Favorite Books Read in 2018

In the previous post, I listed the fifty books I was privileged to read in 2018, focusing on Jonathan Edwards and C.S. Lewis. In this post, I’ll give my favorites by categories. (Following this post, I’ll give thoughts about reading Lewis next; thoughts about Edwards in post four; a comparison of Lewis and Edwards in post five; thoughts about reading the Bible in 90 days in post six; and finally a look into my planned 2019 in post seven.)

Here are my favorites from 2018 in these various categories:

Books that Most Inspired Prayer
Books that Most Inspired Bible Reading
Best Devotional Books
Books that Most Inspired Me to Be a Better Man
Most Interesting Books
Most Convicting Books
Most Life-Changing Books
Best Books About Culture
Most Theology-Impacting Books
Most Practical Ministry-Impacting Books
Most Disappointing Books
Books I Most Disagreed With
Books to Reread Every Few Years
Most Impressive Books

Books that Most Inspired Prayer

  1. Donald Whitney - Praying the Bible. This succinct book explained well how to pray over the Bible. It was practical and inspiring.

  2. Jonathan Edwards - Sermons. This includes all three sermon collection books. As I will explain in the post about Edwards, he exposits the Bible worshipfully. It inspires you to pray to the God he relishes.

  3. Paul Miller - A Praying Life. I was not too thrilled with this book as a whole, but it was worth reading just for his thoughts on ‘prayer cards.’ Very practical. It helped my prayer life.

  4. C.S. Lewis - Letters to Malcom: Chiefly On Prayer. This book is less about prayer than the subtitle suggests, but there were still a handful of ‘letters’ which fueled it.

Books that Most Inspired Bible Reading

  1. John Piper - Expository Exultation. It’s a book about preaching, not mainly Bible reading. But the way he explains, organizes, and connects Bible verses is fascinating. I’ve read almost all Piper’s books, and listened to thousands of his sermons, but in this book he was making connections I’ve never heard nor seen before. Moreover, his points about expositing and exulting over the text in preaching the Word apply to reading it as well.

  2. Jonathan Edwards - Religious Affections. This was difficult to get through, but often as he would explain a point about the Spirit’s working, it would inspire me to dig more into the Word.

  3. Ajith Fernando - The Family Life of a Christian Leader. This inspires more family Bible reading. I still have a long way to go here, but this book was the best I’ve read yet about Christ-focused family leadership.

Best Devotional Books

  1. C.S. Lewis - The Screwtape Letters. A strange choice, I know, but without a doubt that’s where I’d put this book for me. Yes, it was written from one demon to another. And yes, it isn’t classically ‘devotional.’ But it was a brilliant analysis of how we as humans work and how we can draw closer (or further) from Christ; or to say it in a better way: of how we can be more devoted (or not) to Christ. This is Lewis’ sweet spot, talking about man and how we operate in relation to God.

  2. Erik Raymond - Chasing Contentment. This is a solid, gospel-centered book about contentment and treasuring Christ. Nothing too new, but devotionally inspiring.

Books that Most Inspired Me to Be a Better Man

  1. Ajith Fernando - The Family Life of a Christian Leader. This is the clear winner. I still have long ways to go in many of the things he spoke of, but this was an enjoyable, easy read about the various aspects of leading a Christian family well.

  2. Jonathan Edwards - Sermons. This includes all three sermon collection books. His sermons stir. They make you worship and then also make you want to strive for godliness.

Most Interesting Books

  1. Jonathan Edwards - The Freedom of the Will. It wasn’t easy to read overall; and it gets heady at times. But there’s a reason this is a classic. I thought—after reading all his major works (including his esteemed Religious Affections)—that this was his best. It was thoroughly compelling—in his arrangement and arguments. To be blunt, I don’t know how people could disagree with such clear logic rooted in not only the Bible, but also in common-sense philosophy (supported by the Bible). See below and my post on Edwards for more on this book.

  2. C.S. Lewis - The Screwtape Letters. ‘Interesting’ for sure! I loved this book. As stated above, I think this sort of topic (not demons, but how we as humans work) is Lewis’ sweet spot. See below and my post on Lewis for more on this book.

  3. John Piper - Expository Exultation. I wish this 300 page book 500 pages or more. I’m feel it could’ve been—he had much more I know he could’ve said about preaching. But each of the 300 pages was compelling. As is typical Piper (and Edwards and Lewis!), it takes some time to get into his flow, but it was worth it. This is particularly so with this book as a pastor.

  4. C.S. Lewis - God in the Dock. There’s 50+ essays and talks in this book, and the majority of them are fascinating. I don’t think Lewis’ strength was book-writing; it was writing essays and giving talks. In these he would communicate his brilliant ideas more succinctly and clearly. (In his books, he’d often go down too many rabbit trails, and he’d have more poor ideas.)

  5. C.S. Lewis - The Last Battle. I had never finished Narnia before, so I was anxious to read this. It didn’t disappoint; it excelled my expectations. The last handful of chapters about the end of time, judgment, and glory were so fascinating. It was ‘interesting’ to say the least. I thought much of it was Lewis’ finest.

  6. C.S. Lewis - Miracles. I enjoyed reading this book very much. I already love Francis Schaeffer and his apologetic works, and Lewis’ arguments here are similar. In fact, I’d say Lewis is less clear than Schaffer, but more creatively compelling once you understand what he’s saying. It was a page turner for me.

  7. Tom Standage - A History of the World in 6 Glasses. Nothing sanctifying here, but it was very interesting about world history. I enjoyed every page.

Honorable mentions: C.S. Lewis - Letters to Malcom; C.S. Lewis - Till We Have Faces; C.S. Lewis - The Weight of Glory; C.S. Lewis - The Dark Tower; C.S. Lewis - The Four Loves; C.S. Lewis - Reflections on the Psalms; Jonathan Edwards - The End for Which God Created the World; Jonathan Edwards - Original Sin; Jonathan Edwards - Religious Affections; Andrew Naselli & J.D. Crowley - Conscience; Stephen Wilbers - Mastering the Craft of Writing

Most Convicting Books

  1. Jonathan Edwards - Revival Sermons of Jonathan Edwards. Although these were primarily addressed to unbelievers, they still applied to me. And many of his points cut to the heart. His other sermons often did this too, but this collection especially had such an effect.

  2. Ajith Fernando - The Family Life of a Christian Leader - Convinced me of the many ways I need to work on leading my family towards Christ as a husband and a father.

  3. Jonathan Edwards - Religious Affections. Similar to his sermons, this helpfully convicted me of much of my lack of fervor for Christ.

Most Life-Changing Books

  1. C.S. Lewis - God in the Dock. In truth, it was reading all of Lewis this year—it wasn’t one or even a couple main books. But this book was paradigmatic of why he has had such an effect on me. You read these many various essays and talks, and it is fascinating to see how he thought and wrote about all different topics. But not only was it all fascinating, but to me it’s worthy of imitation. Yes, Lewis has many blind spots in his theology due to a lack of robust biblical belief. But the way he thought, the way he wrote, his wit, creativity, respect—all were so unique and compelling. There’s a reason he’s esteemed by almost all Christians and even many non-Christians alike. So, Lewis himself changed me most, but God in the Dock as one collection, with its numerous, various essays, epitomized this the most.

    Note: Other books were impactful and changed me, but I think only Lewis himself should belong in this category of “Life-Changing” this year. The reason Edwards does not belong here is not because he isn’t extremely biblical nor clear, but because I already was more in his boat and on his side before this year. He further solidified it; Lewis brought to me something completely new.

Best Books About Culture

  1. C.S. Lewis - God in the Dock. These essays cover a wide range of cultural topics: apologetics, vivisection, the death penalty, theories of punishment, Christmastime, national repentance, general ethics, and more. Many of the essays are addressed only to Christians about Christian topics, but a subtitle for this collection could be “Essays Addressing the Culture.”

  2. Jonathan Leeman - How the Nations Rage. The best book I’ve read on politics (although, honestly, there aren’t many others I’ve read). Leeman evidently has thought much about the topic.

  3. C.S. Lewis - The Weight of Glory. See his essays such as “Learning in War-Time,” “Why I Am Not a Pacifist,” and “The Inner Ring.”

Honorable mentions: C.S. Lewis - The Abolition of Man; Courtney Reissig - Glory in the Ordinary

Most Theology-Impacting Books

  1. Jonathan Edwards - The Freedom of the Will. This didn’t change my theology, but it much further solidified it. His explanation of natural inability versus moral inability (and necessity), were eye opening. Then his connecting all this to the person of God and Christ was stunning. Logic at its best.

  2. Jonathan Edwards - The End for Which God Created the World. He created it for his glory. Period. Edwards proves this. But what I love most is that the first half, he proves it with philosophy alone (incredible!), and then he goes to the Bible in the second half to solidify his (almost already proven) point.

  3. C.S. Lewis - The Problem of Pain; The Four Loves; Reflections on the Psalms; Mere Christianity. I group these four together for a reason: each of them had insightful, theology-impacting points. The Problem of Pain had great insight about how God uses pain to mold us and on the glory of heaven to come; The Four Loves had great deliberations about the four various ‘loves’ in existence and how they (especially Charity) relate to God; Reflections on the Psalms had wonderful insights about praise and worship; and Mere Christianity had great insights about apologetics, the Christian virtues, and new life in Christ at the end. All three were worthwhile and often brilliant reads because of these things. And yet, three of these books—a few chapters in The Problem of Pain, a few in Reflections on the Psalms, and all of “Book 2” in Mere Christianity—had some awful blind spots. So, sifting was necessary.

  4. C.S. Lewis - The Last Battle. His thought and images of heaven were beautiful. Although fiction, it’s some excellent eschatology.

  5. Andrew Naselli & J.D. Crowley - Conscience. This was impactful in my theology about the conscience. It’s a topic I haven’t dug too much into before. This book was worth it just for its first chapter. It was a short book, and I wish it was longer, but it wet the pallet.

Honorable mentions: Jonathan Edwards - Original Sin; Jonathan Edwards - Religious Affections

Most Practical Ministry-Impacting Books

  1. John Piper - Expository Exultation. See above for why it was a great book. I already loved Piper’s preaching; this further solidified how I desire to preach in similar ways.

  2. C.S. Lewis - God in the Dock and The Weight of Glory. Lewis was not a pastor. Nevertheless, some of the ways he communicated with succinctness and respectfulness in these essays were admirable for people like me in ministry.

  3. Paul Miller - A Praying Life. As stated above, I didn’t love most of this book. But much of his practical points about prayer were helpful. I will, Lord willing, use them and also relay them to others.

  4. Donald Whitney - Praying the Bible. This is a short book about how to pray over Bible verses. It was practical for me, but I’ll especially use it in ministry to teach or to hand out.

Most Disappointing Books

  1. C.S. Lewis - The Great Divorce. Many compare this to The Screwtape Letters because it is allegorical fiction. But in my opinion, they are quite different in their creativity and brilliance. It was still worth reading, but not anything special from Lewis.

  2. C.S. Lewis - Surprised by Joy. Some love this book; I disliked it. It was muddled and confusing. I was looking forward to it since I read so much from him this year, and since I was curious about his life. And while there is some good details in this book, it seemed more like a jumbled collection than a good autobiography. That all being said, I admit I a) have not read many biographies, and b) usually do not enjoy them. So this dislike could be my fault.

  3. C.S. Lewis - Mere Christianity. “Whoa! What!?” Now to be clear, the only reason I have this in this category is because of the extremely high expectations. Was it good? Absolutely. I gave it 4 solid stars out of 5; Book 3 (about Christian virtues) was truly brilliant; and Book 1 (apologetics about morality) and Book 4 (about new life in Christ) were great reads. But Book 2…oh, Book 2. It was rough. Titled, “What Christians Believe” this was especially unfortunate. So, considering this book is so highly esteemed, and considered Book 2 is supposed explain the common-ground ‘mere’ in “mere Christianity,” I was disappointed. (See my book review on Goodreads for more on what I thought of it.)

  4. John MacArthur - The Gospel According to God. I read The Gospel According to Paul in 2017 and throughout enjoyed it. I usually like MacArthur’s books. They’re solid, clear, exposition-focused books. This was a whole book on Isaiah 53. As a result, I was much looking forward to it. But it was unexceptional and repetitive. I had to push through it, which isn’t normal for MacArthur books.

  5. Jack Challem - The Inflammation Syndrome. For some reason I enjoy reading health and nutrition books. But this was not good.

(Dis)honorable mentions: Philip Graham Ryken - King Solomon (not terrible, just could’ve been much better); Paul Miller - A Praying Life (some practical points, but overall not that great); C.S. Lewis - Prince Caspian (my least favorite by far in the Narnia series).

Books I Most Disagreed With

  1. C.S. Lewis - The Great Divorce. See my review for more details why. But I thought that Lewis’ description of hell was quite unhelpful and incorrect. I realize it was an allegory, but I believe these adjectives still fit the case.

  2. C.S. Lewis - A Grief Observed. I read this in 2017 as well. I appreciated it much more this time. Yet because of the first half of the book, it still was a book I disagreed much with. See more here.

  3. C.S. Lewis - The Problem of Pain, Mere Christianity, and Reflections on the Psalms. I included all three of these in the “Theology-Impacting” section above too because they each included wonderfully bright spots. Overall, I loved reading them. But I have to mention again the disagreements: The Problem of Pain had some terrible black spots; Mere Christianity had the lamentable Book 2; and in Reflections on the Psalms Lewis has a low view of Scripture, even describing some of the psalmists prayers as “devilish.”

Books to Reread Every Few Years

I will, Lord willing, have years in the future where I reread all of Lewis’ and Edwards’ major works again. They were so good, and, as Lewis himself says, one needs to read a book multiple times to truly assess it. That being said, here are the particular books I’d list as “must read again.”

  1. Jonathan Edwards - The Freedom of the Will; The End for Which God Created the World; The Religious Affections; Sermons (all three collections)

  2. C.S. Lewis - The Problem of Pain; The Screwtape Letters; Miracles; The Weight of Glory; Letters to Malcom; Reflections on the Psalms; The Four Loves; God in the Dock; all of The Chronicles of Narnia.

  3. John Piper - Expository Exultation. I sense I will return to this again and again in my future years of pastoral ministry.

  4. Ajith Fernando - The Family Life of a Christian Leader - I want to be re-stirred to be a better Christian leader at home. This book creates that rousing effect.

Most Impressive Books

What I mean by “most impressive” is books that I look back on with an ‘awe’ feeling. They stand out. I don’t want to call this category “Best Books” because ‘best’ is vague. ‘Impressive,’ it could be argued, is vague too. Point taken. But it is a little more specific.

  1. Jonathan Edwards - The Freedom of the Will. They say that when you read you can think along with other people different and much more brilliant than you. I felt this here unlike ever before. I would never have thought many of these arguments—ever. In this book, I was taken up into the mind of a genius—a philosophical giant, yes, but also a genius who loved his big, sovereign, beautiful God. His logic, connections, and corollaries were top notch. See my post on Edwards for more about this work.

  2. C.S. Lewis - The Screwtape Letters. As I stand in awe of Edwards’ logical brilliance in Freedom of the Will, so here I stand in awe of Lewis’ creativity and insights into humanity. I would finish chapters struck by how clever it was, but especially at how true it was to how life worked. I love this book very much, not because it’s creativity in being a correspondence between demons—that’s interesting, sure, but not the brilliance. Rather, I love it because of how insightful (which is a word I use a lot, but it’s the best word here) each chapter is. Edwards sees connections and arguments I’ve never think of; Lewis sees into life (has insight) in special ways. See my post on Lewis for more on this book.

Those are my favorite (and least favorite) books from different categories from 2018. In my next post, I’ll start to explain what I loved about C.S. Lewis, followed by a post about Jonathan Edwards.