Top 10 Books of 2014 . . . And Then Some

Here you have it folks, and I threw in some extra stuff as well at the end.

The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God. Robert Wilken, a patristic scholar par excellence, has done the church a great service in writing this book. He takes readers on a journey, helping them get a sense of what the early fathers of the church believed and lived. In my view, every Christian should read this. If you have even the slightest interest in the patristic fathers, you’ll definitely want to pick this up. Let me show you why. In his chapter entitled “Happy the People,” where Wilken is explaining why the fathers believed true happiness and joy can only be found in God, he outlines Augustine’s view:

Augustine’s answer is that the good for which all human beings yearn, the final end of human life, the highest good, is God. It is only in God that human beings find fulfillment and perfection. If they have no sense of God, they have no sense of themselves. . . . All human life, not just religious life, if it is to be fully human, is directed toward that good which is God, the summum bonum, the desire of all human hearts, and the Lord of all.

Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin. Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., is an eloquent theologian. He has a way with words. I realize that picking up a book dealing solely with the doctrine of sin may not seem like a pick-me-up, but trust me, you won’t be disappointed with this one. For starters, it’s not that long of a book anyway. You’ll be able to get through with it. And you’ll be glad you did. By the end, you’ll agree with Plantinga that “Sin is both wrong and dumb.” Here’s my favorite section of the book:

All forms of idolatry involve us deeply in folly. All idolatry is not only treacherous but also futile. Human desire, deep and restless and seemingly unfulfillable, keeps stuffing itself with finite goods, but these cannot satisfy. If we try to fill our hearts with anything besides the God of the universe, we find that we are overfed but undernourished, and we find that day by day, week by week, year after year, we are thinning down to a mere outline of a human being.

Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition through the Lens of Scripture. This book by David Powlison was such a blessing to me. I needed it in more ways than one. I was told by someone that this book would help my preaching. When I heard that, I thought to myself, “How is a book on counseling going to help my preaching?” A couple of pages into the first chapter and I knew my friend was right. This monograph provides a thoroughly biblical analysis of the human person and offers key insights into why we struggle with sin. Through it all, Powlison demonstrates that one truly can speak the truth in love. Here’s a good quote:

People are always doing something with God. Human beings either love God—or despise him and love something else. We take refuge in God—or flee from him and find refuge in something else. We set our hopes in God—or we turn from him and hope in something else. We fear God—or we ignore him and fear something else.

The Art of Pastoring: Ministry without All the Answers. Okay, if you’re not a pastor you probably won’t care about this one at all. But I’m a pastor, so I care. Oddly enough, I found this book at a Christian bookstore and decided to buy it. (This is somewhat odd for me since I rarely buy books at the Christian bookstore.) Suffice to say there was lots of good advice in this book which I laid out elsewhere. To summarize: A pastor is to pray, preach, and follow Jesus.

Life Is Mostly Edges: A Memoir. I LOVE Calvin Miller. He was a pastor for 25 years and then became a seminary professor at Beeson Divinity School. He went home to be with the Lord in 2012 and, although I’m sure he’s happy to be in heaven, I was incredibly sad when I learned of the news. I would have liked to take a class with him. In truth, I probably would have pursued my doctoral degree at Beeson to be able to study under him. If you read this book, I promise you will laugh! Miller had a one-of-a-kind sense of humor, and he wasn’t afraid to use it. I’m sure this helped him maintain his sanity during all those years of parish life.

Let me give you an example. One Sunday morning before the service was about to start, a deacon at his church came into Miller’s office and advised him to resign. (Yes! This actually happened! And it happened RIGHT BEFORE he was getting ready to preach!) This deacon said to his pastor, “I think it’s God’s will for you to leave the church, and maybe the church will hire a new man who can keep this thing together.” Without missing a beat Miller retorted, “How thoughtful of you to bring this up just before I have to go upstairs and preach. I can’t tell you how supported this makes me feel.” That’s just one of the many gems you’ll find in this book.

A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World. Over and over again I’ve heard by different people that this was the best book they’d ever read on prayer. And now I agree. Paul Miller, the author, is fantastic. Pick this one up and add to your reading list. Additionally, you may want to check out Ben Patterson’s book Deepening Your Conversation with God: Learning to Love to Pray. I read both of these books this past year and I would say my prayer life has improved quite a bit.

The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters by Jack Miller. This book is a collection of letters written by Jack Miller, a former pastor and professor of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. It was put together by his widow and his daughter. Apparently, it was Jack’s dream to have his letters published after he died. He took writing letters seriously and felt it was a way for him to pass on his knowledge to others and be able to mentor them. Having read this book, I feel in a way that Jack Miller has mentored me. This blog would be entirely too long if I tried to express how much I learned from reading this book. I would say every pastor should pick this one up.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Laura Hillenbrand did a magnificent job writing this book. She kept my attention the entire time. In fact, this book set the record for me. One Saturday I surreptitiously shirked all of my parental responsibilities and read 177 pages of this bad boy. It’s not something I’m necessarily proud of, and I did apologize to my wife afterwards. However, I’m glad to report that when my wife read this, she also found herself engrossed.

One-Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World. This one, by the now-rejected blogger of The Gospel Coalition, made it into my top ten. Whatever. I liked the book and found myself greatly encouraged by it. I’ve written a blog about Tullian Tchividjian’s views on this blog before. I know some people accuse him of having antinomian tendencies, but having read a number of his blogs and listened to some of his sermons, I don’t see it. I realize he doesn’t always clarify some of his remarks, but as a wise man once told me, “When a man wants to say something, he can’t say everything.” We can’t judge someone based upon one book he’s written or one sermon he’s preached. I believe we have to look at a person’s body of work before we call him a heretic. While I’m sure some might read this book and think Tullian should clarify some things here and there, maybe it’s just that the reader needs to get over it and realize that God does, indeed, save horrible people. In God’s economy, the worst student gets a full-ride scholarship to an Ivy League school. So . . . as Steve Brown would say, “Laugh, sing, dance, and . . . speak in tongues!”

Honorable Mention

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

Joseph Epstein, Narcissus Leaves the Pool: Familiar Essays.

Best Blogs

Matt Walsh, “Sorry, But It’s Your Fault If You’re Offended All the Time.”

Shannon Kay McCoy, “Overcoming a Critical Spirit

Best Song

“Caught Dreaming” by Andy Mineo and For King and Country

 

 

 

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