What I Read in 2017

libraryWell, the title says it all! This list only includes non-fiction books, and (for the most part), they’re unashamedly nerdy. But, I don’t think that will be a surprise to too many people.

  1. The Holy Trinity by Carl R. Beckwith. A very thorough, scholarly work by a Lutheran theologian. I doubt I’ll ever read or find a more orthodox and comprehensive discussion of the Trinity. I was particularly blessed by his discussion of the opera ad extra, or the concept that all three Divine Persons actually work simultaneously in everything they do – thus Yahweh (in His simplicity) is fully and completely at work in every action. The author writes, “If the essential attributes, like the external acts of the Trinity, belong equally and indivisibly to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as the church rightly confesses, why do Scripture and our creeds sometime assign them more particularly to one person? The explanation given by the Fathers and reformers has been that the external acts and essential attributes of God may be appropriated or attributed more particularly to one person in order to more fully disclose the persons of the Trinity to our creaturely ways of thinking. This doctrine of appropriation assists us conceptually and aims to focus our prayers and worship on the divine persons,” (KL 9443-9448). I’d never read this before. So wonderful!
  2. Battle Cry of Freedom – The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson. A standard, one-volume history of the years leading up to the Civil War, and a stirring account of the war itself. Probably the best, most comprehensive one-volume history you’ll ever find. I read it when I was 16, and just re-read it again.
  3. The Korean War by Max Hastings. A fascinating book by a solid journalist. I’ve read David Halberstam’s The Coldest Winter and T.R. Fahrenbach’s classic This Kind of War in years past. This is a good book.
  4. Salvation by Allegiance Alone – Rethinking Faith, Works and the Gospel of Jesus the King by Matthew Bates. Thought-provoking. His major thesis is that the concept of allegiance is inherent in the idea of faith. He discusses what the components of the Gospel actually are, dabbles a bit in the New Perspective on Paul, and tries desperately to find a via media between Biblical orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, with regard to works and their relationship to salvation. Thought-provoking book, even though I don’t agree with all of it.
  5. The Old Testament is Dying by Brent Strawn. The title says it all. An excellent book. The author draws a parallel between dying languages, and how many Christians know (or, actually, don’t know) the Old Testament. Pastors should read it.
  6. God the Son Incarnate – The Doctrine of Christ by Stephen Wellum. The best and most thorough book on Christology I’ve ever read. The author spends a great deal of time disagreeing with various flavors of kenotic Christology. He asks and discusses deep questions about Christology. Every thinking pastor (and, no – not all pastors like to think) should ponder this. I hope to read Gerald Hawthorne’s The Presence and the Power this coming year, which takes a kenotic view of the incarnation.
  7. The European Reformations by Carter Lindberg. A wonderful, balanced look at the various reformations in Europe.
  8. Fools Talk – Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by Os Guinness. One of the best books on apologetics I’ve ever read. Guinness writes for normal people, and his burden is for normal Christians to move beyond mere “arguments” and persuade people on the other side. He wrote, “Our urgent need today is to reunite evangelism and apologetics, to make sure that our best arguments are directed toward winning people and not just winning arguments, and to seek to do all this in a manner that is true to the gospel itself,” (pg. 18). You should read this.
  9. The Story of Reality – How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between by Gregory Koukl. An excellent book to give to seekers, who don’t know anything about the Christian faith.
  10. Flags out Front by Douglas Wilson. This is a silly bit of satire about the culture wars. It’s fiction but, like all satire, it’s really not fictional, you know …
  11. Onward – Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel by Russell Moore. I was disappointed in this book. It’s not because he doesn’t have good things to say; it’s more that I’ve just heard this before.
  12. Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen. This book is a classic for a reason. Liberalism (I personally prefer Guinness’ term “revisionism”) is not a form of Christianity; its a different religion entirely. Read it.
  13. The Conviction to Lead – 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters by Albert Mohler. A good book, even if some of the advice is too abstract to be practical. Mohler’s experience has been in Christian academia, and it shows. Some of his advice cannot be translated into the secular workforce, or even into a local church. Nevertheless, its a good book.
  14. A Passion for Leadership – Lessons on Change and Reform from Fifty Years of Public Service by Robert Gates. The best book on leadership I’ve ever read. Extraordinarily practical and realistic; never abstract. Gates headed the CIA, the Texas A&M university system, and the Department of Defense. I’d say he knows what he’s talking about. If you work in a bureaucracy, this book will help you. Mohler is undoubtedly a seasoned bureaucratic warrior, but Gates is a Jedi Grand Master – and it shows.
  15. The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman. The classic account of the international intrigue leading up to the First World War. The account culminates in a gripping account of the first month of the war, right up until the First Battle of the Marne. And, to top it all off, Tuchman didn’t even have a history degree. A massive work. Extraordinarily readable. I first read it when I was 15, and was delighted to read it again.
  16.  The Apostolic Fathers by Michael Holmes. A collection of very early Christian writings, which gave always been known by this title. Good stuff.
  17. Christian Theology by Millard Erickson. This is the standard systematic theology text at many conservative Baptist seminaries. This is a wonderful book, and it was the text I was assigned in Seminary. I didn’t re-read all of it, but I did go through significant portions of it. I don’t agree with everything, but it’s always good food for thought.
  18. The Book of Concord by Theodore Tappert. This is the standard compendium of Lutheran confessional thought. Good for reference.
  19. Baptist Confessions of Faith by William Lumpkin. The title says it all. Baptists stand on the shoulders of some great and godly men, who we can all learn from. The 1644 London Confession and the 1833 New Hampshire Confession, for example, are landmark documents.
  20. God’s Word in Our Hands – The Bible Preserved for Us edited by James Williams. This book was written for a fundamentalist Baptist audience, against a King James Only-ist view of the bible and preservation of Scripture. But, it’s excellent for everybody. Very, very helpful stuff.
  21. Workplace Grace – Becoming a Spiritual Influence at Work by Bill Peel and Walt Larimore. A wonderful, practical book about how to, well … share your faith at work. Read it.
  22. The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant by Ulysses Grant. Grant was (eventually) the lead Union general in the war, and later President of the United States. His memoirs are excellent.
  23. On the Incarnation by Athanasius. This man lived and ministered in the 4th century, and his thoughts about Christ’s incarnation are profound. Much better and more helpful than most of what you’ll read on the topic today.
  24. Encouragement isn’t Enough by Jay Adams. A short, helpful book about how to offer meaningful encouragement to fellow Christians who are struggling.
  25. Saving Eutychus – How to Preach God’s Word and Keep People Awake by Gary Millar and Paul Campbell. This would be a helpful book for beginning preachers. I didn’t like it.
  26. Preaching the New Testament edited by Ina Paul and David Wenham. A collection of helpful essays on preaching from various genres in the New Testament. Thought-provoking, interesting, and helpful. Read it.
  27. Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages by R. W. Southern. Good, accessible book. If I read it again, I’ll probably understand a whole lot more.
  28. The Challenge of Bible Translation – Communicating God’s Word to the World edited by Glen Scrogie, Mark Strauss and Steven Voth. Excellent book. If only more pastors who’ve had Greek and/or Hebrew training would read and ponder this book before pontificating on Bible translations …
  29. Why God Became Man by Anselm of Canterbury. The single best work on atonement, sin, and the purpose of the incarnation I’ve ever read, or will likely ever read. Anselm wrote this book at the tail-end of the 11th century. It’s structured in a discussion format around a fictional dialogue between he and a student, named Boso. Every theological student should read this. It’s better than most of what you’ll get in a standard systematic theology text.
  30. Retro-Christianity – Reclaiming the Forgotten Faith by Michael Svigel. This is really a book about ecclesiology, or the church. It’s written in a very accessible way for “normal” Christians. It’s probably the most helpful book I’ve ever read which explains the Christians life, and the role of the church, to a Christian.

Who knows what next year will bring …

2 thoughts on “What I Read in 2017

  1. Interesting list. I too like Wellum, Guinness, Koukl, and the classics you cite. Erickson is far better than Grudem. The Gates book looks interesting. I will also check out Beckwith. Thanks.

    1. Beckwith is simply outstanding. I’d never read a discussion of the opera ad extra in the standard Baptist systematics. I’d never even heard of it before. It’s always wonderful when you find good insights that your own tradition hasn’t given you. Wellum and Beckwith, together, were the most profound books I read this past year.

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