Top 17 Books of 2017
The Best New Christian Nonfiction
Once again, I’m honored to choose my favorite nonfiction Christian books published in the last calendar year, my twelfth consecutive list. 2017 proved to be the most difficult year yet (and I’m sure I said the same thing last year), all driven by aggressive publishing momentum.
This year about 120 new titles caught my attention, and I set out to read the best of them until I could whittle down a list of my 17 favorite reads from the year. But before getting to the list, a few overall comments.
Female authors continue publishing new books at a swift pace, strong in 2014 and a little less prominent in 2015, but with more steam in 2016 and 2017. Women are now a mainstay and growing proportion of Christian publishing.
Christian publishing continues to deliver on aesthetics across the board, both on cover design and interior design, illustrated by projects like the ESV Illuminated Bible from Crossway and the beautiful Lost Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon series (volume 1 and volume 2) from B&H.
Once again, 2017 did not quite deliver biblical theology or commentaries like we saw in 2015, although we do continue to see solid contributions in two premier series: New Studies in Biblical Theology (IVP) and Short Studies in Biblical Theology (Crossway).
Closer to home, God richly blessed desiringGod.org and Bethlehem College & Seminary with seven new titles in 2017:
- John Piper, Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture
- Jason DeRouchie, How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology
- Andy Naselli, How to Understand and Apply the New Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology
- Andy Naselli, No Quick Fix: Where Higher Life Theology Came From, What It Is, and Why It’s Harmful
- Brian Tabb, Suffering in Ancient Worldview: Luke, Seneca, and 4 Maccabees in Dialogue
- Marshall Segal, Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness and Dating
- Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You
It was a strong year for books related to singleness, marriage, and dating. Along with Segal’s gospel-wise plea to the not-yet married, Deepak Reju helped women steer clear of man-duds; David Powlison offered healing for the sexually broken and hope forward in Christ; Ben Stuart helped to wisely navigate singleness, dating, engagement, and the early married years; and Lydia Brownback tackled the loneliness that will find us whether we “win” or “lose” at romance.
Several significant books in 2017 again attempted to unknot the questions over how Christians best relate to politics and society (no small task). The most talked about book of the year was Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, a strategy of withdrawal from culture in order to better engage with it. Also noteworthy was James K.A. Smith’s Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology, a call to return to a robust Augustinian and Kuyperian model in all its glory. Speaking of Abraham Kuyper, Craig Bartholomew wrote a captivating book, Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction (a book I reviewed for The Gospel Coalition). And 2017 marked the midpoint in Logos/Lexham Press’s ambitious English-translation work of the 12-volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology.
Over the last eighteen months, we’ve seen a swell of valuable books for the suffering and grieving — covering issues as broad as loneliness, depression, disability, chronic pain, terminal illness, raising special-needs kids, and the anguish of losing children. In 2016 we saw ten books from Eswine, Howard, the Wilsons, Ryken, Furman, Guthrie, Tada, Risner, Voskamp, and Taylor. In 2017, six more titles were added from Lydia Brownback, Russ Ramsey, Sarah Walton and Kristen Wetherell, Richard Belcher, Kelly Kapic, and Connie Dever. And two more noteworthy titles are slated for release in 2018: one from counselor David Powlison and a memoir from Jack Deere. The concentration of so many edifying titles, in such a short publishing season, is nothing less than a remarkable work of the Spirit.
A Thank You
Assembling this list each year reminds me of the breadth of Christian content — the collection of writers and the diversity of genres that are serving the church today. Writing Christian nonfiction is hard work, and it’s mostly not lucrative — so I remain grateful for the writers and the publishers and the editors and the designers who sacrificially labor behind each of these titles. We live in the golden age of publishing, and reading (like writing) is a way of serving others, as we link helpful books to the specific needs and interests of our friends around us.
With my gratitude for all the labors of 2017, here’s my list of the year’s 17 best books, lumped together and sorted by my scientifically subjective algorithm of intuition about what books I think (1) are broadly valuable to the most readers, (2) contribute well to a specific topic, (3) succeed in their intended aims, and (4) will endure to serve the church for years ahead.
Top 17 Books of 2017
17. The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together by Jared Wilson
Jared Wilson has written a shelf of valuable books, but this one is his best yet. “For the sake of the cut-ups and the screw-ups, the tired and the torn-up, the weary and the wounded — how about we demystify discipleship?” Yes, and who isn’t inside these categories? Discipleship is for the cut-ups and the screw-ups, the tired and the torn-up, the weary and the wounded. Such a great sentence (worth repeating!) — and such a wise book. Few modern authors pastor my soul through prose better than Wilson.
16. The Messiah Comes to Middle-Earth: Images of Christ’s Threefold Office in The Lord of the Rings by Philip Ryken
J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series, intentionally didn’t write allegories (like Narnia). But in his letters, Tolkien tips us off that spiritual truths saturate his works. So how do we best mine out all the spiritual allusions in the intentionally de-religioned world of Middle-earth? One way is to find the threefold offices of Christ in the mix of characters that point to Christ. “The center of all joy is Jesus Christ — the word-speaking prophet, the sacrifice-offering priest, and the peace-bringing king.” From this center, Ryken works back from Christ in this beautifully illuminating volume, a capstone to what was perhaps the best twelve months in Tolkien studies and monographs I’ve ever seen, which included Eilmann on Tolkien’s “highly distinctive Romantic longing for a lost world”; Coutras on Tolkien’s supreme articulation of majesty and splendor; and Rhone on Tolkien’s “mythopoeic” worldview which connects him to Lewis, Chesterton, and MacDonald.
15. Exodus by T. Desmond Alexander
The year was rather slow for large academic commentaries, but this volume would have been the most important and significant commentary in just about any year. An 800-page offering on Exodus from one of the best minds in biblical theology, it’s a very good conservative commentary on the text with great care given to apply this prominent Old Testament narrative into the sweeping storyline of Scripture — like few but Alexander can pull off. Also noteworthy, Andreas Köstenberger on the Pastoral Epistles.
14. The Last Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the Gospels by Brandon Crowe
Whenever I read Jonathan Edwards on the glory of Christ, I am surprised again at how much time he devotes to Christ’s humility, obedience, and demonstrations of love — the nitty-gritty acts of Christ’s life. Crowe does something similar here. Jesus is the true second Adam in every way. In his life, words, and attitudes, Christ was everything Adam failed to be, and on this basis he becomes our substitutionary atonement. The book echoes with the last words of J. Gresham Machen: “I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.” The eternal generation of Christ was reclaimed in a bold way in 2017. May this also be known as the year that we reclaimed the active obedience of Christ — because without the life-obedience of Christ, there would be no gospel hope for him to offer us.
13. Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World by Larry Hurtado
To be a Christian in the first two centuries was to be weird — gloriously bizarre and odd. Christians handled marriage and sex and worship and social action so distinctly from the Roman pagans around them, it was impossible not to notice the differences. Hurtado has masterfully recreated the stark contrasts in this book. His egalitarian worldview emerges in places (especially when talking about household codes, which he sees as socially constructed, not originating in the Creator’s design). But this message of the cultural distinctiveness of Christ’s followers is especially relevant for us today. A rich and wonderful historical study! For other notable works in historical studies, see Michael Kruger on the church’s identity struggle in the second century, and Brian Wright on the place of communal reading in the Greco-Roman world, and how the practice gave shape to the New Testament and fueled gospel spread.
12. God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs by Tim and Kathy Keller
Following their 2015 devotional in the Psalms, the Kellers have produced a new companion devotional on the Proverbs. As you would expect, it’s a magnificent collection of bite-sized wisdom from Scripture and from their decades of cultural engagement, church leadership, parenting, and marriage. This book would be a delightful way to invest a year of reflection.
11. God’s Very Good Idea: A True Story of God’s Delightfully Different Family by Trillia Newbell and Catalina Echeverri
We need more brave authors willing to jump into the present racial tensions and offer Christ-centered vision and hope for ethnic unity. Trillia Newbell has written a very wise walk through creation, fall, redemption, and restoration — all highlighting God’s plan for the diversity among his image bearers, and all wonderfully explained and illustrated for children. For adults, see Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey’s historical novel Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson, Unlikely Friends on the Passage to Freedom.
10. A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards edited by Nathan Finn and Jeremy Kimble
Great old books are important for a reason, but many of the best books are also locked away from modern-day readers by ambiguities and dated debates that make them inaccessible. Helping readers ease into classics is one of the premier gifts that serious scholars offer to reading Christians. In this spirit, Finn and Kimble have edited and delivered a gift to unlock the great books of Jonathan Edwards. Every essay is solid. This year we also saw the massive 700-page Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia edited by Harry Stout, a significant library add for any serious student of Edwards’s life, thought, and theology.
9. True Feelings: God’s Gracious and Glorious Purpose for Our Emotions by Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Mahaney Whitacre
The authors write, “Whatever our emotional struggle — and we should put every confusing, bizarre, and unruly feeling in this category, leaving nothing out — we will find help and hope in the Bible. There is hope for the teenage girl who wonders why her emotions feel out of control and hope for the woman whose hormones stalk her every month. There is hope for the employee trying to manage stress in the workplace and for the mom who hates that she’s always getting angry at her kids. . . . When we lose heart, when we feel helpless to change our emotions, we must remember the gospel. God, who did not spare his own Son to save us from our sins (Romans 8:32), will not leave us to drown in our emotional rip currents” (27). It’s an incredibly insightful book. Other notable books for women in 2017 include Lydia Brownback on the Psalms, Shona Murray on burnout, Jen Pollock Michel and Courtney Reissig on the dignity of the home, and Christina Fox on union with Christ and friendship.
8. Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken by David Powlison
Every one of us lives with a fallen and sinful sexuality, and every one of us is influenced by the sexual dysfunctions of others. Most books on sexual brokenness focus on one particular struggle, but leave it to David Powlison to discern patterns of similarity that we can all relate to, and to simultaneously address the gospel in two directions. “Some books are written to help people who struggle with their immoral sexual impulses. Other books are written for people who struggle with the impact of sexual betrayal, molestation, and assault. But this book will intentionally look in both directions,” Powlison writes, because “there are not two gospels, one for sinners and one for sufferers! There is the one gospel of Jesus Christ, who came to make saints of all kinds of sinner-sufferers and sufferer-sinners, whatever our particular configuration of defections and distresses.” In 2017, Powlison also released the book How Does Sanctification Work?
7. Entering into Rest: Ethics as Theology by Oliver O’Donovan
Likely the most revered academic ethicist today, Anglican theologian Oliver O’Donovan is writing books that will be read and studied for decades to come. This year marked the completion of the third and final volume in his series “Ethics as Theology” — or “ethics after Pentecost,” as he has called it (see volume 1 and volume 2). To use the author’s dynamic explanation of the trilogy, the series is intended to explain “how the active self expands into loving knowledge, is narrowed down to action, and finally attains rest in its accomplishment” (1:103). Throughout the series, O’Donovan has shown keen awareness of the centrality of joy in ethics, making him especially valuable to Christian Hedonists. This final volume speaks of rest and discipleship within an eschatological hope, weighted with the expectations of future redemption driving our lives and loves now. It is the capstone on a magnificent trilogy I’ll be rereading for years to come.
6. Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End by David Gibson
If the author of Ecclesiastes could behold the raw tonnage of commentaries on Ecclesiastes on the market today, he would surely face-palm in the regret of an unheeded sage. Didn’t he warn us about the overabundance of books? Yes, he did (Ecclesiastes 12:12). So this book would at least have to be a superior offering to warrant the paper it’s printed on. And it is. In the words of Don Carson, “The past two decades have witnessed quite a number of popular expositions of Ecclesiastes — and this one by David Gibson is the best of them.” Consider the mic dropped.
5. Practicing the Power: Welcoming the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Your Life by Sam Storms
Continuationism, as a conviction, is alive and well in Reformed circles, signaling a great victory over several years of theological opposition. But now what? Now that we have defended the spiritual gifts, how do we pursue them in practice? This is the hard work, the daunting task, and the somewhat awkward and uncomfortable practice of moving out from the safety of theological debates and into the rather unpredictable work of the Holy Spirit. Sam Storms has been preparing for this moment for years, and we have been long awaiting a book like this one. In the words of pastor Matt Chandler, in his foreword, “It is not an exaggeration to say I have been waiting for this book for close to fifteen years.” Chandler speaks on behalf of many pastors and believers of this new openness, this new eagerness, not merely open to the gifts of the Spirit, but now in earnest pursuit of those gifts in practice, for ourselves, for the spread of the gospel, and for the health of our local churches (1 Corinthians 14:1). Writes Storms, “we are responsible to actively and energetically pursue spiritual gifts” (40). The rest of the book explains how.
4. Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture by John Piper
This is the second book in Piper’s major new trilogy. Book 1, A Peculiar Glory, released in the spring of 2016, offered Piper’s account of Scripture’s self-attesting authority. Book 2, Reading the Bible Supernaturally, launched in the spring, explains how Piper goes about reading and studying to find meaning in Scripture, which requires both supernatural and natural mechanics. Finally, Book 3, Expository Exultation, launches in the spring of 2018, and there Piper will explain how preaching is an act of worship. That’s the trilogy: authority, meaning, heralding. This new book in the middle is loaded with practical help for approaching the Bible, especially in part 3, pages 225–390, principles which no Bible reader will want to miss. To hear Piper himself explain the architecture of his new trilogy, see Ask Pastor John episode 1047.
3. Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World by Eric Metaxas
It was the year of Martin Luther and the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Luther was a master at preaching and publishing and convincing masses. And he was also a haunted man with demons in his past that we must reckon with today. But of all the books published in 2017 on Luther and the Reformation, this 500-page version of Luther’s life is most filled with cultural detail, wit, prose verve, and creative energy — as we have come to expect from the pen of Metaxas.
2. Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk by Michelle DeRusha
The Protestant Reformation reclaimed a lot of things — including the beauty and value of marriage. The Luthers enjoyed a sweet marriage in many ways, but it was not without challenges. Katharina, the runaway nun, carried incredible domestic responsibilities, but was not meek, and often displayed a very strong will. Martin, the renegade monk, respected women, but made disparaging comments about them too, at times, even once making it clear that his ideal wife would be chiseled from stone as a quiet and obedient woman (cringe). Needless to say, marriage did not come naturally to either of them, but in the end, “Luther found the best possible partner in Katharina, a woman who deeply loved and respected him, yet also managed his volatile moods and his difficult personality and offered him intellectual stimulation and companionship. Luther undoubtedly understood how challenging and difficult he was. Feisty and strong, courageous and smart, industrious and utterly devoted, Katharina was, in fact, the perfect match for Martin Luther, and he knew it” (212). They do complement one another in a beautiful way. In her foreword to this book, Karen Swallow Prior writes, “Luther’s decision to marry Katharina von Bora specifically contributed to the Protestant understanding of marriage because of the particular ways these two particular people shaped one another and the life they created together. . . . [In our own time] — when marriage seems to be at once despised and idolized, both within the church and outside it, and when the very definition of marriage has been challenged, chastened, and changed — the radical marriage of Katharina and Martin Luther serves as a timely remembrance for the church.” Amen. May the 500th anniversary of the Reformation be a celebration of the value and dignity of marriage, and the preciousness of the home and domestic life — a mash-up of daily chores, messy struggles, spousal tensions, sacrificial love, wholehearted commitment, and transcendent joys and glories. Lastly, I should say this book makes for a fascinating look at one of the most unique couples in church history, but it’s not necessarily a reliable blueprint for every Christian marriage. (Hang tight — books that explain the design of marriage from Scripture will headline 2018.)
1. Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography by Herman Selderhuis
I first met Selderhuis by way of his 2009 biography of John Calvin. This new work of Luther’s life is similar — a Dutch biography translated into English, using sentences that are short, punchy, and precise. I don’t know of another theologian or historian who labors more diligently to make his works accessible like Selderhuis. No doubt we have lost something of him in the translation, but what we have in this biography is a rich gift to English readers. As Metaxas writes long-windedly and often seems to intrude into the narrative, Selderhuis writes with the subtle touch of brevity and precision of a man trying to paint with bright colors while keeping his own fingerprints out of the portrait. He gets details right, as you would expect from a scholar of his repute. (Of all the books I read on the Reformation this year, none better laid out the subtle historical transformation of Roman Catholic indulgences from a rather harmless certificate, originally, to something that became increasingly bold, dangerous, and finally thoroughly heretical.) Selderhuis’s skills — his readability, style, nuance, and focus on the interior of Luther’s spiritual life — combine to make this work my favorite read of 2017, the year of Martin Luther.
The New City Catechism Devotional: God’s Truth for Our Hearts and Minds edited by Collin Hansen. It was a very good year for our friends at The Gospel Coalition, but this new catechism brought catechesis back on the map. Not only did it bring back the category, The Gospel Coalition delivered on an easy-to-use catechism (print and app) to help us all get back into the habit. Well designed and delivered, it is flexible enough to be useful for a variety of ages.
Exalting Jesus in Hebrews by Albert Mohler. For all his notoriety as a seminary reformer and worldview commentator on the daily news, Mohler’s preaching often goes unheralded. This new expositional commentary through Hebrews, developed from his pulpit ministry, is a good reminder of his exegetical skill. Beautifully Christ-exalting, this book is a solid expositional commentary to inspire preachers and a feast of Christ’s glory to any hungry soul.
This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years by Jaquelle Crowe. Written from one teen to other teens, this book is bold, compassionate, and articulate on what it means to live for Christ and to build into a local church. In my endorsement, I wrote, “Wise teens need straight talk — bold talk! — the kind of advice that is sharp enough to help them cut through the false promises and lies of our culture and blunt enough to push back all the old, tired stereotypes of teenagers. . . . These precious years are not the time to slack off; they’re the time to stand out.”
A Small Book about a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger, Patience, and Peace by Edward Welch. Packaged in a fifty-day devotional, Welch’s latest book is a short, sharp, and direct weapon to war against personal struggles with anger in all its root causes. The reader will learn again to love by putting off judgmental spirits, grumbling, jealousy, selfishness, and blame-shifting. By relinquishing control over others, readers can find the freedom and joy of a life of self-giving love to others and humility before the eyes of God.
The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place by Andy Crouch. Tech books are the rage these days, specifically in helping us limit and resist the ubiquity of digital media that wants to saturate our teens, our homes, and our lives 24-7. This was one of the year’s better outlines for how to bring balance and digital sanity into the habits and routines of the home. It’s a noble, rational account for why Christian families should resist the intrusions of the digital age, though I think in the end, Crouch undersells the relevance of Scripture to speak to the heart impulses and desires captivated by the digital age (merely a dozen Bible citations). “We are continually being nudged by our devices toward a set of choices,” Crouch writes. “The question is whether those choices are leading us to the life we actually want. I want a life of conversation and friendship, not distraction and entertainment; but every day, many times a day, I’m nudged in the wrong direction. One key part of the art of living faithfully with technology is setting up better nudges for ourselves” (35). It’s a book of useful nudge-suggestions.
This Is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel by Trevin Wax. Trevin Wax continues to show his polymathic wisdom, here by looking at the ways Scripture helps us navigate culture. This is a broad book, looking at major trends with winsome boldness, all aimed at pointing us to where we can find the joy that Apple and Hollywood will never deliver — in the face of Jesus Christ. As Marvin Olasky writes in the foreword, “Trevin Wax is thirty-five, young by the standard of theologians who tend to peak at seventy, but he has an old head.” Yes, and a huge heart and an engaging style of writing.
The Gospel According to Paul: Embracing the Good News at the Heart of Paul’s Teachings by John MacArthur. It was a big year for MacArthur, with a new 1,000-page systematic theology published in January. But in the year of the Reformation, and the celebration of the gospel reclaimed, this title was especially relevant and valuable — a classic MacArthur re-circling around the glories of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “In the entire universe, there is nothing loftier or more important than the glory of the Lord. God’s glory constitutes the whole purpose for which we were created. Indeed, this is the ultimate reason for everything that has ever happened — from the dawn of creation until now” (170). Thus, “[God’s] righteous indignation and his perfect justice require an appropriate penalty for sin, because to forego punishment would be to allow his holiness to be trampled underfoot by agents of evil. For God to do that would be to abdicate his authority over his own universe” (161). These cosmic realities set the proper context for beholding the glories of the gospel in Paul’s epistles, which fill the other pages in this solid book.
Alive in Him: How Being Embraced by the Love of Christ Changes Everything by Gloria Furman. Furman’s new book is an enthusiastic study into the new-creational themes of Ephesians and a very ambitious attempt to translate cosmic Christology to the dishwater level of daily domestic life. If anyone could pull it off, it’s Furman. J.I. Packer’s priceless foreword to this volume says it all: “Digging into Ephesians had thrilled Mrs. Furman’s socks off, just as deep down it had done mine two generations ago (and, for the record, still does)” he said, reminiscing of his days of teaching. “Paul’s concentrated layout in Ephesians of the glory of God’s grace — the life-giving, price-paying love of the Father, the life-reshaping mediation of the Son, and the life-transforming ministry of the Holy Spirit — is breathtaking; Gloria Furman feels it, as do I, and evidently we agree that every healthy Christian will feel the same, now and to all eternity.”
The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary by Jonathan Pennington. No book of 2017 confronted more of my Bible assumptions than this one. I now read the Sermon on the Mount with new eyes, seeing it less as a series of “flat-footed conditional statements” (you do this, and I’ll reward you with that), and more specifically as a “Christocentric, flourishing-oriented, kingdom-awaiting, eschatological wisdom exhortation” (15). That’s a loaded phrase, and this commentary unpacks it well. No doubt, this book of vast detail needs to be investigated and debated within the academic guild, but it also serves as a stunning example of what we need more of: men and women who have given their lives to isolated sections of Scripture, writing winsomely to share their findings with the rest of us. (Technically speaking for a moment: if in the end, Pennington is right on the protasis/apodosis of the macarisms in the Sermon, this book will be a game-changer for years to come.)
Genesis 1–11: A New Old Translation for Readers, Scholars, and Translators by Samuel Bray and John Hobbins. A law professor (Bray) and a pastor and Hebrew scholar (Hobbins) got together to retranslate the first eleven chapters of Genesis. Rarely are we brought into the minds of translators as they wrestle for the right words and phrases to address ambiguities and to convey meaning to the reader, and that’s exactly what we get in this book. Initially skeptical over whether I would enjoy reading two translators justify their decisions, my doubts were dispelled rather soon in the drama of their translation struggles. This is a new English translation, with a robust explanation of the translation decisions, ultimately to enrich our appreciation for Genesis 1–11. I can only hope Bray and Hobbins will continue translating the rest of Genesis, the Psalms, Job, and perhaps the entire Old Testament. I’d be eager to read it! For more background on this volume, and their overall strategy, see this interview with the authors.
Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World by Mike Cosper. Our secular, technological culture pragmatically collapses all things into what they can do and what we can do with them — and we grow completely incapable of thinking about what things are. Which is to say, in the secular age of efficiency and productivity and technique, what we need more than anything else is a big dose of awe and wonder injected directly into the soul. But there’s no app for that! This type of anti-DIY book to push against the thinking of the age is the very type of book most people see no purpose for, making it a risky endeavor by authors and publishers alike. But Mike Cosper took the risk and pulled it off, celebrating things awesome and wonderful, about as well as can be done on paper, and all in his trademark style. Related books on secularism and awe include Barnabas Piper on curiosity, and The Gospel Coalition’s Our Secular Age (see Cosper’s contribution there, too).
Faith. Hope. Love.: The Christ-Centered Way to Grow in Grace by Mark Jones. Mark Jones’s bibliography of authored books is impressive in both quantity and quality. Anything he writes, I read — and for good reason, proven here. In this book, Jones has set out to show that the virtue-triplicate — faith, hope, and love — is very often bound together in Scripture (see Romans 5:1–5; Galatians 5:5–6; Ephesians 4:2–5; Colossians 1:4–5; 1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 5:8; Hebrews 6:10–12; 1 Peter 1:3–8). He then expounds each virtue in the form of a catechism, focused on heart application, and always with an open ear to the most pastorally shrewd insights of the eighteenth century’s greatest pastors. Jones channels Edwards when he writes dazzling sentences like these: “[God’s] attributes — all of them — satisfy us, because knowledge of his being is the chief source of our joy, blessedness, and glory. God is also satisfied in us, for he delights in the good in us, which ultimately comes from him. He cannot but love those gifts that he himself gives to us” (155). Also worth commendation this year is the other book Jones published, God Is: A Devotional Guide to the Attributes of God.
Retrieving Eternal Generation edited by Fred Sanders and Scott Swain. A tornado tag-team match is comprised of six wrestlers who brawl on the same canvas, at the same time, divided into two teams. That’s what the theological world looked like in 2016 over the hotly debated eternal generation of Christ. This book is the ultimate fruit of those debates and the reclaiming of Christ’s eternal generation by a new generation. It’s a doctrine worth defending, and one to which most of us had never given any serious thought, even up to a few years ago. Personal highlights for me include essays by Matthew Emerson on Proverbs 8, Don Carson on John 5:26, and Christina Larsen on Jonathan Edwards — “For Edwards, the eternal generation is central to the church’s confession because, in one way or another, the Father’s eternal happiness in his glorious Son stands at the beginning and end of all things.” Amen. It’s an important debate, and Sanders and Swain and Co. have delivered a book worth reading with care and delight.
Previous Books of the Year
2016: The six-volume ESV Reader’s Bible (Crossway)
2015: Randy Alcorn, Happiness (Tyndale)
2014: Tim Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Dutton)
2013: Tom Schreiner, The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Baker)
2012: Steve DeWitt, Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything (Credo)
2011: Greg Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Baker)
2010: Don Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (Crossway) and The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story (Baker)
2009: Bruce Gordon, Calvin (Yale)
2008: The ESV Study Bible (Crossway) and Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Baker)
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)