(A Smaller Collection of) Books of the Year 2018
I’m sure that many of us share the same mix of feelings when Andrew posts his annual summary of the best books he has read that year: a combination of gratitude for his hard work, interest in some of the titles mentioned, and a healthy dose of humility as we wonder how a list of almost 100 books can be only the good ones! But it also got me thinking about my own reading this year.
I’m not a great fan of reading. People usually assume I am, but I’m not. I am a big fan of learning and thinking, and so I read to help me learn and to help me think, but I actually read slowly, often feel frustrated at how little I take in and frequently start books but don’t finish them. This year, however, I have succeeded in reading more than I usually would, and, inspired by Andrew, I thought I’d share a few of my highlights.
Stephen Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible
A big picture overview of the theology of the Old Testament tracing the themes of dominion (humanity’s call to rule over the earth) and dynasty (the promised seed who would fulfill this call). By following the order of the books as found in the Hebrew Bible, Dempster understands the Old Testament in terms of two sections of history (the Pentateuch and Former Prophets at the start and Daniel to Chronicles at the end) with a commentary on this story in the middle (the Latter Prophets and the Writings). This proves to be a really fruitful way of approaching the text and the literary reading offered is insightful and illuminating. It’s a book I want to read again.
Paul Williamson, Death and the Afterlife: Biblical Perspectives on Ultimate Questions
Death is a subject we probably don’t think or talk about enough and it’s a subject on which Christians often have unbiblical understandings. Williamson’s book gives a great overview of biblical teaching on all the key areas of the topic (such as the nature of death, resurrection, judgement, hell, and heaven), each of which, he notes, are debated in contemporary evangelicalism. He does a particularly good job of tracing themes as they develop from the Old Testament into the New, thus helpfully acknowledging the fact that much of the Bible’s teaching on death and the afterlife is progressively revealed as the story of scripture progresses.
Peter Vogt, Interpreting the Pentateuch: An Exegetical Handbook
I’ve already praised the Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis series from Kregel, so I needn’t say much more here. The material on interpreting and preaching law is particularly valuable in Vogt’s contribution to the series.
Tim Keller, Romans 1-7 For You and Romans 8-16 For You
I used these two volumes to work through Romans with a theology intern I was mentoring. As you’d expect from Keller, it is a masterful example of how to work through the text faithfully exegeting its meaning while constantly drawing out the contemporary application. Inevitably there are places where I would disagree with his reading, but overall, the volumes are a great guide to Romans.
Sexuality and Gender
Glynn Harrison, A Better Story: God, Sex & Human Flourishing
We all know that views of sex have changed dramatically in the last half century and that the Church is largely still trying to catch up with what has happened and to learn how to hold on to and to proclaim the good news of God’s plan for human sexuality in this new context. Harrison aims to help the Church in this task. He does this by doing three things: first, he helps us get a better understanding of the sexual revolution by looking at what lies behind it. He then gives advice on how we can better critique the revolution, before, in the final section, showing how God’s way provides a better story which we are called to live out and proclaim. This book contributes towards some of the vital groundwork the Church needs to do in order to be faithful to God and his mission in this new social context.
Preston Sprinkle, People to be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue
This has now become my top recommendation for a first book to read on sexuality. In part this is because of the range of its material: it is one of the few books that does a great job of covering both the biblical material and practical outworkings in a single volume. But perhaps what I most love about the book is its tone. Preston has worked hard to embody what his title says and does a wonderful job of combining total commitment to biblical truth with a wonderful heart of love for LGBT people.
David Bennett, A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus
I’ve already posted a couple of times about David’s book. It is a great example of the better story in action. There are lots of reasons I appreciate it: it’s written in a clear and engaging way and is an amazing story of what Jesus can do, but I think what I have found most helpful is David’s focus on the importance of a commitment to celibacy being rooted in an experience of the love of God. It is an example of and a call to experience ‘the expulsive power of a new affection’ and a reminder that it is only this new affection that can really lead a person to true submission to Jesus as Lord.
Ryan Anderson, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment
Anderson has written a brave and clear critique of transgender ideology, drawing from the work and perspectives of scientists, psychologist, and medical professionals. The collection of testimonies from detransitioners – those who had transitioned to live as the opposite sex but found it didn’t solve their problems – in chapter 3 is heart-breaking and powerful, and also makes the book an important resource as these stories are often suppressed. I also value that Anderson recognises the need for society to find better ways of helping those who experience gender dysphoria if transitioning is not the best solution. While firmly challenging the ideology, Anderson never forgets that behind the cultural debate there are real people who are suffering and who we need to find ways of helping.
Other Contemporary Topics
Nigel Cameron, The Robots Are Coming: Us, Them & God
I was a bit unconvinced when someone kindly gave me this book and suggested I read it, but it was actually really interesting and is an issue which I’m sure we will need to think about more in the coming years. I think it was stronger in its outlining of some of the developments of technology than in its theological analysis, but it certainly made me think.
Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You
This is a topic nearly all of us need to think about. The book does as the title suggests and will make you really think about your own use of technology and its use in wider society. If I’m honest I found the style a bit verbose and felt that Reinke was sometimes trying to be a bit too clever and deeply theological when a rather more simple critique would suffice, but the key points are important and well worth wrestling with.
Terry Virgo, God’s Lavish Grace
This was a re-read, but it still makes my list of top books for the year. You can never be reminded too much about the importance of the doctrine of grace, and there are few people better to remind you than Terry!
C.J. Mahaney, Living the Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing
Fourteen short, simple chapters which take you back to the heart of the gospel to behold it, experience it, enjoy it and worship because of it.
Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams
A truly fascinating read! Walker is a sleep scientist who summarises developments in understanding of sleep among scientists over the last few decades. The abridged version is that sleep is incredible and an amazing example of the glory of God seen in creation (although Walker prefers to offer naturalistic, evolutionary explanations rather than divine ones). Walker also suggests that in modern society we seriously undervalue sleep and have structured life in such a way that most of us don’t and can’t get the sleep we need. The book will certainly challenge you to think about the importance of getting enough sleep and help you to move towards that goal, all the while fuelling your worship as you see a new aspect of the wonder of God’s creation.
No Such Thing as a Fish, The Book of the Year: The Weirder Side of 2017
No Such Thing as a Fish is a podcast in which the QI researchers share fascinating and bizarre facts they have discovered in the course of their work. This book is the best of their findings from 2017. If you love random facts and love a laugh, it’s a great read.
Johann Hari, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – And the Unexpected Solutions
I’ve not yet finished reading this and will want to read some reviews and do some further research when I have, but if the thesis of the book is correct, then it is hugely significant. Inspired by his own struggles with depression, Hari spent three years exploring research into the causes of depression and found that there is little evidence to support the idea that depression is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain and lots of evidence that depression is primarily the result of environmental and psychological factors which he summarises as disconnections (e.g. from other people, meaningful work and the natural world). In light of these disconnections he proposes that reconnection in these areas is actually the answer for those suffering with depression. Hari is an atheist, but Christian readers will quickly see how well his conclusions fit with a Biblical worldview (e.g. in the importance of relationships with others, of working and of appreciating the natural world).