I’m very late this year in compiling my list of the top books I read or reviewed this past year. We are expecting another baby very soon and I’m busy preparing for our soon arrival. Still I want to post this list of the best books I read or reviewed in 2013, as it will be the fifth year in a row I produce such a post. Better late than never!
The following titles represent the very best of the books I read or reviewed in 2013, with one exception: Greg Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology (Baker Academic). Even though I published my review of that title in 2013, I had already put it on last year’s list (as I read the majority of its 1100 pages in 2012). With that important caveat, I want to put forth the following books for your consideration.
Bob’s 10 Best:
Best “Theology” book — Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants by Peter J. Gentry, Stephen J. Wellum (Crossway). This book was a joy to read. Any work that seriously aims to present a middle road between covenant theology and dispensationalism is intriguing; and this work actually does offer a way through the impasse, in my opinion. While new covenant theology, (or “progressive covenantalism” as the authors prefer) doesn’t answer every question for me, it is a viable alternative in light of what to me are clear deficiencies of both major opposing views. The sweep of this book is grand, and I appreciated the attempt to sketch out the contours of a whole-Bible biblical theology. The exegetical work provided by Peter Gentry is excellent. No matter where you stand on the question of competing theologies, this book will help in thinking through how your system compares to opposing views. This work will truly advance the conversation and promises to be a must-have volume for years to come. For more on this book, see this excerpt or read Jason DeRouchie’s excellent review of the book. My review is forthcoming.
Honorable Mention — The Doctrine of Scripture: As It Relates to the Transmission and Preservation of the Text by Jason Harris (InFocus Ministries). This book has a special place in my heart for a variety of reasons. I was privileged to write the foreword, but the most significant reason that I like this book is its careful treatment of a thorny issue: KJV Onlyism. I spent many years confused by the claims of KJV Onlyism and this book takes us carefully through Scripture’s own statements about inspiration and preservation to show just how wrong-headed the KJV Only movement is. Unlike many books in this vein, this work is irenic and charitable, and manages to disarm the reader by the attention to significant distinctions in KJV Onlyism, not always appreciated by those outside the movement. This book focuses on Scripture’s own doctrine of Scripture, and that focus will be appreciated by those on all sides of the issue. Read my review for more on this book. Check out my page of resources on the KJV-only debate, as well as my team blog at KJVOnlyDebate.com.
Best “Commentary & Reference” book — What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Jesus’ Bible edited by Jason DeRouchie (Kregel Academic). This reference work is dear to my heart. I spent several years under the teaching of Jason DeRouchie — not as a college or seminary student, but as a member of his SS class in Bethlehem Baptist Church. The passion Jason has for the things of God is and his love for the Old Testament is contagious. In this work, he brings together other conservative evangelical scholars who share a high regard for the Old Testament and its gospel message. Each chapter gives an overview of one of the books of the Hebrew Bible, in the order of the Hebrew canon. The Christ-centered focus of the book and its aim to be practical and informative for the laymen, make it an attractive resource for churches, small groups, and Sunday Schools. Read my review for more on this book.
Best “General Christian Interest” book — Discovering the Lost City of Sodom by Steven Collins and Latayne Scott (Howard Books). This was a fascinating account of an archaeological discovery that may set the record straight on the biblical city of Sodom. Dr. Collins recounts how his study of the Bible’s account of Sodom, coupled with his intimate acquaintance with the features of the Levant (the archaeological term for Palestine), led him to investigate the north shore of the Dead Sea as the possible location of “the cities of the plain,” chief of which was Sodom. Collins’ discoveries and research paint a compelling picture. What makes it all the more compelling is how it resists fitting neatly into a predetermined chronology, and Collins takes pains to wrestle with the question of the dating of the accounts in Genesis. This was my first audio-book review, and I thoroughly enjoyed the christianaudio production of this book. Read my review for more on this book.
Honorable Mention — The Christian World of the Hobbit by Devin Brown (Abingdon Press). I’ve always loved J.R.R. Tolkien, and like many, my introduction to the land of Middle-earth was The Hobbit. In this book, Devin Brown highlights the Christian underpinnings of Tolkien’s work. He finds clues in the text itself that reveal the world-view of Tolkien. The work has a feel almost of a mystery, as Brown includes you in the search for textual clues. And the result is a devotional enjoyment of the true Christian view that Tolkien’s work embodies. Read my review for more on this book.
Best “Christian Living” book — Stop Asking Jesus into your Heart by J.D. Greear (B&H Publishing). This is one of the most important books I read last year. I really need to review this title, as it is so helpful. While the title is provocative, the book explores the very real problem of a lack of assurance in young Christians. Part of the problem stems from an overuse of the “ask Jesus into your heart” metaphor, and a less than full understanding of the nature of conversion. Greear has a needed balance on this point, as he doesn’t blast people who still make much of this metaphor. He instead labors to carefully teach and nuance our understanding of the Bible’s teaching on conversion and assurance of salvation. He has an eye out for those harmed by legalism in all its forms, and his book encourages a renewed focus on the gospel and its impact on all of life. For more on this book, see Trevin Wax’s interview of the author. My review is forthcoming.
Best “Missions & Church Life” book — The Great Evangelical Recession by John S. Dickerson (Baker). This was one of the more engaging reads. Dickerson takes us on a tour of the future of the church, he explores historical developments and sociological research on the true nature of our problems. He sees a big recession on the horizon, as a shortage of funds and a smaller, marginalized evangelical church combine to present new challenges to churches. While his view of the problem is based in his experience in journalism, his take on the right blueprint for the Church is drawn from his reflection on the Bible, and experience as a lead pastor. The solution is as simple as discipleship and lay-ministry, but it requires church leaders to be brave enough to rethink their time-honored methods of operation to prepare for the challenges of the 21st century and beyond. Read my review for more on this book.
Best “Church History & Biography — The First Thanksgiving by Robert Tracy McKenzie (IVP). I have always loved Thanksgiving, as I am related to John and Priscilla Alden, notable voaygers on The Mayflower. This title provides a fresh look from a Christian historian on the real story of “the first thanksgiving.” His findings are surprising to those who have learned the Sunday School version of the tale. And while the true account may jar those used to the easy version, the author helps us think through how Christians should read and learn from history. The faith of the Pilgrims remains praiseworthy, and our appreciation of the Plymouth colony only grows. I particularly enjoyed learning of other occasions in the colony where God’s hand clearly was at work in a wonderful way. Read my review for more on this book.
Best “Childrens & Family” book — Anselm of Canterbury by Simonetta Carr (Reformation Heritage). This is another beautiful book highlighting the life story of an important figure from church history. I enjoyed learning more of the life and teaching of St. Anselm. His explication of the substitutionary view of the atonement continues to make an important contribution to theology today. This book will encourage your children to appreciate history, and see themselves in a long line of Christians down through the ages. Read my review for more on this book.
Best “Fiction” book — Blood and Bone by Don Hoesel (Bethany House). The Elisha’s Bones series from Don Hoesel came to a thrilling conclusion with this title. In a similar vein as A Skeleton in God’s Closet from Paul Maier, this series follows the adventures of an archaeologist who is running headlong into an encounter with the power of God. This book is fast-paced and wide-ranging. And the finale is satisfying yet unpredictable. If you haven’t picked up any of the books in this trilogy, be sure to carve out enough time in your schedule when you do, as you’ll want to do little else than devour these fantastic stories. Read my review for more on this book.
All the Rest:
In 2013, I reviewed 28 books — bringing the total of my book and media reviews to 167 from more than 35 different publishers. You can see all my reviews listed here. I also finished 52 books, and you can see that list at Goodreads.
For my previous “Bob’s Best Books” lists, see below.