(December 2009/January 2010 – Volume 15, Issue 7)
A little over five years ago I wrote two papers identifying my favorite books in various categories. At this time I want to supplement that list for a couple of reasons. First, as readers of my articles and book reviews know, Think on These Things is largely a discernment ministry and, as such, many of our reviews are of a warning nature. Some have even asked if I am in agreement with any book. My standard answer is that I certainly am, as long as, and to the extent that, the book is faithful to Scripture. Realizing that all human efforts fall short at some point, it is important that we endeavor to be Bereans and examine books, not for the purpose of criticism, but for their compliance to the revealed Word of God. With that in mind, listed below are numerous books that, while I do not endorse everything contained in them, I believe meet the test of Scripture. Secondly, having read approximately 300 books since “My Favorite Books, Part 2” I happily want to recommend many new favorites to those who love good Christian literature. For a fuller review of each of these books see our website at www.svchapel.org/resources/book-reviews. Keeping in mind that this list represents only books that I have read in the last five years, here are some of the best:
In Justification and Regeneration, Charles Leiter offers a careful and most helpful treatise of these two great soteriological doctrines.
Dispensationalism, Tomorrow & Beyond, Chris Cone, Gen Ed, contains chapters by seventeen authors dealing with some of the latest issues relevant to dispensationalism.
Over fifty years ago, H. Richard Niebuhr wrote his still influential book Christ and Culture. D. A. Carson updates the debate in his Christ and Culture Revisited. I am not completely satisfied with Carson’s work but given the heated discussion about the Christian and culture, this would be a good book to sharpen our focus.
The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views, editedby James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, places on the table the most prominent views in vogue today on the doctrine of the atonement.
Pierced for Our Transgressions, written by Steve Jeffery and two other theologians, gives a powerful defense of penal substitution.
The Cross of Christ is very likely John R. W. Stott’s finest written contribution to the church as he masterfully unfolds the work of Christ on the Cross.
On the subject of the Trinity, Bruce Ware’s Father, Son and Holy Spirit would be hard to beat, both theologically and practically.
Above All Earthly Powers is the final book (of four) in David Wells’ practical theology series. While I did not appreciate this one as much as the other three, it was still well worth reading.
Understanding End Time Prophecies by Paul Benware is the go-to book for those desiring to study and/or teach biblical prophecy from a dispensational position.
With all the attention being given today to the New Perspective and the writings of N. T. Wright, Justification and the New Perspective on Paul by Guy Prentiss Waters is a must read for pastors and serious Bible students.
The Truth War is vintage John MacArthur and reminds us that God’s people must always “earnestly contend for the faith.” Fool’s Gold, edited by MacArthur but mostly written by professors at The Master’s Seminary, would be a good partner.
Sinners in the Hands of a Good God by David Clotfelter deals with tough subjects such as the wrath of God, soteriological issues, and the Calvinistic/Arminian debate, with thoroughness.
Prolegomena by Chris Cone presents the presuppositions, definitions and framework for a dispensational approach to theology, including much discussion about the historical-grammatical method of hermeneutics.
A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Islam written by Patrick Sookhdeo is a handy reference on Muslims beliefs and practices.
Jerry Bridges is always a pleasure to read. His The Joy of Fearing God is no exception.
Humility: True Greatness is written with humor, passion and transparency by C.J. Mahaney.
War of Words is Paul Tripp’s excellent study of the use and misuse of speech from a solid biblical perspective.
Christless Christianity by Michael Horton has made quite a stir within evangelicalism. While not without some flaws, this is a volume to ponder.
John MacArthur’s A Tale of Two Sons provides a readable and thoroughly biblical exposition of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
In a mere sixty pages, Renald Showers has provided the people of God with one of the finest treatments available on Spiritual Gifts.
For a great study on anger, I would recommend Uprooting Anger by Robert D. Jones; for our liberties in Christ try Who Are You to Judge? by David Swavely. Depression, a Stubborn Darkness by Ed Welch offers good insight and help for those dealing with depression.
Living a Life of Hope by Nathan Busenitz is one of the few books written on hope and it is a excellent one.
Putting the Pieces Back Together addresses important issues that face those whose worlds are falling apart. With a couple of caveats, I found this to be a fine source for those who are hurting.
Everyone who loves the Scottish preacher Robert Murray M’Cheyne will want to read his life story, as found in Constrained by His Love written by L. J. Van Valen. On the other hand, A Passion for God by Lyle Dorsett will knock A. W. Tozer off his pedestal to some degree, so beware. John Owen, the Man and His Theology, edited by Robert W. Oliver, is a good beginning on the life and ministry of this great reformed theologian. Man of Granite by Eric Russell will open the door to J. C. Ryle’s life.
Steven Turner has written Amazing Grace which tells not only the life story of John Newton but the history of his most famous hymn; very interesting.
You may have never heard of R. Robert Reid Kalley, an obscure missionary to both Madeira and Brazil , but he played an important role in missions to both of these countries. You will find his story in The Wolf from Scotland by William B. Forsyth.
Day One Publications has come out with a most interesting combination of biographies and travel guides. These attractive books give an overview of a famous Christian’s life (e.g., William Cowper, Charles Spurgeon, John Bunyan, C. S. Lewis, and Robert Murray M’Cheyne) and then provide maps, pictures, and information for the traveler. The books are entitled Travel with…
And if you get tired of reading about Christian leaders, try the very enjoyable Andrew Jackson by Robert V. Remini.
CHURCH/CHURCH HISTORY and MINISTRY
Mark Dever has written some excellent books on the church including The Deliberate Church and What is a Healthy Church? (an abridgement of his larger work Nine Marks of a Healthy Church). He has also written The Message of the New Testament which is 28 of his transcribed sermons, one on each of the books of the New Testament plus an overview sermon. This is a good source for private study and a model for preachers and teachers.
A most practical book for church leaders would be Meetings That Work by Alexander Strauch aimed at elders of local churches.
On the Emergent church, check out D.A. Carson’s Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church and Faith Undone by Roger Oakland. For a good analysis of Rich Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life see Bob DeWaay’s Redefining Christianity.
Helpful church history books include: A Concise History of Christian Thought by Tony Lane, which is arranged according to individuals, examining their views and influence. On the history of fundamentalism, George Marsden has written both Understanding Fundamentalism and Fundamentalism and the American Culture. The History of Evangelicalism series by InterVarsity Press has now published three volumes in its planned five. These works cover evangelicalism from Edwards to Stott. For a fun read try The Burned-Over District by Whitney Cross describing church happenings in New York State during the middle of the nineteenth century.
Some very helpful books on apologetics have been making the rounds:
While I take exception with William Lane Craig’s support of the Big Bang Theory and a relatively soft understanding of biblical inspiration, his A Reasonable Faith is an excellent volume on evidential apologetics.
Timothy Keller is all the rage and his The Reason for God describes his approach to handling the most pressing questions being asked today, especially by young adults. A bit of discernment will be necessary but Keller has a lot to offer.
Lee Strobel’s twin works A Case for Christ and A Case for the Real Jesus are both easy reads but provide most helpful substance. These might be the first two books I would hand people in my church struggling with intellectual issues related to Christianity.
Atheism Remix by R. Albert Mohler is a fine introduction to the so-called New Atheism of skeptics such has Richard Dawkins.
Nancy Percy follows in the tradition of her mentor Francis Schaeffer in Total Truth. While I struggle with her understanding of a couple of issues such as the Cultural Mandate, she does a great job of tracing the historical and philosophical underpinnings of Western culture as we experience it today.
Of a different nature is Michael Haykin’s Defence of the Truth which introduces the reader to some of the early Christian defenders of the faith and, at the same time, details the formal recognition of many essential doctrines we hold dear today.
If you are a fan of daily devotionals I would encourage you to look at some meatier works such as these:
A Word for the Day. J. D. Watson presents and develops a New Testament Greek word each day for meditation.
For the Love of God by D. A. Carson is a two-volume, two year devotional study through the entire Bible based on a program established by Robert Murray M’Cheyne.
Hold Your Course is twenty-two daily readings from the book of Colossians written by Roger Ellsworth. You will profit from this study.
Scripture Alone by R. C Sproul is a biblical and philosophical defense of the inerrancy and authority of the Word of God.
The English Standard Version of the Bible is an excellent translation that deserves a place at the table for any serious student of Scripture. For a defense of the “essentially literal” approach to biblical translation in general and the ESV in particular, read Translating Truth by Wayne Grudem, Leland Ryken and three other scholars.
The Story of Joseph and Judah is the first in a planned series entitled The Masterpiece Study Series. When completed, the ten volumes will cover a number of major Old Testament characters, as well as the authors of the four Gospels. Written by Warren Gage and Christopher Barber, this is a most helpful tool for individuals and teachers.
While not a direct study of Scripture, Paul L. Maier has done the Bible student a great service in condensing the writing of Josephus into workable form in his Josephus, the Essential Works.
The Excellent Wife, a Biblical Perspective by Martha Peace is now in an expanded version. This book carefully explores the biblical role of Christian women.
When Sinners Say I Do is Dave Harvey’s humorous, practical, honest and scriptural book based on the premise that what we believe about God determines the quality of our marriage.
I’m not reviewing any fictional books this time but I did want to leave you with this marvelous thought from Louis L’Amour concerning the reading of fiction and history.
From the volume The Sackett Companion:
“It has often been said that we have but one life to live; that is nonsense. If one reads fiction he or she can live a thousand lives, in many parts of the world or in outer space. One can cross a desert, climb the Himalayas, or experience the agony of defeat, the triumph of victory, the pangs of starvation, or the choking thirst of the desert, all while safely at home…Seated in my library I live in a Time Machine. In an instant I can be transmitted to any era of history, any part of the world, even to outer space. Often I am asked in what period of history I would have preferred to live, and I wonder that they do not see, for I have lived in them all. I have listened to Buddha speak, I have marched with Alexander, sailed with the Vikings, or in their double canoes with the Polynesians. I have been at the courts of Queen Elizabeth and Louis the XIV; I have explored the West with Jedediah Smith and Jim Bridger; I have been a friend to Captain Nemo and have sailed with Captain Bligh on the Bounty. I have walked in the agora with Socrates and Plato, and listened to Jesus deliver the Sermon on the Mount. Above all, and the most remarkable thing, I can do it all again, at any moment of history, for at no other time have books been so readily available, in the book stores, in the public libraries, and in the home.”