What follows is a list of my favorite books I read during 2010. The books are listed in no particular order, with the exception of the first title. Please note that some of these books weren’t published in 2010, but I did read them this year. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll consider reading any of these books that might pique your interest—maybe you will enjoy them as much as I have.
James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford University Press, 2010). Hunter’s book, a collection of three inter-related essays, is hands-down the best work I’ve read on the relationship between faith and culture. His call for “faithful presence” in every sphere of culture strikes a good balance between keeping first things first and seeking to bring the gospel to bear on every sphere of life. I hope Hunter writes a follow-up work providing more examples of individuals, churches, and other ministries embodying faithful presence.
Hunter Baker, The End of Secularism (Crossway, 2009). Baker argues that secularism is a failed project that lacks the intellectual and moral capital to guide American culture. I predict his book could influence my generation in a similar way to how Richard John Neuhaus’s The Naked Public Square (Eerdmans, 1984) influenced my parents’ generation. Baker’s excellent book is a fine complement to Hunter’s aforementioned masterpiece.
Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2010). This is one of the best biographies I’ve read in years. For me, one sign of a good biography is that it is researched like a dissertation but reads like a novel—Bonhoeffer passes the test. One quibble: while Metaxas does a fine job of rescuing Bonhoeffer from the radical theologians, he arguably overstates his case by at least implicitly casting Bonhoeffer as a conservative evangelical. The truth lies somewhere in between—Bonhoeffer was a confessional Lutheran with Neo-Orthodox theological inclinations.
David W. Bebbington, Baptists through the Centuries: A History of a Global People (Baylor University Press, 2010). Bebbington is an imminent historian of English-speaking evangelicalism and a committed Baptist churchman to boot. Unlike most Baptist history textbooks, Bebbington covers the full scope of Baptist history and does so in a way that doesn’t make for torturous reading. His combining of a general chronology with a thematic treatment is a unique and mostly helpful contribution. Bebbington gets bonus points for his sane assessment of (and lack of obsession with) recent Southern Baptist controversies, a facet that can no doubt be attributed to his British context.
40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible is the best introductory book I’ve ever read about hermeneutics (the science of biblical interpretation). It is well-researched and covers all the major topics that need to be addressed. But it is also written at a level that can be understood by undergrads, seminarians, pastors and other church staff, and even (praise the Lord!) most “normal” Christians. In other words, this is a book that is not only appropriate for the classroom, but it is appropriate for the church. Rob’s use of humor, illustrations, and practical application, along with the format of the book itself, make 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible a joy to read.
Bradley G. Green, The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life (Crossway, 2010). I’m not going to say much here because I plan on reviewing this book in the next few weeks. For now, let me just say Green’s book emphasizes the right themes, dialogs with the right partners, and casts the right vision. As an added bonus, for the most part it is written at a level accessible to students. Highly recommended.
George W. Bush, Decision Points (Crown, 2010). Despite efforts by some in the media to paint President Bush’s autobiography as mere propaganda, I found it to be an engaging and insightful read. My personal favorite chapters—Mr. Bush’s opening chapter about licking alcohol abuse and his thoughts on Hurricane Katrina and the storm’s aftermath. I hope history will judge President Bush better than so many of his contemporaries.
Abraham Booth, The Reign of Grace from Its Rise to Consummation (1768). This is a classic work by a prominent eighteenth-century Particular Baptist pastor-theologian defending evangelical Calvinism. Booth was a London pastor who navigated a balanced middle between hyper-Calvinistic antinomianism on the right and neo-Arian Arminianism on the left. I read the version available for free on Google Books after converting it for use on my Kindle.
Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate (NavPress, 2007). I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Jerry Bridges, and Respectable Sins is no exception. Each of us have besetting sins that we tolerate to varying degrees because they are super-secret and often taboo-free—this book will help you to use the gospel to root them out day-by-day. Highly recommended.
Holman Christian Standard Study Bible (B&H, 2010). I’m a pretty big fan of the ESV Study Bible, so I was admittedly less-than-enthused about the HCSB Study Bible, even though it was published by my own denomination’s publishing house. I admit here and now, before the entire world, that I couldn’t have been more wrong. The HCSB Study Bible is a fantastic resource. The translation is sound (it reminds me some of the NASB), the notes are great, and I’m a huge fan of the topical information boxes. I know this makes me very uncool and no doubt kills what little street-cred I have among the soul patch-sporting, Sufjan Stevens-loving, missional-church-planting, hipster 30-somethings of the world, but I actually like the HCSB Study Bible just as much as I do the ESV Study Bible.
Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, 5 vols. (Hyerion, 2006-2010). OK, imagine if you found out that the ancient Greek gods were real and that you were actually a demigod, the offspring of a divine father and a human mother, possessing many superpowers because of your unique heredity. A stretch, I know. Nevertheless, these delightful books, written for young adults, provided loads of reading fun during the first half of 2010. Don’t waste your time with the crummy movie based on book one, The Lightning Thief—read the books instead.
David Sills, Reaching and Teaching: A Call to Great Commission Obedience (Moody, 2010). Sills challenges the dominant missions paradigm among many evangelicals, including Southern Baptists—overemphasizing church planting in unreached areas to the exclusion of discipleship and theological education. Sills wholeheartedly affirms the former, but not at the expense of the latter; as with so many quandaries, the answer to this one is a robust both/and strategy. This provocative book is dead-on, in my opinion, and worth a very close read.
Donald D. Schmeltekopf and Dianna M. Vitanza, eds., The Future of Baptist Higher Education (Baylor University Press, 2006). I’m very interested in Christian higher education, particularly in a Baptist context. This collection of essays is a must-read for anyone concerned about the future of Baptist-related colleges and universities. The first section, which includes essays articulating four models of Baptist higher education, is in my estimation worth the price of the whole book.