New & Noteworthy Books in 2015

Mark McDowell
We're on the eve of a new year and I thought it might be fun to post a list of books to look out for in the upcoming year. Undoubtedly my doing so is dabbling in the realm of wishful thinking, especially since there are plenty of books that I have yet to read from 2014. Nevertheless, I offer you, the reader, an opportunity to see some books that I think will be worthwhile and significant in 2015. Where I had opportunity, I was able to inquire with some of the authors about their respective books. So, if there happens to be some credit left on those amazon gift cards received from loved ones over the holidays, here are some tempting suggestions to help populate your book shelves: 

Michael Allen & Scott Swain, Reformed Catholicity (Baker, January)

Swain and Allen continue the recent push for retrieving the tradition as a way of renewing contemporary theology. This book stands out because it's written by two Reformed theologians who are plumbing the depths of their own theological tradition, appealing to principles drawn specifically from Reformed theological prolegomena and ecclesiology to show a Protestant account of how tradition operates in our theology. This is a bold but welcome move - to enter in to a conversation inhabited largely by Roman Catholics, who have been labouring in this field for years. Do Protestants have an underdetermined account of tradition based on their insistence on sola Scriptura, leaving them subscribing to something like solo Scriptura? Enter Allen and Swain...

Carl Trueman, Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom (Crossway, February)

Crossway's series, Theologians on the Christian Life, has not disappointed. Matching some of the Church's most beloved saints with some of today's best evangelical writers, the series puts forth books that both edify and inform. 2015 promises John Bolt on Bavinck, Bray on Augustine, Haykin and Matthew Barrett on Owen, and Trueman on Luther. It's difficult to pick just one of them, and while I'm giving Trueman on Luther the nod, all four books have to be added to the library. Here's what Trueman says about his own volume and it's hard not to get a little bit excited about what's in store:

'This is the book I have always wanted to write: a study of Martin Luther's theology which is connected directly to his life as a Christian and his calling as a pastor. Personally, I owe as much to Luther as to any historical Christian figure. Further, I have become increasingly irritated in recent years with the way his name is bandied about by people who clearly do not know who or what they are talking about. So much of the pop-evangelical Luther is based on the selective reading of a few texts which actually presents a picture of the Reformed which I do not think Dr Martin himself would recognise. Thus, I wanted to correct some of the caricatures of him in evangelical circles and offer him as a model of pastoral ministry and of Christian discipleship to the current generation. Was he perfect and should we follow him in every detail? Absolutely not. His errors, when he made them, were often egregious. But his focus on Word and sacrament is a real antidote to the mega-conference, Top Men and brand-dominated culture which has unfortunately swept across conservative evangelicalism in the last decade'.

Todd Billings, Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ (Baker, February)

Todd Billings is a young theologian who has written a number of very important books in recent years. At the age of 39, however, Billings was diagnosed with a rare form of incurable cancer. With the kind of rich theological exposition that's become his trademark, Billings puts his theology to work, asking the tough questions in the face of deep physical and spiritual trials. Avoiding the thin and saccharine theology that comes all too easily from evangelicals in times of difficulty, Billings gives us a heartfelt reflection that takes the depths of suffering seriously, but even more so, Rejoicing in Lament looks to the expansive comfort and peace that can only be found in the presence of the Suffering Saviour. 

Moot Papers.jpg
Keith Clements, The Moot Papers: Faith, Freedom and Society 1938-1944 (T&T Clark, February)

Ok, I'll be honest, this is a stretch. The hardback, all 750 pages of it, is being advertised at the lofty price of $250. But, if you're interested in what happens when a group of intellectuals - a group that included John Baillie, Alec Vidler, Donald Mackinnon and T.S. Eliot, with many others besides - get together to discuss how religion can influence and shape modern society, then look no further. These days we have the elephant room and some other popular versions of chat-style conferences on which to eavesdrop. Here we have the opportunity to listen in on some incredible conversations from luminaries at a time when Britain faced, arguably, unprecedented cultural upheaval.  

Michael Reeves, Rejoicing in Christ (IVP, March)

Reeves has already shown how adept he is at taking difficult doctrines and making them clear and accessible. His Delighting in the Trinity is a marvelous treatment of the doctrine of God and I'm expecting much of the same with his new book on Jesus Christ. 

Anthony Esolen, Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy the Humanity of Your Child (ISI, May)

Esolen has been providing some of the most insightful theological and cultural commentary for years. He's the senior editor of Touchstone Magazine, in which he regularly contributes - get a subscription (hint hint). Life Under Compulsion is the follow up to Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, which was a masterful exploration of how our everyday habits, when not checked by biblical practices, hinder the growth of our children (not to mention their parents!). If Life Under Compulsion is anything like its predecessor, it will jar the reader out of complacency regarding the formation of the imaginations, affections and habits of our children. Esolen is a classicist so you'll hear distinct voices brought into dialogue on current issues to encourage us how to raise children in the midst of aggressive cultural and technological pressures. The aim, by appealing to a lost wisdom, is to help parents help their children, and maybe, just maybe, the grownups might get sorted out, too.

Gathercole Substitution.jpg
Simon Gathercole, Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul (Baker, May)

Gathercole addresses objections against substitutionary and representative understandings of the atonement in an exegetical key. He attempts to capture the distinctive texture of Paul's understanding of Christ's death to demonstrate that substitution is a central feature of the Gospel. This may not sound too earth-shattering to readers of Ref21, but challenges to the position that Gathercole articulates and defends demands a clear and biblical portrayal. Gathercole looks at three prominent theories that pose a threat to the substitutionary and representative picture: the Tubingen view, the 'interchange' view, and the 'apocalyptic' view. If you're interested in knowing what teaching these views espouse and why Gathercole argues against them, you'll simply have to get the book.

Kevin DeYoung and Don Clark, The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings us Back to the Garden (Crossway, August)

Christian children's books are legion but good children's books that captivate as well as educate are rare. Getting a pastor-theologian to take up the challenge is encouraging and I'm eager to see what DeYoung and Clark have in store for us. This is a book that promises a biblical-theological approach, connecting the dots throughout Scripture and showing our young ones the wonderful tapestry of the Bible. 

DeYoung tells Ref21: 'I know authors are always excited for their books to come out, but I'm especially eager for this one to release. The Biggest Story tells the big gospel story of salvation from the Garden of Eden to the final garden in revelation. I tried to tell the familiar story in a way that was theologically rich, but still fun and interesting for kids. It's longer than board book for small children, but much shorter than a kids Bible. I couldn't be more pleased with the illustrations. Don Clark has done an amazing job with the pictures--colorful, unique, interesting, and thoughtful. I can't wait for this book to come out so I can show and tell it to my kids'.

Kevin Vanhoozer & Owen Strachan, The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision (Brazos, August)

Vanhoozer has already seen his book, Faith Seeking Understanding, selected as the Christianity Today 2015 Theology book of the year, so it will be interesting if The Pastor as Public Theologian puts up some competition for the same award (even if winning with the latter does mean sharing the award with Strachan). When asked about this new book, Vanhoozer says: "For centuries, theologians were typically bishops or pastors and pastors were primarily expositors of Scripture and Christian doctrine: exegetes and catechists. Today, the task of doing theology appears to have very little to do with what it takes to lead a church. Modern pastors and theologians have gone their separate ways. This fork in the vocational road has led to confusion about what pastors and theologians are, and what they are for.

... Our suspicion is that secularization may have influenced the church in the place where one might have least expected it: the pulpit. Both clergy and laypeople are confused about what pastors are and should be doing as leaders and ministers. Other role-models - CEOs, therapists, managers, community facilitators, even entertainers - have displaced the model of the pastor-theologian. Our book has a bold, counter-cultural thesis: pastors ought to reclaim their roles not only as theologians, but as 'public intellectuals' able to articulate and thereby minister understanding of what it means for the church to be a people ('public') of the gospel. The pastor must be a public theologian because the local congregation - the people - are in a real sense the place where the reality of Jesus Christ is confessed, understood, communicated, and lived out'. 

Holmes_HS.jpgChristopher Holmes, Holy Spirit (Zondervan, October)

This is the first book in a projected 15 volume series in Zondervan's New Studies in Dogmatics. This is an exciting new series that aims to examine doctrinal topics by 'expressing their biblical, creedal and confessional shape' while also seeking a constructive theology. Appealing to the past to invigorate the present while guiding future directions in theology - sounds like a great plan. When asked about the first volume in the series, Allen, one of the editors of this series explains, 'It's a dogmatic account of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, focusing especially on the significance of thinking about the inner life of the living God as the basis from which all the Spirit's work in our midst issues forth. In so doing, he draws on three under appreciated students of the Spirit: Augustine, Thomas, and Barth. And [Holmes] tethers his dogmatic reflections closely to Holy Scripture, especially to the pneumatology of the Gospel according to John'.

Bauckham.jpgRichard Bauckham, Gospel of Glory: Major Themes in Johannine Theology (Baker, August)

It's a new book by Richard Bauckham. I think that's all that needs to be said, really.

Honourable Mentions:

Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in a Skeptical Age (Dutton, June)
Russell Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel (B&H, August)
Richard Lints, Identity and Idolatry. New Studies in Biblical Theology (IVP, May)

Mark McDowell is General and Reviews Editor for Reformation 21