I had the privilege of reading some great books in 2016. Here are five that were particularly impactful, which I recommend you to consider for your own reading list in 2017.
Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will by Kevin DeYoung
Kevin DeYoung has been one of my favorite speakers and writers for several years now. Personable, practical, humorous, and always theological, he brings a fresh energy and relatability that reflects his pastoral spirit. In Just Do Something he addresses an issue that I’ve personally struggled with and that, as a youth pastor, I’ve seen countless young people struggle with: what is God’s will for my life?
DeYoung avoids the sappy, emotionally driven approaches you often hear. Instead of encouraging his readers to sit in a quiet place and wait to feel God’s direction, DeYoung proposes several principles that involve holy living, searching the Scriptures, seeking counsel, and applying the wisdom of God to make informed, Christ-honoring decisions. He claims that sitting on our hands and doing nothing while we wait to “hear” from God often produces laziness and ineffectiveness in our kingdom work. He’s absolutely right, and it’s a message more people need to hear, especially as we begin a new year.
My wife came from a KJV-only background. I did not. In fact, I was the exact opposite. I was so upset by the KJV-onlyists that I held a bit of a grudge against the King James Bible itself. It wasn’t until the past couple years that I began to appreciate the historic, linguistic, and even doctrinal significance of this translation.
I happened to stumble upon In the Beginning at the library last summer, and in light of my recent appreciation, I gave it a shot. McGrath is a master historian, and he goes into great and valuable detail about the background of European religion, politics and culture to set the stage for the creation of the KJV. He discusses the evolution of the English language up until that point in history. He deals with preceding English translations, like the Geneva Bible, and how these forerunners impacted the KJV. He provides a helpful background on King James himself, and he goes into great detail about the extensive interpretive process and even the backstories of the interpreters involved.
Even if you don’t use the King James Version, it has unquestionably played a good and vital role in English Christianity. In the Beginning helps us to better appreciate that role. It also reminds us how God providentially works through the means of history to both preserve and spread His Word.
The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace: More Than a Memory by Richard C. Barcellos
In an effort to avoid the Roman Catholic error of transubstantiation, we often downplay the spiritual significance of the Lord’s Supper. For many churches, communion is little more a commemorative nod to Christ’s death. Richard Barcellos seeks to bring balance to this error by reminding the church that the Lord’s Supper is “more than a memory”; it is a very real, very sacred process whereby Jesus is spiritually present with His people as the benefits of His finished work are administered by the Holy Spirit. This is a short read, but a much-needed one for the church today.
Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ edited by Thomas R. Schreiner
I’m a Reformed Baptist. Which must seem like a contradiction to my Reformed friends (many would prefer I use the term “Calvinistic Baptist” or “Particular Baptist”). After all, Reformed theology historically goes hand-in-hand with infant baptism. Although the majority of my theological views have shifted in a thoroughly Reformed direction over the past decade, including eschatology, soteriology, and ecclesiology, I still fundamentally disagree with the theology behind infant baptism.
This terrific read reminded me why. Believer’s Baptism is an anthology from various Baptist heavy-hitters (most of whom are Calvinists) like Thomas Schreiner, Shawn Wright and Mark Dever that deals with the systematic, biblical and historical theology of credobaptism. It examines the examples of baptism in the Gospels and Acts, the statements about baptism in the epistles, the relationship baptism plays between the old and new covenants, what the early church believed about baptism, what issues have surrounded baptism over the years, and, finally, the significance of baptism in the local church.
Whether you’re a credobaptist who wants to explore the background of your church’s practice, or you’re a paedobaptist who wants to better understand your credobaptist brothers and sisters, get “immersed” in this one (see what I did there?).
Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation by Dennis E. Johnson
After growing up in staunchly dispensationalist churches, I reached a point in life where I was sick of eschatology. I didn’t necessarily know what I believed about it, but I knew what I didn’t believe. Dennis E. Johnson helped change all that. I had developed an interest in the amillennial, idealist interpretation of Revelation but I was unsure if it had any real merit or biblical support. So I gave Johnson’s idealist, amillennial interpretation a try. I must say, he makes his case quite convincingly.
Revelation is a book of imagery. It makes constant use of symbols and pictures, the majority of which actually have their basis in earlier portions of Scripture. Whereas many preachers try to see these images fulfilled in news headlines or technological inventions, Johnson draws from the biblical sources themselves to reach a conclusion. He interprets Scripture with Scripture. Rather than some distant, seven-year period, he argues that the apocalyptic “tribulation” represents the cosmic battle between good and evil inbetween Christ’s first and second coming. He portrays the church as both persecuted and yet victorious throughout history, physically, economically and socially suffering but spiritually advancing the kingdom of the risen, reigning Christ, until at last Christ returns and consummates His kingdom once and for all.
If all you’ve ever known is a Hal Lindsey or Tim LaHaye version of the end times, or maybe if you’re not sure what to believe and you’re looking for some clarity, this is a phenomenal resource. As another year begins, Triumph of the Lamb reminds us that history belongs to Jesus and will culminate in the total victory of Jesus.