2014: A Review of the Year image

2014: A Review of the Year

In the past few years, I've done my annual review on the last Wednesday of the year. But someone asked me the other day whether I might be posting any recommended reading in time for Christmas, and it occurred to me that perhaps I should do it earlier. So, in no particular order (and with the usual blend of serious, personal and whimsical categories), here goes.

Popular theological book of the year: So many candidates here, but my favourite was The Skeletons in God’s Closet by Josh Butler. The three “skeletons” are hell, judgment and holy war, and Josh does a fantastic job, not just in showing that these things can be reconciled with a loving God (which is where apologetics usually stops), but that they are in fact the most loving things for God to command and do. As a general tip, if books get rave reviews from both Scot McKnight and The Gospel Coalition, they’re probably worth reading.

Leadership book of the year: It’s not pitched as a leadership book, but it certainly is (among other things): Michael Horton’s Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World. Horton skewers the obsession we have with drama, suddenness, breakthrough, exceptions and extremes, and points us towards a prizing of the ordinary - ongoing faithfulness in the little things, whether in church life, personal spirituality, marriage, work or whatever. As a charismatic evangelical, I found this book both enormously challenging and enormously helpful.

Devotional book of the year: A few months ago, a friend of mine gave me Paul Miller’s A Praying Life, and it is one of the most personally nourishing and devotionally satisfying books I have ever read. Perhaps surprisingly, I’m finding that’s often true of books on prayer at the moment.

Christian controversy of the year: Well they were all about sexuality this year, weren’t they? But the biggest controversy was probably the World Vision U-turn back in March over their hiring policies (which was hugely encouraging, but made a lot of people very angry. As hugely encouraging things often do.)

Christian article of the year: Nate Wilson in Christianity Today. “Our Father wove glory and joy into every layer of this world. He wove in secrets that would tease us into centuries of risk-taking before we could unlock them—flight, glass, electricity, chocolate. He buried gold deep, but scattered sand everywhere. And from the sand came all the wealth of our own age. Our God made things simple and funny—skin bags full of milk swinging beneath cows. And also hard: Skim the cream, add sugar from cane grass and shards of vanilla bean from faraway lands, surround with water cold enough to have expanded its molecules and become solid. Now stir. Keep stirring. Now taste. And worship. Us: No more for you, Johnny. You’ve had enough. God: Try the hot fudge.”

Most bombastic Christian article of the year: This lampooning of Rachel Held Evans by Bekah Merkle (who, coincidentally, is Nate Wilson’s sister). The fact that it’s entitled “The Problem of Theological Cone Bras” should give you an idea of where it’s going.

Mainstream article of the year: “I Can Tolerate Everything Except the Outgroup.” In a nutshell: the people we exclude are rarely those who are completely different to us. Rather, they are usually those who are very like us, but differ from us in a handful of important ways. This is hugely significant for political (and theological!) discourse.

TV show of the year: The BBC’s The Honourable Woman, by a long way. Probably the best drama/thriller I’ve ever seen on British TV, with a superbly intricate plot, a tight script, a standout performance from Maggie Gyllenhaal in the key role, and the ever-fascinating background of Israel, Palestine, spies and arms deals.

New Christian song of the year: “Jesus You Died,” by Sam and Becki Cox. Rich theology, simply expressed, a soaring melody, and a wonderfully lyrical outro.

Studio album of the year: The Art of Celebration, Rend Collective Experiment. The title track is outstanding, and the other songs are mostly creative, celebratory and catchy.

Live album of the year: Newday 2014. I’ll spare you the rant about the brilliance of Newday, since you may have already read it here.

Typo of the year: The South China Morning Post, on December 5th, instead of writing that the Occupy protestors were “planning to turn themselves in to police,” said that they were “planning to turn themselves into police.”

Tweet of the year: “There is literally no way of knowing how many chameleons are in your house.” @BillMurray

Meme of the year: The #BadPrequels meme in May produced some very funny items - Snakes Getting Harassed by TSA, Schindler’s New Notepad, and so on - but my favourite was from Sam Allberry: The Empire Considers Its Response.

Academic paper of the year: Steve Mason’s response to Tom Wright at SBL (a summary of which, as well as Tom’s response to it, can be found here). “I respect Tom as a great man, and for his moral authority. I just don’t believe him about first century Judea.”

Best blog discussion of the year: The tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri, prompted some superb reflections on race, privilege and the gospel across the evangelical blogosphere, most notably several excellent posts from Thabiti Anyabwile (who is always worth reading on race, and lots of other things); much debate centred on a contrarian article from the black pastor Voddie Baucham, and the responses which followed it. Helpful discussions are still going on.

Most popular Think Theology post of the year: I suppose it depends what you mean by “popular.” The one that went down the best overall was the “Twenty-Five Bloggers in One Sentence Each” post, which was read 20,000 times and seemed to appeal to everybody. But the one that was read the most, by far, was my “The Case for Idolatry,” which had more than 50,000 views, and set off a firestorm of debate. (As it happens, the ones I’m most proud of are the ones Matt and I wrote after the EA removed Oasis from membership; almost everyone went quiet, and I’m really glad we defended them for a very difficult, but important, decision).

Video of the year: Top marks to the Vatican’s video on marriage and complementarity, which Matt posted here.

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