Another year has passed and that means it is time to post my “Bob’s best books” list! This will be my sixth annual post of listing the top books I read or reviewed in the past year.
The following titles represent the very best of the books I read or reviewed in 2014. If you are looking for some books worth reading this year, I hope you’ll give these titles some serious consideration.
Bob’s 10 Best:
Best “Theology” book — God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth by G.K. Beale and Mitchell Kim (IVP). This was the book I was most eager to read. G.K. Beale’s larger work, The Temple and the Church’s Mission (IVP) is perhaps the best biblical theology title ever written. It certainly is a paradigm-shifting, transformative work that unpacks the significance of the temple theme from Genesis all the way to Revelation. The one draw-back of that title is its headiness. It is scholarly to the extreme and requires a firm mind and lots of effort to wade through the work and unearth its many treasures. Mitchell Kim has done us all a favor in taking Beale’s excellent work and bringing it down to the bottom shelf where everyone can enjoy it. With Beale as co-author, the work is not only simplified and clarified, it is also updated. The result is the best takeaway that biblical theology can offer – a pastoral application of the temple theme for Christians here and now. This is now my go-to book to recommend and encourage anyone interested in biblical theology to read. It is accessible and truly life-changing. I hope this book receives as eager a reception as its predecessor did, and I trust it may make an even more lasting impact. Read my full review for more on this book.
Best “Commentary & Reference” book — Judges for You by Tim Keller (The Good Book Company). Any book by Tim Keller is worth reading. This commentary is no exception. He has a gift for knowing where people struggle with something, and where it is that careful explanation will especially help. Judges is a book that is easily “out-of-touch” for modern Christians. And more, it provides some jarring contrasts with our modern sensibilities and the acts of genocide that are found there. Keller masterfully handles all this while emphasizing the Gospel message found in Judges. He applies the text and explains it, and provides helpful discussion and study questions. The book would be great for a small group study. Read my full review for more on this great commentary.
Best “General Christian Interest” book — The Pastor’s Kid by Barnabus Piper (David C. Cook /ChristianAudio). I was interested in this book for two reasons. First, I, myself, and a pastor’s kid. My dad was an assistant pastor, a pastor, then an assistant pastor again, and finally a missionary. Don’t know what kind of acronym that gives me! Second, I was a member at John Piper’s church for a few years, and Barnabus is one of his sons. The book did not disappoint. Piper had helpful advice for both the PK trying to recover from his experience, and the pastor in the midst of rearing a PK. Piper interviewed several pastors kids for his book, and is honest about the fact that some have jettisoned the faith altogether. Piper has not, but he opens up about the struggles unique to a pastor’s kid. What I found most helpful was his grace-centered thoughts on the dangers of legalism. My review of this title will be forthcoming.
Honorable Mention — The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield (Crown and Covenant / ChristianAudio). I had heard a lot about this book, and was eager to listen to the author read her own story on the ChristianAudio production of this work. It did not disappoint. The author’s story of conversion of a lesbian chair of women’s studies at Syracuse University into an evangelical Christian who went on to marry a Reformed pastor. Personal testimonies are always encouraging but this tale has a caution as well. She challenges the church to be more loving and welcoming to homosexuals, and to recognize where we needlessly offend. Read my review for more on this fascinating book.
Best “Christian Living” book — Isaiah by the Day by Alec Motyer (Christian Focus). I may be stretching this category a bit, but this devotional from Alec Motyer is perfect for anyone. The book includes helpful devotional readings from the book of Isaiah. The text is a fresh translation by the author, complete with textual footnotes that help clarify the meaning of the original Hebrew. Each reading is situated within the scope and flow of the book as a whole, and it is this outline and care for context that I found so helpful. With such a large book as Isaiah, it is easy to get lost, as it were. Motyer has lived and breathed Isaiah for a good portion of his teaching ministry. And this is no stale study, the devotional comments that conclude each reading apply the text to our contemporary situation. Over and again I was blessed, first by Isaiah and then by the insights Motyer pulled from the text. Don’t look for a critical breaking-apart of this magisterial book, Motyer’s portrayal illustrates why we can view the entire book as written by a single Isaiah. In all, this scholarly book would make for a very helpful devotional for anyone. My full review will be forthcoming, but for now enjoy a sample reading in this post.
Best “Missions & Church Life” book — Can We Still Believe the Bible? by Craig Blomberg (Brazos Press). I wasn’t sure what to expect from this title. The full title made me interested in it, Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions. Today there are certainly a lot of “contemporary questions” and no shortage of critics who malign the uniqueness and validity of Scripture. Additionally, not a few evangelical scholars are quick to throw bones to today’s critics as more and more they move further from historic biblical orthodoxy. Blomberg’s interaction with common objections to Christianity is refreshing. He writes from a clear stance of faith. And while at times he does add nuance and demur from a typical enangelical position, for the most part he brings the best of evangelical scholarship to bear on the thorniest problems, defending the canonicity of the NT, the authenticity of the biblical text, a conservative position on inerrancy and more. There will be areas where not everyone will agree with him, but the end product is incredibly helpful by almost any measure. My review is forthcoming. For more on this title, check out Michael Kruger’s helpful review.
Best “Church History & Biography” book — Basil of Ceasarea by Marvin Jones (Christian Focus). I enjoy learning about church history and this book introduced me to Basil. He lived and ministered when the biblical doctrine of the trinity was under attack from all sides. Basil’s writings helped solidify the orthodox position. He also critiqued the practice of how monks kept their order in his day. Over time his views changed as he read and studied more, and in time his ministry and writings ended up impacting the church in significant ways. Chances are you don’t know much about him, and my brief summary here only scratches the surface. Pick up this title to learn more of the man, Basil, and read my review for more on this book.
Best “Childrens & Family” book — Jonathan Edwards by Simonetta Carr (Reformation Heritage). Almost every year I have a book by Simonetta Carr on my list. She has a gift for bringing the lives of significant figures from church history to life for children. Her Christian Biographies for Young Readers series is a beautiful set to own, thanks to the brilliant illustrations. It is also perhaps the best series for teaching children to respect and learn from church history. Jonathan Edwards is a favorite of mine, and this account of his life brings out many details that adults may be quick to overlook, such as Edwards’ careful description of the flying spider and his allowing his ten year old son to travel in the Indian territory as a junior missionary. Like other titles in this series, intriguing facts, maps, pictures and other sidebars abound in this book, all the more to help engage and educate the readers. Read my review for more on this book.
Best “Fiction” book — A Draw of Kings by Patrick Carr (Bethany House). I enjoy well-written fiction. Clean fantasy is my favorite genre. So I was elated to find this magnificent series by Patrick Carr. This book is the thrilling conclusion of his “The Staff and The Sword” trilogy. The world created in this series includes a kingdom, a magesterial church, and a heresy which turns out to be more orthodox than it seemed. Oh, and it includes another sector of society, those gifted with the ability to cast lots. An unlikely hero and an impossible confontation come together in the culmination of this epic tale. I compare Carr with Stephen Lawhead or Terry Brooks. I was truly impressed and caught up in the tales until I finished all three. If you’re looking for a great new series to try this year, look no further than this set. Read my review for more.
Honorable Mention — The Advocate by Randy Singer (Tyndale House / ChristianAudio). This was a very long book but a fascinating piece of historical fiction. The life of Theophilus is imagined and his 1st Century world described in a masterful way. Theophilus is an advocate, and studied under Seneca, but found himself in the service of Pontius Pilate. The book spends a lot of time developing the main character and pushing forward a romance, and at first Christianity is only a tangential concern. But as the character’s life progresses, in time he is called to put faith in Jesus Christ. The tale is much more complicated than that, there is a complicated love triangle, gladiators and conspircies, and two maniacal emperors. The tale becomes engrossing the longer it goes and by the end you are loathe to leave Theophilus behind. I was completely impressed by this story and hope to sample other works from this author. My review is forthcoming.
All the Rest:
This year was busier than most, and I only managed to read 35 books and review 20. My total of book and media reviews is now 187 from more than 35 different publishers. You can see all my reviews listed here. If you’re interested in seeing all of the other books I read this year, you can check out that list at Goodreads.
For my previous “Bob’s Best Books” lists, see below.