I read 36 non-fiction books in 2018. Most are theological, and the rest are mostly history or biography. Here they are:
The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity by Os Guinness.
A wonderful book. I reviewed it here. This is a great book about religious liberty.
With Malice Towards None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen B. Oates.
A great one-volume biography. Worth reading.
Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible by Mark Ward.
Great book. Ward tackles the King James Version Only (“KJVO”) movement without wading into the quagmire of textual criticism. I interviewed the author here, at length. It strongly complements James White’s book, for those who are looking for answers to the KJVO movement.
1 and 2 Maccabees by Who Knows (RSV translation).
I think the Old Testament apocrypha is very important for pastors to better understand the background and context of the New Testament. Good stuff; especially 1 Maccabees.
More Old Testament apocrypha. These books is usually grouped with the Old Testament Apocrypha, even though that really isn’t accurate. It’s actually a composite book containing three documents. The first is a Jewish apocalypse from the late first-century (also known as 4 Esdras), likely written just after the destruction of the temple in the aftermath of the Jewish Wars. It’s book-ended by two, shorter Christians works; the first from the second century and the other from the third century.
It’s a fascinating work. There are many, clear allusions to New Testament texts in the Christian documents. And, the discussion of theodicy in the Jewish apocalypse is very, very interesting.
A few highlights from 4 Esdras section; (1) the author took a literal, creationist interpretation to Genesis 1-3; (2) the theodicy shows a high respect for God’s sovereignty and has echoes of Job, and makes some excellent theological comments as it summarizes Israel’s sin, and (3) there’s even a Daniel interpretation.
Awakening the Evangelical Mind: An Intellectual History of the Neo-Evangelical Movement by Owen Strachan.
Good stuff. If you’ve read George Marsden’s classic Reforming Fundamentalism, then you’ll re-tread some of the same ground here. This book takes a slightly different approach. It uses Harold Ockenga, Carl Henry and (to a lesser degree) Edward Carnell as foils to discuss the intellectual awakening which prompted the evangelical movement in the immediate post-World War 2 era. It’s a fascinating, quick read.
It’s also sad, as you see the seeds of the “Gospel-centric” approach to coalition building which inevitably produced a movement characterized by theological Jell-O. As we survey the vast theological wasteland that is “evangelicalism” in 21st-century America, and consider the lessons learned from Ockenga, Henry and Carnell’s naive idealism (particularly Henry’s), we see the necessity for a confessional approach to doctrine. Coalitions and movements cannot exist without a strong confessional center. If that means the movements are smaller, I’m not at all sure that’s a bad thing.
Absolutely Free! A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation by Zane Hodges.
I only read 40 pages of this book. I have no problem reading folks I disagree with; I do that all the time. But, Hodges’ book is pure trash. No balance. No scholarship. No fairness. Just angry trash. Hodges position, that repentance isn’t necessary for salvation, is a heresy and it’s not the Gospel. It’s very, very dangerous.
Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision by N.T. Wright
I don’t know what I think about this. I largely think Wright is arguing against Reformed straw men. I didn’t trace his textual arguments with my Bible open, so I’d have to re-read that section. My sophisticated opinion is that Wright is thinking way, way too hard. I know that makes little sense, but that’s my answer and I’m sticking to it.
The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution – 1764 – 1789 by Robert Middlekauff
A great book, from the Oxford History of the United States series.
Overlord by Max Hastings
A great book on the lead-up to D-Day. Hastings is a world-class historian; he brings history down to the popular level without dumbing it down. Outstanding book.
Tobit (RSV translation)
My favorite book from the Old Testament apocrypha, dating from perhaps the 2nd century B.C. I appreciate it because it’s a wonderful story. It’s also a great snapshot of one expression of the faithful Jewish life, in the time before the New Testament era.
Judith (RSV translation)
Judith was one dangerous woman, lemme tell you …
Original Sin: Illuminating the Riddle by Henri Blocher.
I was disappointed with this little book. Blocher did have a good point that the common analogy “sin as a virus” unwittingly de-emphasizes the human responsibility for sin, as though it isn’t our fault. Sin is our fault, catching a cold isn’t, and that’s where the analogy breaks down.
Blocher also has problems with federal and natural headship theories about the imputation of sin. His solution is to offer what I perceive to be a sub-set of federal headship. He suggests Adam’s sin is imputed to all of creation, because he was the representative head of creation. I’ve read this section three times, and I don’t understand how this is different than federal headship.
All in all, this is an academic tome which has little practical connection or value to pastors or, heaven forbid, ordinary Christians. It’s written for the academy and interacts extensively with scholarly literature. I’m temped to donate it to Goodwill straightaway, but … my opinion about this little book is so negative I feel I should read it again in a few months. Perhaps I’m missing something.
The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by David McCullough.
This was a delightful book. I enjoyed it more than perhaps any other I read this past year.
The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870 – 1914 by David McCullough.
Another outstanding book. What an amazing story!
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris.
This is the first of a three-volume biography Morris wrote about Teddy Roosevelt. This is a marvelous book. The sweep of Roosevelt’s life from birth to the Presidency is extraordinary. The man was a published naturalist, a published naval historian, a New York assemblyman, a rancher, the defacto leader of the U.S. Civil Service Commission for seven years, a Commissioner of the New York City Police Department, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy on the eve of the Spanish-American War, resigned to lead a volunteer band of cavalry in the war and posthumously earned the Medal of Honor for his exploits, returned and was elected Governor of New York, then became Vice President of the United States in William McKinley’s second administration.
When McKinley was assassinated barely six months into his second term, Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States. This volume covers all of this.
Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris.
The second volume of Morris’ biography on Roosevelt. This doesn’t move along quite as fast, but it’s still excellent. Here, we see Roosevelt as a consummate statesman, negotiating an end to the Pennsylvania coal strike and mediating to help end the Russo-Japanese War. We see a portrait of a brilliant man who has come into full and absolute command of his powers.
The Christians as the Romans Saw Them by Robert Wilken
Very interesting. The more background context a pastor can have, the better. I need to read it again.
Solving Marriage Problems by Jay Adams
Jay Adams is the best. His books are great, and very helpful. Pastors should get his material.
John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock by Iain Murray
This book is not worth the $25.87 that Amazon is currently selling it for. It’s more of a sketch than a full-fledged biography, as Murray admits. The book is hagiographic, with some gentle pushbacks from Murray about MacArthur’s dispensationalism.
Murray makes some unworthy comments about Lewis S. Chafer, and suggests MacArthur believes Chafer’s weak anthropology laid the groundwork for the easy-believism of 20th century evangelicalism. I’ve read Chafer’s systematic theology, and this is a false charge. Chafer’s anthropology, hamartiology and soteriology are first-rate, and are clearly Reformed.
This book is worth checking out from the library, not buying. Its main weakness is that its more a sketch than a biography.
Historical Theology In-Depth: Themes and Contexts of Doctrinal Development since the First Century by David Beale (2 volumes)
Outstanding set; indispensable. I reviewed it here.
David Beale was a professor of church history at Bob Jones Seminary for 35 years. This two-volume set presents key doctrinal themes from church history in chronological format, through 57 chapters. It contains extensive citations and excerpts from the key players he’s discussing. This is probably the best introductory-level historical theology book I’ve ever read. It’s outstanding.
Every pastor should have this set; it’ll be a quick and ready reference for his entire ministry. Beale’s discussion on the early ecumenical councils (e.g. Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus [though, to be fair, this wasn’t a “real” council] and Chalcedon) is particularly good.
Very helpful. Very good. I need to read it again.
A first-rate, profound study of the Baptist story. It’s better than Leon McBeth’s book. It’s might be the best Baptist history in print.
The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez
I read the 175 pages (or so) that dealt with the medieval church, because that’s an area I particularly want to brush up on. It was excellent. This was my assigned textbook in seminary for a church history survey. It’s a very, very good book. I need to buy the revised edition.
Duty by Robert Gates
I have great respect for Bob Gates. He was Director of the CIA, President of the Texas A&M system, and Secretary of Defense under Presidents Bush and Obama. This is an outstanding memoir.
Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey
A good book about the Christian worldview. I listened to about half of it, but I’ve heard all this before, so I grew bored about halfway through and stopped reading.
The Miracle of Dunkirk by Walter Lord
A great book. The story of Dunkirk must be told, and Lord did a great job.
Seapower by James Stavridis
A book about the role of oceans on geopolitics. It’s sort of an updated version of Mahan’s The Influence of Seapower Upon History. Excellent stuff. I have great respect for Stavridis, the former U.S. Navy Admiral and Supreme Commander of NATO.
Relevance by Os Guinness
Guinness specializes in worldview books, and this one is good. Unfortunately, I can’t remember too much of it, right now. I do remember it was good!
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
I listened to this book after President Bush passed away. Very interesting.
Retribution: The Battle or Japan 1944-1945 by Max Hastings
Jews in the Roman World by Michael Grant
Outstanding book that provides context to the New Testament writings.
Herod the Great by Michael Grant
This is an indispensable book for pastors who want to understand the New Testament world.
George Whitefield (vol. 1) by Arnold Dallimore
Whitefield was truly a great evangelist, raised up by God.
Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward
This is a terrifying book. I follow President Trump on Twitter, and I believe every word Woodward wrote. In light of James Mattis’ recent resignation as Secretary of Defense, and comments from Rex Tillerson’s (former Secretary of State) and John Kelly (former Secretary of Homeland Security and White House Chief of Staff), I believe it all even more.