“There is no end to the making of many books,” says the author of Ecclesiastes. In the United States alone, there were close to one million titles published during the past year, with revenue approaching $1.8 billion. Hundreds of titles competed for our attention during 2016. I offer the following observations with the recognition that I have no doubt missed several important works that some of you would have included in such a survey. The books noted in this article are those that I think are worth noting, particularly for those who pay attention to the GCL website. Books make a difference for all of us. They shape our thinking, inform our perspective, expand our understanding, illuminate our world and our context, influence the way we encounter ideas, and touch our hearts.
A New Start for a New Year
As we conclude one year and turn the page to another, we recognize that many are looking for guidance in order to begin 2017 with a new focus. In that regard, I heartily recommend the new work by Josh Moody, 7 Days to Change Your Life: Find Focus through Intentional Living (Abingdon). Inviting readers to new commitments and a fresh understanding of what it means to follow Jesus Christ, Moody presents a beautiful tapestry around the themes of hope, life, truth, freedom, humility, greatness, and glory. Readers will be blessed as they work their way through this extremely helpful volume. Other books to be considered for helping to refocus our thoughts for the new year include: Jen Wilkin’s work, None Like Him: 10 Ways God is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing) (Crossway) along with the creative publication by Biola professor Thaddeus Williams, Reflect: Becoming Yourself by Mirroring the Greatest Person in History (Weaver). Similarly, the making of new commitments for 2017 may lead some to consider new ministry opportunities. Jason Allen offers guidance in Discerning Your Call to Ministry (Moody). Inspirational and devotional books are often useful tools for us when the calendar turns a page. Tim Ellsworth has helped Olympian David Boudia tell his inspiring story in Greater than Gold: From Olympic Heartbreak to Ultimate Redemption (Nelson). Lawrence Reed has given us another inspirational volume, Real Heroes: Inspiring True Stories of Courage, Character, and Conviction (ISI). Mark Lanier has written a most helpful devotional guide, Psalms for Living: Daily Prayers, Wisdom, and Guidance (Baylor University Press).
While 2016 was not a year where we saw a large number of new biblical commentaries being published, there were, nevertheless, a significant number of outstanding works in the field of biblical studies worthy of our attention. The twin volumes edited by Miles V. Van Pelt and Michael J. Kruger will serve as rich resources for pastors and students for years to come. Both volumes, A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised and A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized (Crossway), include capable contributions from present and former members of the faculty at Reformed Theological Seminary. Craig Blomberg has produced a praiseworthy book that wrestles with and addresses the myriad of questions regarding the credibility of the New Testament, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Countering the Challenges to Evangelical Christian Beliefs (B&H). An important work on Old Testament backgrounds has been provided by Lawson Younger, bringing years of research together in one large volume: A Political History of the Arameans: From Their Origins to the End of Their Polities (SBL Press). Ellis R. Brotzman and Eric J. Tully updated their fine contribution on the subject of Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction (Baker). Richard Hays has written, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (Baylor University Press), which provides a masterful look at how the Gospels use Old Testament themes and texts. This brilliant work allows readers to see Richard Hays at his best. Stanley Porter has brought together a synthesis from his years of thoughtful New Testament scholarship, The Apostle Paul: His Life, Thought and Letters (Eerdmans). Another important work on the thought of the apostle Paul can be found in The Mind of the Spirit: Paul’s Approach to Transformed Thinking (Baker), by Craig S. Keener.
A few commentaries worthy of note include: Joshua, by Kenneth A. Mathews, in Teach the Text Commentary Series (Baker); Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope, by Phillip Graham Ryken (Crossway); and The Epistle to the Romans, by Richard N. Longenecker, in The New International Greek New Testament Commentary (Eerdmans). Several readers will be pleased to hear that Grant R. Osborne has made progress on his dream to produce a 19-voume commentary on the New Testament. His work on Revelation: Verse by Verse (Lexham) is simply outstanding. Richard Alan Fuhr Jr. and Andreas J. Kostenberger have given us a thorough guide for understanding holy scripture in their new work, Inductive Bible Study: Observation, Interpretation, and Application through the Lenses of History, Literature, and Theology (B&H). Tom Schreiner has led a capable team of scholars to provide a much-anticipated translation of the Bible, the Christian Standard Bible (Holman, which is a major revision of the Holman Christian Standard Bible).
Kevin Vanhoozer continues to publish significant works in his massive theological project at a faster pace than most of us can read them. Two insightful volumes were added to that project in 2016: Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Christianity (Brazos) and Pictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church’s Worship, Witness, and Wisdom (InterVarsity). The Brazos Press volume has rightly received a great deal of attention, but one should not ignore some of the fine essays contained under the headings of worship, witness, and wisdom in the second Vanhoozer book. Stephen J. Wellum has produced a laudatory and comprehensive work on Christology, God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ (Crossway). Two exceptional works, different in their approach, appeared this past year which made valuable contributions to the conversations on the doctrine of the Trinity: The Triune God, by Fred Sanders (Zondervan) and God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits, by Malcolm Yarnell (B&H). Matthew Levering has given us a wonderful resource in his publication, Proofs of God: Classical Arguments from Tertullian to Barth (Baker). Chris Morgan has added another carefully-shaped volume, The Love of God, to the theology series that he has been editing over several years for Crossway. Timothy Keller’s Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical (Viking) is both a work of apologetics and theology. Both skeptics and believers will benefit from reading this thoughtful volume.
Matthew Barrett’s commendable work in The 5 Solas Series on the doctrine of Scripture, God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture (Zondervan), which includes a compelling Foreword from Albert Mohler, will provide important reading for many who invest time reflecting on the importance of the Reformation during this 500th anniversary year. A massive 1200-page resource edited by D. A. Carson, The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures (Eerdmans), will serve the church for years to come. Contributors to this volume include some of the finest thinkers from across the evangelical world. Another important work on the nature and authority of scripture came from John Piper, A Peculiar Glory: How the Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness (Crossway).
Two rather different, but helpful, works were published on the doctrine of the church. Craig Ott edited a multi-authored compendium on The Mission of the Church: Five Views in Conversation (Baker), which includes a noteworthy chapter by Ed Stetzer. Gerald Bray’s volume, The Church: A Theological and Historical Account (Baker) reflects the insightful work we have come to expect from Professor Bray through the years. Theological students and pastors will be delighted with the revised and updated second edition of the New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic (InterVarsity).
There was certainly no shortage of important works from the historians in recent months. Among those worthy of special note are: The Atlas of Christian History, by Tim Dowley (Fortress); History: A Student’s Guide, by Nathan Finn (Crossway); Thomas Kidd, American Colonial History: Clashing Cultures and Faiths (Yale University Press); and Michael Haykin, Eight Women of Faith (Crossway). A marvelous new five-volume reference work, edited by George Thomas Kurian and Mark A. Lamport, Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States (Rowman & Littlefield), containing contributions from nearly 500 scholars, provides us with an “Abbey to Zwemer” resource on people, denominations, and movements. This 2800-page publication, which includes a Foreword from Martin Marty in addition to the oversight of a virtual “who’s who” of historians among the expanded editorial team, will serve ministers and students well for a decade or more. Unfortunately, this remarkable work comes with a most expensive price tag.
There will no doubt be numerous publications on Reformation-related themes in this anniversary year. A handful of reflective and well-researched works connected to this anniversary period were produced in 2016: Gregg Allison and Chris Castaldo, The Unfinished Reformation: What Unites and Divides Catholics and Protestants After 500 Years (Zondervan); Rodney Stark, Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History (Templeton); Michael Reeves and Tim Chester, Why the Reformation Still Matters (Crossway); R. C. Sproul and Stephen Nichols, The Legacy of Luther (Reformation Trust); and Thomas Albert Howard and Mark A. Noll served as editors for Protestantism After 500 Years (Oxford).
Culture and Cultural Engagement
More and more, cultural and worldview issues must continue to move to the forefront of our thinking. A number of noteworthy volumes were produced in 2016: Mary Eberstadt’s volume, It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies (Harper) should not be missed. The same is true for Conscience and Its Enemies (ISI), by Robert P. George, with a Foreword by Mary Ann Glendon. Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition (B&H), by S. Donald Fortson and Rollin G. Grams along with Matthew Rueger’s Sexual Morality in a Christless World (Concordia) are essential reading. Vaughn Roberts has authored Transgender: A Talking Points Book (Good Book), which offers a convictional, caring, thoughtful, and pastoral guide for all of us on this important subject. An important work on religious liberty, First Freedom: The Beginning and End of Religious Liberty (B&H), comes from a collaborative effort by Jason G. Duesing, Thomas White, and Malcolm B. Yarnell III. Similar themes (religious liberty, racial reconciliation, abortion, adoption, and marriage) can be found in the multi-volume series on The Gospel for Life, edited by Russell Moore and Andrew Walker (B&H).
One should definitely prioritize the brilliant work by William Edgar, Created and Creating: A Biblical Theology of Culture (InterVarsity). Another work on biblical theology developed by Ray Ortlund, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel (Crossway), faithfully explores the Bible’s teaching on this timely issue from Genesis to Revelation. Another significant work presenting a framework for thinking through these cultural issues has been written by Os Guinness, Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization (InterVarsity). R. R. Reno, the ever-engaging editor of First Things, has expanded the themes of T. S. Eliot’s classical 1940 essay in his new book, Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society (Regnery), which calls for a vision for higher things beyond a free-market economy. Another Regnery publication allows readers the opportunity to learn from the brilliant thinking of Anthony Esolen, who has given us a constructive proposal, Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture. Christiene Tietz (with translation from Victoria Barnett) has penned an exceptional treatment reflecting on the themes of community, theology, life, culture, politics, and discipleship in Theologian of the Resistance: The Life and Thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Fortress). Andy Crouch has once again written a most-engaging volume, Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing (InterVarsity).
Four must-read engaging volumes on broader cultural themes include: John D. Inazu, Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving through Deep Difference (University of Chicago); Yuval Levin, The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism (Basic); Richard Baldwin, The Great Convergence: Information Technology and the New Globalization (Harvard); J. D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (HarperCollins). Ivan Spencer has provided readers with a creative contribution to worldview thinking in his concise work, Tweetable Nietzshe: His Essential Ideas Revealed and Explained (Zondervan).
A Year for Politics
We should not be surprised that the election year brought a long list of publications related to matters of politics and culture. A few volumes that claimed my attention were: Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo, One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics (B&H); John D. Wilsey, American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea (InterVarsity); and Mark Dever, God and Politics (10Publishing). I have known Hal Poe for about three decades. During that time, I have heard dozens of stories about Southern culture and politics. Many of these stories and a few more have found their way into the interesting volume, Total Commitment: A Memoir of God and Politics When South Carolina Elected a Republican Governor (CreateSpace).
Leadership, Preaching, and Pastoral Ministry
Each year one can be assured that new leadership books will be published, for there seems to be no shortage of books and ideas related to leadership. Finding good leadership books, however, is an altogether different issue. I am pleased to suggest three quality leadership volumes to which we were introduced in 2016: Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck, Designed to Lead: The Church and Leadership Development (B&H); Daniel Montgomery with Jared Kennedy, Leadership Mosaic: 5 Leadership Principles for Ministry and Everyday Life (Crossway); and Laura Stack, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Berrett-Koehler). I have often heard it said that readers are leaders and leaders are readers. Hopefully, some of the volumes considered in this reflective piece, in addition to these specialized leadership books, will make it onto the reading lists of Christian leaders in various fields.
Christopher J. H. Wright has written an excellent work on preaching with the title, How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All its Worth (Zondervan). Tony Merida’s influence as a preacher and teacher of preaching continues to expand with the publication of The Christ-Centered Expositor (B&H). Jared Alcantara has extended his growing reputation as an expert on the legendary preaching of Gardner Taylor with his publication, Learning from a Legend: What Gardner C. Taylor Can Teach Us About Preaching (Cascade).
Pastoral Ministry often calls for engagement with a variety of the topics and themes outlined in this review. The number of volumes that could be mentioned in this category are many, but four are worthy of note: John Kilner, editor, Why People Matter: A Christian Engagement with Rival Views of Human Significance (Baker); James Emery White, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World (Baker); Jonathan Leeman, Don’t Fire Your Church Members: The Case for Congregationalism (B&H); and the tender, caring, helpful, and hopeful volume by Nancy Guthrie, What Grieving People Wish You Knew About What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts) (Crossway).
We are grateful for the hours of investment by these gifted and talented authors who have given us these noteworthy publications. We pray that the Lord will graciously allow for the making of even more engaging and helpful volumes in the year to come from which we can learn together in order to help us make progress in our thinking, in our living, and in our service for the Lord Jesus Christ.
David S. Dockery is the president of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.