by Sam Storms
The release of my top ten books for the year has now become an annual ritual. The decisions this year were especially difficult, given the number of high quality volumes that were published. A couple of things are different this year in that I’m including a book that was actually published late in 2009 but that I didn’t read until midway through 2010. It’s simply too good not to include. Also, I have four books that didn’t make the list but were so good that I decided to create an “Honorable Mention” list. Finally, there is one more book that will be published in early 2011 that I’m so confident will be among the best next year that I had to include it as “a preview of coming attractions”! So enjoy. Then go purchase. But be sure that you read! I’ll start at 10 and work down to number 1.
(10) Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, by John Piper (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2010), 222 pp.
It is a rare year indeed that a Piper book doesn’t make my list. Here is the endorsement that I wrote for Think:
“Those who are skittish when it comes to rigorous study, deep thinking, and theological precision have wanted us to believe that our problem is the mind, when in fact it’s the flesh. The problem isn’t knowledge, it’s pride. John Piper reminds us in this excellent book that what we need isn’t less thinking but clearer, biblical, and more God-centered thinking. Reading and thinking about Think will set you on your way to the renewal of the mind that the Scriptures insist is the catalyst for heartfelt joy and growth in godliness. I highly recommend it.”
(9) Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide, by Brett McCracken (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010), 255 pp.
I was at first a bit skeptical about what I’d find in this book, but was more than pleasantly surprised after reading it. In fact, I was profoundly impressed. If you are as sick of “cool” Christianity as I am, you can’t pass up on this one. Here is one statement from the author (a Wheaton grad, no less!) that should whet your appetite for more:
“If we are making the case that cool Christianity can be a good thing, we have to be clear that the ‘cool’ part of Christianity must exude out of the ‘Christ’ aspect of it, not from the stylish package or trendiness it might otherwise be associated with. In other words, an authentic Christian hipster community looks attractive and hip and cool, not because it tries to fashion itself in the world’s image, but because it does exactly the opposite – it fashions itself after Christ’s strange kingdom and his transforming gospel for a world that desperately needs it” (209).
(8) Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God, by Paul Copan (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010), 252 pp.
Perhaps the best way to explain what Copan’s book is about is to quote for you something written by Richard Dawkins, perhaps the most blasphemous among the new atheists who burst on the scene a few years ago. In his book, The God Delusion, he writes: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving, control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capricious malevolent bully” (31).
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard several of those adjectives Dawkins uses to blaspheme God; I’m sure you get his point. Copan’s excellent book is a response to these accusations as he addresses such topics as the nature of Old Testament ethics, divine jealousy, kosher laws, the Old Testament’s attitude toward women and slavery, polygamy, and the killing of the Canaanites, just to mention a few. You don’t need to agree with everything Copan says to learn greatly from his insights into such matters.
(7) God’s Battalions: the Case for the Crusades, by Rodney Stark (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009), 276 pp.
OK, here’s the book that actually came out in 2009. To be brief, Stark dismantles the long-held myth that “during the Crusades, an expansionist, imperialistic Christendom brutalized, looted, and colonized a tolerant and peaceful Islam” (8). Nothing, notes Stark, could be further from the truth. There’s no other way to say it: this superb historical treatment will challenge and, dare I say, change virtually everything you ever read or heard about the Crusades. It is beautifully written, meticulously researched, and persuasive.
Stark concludes his book with this brief summation: “The Crusades were not unprovoked. They were not the first round of European colonialism. They were not conducted for land, loot, or converts. The crusaders were not barbarians who victimized the cultivated Muslims. They sincerely believed that they served in God’s battalions” (248).
(6) 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law, by Thomas R. Schreiner (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2010), 256 pp., and 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible, by Robert L. Plummer (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2010), 347 pp.
These two volumes tied for number 6! They are part of what promises to be an excellent series of “40 Question” books.
(5) To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, by James Davison Hunter (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 358 pp.
Hunter’s book was surely one of the more controversial volumes published this year and also one of the more demanding. It’s not an easy read, but is well worth the investment of your time and energy. He challenges long-held views on how Christians should engage culture and what we might expect in terms of bringing about lasting change. Just to whet your appetite, consider this one statement:
“Yet the deepest and most enduring forms of cultural change nearly always occurs from the ‘top down.’ In other words, the work of world-making and world-changing are, by and large, the work of elites: gatekeepers who provide creative direction and management within spheres of social life. Even where the impetus for change draws from popular agitation, it does not gain traction until it is embraced and propagated by elites” (41). Continue Reading →