Making a List, Checking it Twice

Article by   December 2013
Here is a list of some notable and favourite books of 2013. We're not so ambitious to announce a 'book of the year' winner. These are books thrown together by our editors and some of our staff writers and contributors. It's a list that includes books we've either read, intend to read over the Christmas and Hogmanay 'holidays', or dream of the day that we might finally have the chance to read. They're mostly brand new books and we've attempted to keep the parameters within the 2013 window, though there are some small infractions! You can take the list as a recommendation, a help in how to cash in on an Amazon gift card you might receive in your stocking, or simply  as a peek into what fascinates us here at Ref21. Merry Christmas and have a blessed New Years!

Gabriel Fluhrer (General Editor and honourary member of the Duck Dynasty family - he eats what he kills).

Tim Keller, Judges For You. The second in a series of bible studies (the first was Galatians For You), Tim Keller offers his trademark clarity and probing insight into a Biblical text that, frankly, most of us find rather boring. He shows how there is only one hero in the book of Judges, and it's not Samson. It's God. This book can be used either as a devotional or a study guide. However you choose to use it, Judges For You will both challenge the reader and tirelessly point her to Christ.

Alexander Waugh, The House of Wittgenstein: A Family At War. A book about a family that survived two World Wars, counted two of the most accomplished composers of all time as regular house guests (Brahms and Mahler), enjoyed fantastic wealth, produced arguably the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century, and was torn apart by jealousy and death is sure to sell in Britain. Seriously, this book about the family from which philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein sprung reads more like a mystery novel than a historical text. Poignantly tragic, it details a clan at once gifted beyond imagination, yet just as fallen as the rest of us.

My book of the year is John Frame's Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Frame's books are, to put it mildly, intimidating - until you actually read them. His writing is disarmingly simple and can even conceal the fact that he is one of the most profound theological minds the church has produced in the past one hundred years. Simply put, no Christian thinker can afford to be without this comprehensive statement of truth by one of the towering theologians of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Mark Jones has been the Minister at Faith Vancouver since 2007 and is author of Antinomianism (P&R, 2013).

Rosaria Butterfield's Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey into Christian Faith (Crown & Covenant Pub, 2012) deeply influenced me in many ways. The story of her conversion from a former lesbian to a committed Christian shows that the gospel does indeed come in power. Just as instructive is her account of the time invested in her by an ordinary pastor, showing him to be a man who is, in my view, quite extraordinary - for such pastors are a rare breed, indeed! I cannot commend this book highly enough.

Another book that was very important for me as a pastor is Albert Martin's excellent work on the various challenges of the ministry, You Lift Me Up (Mentor, 2013). The various "Warnings" listed in the book against "Ministerial Backsliding," "Burnout," and "Credibility Washout" come from the pen of a seasoned pastor whose wisdom on these issues will - and I am not overstating the matter now - likely play a crucial role in saving the lives and ministries of many pastors who give this relatively short book a cover-to-cover reading each year. 

Paul Levy is Minster at International Presbyterian Church (IPC) in Ealing, London and, along with Carl Trueman, is one of our least controversial authors.

J.I. Packer, Taking God Seriously - Vital things We Need To Know (IVP, 2013). It's Packer at his best - doing doctrine and instructing the church to know the faith. The book contains eight chapters on Faith, Doctrine, Christian Unity, Repentance, Church, Holy Spirit, Baptism and Lord's Supper. Let me give you an example of how good it is: Packer says that "faith is a matter of knowing the facts of the gospel, welcoming the terms of the gospel, receiving the Christ of the gospel.'" (p.20) I wouldn't dot every 'i' and cross every 't' in the book, but it's an enormous encouragement to us to disciple people with good biblical doctrine. All Christians would do well to read this book, but particularly those in leadership.

Garry Williams, Lessons on Theology, Life, and the Church from Christians of the Past (Banner of Truth, 2013) is a collection of papers given over the years at different conferences. It's a fantastic read full of great insights into the familiar and the not so familiar.

Alec Motyer, Preaching?: Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching (Christian Focus, 2013). I find it hard to imagine a more exciting book on preaching. It's the distilled wisdom of a veteran Old Testament scholar, full of wisdom and great outlines on scripture. It's ideal for both regular preachers and those just starting out. It's one of those books that will spawn sermon series in the reader's mind.

Mark McDowell has been assistant to the ministers at First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC since 2012. He is book reviews editor for Ref 21.

Peter Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD (Princeton, 2012). This one makes the 2013 list (even though it's from 2012) because it's just over 800 pages long, which means it'll probably still be on the list next year!  Anything Brown writes demands to go top of the book list and this work is no exception. If you've read his classic on Augustine, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Phillip Cary, Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things you Don't Have to Do (Brazos, 2013). Cary is not only a fantastic writer but he is also a keen and wise guide through the terrain of popular and wobbly theological beliefs. The very design of this volume is meant to provoke and detach us from all the consumer-driven Christian literature out there. Alongside the equally excellent book by Anthony Esolen - Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI, 2010) - Cary's book offers a clear-sighted path for a more biblical Christian discipleship. Along the way, he lampoons theological silliness under chapter titles like 'Why You Don't Have to Hear God's Voice in Your Heart', 'Why You Don't Have to "Find God's Will For Your Life"', and 'Why You Don't Always Have to Experience Joy.'

Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries: A Novel (Little, Brown and Company, 2013). She's only gone and won the Man Booker prize and with her first novel - and she's 28 years old. This is another monster book, weighing in at over 800 pages but if you're into mysteries, this one is complex and intricate. Its context is the gold rush of late 19th century New Zealand. No doubt, a guilty pleasure, but Catton's book promises a deeper element, one that investigates the fortunes of those involved with the gold rush with the grand (and very un-Calvinistic) doctrine of destiny. I look forward to reading it
Stephen J. Nichols, Research Professor of Christianity and Culture, Lancaster Bible College, and Teaching Fellow at Ligonier Ministries. His most recent book is Peace: Classic Readings for Christmas (Reformation Trust, 2013)

Why We Belong:  Evangelical Unity and Denominational Diversity, edited by Chute, Morgan, and Peterson (Crossway, 2013). The essays in this book are thoughtful and helpful. Together, they remind us that we belong to our churches, to our denominations, and we also belong to each other.

Tom Nettles, Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (Christian Focus, 2013).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Theological Education at Finkenwalde: 1935-1937, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 14 (Fortress Press, 2013). The last volume to be published in the sixteen volume works of Bonhoeffer in English offers rather penetrating thoughts on seminary and theological education. I wish this were required reading for administration and faculty--and students.

Richard Phillips is Senior Minister of Second Presbyterian Church, Greenville, SC. Rev. Phillips is the author of numerous books, including Hebrews, which is part of the Reformed Expository Commentary series.

Richard B. Gaffin, By Faith, Not By Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation (P&R, 2013). Gaffin provides the most satisfying answer to recent questions surrounding the relationship between systematic theology and biblical theology, especially as those pertain to the New Perspective on Paul. Gaffin also explores the classic Calvinian emphasis on union with Christ at the heart of the gospel.

Mark Jones, Antinomianism: Reformed Theology's Unwelcomed Guest? (P&R, 2013). In fine evangelical fashion, our generation has fled one error into the arms of its opposite. Many of those who have flocked to Reformed theology in recent years were seeking asylum from the legalism of some form of fundamentalism. But instead of an actual Reformed version of the gospel, many are embracing a gospel-centeredness that leaves out a good deal of the gospel, most pointedly the part of the good news that delivers us from sin's power. Mark Jones provides a rich and must needed biblical critique of the creeping antinomianism in our midst.

Douglas Bond, The Thunder: A Novel of John Knox (P&R, 2012). Douglas Bond serves several of our needs today. He makes accurate Christian history accessible. He writes with substance and flair for our precious covenant youths. And he gives parents excellent Sabbath-afternoon reading so as to minister to our families between the morning and evening worship services

Derek Thomas is  Senior Minister at First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC. Dr. Thomas is also Professor of Systematic Theology at RTS Atlanta.

No Christmas is worth celebrating without something Welsh to brighten the dark days of December, and the obvious choice for a good read is Iain Murray's, The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Banner of Truth, 2013). Lloyd-Jones aficionados will have already ploughed through the massive two-volume biography that appeared more than twenty years ago. We needed smaller and more accessible works on the great man. This abridged volume could have been shorter - there remain some lengthy quotes that upset the flow, and we have (as might have been expected) a detailed account of the Stott/Packer debacle. Nevertheless, Murray's take on Lloyd-Jones is well known, and perhaps hagiographic; but as someone who once met "The Doctor" and introduced him to a large assembled gathering in Aberystwyth, Wales in 1975, he remains for me one of the most important figures of twentieth century evangelicalism. Reading this shortened biography brings into clear focus the fact that we have not seen his like since. 

Also on my Christmas reading list is Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, eds. James Merrick, Stephen M. Garrett (Zondervan, 2013). Contributors to the volume include Al Mohler (defending the inerrant point of view with vigor and unashamed tenacity), Peter Enns (the Bible wouldn't recognize what inerrancy means, point of view), Michael Bird (this is an American debate and we Anglophiles know better, point of view), Kevin Vanhoozer (bringing to bear a sophisticated, if somewhat elevated, presentation on Augustinian Inerrancy, point of view), and John Franke (We need to rethink the way we think about truth, point of view). Of course, I'm with Mohler, even more so having read the other four chapters. This is essential reading - perhaps the most important book to have emerged this year. The battle for the Bible is on - again.

And for a completely escapist read, I greatly enjoyed Steven Gubser's The Little Book of String Theory (Princeton University Press, 2010). Right, his worldview is something else, but his passion and communication skills are absorbing. Purporting to make advanced particle physics and string theory accessible, it succeeds - at least until chapter five when things got a little obscure. From a Christian point of view, how wonderful and extraordinary the universe is!

Carl Trueman earned his PhD at the finest ancient university in Scotland, Kings College, Aberdeen. He is the Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

Peter Ackroyd, The Tudors (Thomas Dunne Books, 2013). Ackroyd is a fine novelist and a good popular historian. It will be fascinating to see what he makes of England's most famous dynasty as it navigates England through the turmoil of Reformation. I have not read it yet, but have to assume that Ackroyd was born to write this book.

Frances Young, God's Presence: A Contemporary Recapitulation of Early Christianity (Cambridge, 2013). I have always enjoyed Young's scholarship and have been eagerly awaiting this volume, her published Bampton Lectures. She draws upon a lifetime of historical-theological study and uses patristic insights to address contemporary problems. In other words, a great mind of the present interacting with great minds of the past.

Leo Damrosch, Jonathan Swift (Yale, 2013). Who cannot love Swift? A master stylist and a ruthless satirist, he was the implacable foe of cant and corruption in the church of his time.  And, in the dying days of 2013, one can only wish we had him among us today, to expose the same in our own evangelical ranks. Damrosch's biography is scholarly, humane and sends the reader back to the great works with renewed enthusiasm.

Ian Rankin, Saints of the Shadow Bible (Orion Books, 2014). For those who love literary crime fiction, Rankin is right at the top, and the welcome return of Inspector Rebus in Standing in Another Man's Grave, is now followed up by this. What can I say? Rebus drinks, listens to Led Zeppelin, and has no respect for those who think they are his elders and betters. One for those 'guilty pleasure' moments, with a glass of cognac in hand and the sound of 'Physical Graffiti' playing on the stereo.

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