The Best Books of 2015 (continued)4
Yesterday I listed numbers 10-6 of my best books of 2015. Today I will start with number 5 and work my way to what I consider to be the best book of the year. Continue reading . . .
Yesterday I listed numbers 10-6 of my best books of 2015. Today I will start with number 5 and work my way to what I consider to be the best book of the year.
(5) ESV Men’s Devotional Bible, edited by Sam Storms (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).
You may find it odd that I’ve included in a “best books” list the best book of all: the Bible. But this isn’t just a Bible. It is one that is designed particularly for men with 365 daily devotional studies (I wrote the ones on Joshua and Jonah) together with a long list of articles of special interest for men. Here is the Introduction that I wrote to this edition of the ESV:
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us that “it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace” (13:9). The ESV Men’s Devotional Bible is uniquely designed for men to achieve that very goal. This resource does more than inform the mind. Its aim is to equip and encourage men who long to experience spiritual and moral transformation in the depths of their heart. More than 50 men who serve as pastors, professors, and Christian leaders have contributed 365 daily devotional studies and a wide array of articles on biblical themes of practical importance to the lives of men today.
Perhaps never before in the history of the Church have men faced the intensity of temptation and relentless assault from the world, the flesh, and the Devil as we are witnessing in our day. The essence of biblical masculinity is being undermined as we are repeatedly told that a “real man” must be wealthy, influential, autonomous, self-made, sexually liberated, and self-reliant. The result is that marriages are being destroyed, families are in crisis, and countless men are increasingly losing their sense of identity in Jesus Christ. The ESV Men’s Devotional Bible speaks pointedly into the lives of men who long to live lives of integrity, self-sacrifice, love, and passionate devotion to their families and above all to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our goal is to strengthen and transform the hearts of men through the power of the Spirit-inspired Word of God. Based on the acclaimed English Standard Version of the Bible, the ESV Men’s Devotional Bible provides daily insights into Scripture that not only enlighten the mind but especially feed, nurture, and empower the hearts of men to enjoy all that God is for them in Jesus Christ. Each daily devotional study is tied to a particular biblical passage that speaks to the most pressing needs and concerns that men face today. The contributors are themselves men who understand the unique challenges we encounter in today’s world and have written with an eye to the application of Scripture to our most pressing practical needs. Their insights are theologically rich, honest, vulnerable, penetrating, and always gospel-centered.
The devotionals included in the ESV Men’s Devotional Bible are not arranged topically or thematically, but rather are tethered closely to the text on which each is based. Every book of the Bible contains at least one devotional, connected with the passages that most clearly capture key themes of that book. If the 365 devotionals are read consecutively throughout the year, along with the passages on which they are based, beginning in Genesis and ending in Revelation, by the end of the year the reader will have gained an extensive overview of Scripture and the history of salvation.
The devotionals are therefore not tied to specific dates on the calendar. This is deliberate, and is meant to free the reader to use the devotionals in a variety of ways. Whether read sequentially, occasionally, or as a supplement to the study of a particular book, the devotionals are designed to enhance your study of God’s Word by reflecting deeply on the biblical text and its meaning for us today. If you would like to see the listing of devotionals at a glance, we have provided a Canonical Index of Devotionals on page 1586 in the back of this Bible.
In addition to the daily devotional readings, we have provided brief, but informative, introductions to each book of the Bible that will orient the reader to what God is saying to us through this particular portion of his Word. The 15 special articles address issues of greatest interest to men and provide spiritually-rich, biblically-rooted, heart-strengthening guidance to enable the believer to more faithfully love his wife, his children, the church, and above all, God.
May the Lord’s grace strengthen and encourage your heart as you immerse yourself in his life-changing Word.
(4) J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life, Leland Ryken (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015), 431 pp.
This is biography as it should be: exhaustive, insightful, honest, and a remarkably easy read. Leland Ryken has done an incredible job of portraying not only the mind and ministry of J. I. Packer, but the man as well. I’ve read Alister McGrath’s bio of Packer twice and I appreciate the extensive research that went into it. But McGrath’s volume tells me more about 20th century evangelical and Anglican life in the U.K. than it does about Packer himself.
This isn’t to suggest that Ryken fails to cover the historical development that is so intertwined with Packer’s career as an academic, author, and parish minister. But he does give us a personal portrait that is somewhat lacking in McGrath. Especially helpful are the two concluding sections of the book, titled “The Man” and “Lifelong Themes.” Among the latter that Ryken addresses are Packer’s view of the Bible and his valiant efforts to defend the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, the Puritans (who so decidedly shaped Packer’s life and thought), his commitment to Anglicanism, and the many controversies in which Packer was embroiled during the course of his incredibly productive career.
Here is the endorsement I wrote of the book:
“Not every life warrants a book-length biography. But then J. I. Packer’s is no ordinary life. Widely, and justifiably, regarded as one of the most influential evangelical theologians and Christian statesmen of the last one-hundred years (indeed, perhaps of the last millennium as well), this meticulously written and remarkably insightful biography of one of my personal heroes deserves a wide reading. Packer’s impact on the Church will be felt and seen for years to come and I happily applaud Leland Ryken’s perceptive portrait of this truly great Christian man. I cannot recommend this too highly.”
(3) The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts, Joe Rigney (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015), 271 pp.
In his Foreword to this book, John Piper says this of Joe Rigney, its author:
“If there is an evangelical Christian alive today who has thought and written more biblically, more deeply, more creatively, or more practically about the proper enjoyment of creation and culture, I don’t know who it is” (11).
Piper continues with this helpful acknowledgement:
“Joe has discerned that a strength of Christian Hedonism can also turn into a weakness. The strength that is Christian Hedonism, as I have tried to develop it, has a strong ascetic tendency (as the Bible does!)” (11).
What Joe Rigney does for us and for Christian Hedonism in this excellent book is weave together in a single tapestry both the biblical call to seek God first and above all creation and the biblical endorsement of our enjoyment of the countless good gifts God has bestowed. This is no small task.
Most of us tend to fall off the fence on one of two sides: either we fall into the asceticism that comes from making God supreme in our affections as we live in fear that any delight in the creaturely, natural comforts that God has built into this world is sinful and will undermine our devotion to him, or we fall off the other side into selfish, thankless, sensual indulgence in food, drink, sex, nature, athletics, film, and the countless other things that comprise the world around us.
Joe reminds us that Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 6:17 (God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy”) are perfectly compatible with making God himself our greatest and most preeminent treasure in all of life. So, if you’ve ever wondered how, if at all, you can enjoy the gifts without diminishing your first love for the Giver, this book is for you.
(2) The Joy Project: A True Story of Inescapable Happiness, by Tony Reinke (Minneapolis: Desiring God), 122 pp.
Don’t let the small size of this volume mislead you. It is substantive and superb! And don’t be misled by the title. This is not primarily about your pursuit of joy. It is about God’s pursuit of his joy in your joy in him. Read that again. This “project” is about God’s pursuit of his joy in your joy in him. Here is what Tony says about this project:
“This project isn’t DIY. You cannot start it, you cannot end it, and you cannot fumble it. You can’t even hold the lynchpin to keep it all together. The Joy Project is put in capital letters because it’s bigger than you and bigger than me. It was designed and orchestrated for you, long before the moment when you awoke to discover that your entire life is driven by the endless hunt for happiness” (5).
In sum, the Joy Project is about God’s saving purposes in sovereign grace. It is a new and insightful portrayal of what are commonly known as the Five Points of Calvinism, or TULIP.
One more thing about this book. Tony is clear and convicting about the countless ways that we pursue joy in all the wrong places. In one pointed paragraph, he describes our vain attempts to find joy at the end of a list of tasks and accomplishments, none of which, in the final analysis, do for us what God alone can do in his supply of saving, sovereign grace. He writes:
“We conclude that the barriers to abiding joy are the unhealthy choices that clog our lives. The root problem, we think, is that we’re stuck in a rut of predictability and laziness, so we must unstick ourselves. We turn to self-improvement. We make new resolutions. We scour the Internet for list-blogs that promise lasting change with easy effort. We buy productivity apps for our phones. We resolve to become more “chill” parents, sexier spouses, better friend-winners, and more purposeful people-influencers. We need to sit less and walk more. We need to sleep more and eat less. We need to get to the gym a few times a week to lose fat and build muscle. We purge fast food, drop the carbs, and fork down more vegetables. We drink more water, less coffee, less soda. We buy organic, fair trade, rBGH-free, gluten- free, free-range. We pay off credit card debt and build our savings. We clip coupons. We invest money in a new retirement plan. We set aside some funds for a future vacation. We clean out the garage. We purge our closets of junk. We buy apps to track our progress and planners to micromanage our days. We commit to staying on top of our e-mails, checking our phones less often, watching less television, visiting the library more, and reading our neglected stacks of books. We chase a long list of changes to sharpen our daily routines [and] to tweak our daily habits” all from the misguided belief that the desperately-desired and long-awaited joy that our hearts crave so deeply will be waiting for us at the end of the line” (2).
This is a quick read, and one that will likely leave you passionate for more. Get it!
[Drum roll please . . . And now my best book of 2015 . . .]
(1) The Spurgeon Reader, edited by Tom Nettles (Louisville: SBTS Press, 2015), 423 pp.
This resource is an unspeakable blessing. Tom Nettles, whose biography of Charles Spurgeon, Living by Revealed Truth, made my Top Ten list a couple of years ago (I think it was Number One!), has compiled for us an incredible anthology of Spurgeon’s best and most timely sermons and articles. There are four sections to this book. The first, notes Nettles, “includes a variety of articles written specifically for publication” (xi). The second “contains messages from Spurgeon to his students, either at the Friday sessions when he lectured at the Pastors’ College or from the Pastors’ College Conference, a yearly meeting of the alumni of the college” (xi). The third section “contains eight sermons delivered on momentous, and often poignant, occasions in Spurgeon’s life” (xi). Finally, section four “provides a brief abstract of systematic theology from Spurgeon sermons on 15 different doctrinal topics beginning with the Bible and culminating with the doctrine of hell” (xi).
Here is the concluding comment of Al Mohler in the Foreword he wrote to this book, one with which I wholeheartedly agree:
“Whether you are a longtime reader of Spurgeon or whether this is your first foray into the writings of the Prince of Preachers, this volume will encourage, educate, and challenge you toward greater faithfulness. The church urgently needs men like Spurgeon – shepherds who exemplify an ‘all-round’ ministry. My hope is that this collection of sermons and essays will be used to that end so that, as Spurgeon said, ‘none of us die out like dim candles, ending a powerless ministry in everlasting blackness’” (viii-ix).