Books of the Year 2017 image

Books of the Year 2017

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It is a huge privilege of my job that I get to read a lot of books, for which I am grateful to God and to the members of King's Church London, and a huge privilege of being alive today that a lot of them are well written, thought-provoking, helpful and cheap. Many of those I read this year were excellent; almost all of them benefited me in some way or other. Here, in the run-up to Christmas, are the twenty best ones, ten old and ten new. For those interested, or merely nosey, I've listed all the others at the end (asterisks indicate books I had read before).

Top Ten New Books

Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ. My book of the year, even though it was actually published in 2015. In my Gospel Coalition review, I gave ten reasons why people should read it: the beauty of the scholarship, the argument itself, the focus on biblical imagery and motifs, Rutledge’s willingness to poke her own tradition, the chapter on the godlessness of the cross, its Trinitarianism, her defence of substitution, her engagement with the “apocalyptic Paul,” the section on theodicy, and the fact that the book comes from outside the conservative evangelical bubble. I stand by all ten, and cannot recommend the book highly enough. A masterpiece.

Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. Devotionally I spent much of the year in the Gospels, and read a number of books on them, but nothing compared to Hays’ marvellous exposition of the way the Gospels echo the Old Testament scriptures. It fuelled my joy, animated my times of personal prayer and study, shaped my preaching (both immediately and, I imagine, long-term), and enriched a book I was writing, and it did all this without being too lofty or inaccessible for those who don’t read New Testament studies very often. Rowan Williams describes it as “a real masterwork” on the back cover, and he’s right.

Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life. A wonderfully accessible, practical and yet beautiful book (and a book that is both practical and beautiful is a rare thing indeed), from one of the writers I have most enjoyed reading in 2017. I gave a number of highlights here.

Daniel Drezner, The Ideas Industry: How Pessimists, Partisans and Plutocrats are Transforming the Marketplace of Ideas. Probably the most important non-theological new book I read this year, as I explained in August: “In Isaiah Berlin’s famous dictum, the world is made up of hedgehogs and foxes. Hedgehogs know one big thing; foxes know many little things. And in the marketplace of ideas, hedgehogs (“thought leaders” who know one big thing, and champion it tirelessly) are thriving at the expense of foxes (scholars and intellectuals who know many little things, and are better at criticism and nuance than advocacy). The Ideas Industry is shaped more by TED talks, in which a simple idea is presented to an admiring audience without any response or criticism from other experts in the field, than by rigorous back-and-forth between mutually critical and learned academics. There are various reasons for this, but the main ones are herded together in the book’s subtitle: pessimists, partisans and plutocrats.”

Tim Blanning, The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815. This is history as it should be done. I started the year with the intention of learning more about the eighteenth century, and read a whole range of books that helped me with that: fiction, biography, European history, world history, African history, financial history, imperial history. But Blanning’s work was far and away the best. What is particularly impressive is the way that he models how to do history. Instead of focusing on the narrative of empires and wars, kings and revolutions, he leaves those (popular but ultimately surface-level) things to the end, and majors on the story of the deeper-level changes that really shaped Europe: roads, canals, agriculture, communications, taxes, marriage, medicine, trade, court, religion. By the time he reaches the parts of the story you’ve heard about, you actually understand why (say) the postal service caused the Enlightenment, and harvests caused the French Revolution. Brilliant.

Jen Wilkin, Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with both our Hearts and our Minds. Here’s how I began my summary of it in July: “Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word is not just the best book on Bible study for women that I have read; it is the best book on Bible study for anybody that I have read. Jen is a marvellous Bible teacher who wrote one of my favourite books of last year, None Like Him, and in this book she addresses one of the issues that we all need to talk about but rarely do: the fact that an awful lot of “Bible Study” is really nothing of the kind. In a short, crisp and strikingly insightful book, she explains what happens when a lot of women (and, if my experience is anything to go by, a lot of men as well) get together to study the Bible, and then she talks through how we can do it in a way that will actually increase our understanding of Scripture. It’s a simple masterclass that I’m likely to be returning to again and again.”

Martin Meredith, The Fortunes of Africa: A 5000 Year History of Wealth, Greed and Endeavour. A hugely ambitious book that pretty much gets away with it. I suggested five cultural, apologetic, ecclesial historical and pastoral reasons to consider reading it here, last week.

Alan Jacobs, How to Think: A Guide for the Perplexed. Sparkly, wise and timely. If you haven’t already, you can read my review for The Gospel Coalition.

James K. A. Smith, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology. A great conclusion to a remarkable (and remarkably influential) three part project, following on from his earlier Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom. (Has anyone ever written a trilogy, I wonder, in which “ing” appeared in the titles six times?) The third instalment focuses on political theology, and does a great job of synthesising the best bits of political thinkers from Augustine to O’Donovan, Kuyper to Hauerwas, in a readable and fresh way. I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but this book was a super introduction.

The ESV Readers Bible. For all the bells and whistles that come with Bibles today—and I am grateful for the fountain of resources, maps, articles, charts, graphics and so on that are available—the main reason to buy a Bible is so that you spend a lot of time reading it, which means that the greatest compliment you can pay a Bible is that it makes you enjoy reading it. I have probably owned two dozen Bibles in my lifetime, but none of them has helped me stop, read, think, pray and meditate on Scripture like this one. Removing chapter and verse divisions, and giving more space on the page, sound like trivial adjustments, but it’s amazing how much more of Scripture you are inclined to read as a result. So although this isn’t a new book (!), it helped me read an old book in a new way, and for that I am thankful.

Top Ten Old Books

Plato, Apology of Socrates. Often acclaimed as the first truly great work of Western philosophy, I finally read it, and realised why.

Gregory of Nazianzus, Five Theological Orations. The kind of work that makes you want to read the Church fathers all the time.

Cyril of Jerusalem, Mystagogic Lectures. Cyril’s baptismal liturgy (among other highlights) is extraordinary, and illuminates the gospel in all kinds of ways.

Augustine, Enchiridion: On Faith, Hope and Love. Pastoral, practical Augustine, in distinction from (but consistent with) the theological giant we know and love.

William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice. “Hath not a Jew eyes?” A marvellous story, and a fascinatingly ambiguous exploration of Elizabethan anti-Semitism.

Graham Greene, Our Man in Havana. A seriously witty, funny and compelling story, which made me resolve to read more of Graham Greene.

C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters. There is more pastoral wisdom in Lewis—who wasn’t even a pastor!—than in any modern writer I know, and much of it is found, humorously expressed, in Screwtape.

C. S. Lewis, Miracles. Apologetics as it is meant to be done, with far more relevance to contemporary life than you would think possible.

Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848. History on an epic scale, from a truly great (if controversial) Marxist historian.

Niall Ferguson, Civilization: The Six Killer Apps of Western Power. A very different narrative (and a terrible subtitle), but a super work of popularising with a provocative and often compelling thesis.

The Rest

Diarmaid MacCulloch, A History of Christianity.
Rowan Williams, Christ on Trial.
James Dunn, Why Believe in Jesus’ Resurrection?
C. A. Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, 1789-1914.
Alastair Roberts, Transfigured Hermeneutics.
Greg Lucas, Wrestling with an Angel: A Story of Love, Disability and the Lessons of Grace.
Francis Spufford, Golden Hill.
Trillia Newbell, Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts.
Fred Sanders, The Triune God.
Terry Eagleton, The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction.
Rowan Williams, Being Disciples.
Justin Brierley, Unbelievable? Why, After Ten Years of Talking with Atheists, I’m Still a Christian.
Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew.
Michael Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible.
Ian Paul, Kingdom, Hope and the End of the World.
Neil Anderson and Steve Goss, Steps to Freedom in Christ.
Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana.
Wayne Grudem (ed.), Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views.
Andrew Walker, God and the Transgender Debate: What does the Bible Actually Say about Gender Identity?
Neil Anderson and Steve Goss, Freedom in Christ: A Leader’s Guide.
John Piper, The Passion of Jesus Christ.
Dorothy Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning.
Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Culture.
Les Moir, Missing Jewel: The Worship Movement that Impacted the Nations.
*G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy.
John Gray, Gray’s Anatomy: Selected Writings.
Douglas Moo, Galatians.
John Stott, Same Sex Relationships.
Karen Swallow Prior, Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More, Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist.
Tom Wright, Spiritual and Religious: The Gospel in an Age of Paganism.
Niall Ferguson, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World.
Courtney Reissig, Glory in the Ordinary: Why Your Work in the Home Matters to God.
William Shakespeare, Othello.
*C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters.
David Bentley Hart, The Hidden and the Manifest: Essays in Theology and Metaphysics.
Tom Wright, The Lord and His Prayer.
Bobby Jamieson, Understanding the Lord’s Supper.
Gordon T. Smith, Evangelical, Sacramental, Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three.
David Lyle Jeffery, Luke.
*David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies.
Jen Pollock Michel, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home.
Dan Brown, Inferno.
Rachel Jankovic, Fit to Burst: Abundance, Mayhem and the Joys of Motherhood.
*C. S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew.
Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity.
Phil Moore, One Life.
Derek Tidball, Lead Like Joshua: Lessons for Today.
William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure.
Richard Gaffin, Perspectives on Pentecost: New Testament Teaching on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
John Piper, The Dangerous Duty of Delight.
Joe Rigney, C. S. Lewis on the Christian Life.
Justin Holcomb and David Johnson (ed.), Christian Theologies of the Sacraments: A Comparative Introduction.
Martin Charlesworth and Natalie Williams, A Church for the Poor: Transforming the Church to Reach the Poor in Britain Today.
*The Didache.
Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World.
*Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Martin Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church.
Andy McCullough, Global Humility: Attitudes for Mission.
Peter Furtado (ed.), Histories of Nations: How Their Identities Were Forged.
James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation.
*Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.
James Dolezal, All That Is In God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism.
David Starling, Hermeneutics as Apprenticeship: How the Bible Shapes Our Interpretive Habits and Practices.
Collin Hansen (ed.), Our Secular Age: Ten Years of Reading and Applying Charles Taylor.
Shelby Steele, Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarised Our Country.
Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race.
Michael Allen, Sanctification.
Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics.
Michael Kruger, Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church.
Aristides, Apology.
Jaroslav Pelikan, Acts.
Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering.
John Piper, Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture.
The Westminster Confession of Faith.
Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God.
Matt Chandler with David Roark, Take Heart: Christian Courage in the Age of Unbelief.
Jon Bloom, Don’t Follow Your Heart.
Mark Jones, Faith, Hope, Love: The Christ-Centred Way to Grow in Grace.
Graham Hunter, Discipline and Desire: Embracing Charismatic Liturgical Worship.
Kenneth Stewart, In Search of Ancient Roots: The Christian Past and the Evangelical Identity Crisis.

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