Sunday, January 11, 2009

Last Year's Top Ten

I don't have a concrete plan for what books I am going to read for the year. There are 10 plus books that I would like to be reading at any given moment, but I can't handle more than 3 at a time and 2 is preferred. I foolishly think annually, "This is the year that I'm gonna read 50 books!" I'm much to slow of reader for that and I only end up reading about 30 a year. My actual reading options are often narrowed when the seminary schedule is set and I begin to prepare for courses that I'll be teaching. That means that I read other books than those on my general wish list. Clearly, I need to adjust my desired book consumption. My reading life will be less frustrating that way.

Aside from the complaining however, I read some really good stuff last year and I thought I'd share a little about each. They are in a completely random order — I don't dare try to say that any modern author will have the justified longevity of Anslem, yet I enjoyed some of these books more than his. And I don't fully agree with all of the authors on everything either — it's often a perspective other than your own that will cause you to think the most. But I'd recommend each of these books to just about anyone because they will make you think more deeply about your faith, your beliefs, your God and His Word.

John R.W. Stott, Baptism and Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today
I've known about this book and had it on my shelf for years. I somehow escaped my Christian university and seminary education without it being assigned to me when most of my fellow students had to read it. I always looked at it and said, "Can it really be that good, it's not much more than 100 pages?" The answer is yes. Stott nails the heart of the evangelical view of Spirit baptism and presents it in a winsome and Scripturally faithful manner. Even though I was preparing to teach pneumatology, I was going to skip it this time 'round but, being sent on a major errand, I grabbed it and read the first third on public transportation. I was done a few days later, embarrassed that I'd neglected it for so long, rejoicing in all of the clarity Stott brought to the issue and praising God for the His presence with us in the Holy Spirit.

John H. Walton, Genesis, NIV Application Commentary
This is not your standard commentary on Genesis. See my comments here.

Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
Schreiner is an excellent scholar and is able to dig as deeply into the exegetical and theological issues as necessary to draw out the meaning of Paul's words to the Church in Rome and their meaning for us today. He handles the issues associated with the Law (and hence, the New Perspective on Paul), the flesh/Spirit controversy and the issues of how weaker and stronger Christians ought to relate to each other in a superb manner. You'll come away with a deeper appreciation for the fundamental truths of the Christian faith, having read this commentary.

Craig J. Hazen, Five Sacred Crossings: A Novel Approach To a Reasonable Faith
No, I didn't only read this because Hazen is a friend and directs the M.A. program from which I received a degree, but those were major factors. I did read this because I think we need many more authors doing apologetics though fiction. Hazen succeeds in providing a compelling and unique story that teaches the importance of sharpening the intellect and living out your faith. I'm proud of him and hope that he inspires more apologists and theologians to follow in his steps.

Kenneth Berding, What Are Spiritual Gifts? Rethinking the Conventional View
Unless you are prepared to abandon your current view of spiritual gifts in light of Berding's thorough reexamination of the Biblical evidence, do not read this book. His research is complete and his presentation winsome as he draws the reader to a more faithful understanding of Scripture's teaching on spiritual gifts. The main point is that the Holy Spirit is in total control of empowering His people to serve; we are not automatically given a "talent/ability" and then left with the responsibility of discovering and using that "talent/ability." Rather, every "ministry assignment" is Spirit-directed and we humbly do that which the Spirit leads us to do, regardless of whether we tested well for it on our spiritual gift test.

Graham A. Cole, Engaging with the Holy Spirit: Real Questions, Practical Answers
It was hard to choose this book over Cole's larger work on the Spirit, He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, which was outstanding. I'm recommending this 150-pager in hopes that you might be more inclined to read it (He Who Gives Life is 350 pages). Also, it is more focused. Cole tackles 6 major questions about the Holy Spirit, most of them stemming from the various actions that we read about in the New Testament that can be committed against Him; what does it mean to grieve, quench, resist, blaspheme against the Spirit? You'll come away with clear answers to these questions and some strong exhortation not to commit them. In addition to the practicality of the book, Cole lays out and follows a consistent and solid theological method that systematizes the work very well.

Anselm of Canterbury, Why the God-man?
I read this book early on in my seminary training and remember being pretty impressed by it. Since I was assigning it to my students last spring, I thought I'd better refresh my memory as to its contents. I'd forgotten just how good it is. I want to read it again just thinking about it. If you let yourself forgive Anselm for indulging in certain 11th century Catholic minutia, you'll be overwhelmed by His ability to plum the depths of the necessity of the Incarnation. Were there no sin, I'd owe God my total obedience as His creature. Enter sin. Now I owe God my total obedience as His creature and an infinite debt for having transgressed His infinite holiness. Only Someone Who was fully God and fully man could do anything about that. And since Jesus Christ was such a God-man, He is able to satisfy not just my total obedience and infinite debt, but the obedience and debt of any who come to Him. Beautiful.

D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil
Carson clearly states that this book is not an attempt to answer the philosophical problems of evil nor is it a book to help someone who is going through tremendous suffering. Its goal is to help Christians formulate a coherent Biblical framework for processing evil and suffering so that, when suffering comes, we are as prepared as possible and hopefully won't come to unbiblical conclusions based on our experience. The gist is that we need a high, very high, view of God's sovereignty and total trust in Him so that we don't question His goodness or control when things, for us, get out of control. As one who's studied the philosophical problems and has recently experienced some intense sufferings, I'll reject Carson's caveats and say that his perspective is integral to a fully orbed approach to the problem of evil and is, at the same time, extremely useful for the person in the midst of suffering.

Preston Jones, ed., Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant? A Professor and a Punk Rocker Discuss Science, Religion, Naturalism and Christianity
I think anyone and everyone should read this book. See more thoughts here.

C. John Collins, Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?
I'm now much more concerned with refuting naturalism than I am about figuring out which creation view is the right one. And although Collins is very clearly an old earth creationist and this book is a solid defense of that perspective, he shares my concern (better to say that I share his). His book is more fundamentally an attempt to show that science and faith are friends, and friends that ultimatley oppose a naturalistic worldview. The whole first section of the book is a discussion of how to approach the science and religion question philosophically — something skipped over or assumed in many books on the subject — and it's the book's most valuable component. A major plus for this book is that it has been translated into Russian. When I taught Science and Religion last spring, I was only allowed to assign 100 pages of reading. Bummer. If I could have assigned 400, I would have given this book to the students without hesitation. As it was, I could only give them the first part. They all found it extremely helpful, or at least that's what they told me.