What I Read in 2019

Here is my annual list of the non-fiction books I read last year. 12 of these are for a Doctor of Ministry class I was prepping for; this accounts for the unusually high total book count.

I had great fun reading this year. About half of these I actually listened to on digital audiobook, and never read. It’s a great way to redeem the time you spend in your daily commute. Who knows what books 2020 will bring …

1: God in Three Persons: A Contemporary Interpretation of the Trinity by Millard Erickson

An excellent book; the most helpful work on the Trinity I’ve read, along with Carl Beckwith’s The Holy Trinity. I reflected on some lessons Erickson’s book taught me about what to emphasize when I teach about the Trinity in a systematic, comprehensive fashion … if I ever manage to do it!

2: Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Great book. Franklin was truly a genius, blessed by God with many talents and abilities. It’s a shame his enlightenment context prevented him from seeing his need for salvation through Jesus Christ.

3: Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? by John Fea

I’ve never appreciated revisionist or partisan attempts to re-frame history to suit a particular narrative. Christians are very guilty of this crime. John Fea, a Christian historian at an undergraduate liberal arts institution, does an excellent job of analyzing this question from many different angles. The answer is “it depends,” and he spends the book explaining why.

This book’s chief value to me, besides the analysis of a complicated historical question, are the numerous titles in the footnotes that will lead me to further reading.

4: The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America by John Fea

The title says it all. John Fea uses Fithian, a Revolutionary War-era Presbyterian minister from rural Pennsylvania, as a foil to discuss how the enlightenment impacted educated colonists in rural America. Good book.

5: Who’s Tampering With the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate by Millard Erickson

This is only one of three books, that I’m aware of, that contends that the eternal functional subordinationist position with regards to Christ is a dangerous teaching. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It’s a watershed look at a very dangerous teaching. Erickson, in his trademark way, examines the other side fairly and objectively, then presents his own analysis. He does a masterful job. Indeed, this is perhaps the last great work from one of the best conservative theologians of the 20th century.

6: American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham

I gave up this book halfway through. I didn’t enjoy the detailed discussions about the gossipy intrigues of Jackson’s extended family. I understand it was part of the context of Jackson’s presidency, but I still didn’t want to hear about it. I’d have preferred to read a history about Jackson “the man,” and an analysis of his accomplishments and missteps as President. If I wanted a soap opera, I’d have turned on When Calls the Heart – at least that show always has a happy ending.

7: Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life by William Deresiewicz

8: No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington by Condoleeza Rice

9: Jesus and Pharisees by A.T. Robertson

10: The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America by Frances Fitzgerald.

Good book. See my review.

11: Sketches of the Life and Character of the Rev. Lemuel Haynes, A. M.: For Many Years Pastor of a Church in Rutland, Vt., and Late in Granville, New-York by Timothy Cooley

12: A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre

13: Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

14: John Adams by David McCullough

15: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer

16: The Korean War by Max Hastings

17: Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield

18: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

19: The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

20: Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Geesen

21: God the Father Almighty: A Contemporary Exploration of the Divine Attributes by Millard Erickson

22: The End of White Christian America by Robert Jones

Great book; see my review.

23: Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon

24: The Confessions by Augustine

25: Leading in Prayer: A Workbook for Ministers by Hughes Oliphant Old

26: Gathering: A Theology and Spirituality of Worship in the Free Church Tradition by Christopher J. Ellis

27: Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings

28: One in Hope and Doctrine: Origins of Baptist Fundamentalism 1870 – 1950 by Kevin Bauder and Robert Delnay.

Read this one a few years ago. Read it again, and absorbed much more. Northern Baptists need to read this book and understand their history – especially my brethren in the GARBC or one of its regional associations.

29: To the Praise of His Glory: B. Myron and Thelma M. Cederholm by Larry Oats

A short, breezy biography of the founder of Maranatha Baptist Bible College, now University. I attended Seminary here, and will forever be glad for the precious theological education I received.

For me, this book’s value was not in gaining insight into Cederholm, who I never knew and whose legacy had no impact on me. Rather, it helped augment the story of northern Baptist fundamentalism in my mind, as I’d just finished Bauder and Delnay’s One in Hope and Doctrine. That story ended in 1950, and Cederholm entered from stage right with the Conservative Baptist movement in 1947. If you view Cederholm as a foil to tell the story of the Conservative Baptists, then this book is very helpful and very nice. Truth be told, I’d likely have gone with the so-called “soft core” Conservative Baptists in the big split in the early 1960s.

Larry Oats, the former Dean of Maranatha Baptist Seminary, wrote the book and the University published it. So, it isn’t surprising to see that it’s rather hagiographic. This is not a critical look at Cederholm or the Conservative Baptist movement. It’s a light, insider view of a man who played a pivotal role in northern Baptist fundamentalism for many decades.

30: Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology by J.P. Moreland

31: Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea by Edmund S. Morgan

32: Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends by Mark Yarhouse

One of the best books on the homosexual issue from a traditional perspective. See my review.

33: Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis by William J. Webb

Excellent and insightful. See my review.

34: Those 7 References: A Study of 7 References to Homosexuality in the Bible by John Dwyer

Dwyer is a gay Episcopal priest who argues that the Biblical authors didn’t have a Biblical worldview, that all sexual relations in the ancient world were about power, lust and violence, and that all homosexual references in the Bible aren’t really saying what we think.

I emailed Dwyer about his “sex in ancient world = lust, power and violence” thesis, and asked whether Song of Solomon hurt his thesis. He didn’t respond. I wonder why …

35: Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry

No, He’s anti sin. A good book. See my review.

36: God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships by Matthew Vines

A very dangerous and very important work. A prototype of how to misinterpret and twist the Scriptures for narcissistic ends. See my review.

37: The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics by Robert Gagnon

38: What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung

Gagnon-lite. See my review.

39: Transforming Homosexuality: What the Bible Says about Sexual Orientation and Change by Denny Burk and Heath Lambert

Perhaps the best book available on this topic. See my review.

40: Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian by Wesley Hill

An important book from a same-sex attracted Christian committed to celibacy. See my review.

41: Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate: A Complementarian Response to the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic by Benjamin Reaoch

One of the most frustrating and disappointing books I’ve ever read. See my review.

42: God and the Gay Christian?: A Response to Matthew Vines ed. Albert Mohler

See my review.

43: When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment by Ryan Anderson

Horrifying; see my review.

44: Onward! by Russell Moore

45: Letters to My Students: Volume 1: On Preaching by Jason Allen

Very basic. Probably won’t buy the next volume.

46: Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow

Probably the most enjoyable book I read last year.

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 …