My Favorite Books of 2013

Books were my refuge.  I sat in corners with my little finger hooked over my bottom lip, reading, in a trance, lost in the places and times to which books took me ~ Anne Lamott[1]

With everyone else putting together their lists of their favorite books of 2013, I figured I’d join in on the fun.  One clarification, however: These are my favorite books I read in 2013; they were not necessarily published in 2013.  With that caveat in mind, here’s my list:

1.  Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible.

Having given a summary of the book elsewhere, I won’t rehearse that material here.  That being said, this was one of my favorite books I read all year.  Dempster does a great job of showing how each OT book advances the story of redemption.  Reading this book will give students of Scripture a better understanding of the Hebrew Bible and how all of God’s revelation ultimately points to the Messiah.  God has been faithful to Abraham, to the prophets, and to David.

2.   R. Kent Hughes, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome.

I am so thankful to God that I read this book before entering into full-time ministry.  The gist of the book is this: Before Hughes was sent out to plant a church, all he heard from people was how big and successful his church would be.  This created a lot of excitement for him.  However, the church he planted struggled and didn’t grow.  This led Hughes to be greatly depressed.  When he was about to quit the ministry, his wife suggested they start a Bible study together and see what God’s Word said about what it meant to be a faithful pastor.  This book is the fruit of that labor.  I highly recommend this book to anyone considering full-time pastoral ministry.

3.   Paul Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry.

Once again, I’m thankful I read this book before becoming a pastor.  Tripp is his usual self here.  What I took away from this book was that ministry is one big glory war.  As pastors, we cannot find our identity in ministry, we must find our identity in Christ.

4.  Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became A Nation of Heretics.

The title says it all.  Douthat gives a historical overview of how America, despite its religious past, is a nation of heretics.  We like religion, to be sure, but we like it on our own terms.   For those interested in this topic I highly recommend reading Noll, Hatch, and Marsden’s book The Search for Christian America; D. G. Hart’s work A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State; and I especially recommend Nathan Hatch’s highly acclaimed The Democratization of American Christianity.

5.  Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology.

Okay, I have to be honest, I’m still reading this book.  But it’s still one of my favorite, so I had to include it.  For those not aware, prolegomena is what you say about theology before you actually dive into theology.  Actually, it’s better to say it’s pre-theology because prolegomena still deals with theology.  That being said, this book was recommended to me by Dr. David Shrock, a recently minted PhD from Southern Seminary.  Thanks Dr. Shrock!

6.  Matthew Barrett and Tom Nettles, eds.  Whomever He Wills: A Surprising Display of Sovereign Mercy.

This book was a response to the Arminian take on the five points of Calvinism edited by David Allen and Steve Lemke.  Although I haven’t read the book by Allen and Lemke, I would find it hard to see how they would be able to overcome the explanatory power of the arguments in this book.  I greatly appreciated David Shrock’s essay, “Jesus Saves, No Asterisk Needed: Why Preaching the Gospel as Good News Requires Definite Atonement,” and Matthew Barrett’s article, “The Scriptural Affirmation of Monergism.”  Of the two, Barrett’s article provides so much exegetical support for effectual grace, I fail to see how anyone could poke holes in his argument.  The biblical testimony is clear: regeneration precedes faith.

7.  Tom Schreiner and Bruce Ware, Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace.

This collection of essays provides another devastating critique of Arminianism.  I enjoyed Ray Ortlund’s essay, “The Sovereignty of God: Case Studies in the Old Testament,” S. M. Baugh’s essay, “The Meaning of Foreknowledge,” and Bruce Ware’s essay, “Effectual Calling and Grace.”  If you’re interested in the Arminian/Calvinistic debate, read this book and number 6 on this list.

8.  Graham A. Cole, He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

This was the first theology text I’ve read in its entirety on the Holy Spirit.  And I’m glad I read this one.  Cole is a great theologian.  He’s exegetically sound and he doesn’t have a theological ax to grind.  Very well written.  You can tell that he has a heart for truth and a mind for God.

9.  Derek Prime and Alistair Begg, On Being a Pastor.

From looking at this list, you can probably tell I’m a new pastor.  I loved this book.  It was very insightful.  I’m glad I took the time to read it.

10.  John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching.

I had read parts of this before, but never the entire thing.  I’m glad I read this book.  Piper has a way of igniting a passion for God within you like no one else I’ve ever read.  Whenever I read books by Piper, I come away saying to myself, “He gets it, he gets it.”  Like Piper, I loathe the professionalism within ministry these days.  As pastors, we are to commit ourselves to prayer and to the study of the Word.  Piper calls for pastors to do just that in this book.  Preachers, get this book and read it!

For those of you reading this with your hands in your head asking yourself, “Why do you only read books on theology and the Bible?”  here’s my answer: I’m planning on changing that in 2014!  Don’t worry.  I have plenty of non-theology related books on my reading list for 2014.  Among them are the following:

Os Guinness, A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future.

George Orwell, Essays.

Robert A. Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol. 3: The Master of the Senate.

Robert Frost, The Poetry of Robert Frost.

Flannery O’Conner, The Complete Stories

Doug Wilson, Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life.

Hopefully I’ll make through all these books and be back with another post next year!


[1] Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (NY: Doubleday, 1994), xx.


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