2014 Top Books

I suppose a “better late than never” is in order. I recently came across a 2013 Top Ten list of books I compiled for a friend on my personal blog and it made me miss the thinking involved in compiling these lists for what I read in the past year. So, I determined I ought to make one for last year, almost halfway through this year.

I typically try to have a ‘canon of theologians’ list – the goal being to read a different theologian in church history each month – to read through every year, but outside of Christian books, I also try to vary my reading. However, on this outlet I’ll limit the list to my favorite Christian books I read in 2014. Some of these will be new releases, while others are classics that I try to re-read occasionally. Other than the first book on the list, these will be in no particular order.

The King in His Beauty by Thomas Schreiner

By far the best book I read this year. Beauty is an appropriate superlative for this book. Schreiner has done an excellent job of compiling a theology of the Bible. I am in particular agreement with his thesis of “God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s reign” but for me the reason this book is beautiful is because of its content, and how this thesis unfolds through the book. The theme is a constant reminder of everything that points to “the King in His beauty.” What a beautiful hope we have as Christians. And so not only is this book doctrinally rich, with much to learn from it, but even more importantly it will make you pause and worship. I’m thankful the church has such a gift.

The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus by Alan J. Thompson

This is an excellent work chronicling the events of Acts that primarily focuses on the work of Christ. Of course the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost is an important event in Acts, but Alan Thompson doesn’t want us to forget – as we often do – that Christ is in his “session” during this time in history as well. The Lord is Risen and is reigning, these are ultimately His acts.

Summary of Christian Doctrine by Louis Berkhof

Berkhof is one of my favorite theologians. His complete Systematic Theology is probably the work I reference most often. This summary is a great, concise resource as well. It’s a short treatment of key dogmatic issues, and is a pleasure to read. Another benefit is the opportunity to read straight through book hitting every topic. Something you most likely don’t do with a full systematic. It helps us “remember.” Something we desperateley need in order to continue to grow in areas of the Christian faith. This would be a great place to start if you’re interested in reading Berkhof. It’s also a great book to giveaway.

Expositional Preaching by David Helm

The first book I read in the 9Marks “Building Healthy Churches” series, and I’m not sure I’ve read a better introduction to expositional preaching. It’s a quick read, but it makes a great case for what is called expositional preaching. It is a style that is making a comeback in recent years, and many would argue it’s the only style of preaching that we should do regularly. Helm gives many good scriptural examples and application of what it is and how we serve our churches by preaching this way.

Behind the Ranges by J. O. Fraser

An amazing story. I was not familiar with Fraser before coming across this work and I was blown away with his pioneering work in China with the Lisu people. His endurance and patience with the work among the people is something that we should all be in awe of, and is something that I ask for more where we serve. We need more J. O. Fraser’s in the church today.

The Doctrine of Repentance by Thomas Watson

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It seems an antiquated word in our world today. But how utterly and completely scriptural it is. Maybe the reason we need to continue reading these types of works from the Puritans. They had a real grasp of sin that eludes many of us in our modern world. Watson will guide you through this doctrine from the Word, encouraging true repentance. The day of the Lord is now.

The Presence of the Future by George Eldon Ladd

Living in the “already and not yet.” Ladd is a well known Baptist theologian who talk much of the Kingdom from Scripture. This book is a treatment of eschatology and its primary focus on Christ who ushered in the end times, but explains the time has not come to fulfillment. I enjoyed this book because of my interest in this area of biblical study.

The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

A classic work. One that has endured and one that I love reading. It’s truly a journey walking with Christian – the book’s protagonist – through his life. If you haven’t taken this journey through the Christian life before, you need to take a walk with Bunyan this year. The edition linked to above is the Banner of Truth edition and is a beautiful copy you can keep for years to come.

Evangelism by Mack Stiles

The second book in the 9Marks series I read this year. I have read Stiles – who often writes on evangelism – before and wasn’t disappointed. This book is very accessible and is a good defense of why the church needs to be evangelizing It’s also and encouragement to do so. I was looking for resources to give away as gifts to pastors over here and found some great ideas in this series. Evangelism is an area that is tragically neglected in our churches today.

On the Incarnation by Athanasius

I was encouraged by a couple of friends on Twitter to read this during the holiday season, and what a beautiful read at Christmas time. The incarnation being the true miracle of the season. God becoming man is something that we should constantly be in awe of and try to remind ourselves often. This book will help do that. It’s also refreshing to read something of such antiquity.

That concludes my list.

What books were your favorite from last year since you’ve had four months to think about it, and why?

A Year’s Readings

I have finally been motivated to post “My Canon of Theologians” list for 2012. This has been some time in the works, and is now finally complete. I stumbled upon this idea a while back thanks to a Credo Magazine post from Luke Stamps. He had gotten the idea from a talk Mark Dever gave a few years ago at the Sovereign Grace Leadership conference. My friend Jacob has recently done a similar post.

So, here’s what I propose for the coming year:

January – Patristics: Early Christian Writings

February – Anselm, Cur Deus Homo, from Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works

March –  Reformation: Luther, The Bondage of the Will

April – Reformation: Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion

May – Puritans: Sibbes, The Bruised Reed

June – Puritans: Bunyan, Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners

July – Edwards: Sermons

August – Baptists: Spurgeon, Morning and Evening. Dagg, Manual of Theology

September – Princetonians: Warfield, Inspiration and Authority of the Bible

October – Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression

November – Barth, Church Dogmatics 1.1

December – Evangelicalism: Carl F.H Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority v.2

And that should wrap up the year. I’ll also try to work in a few contemporary authors along the way. This is of course my ideal reading plan. As Dever said in his talk, he almost never actually gets everything read. So, with my reading for class and a baby on the way, I’m sure I’ll never finish. It’s still nice to have a goal.

What would you add?

 

My Top 10 of 2011

As the title suggests the books on this list were not all published during this past year. These are simply my favorite books that I read this year. They are in no particular order. Enjoy!

The Christ of the Prophets by O. Palmer Robertson

This was the best book I read this year. While I had to read it for class, I’m glad that it was on the reading list. It’s an amazing book. This book sparked and fueled the fire for my interest in the Old Testament, for which I am eternally thankful. Even though, it was confined to the prophets, it gave me a new understanding of the importance of our understanding the context of the OT. I’m convinced that we should know the OT as well as the writers of the NT knew it.

Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

This is one of two biographies that made the list this year. I enjoy reading biographies because of the gritty reality of the stories they tell that awaken me to a world outside of my own context. They also encourage me in my walk and fuel my desire to grow deeper in my relationship with Christ as these heroes of the faith were so committed to doing. And this book does all of those things. Metaxas is a captivating writer,  it’s not difficult when you have Dietrich Bonhoeffer as you subject matter. He led a fascinating life amidst the uprising of Hitler and become a key proponent in plotting to overthrow the tyrant.

Reverberation by Jonathan Leeman

Another excellent publication by 9Marks. I enjoyed this book because of its practical application to church life. It’s a book that pastors, elders, leaders, and church members should get in their hands. Leeman’s focus is tracing the Word of God throughout the life of the church. As this is single most important aspect of the church, it’s a worthy and beneficial read.

John MacArthur by Ian Murray

Biography number two. I thoroughly enjoyed Murray’s writing. This is a brief, captivating look at the ministry of MacArthur. I appreciate the focus that has defined MacArthur’s ministry, dedication to preaching the Scripture. It’s really a good “real life” follow-up to Leeman’s book in some ways. There are definitely differences, but overall a good study and a good read.

On The Incarnation by Athanasius

This book was definitely not written this past year. As one of the early church fathers, Athanasius wrote profoundly on the God becoming man. This book is very doxological and worshipful. I enjoyed reading the ancient thoughts, and insights that emerged shortly after the life of Christ.

Holiness by J.C. Ryle

I understand now why this book is referenced so much and why lately it’s been mentioned as a topic about which there is much confusion over in the church, namely questions about sanctification. Ryle is an easily accessible author, and is very matter of fact in his writing. This is a challenging and convicting book but is one that we must confront. Not only once, but over and over again. Pick it up. You will be changed.

Lilith by George MacDonald

Oh, the beauty of masterful fiction writers. I had gone much of the year without a diet of fiction, and I was feeling starved. This book filled me. MacDonlad, I believe, is unmatched in his imagination and is simply a beautiful writer who can weave the most complex themes into the patchwork of a world in which you find yourself easily understanding. Like you’ve grown up there. Immerse yourself.

Rediscovering the Church Fathers by Michael Haykin

As Haykin states in his introduction, this book is needed for the modern church. To the church who think it started yesterday a rich history lesson is in store. A scholar, indeed, Haykin introduces us to a select few of the early church fathers. I listed this book because I think it’s one that we need to take note of. It’s a good read, and is somewhat biographical in nature, but it also relates the lives of these men to the formation of the thought of the early church, an interesting study for sure.

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

This book blew me away. Chesterton is a master. I was introduced to him through his series of “Father Brown” stories and wanted to read something else of his. This book did not disappoint. You will not want to put it down and Chesterton will have your mind on the edge of its seat straining to understand the world he’s pulled you into.

Don’t Call It a Comeback ed. by Kevin DeYoung

This one was a surprisingly good read. I’d started it early this year and just recently picked it back up to finish it. I’ve been loving it. The list of authors assembled for this book is very good. Many of whom you will not have read much by. The chapters are also short, but packed full. The conciseness with which the authors had to approach some very weighty issues made them say only what had to be said. Making for rich essays on evangelical identity. You’ll enjoy this read.

 

There are definitely a few more that I could’ve included but this was a good sampling. I’d love to hear some thoughts on books that made your list.

Until next year….

New Booklets from TGC

The Gospel Coalition has released a set of 8 booklets on various topics dealt with in Scripture. The series is edited by D.A. Carson and Tim Keller and includes many notable pastors and theologians, among them are: Sam Storms, Richard Phillips, Kevin DeYoung, and Bryan Chapell just to name a few.

The topics covered are:

    Gospel-Centered Ministry
    The Restoration of All Things
    The Plan
    The Church: God’s New People
    Creation
    The Holy Spirit
    What Is the Gospel?

Westminster bookstore is having a great introductory sale of 45% off on the whole set of 8. Check it out here:

Gospel Coalition Booklets Set

You can download a PDF version of Sam Storms The Restoration of All Things free from Crossway right now.

Giveaway!

Here is an amazing giveaway being hosted at

The Neglected and Understood

Crossway, Page CXVI, and Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary are helping me with a book and music giveaway worth over $150.

What will be given away?

1. Your choice of any bonded leather, Truetone, or personal size edition of the ESV Study Bible
2. Mark Driscoll’s Doctrine
3. Bob Kauflin’s Worship Matters
4. Rolland McCune’s Systematic Theology three volume set
5. Page CXVI’s three Hymns CD’s
6. Together for the Gospel Live CD

Just scroll to the end of the post for information on how to enter!

My Favorite Books of 2010

Alright. Another “Favorite” list for 2010. These were my favorite books that I read in 2010. Note: Not all of these were actually published in 2010.

The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders
I think this is one of the best books of 2010. Sanders does an excellent job of revealing the role of the Holy Spirit in evangelicalism. Read my review for a few more thoughts.

To The Golden Shore: The Life Of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson
I’m working on Bonhoeffer now which would definitely make this list, but Anderson’s biography on Adoniram Judson was the best biography I read this year. It’s an amazing story of his life in Burma and the awesome ways in which God used him to further the kingdom. It’s definitely an encouraging book and one that gets you excited.

Romans: St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary by R.C. Sproul
This is a great “Commentary”. It’s definitely written in a more conversational style than a technical commentary would be, but that’s what makes it great. It’s vintage R.C. Sproul. He takes you through Romans in a way that is accessible yet deeply theological. This book was the source of much growth this year.

The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne
The subtitle for this book is the best way to describe to it, I think, “the ministry mind-shift that changes everything.” It’s definitely that. It will break down the methods and “traditional” ways of working in ministry and refocus your attention on what’s really important. A must read from this year. Also look for the next installment The Archer and the Arrow.

The Shepherd Leader by Timothy Witmer
This was a good book for church leadership. Witmer does a great job of using the shepherding analogy to show how leaders need to guide the flock. It’s great to read with the above book to really focus on the role of discipleship.

Jonathan Edwards on the Good Life by Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney
This is a great, well-written series on the theology and writings of Jonathan Edwards. I used it for a small group setting this year and was a great tool to work through to really understand what Edwards taught in his sermons and writing.

Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller
This book was a good read. Keller is a great writer, and I love the way he draws out and sees scripture related to our culture. It is a convicting book as well, uncovering areas of in our lives that we have become so comfortable with, we didn’t even know they had become an idol. Read it.

Marks of the Messenger by J. Mack Stiles
The best 2010 book on evangelism that I read. Stiles does a great job revealing what’s behind evangelism and what’s important to it. It’s not a book on methods, it’s much more important, read my other thoughts here

And that’s it. Bring on 2011. Though, I’ve still got quite a few from 2010 left to read. Whew!

Father Brown

“A very short priest” with “a face as round and dull as a Norfolk dumpling” and “eyes as empty as the North Sea.” A fitting description of Father Brown, the main character in G.K. Chesterton’s famous collection of detective stories.

I have to admit, I had never read much Chesterton. His name is one of those that I’m so familiar with, though, it’s almost like I believed I had. Or just expected myself to have read him, I mean at least Orthodoxy, but I hadn’t.

And it wasn’t intentional that I started this book either. In fact, I couldn’t have stumbled upon this collection any more randomly. My wife was in want of a library trip as she was searching for a particular book on her reading list. So, I went along and leisurely browsed the fiction section. Strolling up and down the aisles I scanned the spines of the countless books in the stacks. Occasionally I would pause and pull a book from the shelf if the spine, or an authors name caught my attention.

Then, a book came to mind. So, I began searching for the C’s, Chesterton. His book, The Man Who Was Thursday, was referenced some time ago, and I wrote it down, but had never been too intentional of finding it. I thought I would start.

Sadly, it was nowhere to be found. Our branch didn’t have it. But, they did have The Father Brown Stories. It wasn’t The Man Who Was Thursday, but it was Chesterton, so I checked it out.

It has been an excellent read. Chesterton is not only of high literary quality, but is also full of intellectual wit. His stories are smart and wonderfully creative. I love his imagination, partly because it is enlivening my imagination. He invites you in and you become lost as a bystander as the stories and mysteries unfold.

If you’ve never read any of these stories, I would suggest you pick up a copy. I haven’t yet found a great edition of The Complete Father Brown Stories. The library hardback I have is the full set of Father Brown Stories, weighing in at around 700 pages. There are also quite a few paperback editions with “selected” stories from the Father Brown series. A good starting point.

Enjoy the read!

Living in God’s Two Kingdoms

Christianity and culture is a topic of great interest recently. David VanDrunen adds his voice by giving an introductory view of the two kingdoms doctrine. I believe his insights will be especially helpful for those who are new to the two kingdoms discussion, giving them a framework in which to think through some of its implications.

David VanDrunen is professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Seminary California, an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, as well as a licensed attorney.

David VanDrunen. Living in God’s Two Kingdoms (Crossway, 2010), 208 pages

Immediately, to open the book, VanDrunen includes a lengthy but very informative (and necessary) introduction. Necessary because the voice that he’s using to speak of the two kingdoms could be immediately lost among other popular views in today’s conversation. VanDrunen dedicates a few pages to explaining these views, and to explaining why they are not Biblically supported models.

The “two Adams” is a theme that we find in Scripture and is one that we have to understand in order to have an appropriate view of Christians in culture. This is because the second Adam, Christ, fulfilled God’s original plan for creation, where the first Adam failed (and was thus banned from the Garden of Eden). Therefore, there is no “redeeming” work that humans are involved in as far as creation is concerned. VanDrunen can’t over emphasize this enough throughout the book. Humans are not here to “redeem” anything. Christ has already done that, once for all. There is nothing to complete.

After establishing the two Adams theme, VanDrunen expands outward and develops the idea of how God’s covenants with his people inform all humans roles in culture. He familiarizes the reader with these covenants and their purposes. This section is important as he refers to these covenants throughout the rest of the book. The covenants are, in fact, what distinguishes and separates the two kingdoms.

So, how are Christians to then live in the two kingdoms? That’s the focus of Part 3 of the book, which is broken up into two sections: The Church and Education, Vocation, and Politics. In this part VanDrunen exposes the distinctions between the world and the church. The church as a distinctive entity is set apart in the Scriptures.

This is a great section on the importance of the church in culture. Many of our questions about how Christians should live in culture can be answered by the role of the church in culture. Again, I love this because it shows us the importance of the Body of Christ. It redirects us away from ourselves as individuals to the congregation of believers. How we function as church. A great example.

Lastly, VanDrunen turns to the topics of Education, Vocation, and Politics. I would assume that most people expected, or were hoping, this would be the focus of the entire book. After all, it’s where Christianity and Culture really meet. The majority of all Christians live out their lives in one of these spheres, or are a part of one of them.

How difficult, though, and that’s why this is the smallest section of the book. All the previous chapters are needed to support the arguments about these areas of culture. Once you arrive at this section, it’s nothing that hasn’t been established. VanDrunen simply applies the pricinples he set up throughout the rest of the book.
It seems familiar, but that’s only because you now have a framework in which to think and talk about these specific parts of our culture.

I would recommend this book, simply because it’s a topic most people aren’t familiar with and it’s one that needs to be thought about more often. It’s also a topic that Christians do not know how to respond to. We know we’re supposed to be different, but why, how?

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*This book was a free review copy provided by Crossway Publishers*

Marks of the Messenger

This review is part 3 of 4 in my series on Evangelism. Mack Stiles is a businessman and Christian leader in the United Arab Emirates. After working many years stateside with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Mack picked up and moved overseas to pursue full-time missions work.

J. Mack Stiles. Marks of the Messenger (InterVarsity Press, 2010), 128 pages

What is it to know, to live, and to speak the Gospel? Stiles seeks to answer these questions (and many more) in his latest book.

What have you been taught about evangelism? What comes to your mind when you hear that word? This book aims not to redefine evangelism, but to return to the proper understanding of evangelism. In the church growth era, true evangelism has been lost. We have become more focused on results, which has essentially changed the good news. The truth of the gospel is being compromised in today’s evangelism ‘methods’. Stiles is “convinced that the greatest obstacle to healthy evangelism is pragmatism: “doing evangelism” before we ever think who we are meant to be as evangelists.”

So, as evangelists, he exhorts us to keep the truth of the gospel intact, not adding or subtracting from it. The truth of the gospel is difficult to accept, it is supposed to be, it is offensive, but attempting to make the gospel easier to hear isn’t the solution. This is one example of how we have subtracted from the gospel message. In reality though, this is no longer even sharing the gospel. When you subtract from the gospel of the Bible, you lose it. There has got to be bad news before there is the “good news”.

Then, Stiles writes of the danger in assuming the gospel message. This is by far one of the best wake-up calls I’ve read recently. He includes quite an intriguing story to illustrate this point. He warns that when assuming the gospel becomes common practice in one generation, we are not many generations away from losing the gospel altogether. The proclamation of the gospel is of utmost importance. It is “of first importance”, as Paul said. It has to the center of everything we do.

But are our lives shaped by it? As Stiles asks in a chapter heading, “Does the message we share look like the message we bear?” Are we living as a community of Christians so that the world sees us by the ways that we love one another? Stiles emphasizes in this chapter that we must first be transformed in our relationships with other believers before we proclaim a message that doesn’t have any weight behind it (i.e., our lives).

When we do proclaim the message, it is often difficult to do so in a world that is so “troubled”. Western guilt is the motivation for this. “We must remember that to be who we are meant to be in Christ is to speak the hope of the gospel into a hurting world.” We can’t distance ourselves from the hurting thinking that it will be easier for them (because of persecution, poverty, etc.) if they don’t hear the gospel. And in a hurting world, we can’t equate caring for the hurt as sharing the gospel, then think we’ve evangelized. The spoken message of Jesus has to be proclaimed in order to evangelize.

If after we do evangelize, and some are saved, we must next have a Biblical view of conversion. Stiles says, “to be healthy evangelists, is to understand true Biblical conversion.” He then walks us through a few different verses that show what the true meaning of conversion is. We have to make sure that people know what they are doing, what they are committing their lives to.

And in all of this, we must be bold when evangelizing. Boldness is “faith in something bigger than our fears so that we appear fearless.” Stiles believes this is one of the most needed traits for the modern evangelist. This is so because of how much we fear man. We most often fear what man can do us, namely: expose, shame, or harm us. Fear of man has become a modern day obstacle and the “single greatest obstacle to evangelism.” He then encourages us in a few areas that will help us be bold in evangelism.

Love is another mark of evangelism. But many people’s perception of love is different from true Godly love. “The lenses of culture distort the concept of love” Pop culture has severely distorted our view of love. One distinct aspect of love that is a separation from our culture is the notion of“self-sacrificing love.” This view of love is something that is foreign to us. It is not human nature. And we can’t do it in our own power. We are selfish creatures. To be self-sacrificing in our love is demonstrating true Godly love.

Mack’s writing on the church was probably the second most challenging chapter of this book for me. Unity is the ultimate goal of the church because of Jesus’ words in the forth gospel, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (13:34-35, emphasis mine). They will know us by how we “love one another.” The way that he relates this to evangelism should really give us a strong desire to live as the church. He closes,

“Evangelism is not a duty to perform; it’s not a cross we must bear. It’s a privilege we’re granted.”

I enjoyed this book precisely because I was looking for that next book that gives you a “method” for evangelism. Of course, we know deep down that is not really the book we are looking for, or the one we need for that matter. We need a book like this one.

We need the challenge to look inward. We need the clarification that sharing the “good news” isn’t a method, it’s living out the gospel in our lives and then verbally sharing that with others.

I’m thankful for the warnings and challenges in this book. I hope they lead this generation back to the Scriptures, and back to the heart of the gospel. I pray that we will discover once again what it means to “make disciples of all nations.”

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