Review of the Year 2015 image

Review of the Year 2015

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In contrast to many bloggers, whose Christmas "best of" posts consist of carefully considered, meticulously and scrupulously judged, thoughtfully expressed, criteria based, intellectually rigorous lists of books - and there are plenty of very good ones - my annual reviews are generally whimsical, chaotic, inconsistent, random and utterly subjective. I don't even use the same categories each year. So if that sounds like a rather silly way of doing things, then I won't feel at all offended if you check out someone else's. The rest of you: here's mine.

Headline of the year: The Onion has had a good 2015, but this was their finest hour, I think. If you saw some of the “serious” headlines about the papal visit, or really have ever seen mainstream media outlets cover the Roman Catholic church, you’ll laugh.

Best online resource I found this year: Carl Trueman’s magnificent series of lectures on Medieval Church History and the Reformation, which I raved about here. If you haven’t downloaded it to your PC or tablet or whatever, I really don’t know what you’re still doing here.

Twitter craze of the year: Was this dress black and blue, or white and gold? There’s a video here which explains why 57% of people said one thing, and 30% another.

Best new worship song of the year: I’m sure this is partly because I first heard it while Matt Redman was leading it, during an uproarious worship time at the New Ground conference in August, but I love his Unbroken Praise. The middle eight - “So let my deeds outrun my words, and let my life outweigh my songs” - has been my prayer many times since, the words are simple yet rich, and the melody is fantastic.

Best new book of the year (academic): John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift, which I blogged through and summarised in various posts from September to November, is a remarkable achievement. There is no brand new discovery as such, nor a crazy idea that nobody has ever thought of before, but rather a careful, cumulative case that “grace” has been conceived of in six main ways, from ancient Judaism through to today, and that Paul’s conception was strikingly different to his contemporaries’. It’s one of those books which all subsequent works on the subject will refer back to, probably for a very long time.

Best new book of the year (popular): I’m a late adopter, and I find my criteria for enjoying a book are different from those of many reviewers, so I don’t read many books in the year they come out, preferring rather to wait until a number of people have told me they’re excellent. But I think Wesley Hill’s Spiritual Friendship, which came second in CT’s “Beautiful Orthodoxy” category this year, was the best new title I read at a popular level: both beautifully and evocatively written, and pastorally and theologically creative.

Book review of the year (theological): Tom Wright has an incomparable knack for debunking theological books in witty and creative ways, as anyone who has read his review of Dominic Crossan’s The Historical Jesus will know, but it’s twenty years since I’ve seen anything like his takedown of Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God. It is only one chapter in his new book, Paul and His Recent Interpreters, but it’s worth the price of the book on its own.

Book review of the year (mainstream): Yes, I’m a fan of snarky reviews on self-important books (see above), but Peter Wilby’s parody of Dan Hodges’s One Minute to Ten, in the New Statesman, is wonderfully wince-inducing.

Sermon of the year: Oh, this category is even more subjective than the others, but for sheer mastery of the art of communicating to a specific audience - in this case, one of the most difficult audiences there is, namely 6,000 teenagers sitting on the floor in a tent in Norfolk - I’d have to choose Mike Pilavachi’s message on the miraculous catch of fish, at NewDay. Narrative exposition for young people doesn’t come much better than this.

Best devotional book I read this year: Kevin DeYoung’s commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, The Good News We Almost Forgot. Both my wife and I have used it for our devotions and found it incredibly helpful, and my plan is to blog through the Catechism next year.

Best philosophy book I read this year (Christian): Peter Leithart’s Solomon Among the Postmoderns is a remarkable piece of work, juxtaposing postmodernity in all its forms with Qoholeth and his notion that “everything is vapour”. It sounds like a stunt, but it is hugely impressive in illuminating both postmodernity and Ecclesiastes.

Best philosophy book I read this year (secular): Thanks to Tim Keller’s book list, I found my way to Luc Ferry’s A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living in 2015. I never thought I’d find myself quoting a French atheist philosopher so often in my apologetics and gospel preaching.

TV show of the year: the BBC makes the best programmes on creation in the world (although they obviously don’t call them that), and David Attenborough’s The Hunt is astonishingly beautiful, not to mention informative, emotive and compelling. Here’s the trailer:

 

Tweet of the year: Joe Dator, cartoonist for the New Yorker: “I met a woman who had never heard the term ‘mansplaining.’ Now, I am faced with a dilemma.”

Tweeter of the year: If I could only follow one person on Twitter in 2016, based on 2015, who would it be? Probably Matt Smethurst. He gets so much right and so little wrong, uses words incredibly well, and serves as a Tweeter’s Digest too (by taking the greatest hits of other people on Twitter and circulating them himself). Scurrilous, perhaps; useful, definitely.

Conference of the year: I have the privilege of going to a number of superb events, with widely different purposes, audiences and programmes, but this year I was blown away by the Islamic World School of Leadership conference. Not all the things I thought were excellent about it could plausibly be replicated in other contexts, but it had so many strengths, and so many surprises, that it was much the best event I went to this year.

GIF of the year: Far and away, the sarcastic sheep. This is absolutely hilarious.

Most popular Think Theology post of the year: The recent post on the Lord’s Prayer being offensive has been read nearly 40,000 times, making it much the most viewed article of the year, although there were lots of reads of the songwriting rant (17,700) and the women preaching debate with John Piper and Tom Schreiner (16,700 and 9,900). Of our less regular contributors, Andrew Haslam’s excellent piece on iceberg pastors was the most popular (7,600), and among guest contributors, Jonathan Leeman’s piece on baptism and children reached the widest audience (7,100). All in all, for those who care, we get around three quarters of a million pageviews, and our biggest referrers (other than Facebook and Twitter) are Tim Challies, The Gospel Coalition and Desiring God. (Thanks, guys!)

Article of the year: It ruffled a lot of feathers, but I’d go for Hans Fiene’s article in The Federalist on what he calls “Selma Envy,” simply because it is the piece which has come back to me the most frequently since. So many times in the last nine months, on encountering headlines and articles and TV programmes, I’ve remembered that article, and found it to have immense explanatory power - not just for the arguments themselves, but for the anger and peculiar self-righteousness that accompany them. I’m sure social conservatives have equivalents (Churchill Envy? Wilberforce Envy? Luther Envy?), but in many ways that strengthens, rather than diminishes, Fiene’s point here: we all tell the story in such a way as to see ourselves as heroes, and many of us can’t function unless we have a villain. (I often think of Kevin DeYoung’s comment here: yes, it’s probably true that every group needs a devil, in which case ours might as well be *the devil.*)

Best book I read this year: Peter Leithart’s commentary on 1&2 Kings is not only the best book I’ve read this year, but probably (with apologies to Mike Reeves and John Piper) the best book I’ve ever read. Theologically rich, exegetically clear, clearly written, devotionally uplifting, well illustrated, culturally challenging, philosophically creative, ecumenically engaged ... it’s a masterpiece. I can’t recommend it highly enough, even if it’s now too late (and slightly too large) to get as a stocking-filler.

And with that: happy Christmas!

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