The exclamation mark after the number Ten should be noted. As you will shortly see, I failed miserably in my attempt to restrict the list to precisely ten books. Perhaps I should have titled this article, My Top Ten Categories of Books of the Year, insofar as I’ve included several volumes that tend to fall into the same genre. In any case, there are simply too many excellent works to exclude them because of the supposed sanctity of the number Ten. I’ll start with number ten and move to number one.
(10) Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine, by Gregg R. Allison (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 778pp. My good friend Gregg Allison has written a companion volume to Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology that traces the main themes of Christian theology through the centuries of church history. It is both deep and wide and will prove to be the standard evangelical contribution to this area of study for quite some time to come.
(9) G. K. Chesterton: A Biography, by Ian Ker (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 747pp., and Charles Hodge: Guardian of American Orthodoxy, by Paul C. Gutjahr (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 477pp. There’s a tie for number nine. These two excellent biographies are both published by Oxford and therefore are both incredibly expensive. But they’re worth it, especially the one on Hodge. This is in fact the first extensive biography of the great 19th century Princeton theologian, and was followed late this year by yet another written by Andrew Hoffecker (which I haven’t seen yet). When I attended Dallas Seminary in the 70’s, I read Hodge’s 3-volume Systematic Theology with a relish. I will always be indebted to his work.
(8) No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington, by Condoleezza Rice (New York City: Crown Publishers, 2011), 766pp. I’ve only started to dip into this massive volume, but I’ve come to greatly appreciate Condi Rice and only wish that she had entered the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
(7) God’s Grand Design: The Theological Vision of Jonathan Edwards, by Sean Michael Lucas (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 224pp. This is one of the most readable and enjoyable introductions to Edwards and his theology that you’ll find. However, I almost didn’t include it on my list, not for what it says but for what it omits. Lucas concedes “that there is a major gap in this book; there is not a significant direct reference to Edwards’s Freedom of the Will” (199). His reasons are two: First, he says “it is difficult to understand” (199), which it is. Second, he believes that it is not “very relevant to the Christian life” (199). “I know that others would disagree with me,” writes Lucas, ‘but there it is” (199). Yes, I profoundly disagree, as Freedom of the Will in many ways provides the foundation for our need of grace, explains the nature of conversion, and magnifies the sovereignty of God in our salvation. He also admits not including anything about The Life of David Brainerd. “Brainerd,” he says, “strikes me as overly morose and inward” (200). Yes, I agree, but it is still a powerful and important work. Read Lucas, but only after you’ve first read Freedom of the Will and The Life of David Brainerd!
Since I’m on Edwards, I’ll also include two more that I hope prove worthy of inclusion in a list like this. Jonathan Edwards’s Apologetic for the Great Awakening (with particular attention to Charles Chauncy’s Criticisms), by Robert Davis Smart (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011), 366pp., looks to be a winner, but I’ve only just started it. I’ve also only briefly glanced at John J. Bombaro’s Jonathan Edwards’s Vision of Reality: The Relationship of God to the World, Redemption History, and the Reprobate (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2012), 327pp.
(6) The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion, by Rodney Stark (New York City: Harper One, 2011), 506pp. This is the second year in a row that a book by Rodney Stark appears on my Top Ten list. Last year it was God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades, which will challenge every myth you’ve ever believed about the Crusades. In this volume, which is something of a sequel to his 1996 volume, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force, Stark conducts a fascinating survey of “selected important episodes and aspects of the Christian story through the centuries” and assesses them from “new perspectives” (2). He is quite clear that this “is not another general history of Christianity” (2), so don’t read it with expectations of finding a comprehensive treatment of church history. As always, Stark is controversial and challenging, but never dull.
(5) Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters, by N. T. Wright (New York City: Harper One, 2011), 240pp. What can one say about N. T. Wright? He is at one moment exhilarating and at another somewhat annoying. I found myself scratching my head at one moment and wanting to underline virtually every word and sentence the next. He is without question one of the most gifted writers in the Christian world. One has to be somewhat guarded in reading Wright, if only because of the unconscious tendency to embrace as true all he says simply because he says it so doggoned eloquently! In any case, this is an excellent book. It is something of a popularized merging of his massive and technical Jesus and the Victory of God and his smaller volume The Challenge of Jesus. In any case, get it. If you’ve never read Wright, this is a great place to start. You don’t have to agree with everything he says (I don’t) to profit immensely from his insights into to who Jesus is and what he did.
(4) Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, by Craig S. Keener, 2 volumes (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 1172pp. There’s no way to adequately explain the extent of information provided by Keener in these two huge volumes. He addresses virtually everything you might ever want to know about biblical miracles and their credibility. He responds to anti-supernatural critics and then proceeds to document hundreds of miracles throughout the modern world.
(3) What is the Mission of the Church: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission, by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 283pp. This one has certainly been controversial since its release. I’m not sure why, because I found it entirely persuasive and extremely helpful.
(2) Practicing Affirmation, by Sam Crabtree (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 176pp. I simply had to include this short yet eminently practical and pastoral book by Sam. This is a book everyone should read, and then practice. I have my staff reading it and we distributed copies to all those who lead our small groups at Bridgeway. In the long run, it may prove to be the most beneficial and edifying of all those listed here in 2011.
(1) The Theology of Jonathan Edwards, by Michael J. McClymond and Gerald R. McDermott (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 757pp. In case you don’t remember, or didn’t read last year’s list, I included this volume among those to look for in 2011. Its actual publication date is 2012, but I’ve got it and I’m already deep into what may well prove to be the finest single volume treatment of Edwards ever written. I’ve read virtually everything that both McDermott and McClymond have written about Edwards over the years, and it’s wonderful to see them collaborate on this incredible book. It’s big and expensive but worth every dollar!
Until next year,