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The RP 52 in 22 challenge

If you’re a reader, there’s a good chance you have a stack of books somewhere that you’ve really been meaning to get to. But, what with the busyness of life, that stack might well be growing as it is so hard to set aside the time. Wow then, can we get to the reading that we really want to do anyway?

The answer, for a trio of competitive lads, was to get a challenge going. So a lawyer, a minister, and an editor all agreed that they would read 52 books by the end of 2022. This “52 in 22” challenge is a race of sorts, and to up the motivation, the three will keep a public running total of their progress, posting short reviews of each book here on this web page (with selections appearing in each issue of the print magazine). Finally, to add a mildly punitive element to it, each agreed, at year’s end, to donate $20 for every book they didn’t complete to a charity of their choice.

Our hope is that the challenge might spur others on to read more great books, including, perhaps, some of the suggestions listed below. Follow it on MeWe, Facebook, and Gab under the hashtag #RP52in22

The tally

The lawyer – André Schutten: 2
The minister – Jim Witteveen: 2
The editor – Jon Dykstra: 2

Reviews

JANUARY 20

John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678/187 pages) is a series of theological debates and discussions wrapped inside an epic journey. Our hero, the Pilgrim, is setting out from “the City of Destruction” to find a home in the Good King’s “Celestial City” and the journey serves as a metaphor for the Christian life. Bunyan has many challenges and encouragements to offer, but the main one is that “the bitter must come before the sweet.” He wants readers to understand that turning to God won’t make our life easy, and might even make it much harder. But God is worth it! So, along the way, the Pilgrim has to contend with many trials including false friends, doubt, a corrupt judge and lying witnesses, depression, all sorts of temptations, and persecution. He is also strengthened along the way by “Shining ones,” faithful friends, and good counselors who show him what the Lord has done for other pilgrims. There’s loads of wisdom packed in here, which is the reason it was the English world’s most influential novel for at least a couple of centuries. Readers should take some care in finding a good version as there are many to avoid. For example, the Amazon Classic version kept the original language but omits “all the conversations and arguments concerning subjects belonging to the field of doctrine.” Most modernizations also cut out meat or sections that offend modern sensibilities. A fantastic exception is that done by C. J. Lovik, which only lightly – but effectively! – modernizes the text, and includes very helpful explanatory endnotes, with wonderful illustrations every ten pages or so. If you want to read it in the original, there is a great free version by three Johns: written by John Bunyan, introduced by John Newton (the former slave ship captain who wrote the song “Amazing Grace”), and including a biography of the author by John Piper. For those that want more, Bunyan wrote a sequel, this time describing the journey of the Pilgrim’s wife, called “Pilgrim’s Progress Part II: Christiana” – Jon Dykstra

JANUARY 18

Presbyterian pastor Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (2020/224 pages) is a beautifully written book on God’s heart for his people. A handful of people recommended this book to me and, since I received it as a Christmas gift from the ARPA Canada board, I decided to read it as my morning devotional. If you’ve ever struggled with the question of whether God might love you despite your sins, read this book. If you’ve ever thought that God’s attitude toward you is one of exasperation, read this book. It literally brought me to tears (in chapter 6, quoting John Bunyan), and encouraged me many times in the past couple weeks. I highly recommend the book for personal devotions or as an evening devotion for a couple, or as a dinner-time devotional for families with older children. It will provoke discussions of wonder, amazement and praise at how great God’s love for us really is. – André Schutten

JANUARY 14

Written from a Christian perspective, Carol M. Swain and Christopher J. Schorr’s Black Eye for America: How Critical Race Theory is Burning Down the House (2021/152 pages) is readable and brief – just 79 pages, plus glossary, notes, appendix, and index. That makes it an insightful introduction to Critical Race Theory (CRT) going back to its roots in Marxism, specifically the cultural Marxism of Antonio Gramsci and the Frankfurt school of critical theorists. Each chapter concludes with a list of discussion questions, making it ideal for group study and discussion. Although written specifically for the American context, the book’s suggestions for engaging with and opposing CRT’s influence are easily applicable to readers in other countries as well. – Jim Witteveen

JANUARY 13

Frank Abe and Tamiko Nimura’s We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration (2021/160 pages) is a graphic novel account of the tens of thousands of Japanese Americans who were imprisoned in the US in World War II based solely on their ethnicity. They lost their jobs, businesses, and even their homes. Despite the obvious discrimination against them, the vast majority went without protest, believing that quiet acceptance was a way of showing their patriotism. However, some did dare to protest, and We Hereby Refuse shares three of their stories. One inescapable lesson: the government is powerful, and with power comes the need to use it with great restraint. What happens when it doesn’t act with restraint? We can get victims by the thousands, as happened here. Another? The need for brave individuals to challenge government abuses, in the hopes of reducing the number of victims. – Jon Dykstra

JANUARY 8

Harvard professor Michael Sandel’s Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? (2010/310 pages) is an excellent introduction to the major philosophical theories of justice, covering Aristotle, Mill, Kant, Rawls and others. It’s an easy read: Sandel uses very interesting stories and cases to highlight how the theories of justice work and what their failings are. Here’s the caveat: the book is not written from a Christian perspective. By the time you get to the end, you’ll be wishing for one more chapter, to accurately present a distinctly Christian theory of justice, which also critiques the other theories. Sandel himself gets close by his final two chapters (his point about being part of a narrative and community is compelling) but lacks the objective, transcendent standard by which to judge human action as just or unjust. Highly recommended to anyone interested in wrestling with theories of justice and how individuals, institutions, and governments should decide what the right thing to do is in any given situation. P.S. a fun exercise to do while reading the book is ask yourself which theory of justice is being employed by the government as it makes decisions around Covid-19 and what would the other philosophers say about it. André Schutten

JANUARY 7

John McWhorter’s Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America (2021/224 pages) is by an African-American who is himself not a believer. But he makes the case for thinking about the new anti-racism (based in Critical Race Theory) as a religious system, and its supporters (“the Elect”) as religious adherents. Highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about the worldviews that form the foundation of Critical Race Theory, with the caveat that the book is not written from a Christian perspective, and does contain a bit of rough language. – Jim Witteveen


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Articles, Book Reviews

200+ free e-books worth checking out

We live in an age in which so many wonderful resources are available for free. Of course, with the sheer numbers being passed along here, we haven't been able to read, let alone review all of them so, as always, be sure to use discernment. But there are certainly a good number of gems here. The books below aren't broken up by subject, but are, instead, divided into three categories based on whether you can easily download them, or whether some personal information might be required, or whether the book has to be read online. This is a list of recent books, with most published in the last decade or two. Monergism.com has a list of much older titles, with most published at a minimum of 100 years ago, and many springing right out of the Reformation 500 years past. Their list amounts to more than 700 titles and can be found here. 1. Downloads These books are completely free and can be downloaded with minimal fuss (usually just a click and you are on your way). Almost 100 from John Piper and friends John Piper seems to have released all of his books in free pdf versions, and has tackled topics as diverse as biblical manhood and womanhood, abortion, sex, retirement, C.S. Lewis, Open Theism, racism and biographies. On occasion, some of Piper's writings are clearly directed to specifically Reformed Baptists. So, for example, in his biography of Adoniram Judson, he lauds the missionary for coming to reject infant baptism in favor of adult baptism. But for the most part his books are intended for a larger Reformed audience. But with so many available, what should you start with? His short biographies are excellent, each about 70 pages or so, and one of his most popular is Don't Waste Your Life. Oh, and while the majority of the books here are by Piper, there are many exceptions, and that's important to note because if it isn't by him, it likely isn't free. 16 by WORLD magazine's Marvin Olasky The editor of the Christian WORLD magazine has written books on Journalism and how Christians should read the news (and write it), on the history of abortion and the fight against, on a Christian perspective on compassion and the government's role in it, and even written a novel about radical Islam. There is lots to love here! 20+ from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church I still haven't had a chance to check these out, but plan to download Ned B. Stonehouse's J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir. 4 volume set of S.D. DeGraaf Promise and Deliverance series The four volumes of S.D. DeGraaf’s Promise and Deliverance series are a very expensive and rare find – they haven’t been in print for a decade or two. But these volumes would be very useful for parents and teachers who are trying to share the Bible stories with children. The set is a sort of commentary, or a set of outlines, for all the stories in the Bible, and done from a covenantal perspective. Maybe the best way to think of it would be as a sort of “cheat sheet” for parents – S.D. DeGraaf comes alongside us to prepare us to teach these stories, this biblical history, to our children. It could also be read as a devotional of sorts for teens, or even adults. These have been used in Dutch Reformed circles for generations now, but were also recognized by Christianity Today as a "landmark in interpreting the simple stories of the Bible." The free pdfs below are scanned, which means they aren't searchable or highlightable, but they are certainly readable. You can download them by clicking here for: Volume 1: From Creation to the conquest of Canaan Volume 2: The failure of Israel's theocracy Volume 3: Christ's ministry and death Volume 4: Christ and the nations You can find a longer review of these books here. Social Justice: How good intentions undermine justice and the Gospel E. Calvin Beisner is probably best known as the head of the Christian stewardship group the Cornwall Alliance. But before he started speaking on the environment, he researched and wrote a lot on poverty and economics. In this booklet, he outlines how good intentions are not only not enough, but often harmful. 31 days of purity This is a 31-day devotional to encourage and challenge the Church in regard to sexual purity. With contributions from Tim Challies, David Murray, and Joel Beeke, there are some insightful, trustworthy folks behind this. Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions? This is an important topic for any Christian considering the pill. Randy Alcorn's 200-page book can be downloaded for free, or, click here for a shorter overview. Abolition of Reason Jonathon Van Maren, Scott Klusendorf and other “incrementalist” pro-lifers argue against "abolitionism" or “immediatism.” Memoirs of an ordinary pastor: The life and reflections of Tom Carson Well-known Reformed Baptist pastor D.A. Carson on his unknown, faithful father. False Messages: A Guide for the Godly Bride Aileen Challies, wife of the Reformed blogger Tim Challies, has written a booklet for women on a biblical view of sexuality (it is near the bottom of the list). The Holy Spirit Kevin DeYoung with a short 30-page introduction to the Third Person of the Trinity. Scripture Alone: The Evangelical doctrine In this 40-page booklet, RC Sproul does a wonderful job of defending this key Reformed doctrine. Why sex is the best argument for creation The folks behind the fantastic documentary Is Genesis History? have created a short 115-page e-book with ten of their most popular essays, including the title essay. You can download the pdf for free here, the Mobi (Kindle) version here, and the Epub version here. How should Christians approach origins? At just 67 pages,  John Byl and Tom Goss have put together an incredibly succinct overview of an incredibly important topic. 2. Download for free, but they want some information These books are free, but getting them will require you to give your email address, or create an account, or in some way provide them some information. But these aren't spammers, so you can always opt out of their email lists. 39 booklets from RC Sproul In the last few years RC Sproul released a series of "Crucial Questions" booklets, all in the range of 40 to maybe 80 pages. That made them concise - something that could be read in an evening or two. And Sproul managed to pack a lot in these few pages while still keeping it readable. I will say, they still aren't light reads, but because of their small size, if anyone is interested in the question, then they should be able to work through Sproul's answer. I haven't read all 39 of them, but have appreciated each of the half dozen or so I've read so far. They tackle questions such as: Can I know God's will? Can I lose my salvation? What is baptism? Who is the Holy Spirit? The e-book versions are free and will be forever. You can find them for free on Kindle here, or click above to get them from Ligonier Ministries. Love the least (a lot) Michael Spielman is the founder of the website Abort73.com, one of the most comprehensive pro-life websites on the Internet. And his Love the Least (A Lot) is one of the most readable, most motivating, pro-life books you could ever read. God and the gay Christian: a response to Matthew Vines This is a response, by Reformed Baptist leader R. Albert Mohler Jr., to a popular book by Matthew Vines called God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. Mohler has also written a short book Homosexuality and the Bible. Parenting the Internet generation This is such a helpful book! It's by Luke Gilkerson, one of the folks working at Covenant Eyes, a Christian Internet accountability company, and his goal is to help equip parents to protect and guide their children when it comes to all things online. This is a thoroughly biblical resource, and as much a parenting guide as it is an Internet guide. You can find a longer review here. Covenant Eyes has many other booklets available on the topics of sexual purity and online safety such as More than single, A parent's guide to cyber bullying, Equipped: Raising Godly Digital Natives, and more, that can be found here. 3. Read online These books are free too but are only available to be read online, usually one chapter per webpage. 30+ Creationist resources from Answers in Genesis Answers in Genesis is a creationist group with a presuppositionalist approach to apologetics, which means there is a decided Reformed influence in the group. But while all Reformed folk should be creationists, not all creationists are Reformed, so these books are not specifically Reformed. Answers in Genesis has done something curious here, in making their books available for free reading. You can't download them, but can read them, chapter by chapter, on their website. That makes things a little more troublesome, but if the book interests you, it is a minor inconvenience. The very best is In Six Days, in which 50 scientists each take a chapter to explain why they believe in creationism. Old Earth Creationism on Trial and In the Beginning Was Information are also very good. 8 more great Creationist books Dr. Jonathan Sarfati’s Refuting Evolution, and Refuting Evolution 2 are available for online reading here. Letters to a Mormon Elder James White’s fantastic resource can be read for free online. Be a bit patient – it does seem to take a minute or two to load....


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