Top 12 Books of 2014

Every December, bloggers list off their favorite books of the year. I relish these posts and usually buy a few books as a result. Here are my top twelve picks for the year. Keep in mind, of course, these are my favorites of the books I read this year, not books published this year. Happy reading! 

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Home, Work, and School by John Medina. Fascinating study by a molecular biologist on the human brain and it's complex relationship to exercise, gender, attention, memory and more. Brilliant writing with engaging stories and illustrations, only somewhat marred by naturalistic presuppositions.

Calvin’s Doctrine of the Christian Life by Ronald S. Wallace. An older, but excellent overview of Calvin’s theology that quotes generously from not only the Institutes, but also the commentaries and sermons. Wallace shows how the doctrine of union with Christ shapes all of Calvin’s thinking about the Christian life. Very, very good and well worth prolonged study and repeated readings.

Johnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilburn. Though I took most of the year to read this 600-plus page biography of the man in black, it was a riveting look at one of the most interesting icons in American music. Cash was a bundle of contradictions: addict/Christian; womanizer/family man; entertainer/artist; broken/redeemed. Hilburn’s biography is ruthlessly honest, but that just makes Cash all the more compelling.

Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God by Timothy Ward. This is an excellent treatment of the doctrine of Scripture, rooted in Trinitarian orthodoxy that utilizes speech-act theory to give a fresh articulation of the classic Reformed Evangelical position. Doesn’t say everything, but what it does say is very good indeed.

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy Keller. One of the best books on prayer I’ve ever read, Keller’s approach wonderfully combines theological reflections on prayer with very helpful practical suggestions for cultivating a strong prayer life. Keller draws heavily on Augustine, Calvin, Owen, and Luther, making this book all the more interesting and valuable.

Paul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God by Brian S. Rosner. Another scintillating addition to the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, this new book on the law in Pauline theology was both clear and convincing, charting a thoughtful course through this complex territory in theology and ethics. Rosner articulates a three-fold approach to understanding Paul’s use of the law, helpfully summarized with three words: repudiation, replacement, and reappropriation. The value of this book is that it patiently surveys all the data and proposes an interpretative grid that makes sense of it all. Though I’m not sure I agreed with his interpretation of a couple of texts, the book as a whole is invaluable.

The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen by Sinclair Ferguson. My favorite living theologian on my favorite dead theologian. ‘Nough said.

The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth by Mike Cosper. Excellent study on the intersection between the stories embedded in television / movies and the ultimate story of creation, fall, and redemption. A must read for every Christian who enjoys the media of film and television.

God the Peacemaker: How Atonement brings Shalom by Graham Cole. Another entry in the NSBT series, published in 2009. And it is simply excellent. Every page is stimulating and suggestive. A wonderful blend of thoughtful exegesis, theological reflection, and scholarly dialogue. Easily one of my favorite reads of the year!

Help! For Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces by Roy Peter Clark. This compact little book is bursting at the seams with a veteran author’s practical insights on the craft of writing. Clark isolates seven steps in writing (Getting Started, Getting Your Act Together, Finding Focus, Looking for Language, Building a Draft, Assessing Your Progress, Making It Better) and zooms in on three common problems in each step. Then he presents 10 possible solutions for each problem. Humorous, engaging, helpful: an excellent model of writing, written with writers and wannabe writers in mind. 

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. In contrast to Clark’s book listed above, Pressfield’s War of Art is lean, mean, and focused on one basic thing: overcoming the inner resistance that keeps writers from actually getting words on the page. I’ve never read an author who better understands the thought-world of a creative. I read this almost daily during my writing leave this year. Very, very helpful (though it gets kinda weird and mystical in part 3).

On the Nature, Power, Deceit, and Prevalence of Indwelling Sin in Believers by John Owen. I read at least something by Owen almost every year and usually walk away wondering why I ever read anything else. This was probably my fourth or fifth time through Indwelling Sin, the third in Owen’s famous trilogy found in volume 6 of his works. The value of this particular volume is its profound insight into the power and deceit of sin in the human heart. Owen was a skilled soul surgeon who effectively applied the gospel to the heart. This is the book that an old Scottish Hebrew professor (John Duncan) recommended to his students with the warning, “But prepare for the knife!”

Update: Here are my lists from previous years:

No comments: