(Volume 21, Issue 3 May/June 2015)
This is the fourth time I have attempted to list books that I find are of considerable value. This is an important endeavor for a number of reasons. First, thousands of Christian books are published every year, yet the majority of these are superficial at best and often counterproductive to spiritual maturity, and many others are heretical. With the limited time that each of us has we need to be exposed to materials which enhance growth, draw us to Christ and are biblically sound. This list aims to offer just such books in a variety of areas. Secondly, as I critique and review books on a regular basis I find that many volumes combine some excellent teaching and insights with unbiblical concepts. My reviews attempt to reveal “the good, the bad and the ugly” within these works. And while no book except the Bible is flawless, nevertheless the books in these lists are fundamentally sound and minimize exposure to error. Third, due to the many theologically errant books available today, some of which have become immensely popular and/or follow fads within evangelicalism, I attempt to read many of these works in order to warn and safeguard those reading my reviews. As a result a good portion of my book reviews might come across as negative to readers. Some might question if there are any good books available, in my opinion. I want to make it clear that there are a substantial number of excellent works in print for those desiring to supplement their study of Scripture.
If we are going to read we ought to read the best. The books on the present list are the best books I have read between January 2010 and April 2015, not including commentaries and fiction. For commentaries I refer the reader to Commentaries for Biblical Expositors by James Rosscup. Of the books I have read during this time period the ones below are those I would recommend. For fuller reviews of each of these books, and about 500 more, see our website: www.svchapel.org.
Good News for Anxious Christians by Phillip Cary. As a college professor Cary is constantly hearing of faddish concepts that young people are adopting into their theology and philosophy of life. Cary identifies 10 of these, such as God speaking to us in our hearts and allowing experience to trump Scripture, and then gives sound biblical insight in each area.
The Gospel-Driven Life , by Michael Horton, is a powerful reminder of the centrality of the gospel and of our need to be shaped by the finished work of Christ. It is the gospel that we are to live and proclaim rather than being side-tracked by other agendas. Horton’s covenantalism in a few places will have to be recognized and discerned. Developing a similar theme is Rick Holland’s Uneclipsing the Son which offers a simple, solid reminder that the Christian life is all about Christ. In the clutter of life this is a message that we all need to hear. Holland’s thesis is that, in the many activities and options available to believers, our focus on Christ is easily eclipsed.
If you have wanted to dip your toes into the pool of Puritan literature you might start with The Art of Contentment by Thomas Watson and Jeremiah Burroughs’s The Rare Jewell of Contentment, both obviously dealing with peace of mind.
The vast majority of books written about preaching are addressed to preachers; only a few target the listeners. Expository Listening by Ken Ramey is one of those few, and I think the best, that does so.
An excellent discipleship tool is The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne. It not only reminds us of the importance of concentrated discipleship efforts in the church but also provides ideas, methods and the practical “how-tos” in developing disciples.
Mark Dever has written The Gospel and Personal Evangelism which is a nicely balanced, easy-to-read, down-to-earth manual on evangelism that should be of help and encouragement to all who read it. He deals honestly with some of our struggles regarding outreach and offers tips on improving our evangelistic efforts.
The Peacemaker, a Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflicts by Ken Sande. Sande has provided the body of Christ a great service by thoroughly presenting the teachings of Scripture on the subject of unity and peace making. This is a marvelous source for personal use as well as a tool for counselors who will inevitably deal with conflict.
In Light of Eternity, Perspectives on Heaven by Randy Alcorn is a scaled down or abbreviated version of Alcorn’s book Heaven. It is a quick read that should encourage the child of God to live on earth from the vantage point of heaven. Some of Alcorn’s ideals are speculative but most flow from the clear teaching of Scripture
Out of the Blues, written by Wayne Mack, engages one of the most common of human difficulties – depression – and provides clear biblical counsel . If I Am a Christian then Why Am I Depressed by Robert Summerville tackles the same issue from both a biblical and personal basis.
Lou Priolo addresses a different problem in Picking Up the Pieces and that is the issue of handling broken relationships.
Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul Tripp is one of the most valuable books available for those interested in biblical counseling. In a real sense all of Tripp’s numerous books on counseling are a reworking of Instruments.
Home Improvement is written by Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller and is a highly practical, biblically sound book which provides eight tools for effective parenting, with younger children especially in mind.
John Street is the editor of Men Counseling Men, A Biblical Guide to the Major Issues Men Face. The twenty-two contributors agree that men’s real problems stem from sin which must be dealt with forcefully through the appropriate use of the all-sufficient Word of God.
In Scandalous D. A. Carson attempts not only to detail events surrounding the death and resurrection of Christ but also to explain what they mean. He does so by unpacking five sections of the Bible and in the process gives solid teaching on the gospel message. Carson’s covenantal understanding of the Book of Revelation is the weakest part of the book.
The Courage to Be Protestant is the fifth and final volume in David Wells’ series which offers a theological framework in which to do cultural analysis. It is mandatory reading for anyone interested in obtaining a clearer understanding of today’s American spiritual culture.
In What Is the Gospel Greg Gilbert clarifies the gospel around four words (God, man, Christ and response) which enable the reader to not only understand the gospel better but to be able to articulate it more clearly to others.
Robert Thomas sounds a necessary warning in Evangelical Hermeneutics concerning the slippery slope upon which many new hermeneutical systems are taking evangelicalism. Evangelical Hermeneutics and the New Testament Use of the Old Testament by Rynold D. Dean builds on Thomas’s work by analyzing six major views within conservative evangelicalism concerning the New Testament writers use of the Old Testament, which is one of the most difficult theological issues facing biblical scholars today.
Nine evangelical theologians combine to write Hell Under Fire, edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert Peterson. In light of ever increasing pressure to abandon the conservative biblical understanding of hell, both on the scholarly and the popular level, Hell Under Fire is a must read.
Altar to an Unknown Love: Rob Bell, C.S. Lewis, and the Legacy of the Art and Thought of Man by Michael John Beasley concurs with the criticism heaped on Rob Bell and his heretical book Love Wins. But he is justly confused as to why others, particularly C.S. Lewis who taught essentially many of Bell’s errors, receives accolades from the critics of Bell. His thoughts are worth considering.
Israel and the Church by Ronald E. Diprose is a well-reasoned, carefully researched polemic with a premillennial understanding of Scripture and a rebuttal of replacement theology.
Christ’s Prophetic Plans: A Futuristic Premillennial Primer , edited by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, is true to its subtitle but it is much more. It is a clear, powerful and convincing treatment of dispensational premillennialism which is readable and insightful.
The purpose of Rose Guide to End-Times Prophecy by Timothy Paul Jones is to carefully map out the major evangelical positions on eschatology. Four eschatological views (amillennial, postmillennial, dispensational premillennial, and historical premillennial), three theological systems (Dispensationalism, Covenantalism and New Covenantalism), and four hermeneutical methods (futurist, preterist, idealist and historicist) are surveyed.
In The Man Christ Jesus, Bruce Ware has written a doctrinally solid yet thoroughly readable treatise on the humanity of Jesus Christ. This is perhaps the best book available on the subject.
In The Jewish Gospels, Rabbi Daniel Boyarin challenges how most modern Jewish theologians have interpreted the New Testament Gospels and Jesus Himself. He examines the Old Testament prophecies, New Testament narratives and Jewish extra-biblical literature. This is a fascinating read given that Boyarin is considered one of the leading Jewish scholars in Rabbinical Judaism today, and not a Christian.
Gregory Thornbury believes that the era of classical evangelicalism, represented by Francis Schaeffer, J. I. Packer, John R. W. Stott and, most pronounced, Carl Henry, is quickly slipping away. In fact, many leading theologians today see classical evangelicalism and Henry, its main intellectual promoter, as relics of a bygone era (pp. 11, 21, 30). Thornbury hopes to reverse this view by reintroducing Henry to a generation that has marginalized him in his book Recovering Classic Evangelicalism.
Foundation of the Christian Faith by James M. Boice is an excellent study in theology written by a pastor who knows how to bring doctrine to life. Boice’s covenantalism and openness to theistic evolution has to be discerned at times but overall this is a treasure.
Conversion in the New Testament is an exacting, thorough and valuable study of the conversion experience. Recognizing substantial differences between the sudden conversion of Paul in Acts and the gradual experience of the apostles in the Gospels, Richard Peace seeks to evaluate and harmonize the two. An excellent study.
The Sacred Text by Ronald Satta demonstrates the importance of the doctrine of inerrancy and traces the historical development, and accompanying battles, surrounding this truth.
John Hannah in Our Legacy is able to give a reliable and objective synopsis of the history and development of seven essential doctrines: Scripture, the Godhead, the person and work of Christ, salvation, the church and end times.
The approach taken by Christopher Hall in Learning Theology with the Church Fathers is to engage with numerous Church Fathers as they wrestled with their understanding of essential doctrines. This is an enlightening and fascinating book.
An Introduction to the New Covenant (General Editor Christopher Cone) is authored by six theologians and is an excellent and important entry into the debate concerning the extent and application of the New Covenant. I wrote the opening chapter but the book is worth reading anyway.
Church and Mission
In The Jesus You Can’t Ignore, John MacArthur challenges the concept that in order to reach unbelieving people in a postmodern culture we need to be less militant, less aggressive, less preachy and less sure of our own convictions. MacArthur wrote this volume to show that Jesus’ approach was just the opposite.
Through careful examination of the Scriptures, especially the New Testament, Charles Ryrie, in The Christian and Social Responsibility, finds no evidence that the church is called to solve the social ills of the world. Rather, believers are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ who died and was resurrected so that we might be made right with God. Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert come to the same conclusion in What Is the Mission of the Church?
Scott Aniol writes Worship in Song for two reasons: first, to distinguish between secular music that might be appropriate for everyday use and sacred music, especially in the context of the church gathered; second, “Newer generations are increasingly rejecting conventional arguments for a conservative music philosophy.” Aniol believes it is time for another voice. This is one of the best books on the subject today.
Short-Term Missions by Brian M. Howell is a helpful work that would benefit anyone involved in short-term missions. It is not the final word on the subject but it is a good primer for additional dialogue and biblical evaluation into this recent phenomenon.
Alexander Strauch has written two overlapping books dealing with love and the body of Christ. Leading in Love approaches the issue of love within the body of Christ from the positive side and is based on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 while the second volume, If You Bite and Devour One Another, comes at the same subject from a more negative angle.
Our Hymn Writers and their Hymns by Faith Cook tells the stories behind our Christian hymns and the lives of the hymn writers. This is one of the finest books I have read on this topic.
And speaking of hymn writers, The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts written by Douglas Bond is part biography, part theology and part explanation of Watt’s lasting legacy as the “father of modern hymnology.” It is one of several books in a series edited by Steven Lawson entitled A Long Line of Godly Men Profiles.
In the realm of church history The Old Evangelicalism, Old Truth for a New Awakening, by Iain H. Murray is quite interesting. Murray deals with the time from the Puritans to Spurgeon, in which truth and holiness play a far more dominant role in the church. For Murray “old evangelicalism” is early Reformed Christianity, with the Puritans at the zenith. As such, this book is filled with many excellent quotes and insights from this particular era and theological emphasis.
Bible and Interpretation.
D. A. Carson wrote The God Who Is There with those who are little acquainted with the Bible in mind. His approach is to run through the Bible in fourteen chapters. Each chapter focuses on one or more passages from Scripture, unpacks it a little, and tries to build connections with the context, drawing the lines together to show how they converge in Jesus.
Jason De Rouchie and 16 other contributors have joined forces to write What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About, a truly unique and marvelous volume overviewing the message of the Old Testament (there is a companion New Testament Volume – What the New Testament Authors Really Cared About). This is the first volume I will pull from my shelves in any future study or teaching from the Old Testament.
The Message of the Old Testament contains transcripts of Mark Dever’s overview messages of all the Old Testament books. This work demonstrates how a preacher can skilfully teach the major themes of Scripture. This is a sequel to The Message of the New Testament.
Robert Thomas provides nearly everything the average student of the Bible needs to know about Bible translations in English in his well-written How to Choose a Bible Version.
Of all the hermeneutical issues facing the student of Scripture few are as thorny as unraveling the parables. As a result, many fanciful, incorrect and even detrimental interpretations of the parables have been rendered over the years. Stanley A. Ellisen seeks to correct these interpretations in Parables in the Eye of the Storm, the most helpful book I have read on Jesus’ parables.
Understanding Scripture, an Overview of the Bible’s Origin, Reliability, and Meaning, edited by Wayne Grudem, John Collins, and Thomas Schreiner is a helpful volume dealing with the primary issues related to God’s Word. Seventeen scholars team up to discuss interpreting, and reading Scripture, canonicity, reliability of manuscripts, archaeology, original languages, a survey of the history of salvation, and how the New Testament makes use of the Old Testament.
Thomas R. Schreiner in The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments systematically works his way through every book in the Bible, examining what it teaches as well as what each contributes to what he sees as the central theme of the Bible, the kingdom of God. I take some exceptions to Schreiner’s views but overall this volume is very helpful.
Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong was written by John MacArthur and staff members of the church he pastors. The volume offers a solid conservative biblical response to some of the hot button issues facing the church and the world today. Right Thinking is organized around four parts: entertainment and leisure, morality and ethics, politics and activism, and tragedy and suffering.
One of the strongest criticisms facing biblical Christianity today is that much of Scripture, especially Old Testament stories, is borrowed from ancient accounts found in pagan mythologies. Against the Gods, The Polemical Theology of the Old Testament, by John D. Currid disagrees with these scholars. He explores the precise relationship of the Old Testament to Near Eastern literature and concludes that the Old Testament authors did not borrow from ancient Near East legends but actually challenged these myths by revealing the true account and the truth about God.
Biblical Apologetics by Clifford B. McManis attempts to take presuppositional apologetics out of the realm of philosophy and to its rightful base – the Scriptures. This is an important contribution to the field of apologetics.
Bryan Coupland has written two very nice devotional studies geared for family instruction. In Growing a Wise Family he offers 100 devotionals from the Book of Proverbs. In Good News for the Family he does the same using the Book of Luke.
For adults you might want to consult Paul Tripp’s books, Whiter than Snow and A Shelter in the Time of Storm. These companion volumes are devotional meditations based on the Psalms. A Shelter in the Time of Storm draws all 52 meditations from Psalm 27 while Whiter Than Snow examines Psalm 51 in its 52 meditations. Tripp’s insights are valuable and as devotional material these books are outstanding.
John MacArthur’s overarching concern in Strange Fire is that the Pentecostal/charismatic movement’s commitment to subjectivism and experience dominates its belief in biblical revelation and is leading much of evangelicalism to embrace its philosophy. He attempts to correct this trend.
Wandering Stars author Keith Gibson has written a comprehensive, well documented and most helpful book detailing and correcting the modern prophetic movement. Much attention is given to Mike Bickle, Bob Jones, Rich Joyner and the so-called Kansas City Prophets, including the International House of Prayer ministry.
In Same Sex Controversy James White and Jeffery Niell address the common objections to the evangelical community’s traditional understanding of homosexuality. This book is a bit dated but it still deals well with the issues from a biblical perspective.
In barely over 100 pages of reading text, Jeremy Walker, the author of The New Calvinism Considered, has provided an excellent, irenic, but discerning, overview of New Calvinism, one of the key issues within evangelicalism today.
Engaging with Keller , Iain D. Campbell and William M. Schweitzer (editors), is written by six Reformed scholars who, while closely aligned with the popular pastor and author Timothy Keller, see the need to carefully critique some of his teachings. For those who want to take a closer look at Keller and his beliefs, this little volume is invaluable.
It’s OK to Say God, Prelude to a Constitutional Renaissance by Tad Armstrong. Armstrong believes that most people, including Christians, are ignorant of the actual rulings of the Supreme Court, especially as they pertain to our freedoms of religion and speech as expressed in the First and Fourteenth amendments of the Constitution. As a result, many not only believe but also spread half-truths and outright lies, causing unnecessary anxiety and distrust of our government. The only solution, Armstrong believes, is to become educated by reading the actual words of the Court’s rulings and correcting those who do not know the truth.
The thesis within Evangelical Feminism by Wayne Grudem is that evangelical feminism (egalitarianism) has become a new path by which evangelicals are being drawn into theological liberalism because it undermines the authority of Scripture. Grudem documents this thesis and gives careful exegesis on what the Bible teaches concerning the roles of men and women.