The Best Books in 2014 / Part One
This year’s list of the best books I’ve read was difficult because of the vast number of excellent volumes released. A dozen of them are in some way related to biblical and theological themes, with two coming from different genres. I’m sure that you will be somewhat surprised by the book that I found to be far and away the best book of the year. So let’s begin, working our way from number 14 to number 1. Continue reading . . .
[Since it’s year 2014, I decided to make it a list of 14 books!]
This year’s list of the best books I’ve read was difficult because of the vast number of excellent volumes released. A dozen of them are in some way related to biblical and theological themes, with two coming from different genres. I’m sure that you will be somewhat surprised by the book that I found to be far and away the best book of the year. So let’s begin, working our way from number 14 to number 1.
(I will list the first seven in this blog post and follow up the day after with the next six, saving the best book of the year for a separate, final post.)
Gregg R. Allison, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Wheaton: Crossway, 493 pp.).
I’ve been waiting for this book for several years, ever since Gregg told me he was hard at work on it. This is not light reading, as Gregg walks us through the Roman Catholic Catechism, paragraph by paragraph, with precise interpretation and penetrating analysis. If you are confused by what the RC church believes and want to know whether or not it measures up to Scripture, this is the book for you.
Perhaps the best feature of this volume is that it avoids the angry and strident denunciation of Catholicism that one often encounters among Protestant authors but at the same time does not hesitate to identify and refute the more obvious biblical and theological errors in the Roman system. This will be an excellent resource for years to come when you encounter friends in the Roman Catholic Church and need an accurate and honest assessment of its teachings.
Robert W. Graves, editor. Strangers to Fire: When Tradition Trumps Scripture (Woodstock, GA: The Foundation for Pentecostal Scholarship, 561 pp.).
This volume is a collection of 35 previously published essays that is designed to answer the objections and questions about spiritual gifts raised by John MacArthur at the now-famous Strange Fire conference hosted at his church last year. One of the 35 articles is mine: “Ephesians 2:20 – The Cessationist’s ‘Go-To’ Text,” published on this blog several months ago.
Whereas I don’t agree with everything it contains, particularly those views representative of the Classical Pentecostal perspective, it is a treasure-trove of material on the ministry of the Holy Spirit. A few other contributors whose names you might recognize include Jack Deere, Wayne Grudem, Craig Keener, and J. P. Moreland. If you are looking for a comprehensive treatment of spiritual gifts and a strong case for their validity today, I highly recommend you obtain this book.
Andreas Kostenberger, Darrell Bock, & Josh Chatraw, Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 188 pp.).
I loved this little book. It is an extremely readable, highly informed, and entirely persuasive point-by-point response to and refutation of the many works of Bart Ehrman. You may not have heard of the latter, but his numerous best-selling books are all designed to debunk and expose the Christian faith, in particular, the reliability of the Bible.
Truth Matters is actually written for the college student who first encounters in the classroom the sort of skepticism that Ehrman promotes. How was the biblical canon formed? Do we have reliable copies of the original manuscripts? Can we trust the testimony in Scripture? These and numerous other questions are answered with clarity and substantive evidence. If you or someone you know is struggling to believe the reliability of the Bible, get this book! It’s a gem.
Michael L. Brown, Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 284 pp.).
I doubt if many of you have heard of this book, but it’s important that you read it. The so-called “Hyper-Grace” movement is hard to define, as it lacks any formal organizational shape or a commonly embraced theological statement of faith. Rather, it is a way of understanding divine grace that is represented by a variety of authors such as Clark Whitten (author of Pure Grace: The Life Changing Power of Uncontaminated Grace), Joseph Prince (author of Destined to Reign: The Secret to Effortless Success, Wholeness and Victorious Living), Rob Rufus (author of Living in the Grace of God), and Andrew Farley (The Naked Gospel), just to mention a few.
Be it known that I don’t agree with everything Brown says. He is an Arminian and I am a Calvinist, and yet we concur that this so-called “revolution” in the understanding of grace is dangerous and misguided. Advocates of hyper-grace tend to believe that virtually any call or urgent appeal to Christians for obedience or the pursuit of personal holiness is legalism. They resist the notion of “effort” in the Christian life (be it noted that “effort” is not the same as “earning”), the necessity of pleasing God by our obedience, and reject any suggestion that the Holy Spirit “convicts” believers of their sin. Furthermore, Christians should not “confess” their sins or ask God for “forgiveness” when they fail. Here is a brief summary of the hyper-grace message:
“Simply stated . . ., if you teach that we are saved by God’s grace through faith, and that now as believers we are called by God to walk worthy of our salvation and to pursue holiness of heart and life – in other words, to work out the on-going process of sanctification – you are preaching ‘behavior modification,’ you are propagating the same ‘spiritually murderous’ lie that Luther and Calvin did, and you need to receive the great new revelation of this great new reformation, the grace revolution” (15-16).
In addition, many of its representatives insist that you should never preach or recite the Lord’s Prayer or suggest that “your forgiveness is based on your forgiving others” (16; see Matt. 6:12, 14-15). Advocates of this new grace message argue that there is no place for repentance in the Christian life. Says Clark Whitten:
“I believe that New Testament repentance is not the Holy Spirit convicting of sin, me feeling sorry, confessing the sin, asking for forgiveness, and committing to stop doing it. That typical scenario is a grotesque misrepresentation of the gift of repentance. It is heathenish!” (Pure Grace, 20).
Brown does an excellent job of articulating the nature of conviction, confession, repentance, and progressive sanctification. Although his book gives some indication of being hastily written, it is well worth your time and study. (While we’re at it, an excellent treatment of the relationship between saving faith and obedience to the biblical commands is provided by Bradley G. Green in his book, Covenant and Commandment: Works, Obedience and Faithfulness in the Christian Life [Downers Grove: IVP, 185 pp.]. I almost included Green’s work in my list of the best books of the year.)
John Piper, Doctrine Matters: Ten Theological Trademarks from a Lifetime of Preaching (Minneapolis: Desiring God, 181 pp.).
I won’t say much about this book here, given the fact that I devoted ten blog articles to it earlier this year. In a nutshell, it contains Piper’s reflections on ten themes that characterized his preaching and theology during his thirty-three years of ministry at Bethlehem Baptist Church. The ten are: God Is, The Glory of God, Christian Hedonism, The Sovereignty of God, The Gospel of God in Christ, The Call to Global Missions, Living the Christian Life, The Perseverance of the Saints, Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and Sorrowful Yet Always Rejoicing (the role of suffering).
John Piper, Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully: The Power of Poetic Effort in the Work of George Herbert, George Whitefield, and C. S. Lewis (Wheaton: Crossway, 158 pp.).
This is the sixth volume in The Swans are not Silent series of biographical studies of great Christian thinkers and writers. Piper believes that “God has designed the world and human beings in such a way that his ultimate and highest aims for humanity come about through human words” (18). Herbert, Whitefield, and Lewis, each in his own unique way, demonstrate this truth for us.
Says Piper: “This is a book about the interrelationship between seeing beauty and saying it beautifully – and the impact that the effort has on our lives. It is rooted in the life and work of three Anglican Christians – a pastor-poet, a preacher-dramatist, and a scholar-novelist. All of them, in their own ways, made sustained poetic effort in what they spoke and wrote. This book is about that effort and how it relates to seeing beauty and awakening others to see it – especially the beauty of Jesus Christ” (12).
Thomas S. Kidd, George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (New Haven: Yale University Press, 325 pp.).
Kidd is Professor of History at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. 2014 marks the 300th anniversary of Whitefield’s birth and there is no better way of honoring the legacy of Whitefield than with this excellent book. I’m only partly way through it but I can testify with others that this is the best biography on Whitefield yet published.
The dust cover says this: “In the years prior to the American Revolution, George Whitefield was the most famous man in the colonies. Thomas Kidd’s fascinating new biography explores the extraordinary career of the most influential figure in the first generation of Anglo-American evangelical Christianity, examining his sometimes troubling stands on the pressing issues of the day, both secular and spiritual, and his relationships with such famous contemporaries as Benjamin Franklin, Jonathan Edwards, and John Wesley.”
To be continued . . .