Lists are a staple in the diet of any blogger. Lists of books, albums, and films make regular appearances, especially around New Years. I'm late to the game this year, with most people's lists already read and probably forgotten.
And, honestly, I had to pause, after reading Mark Jones' challenge regarding the motivation and value in writing such lists for others to see. He heads his post with the words of Bertrand Russell, "There are only two motives for reading a book; one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it," and then helpfully reminds us that the only book we must read is the Bible. I agree.
Let it furthermore be said that there is no virtue in the reading of many books -- especially from someone like myself, an introvert who loves to read books the way some people love to eat chocolate. I have always been a reader. Before I became a Christian, I consumed books. And if I had never become a Christian, I would still be devouring books. In other words, reading is, for me at least, more the result of nature than grace. Grace, thankfully, has shaped many of my reading choices. And only God's grace can make spiritual reading truly beneficial to my life and the lives of others. But my penchant for reading is not in itself any indication of grace, virtue, or holiness.
Nevertheless, I love books and I love book lists. And for my fellow bibliophiles, I happily share mine. These, of course, are just my personal favorites. They are not necessarily the best books out there, nor were they all published in 2015.
I'm always on the lookout for books on Christian doctrine that are orthodox, clear, winsome, fresh, and written for the person in the pew, rather than the academy. Donald Macleod's books, A Faith to Live By: Understanding Christian Doctrine and Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement ably fill this theological bill, providing accessible instruction with that rare but beautiful combination of evangelical fervor and irenic tone.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I love the Puritans, and especially John Owen. These "Redwoods" of Christian history (as J. I. Packer called them) tower over all extra biblical authors in their capacity to shepherd my soul and point me to the Savior. One of the best Puritan books I read last year was Walter Marshall's The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification. Another one (also using the word "gospel" as an adjective) was John Owen's Gospel Grounds and Evidences for the Faith of God's Elect, which is bound in Volume 5 of Owen's Works. I read this book multiple times, and even had the privilege of editing and modernizing it for republication as part of Reformation Heritage Book's series Puritan Treasures for Today. This new edition will be released in April, and is retitled Gospel Evidences of Saving Faith. I hope many of my readers will purchase it and benefit from it as much as I did.
For those who prefer to read these older theologians with a guide, you should check out one of my favorite new series, Crossway's Theologians of the Christian Life. I read four books from this series last year - the entries on Warfield, Calvin, Newton, and Owen. All of them are excellent, but of the four, my favorite was Michael Horton's Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever.
Fellow-preachers shouldn't miss Tim Keller's new book Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism, which stands alongside the classic books on preaching by John Stott, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Bryan Chappell and others not as a replacement, but as a supplement.
As a preacher and pastor, I also spend a lot of time in commentaries, usually working through commentaries of whatever book of the Bible I happen to be preaching on. Last year, that book was 1 Peter. I consulted many commentaries, but read two all the way through: Karen Jobes' 1 Peter in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament and Ed Clowney's The Message of 1 Peter in The Bible Speaks Today. I found these two commentaries wonderfully complimentary. Jobes provides scholarship that is sensitive to both the original cultural context of the letter and the very different social situation of our own day. Clowney, on the other hand, is almost poetic in his eloquent exposition of the biblical-theological dimensions of the text, while also remaining practical in his pastoral applications.
A number of new books on homosexuality were published this year, including Kevin DeYoung's What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? and Ed Shaw's Same Sex Attraction and the Church. DeYoung persuasively holds the traditional evangelical position and is must-reading for any Christian seriously engaged in this issue. I haven't finished Shaw's book yet, but my friend Dave Dunham included it in his top five list, and it promises to be one of the most sensitive, nuanced, and practical books on the subject. I also read Wesley Hill's 2010 book Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, a book that is both beautiful and moving. While it's not the only book one should read on this topic, it is one that could go a long way towards helping the church adopt a posture of understanding, love, and compassion towards people with same-sex orientation.
My two favorites
I think my favorite two books of the year were Gerrit Scott Dawson's Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ's Continuing Incarnation and Scott Manetsch's Calvin's Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609. Dawson explores the ascension of Christ, an often neglected aspect of Christology, with biblical clarity, theological acumen, historical awareness, and pastoral practicality. Manetsch, on the other hand, mines both primary and secondary sources to sketch a fascinating account of Calvin and Beza's pastoral vision and leadership -- and faults, foibles, and failures - in sixteenth century Geneva. What struck me most about this historical study was the centrality of the public ministry of the word in the Reformation. Calvin and his company were incessantly preaching, teaching, and catechizing (albeit, sometimes to the chagrin of their people!). There are both things to emulate and things to avoid in their example, but oh for such hunger for, confidence in, and devotion to God's word in the hearts of church leaders today!
My #1 recommendation
Though I especially loved the aforementioned books, my #1 recommendation (along with Aaron Armstrong) is probably Donald Whitney's new book Praying the Bible. I can't imagine that any believer could fail to benefit from reading and applying this simple little book. If your prayer life needs the equivalent of a blood-transfusion, take it and read.
Finally, and just for fun: my favorite novel of the year was Marilynne Robinson's Home (I still haven't read Lila). And my favorite graphic novel was Batman: Earth One, Vol. 2 by Geoff Johns.