A Look at Notable Books for 2018
December 13, 2018
By David S. Dockery, President, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
We are just days away from the conclusion of the 2018 year. Once again, it is time to reflect on some of the noteworthy books that have been released in 2018. Various estimates suggest that more than 750,000 different titles were published in this country over the past twelve months. I obviously have not looked at all of these books, not even a significant portion of them. The book industry has enjoyed a fairly successful year due to the interest in books about President Trump and the runaway bestseller by former First Lady Michelle Obama. Similar to what I have done in recent years, I want to offer a brief survey of the most significant books that I have encountered this past year. I am thankful for the encouragement to provide the list again this year. I am sure that I have missed a few favorites for some and have included books that will perhaps bring pause for others. Still, I am grateful for the privilege to share these observations.
Looking for the Right Gift
If you are looking for a book to give to a friend or family member for Christmas, I offer these titles for your consideration.
Karen Swallow Prior’s new work, On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books (Baker), persuasively makes the case that reading good literature helps to cultivate virtue in one’s life. I heartily recommend Prior’s outstanding book. Also concerned with the need for virtuous living and careful thinking, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, in The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure (Penguin Press), have produced an engaging and thoughtful volume. I really like Drew Hunter’s work on the importance of friendship: Made for Friendship: The Relationship that Halves our Sorrows and Doubles our Joys (Crossway). In our polarized and cynical world, readers are pointed in a more hopeful direction by Jason Duesing in his reflections on Mere Hope: Life in an Age of Cynicism (B&H). Jen Wilkin has produced yet another fine work titled In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character (Crossway). Many will appreciate Jackie Hill Perry’s powerful story, Gay Girl: Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been (B&H).
Two wonderful devotional guides, which will make for great gifts, can be found in books by Ronnie Collier Stevens, The Path to Discipleship: A Year in John 1-11 (Rampart) and by Owen Strachan, Always in God’s Hands: Day by Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards (Tyndale). Two well-known pastors have given us helpful publications to strengthen our walk with Christ: Matt Chandler, Take Heart: Christian Courage in the Age of Unbelief (The Good Book Company) and Josh Moody, How the Bible Can Change Your Life: Answers to the Ten Most Common Questions about the Bible (Christian Focus). A readable biography on Susannah Spurgeon, wife of Charles Spurgeon, has been authored by Ray Rhodes, Susie (Moody).
Education and Collected Writings
I am very impressed with the collection of essays found in Where Wisdom May Be Found: The Eternal Value of Integrated Christian Education (Wipf & Stock), edited by Edward P. Meadors. Gregory C. Carlson has written a fine book on teaching: Understanding Teaching: Creatively Prompting Biblical Life-Change (Evangelical Training Association). Drs. Stephen and Mary Lowe have presented us with a thoughtful apologetic for how online learning can provide more than information, pointing to the priority of personal and character formation in their book called Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age: Spiritual Growth through Online Education (InterVarsity).
I am extremely grateful to those who have worked to make the writings of James Leo Garrett Jr. and James Earl Massey available to a new generation of readers: Wyman Lewis Richardson, editor, The Collected Writings of James Leo Garrett Jr., 1950-2015: Volume Two: Baptists, Part II (Resource Publications); Barry L. Callen and Curtiss Paul DeYoung, Views from the Mountain: Select Writings of James Earl Massey (Aldersgate).
Culture and Cultural Engagement
The number of books in this category seems to expand each year. The complex challenges with which we live in this fallen world create multiple opportunities to think about ways to address and influence these cultural issues, including lessons learned from others who found ways to do so for their generation. These books address wide-ranging topics and often do so from various perspectives. I offer a number of different tiles for your consideration: Alan Jacobs, The Year of our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis (Oxford); Ed Stetzer, Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World is at its Worst (Tyndale); Lewis Baldwin and Victor Anderson, editors, Revives My Soul Again: The Spirituality of Martin Luther King Jr. (Fortress); Charles Marsh and John M. Perkins, Welcoming Justice: God’s Movement Toward Beloved Community (Expanded edition, InterVarsity); Anthony Esolen, Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World (Regnery); Rosario Butterfield, The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in our Post-Christian World (Crossway); Russell Moore, The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home (B&H); Trevin Wax, Eschatological Discipleship: Leading Christians to Understand Their Historical and Cultural Context (B&H); Christina S. Hitchcock, The Significance of Singleness: A Theological Vision for the Future of the Church (Baker); Read Mercer Schuchardt, Media, Journalism, and Communication: A Student’s Guide (Crossway); J.P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism (Crossway); Christian Smith, Atheist Overreach (Oxford); Os Guinness, Last Call for Liberty (InterVarsity); Bruce Riley Ashford, Letters to an American Christian (B&H); Douglas Estes, Braving the Future: Christian Faith in a World of Limitless Tech (Herald); Frederick Downing, Clarence Jordan: A Radical Pilgrimage in Scorn of the Consequences (Mercer University Press); and Steven D. Smith, Pagans and Christians in the City: Culture Wars from the Tiber to the Potomac (Emory University Studies in Law and Religion). Two fascinating studies on the role of “rock ‘n roll” on the Christian movement and its culture have been published this past year: Randall J. Stephens, The Devil’s Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock ‘N Roll (Harvard University Press) and Gregory A. Thornbury, Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock (Convergent).
I should note that I had a hand in the development of the Worldview Study Bible; I offer it not because of my involvement, but because of the distinctive place that it has in the vast array of Study Bibles and because of the quality of the many articles contained therein (other than my own). With that caveat, I suggest five new resources for your consideration: ESV Archaeology Study Bible (Crossway); CSB Worldview Study Bible (B&H); CSB Baker Illustrated Study Bible (Baker); NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible (Zondervan); and the CSB Day by Day Chronological Bible (B&H). This final work, which was put together by George Guthrie, will be immensely helpful for many.
Biblical Studies and Biblical Theology
The number of commentaries, study guides, and reference works seems to continue to grow with each passing year. My list begins with Old Testament works before moving to a larger list of New Testament entries. I commend the incisive study on wisdom literature by Richard Belcher and the quality work on Hosea by Eric Tully: Richard Belcher, Finding Favor in the Sight of God: A Theology of Wisdom Literature, (InterVarsity) and Eric J. Tully, Hosea: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text (Baylor University Press). Also, readers will find much help from Paul House’s new work on Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (InterVarsity)
Two brilliant works on New Testament theology along with four excellent commentaries top the list on the New Testament side: Craig L. Blomberg, A Theology of the New Testament (Baylor University Press); Peter Stuhlmacher, Biblical Theology of the New Testament (Eerdmans); Frank Thielman, Romans in the Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan); Craig S. Keener, Galatians in the Cambridge New Testament Commentary (Cambridge); Robert W. Yarbrough, The Letters of Timothy and Titus in the Pillar New Testament Commentary (Eerdmans); and Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, 2nd edition, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker)
Other impressive works include: Joshua Jipp, Reading Acts (Wipf and Stock); Jörg Frey, The Glory of the Crucified One: Christology and Theology in the Gospel of John (Baylor University Press); Peter J. Williams, Can We Trust the Gospels (Crossway); and Donald A. Hagner, How New is the New Testament: First Century Judaism and the Emergence of Christianity (Baker).
John Feinberg’s massive work on Scripture, Light in a Dark Place: The Doctrine of Scripture in Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Crossway), provides readers with a classic explication of the inspiration and authority of the Bible. I cannot imagine a more comprehensive study on tendencies toward universalism than what is found in the two-volume work by Michael J. McClymond, The Devil’s Redemption: A New History and Interpretation of Christian Universalism (Baker). A handy tool to put in the hands of new believers or church leaders is Gregg R. Allison’s 50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith: A Guide to Understanding and Teaching Theology (Baker). Michael Horton’s thorough study of the doctrine of justification is certainly noteworthy: Michael J. Horton, Justification, 2 vols. (Zondervan). Jonathan King has given us a most thoughtful volume: The Beauty of the Lord: Theology as Aesthetics (Lexham).
These fine books on theological topics are written for a wider audience: Michael Wilkins and Erik Theonnes, Biblical and Theological Studies: A Student’s Guide in the Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition (Crossway); John Frame, Christianity Considered: A Guide for Skeptics and Seekers (Lexham); and Thomas R. Schreiner, Spiritual Gifts: What They Are and Why They Matter (B&H).
Three important works from our Roman Catholic and Orthodox friends include: Thomas Guarino, The Disputed Teachings of Vatican II: Continuity and Reversal in Catholic Doctrine (Eerdmans); Douglas Farrow, Theological Negotiations: Proposals in Soteriology and Anthropology (Baker); and Vigen Guroian, The Orthodox Reality: Culture, Theology, and Ethics in the Modern World (Baker)
Apologetics and Ethics
I cannot overstate my delight with the volume written by Joshua D. Chatraw and Mark Allen: Apologetics at the Cross: An Introduction for Christian Witness (Zondervan). Other important works in the areas of apologetics and ethics include: Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God: Finding God in the Modern World (Penguin); Sam Chan, Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News about Jesus More Believable (Zondervan); Wayne Grudem, Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning (Crossway); Jerry L. Walls, Jeremy Neill, and David Baggett, editors, Venus and Virtue: Celebrating Sex and Seeking Sanctification (Cascade) and Nancy Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Questions about Love and Sexuality (Baker).
In addition to the splendid history of philosophy from C. Stephen Evans, A History of Western Philosophy: From the Pre-Socratics to Postmodernism (InterVarsity), those interested in history or similar fields will want to place these book on their radar: Paul S. Fiddes, William H. Brackney, and Malcolm B. Yarnell III, The Fourth Strand of the Reformation: The Covenant Ecclesiology of the Anabaptists, English Separatists, and Early General Baptists (Centre for Baptist History and Heritage); Douglas A. Sweeney and Owen Strachan, The Essential Jonathan Edwards (Updated and revised, Moody); Oliver D. Crisp and Kyle D. Strobel, Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to His Thought (Eerdmans); Daniel T. Rogers, As a City On a Hill: The Story of America’s Most Famous Lay Sermon (Princeton); Patrick Parr’s work on MLK during his seminary days provides a window into the shaping years of King’s life: The Seminarian: Martin Luther King Jr. Comes of Age (Chicago Review Press).
Missions and World Religions
Keith Eitel has enlisted several capable theologians and missiologists to help him update and interact with the republication of a book by David Hesselgrave: Paradigms in Conflict: 15 Key Questions in Christian Missions Today, (expanded and updated edition Kregel). Another important work worthy of note is one by James E. Plueddemann, Teaching across Cultures: Contextualizing Education for Global Mission (InterVarsity). Tim Dowley has put together a fine Atlas of World Religions (Fortress).
Pastoral Ministry and Leadership
I always learn something from Thom Rainer’s pastoral writings and that again is the case with his Becoming a Welcoming Church (B&H). A most interesting work dealing with the intricacies of leadership and church life from three seasoned authors can be found in the new InterVarsity publication called The Politics of Ministry: Navigating Power Dynamics and Negotiating Interests, by Bob Burns, Tasha D. Chapman, and Donald C. Guthrie. Michael S. Wilder and Timothy Paul Jones have written an inviting book on leadership: The God Who Goes Before You: Pastoral Leadership as Christ-Centered Fellowship (B&H). A wonderful multi-authored resource on preaching has been put together by Benjamin K. Forrest, Kevin King, Dwight Milioni, and William J. Curtis, A Legacy of Preaching – – Apostles to the Present Day: The Life, Theology, and Method of History’s Great Preachers, 2 vols. (Zondervan). I heartily commend the resource by Greg R. Scharf and Arthur Kok: The New Elder’s Handbook: A Biblical Guide to Developing Faithful Leaders (Baker).
Two other multi-authored works that I would like to mention because of the contributions contained in each one are: Theology, Church, and Ministry: A Handbook on Theological Education (B&H) and Christian Higher Education: Faith, Teaching, and Learning in the Evangelical Tradition (Crossway). I had the privilege of being involved in these volumes and I mention them for the same reasons that I noted above regarding the Study Bible project. The contributions by friends and colleagues in these two volumes will, I trust, be helpful for many who are interested in the areas of theological education and in the broader field of Christian higher education.
Looking Toward 2019
The new year is just around the corner. I have been privileged to learn a little about or to preview some important titles that will soon be published. I am looking forward to the opportunity to see these books in print in the very near future: Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples through Scripture and Doctrine (Lexham); Albert Mohler, The Apostles’ Creed: Discovering Authentic Christianity in an Age of Counterfeits (Nelson); Craig S. Keener, Galatians: A Commentary (Baker); Rebecca McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion (Crossway); Jacob Shatzer, Transhumanism and the Image of God (InterVarsity); and Todd Charles Wood and Darrell R. Falk with Rob Barrett, A Fool and a Heretic: How Two Scientists Moved beyond Labels to a Christian Dialogue about Creation and Evolution (Zondervan).
A Concluding Word
Those who have worked hard to bring together these fine resources are worthy of our thanks and commendation. We offer our gratitude for their service to both church and society. We trust that the Lord will allow us to read well and to think deeply about many of the important ideas and issues addressed in these various volumes. How thankful we are for the good work and faithful efforts of publishers who make these resources available to us. Let us pray that we will be good stewards of these gifts and that the Spirit of God will help us all become more like the Lord Jesus Christ through reflection, interaction, and engagement with at least some of these notable books that were published in 2018.
To receive God Centered Life articles directly in your inbox, as well as other resources, click "subscribe" and fill out the information.