A number of books served me this year in my pursuit of Christ. Here are some of the best.
I found Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Tim Keller to be a thought-provoking read. The topic of social justice is rife with difficult questions. The very use of the term social justice is debated! So it is no easy task to pen a book on the topic that is faithful to the Scriptures, cut a clear path in the debate, and leave room for individuals and churches to make application. This is what Keller has done. For a summary and review of his work, see Jonathan Leeman’s article on the 9Marks website. Generous Justice will expose you to the Scriptures with which we must all wrestle and force you to think through the implications of the Scriptures for you and your church.
Easily my favorite fiction read of the year was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (book two). This was my second time through the seven-part series. Midway through the books, I was struck by the reality that I actually prefer the Harry Potter series to the Chronicles of Narnia. The reason Chamber of Secrets rises to the top this year is that I saw the gospel powerfully through it. I finished the book on the subway and wept through the last few chapters. (That must have been a strange sight!) I found myself so clearly represented by Ginny Weasley, whose desire for acceptance left her prey to the great enemy, Tom Riddle, and eventually a puppet for his wishes. It took the self-sacrificing work of another for her–and me!–to be rescued and brought to life. The ease with which I am deceived and the great cost that rescued me made this book a tearful delight.
If you enter my office you’ll immediately notice a very large portrait hanging over the fireplace. The image painted there is the subject of my favorite biography of the year, A Pastor in New York: The Life and Times of Spencer Cone. Cone served as the fifth pastor of our church, serving from 1841 until his death in 1855. I first became acquainted with him–then quickly appreciative of him–late last year while examining our church’s archives. Cone was a careful theologian (note the Articles of Faith that he asked First Baptist to adopt upon his call), a missionary leader (a friend of nineteenth-century Baptist missionaries like the Judsons), and a Bible translator (whose call for a revision to the Authorized Version was strongly rebuffed–in 1849!). The writing and editing of A Pastor in New York are so-so, but John Thornbury has served the contemporary church with his research and telling of Cone’s story.
If I could describe any book as surprisingly good, it would be John Piper’s Finally Alive: What Happens When We Are Born Again. Those who know me know I love Piper. Why then was I surprised by this book? To speak frankly, it is because of my pride. The topic is one that I’ve heard and been familiar with as long as I can remember. What more could there be than what I already know? Perhaps a few things, to be sure, but really, how much more? Finally Alive convinced me I know almost nothing on the topic. I read it as I prepared to preach John 3, and it served me enormously well. I gladly commend it to you.
I was particularly served by the book, Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, edited by Tom Schreiner and Shawn Wright. The book begins with three chapters of biblical theology, followed by a chapter dealing with the continuity/discontinuity of the covenants, two chapters on baptism through church history, two chapters on the Reformed paedobaptist argument, a chapter on the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, and a closing chapter of application to the local church. As with any book in which a different author writes each chapter, Believer’s Baptism has a few outstanding chapters, many helpful thoughts, and some unfortunate overlapping. Theologically speaking, perhaps the most important part of the book is Stephen Wellum’s sixty-five page chapter, “Baptism and the Relationship between the Covenants.” Even some of my paedobaptist friends have found it quite compelling. I can’t say that I agree with the authors in every way, but the rigorous manner in which they handle the Scriptures, the carefulness with which they reason through the Scriptures, and the gracious spirit they maintain towards differing views made Believer’s Baptism a helpful read.