Review of the Year: 2013 image

Review of the Year: 2013

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All the newspapers have been doing their countdowns, best ofs and top fifty lists of the year, so here's my theological equivalent. It's an entirely personal list, based on the things I've read, heard and seen in 2013, but it might prompt you to consider your own list, and reflect back on the things God has taught you over the last twelve months.

Best devotional book of the year: For me personally, God on Mute by Pete Grieg. Admittedly, this book neither intends to be a devotional book (it’s about engaging the silence of unanswered prayer), nor was it written this year (it’s about six years old, I think) – but even so, I found it to be the most honest, encouraging and devotionally satisfying book I read in 2013.

Best blog post of the year: This outstanding post from Alastair Roberts, on Rob Bell, Don Draper and the ad man’s gospel, is dripping with insight. It goes way beyond the typical critique of Bell into a far more challenging, even subversive, critique of the way contemporary people do theology. “Advertisers can be masters of eliciting feelings and states of mind in a manner that makes you think that you are on exactly the same wavelength, without actually telling you anything. They give you the bucket and you fill it, without recognizing what you are doing. Vague and indefinite terms that will be filled with highly emotive states (e.g. ‘spiritual’, ‘transcendent’, ‘wonder’ – words which almost always carry great emotional resonance for any hearer) and prose that seems to be saying something profound without making much of a specific claim is fairly typical here. They hold up a mirror and you see yourself in it.”
 
Best leadership book of the year: Again, it’s not pitched as a leadership book as such, but Kevin DeYoung’s Crazy Busy is a short, wise, provocative and challenging book, and if it’s relevant to anybody, it’s relevant to leaders. There are pages in it that have more practical wisdom than some entire volumes, and I’m beginning 2014 with a two-week teaching series from it at Kings. Outstanding.

Best academic book of the year: Unsurprisingly, Tom Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God (otherwise known as the PFG). I doubt it will be possible for scholars to write major books on Paul for the next generation without engaging with this huge, well-written and important work.
 
Tweets of the year: It was during the US government shutdown, and some guy nobody has heard of called Dan Stewart tweeted this: “The Washington Redskins are to change their name, due to negative associations. From now on, they will be known as the Maryland Redskins.” In second place was another shutdown-related tweet: “So, the US government has shut down. Has anyone tried turning it off, and turning it back on again?” And in third, our very own St Stuffed Shirt: “Just attended a conference in California with a bizarre looking lobby area. #strangefoyer.”

Best academic paper of the year: Michael Gorman on “Christ our Peace”, at the British New Testament Conference. If Paul’s eschatology and vision of the kingdom is Isaianic, and if Isaiah’s eschatological vision is bound up with an era of global peace in which swords are turned back into ploughshares, then doesn’t “peace” – a word which appears in the opening sentence of all Paul’s letters – deserve to play a greater role in our understanding of his gospel?
 
Book review of the year: Undoubtedly Michael Deacon’s review of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol in the Daily Telegraph, which is certainly the funniest book review I’ve ever read. “The critics said his writing was clumsy, ungrammatical, repetitive and repetitive. They said it was full of unnecessary tautology. They said his prose was swamped in a sea of mixed metaphors. For some reason they found something funny in sentences such as “His eyes went white, like a shark about to attack.” They even say my books are packed with banal and superfluous description, thought the 5ft 9in man. He particularly hated it when they said his imagery was nonsensical. It made his insect eyes flash like a rocket.”
 
Sermon of the year: Terry Virgo on “Jesus is Back”, at the New Ground event at Ashburnham. A masterclass in how to expound the text (in this case John 14), make the world of the story come alive, and increase people’s desire and expectation to encounter God. If you haven’t listened to it, you should.

Newspaper headline of the year: The recent story about Nigella Lawson and drugs was sublimely summarised by Metro: “The Great British Baked Toff.” Hard to beat.
 
Most soaring corporate worship time of the year: I haven’t been in many corporate worship contexts outside of my own local church this year, and when I have, it’s usually been because I’ve been preaching. But I doubt many who were at the Mobilise conference this year will forget the response time in which we sang “Servant King”. I love it when the gospel hits you all over again, as if you’ve never thought about it properly before.

Best dangling modifier patrol of the year: Thanks to our own Jennie Pollock for this one, which she found in the Daily Telegraph magazine: “Kelly Brook tweeted this picture of herself stuffing a turkey with friends.” Wonderful.
 
Best new song of the year: This (like all of these) is incredibly subjective, but the new song I’ve most enjoyed this year is “Shepherd Boy” by Martin Smith. It’s not a corporate worship song, and in places it’s poetic to the extent that I’m not quite sure what is happening, but it is touchingly humble, melodically beautiful, and performed to stunning effect on Martin’s God’s Great Dance Floor. “I’m no hero of the faith. I’m not as strong as I once thought I was. I’m just a shepherd boy, singing to a choir of burning lights.”
 
Most insightful one-liner of the year: Tim Keller on the subject of prayer: “God will always give you exactly what you would have asked for, if you knew everything he knows.” Deep.
 
Old Testament revelation of the year: The Old Testament texts that address the problem of evil and suffering, like Genesis 3, Job and Lamentations, always seem to give a variety of perspectives on it, rather than providing one knockdown answer. So in Job, for example, we find that the Satan is responsible; that God is sovereign over evil, and is to be praised anyway; that we are crying out for a mediator who can represent God to man and man to God; that suffering does not always correspond to unrighteousness; that sitting and weeping in silence is better than proposing explanations; that suffering does not have the last word, and the righteous are ultimately vindicated; that challenging God is impossible because he is creator and we are not; and so on. The implications for pastoral and apologetic ministry are substantial.
 
New Testament revelation of the year: Two groups of people, one at the start and one at the end of Luke’s gospel, thought they had lost Jesus, and then discovered him after three days, which led to them being challenged to rethink who he was, and what his mission was all about (Mary and Joseph at the temple, and Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus). Didn’t you know I’d be at my Father’s work? Wasn’t it necessary that the Messiah should suffer and then enter glory? Wow.
 
My most wrong blog post of the year: This year, my most wrong article was so wrong that I had to take it down. Those who saw it may remember that I critiqued a journal article in the Priscilla Papers without even reading it; unfortunately, Justin Taylor kindly linked to it, which raised its profile enormously; a flurry of correspondence followed, including some very gracious emails from Scot McKnight and D C Cramer; and I issued a grovelling apology. Lesson learned, I hope.
 
Our most discussed blog post of the year: It’s a toss-up between my piece on Cessationism and Strange Fire, and Phil Moore’s enjoyably inflammatory piece on What Your Biology Teacher Didn’t Tell You About Charles Darwin. We also had a great discussion thanks to an anonymous Newfrontiers pastor, who questioned whether languages/tongues should be used in Sunday meetings.
 
I know it’s a time of year when people are unlikely to be reading or commenting too much, but if you’ve got this far, it would be interesting to hear your reactions / responses / alternative suggestions. Happy New Year!

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