My Ten Favorite Books I read in 2021
Here are my ten favorite books that I read in 2021:
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
It was my second time reading it but enjoyed it more this time.
Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self
I found Trueman’s account very helpful and accessible. I appreciated the sweeping nature of the book, taking into account court cases, philosophers, pornography, and entertainment. Not exhaustive but a fair and I believe accurate overview. Overall, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self was definitely one of the best books I read all year.
J.P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism
Moreland gave a helpful and accessible explanation of the problems with scientism.
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
The Grapes of Wrath transports you back to the sad and seemingly hopeless story of a family of “Okies” during the Dust Bowl. It paints a picture of what life was like for a lot of people and thereby cultivates empathy and understanding of other people and their varied journeys.
Paul David Tripp, Lead
Tripp is one of my all time favorite authors and now he has written one of my favorite books on leadership. I have a bunch of highlights in this book, perhaps more than any other book I read this year. Tripp offers a lot of timely wisdom for leaders in Christian ministry.
Randy Newman, Questioning Evangelism
Perhaps the only thing I think is a little unhelpful about this book is its title. When you read the title you might think the book is calling evangelism into question. That, however, is not the purpose of the book. The book is about the important place that questions play in evangelism. I found the book quite helpful.
Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation
I read a few books on the book of Revelation this past year and this one sticks out to me as the most helpful. I’m thankful for Richard Bauckham and his scholarship.
Sam Alberry, Why does Gos care who I sleep with?
Alberry wrote a very relevant and helpful book. I hope this book is read widely. I think a lot of people will be helped by it.
Timothy Z. Witmer, The Shepherd Leader
I recently transitioned to Care Pastor at my church and found this book very helpful in looking at what the Bible says on pastoral care.
Vivek H. Murthy, Together
I read the lion’s share of this book in 2020 but only recently finished it. It is a timely and well written book on the importance of relationships.
I try to track my reading on Goodreads. If you want to “be friends” on Goodreads you can do so here.
What explains the contradiction of humanity?
What explains the contradiction of humanity?
Does science disprove miracles?
What is a Miracle?
David Hume, a skeptic philosopher believed a miracle is a violation and even a transgression of a law of nature. That view assumes the impossibility of miracles at the outset. It makes sense that someone who doesn’t want to believe in God, or God’s interference with our affairs, wouldn’t want to believe in the possibility of God’s intervention. So, I understand where he’s coming from.
The Importance of Starting Places
Is Science able to Disprove Miracles?
Should we Believe every Miracle Claim?
Does Science Disprove Miracles?
Elon Musk and Ethics
I read a biography on Elon Musk awhile back. It was fascinating. He seems like a super smart, super driven, and genuinely concerned individual. Though, I clearly don’t know Musk or his motives.
I was troubled, however, recently when I watched a progress update about Neuralink. Neuralink is a company that has Elon Musk as one of its founders and is “developing implantable brain–machine interfaces.” Neuralink is working to invent “new technologies that will expand our abilities, our community, and our world.”
In the video update, Musk said he is concerned with our “species.” He speaks of “what we [humanity] would want.” He was presuming about the “sum of our collective will.” He talked about “the future of the earth” being “controlled by the combined will of the people.”
It reminded me of something perceptive C.S. Lewis said:
“Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under the omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber barons cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
It seems to me that Musk and his team have good intentions but an ethicist was eerily absent on the panel. And they spoke of such things as erasing fear and pain. One of the guys on the panel said he’d like to study consciousness and simultaneously dismissed all writings on consciousness in the last thousand years. That was very concerning to me. To sweep away a whole history of thought on a subject, even one as confusing as consciousness, in a mere fleeting moment is concerning. It speaks to the panelist’s pride and unreasonableness. As well as to what Lewis referred to as chronological snobbery.
One can have knowledge and intellect and be absent of wisdom. And history teaches us that science, even good science with good goals, can bring about terrible things. We can see this by looking at the origin of the Nobel Prize.
Briefly, Alfred Nobel was refereed to as the “merchant of death.” Among his inventions was dynamite. “Merchant of death” was not the reputation he wanted. So he funded the Nobel Prize in order to change his legacy.
Nobel’s intention was not to be a “merchant of death” but nevertheless his technology of dynamite led to the death of many. Technology itself is not wicked, but sometimes those who wield it are not wise and sometimes they are wicked and use technology in devastating ways.
Also, concerning is that Musk seems to be a naturalist and determinist. He talks about what the collective will of the world is. That, to me, is concerning. Especially from someone that believes they are doing good and yet, at the same time, have no basis for believing in the concept of good.
As amazing as Elon Musk is, in a lot of ways, he and his programs need ethics, and I would argue transcultural and transtemporal ethics.
My kids in my home need reminded and held to the transcultural norm of love and truth and if they don’t follow those norms my house is in unrest. How much more Musk and Neuralink?!
 He said, ““There’s a lot of really silly philosophy that’s been written about [consciousness] over the last thousand years.”
 Musk said, “The universe started out… hydrogen and then after a long time… well, what seems like a long time to us, that hydrogen became sentient. It gradually got more complex… We’re basically, you know, hydrogen evolved. Um, and somewhere along the way that hydrogen started talking and thought it was conscious” (See the 51:46 timestamp in Neuralink Progress Update, Summer 2020). If we are merely evolved hydrogen that think we’re conscious, how can we possibly make sense of our world? Is not then everything random? How can we trust our minds? That’s akin to trusting a random paint splash to relay truth. They’re both random chance processes with no real significance.
Living as Canceled Christians (a response to a response)
A reader of my previous post objected to some of what I wrote. Which of course is fine. I remain grateful that we have the freedom to do that. I’m also grateful for the opportunity it provides me to interact with some of his thoughts and critiques. So, here’s my response…
First, he said he didn’t know what “canceled Christians” means. It is a reference to the “popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures… after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming” (dictionary.com). Christians are being shut down from sharing their biblically informed views (especially moral issues on sexuality) on social media and often in general conversation as well.
He said that “we are to invest much energy into this world.” I, of course, agree with that. The Bible is replete with examples calling us to do just that. One of the reasons it calls us to invest in this world is actually because of the coming of the next. Our eschatology (study of last things) is a goad to our ethics (e.g. Matt. 24:36ff; 25:13; Col. 3:1ff; 1 Thess. 5:1-2).
He also said that this world is not a “stinky tent. It’s God’s handiwork.” This world is not literally a stinky tent. The Bible doesn’t say that exactly. The Bible does, however, say that “in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling… For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened… we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:2, 4, 8). It says, “the creation was subjected to futility… the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption… For we know that the whole creation has been groaning…” (Rom. 8:20, 21, 22 see also 2 Cor. 4:16-18). It thus seems to me that the world is a metaphorical “stinky tent.” It is not our final home. We should have a certain amount of longing for our “lasting city” (Heb. 13:14 cf. 2 Cor. 5:1; Jn. 14:2-3).
God’s creation does show His handiwork and it is an “expression of His creativity.” The first chapter of Genesis says six times that God’s creation is “good” and in the seventh and final announcement God says it’s “very good” (Gen. 1:31). That, however, is not the end of the story. It’s the beginning. Something sinister happens. The Fall (Gen. 3). And because of sin all manner of curse and chaos.
We live in a post-Genesis-3 world. So, while creation still attests to the goodness and creativity of God, it is also riddled with ruin because of sin. Jesus as promised in Genesis 3:15 is the one who finally remakes it. And He is the hope of the world.
I really appreciate that he says, “we are called to imperfectly participate, invest our gifts, to forgive.” That is very true. I am not sure why but it seems like he was led to believe that I would disagree with that truth. I am not sure why, however. No writing of any length can say everything, but especially a blog. Yes, we are to “imperfectly participate, invest our gifts, to forgive.”
I actually believe it’s true that unless Christians live as the campers and exiles they are, they won’t participate, they won’t invest, and they won’t forgive as God would have them. It’s being focused on the Kingdom that makes us effective in whatever kingdom we find ourselves in. It’s the person who realizes the value of the treasure (i.e. all the goodness of the new creation) that will sacrifice all to gain it (Matt. 13:44); even if it means loving those who are sometimes unlovely.
That is why we must “set [our] hope fully on the grace that will be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13). That, as Peter explains, will help us “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (v. 22). It will help us “imperfectly participate, invest our gifts, to forgive.” It will help us with creation care and the Golden Rule.
As C.S. Lewis said,
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.
We can be so earthy minded that we’re no earthly good. And we won’t rightly love our neighbor if we only love ourselves. As we look to Christ and the heaven He’s purchased us we will more and more be drawn to live like Christ, to love and sacrifice ourselves for others (See e.g. 2 Cor. 3:18; 5:14-15; 2 Pet. 3:11-14).
Regarding his comment that “most [my] assertions are not contextualized or elaborated” and that what I wrote is “gobbledegook,” I would say that the assertions in his response are also not “contextualized or elaborated.” And had they been his response would have been much longer. I would not say though that as a result what he wrote was “gobbledygook.” I looked up the definition of “gobbledygook” and apparently it means “language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by excessive use of abstruse technical terms.” I’m not sure where my post earned the term “gobbledygook” but that is not a noun I want associated with anything I write. I actually wanted my post to be simple and thought provoking. Ironically, it seems to me that writings that are most contextualized and elaborated are the very writings that have the most likelihood of being gobbledygook.
I want to be clear, instructive, and helpful. And this gentleman’s comments are a spur to encourage me in that pursuit. For that I am thankful.
 Of course, I don’t expect the gentlemen’s brief response to be perfectly nuanced either. Covering every facet is not possible in a brief comment, blog post, or even a book-length treatment. We are both fallible and temporal. Scripture itself, if the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) is not rightly considered, can seem lopsided. Matthew and Luke, James and Paul, however, are not at odds even if they are emphasizing different things and coming at issues from a different perspective.
There was and never will be a meaningless moment.
Our lives and our decisions matter eternally. They ripple through the corridors of time. There was and never will be a meaningless moment.
I was reminded of this truth recently by two things. One was an email from a missionary that was questioning the good that they, limited and challenged that they are, could accomplish. The second reminder came from one of my favorite books by C.S. Lewis, Perelandra.
In Perelandra Elwin Ransom is sent to the planet Perelandra (or in English, Venus) to stop the Fall of that planet (parallel in some ways to the temptation of Eve in Genesis). Weston, the great enemy, possessed by Satan has now become the un-man. The un-man is seeking to cause the destruction of the beautiful and enchanting Perelandra.
Ransom upon seeing that he is commissioned to stop the un-man and prevent the Fall is crushed by the weight of it all as well as confused over why God doesn’t send some miracle. “He tried to persuade himself that he, Ransom, could not possibly be [God’s] representative” (p. 141).
Ransom questioned. “What was the sense of so arranging things that anything really important should finally and absolutely depend on such a man of straw as himself?” (p. 142). Yet that is the way things are.
“At that moment, far away on Earth, as he now could not help remembering, men were at war,… and freckled corporals who had but lately begun to shave, stood in horrible gaps or crawled forward in deadly darkness, awaking, like him, to the preposterous truth that all really depended on their actions” (p. 142).
Or think of Eve herself. She “stood looking upon the forbidden fruit and the Heaven of Heavens waited for her decision” (p. 142).
So, Ransom came to see that it is true, that “a stone may determine the course of a river” (p. 142).
He felt it megalomania to think that he himself is the way that God will work—work a miracle. Yet, “he himself was the miracle” (p. 141). He was God’s provision. The way God was providing deliverance.
“Here in Perelandra the temptation would be stopped by Ransom, or it would not be stopped at all… This chapter, this page, this very sentence, in the cosmic story was utterly and eternally itself; no other passage that had occurred or ever would occur could be substituted for it (p. 146)… Great issues hung on his choice… It lay with him to save or to spill” (p. 148).
As he saw his call, he also felt an unbearable weight. Then he felt the weight left. “He was in God’s hands. As long as he did his best—and he had done his best—God would see to the final issue” (p. 141).
God uses mere humans as His mouthpiece. God uses humans to do His will. What we do matters. It matters eternally.
Let me ask you, friends, what are you doing?
In Mere Christianity, Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Friends, our lives matter, our actions matter, our voices matter.
If we knew a millionth of the magnitude of our lives we’d be moved to wonder and crippled by the significance of it all. Our lives and our every action have significance because this world and this life is not all there is.
And for Christians, this is multiplied ten-fold. We are mouthpieces, ambassadors, commissioned by the one true God.
Friends, let’s live fierce purposeful lives because we have purpose. Our lives matter more than we can know.
C.S. Lewis on Scientism in Out of the Silent Planet
Have you ever heard of C.S. Lewis’ book series, The Chronicles of Narnia? It’s good. But, Lewis’ Ransom Trilogy is even better. And one of the reasons for that is because he confronts scientism.
Scientism exalts the natural sciences as the only fruitful means of investigation. In the words of Wikipedia: “Scientism is the promotion of science as the best or only objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values.” In short, scientism is the view that says science, and science alone, tells us what is right and true.
Science, of course, is different. It is the study of the natural world through systematic study (observation, measurement, testing, and adjustment of hypotheses). Scientism goes beyond science and beyond the observation of the physical world into philosophy and ethics.
How can observations about the natural world tell us how to think and live? How can science tell us how to best do science? What can be said about the problems of scientism? C.S. Lewis gives us a few things to think about, and in a very enjoyable way.
Out of the Silent Planet on Scientism
Weston, one of the main characters in C.S. Lewis’ book, Out of the Silent Planet, holds to a form of scientism and belittles other ways of acquiring knowledge. Unscientific people, Weston says, “repeat words that don’t mean anything” and so Weston refers to philology as “unscientific tomfoolery.” The “classics and history” are “trash education.” He also says that Ransom’s “philosophy of life” is “insufferably narrow.”
When science is the sole means of knowledge then we are left without theology, philosophy, and ethics. We are left to decipher ought from is. And it can’t be done. Or not in a way that prevents crimes against humanity. “Intrinsically, an injury, an oppression, and exploitation, an annihilation,” Nietzsche says, cannot be wrong “inasmuch as life is essentially (that is, in its cardinal functions) something which functions by injuring, oppressing, exploiting, and annihilating, and is absolutely inconceivable without such a character.”
Weston concurs. He is ready and willing to wipe out a whole planet of beings. He says, “Your tribal life with its stone-age weapons and bee-hive huts, its primitive coracles and elementary social structure, has nothing to compare with our civilization—with our science, medicine and law, our armies, our architecture, our commerce, and our transport system… Our right to supersede you is the right of the higher over the lower.”
It is about life. Looking at life, looking at survival alone, leads us to think that alone is the goal. My life versus your life, Weston’s life versus the Malacandrian lives. That’s what we get when we derive ought from is. “Life is greater than any system of morality; her claims are absolute.” And so, if it would be necessary, Weston would “kill everyone” on Malacandra if he needed to and on other worlds too. Again, Weston finds agreement in Nietzsche: “‘Exploitation’ does not belong to a depraved, or imperfect and primitive society: it belongs to the nature of the living being as a primary organic function.”
Is Weston’s view correct? No. And we know it. That is the point C.S. Lewis makes. He offers a narrative critique of scientism in Out of the Silent Planet as well as through the whole Ransom Trilogy. He shows the havoc that scientism sheared of theology, philosophy, and ethics can unleash.
The answer is not to discard science, however. That is not what Lewis proposes either, though that is what some protest. The answer is to disregard scientism. Science is great and a blessing from God, but science on its own is not enough as our guide. We cannot, for example, derive ought from is. We cannot look at the natural world around us, at what is, and find out what we should do, how we ought to live.
 C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet (New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1996), 25.
 Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet 27.
 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals.
 Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet, 135.
 Ibid., 136.
 Ibid., 137.
 Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond God and Evil, par. 259.
C. S. Lewis on Longing
You can trace the theme of longing through most of Lewis’ writings. In some places, it is explicit in other places it is implicit. For example, Perelandra does not so much make an argument as much as make you desire and long to experience something of what Lewis wrote. When reading some of Lewis, we often find ourselves hoping what he writes about is true. Lewis’ argument is not really cognitive and logical as much as it is “kardialogical,” that is, reasoned from the heart. As Blaise Pascal said, “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.”
It is also important here to look at what Lewis meant by longing or desire. Lewis himself said, “From the age of six, romantic longing—Sehnsucht—had played an unusually central part in my experience.” Sehnsucht is a German term that communicates the longing that all of humanity has. It means “longing,” “yearning,” or “craving.” It is a way of saying, “something is intensely missing, there must be more.” Joe Puckett defines Sehnsucht this way:
The aching, and yet pleasurable, intense longing for a life that we cannot yet have but naturally and universally crave. It is the feeling of having lost something that we once had—giving us a sense of homesickness and discontentment with the less-than-ideal world we currently find ourselves in.
Lewis was specially equipped to discuss longing since from a very young age he had experienced such longing and had the ability to write about it with apologetic force in both narrative and essay form. My thesis is that Lewis is correct, our longing does point us beyond this world. Our longing ultimately points us to the Lord and His coming Kingdom.
Why should I believe the Bible? (pt 4)
“Why should I believe the Bible?” Well, one reason I believe the Bible is because I find it very…
The Bible presents a very viable explanation of the world around us. It gives us a worldview that makes sense of reality. It adequately addresses and answers the most fundamental questions of life. Questions like: How did we get here? Is the world chaotic or ordered? What is a human being? Do humans have intrinsic worth? Why do we have a sense of morality? Is there truly morality; right and wrong, good and evil? What happens after we die? Why is it possible to know anything at all? What is the purpose of life? Why is the world so messed up? And is there any hope?