The year has come to an end and its time to do what bloggers do… write a “Top x Books of the Year” list. I have read a ton of books this year. Over 130 which means that I read more than 2 books per week. CRAZY! However as I looked at those books most of them were published before 2012 so I was pretty limited in how many books are able to be put on this list. That’s okay though. I still believe that the following books are a worthwhile read. I broke up my top 7 books into several categories: Apologetics, Biblical Studies, Charismatic, Devotional, Ministry, Missions, Systematic Theology.
Apologetics – Where the Conflict Really Lies by Alvin Plantinga
Normally I don’t read apologetics books…. to tell you the truth I am not a huge fan of apologetics. If you want to know why you can ask me later. The truth is though, this book is not an apologetics book it is a philosophy book; Philosophy of Religion meets Philosophy of Science. And by “religion” I don’t simply mean Christianity, I (and Plantinga) include Naturalism within the scope of “religion.” Drawing mainly from the fields of Evolution, Divine Action Theory, and Physics Plantinga shows where the conflict really lies. His thesis is that “there is a superficical conflict but deep concord between science and theistic religion, but superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism.” He proves this thesis in four steps: 1-show the alleged conflicts between science and Christianity are not really conflicts at all, 2-show that the superficial conflicts between science and Christianity are not “defeater” type conflicts, 3-show that there is deep concord between Christianity and Science, 4- Show that there is deep conflict between Naturalism and Science. He shows this last point by arguing that naturalistic evolution is self-defeating. It is self-defeating because given naturalism and evolution our cognitive faculties are not reliable. While I don’t normally read apologietics I can recommend this philosophy book as an apologetics book because I feel like that is how most Christians will end up using this book anyway.
Biblical Studies – Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament by G.K. Beale
NT use of the OT is one of my favorite fields of study. I am absolutely fascinated with it, so when I saw that Beale was coming out with a “Handbook” on it, I had to snatch it right up. I have to tell you that I was extremely happy I did that. If you don’t know much about NT use of the OT then get this book! It provides an excellent introduction to the topic. However it serves as more than an excellent introduction, it also provides students with the tools to do this task. If you know Beale’s work on the NT use of the OT you know that whatever tools he is giving you are top quality tools. Beale wrote THE commentary on the NT use of the OT and wrote an excellent biblical theology which uses this method. So if you want to learn from the master pick up this book. Especially useful are his chapters on “an approach to interpreting the OT in the New” and “primary ways the NT uses the OT.”
Charismatic – Spirit Rising by Jim Cymbala
I sort of balk at using the term Charismatic for one of the categories, probably because the term does carry some baggage. See I live in a tension between several worlds; I grew up in a foursquare church, went to a baptist high school, go to Fuller seminary, and work at a broadly evangelical church. But through all these things I consider myself to be Reformed and Charismatic. I’m starting to see a lot of people who are Reformed and Charismatic these days so I am quite encouraged. Anyway, the book by Jim Cymbala is not Reformed but it it Charismatic. What I loved about this book were Pastor Jim’s stories. Stories of the power of God moving in a congregation, moving to help people in need, moving to bring people to saving faith in Christ. This book isn’t spooky or weird, its simple and straightforward. The point of this whole book is to show the reader that God WILL do great things when we open ourselves up to allowing the Spirit to move in our lives and in our churches. As I read this book I got so excited imagining all the things that God wanted to do at my own church. I was encouraged to pray and to seek God on behalf of my ministry. If you want to be encouraged and pumped up read this book.
Devotional – Gospel Wakefulness by Jared Wilson
Open up this book and take a look at who endorses it… now close this book and tell me you don’t want to read it; you can’t! Matt Chandler, Trevin Wax, Sam Storms, Owen Strachan, Ed Stetzer, Tullian Tchividjian, and Chris Woznicki all recommend this book. (Yes I added myself to that list!) I read this book while I was going through a spiritually dry period earlier this year, and this book gave me exactly what I needed, a big dose of the marvelous gospel. Through illustrations and stories of real life people in his congregation Jared Wilson shows you how beautiful the gospel really is. Being enamored by the gospel is what Wilson calls “Gospel Wakefulness,” he defines it as “treasuring Christ more greatly and savoring his power more sweetly.” This book helps you do that, and who doesn’t want that?
Ministry – Gospel Coach Scott Thomas and Tom Wood
To tell you the truth (once again) I found myself reading a lot more Systematic Theology this year and a lot less “ministry” books. I often find myself going through cycles though, for a few months it will be ALL NT studies, then ALL ministry, then ALL charismatic, then ALL systematic theology. Also, this year I didn’t find a ministry book that I was in love with, except for this one. Gospel Coach was so good and so practical. See here is the thing, I am HUGE on multiplying leaders and groups. Multiplication is a BIG deal to me, and you can’t multiply leaders/groups without coaches. So I really believe in coaching. Thomas and Wood tell us why we need coaches and provide a bunch of helfpul/practical ways to help our coaches do their job. However the thing that makes this book stand out is that it isn’t simply practical adivce, its practical advice rooted in the truth of the gospel. Coaching in light of the gospel; “A gospel coach provides Christian leaders a theological foundation and a practical system to develop and equip other leaders in the local church to make disciples and to shepherd them to glorify God and to effectively lead.” If you want to raise up these kinds of leaders read this book. If you want to raise up leaders who not only make other disciples but make other leaders, read this book.
Missions – Finish the Mission by John Piper and David Mathis
This book is a collection of talks given at the “Desiring God: Finish The Mission” Conference. It includes essays by Louie Giglio, David Platt, Ed Stetzer, and of course John Piper (only to name a few). Now there were better books on the practical side of mission, one that comes to mind is JR Woodward’s Creating a Missional Culture, but this book really captures the heart of mission: worship. This is the kind of book that will fire you up for seeing God glorified among the nations. If more people were to read this book and be captured by the vision of this book then the church, especially the consumer driven American church would be better for it.
Systematic Theology – The Theology of Jonathan Edwards by Michael McClymond and Gerald McDermott
Okay, I’m cheating this book came out at the end of December 2011 but its a no brainer! There were a lot of theology books released this year but this one makes the top of my list (I wish I could have read Oliver Crisp’s Jonathan Edwards on God and Creation because I’m sure that book would have given this book a run for its money). So here is the deal my opinion is biased. My studies (both for school and teaching) focus on the Gospels, NT use of the OT, and the theology of Jonathan Edwards, so its natural that a book on Edwards would top my list in regards to Systematic Theology. If you are into Edwards or want to get into Edwards go read The End for Which God Created the World then go read this book. This tome has everything you need to know to begin your studies on Edwards. Biographical Material: his ministry, his spirituality, and his context. Theological Topics: Strategies and Methods, The Triune God Angels and Heaven, Anthropology and Grace, Salvation History, Church, Ethics, Society, and much much more. Finaly interpretations of Edwards ranging from the New Divinity school to Modern Day interpretations like the one of Lee, Crisp, and Global interpretations. This book is extremely important as a reference book, no one has complied all of this information in one place, and as a book that will launch new topics of discussion. If there were one thing I could say about this book to convince you to read (or at least buy) this $60 book its this: “Jonathan Edwards never wrote a systematic theology, but McClymond and McDermott have written one for him.”
MY BOOK OF THE YEAR
My favorite book that I read this year was T.F. Torrance’s Atonement but that came out in 2009 so it doesn’t count. However with that in mind my favorite book of 2012 was (drum roll please)…….
The Theology of Jonathan Edwards by Michael McClymond and Gerald McDermott.