For seven years I’ve had the honor of tracking non-fiction books released by Christian publishers, and in that span of time I would say 2012 was the most fruitful year of them all. Recently I gathered up my favorite titles of the year — everything from theological works and commentaries to marriage and children’s books — and chose what I think were the 12 most important books published in 2012. The task was incredibly difficult this year, but eventually I settled on the following.
1. Steve DeWitt, Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything (Credo). Pastor Steve DeWitt saw a need for a book on beauty, decided to research and write the book, and then floated it to eight Christian publishers. He was rejected eight times. A book on beauty for Christians is not a book anyone will buy, he was told. We can be glad a little publisher named Credo House caught the vision for the book. Page-by-page this book opens eyes to God-centered beauty. This is not merely a book about aesthetic appreciation. The true brilliance of this book is that it first looks at the beauty of Christ and the beauty of God’s holiness, then shows how it is through divine beauty and through Trinitarian beauty that all lesser created beauties of the world are illuminated. Of all the books released in 2012, this is in my opinion the most remarkable, and perhaps the most needed, and for those reasons it is my choice for the book of the year. On Authors on the Line episode 11 (tonight) we will talk more about beauty with DeWitt. And if you’d like a sample of the book, I pulled my 30 favorite quotes from it and posted them here.
2. Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity (IVP Academic). This was not the only book on the Trinity published in 2012, but it was by far the most delightful and soul-nourishing. Reading this is truly a rush for your head and your heart, with orthodoxy and doxology colliding page after page. Reeves writes, “Neither a problem nor a technicality, the triune being of God is the vital oxygen of Christian life and joy.” And later he writes, “In the triune God is the love behind all love, the life behind all life, the music behind all music, the beauty behind all beauty and the joy behind all joy. In other words, in the triune God is a God we can heartily enjoy — and enjoy in and through his creation.” Along with Eyes Wide Open, this is one of my favorite books of the year. It is a beautiful book and we posted two excerpts on the blog (here and here). Reeves also appeared on the Authors on the Line podcast to talk about it (episode 2).
3. Paul Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Crossway). This is a painful, slicing, surgical kind of book, the kind of book that divides intentions and thoughts in the heart of anyone whose life is dedicated to ministry. It is a surgical book, and Paul Tripp is a skillful surgeon, a self-disclosing brother, and a wise hope-giving counselor. If you are a pastor, lay elder, ministry leader, or Christian writer — if you are involved in ministry in any way — this is essential reading. It is a masterpiece, if such a thing can be said of such a painful and exposing book. Of all the books published in 2012, this is essential reading for pastors. And if your pastor has not read it (it's worth asking), this will make a possibly life-changing, maybe even life-saving, gift for him this Christmas. Not to end on a trivial note, but from an aesthetic perspective — board design, dust jacket, art, page layout, fonts, paper, overall feel, size, and weight — this is the sharpest book I saw all year.
4. Albert Mohler, The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters (Bethany House). Mohler set out to write a book to influence all types of leaders, not just pastors. And he succeeded. This book is for any Christian who has been positioned in a place where leadership decisions are required — from CEOs, to managers, to pastors, and to husbands. In this book, all Christian leaders will find direction and encouragement for their calling. This is the best book on leadership of 2012, and perhaps my favorite book by Mohler to date. He appeared on the Authors on the Line podcast to talk about it (episode 5).
5. Kyle Strobel, Jonathan Edwards's Theology: A Reinterpretation (T&T Clark). Scholars can spend their lives studying the writings of Jonathan Edwards, and many do. It seems Edwards’s scholarship develops along three lines or stages. Stage one is the gathering and making all of Edwards’s works accessible and available, work that is largely done thanks to the folks at Yale University. Stage two is getting arms around the many different branches of Edwards’s thought, and that is being done in books by authors like McClymond and McDermott. And finally, stage three considers whether Edwards’s theology can be held together by a certain center. This work is being done now, and most notably in 2012 by a young scholar named Kyle Strobel. In this book he argues that the Beatific Vision is at the center of Edwards’s thought. The Father dwells on, and delights in, the beauty of the Son, and this then shapes everything else for Edwards. “In short, I propose that Edwards’s trinitarian theology forms the overall contours of redemption by focusing on the redemption of persons by God’s self-revelation of his inner life. God’s glory, as the reality of his own beatific-delight, is the grounding of creation, redemption and consummation, determining the kind of redemption that must take place. Ultimately, God redeems by revealing his beatific-glory in Christ, through the regenerating activity of the Spirit, so that the elect experience God’s own personal delight and thereby truly know God” (19–20). At $80 this book will be outside the scope of affordability for many readers, but no worries. Strobel has a more popular-level (affordable-level) work coming out next summer that echoes these same conclusions, Formed for the Glory of God (IVP, 2013). He appeared on the very first episode of Authors on the Line.
6. Constantine Campbell, Paul and Union with Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study (Zondervan). I did not expect to see in my lifetime an exhaustive study of every mention of union with Christ in the writings of the Apostle Paul. Such a job would require an intensive amount of research, clear categorical distinctions, and unimaginable organizational creativity. But in 2012 Constantine Campbell pulled it off. At 480 pages, the book is surprisingly concise for all the ground it covers. The book is also encyclopedic, and is certain to become the standard work on understanding the various ways Paul engages the theme of union with Christ as a web to connect his entire theology. A really incredible feat, this book does require familiarity with Greek, although no Greek is needed to enjoy our Authors on the Line discussion (episode 7).
7. Joel Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Reformation Heritage). This year we saw more public criticism directed at the Puritans than any year I can recall. And yet the Puritans emerged from the dust to continue serving as spiritual lights for the modern church. As a follow-up to Beeke’s Meet the Puritans (2007), which was a series of biographical sketches, A Puritan Theology is historical theology at its finest, systematizing the Puritan’s theology (and modern Puritan scholarship) in a way to make them even more accessible to pastors and lay readers in the church. This large project was developed along themes of systematic theology, but with a heavy emphasis on piety and application. If it was important to the theology and spiritual life of ye olde Puritans, you will likely find it somewhere in this 1,060-page tome.
8. Ray Ortlund, Proverbs: Wisdom that Works (Crossway). Look up proverbialist in a dictionary and you are sure to find a mug shot of Ray Ortlund. And while some will think the choice of best commentary of the year should have gone to thick books like those from Schnabel (Acts) or Pao (Colossians) or Block (Deuteronomy), I chose Ortlund. Through his proverbial writing style he models to modern readers an interpretation of the ancient book of Proverbs through a Christ-centered lens. His commentary is loaded with relevant points like this: “Twitter and blogs and emails would be cleared of much conflict if we humbled our opinions before Christ. What are we here for, really? What does God want to be stirred up in our hearts? He says, stir one another up to love and good deeds.” This 224-page commentary is a gem from 2012. Ortlund brilliantly models for the modern Christian how to interpret and pastorally apply the book of Proverbs in light of Christ’s finished work. It’s one of those rare commentaries best read cover to cover.
9. Sally Lloyd-Jones, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing (Zonderkidz). This is the devotional follow-up to the 2007 release The Jesus Storybook Bible, and is every bit its equal in quality of storytelling and visual illustrations. And it may actually be superior in content. In a devotional style, we see again Lloyd-Jones’s excellence in how she skillfully translates complex and abstract theological categories (like glory) through story to young children. But what I have noticed in reading this to my two youngest children (7 and 5) is how incredibly easy it is to finish the story and be led right into a conversation with them about God. There are some really priceless stories in this new book, including one titled “Dance!” that explains to children God’s inter-Trinitarian delight (19), and one called “Glorify!” to essentially introduce Christian Hedonism in 135 words (52). This is another masterpiece from Sally Lloyd-Jones for parents who want to provoke Godward thoughts in the minds and hearts of their children and families.
10. Jared Wilson, Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus (Crossway). Few young authors can drive the gospel into the modern life like Jared Wilson, and in 2012 he released what I think is his best book yet — Gospel Deeps. The title is taken from the writings of Puritan Thomas Goodwin (+10 points). This book, like its author, is endlessly tweetable: “If holiness makes you a sourpuss, you’re doing it wrong.” “If Christ is true, then boredom is a sin.” “We are saved from God to God by God through God for God. The godhead works in concert so that salvation will engulf you in God.” Any church with one of those removable letter signs will find all sorts of inspiration from this book. This is a serious book about the depths of grace in Christ, and it’s an edifying and enjoyable book on the rich delight of the gospel. Slowly reading through it two times are sweet memories I take from 2012.
11. Rachel Jankovic, Fit to Burst: Abundance Mayhem, and the Joys of Motherhood (Canon). If you liked Rachel’s first book you will like this follow-up, and in my opinion you may even like it more. In this second book, I think she does an even better job centering motherhood on the perfect work of Christ. It was one of my favorite reads of the year, if such a pronouncement can by made by a guy about a book by a woman for women. The book will be released from Amazon in late January 2013. Until then it can be ordered and shipped from the publisher, Canon Press.
12. Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness (Crossway). This book navigates two erroneous views of sanctification, namely sanctification by over-introspection and sanctification by self-forgetfulness, while managing to be a firm and gentle corrective to a third popular error, sanctification by mere justification-recall/refresh. In avoiding these errors, DeYoung is able to firmly set the pursuit of holiness within the framework of gospel hope and (something that I think is particularly needed today) within the context of our living and vital union with Christ. Although the book has gotten quite a lot of press this year, it remains one of the brilliant books of 2012 and is very much worth reading if you haven’t gotten around to it yet. It's worth noting the book is a finalist for the CBA book design of the year award.
Other Noteworthy 2012 Releases and Honorable Mentions
With such an abundance of excellent books published this year, I found it hard to stop with my top 12. What follows is a list of books released in 2012 that includes a mixture of books that I read and enjoyed (⊕), books I scanned thoroughly and look impressive to me (⊖), and otherwise noteworthy books released in 2012 that I didn't have time to read but are worth mentioning (⊘).
- Matt Chandler, Explicit Gospel (Crossway) ⊕
Church, ministry and leadership:
- Scott Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536–1609 (Oxford) ⊖
- Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (Dutton) ⊕
- Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Zondervan) ⊘
- Matt Chandler, Eric Geiger, and Josh Patterson, Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church (B&H) ⊘
- Zack Eswine, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being (Crossway) ⊘
- Jack Hart, Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction (University of Chicago) ⊕
- Constance Hale, Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: Let Verbs Power Your Writing (W. W. Norton) ⊕
- Douglas Wilson, Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life (Canon) ⊕
Marriage, family, children, and home:
- Douglas Wilson, Father Hunger: Why God Calls Men to Love and Lead Their Families (Thomas Nelson) ⊕
- Justin Buzzard, Date Your Wife (Crossway) ⊕
- Marty Machowski, Old Story New: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family (New Growth) ⊘
- Lydia Brownback, A Woman’s Wisdom: How the Book of Proverbs Speaks to Everything (Crossway) ⊕
Biography, Puritans, and historical theology:
- Fred Zaspel, Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel (Crossway). ⊕ See my book review here.
- J. I. Packer, Puritan Portraits: J.I. Packer on Selected Classic Pastors and Pastoral Classics (Christian Focus) ⊕
- Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Crossway) ⊕
- Edward Klink and Darian Lockett, Understanding Biblical Theology: A Comparison of Theory and Practice (Zondervan) ⊕
Original languages and Bible interpretation:
- G. K. Beale, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation (Baker Academic) ⊕
- Nestle-Aland 28th Edition and English Standard Version (Crossway) ⊖
- Jonathan Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction (Baker Academic) ⊖
- Murray Harris, Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament: An Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis (Zondervan) ⊘
Biblical studies and commentaries:
- David Pao, Colossians and Philemon (Zondervan) ⊕
- Daniel Block, Deuteronomy (Zondervan) ⊘
- Eckhard Schnabel, Acts (Zondervan) ⊖
- Darrell Bock, A Theology of Luke and Acts: God’s Promised Program, Realized for All Nations (Zondervan) ⊖
- Toby Sumpter, A Son for Glory: Job Through New Eyes (Athanasius Press) ⊕
- John Jefferson Davis, Meditation and Communion with God: Contemplating Scripture in an Age of Distraction (IVP Academic) ⊕
My Previous Book of the Year Choices
- 2011: G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Baker Academic)
- 2010: D. A. Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (Crossway) and D. A. Carson, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God's Story (Baker)
- 2009: Bruce Gordon, Calvin (Yale)
- 2008: ESV Study Bible (Crossway) and Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Baker Academic)
- 2007: Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Zondervan)
- 2006: Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson, Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints (Reformation Heritage)