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Notable Books for 2019: A Brief Survey of Some of Last Year’s Best Christian Books

It is that time of year once again to reflect on some of the noteworthy books that have been published during 2019.
Notable Books for 2019: A Brief Survey of Some of Last Year’s Best Christian Books

It is that time of year once again to reflect on some of the noteworthy books that have been published during 2019.

Nearly one million books of all kinds were published over the past 12 months by hundreds of different publishers. Still, with all of these publications, more than 25 percent of adults in this country recently indicated that they had not read a single book during this past year.

Perhaps from the list below, a few of these good people will find an inviting title to jump-start their reading patterns in 2020.

Similar to what we have done in this survey in previous years, we will provide a broad-brush overview of some of this year’s best Christian books, representing more than two dozen different publishers.

Frankly, publishers seemed to have released more quality works in 2019 than in recent years. It would have been quite easy to make this lengthy list even longer than is already the case. I am sure that I have missed good books deserving attention.

In addition, some reading this list will have their own preferences. Still, I trust you will find the list helpful. I have now been providing this list in some form for several years. I appreciate those who continue to encourage me to publish the list each year.

Biblical Studies

Readers will be blessed by James M. Houston’s and Bruce K. Waltke’s The Psalms as Christian Praise (Eerdmans). Profound insights may be found in Christopher J. H. Wright’s Knowing God through the Old Testament (IVP). I gladly recommend The Messianic Vision of the Pentateuch (IVP), by Kevin Chen. Kenneth A. Mathews has penned a careful exegetical study on Leviticus: Holy God, Holy People (Crossway).

Jesus, Skepticism, and the Problem of History: Criteria and Context in the Study of Christian Origins (Zondervan), edited by Darrell L. Bock and J. Ed Komoszewski, contains a number of excellent essays. Can We Trust the Gospels? (Crossway),by Peter J. Williams, provides thoughtful and well-reasoned responses to this pressing question.

Craig Keener’s brilliant and creative work on the Gospels, Christobiography: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels (Eerdmans), deserves high praise. As is true for almost all of Keener’s work, there is much to commend in his commentary on Galatians (Baker).

The Lexham Geographic Commentary, by Barry Beitzel and others, is a rich resource for the study of Acts-Revelation. Another well-designed work is the Handbook on Acts and Paul’s Letters, by Thomas R. Schreiner (Baker). Readers will not want to miss the discerning study on Hebrews (B&H), by Dana Harris, nor the astute work on Ephesians (IVP) from Darrell Bock.

Progress continues on the multi-volume Reformation Commentary Series; Lee Gatiss and Bradley G. Green have collaborated on 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (IVP).

Crossway has released two fine volumes in their ESV Expository Commentary: John-Acts (Brian Vickers) and 1 Samuel-2 Chronicles (John Mackay, Gary Miller, and John Olley).

N.T. Wright and Michael Bird have produced The New Testament in Its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians (Zondervan). The T&T Clark Encyclopedia of Second Temple Judaism, vols. 1 & 2, edited by Daniel M. Gurtner and Loren T. Stuckenbruck, is an amazing resource.

Theology and Apologetics

Among the many important volumes published in recent months in the field of theology are two fine additions to the highly regarded Foundations of Evangelical Theology series (Crossway): Against the Darkness by Graham A. Cole and Against God and Nature by Thomas H. McCall.

I commend the perspicacious work from J. Scott Duval and J. Daniel Hays called God’s Relational Presence: The Cohesive Center of Biblical Theology (Baker).

Three systematic theology textbooks are worthy of our attention: Engaging Theology: A Biblical, Historical and Practical Introduction, by Ben C. Blackwell and R. L. Hatchett (Zondervan); Systematic Theology by Robert Letham (Crossway); and Daniel Treier’s Introducing Evangelical Theology (Baker).

Matt Jensen offers an informative overview of the development of theology through the centuries with his Theology in the Democracy of the Dead: A Dialogue with the Living Tradition (Baker). Gavin Ortlund convincingly makes the case for why such dialogue matters with his Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals (Crossway).

Kirk Macgregor extends that conversation with a focus on more recent theological voices: Contemporary Theology: An Introduction: Classical, Evangelical, Philosophical, and Global Perspectives (Zondervan).

Matthew Emerson insightfully explores the meaning of “He descended into hell” (from the The Apostles’ Creed) in He Descended to the Dead: An Evangelical Theology of Holy Saturday (IVP). Malcolm B. Yarnell III continues to offer substantive theological contributions as demonstrated in Who is the Holy Spirit? (B&H).

Albert Mohler has written a laudable theological commentary on The Apostles’ Creed (Nelson). Lexham Press has reintroduced Carl F. H. Henry to this generation with two volumes: Architect of Evangelicalism: Essential Essays of Carl F. H. Henry and an edited volume (with a sagacious introduction from Kevin Vanhoozer) on the Basics of the Faith: An Evangelical Introduction to Christian Doctrine.

Tim Perry has gathered a group of outstanding Protestant theologians to explore The Theology of Benedict XVI (Lexham). One need not agree with all aspects of Adam Neder’s theological framework to find much to appreciate in Theology as a Way of Life: On Teaching and Learning the Christian Faith (Baker).

Glenn R. Kreider and Michael J. Svigel, with much wisdom, have written A Practical Primer on Theological Method: Table Manners for Discussing God, His Works and His Ways (Zondervan).

Trinitarian Theology: Theological Models and Doctrinal Applications (B&H), edited by Keith Whitfield, and The Atonement: A Biblical, Theological, and Historical Study of the Cross of Christ (B&H), by David L. Allen, are both worthy of consideration.

Two vitally important works on the doctrine of justification by faith must be included in this list: the first is a two-volume work by Michael Horton on Justification (Zondervan) and the second is multi-authored volume, edited by Matthew Barrett (with a persuasive Foreword by D. A. Carson), The Doctrine on Which the Church Stands or Falls (Crossway).

Craig Ott has written an excellent work called Church on Mission: A Biblical Vision for the Transformation of All People (Baker). The third volume in The Collected Writings of James Leo Garrett Jr., 1950-2015 (Resource), with a focus on ecclesiology, has been released.

Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion (Crossway), by Rebecca McLaughlin, is an outstanding book that should receive a wide readership. James Emery White has written a winsome volume called Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians (Baker).

Alister McGrath has offered an intriguing approach with his Narrative Apologetics: Sharing the Relevance, Joy, and Wonder of the Christian Faith (Baker).

Ethics, Worldview, Cultural Engagement, Philosophy, and Religious Liberty

Jemar Tisby has given us a powerful book with a revealing title: The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism (Zondervan). Another important volume on this theme is Latasha Morrison, Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation (WaterBrook).

Jacob Shatzer has provided genuine help to inform our thinking about issues related to Transhumanism and the Image of God (IVP). In a similar vein, Tony Reinke has written Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age (Crossway). Insights regarding one of the 20thcentury’s most respected public intellectuals can be found in Reinhold Niebuhr in the 1960s: Christian Realism for a Secular Age (Fortress).

C. Stephen Evans has added Kierkegaard and Spirituality (Eerdmans) and his Baylor colleague Scott H. Moore has written How to Burn a Goat: Farming with the Philosophers (Baylor University Press).

Thoughtful engagement with the challenging issues of faith and science is readily available in Darwin Devolving byMichael J. Behe (HarperOne), as well as A Worldview Approach to Science and Scripture by Carol Hill (Kregel).

Todd Charles Wood, Darrel R. Falk, and Rob Barrett have given us a model for how, in an irenic manner, to discuss our differences on these matters: The Fool and the Heretic: How Two Scientists Moved beyond Labels to a Christian Dialogue about Creation and Evolution (Zondervan). With broader application, Ed Stetzer and Andrew MacDonald have written a helpful study guide, Christians at Our Best (Tyndale).

The Gospel of our King: Bible, Worldview, and the Mission of Every Christian (Baker), by Bruce Ashford and Heath Thomas, is superb. Christian Worldview, a nineteenth century classic by Herman Bavinck has been rereleased by Crossway. Holman Reference has assembled a team of several dozen diverse and capable contributors to address a wide range of issues in their Christian Worldview Handbook.

Mary Eberstadt expands her cultural engagement efforts in Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics (Templeton). Other voices and perspectives from those participating in these pertinent conversations can be found in Josh Chatraw and Karen Swallow Prior’s Cultural Engagement: A Crash Course in Contemporary Issues (Zondervan) as well as in David Zahl’s Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do about It (Fortress).

Those interested in these pressing issues will not want to miss Jonathan Cole’s Christian Political Theology in an Age of Discontent: Mediating Scripture, Doctrine, and Political Reality (Wipf & Stock).

The topic of religious liberty remains at the forefront of conversations regarding the public square. Readers will want to take notice of three important and valuable resources: Free to Believe by Luke Goodrich (Multnomah); Liberty in the Things of God: The Christian Origins of Religious Freedom by Robert Louis Wilken (Yale University Press); and the multi-authored work on Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty (Fidelis), which includes contributions from John Stonestreet, Timothy George, Robert P. George, Joni Erickson Tada, Rick Warren, among several others.

History and Biography

The prolific Thomas Kidd writes books faster than any of the rest of us can read them as seen in these four high quality volumes: Who is An Evangelical? The History of a Movement in Crisis (Yale University Press); America’s Religious History: Faith, Politics, and the Shaping of a Nation (Zondervan); and the two-volume set from B&H: American History, Vol. 1:1492-1877 and American History, Vol. 2:1877-present.

Scott Manetsch has edited a significant contribution to Reformation studies, The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of God (IVP).

Justo González has provided us with A History of Early Christian Literature (Westminster John Knox). Mark David Hall’s work on early American history, Did America Have a Christian Founding? (Nelson), is balanced, nuanced, and insightful.

Like some of you, I have multiple biographies on both C. S. Lewis and Billy Graham. Still, I offer two new works with fresh insights about each one. Harry L. Poe has written Becoming C. S. Lewis: A Biography of Young Jack Lewis, 1898-1918 (Crossway), which is the first of a projected three-volume set on Lewis.

Grant Wacker has added One Soul at a Time: The Story of Billy Graham (Eerdmans) to his previous work on Mr. Graham. The moving and courageous account of Andrew Brunson is told with the help of Craig Borlaise in God’s Hostage: A True Story of Persecution (Baker). Racheael Denhollander has shared her story in What is a Girl Worth? (Tyndale).

Education, Leadership, Pastoral Ministry, and Missions

The next volume in Lexham’s series on the works of the brilliant worldview thinker Abraham Kuyper focuses On Education. Freddy Cardoza and a strong group of contributors have put together a useful guide for the multi-faceted ministry of Christian Education (Baker).

The final two volumes have now been completed for Crossway’s fifteen-volume Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition series: Education by Ted Newell and Economics by Greg Forster.Servant of All: Reframing Greatness and Leadership through the Teachings of Jesus (Kirkdale),a small resource with large leadership lessons, has been authored by Ralph Enlow Jr., who, himself, exemplifies the virtues emphasized in this highly-readable book.

Stephen Greggo has added Assessment for Counseling in Christian Perspective (IVP) to his various works in this field.

Several beneficial books with a focus on pastoral ministry are worthy of note: Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples through Scripture and Doctrine (Lexham) by Kevin Vanhoozer; A Big Gospel in Small Places (IVP)by Stephen Witmer; Reading Buechner by Jeffrey Munroe (IVP); Letters to My Students: Biblical and Practical Advice for Gospel Ministers (B&H) by Jason Allen; The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Lexham) by Harold L. Senkbell; Discipling in a Multicultural World (Crossway)by Ajith Fernando; The Practices of Christian Preaching: Essentials for Effective Proclamation (Baker)by Jared Alcántara; Scrappy Church: God’s Not Done Yet (B&H)by Thom Rainer; The Gospel-Driven Church: Uniting Church Growth Dreams with the Metrics of Grace (Zondervan) by Jared C. Wilson; The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Chrisianity with the Gospel (Moody) by Dean Iserra; and Being a Pastor: A Conversation with Andrew Fuller (Evangelical Press) by Michael A. G. Haykin and Brian Croft.

Ed Smither has given us a concise look at the history of Christian Mission (Lexham).

Applied Theology and Christian Living

I do not have space to list or comment on the number of books in this rather varied category, but here are few worthy of note: On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts (Brazos) by James K. A. Smith; Biblical Spirituality (Crossway), edited by Christopher W. Morgan; Work (P&R) by Daniel Doriani; Sacred Endurance (IVP) by Trillia Newbell; The Life and Faith Field Guide for Parents: Help Your Kids Learn Practical Life Skills, Develop Essential Faith Habits, and Embrace a Biblical Worldview (Harvest House)by Joe Carter; Grandparenting with Grace: Living the Gospel with the Next Generation (New Growth)by Larry E. McCall; Becoming Whole: Why the Opposite of Poverty Isn’t the American Dream (Moody) by Brian Fikkert and Kelly M. Kapic; Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making (B&H) by Andrew Peterson; In Search of the Common Good (IVP)by Jake Meador; He Calls Me Friend: The Healing Power of Friendship in a Broken World (Moody) by John Perkins with Karen Waddles; The Cross Before Me: Reimaging the Way to the Good Life (David C. Cook) by Rankin Wilbourne and Brian Gregor; Homeschool Bravely: How to Squash Doubt, Trust God, and Teach Your Child with Confidence (Moody) by Jamie Erickson; An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life (Moody) by Jeff Haanen; and Between Life and Death: A Gospel-Centered Guide to End-of-Life Medical Care (Crossway).

Several names on this year’s list have appeared on similar lists in years past, which is largely because these authors write so well. For the rest of us, Andy LePeau has provided a marvelous gift with his Write Better (IVP).

Looking Toward 2020

I am already looking forward to a number of promising titles scheduled for publication in 2020. I am excited about Rhyne Putman’s new book, When Doctrine Divides the People of God: An Evangelical Approach to Theological Diversity (Crossway).

Micah Fries and Jeremy Maxfield have authored Leveling the Church: Multiplying Your Ministry by Giving It Away (Moody). The Holy Spirit, by Gregg Allison and Andreas Köstenberger, will be the first volume in the forthcoming 15-volume series called Theology for the People of God (B&H).

Te-Li Lau brings his wisdom and insight to bear on Defending Shame: Its Formative Power in Paul’s Letters (Baker). One of the more anticipated volumes for the year ahead is The History of Apologetics: A Biographical and Methodological Introduction (Zondervan), which has been compiled and edited by Josh Chatraw, Benjamin Forrest, and Alister McGrath. Christian Theology: The Biblical Story and Our Faith (B&H) is an outstanding introductory theology textbook from Christopher W. Morgan, with assistance from Robert Peterson.

Morgan has also joined with Matthew Emerson and Luke Stamps to co-edit Baptists and the Christian Tradition(B&H). And these are just a few of the splendid volumes on the way for the coming year.

We are grateful to authors, editors, and publishers who have labored long to bring these resources our way. We offer our heartfelt thanks for their devoted service. We pray that the Lord will help us to be good stewards of these wonderful gifts that have been provided to help nurture, instruct, and equip us for faithful service to both church and society for the glory of our great God.

David S. Dockery serves as Theologian-in-Residence at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as well as President of the International Alliance for Christian Education.

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Notable Books for 2019: A Brief Survey of Some of ...