a few noteworthy suggestions, beginning with books apropos for any year, but which seem to be especially timely this year as people struggle with fear, loss, suffering, and death.

Dane Ortlund has written a beautiful book on the heart of Jesus Christ for sinners and sufferers called Gentle and Lowly (Wheaton: Crossway), which will be a source of much encouragement for many. Wendy Alsup has offered another beneficial resource: Compassions in Suffering: Comfort for Times of Loss and Loneliness (Downers Grove: IVP). In light of the multifaceted challenges we have all experienced in recent months, we receive helpful guidance from Russell Moore in The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear without Losing Your Soul (Nashville: B&H). A powerful book growing out of his own experience with cancer has come from the heart of J. Todd Billings, The End of the Christian Life: How Embracing Our Mortality Frees Us to Truly Live (Grand Rapids: Brazos).

Christian Worldview

Several key publications in 2020 addressed the rapidly changing issues in our culture. The Rise and Fall of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton: Crossway), by Carl R. Trueman, is certainly one of the most important Christian books published in the past year, if not the past decade. Written in an accessible style, Trueman, an exemplary intellectual historian, offers incisive analysis of the developments in Western culture over the past two hundred years that have brought us to our current cultural moment. Directed by Trueman’s brilliant interpretation as well as his critique of influential and shaping philosophers, poets, scientists, psychologists, and ethicists, readers are able to see the connections that have sadly led to the dominance of the therapeutic, the triumph of the sexual revolution, and the championing of expressive individualism. Addressing similar issues from a legal perspective, O. Carter Snead, Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame, has brilliantly described how American culture and law have wrongly enshrined individual autonomy as the highest moral good. Like Trueman’s volume, What It Means to Be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics (Harvard University Press) should be a high priority on one’s reading list.

In The Gathering Storm (Nashville: Nelson), Albert Mohler addresses the primary worldview, cultural, and moral challenges of our day, showing why these issues are so critical for us to comprehend. Recognizing that all too often Christians have struggled to grasp the far-reaching implications of these matters, this theologically informed volume enables us to see with greater clarity the advances of secularization in all spheres of life. Cultural Intelligence: Living for God in a Diverse, Pluralistic World (Nashville: B&H), by Darrell Bock, provides a timely perspective on the numerous challenges of our day. Bock offers keen insights into the meaning of the relevant biblical texts, allowing us the opportunity to hear his heart as he provides important application for faithful discipleship in this fallen world.

Social Justice and and Political Questions

Wherever one finds oneself in the debate related to Christians and social justice, Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask about Social Justice (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), by Thaddeus Williams, will offer wise guidance to these exceedingly challenging issues. Anyone who wishes to engage in the discussion regarding social justice in the days ahead will find Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth to be an essential prerequisite for that conversation. The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity (Zondervan), by Jason Thacker, is a superb book written to provide guidance for Christians as we develop, utilize, and interact with artificial intelligence in our families, work, and society.

Lexham Press is in the process of providing a splendid service to the Christian community by bringing together some of the most important works from Abraham Kuyper, the former prime minister of The Netherlands, with the Collected Works in Public Theology series. Common Grace: God’s Gift for a Fallen World is another fine contribution to this important series. Related themes are found in the excellent work on The Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach (Downers Grove: IVP), by Bruce Riley Ashford and Craig G. Bartholomew.

Two works that look at the rise of the “nones,” exploring the implications for this growing sector of the religiously unaffiliated in the western world, are Back-Pocket God: Religion and Spirituality in the Lives of Emerging Adults (New York: Oxford University Press), by Melinda Lundquist Denton and Richard Flory, and Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World (New York: Public Affairs), by Tara Isabella Burton.

Baylor University professor Alan Jacobs, in his new book, Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind (New York: Penguin), has given us a brilliant and reflective work, calling us to look to the past to find guidance for today, as well as for the future. Lexham Press continues their project to draw from the best of Christianity Today through the years. The most recent addition to this project is a fine collection of articles, edited by Timothy D. Padgett, with the title Dual Citizens: Politics and American Evangelicalism. Addressing virtually every political question that has captured public attention, this book, will be informtive for many.

Christian Ethics and Apologetics

Ken Magnuson has offered a splendid service to the evangelical community with his biblically grounded and thoughtfully reasoned Invitation to Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2020). One of the most challenging issues in our culture in recent years has been the issue of abuse. Readers will learn from Dalby A. Strickland’s Is It Abuse? (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R).

Many of us have been looking forward to the arrival of The History of Apologetics: A Biographical and Methodological Introduction (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), edited by Benjamin K. Forrest, Joshua D. Chatraw, and Alister E. McGrath. Chatraw has also written Telling a Better Story: How to Talk about God in a Skeptical Age (Zondervan), a winsome and persuasive approach to apologetics. Justin Ariel Bailey similarly appeals to beauty and the imagination in Reimagining Apologetics: The Beauty of Faith in a Secular Age (IVP).

Biblical Interpretation and Overviews

The Baker Illustrated Background Commentary, edited by Scott Duval and Daniel Hays (Grand Rapids: Baker) is a superb resource. Hays has also provided the church with an accessible volume titled A Christian’s Guide to Evidence for the Bible: 101 Proofs from History and Archaeology (Baker). Duane A. Garrett has brought together his years of experience as teacher and commentator to write The Problem of the Old Testament: Hermeneutical, Schematic, and Theological Approaches (Downers Grove: IVP). 40 Questions about Typology and Allegory, by Mitchell Chase, offers important hermeneutical insights. Craig G. Bartholomew has given us The God Who Acts in History: The Significance of Sinai (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans). Invitation to Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Kregel), by Andreas Köstenberger and Richard D. Patterson, has been updated, expanded, and improved from the original 2011 edition.

Greek Studies

Dana Harris has provided a pedagogically sound resource, which will benefit beginning Greek students for years to come. An Introduction to Biblical Greek Grammar: Elementary Syntax and Linguistics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan) reflects the thoughtful instructional approach of one who has invested two decades in the classroom. Benjamin Merkle and Robert Plummer have also put together a student-friendly work on Beginning with New Testament Greek (Nashville: B&H). An important volume on Pauline themes by Te-Li Lau, Defending Shame: Its Formative Power in Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids: Baker), carefully explores Paul’s use and understanding of shame in the epistles while powerfully providing application for contemporary contexts as well. Joshua Jipp has written The Messianic Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans). Perspectives on Paul: Five Views (Grand Rapids: Baker), edited by Scot McKnight and B. J. Oropeza, will help readers better understand the current issues in Pauline theology.

Exegetical Studies

Paul and the Hope of Glory: An Exegetical and Theological Study (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), by Constantine Campbell, is an extraordinarily helpful volume, showing how the theme of eschatology affects virtually all aspects of the apostle Paul’s writings, mission, and theology. Campbell has joined with Jonathan Pennington to write Reading the New Testament as Christian Scripture: A Literary, Canonical, and Theological Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker). Pennington has also published Jesus the Great Philosopher: Rediscovering the Wisdom Needed for the Good Life (Grand Rapids: Brazos).

New Testament Commentaries

The Expository Commentary Vol X. Romans – Galatians is the next volume in this new Crossway series. Readers will find each of the works on these four key Pauline epistles to be a treasure of outstanding biblical exposition from a Reformed perspective. This volume includes “Romans,” by Robert Yarbrough, “1 Corinthians,” by Andrew David Naselli, “2 Corinthians,” by Dane Ortlund, and “Galatians,” by Frank Thielman. The first volumes in the new Christian Standard Commentary (CSC) series, published by B&H, are now available. The CSC has obvious connections with the New American Commentary. The revised and updated works on 1, 2 Peter, and Jude, by Thomas R. Schreiner, and Galatians, by Timothy George, offer a great start for the series. Among a longer list of commentaries published this past year, readers will want to take note of The Letter to the Ephesians in the New International Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), by Lynn Cohick, the new volume in the Reformed Expository Commentary on 2 Timothy and Titus (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R), by Daniel M. Doriani and Rickard D. Phillips, and Revelation, by Buist Fanning, in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary.

Theological Overviews

Richard Bauckham has authored a highly acclaimed book titled Who is God? Key Moments of Biblical Revelation (Grand Rapids: Baker). Christian Theology, by Christopher Morgan with Robert Peterson, is an outstanding one-volume introduction to the field of systematic theology (Nashville: B&H). Zondervan has released the second edition of two influential works on systematic theology; the volumes by Wayne Grudem and Michael Bird offer two different approaches to doing evangelical theology. Graham Cole, an astute and wise theological guide, has written Faithful Theology: An Introduction (Wheaton: Crossway). This apt little book will serve as a big gift to those being welcomed to the study of theology. Scott Swain, in the same series, has authored an excellent introduction to The Trinity (Crossway). Readers will want to carefully and discerningly work through another overview titled Theological Formation: Making Theology Your Own (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press), by Mark Ellingsen. A gift from Rhyne Putman to Christ followers is When Doctrine Divides the People of God: An Evangelical Approach to Theological Diversity (Wheaton: Crossway). A similar volume, also from Crossway, is Gavin Ortlund’s Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage.

Gregg Allison and Andreas Köstenberger have co-authored a remarkable work on The Holy Spirit (Nashville: B&H), the first volume in the new Theology for the People of God series. Matthew Emerson, Christopher Morgan, and Luke Stamps have compiled a multi-authored volume on Baptists and Tradition: Toward an Evangelical Baptist Catholicity (B&H). Matthew Barrett has added Canon, Covenant, and Christology: Rethinking Jesus and the Scriptures of Israel to the IVP series in New Studies in Biblical Theology, edited by D. A. Carson. A reflective work on The Logic of the Body (Bellingham, WA: Lexham) comes from Matthew LaPine. An insightful guide to tensions within evangelical theology can be found in the helpful volume by Benjamin L. Merkle, Discontinuity to Continuity: A Survey of Dispensational and Covenantal Theologies (Lexham). Guy Waters, Nicholas Reid, and John Muether have edited a major work on Covenant Theology (Crossway), with contributions from Lig Duncan, Kevin DeYoung, Palmer Robertson, Mike Kruger, Scott Swain, and others.

Global Theology and Historical Developments

Peter Tie and Justine Tan have co-edited a fascinating work in the area of global theology with the publication of Spirit Wind: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit in Global Theology – a Chinese Perspective (Eugene, OR: Pickwick). Majority World Theology has been published by IVP, bringing together 50 significant theological voices, guided by the editorship of Gene L. Green, Stephen T. Pardue, and K. K. Yeo.

Urban Legends of Church History: 40 Common Misperceptions (Nashville: B&H), by John Adair and Michael Svigel, seeks to correct and rightly interpret understandings of major events in the history of the church. James W. Thompson has translated Udo Schnelle’s The First One Hundred Years of Christianity: An Introduction to Its History, Literature, and Development (Grand Rapids: Baker). Two important books on the life and work of Augustine were recently released: Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation (Downers Grove: IVP), by Gavin Ortlund, and Augustine of Hippo: His Life and Impact, by Bradley G. Green (Christian Focus).


This past year has seen the publication of a number of significant biographical works such as Oliver Hart and the Rise of Baptist America (Oxford: Oxford University Press), by Eric C. Smith; Tethered to the Cross: The Life and Preaching of Charles Spurgeon (Downers Grove: IVP), by Thomas Breimaier; Introduction to John Owen: A Christian Vision for Every Stage of Life (Wheaton: Crossway), by Crawford Gribben; Bavinck: A Critical Biography (Grand Rapids: Baker), by James Glinton; and A Life of Alexander Campbell (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), by Douglas A. Foster.

Less than one year after the death of J. I. Packer, one of the most influential evangelical thinkers of the past sixty years, Alister McGrath has produced J. I. Packer: His Life and Thought (Downers Grove: IVP). Henrietta Mears had a huge influence on the lives of Bill Bright, Harold Ockenga, and several other key evangelical leaders. Her story is winsomely told in Mother of Modern Evangelicalism: The Life and Legacy of Henrietta Mears (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), by Arlin C. Migliazzo. Another intriguing biographical study on the transforming friendship between Dorothy L. Sayers and C. S. Lewis is available in Dorothy and Jack (Grand Rapids: Baker), by Gina Dalfonzo.

Global Ministry Studies

With the publication of Excellence in Online Education (Nashville: B&H), Kristen Ferguson has solidified her role as a shaping leader and strategic voice among Christian educators in the design, delivery, and management of online education. We Evangelicals and Our Mission (Eugene, OR: Cascade) is a posthumous publication from the pen of the highly regarded missiologist David Hesselgrave, calling for theological and confessional fidelity as essential for faithfulness in global mission efforts. Robin Hadaway brings decades of effective missionary service combined with years of classroom experience to bear upon his first-rate Survey of World Missions (Nashville: B&H). Three important works to help Christians engage more effectively with Muslims include The Quran with Christian Commentary: A Guide to Understanding the Scripture of Islam (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), by Gordon Nickel; 40 Questions about Islam (Grand Rapids: Kregel), by Matthew Bennett; and A Concise Guide to the Quran (Grand Rapids: Baker), by Ayman Ibrahim.

Pastoral Leadership for the Current Era

40 Questions about Pastoral Ministry (Grand Rapids: Kregel), by Phil Newton, will serve as a valuable resource and helpful guide for pastors at various stages of their ministries. Leveling the Church: Multiplying Your Ministry by Giving It Away, by Micah Fries and Jeremy Maxfield (Chicago: Moody), is a thoughtful book seeking to guide readers toward a reframing of church leadership for our current context. Lexham Press, with the enablement of Mark Meynell, has blessed us with Pages from a Preacher’s Notebook: Wisdom and Prayers from the Pen of John Stott.

Eric Redmond has edited an important volume with a Foreword by Charlie Dates called Say It! Celebrating Expository Preaching in the African American Tradition (Chicago: Moody, 2020). Matthew D. Kim has put together a fine introductory work on preaching called A Little Book for New Preachers: Why and How to Study Homiletics (Downers Grove: IVP). Paul David Tripp has written a noteworthy book on leadership, Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church (Wheaton: Crossway). One of the challenging issues in recent years in both Roman Catholic and evangelical circles has sadly been the issue of abuse. Darby A. Strickland has written Is it Abuse? A Biblical Guide to Identifying Domestic Abuse and Helping Victims (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R).

Christian Worship

R. Allen Lott, in Brahms’s A German Requiem: Reconsidering Its Biblical, Historical, and Musical Contexts (Rochester: University of Rochester Press), has challenged the widely held perspective that Brahms’s work was merely a general and inclusive religious piece by offering a fresh interpretation of this classic as a unique Christian view of death, grief, and the afterlife. IVP has produced two important books on the theme of Christian worship: Worship and the World to Come: Exploring Christian Hope in Contemporary Christian Worship, by Glenn Packiam, and Recapturing an Enchanted World: Ritual and Sacrament in the Free Church Tradition, by John Rempell.

For Your Consideration

Other important books worth adding to your 2021 reading list include: Trevin Wax, Rethink Yourself: The Power of Looking Up before Looking In (Nashville: B&H); Deep Discipleship: How the Church Can Make Whole Disciples of Jesus (B&H), by J. T. English; Family Discipleship (Wheaton: Crossway), by Matt Chandler and Adam Griffin; Created to Draw Near (Wheaton: Crossway), by Ed Welch; Friendship: The Heart of Being Human (Grand Rapids: Baker), by Victor Lee Austin; and Another Gospel: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity, by Alisa Childers (Wheaton: Tyndale).

A Concluding Word

The 2020 year in numerous ways has been characterized by disappointment, challenge, sickness, and sadness. But the number of helpful, serious, engaging, and quality publications for followers of Jesus Christ will certainly be a source of joy and hope for many readers in the days ahead.

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A Look at Notable 2020 Publications