My Top Five Books of 2019 (Kyle Rapinchuk)

As usual, my reading plan looks very little like my actual reading list. Circumstances come along, questions get raised in class, I learn about new books being released, and I discover old treasures I had previously overlooked, and I inevitably start reading books not on my list, while relegating those on the list further down, to be read another day, and alas, another year. But despite all of the challenges this year brought, I have a large collection of books from which to choose my top 5. Again, as usual, they span a variety of genres and categories. In the end, I have selected a book from several categories and a book of the year.


The Mosaic of Atonement by Joshua McNall

I’ve been looking for a while for a good book on the atonement that takes seriously both the insight of the church fathers and the modern debates on penal substitution. This book does both in an exemplary fashion, while also considering important related theological issues like anthropology and the evolution debate as well as the question of penal non-transference. McNall’s work is a thorough guide to the questions and historical discussions of the atonement that gives ample attention to modern scholarship as well. McNall proposes that the atonement should not be forced into a single model or metaphor as others typically do, but instead the atonement should be viewed as a mosaic, with recapitulation as the feet, penal substitution as the heart, Christus Victor as the head, and moral influence as the hands. Each aspect of the atonement is not only intertwined with the others, but works harmoniously like the various members of the body to bring about wholeness. McNall’s vision for the atonement is biblically faithful, historically grounded, and presently relevant.

Honorable Mention: Heavenly Participation by Hans Boersma


Climbing Parnassus by Tracy Lee Simmons

I had heard about this book a couple of times, but I knew very little about it. I stumbled across it at the Eighth Day Books table at the ACCS conference and gave it a shot. I’m glad I did! Simmons does an excellent job of explaining the tradition of classical education, and he provides a much more meaningful defense of the original languages than “you’ll score higher on the SAT and learn other languages better.” The follow quote from the book highlights the kind of insight and passion this book delivers:

“Even if all one has gained from a classical education were to be forgotten in later life, anyone trained, at least for a time, to view the world as Greeks and Romans saw it may learn to ask pregnant questions. And even if the ancient answers be rejected, the student- of whatever age- will know what they are, and approach his own world with freshened vision, one no longer blinkered by ideology and the reigning fashion. He would have a liberal, because liberating, education indeed. No longer would he be imprisoned exclusively within the velvet walls of his own world’s preoccupations and fetishes. No longer would he be just an only child of his own time. He might even partake of the divine. (22)

Honorable Mention: The Liberal Arts Tradition by Kevin Clark and Ravi Scott Jain


The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

It’s crazy long. It’s translated from Russian, which I have always found to be rough. It’s slow at points. But it is absolutely beautiful, thought-provoking, and deep. I started it years ago and quit after 250 pages. Don’t quit. I finished it last year. Then I read it again this summer with some friends. I highly recommend reading it with some committed friends because you may need the accountability to keep going and will need the wisdom of others to help you understand more of the beauty hidden beneath the surface of this book.

Honorable Mention: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Great Books/Classic:

On the Incarnation by Athanasius

I’ve read most of this several times during teaching, but I’ve only recently finished the whole thing. It’s possibly the best theology book ever written, and I plan to read this every year for a while (if not forever). Athanasius expertly explores a multitude of facets of Christ’s work in the incarnation, from the necessity of His incarnation for our salvation to the reason why crucifixion was the most fitting death to the significance of the resurrection and its historical reliability. All throughout the book is spiritually nourishing, intellectually stimulating, and devotionally helpful.

Honorable Mention: The Journey of the Mind to God by St. Bonaventure

Book of the Year:

Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson

It’s probably a good thing I’m calling this book my book of the year because it defies categories. It’s partly a memoir/autobiography, partly a book on writing and crafting stories and songs, partly a book on the Christian life and faith, and wholly excellent. Anything this book may lack in comprehensiveness, it makes up for in wit, transparency, and love. I was profoundly moved by this book, and so I have already written more about it here.

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