As we move closer to the conclusion of the 2017 calendar year, it seems like a good time to look back at some of this year’s important publications. It is impossible to keep up with the ever expanding number of books that are published each year and I make no claims to have surveyed all the possibilities for inclusion on this list. I am thankful for the opportunity once again this year to share these reflections with you.
Looking for the Right Gift
If you are looking for an inviting book to give as a Christmas present, please allow me to suggest God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Proverbs by Tim and Kathy Keller (Viking). Similarly, I am delighted to draw your attention to an extraordinarily helpful guide on John’s Gospel, John 1-12 For You, by Josh Moody (Good Book Company). I would also heartily recommend Unimaginable: What Our World Would Be Like without Christianity by Jeremiah J. Johnstone (Bethany House). The subtitle provides the introduction to this insightful volume. Another highly readable volume is the work by Trevin Wax, This is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel (B&H), which I gladly recommend.
Collin Hansen is to be commended for putting together a most engaging edited volume called Our Secular Age: Ten Years of Reading and Applying Charles Taylor (Gospel Coalition). Another splendid book to add to this list is the insightful work by Alan Jacobs, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds (Currency). Trillia Newbell’s children’s book, God’s Very Good Idea: A True Story of God’s Delightfully Different Family (Good Book Company), will make a nice gift for young families. She has also written a terrific book with the appropriate title of Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts (Multnomah). A similar InterVarsity publication, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, has been presented to us from Trish Harrison Warren. Mike Cosper has given us a gift with his Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World (InterVarsity). Phil Ryken’s new volume on Messiah Comes to Middle Earth: Images of Christ’s Threefold Office in the Lord of the Rings (InterVarsity) is both enjoyable and edifying.
The Bible and Biblical Studies
Kudos to the entire translation and editorial teams at B&H for the readable new Bible translation, the Christian Standard Bible, as well as the accompanying Study Bible project. Crossway Publishers are to be congratulated on the distinctive ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible, edited by Christopher Morgan, Stephen Wellum, and Graham Cole.
One can always point to a number of important works in this category every year, but one of my favorites this year was The Triumph of Grace: Literary and Theological Studies in Deuteronomy and Deuteronomic Themes (Cascade), by Daniel I. Block, who is truly one of the premier Old Testament theologians of this generation. T. Desmond Alexander’s insightful exposition of Exodus (Apollos) will be welcomed by both teachers and preachers. C. Hassell Bullock has given us another fine volume on Psalms 73-150 in The Story of God Series (Zondervan). Readers will profit from a time of reflection on the volume by David Gibson, Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End (Crossway). Danny Akin’s exposition of Daniel in the Christ-Centered Exposition Series (B&H) will be greatly appreciated by pastors. Mignon Jacobs’ contribution to the study of Haggai and Malachi is certainly noteworthy (NICOT/Eerdmans).
The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary (Baker), by Jonathan T. Pennington, brings together the author’s expertise as a New Testament scholar as well as his interests in cultural engagement issues. David Pao and David Bryan have put together an impressive volume focusing on Christ’s Ascent into Heaven in Luke-Acts: New Explorations of Luke’s Narrative Hinge (Fortress), which includes fine essays from Pao, Bryan, Joshua Jipp and Stan Porter, among others. Constantine Campbell continues to make important contributions with his new commentary on 1, 2, and 3 John in The Story of God Series (Zondervan). David E. Garland has given us a superb commentary on Acts in the Teach the Text Series (Baker). John Harvey has provided readers with a helpful work on Romans in the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (B&H). Edward Klink has written a fine commentary on John for the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Albert Mohler has given preachers a theologically-shaped resource with his publication on Hebrews in the Christ-Centered Exposition Series (B&H). His new work, The Prayer that Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto (Thomas Nelson), should also be noted.
A brilliant work on early Christianity, Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Baylor University Press), has been authored by Larry Hurtado. Matthew Emerson’s outstanding new volume in the field of biblical theology, The Story of Scripture (B&H), should not be missed. Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in Light of Pentecost (Eerdmans), by Craig Keener, provides us with a compelling contribution to the subject of hermeneutics from a Pentecostal and Charismatic perspective, which is also informed by engagement with thinkers from the Majority World. One more significant book in this category is the helpful guide from Andrew David Naselli, How to Understand and Apply the New Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology (P&R). Readers will want to be on the lookout for the creative and practical guide from Josh Moody regarding some of the most common questions about the nature and interpretation of the Bible in the forthcoming volume, How the Bible Can Change Your Life: Answers to the Ten Most Common Questions about the Bible (Christian Focus).
Serious students will want to be sure to add the third edition of the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Daniel J. Treier and Walter A. Elwell (Baker), to their libraries. This new edition is a monumental achievement of evangelical scholarship. We applaud Matthew Barrett for bringing together a top-tier group of Reformation scholars to produce the wonderful resource, Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary (Crossway). Students of Baptist theology in particular, but also others interested in evangelical theology more broadly, will want to note the first of a multi-volume series on The Collected Writings of James Leo Garrett Jr. 1950-2015, edited by Wyman Richardson with a Foreword by Malcolm B. Yarnell III (Resource Publications).
Fred Sanders has joined with Oliver Crisp to produce The Task of Dogmatics: Exploration in Theological Method (Zondervan). He has also worked with Scott Swain in the publication of the important volume on Retrieving Eternal Generation (Zondervan). Michael’s Allen’s thoughtful contribution to the study of Sanctification (Zondervan) deserves recognition. John Frame has contributed Theology in Three Dimensions: A Guide to Triperspectivalism and Its Significance (P&R). Theodore James Whapham has given us a comprehensive survey of the thought of one of the 20th century’s most important theologians with the publication of The Unity of Theology: The Contribution of Wolfhart Pannenberg (Fortress).
I continue to appreciate the thoughtful work of Kelly Kapic; his work on Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering (InterVarsity) strengthens these observations. Awaiting the Kingdom: Reforming Public Theology (Baker) is another impressive work from James K. A. Smith. Oliver O’Donovan has completed his trilogy in the Ethics as Theology Series. Readers will learn much from volume three in this series: Entering into Rest (Eerdmans). God and the Transgender Debate by Andrew T. Walker (Good Book Company) makes for timely reading. Stephen Baskerville has developed a detailed study of The New Politics of Sex: The Sexual Revolution, Civil Liberties, and the Growth of Governmental Power (Angelico). A redemptive theme sounds throughout the hopeful work by David Powlison, Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken (Crossway).
Historical Studies/Historical Theology
In this year in which we have celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, there have been no shortage of important works on this transformational period of history. While the list of books is long, I will acknowledge a few of my favorites. A first-rate resource is the wide-ranging reference work edited by Timothy Wengert, the Dictionary of Luther and the Lutheran Tradition (Baker). Robert Kolb and Carl Trueman have combined to produce a magnificent work with the title Between Wittenberg and Geneva: Lutheran and Reformed Theology in Conversation (Baker). Herman Selderhuis has enabled English readers to reap the blessings of his marvelous research on the great Reformer, Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography (Crossway). Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk (Baker), by Michelle DeRusha, is a most enjoyable read.
Another fine volume is Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World by Brad S. Gregory (HarperOne). I would especially want to point to the brilliant response from Kevin Vanhoozer to Matthew Levering in Was the Reformation a Mistake: Why Catholic Doctrine Is Not Unbiblical (Zondervan). Rodney Stark has given us a noteworthy volume, Reformation Myths: Five Centuries of Misconceptions and (Some) Misfortunes (SPCK). Readers will not want to miss Roman but Not Catholic: What Remains at Stake after 500 Years of the Reformation by Kenneth J. Collins and Jerry Walls (Baker).
Thomas Kidd has added to his reputation as a brilliant historian with the publication of Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father (Yale University Press). In this year in which Reformation studies tended to dominate, a work on the early church that should not be missed is Scripture as Real Presence: Sacramental Exegesis in the Early Church (Baker) by Hans Boersma. Nathan Finn and Jeremy Kimble have worked together to produce an exceedingly helpful Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards (Crossway). Harry S. Stout served as the editor for the monumental Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans). Christianity Today editor Mark Galli has written an accessible study of Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals (Eerdmans). Kenneth J. Stewart has produced In Search of Ancient Roots: The Christian Past and the Evangelical Identity Crisis (InterVarsity), which is one of the most important works in recent years for students of evangelicalism. An edited volume by Mark Labberton, Still Evangelical? Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning (InterVarsity) extends the evangelical identity conversation. John Wigger’s Oxford University Press publication, PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire, reminds us of some of the stumbles and struggles within the popular evangelical movement. The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity, by Christopher Gehrz and Mark Pattie III (InterVarsity), proposes a path for renewal in the midst of our post-Christian context.
Ministry, Church, and Culture
Beyond the Modern Age: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture (Intervarsity), a masterful work that seeks to navigate the way through the complex cultural and worldview issues associated with the modernization of our world, has been produced by Bob Goudzwaard and Craig Bartholomew. Bartholomew has also written a companion volume on Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition (InterVarsity). Another astute worldview study can be found in the writing of Greg Koukl, The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between (Zondervan).
Luder Whitlock’s Divided We Fall: Overcoming a History of Christian Disunity (P&R) offers both an appeal to church unity and much encouragement to readers. Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention (B&H), edited by Kevin Jones and Jarvis J. Williams, is essential reading for those committed to racial reconciliation. John Perkins, one of the most respected voices in this country on matters of racial reconciliation, has given us Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win (Baker). Tom Nelson’s fine work on The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community's Compassion and Capacity (InterVarsity) expands his ongoing focus on faith, work, and human flourishing.
It is a joy to recommend Phil Newton’s reflections in The Mentoring Church: How Pastors and Congregations Cultivate Leaders (Kregel). Christian George has compiled two volumes on The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon (B&H). Portraits of a Pastor: The 9 Essential Roles of a Church Leader, edited by Jason K. Allen (Moody), serves as a timely resource for those in ministry or who are preparing for ministry. Another fine Moody publication, Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church by Skye Jethani, will be welcomed by church leaders. Churches facing times of pastoral transition will be blessed by taking time to reflect on the wise and practical guidance offered by Frank Page in Looking for a New Pastor: 10 Questions Every Church Should Ask (B&H).Another important work on the church has been produced by Michael Lawrence, Conversion: How God Creates a People (Crossway). Those preparing for ministry will find helpful guidance from Surviving and Thriving in Seminary (Lexham), by Benjamin Forrest and H. Daniel Zacharias. Tim McKnight has given us a fresh and illuminating look at the evangelistic approach of George Whitefield in No Better Gospel (Seed). An important work on ministry in rural contexts can be found in God’s Country by Brad Roth (Herald). In addition to their beautiful music, Keith and Kristyn Getty have written Sing: How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church (B&H).
In the Beauty of Holiness: Art and the Bible in Western Culture (Eerdmans), by David Lyle Jeffrey, we find an illuminating and comprehensive study on a Christian understanding of the arts. Architecture and Theology: The Art of Place (Baylor University Press), by Murray A. Rae, is a much welcomed work for our day. W. David Taylor and Taylor Worley have co-edited a fine work on the subject of Contemporary Art and the Church: A Conversation Between Two Worlds (InterVarsity). Jessica Hooten Wilson has penned a superb work on the fiction of Flannery O’Connor and Fyodor Dostoevsky with the arresting title, Giving the Devil His Due (Cascade). Andy Crouch has once again provided us with a thoughtful volume, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place (Baker). A similar work comes from Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You (Crossway).
Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination by John Corvino, Ryan T. Anderson, and Sherif Girgis (Oxford) could not be more timely. Rod Dreher’s attention-grabbing work, The Benedict Option (Sentinel), is worthy of the attention that has come its way, even though I have ongoing questions regarding some aspects of this approach. A more theologically-focused work addressing similar themes can be found in Archbishop Charles Chaput’s Strangers in a Strange Land (Henry Holt). Ted Cabal and Peter Rasor II have addressed some of the key science and theology issues in Controversy of the Ages: Why Christians Should Not Divide Over the Age of the Earth (Weaver).
Perry Glanzer, Nathan Alleman, and Todd Ream have put together a must-read volume for all who are interested in and engaged in the mission of Christian higher education. I heartily recommend Restoring the Soul of the University: Unifying Christian Higher Education in a Fragmented Age (InterVarsity). Bryant Myers’ work on Engaging Globalization: The Poor, Christian Mission, and Our Hyperconnected World (Baker), is not only an important book missiologists, but for all who are interested in global theology and world Christianity. During my time of recovery earlier this year, a good friend provided David Murray’s book on personal renewal, which is appropriately titled Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (Crossway). Murray’s guidance was quite helpful for me at the time and I am sure it will be for others as well.
A Concluding Word
How grateful we are for each one of these authors and for the works they have shared with us. These books make a difference for all of us. They shape our thinking, expand our understanding, inform our perspective, and illuminate our world. These significant volumes influence the way we encounter ideas and relate one to another. We pray that the Lord will kindly allow for the making of even more helpful works in the year to come. As we reflect further on the ideas that we have encountered from these authors, we trust that we will be good stewards of these resources as we seek, by God’s grace, to make progress in our living and our service for the Lord Jesus Christ.