One of my favorite blogs to post each year is my “Top Ten.” Well, here are my top ten books, with a few extras thrown in for fun. Enjoy . . . and happy reading!
Barry Hankins, Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America. Hankins spends the bulk of the book surveying the life and ministry of Schaeffer and closes by making some practical points of application. While Hankins disagrees with Schaeffer at certain points (inerrancy specifically and politics more generally) his portrait is largely sympathetic. In my view, Christians can learn from Schaeffer’s evangelistic model. I would characterize Schaeffer’s method as missional, incarnational, and conversational. First, Schaeffer saw himself has a missionary and organized his life accordingly, using every opportunity to share the love of Christ in word and deed. Second, his method was incarnational by virtue of the fact that he engaged with people on a personal level. He and his wife Edith opened up their home to many visitors, showed hospitality, and shared their lives with people. Third, his approach was conversational in that he engaged the people in his home in conversation. If this model of ministry seems glaringly normal, that’s because it is. While readers may not share all of Schaeffer’s personal convictions, I think they can still appreciate how God used him and emulate his tenacity for ministry.
Kelly M. Kapic, A Little Book for New Theologians. While addressed to theological novices, all Christians would profit from reading this work. In just over 100 pages, Kapic unveils the posture with which aspiring theologians must approach their task. Each chapter is significant, but I think the most salient are the entries on humility, prayerful study, and community. Humility is the proper reflex to the revelation of God, and Kapic accents this point by highlighting the difference between how a prideful person and a humble person study the Bible. The prideful person demands “that God must work within the parameters of their limited understanding” while the humble person is willing to “expand and readjust their views to fit God’s Word” (27). Kapic insists that students do not have to choose between prayer or study, but instead opt for “prayerful study.” Finally, Kapic calls for theologians to practice their craft in community. In short, they must be churchmen and women.
Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit. Here’s a word of advice: Read everything Sinclair Ferguson writes. Seriously. All of his publications are marked by restraint and evenhandedness. Whereas some authors are prone to exaggeration and overreaching, Ferguson consistently steers clear of these pitfalls. I am always confident that Ferguson does his homework, reads widely, weighs evidence carefully, engages the text, and provides readers with helpful theological reflection. His work on the Holy Spirit doesn’t disappoint. Pick up and read!
Michael Allen, Sanctification. While I’ve read a number of Allen’s academic journal articles and essays featured in other publications, this was the first book of his that I had read. As a younger theologian, Allen gives me confidence that the next generation of the church is in good hands. Briefly, Allen situates the doctrine of sanctification within the broader theological categories and wider scope of God’s attributes and redemptive mission—leading him to traverse quickly over the terrain of God’s triunity, covenant theology, and Christology. Jesus is the holy Son of God sent to rescue the people the Father gave him (John 17:6, 24), and those united to the holy Son of God by faith are holy in him: “The matrix for all spiritual blessing is in union with the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, and sharing in those blessings and divine gifts with which he has been endowed, as the spotless and sacral human” (150). God’s grace is “matchless, pure, and free” (as one contemporary Christian hymn put it), but it’s also empowering. It leads to action (247). God’s grace manifests itself in our lives in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). As the apostle John put it, “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 Jn. 2:6). Jesus is the truly sanctified human who envelops us in his grace and moves us to live the truly human life.
Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath. A gifted writer, Buchanan dazzles readers with his beautiful prose, engaging stories, and practical application. Our schedules are jam-packed, we’re constantly busy, perpetually on edge, entering and exiting our cars as we drop off and pick up our kids—to and from school, to and from practices, and a zillion other events. No wonder busyness erodes our joy and playfulness. Buchanan invites us to slow down, make space for God in our lives, and restore our sanity.
Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation. Theologian J. Todd Billings remarked recently that in many popular-level Christian books “novelty is a sign of veracity.” Well, new is not always better. In this work, Allen and Swain are seeking to bring theological and spiritual renewal to the church by pointing contemporary Christians back to the riches of the catholic tradition (note the small “c”). Their thesis is that “we can and should pursue catholicity on Protestant principles” (13), and they add: “Reformed catholicity is a theological sensibility, not a system” (12). After laying out some of the basic principles of theology, they devote a large chunk of their work to unpacking what the Protestant Reformers meant by, and how they understood, sola Scriptura. They demonstrate what a number of other authors have found: Sola Scriptura never meant that Christians only have the Bible and the Holy Spirit; rather, sola Scriptura meant that the Bible is the sole infallible authority for faith and life, not that it is the only authority for the Christian. In their final substantive chapter, Allen and Swain argue that Christians must interpret the Bible in keeping with the “rule of faith” as outlined by numerous patristic writers.
David Gibson, Living Life Backwards. As you may know, I’m a pastor. And one of my jobs is to teach people how to die well. In order to accomplish this, I have to get people thinking about their deaths. Such is Gibson’s task in this book. He urges readers to consider how they will have wished they lived when they reach the end of their lives—and then live backwardly from there (hence the title of the book). I facilitated a small-group discussion on this book at the church I serve. My aim was the same as Benedict of Nursia’s (480–547 AD): “Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die” (RB 4. 47).
Todd Wilson, Mere Sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision of Sexuality. In this work, Wilson (the President of the Center for Pastor Theologians) unfolds for readers the biblical and Christian vision of human sexuality. He titled the book “Mere Sexuality,” in order to clarify his aim, which is to delineate the historical consensus of the Christian church regarding gender, sexuality, and marriage. Inasmuch as Christian theology is creation affirming, the Christian vision of gender, sexuality, and marriage is rooted in biology, not bigotry (88). As for his overarching points, Wilson shows that 1) one’s gender is a gift, not a choice, 2) marriage is a “one flesh union,” not a one heart union, and 3) celibacy is the calling that same-sex attracted people must embrace. The church, therefore, must open their doors and homes to non-married people, opening their collective arms and welcoming them into their lives. Finally, Wilson urges churches to communicate a compelling vision of human sexuality. We need to win the aesthetic, not just the argument (136).
For a more wide-ranging discussion and analysis, I recommend The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, & Morals, edited by Robert P. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain.
David P. Murray, Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout World. Similar to the work by Buchanan, Murray calls pastors—but all Christians really—to slow down, calm down, do less, and pace themselves. He is adamant that he is not calling pastors to laziness, but to adopt a healthy, sustainable pace. Murray provides readers with the latest research findings on the necessity of sleep, the importance of a healthy diet, and the salutary benefits of rigorous exercise. One insight I found particularly helpful was Murray’s insistence that pastors find a hobby. But not just any kind of hobby will do. Murray suggests that pastors need a hobby that produces visible results—something they can see and touch, like painting, woodworking, or planting a garden. His years counseling pastors has taught him that many suffer from depression and/or protracted seasons of sadness due to a lack of visible results.
Michael Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus. No, this is not a joke. You read this correctly. A book on Leviticus is one of the best books I read all year! In keeping with the other books of I’ve read in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, this book did not disappoint. Honestly, I cannot say enough good things about it. Morales takes readers on a journey from Genesis to Revelation, showcasing how the themes in Leviticus are central not only to the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), but to the entire sweep of the biblical canon. The “dominating concern” of Leviticus is how sinful humanity can dwell in the house of God? (20, 23). Answer: God makes a way for humans to dwell in his presence through atonement. Fast forward to the gospels and what do we see? We see that Jesus is portrayed as a walking temple, providing cleansing and forgiveness (273). And when we get to Revelation we find God dwelling with humanity (Rev. 21:3–4).
Kevin Vanhoozer – Letter to an Aspiring Theologian (First Things)
Favorite Poem: Jane Kenyon, “Man Eating”:
The man at the table across from mine
is eating yogurt. His eyes, following
the progress of the spoon, cross briefly
each time it nears his face. Time,
and the world with all its principalities,
might come to an end as prophesied
by the Apostle John, but what about
this man, so completely present
to the little carton with its cool,
sweet food, which has caused no animal
to suffer, and which he is eating
with a pearl-white plastic spoon