Best Books 2011

As I looked back and on my reading list for 2011, I realized it wasn’t a very good one. I read a lot, about a book a week. Unfortunately, the demands of classes this year meant I read a lot of narrowly focused books on education, small groups, etc. While useful, they aren’t inspiring reads, or the kind of life transforming books I like to recommend. But, there were a few really good reads alongside all the trudging:

1. Who’s Tampering with the Trinity, by Millard Erickson. This was a required read for the seminar on the Trinity led by Steven Roy. I loved it and blogged a little about it. I’d recommend it as it will aid your understanding of the Trinity as well as give you insight into contemporary debates.

2. Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, David VanDrunen. VanDrunen offers a great overview of Biblical/Redemptive history, tracing how the covenants connect (and where there is disconnect). The book examines how Christians are called to live in this world as citizens of another. Great insights into how we keep the church about the church and still engage as individuals in the work of being salt and light. Also posted on it here.

3. The Gospel for Real Life, by Jerry Bridges. I’m pretty sure this book has made previous lists. Remember, this isn’t books that came out in 2011, but books I read, or reread, in the past 12 months. This is a great, very accessible book on the importance of ‘preaching the gospel to ourselves’. I walked through it with my small group and really got a lot out of it again.

4. What the Best College Teachers Do, Ken Bain. This is one of those narrowly focused, skill building books I mentioned above, but, it was excellent. It’s not a cookie-cutter approach to teaching, but offered great insight into the goals and best approaches of teaching. Also worthy of mention is Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach.

5. The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ, Cornelius Venema. Venema’s book helped me 1) understand the controversial New Perspective on Paul championed by Sanders, Dunn and NT Wright; and 2) helped me understand its deep deficiencies. It’s pretty dense, but if you’ve read Wright on Paul, pick this up as a counter argument before deciding Wright is right (can never resist that).

6. Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, C. John Collins. This book will make a lot of people mad. On the fundamentalist side, Collins will infuriate people with his suggestions that the language of the Bible may be less than literal, but poetic, etc. Nor will the like how he entertains scientific theories about man’s origins and deems them, many at least, compatible with what the Bible teaches. On the opposite extreme, others won’t like his insistence that a literal Adam and Eve are necessary to story line of Scripture. Blogged about it more here and here.

7. Two Views of Women in Ministry. This book actually had four essays with responses from four different contributors. It was a very thoughtful and thought provoking book. I don’t think I agreed with one essay in total. I certainly agreed with the most strident egalitarian in the mix, Linda Belleville, and the most strident complimentarian too, Tom Schreiner. In the middle, I found a lot to agree with from both the moderate complimentarian (Craig Blomberg) and moderate egalitarian (Craig Keener). Related blog post here.

8. From Garden to the City, John Dyer. Ok, truth time – I haven’t finished it yet, but I hope to by Jan1! Unless Dyer gets real stupid in the last third of the book, I would highly recommend it to anyone who uses technology. Yet, that’s you! He helps the reader consider how technology shapes us just by using it, whether for good or evil purposes. Moreover, he explores how God has utilized technology to further his redemptive purposes in the world. Blog post.

9. Union with Christ, Robert Letham. This profound theological truth has ‘flown under the radar’ in most evangelical theologies, including my own, until now. John Williamson Nevin woke me up to it and prompted me to explore it more. Letham’s book is my first step in this exploration. Next up, a whole class on it in January! Letham does a masterful job of covering lots of material in church history and the Biblical text in a relatively short space. Some sections are tough – like that on the churches understanding of hypostasis and the incarnation. Some other sections will be too much for some readers – like sections on Calvin on the Supper where he argues that we truly partake of Christ’s substance in the act of eating and drinking. Don’t get me wrong, he’s right, but it’s a lot to take in if you come from a ‘memorial’ background.

10. Honor Bound, by WEB Griffin. To make it a perfect ten, I needed to include this awesome series of war novels. I started this series at the tail end of 2010, but read five of the six in 2011. It’s a great fictional series on the founding of the CIA, called the OSS in its early days. It traces the work of one particular team in Argentina during the tail end of WW2 and into the Cold War. Fantastic!