Tag Archives: books

Top 21 Books of the Decade

As we pass on towards a new decade….

When I was a kid, I hated to read. Nowadays, I never find enough time to read all of the books I want to enjoy. Thankfully, audiobook outfits like ChristianAudio and Audible have made it a lot easier to digest good books on the work commute, or while working in the yard. Here is a list of the top books of the decade (the 2010s), noting that not all of these books were written in the decade, but that these are ones that I have read…. and would even like to read again (I have hyperlinked below to previous Veracity book reviews). These are top 21, as we are in the 21st century, knowing that I probably have neglected to mention some other really good titles.  Here we go!

  • The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusadeby Susan Wise Bauer. I had to include Susan’s book that I read, not simply because she only lives a few miles from me here in Virginia, but because I simply enjoy her writing. Susan is an excellent writer in the world of home school education, and History of the Medieval World is a broad, sweeping, global in scope introduction into the second half of the first millennium, since Christ’s first coming. Not sure if I really would read this particular title again, but it made me very interested in her other books in her world history series.
  • Darwinism and the Divine: Evolutionary Thought and Natural Theology, by Alister E. McGrath. By far, McGrath is my favorite evangelical theologian, as he writes for scholars as well as normal people, with real jobs in the real world, across a wide array of important topics for the Christian. McGrath is a Brit, who teaches at Oxford, but has worked for years with the popular apologist, Ravi Zacharias. Darwinism and the Divine shows where McGrath shines the brightest, in being able to reconcile scientific thinking with biblical theology. McGrath affirms Cardinal John Newman’s 1870 famous quote, “I believe in design because I believe in God; not in God because I see design.” I have a special interest in the Bible/science discussion, but just about anything McGrath writes is worth reading.
  • Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, by Albert Mohler, Kevin Vanhoozer, Michael Bird, John R. Franke, and Peter Enns, and edited by J. Merrick and S. Garrett. The “inerrancy” debate during the 1980s swirled around in my InterVarsity college circle, confusing me greatly. I wish someone would have written a book like this some 30 years ago to have helped me to see that there are various nuances as to understanding what “inerrancy” really means. For the record, my position is somewhere between the views of contributors Kevin Vanhoozer and Michael Bird.
  • An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, by Grant Palmer. The fascinating story of a Mormon Church Educational System director, who learned the history behind Joseph Smith and early Mormonism, and who made the painful journey out of Mormonism towards becoming a more orthodox, evangelically-oriented Christian. Palmer’s journey began with the Mark Hofmann forgeries and murder scandal in the 1980s (remember the Salamander letter?).  An Insider’s View is dense and geeky for me, which I like, and Palmer makes for a definitive resource on Mormonism. But if you really want to read a total page-turner on the same topic instead, go for Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven  (Krakauer also wrote the popular Into Thin Air, about the 1997 climbing Mount Everest disaster). I read Krakauer years ago and could not put the book down!
  • Original Sin: A Cultural History, by Alan Jacobs. Now at Baylor University, Jacobs is just a wonderful writer, and in this book, he outlines how the doctrine of original sin has impacted culture down through the ages.
  • Predestination: The American Career of a Contentious Doctrine, by Peter J. Thuesen. An historical look into how the Calvinist/Arminian controversy shaped the evangelical church in America.
  • The Reformation: A History, by Diarmaid MacCulloch. The definitive treatment of the Protestant Reformation.
  • Here I Stand, by Roland Bainton. The classic biography of the Reformation’s most important person, Martin Luther. More recent biographies are more up-to-date, but Bainton still stands out as the best introduction. The perfect book to remember Luther’s stand for the Gospel 500 years ago.
  • Tyndale, by David Teems. Great biography of William Tyndale, who gave us one of the first English Bible translations, and who has made a lasting impact on the English language.
  • George Whitefield, by Arnold A. Dallimore. A classic biography of the First Great Awakening’s most powerful preacher.
  • Bonhoeffer, by Eric Metaxas. Controversial at times, yet a penetrating examination of Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who resisted Adolph Hitler. Would read Metaxas again, but would need to read Charles Marsh’s Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer first.
  • Irresistible, by Andy Stanley. A bit jagged for the first two-thirds of the book, but during the last part, pastor Andy Stanley lays down what I think is the best evidentialist approach to Christian apologetics, that I have ever read.
  • Is the Bible Good for Women?, by Wendy Alsup. So far, Wendy Alsup articulates the best, most convincing argument as to how the Bible views the topic of “women in ministry” in the church, from a more mediating perspective of the debate.
  • Paul: A Biography, by N.T. Wright. A masterful biography of the Apostle Paul, one of N.T. Wright’s best books.
  • The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt. Excellent help from a secular, moral psychologist, exploring why people can become so divided from one another, when making moral judgments. Definitely the best book I read in 2019, and maybe, even right up there as being the best book I read in the decade. Should be required reading for Christians and non-Christians alike.

Best Books I Read in 2019

The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt. Best book I read this year. Though written by an atheist, Haidt makes sense of why different Christians (and people in general) think so differently. Read my extended review of this important book here.

I should probably say including the “best books I have LISTENED TO in 2019,” since I listen to a bunch of audio books, either from ChristianAudio.com or Amazon’s Audible, as part of my work commute.  I wrote some reviews of the most enjoyable books, that I will link to, for more in-depth analysis. These are some great books!:

  • Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time, by Jeremy Courtney.  A heart-wrenching look at how one, young Christian family moved to war-torn Iraq, who started a ministry for children plagued with heart defects, resulting from years of chemical warfare and poverty, so that these children might receive life-saving heart surgeries. Preemptive Love pushes a lot of boundaries, some unnecessarily, and yet some which are very necessary. Jeremy Courtney’s central message? Love Anyway.
  • Irresistible, by Andy Stanley. Pastor Stanley unfortunately over-states his case about the need for Christians to “unhitch” themselves from the Old Testament, to the largely correct chagrin of his critics. But towards the end of the book, his apologetic argument for the Christian faith, that the truthfulness of the Christian faith hangs and falls on the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus is spot on. With respect to that last part, Stanley makes the clearest, most compelling argument for an evidentialist approach to Christian apologetics that I have ever read. Love it or hate it, I wish many more Christians would read this book! Veracity book review.
  • Two Views of Women in Ministry, by Craig Keener, Craig Blomberg, Linda Believille, and Thomas Schreiner. The best multi-views type of book on the topic of women leadership in the church, packed with the latest research, far exceeding the IVP title, from some 20 years ago, Women in Ministry, Four Views. I personally found Craig Blomberg’s essay the most convincing. Brief Veracity book review.
  • Is the Bible Good for Women?, by Wendy Alsup. Perhaps the best case for a moderate complementarian view of women in ministry, finding a healthy, middle ground in a highly contentious debate within evangelicalism. Wendy avoids the contemporary egalitarian tendency, that asserts that women should serve as elders in a local church, that reads too many modern assumptions into the New Testament, effectively undercutting the Scriptural doctrine that male and female are equal yet ultimately not-interchangeable. But she also knocks down the opposite hyper-complementarian view, that puts women, who are wonderfully gifted to serve in various forms of ministry and church leadership, into a tiny little, dehumanizing box. Wendy strikes a great balance. Veracity book review posted here. Rachel Green Miller’s Beyond Authority and Submission came out after Wendy’s book, but I have heard that it is great, too.
  • Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ, by Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley. The best thing I have ever read on what it means to have a Christian conscience. Explores the biblical texts regarding “disputable matters,” particularly with respect to Paul’s teaching about eating (or not eating) food sacrificed to idols, and draws out excellent, practical principles on how to live this out. Veracity book review.
  • Spirit and Sacrament, by Andrew Wilson. London-based pastor Wilson forges a middle ground to reconcile the charismatic and liturgical sides of Christianity, within the context of a broadly Reformed theology. Excellent. Too bad very few churches exist like what Wilson describes on this side of “the pond.” Wilson is simply a delight to read, no matter what the topic. Veracity book review.
  • Paul: A Biography, by N.T. Wright. A masterful biography of Paul, right up there with F.F. Bruce’s Apostle of the Heart Set Free. While some of Wright’s other recent books stir controversy, in certain quarters, in Paul, Wright makes a glorious defense of the character, history, and integrity of the great apostle, that all Christians can benefit from. Veracity book review. N.T. Wright at his finest.
  • End Times Bible Prophecy: It’s Not What They Told You, by Brian Godawa. A surely controversial, yet very compelling case, for a partial preterist view of the End Times, as a contrast to an older dispensationalist model, which was made popular in the 1980s and 1990s, through the Left Behind book series, and the earlier Late Great Planet Earth. Not all will be convinced by Godawa’s argument. But if pre-trib Rapture theology strikes you as less-than-convincing, then Brian Godawa will help you sort things out. Veracity book review.
  • History in English Words, by Owen Barfield. A classic by one of the Oxford Inklings (friends of C.S. Lewis), that helps to explain how words evolve. For example, just over the last ten years, I have witnessed how words and terms like “social justice,” “gay,” “intersectionality,” and even “evolution” itself have radically evolved to mean things today, in popular discourse, that are completely different from what they were in years past. Such rapid shifts in language can make deep conversation in our postmodern world exceedingly difficult. As the meaning of words continues to quickly change in our culture, Barfield sets out the problem within its historical context. I blogged my way through the book with these Veracity blog posts (#1, #2, #3, #4, #5).
  • The Fool and the Heretic, by Todd Wood and Darrel Falk. A refreshingly non-combative discussion regarding the relationship between science and Creation, between a Young Earth Creationist and an Evolutionary Creationist. Helped me to appreciate both sides of the debate, with greater empathy. Fairly brief, too, which was a plus. Veracity book review.
  • Can We Still Trust the Bible?, by Craig Blomberg. Excellent defense of the integrity of the Bible, answering the toughest questions regarding the reliability and inerrancy of Scripture, steering a middle course between an unbridled skepticism and a knee-jerk reaction against sound biblical scholarship. Learn how to intelligently defend the Bible with this book. I wrote a quirky Veracity book review here.
  • The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race, and Identity, by Douglas Murray. Recommended by John Stonestreet, of the Colson Center For Christian Worldview. A masterful study as to what happens when the “social justice movement” gets detached from a Christian worldview. When “intersectionality” becomes an ideology, we get a rather unforgiving form of religion, that is having a detrimental impact in certain segments of Western society, in this current particular cultural moment. Murray argues that the culture wars, which were driven by the so-called “Religious Right” over the past 40 years, have been flipped over within the past decade, in favor of a highly secular counterpart. What a timely book. Veracity book review.
  • How to Have Impossible Conversations, by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay. A book written by two atheists, on how to have good, healthy conversations, with people with whom you have strong disagreements with, which is great because I have some strong disagreements with atheism. Boghossian and Lindsay have ironically helped me to think more deeply and learn how to have better conversations with others, when the topics get heated.
  • The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt. Hands down, the best book I read in 2019. Brilliant scientific analysis by an atheist, from a nominally Jewish background, which can help evangelical Christians better understand the world they live in, and why people are so different, and so divided from one another. Evolutionary psychology has controversial aspects to it, but there are amazing insights that can be of assistance to Christians. Veracity book review posted here.

Onward to a new decade!!


Best Books of 2018

I do not get to read nearly as much as I would like. But thanks to Audible and ChristianAudio, audiobooks work well on a commute. Here are the best books I read (or listened to) in 2018. Some of them I wrote reviews for here on the Veracity blog. Consider putting one of these on your Christmas reading list (I have starred * the more scholarly books, but most of them are geared towards a popular readership):


Clarke’s Books of 2016… and a Quick Year in Review

People To Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue, by Preston Sprinkle. Moving past the culture wars to love people with biblical truth.

People To Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue, by Preston Sprinkle. My book of the year for 2016.

Christians are people of the “Word,” so it really is a good thing for Christians to practice the discipline of good reading. However, I do not get a chance to read as much as I would like to do. Thankfully, Audible.com and ChristianAudio.com supplement my hunger for good books, as I commute to work or try to knock out my “honey-do” list at home on Saturdays. So, I would like to offer a brief review of some of the books that have helped shape me over the past year (also, I have a quick year in review below):

People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue, Preston Sprinkle. The best book I have read this year on a controversial topic, and probably the best book ever on this particular topic. Sprinkle has the right combination of pastoral sensitivity to hurting people and an orthodox reading of Scripture, that I simply have not found in other books on same-sex attraction and same-sex marriage. If you care about people who struggle with gay and lesbian questions, or you struggle yourself, you need to read this book. I introduced the book here on Veracity.

When a Jew Rules the World, Joel Richardson. As with the topic of creation, I find that an obsessive preoccupation with the “End Times,” including the topic of national Israel, tends to invite a type of unnecessary dogmatism that preemptively shuts down conversation among Christians, where there is honest, principled disagreement regarding the interpretation of the Bible. Richardson’s book is a spirited defense of premillennialism, written at a popular level, with a definite future for national, ethnic Israel in view.  But Richardson does not fit the caricature of dispensationalism I learned some years ago in college, that sees itself as the one and only way to read the Bible. He shook my categories! Richardson has his convictions, but he seems willing to rethink certain elements of popular prophecy that do not have sufficient Biblical backing in his view. I am not wholly convinced by Richardson, in how he reads certain passages of Scripture, he is more obsessive about the “End Times” than I think is necessary, and he goes a bit over-the-top in linking amillennialism with antisemitism in church history. Nevertheless, I confess that he has given me a lot to think about, and he has encouraged me to keep a more open mind. I will hopefully get back to blogging on the topic of Christian Zionism in 2017. Look here for a detailed review I wrote on Veracity.

We Belong to the Land, Elias Chacour. Chacour is a Palestinian Christian in Israel, and nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize several times, who for the past fifty years has sought for justice and reconciliation between Palestinian Christians and non-Christian Israelis. This is a fairly brief book, composed mostly of short essays chronicling Chacour’s story since the 1960s. But it helps to give a different Christian perspective to the Middle East conflict, that most American Christians know next to nothing about. Chacour was instrumental in building schools for Palestinian Christian children, at a time when many Israelis resisted such efforts. If you are bothered by Joel Richardson, read Elias Chacour for an antidote.

The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East, Eugene Rogan. I have become friends with some guys from Turkey, and I have wanted to learn more about World War One, and the Middle East. If you want to understand what is going on in that part of the world today, including some of the history behind the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this British historian, Eugene Rogan, is a fascinating and yet still scholarly story teller, of how that part of the world has gotten into the mess that it is in right now.

NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture, John Walton and Craig Keener. An excellent resource that I use almost all of the time now in studying the Bible. A lot of popular Bible teaching today fails to properly appreciate the original context of the Biblical writer and the original audience. As John Walton succinctly puts it, “The Bible was written for us but not to us.” If you use this alongside a good study Bible, it will give you a lifetime of insight into understanding God’s Word. It serves as the perfect complement to my ESV Study Bible.

The Grammar of God: A Journey into the Words and Worlds of the Bible, Aviya Kushner. Written by an orthodox Jew, Kushner writes about the fascinating world of Bible translation, from the perspective of someone who grew up reading the Bible in Hebrew. She intersperses her discussion of different passages of the Hebrew Bible with a colorful and personal travelogue of sorts. Though not a Christian, I learned a lot about some of the ambiguities in Bible translation from Kushner, which ironically gave me a greater appreciation for God’s Word, the Bible. Some of Kushner’s family survived the Holocaust, making the story even more compelling.

When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible, by Timothy Michael Law. In preparing a Bible study in Romans for both a small group Bible study and an Adult Bible class, I soon learned that the Old Testament Scripture quotations Paul makes in his letter do not always match the text we have in our English Old Testament translations. When God Spoke Greek opened my eyes to understanding the crucial role that the Greek Septuagint, that the Apostle used, has in helping us to understand things like Biblical inspiration. They did not teach me this stuff in seminary, but they should have. It was like a mini-revolution in how I looked at the Bible. It also helped me to see why some evangelicals have been drawn towards Eastern Orthodoxy, but that is another subject! See this review on Veracity.

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Ronald Bainton. A classic that every Christian should read, particularly since we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation next year

………………………………………………………

And to top things off, here is a quick review of the year 2016 for me. Last year, I put up a “Top Posts of the Year 2015,” but I only have a few things to add for this year, so this is why I focus mainly on the books I have read.

Of course, the biggest story of the year is the 2016 American Presidential election. Many Christians are optimistic, whereas others are apprehensive. I do not think anyone really knows yet for sure what it all means. I guess we will all start to know something within a few months. Here are just a few of the other notable, thoughtful events and Internet postings of 2016 that quickly come to mind:

  • The Andy Stanley preaching controversies. The famous pastor of a megachurch in Atlanta, who is also the son of Charles Stanley, another influential American pastor, has ignited a contentious debate among evangelical leaders: Should preaching be geared primarily towards the believer or the non-believer? But while this is a significant debate here, the discussion also reveals a disturbing, underlying trend in the church: Much of the critique of Stanley has come from selected “soundbites” from his sermons, without sufficient attention paid to “fact checking” the various claims made about Stanley. Have evangelicals succumbed to the temptation of simply passing information on about other Christians, without properly verifying the truth of these claims? What does this tell us about how we treat the Bible? Do we really study the Bible, in context, or do we just rely on Scriptural “soundbites?”
  • The confused evangelical response to LGBTQ concerns. Most Christians I know believe (as I do) that things like gay marriage and transgenderism are not part of God’s original design and purposes, but they are perplexed in knowing how to respond and care for real flesh and blood people who struggle with these issues.

 


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