Just in time for Christmas, if you’re looking for a good book recommendation for that bibliophile in your life, here is a list of the top-10 books I read this year and a brief summary of each. If you purchase through the My Bookstore link above (which goes through Amazon.com), 4% of your total purchase will go to support this site and help defer costs for keeping it running.
1. On the Mortification of Sin – John Owen
An extensive review can be found here: http://voiceoftruthblog.com/?p=1861 This is perhaps Owen’s most famous work and is an exposition of Romans 8:13. Owen, a 17th century Puritan was perhaps the greatest British theologian of all time. This book demonstrates why, as Owen’s knowledge of the Bible is evident and he highlights the importance of eliminating sin from the life of a believer, through the power of the Holy Spirit. As Owen concludes, this is an ongoing battle throughout the life of a believer, one that won’t end until we’re united with Christ in heaven. This book was part of Volume 6, Temptation and Sin, of Owen’s works published by Banner of Truth.
2. Knowing God – J.I. Packer
The best-selling Christian classic of Packer is without question a must read for everyone. Packer delivers from the opening chapter on by challenging readers with the thought that there is a difference between knowing about God and knowing God. To this thought he argues, 1) One can know a great deal about God without much knowledge of Him. 2) One can know a great deal about godliness without much knowledge of God. Each of these thoughts, Packer develops fully. This could’ve easily been #1 for the year because of the depth and thought provoking assertions that Packer makes. Simply put, this is an all-time Christian classic and an essential addition to everyone’s library.
3. The Holiness of God – R.C. Sproul
Continuing the theme of author’s best-selling books, R.C. Sproul’s most popular work provides a solid biblical basis for establishing God’s holiness. This book was a lot less intimidating than I thought it would be going into it. It actually reads like a story and Sproul does an excellent job of drawing the reader in and maintaining interest. He provides not only biblical analysis, but historical overview as well, including insight into the life of Martin Luther. Sproul’s book is a must read for anyone wanting to know more about God, which should be all of us.
4. Ashamed of the Gospel – John MacArthur
The subtitle says it all: When the Church becomes like the World. MacArthur’s newest book is actually a rereleased version of a book he wrote 1993, only updated and with additional commentary on the direction of the Church. Dr. MacArthur includes a historical look at the “Downgrade Controversy” that Charles Spurgeon faced in the late 1800’s. He provides a historical overview of this issue and then documents the very issues that plague the Church of our day. Themes included are a heavy dose of analysis on pragmatism, the Purpose Driven Church (Rick Warren), and the Emergent Church. Balanced as always, MacArthur doesn’t just focus on the negative, but also includes an in-depth look at areas of improvement for the Church. An important book at a critical time in Church history.
5. The Power of God and the Plight of Man – Martyn Lloyd Jones
A more extensive review can be found here: http://voiceoftruthblog.com/?p=1884 This little book gives excellent insight into the depravity of man and God’s sovereignty through Lloyd-Jones’ brief exposition of Romans 1. Born in 1899, Lloyd-Jones grew up in a time when the Church faced transition from Modernity into Post-modernism and he likely realized the importance of addressing sin in the lives of believers. In this book he focuses on man’s attempts at “religion”, morality, the depth of our sinful nature, the wrath of God on sin, and the only solution, namely Jesus Christ. This short, only 120-page, book gives excellent insight into the sinful depths of man’s soul and God’s power to rescue him.
6. Trellis and the Vine – Colin Marshall and Tony Payne
Marshall and Payne have put together a book that analyzes current church structure and practice in the light of discipleship. The premise is built around the analogy of a trellis and vine. Vine work is what a Christian ministry does when they “preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of God’s Spirit, and to see people converted, changed and grow to maturity in that gospel. That’s the work of planting, watering, fertilizing, and tending the vine.” Just like a vine needs the trellis in order to grow, so too does Christian ministry need a supportive structure. However, Marshall and Payne rightly point out that if the focus is too heavy on the trellis, i.e. programs and management, then this is to the neglect of the vine. “Vine work,” they say, “is personal and requires much prayer.” While trellis work often seems “easier and less personally threatening.” This is a commendable work for anyone wishing to change the focus of their church from the pastor as CEO/business model to the pastor as discipler/discipleship model. One in which the pastor and leaders focus on the development of future leaders in the church through training, ministry apprenticeships, and discipleship.
7. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God – J.I. Packer
The second book of Packer’s that I read this year was nearly as good as the first. I’m not sure why he made some questionable alliances later in life (see Evangels and Catholics Together), but early in his ministry Packer was without question a brilliant theologian. This little book is a quick, but thorough and deep look into the necessity of Evangelism, but also addresses how that coincides with God’s divine sovereignty. Packer concludes that “Divine Sovereignty”, “Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibilities”, “Evangelism”, and “Divine Sovereignty and Evangelism” are essential components to understanding the fundamentals of the Gospel. He poses and subsequently answers, “If God is in control of everything, can Christians sit back and not bother to evangelize? Or does active evangelism imply that God is not really sovereign at all.” Packer presents a solid and defensible argument of God’s sovereignty.
8. What is the Gospel – Greg Gilbert
See author interview and previous discussion here: http://voiceoftruthblog.com/?p=2079 Greg Gilbert is sure to stay on the evangelical scene with the success of his helpful, straightforward book which highlights the importance of the Gospel and defines biblically what it is and what it is not. Also included is a brief look at how common (and detrimental) it is when we get the Gospel wrong. This is one of those books that needs to be read by even the most mature believers and then given to new believers or to those others during witnessing opportunities.
9. Truth War – John MacArthur
For an in-depth review go here: http://voiceoftruthblog.com/?p=2027
While MacArthur’s first book on this list focused on general problems within the Church, this book focuses mainly on the dangers and deceptions of the Emergent Church movement. MacArthur accomplishes this through a biblical exposition of Jude, an epistle often used as a rallying call for apologetics and defending the faith. As with most MacArthur books, he provides historical analysis and devotes chapter 5 to historical heresies. Likewise, through his discussion of Jude, he shows the evidences that need attention when identifying heresy.
10. Faith Undone – Roger Oakland
Faith Undone is a well written book with extensive documentation on the dangers of the Emergent Church (a continual theme in the books I was drawn to this year). Roger Oakland highlights behind the scenes relationships that shows the involvement Peter Drucker, Rick Warren, and the Leadership Network have had in the development of the Emergent Church. Though not written as a direct attack on any particular person, Oakland does a good job of pointing out those leaders within the movement that should be avoided or viewed with caution such as Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Dan Kimball, Tony Campolo, Doug Pagitt, Leonard Sweet, Thomas Merton, Alice Bailey, C. Peter Wagner, Peter Drucker, Bob Buford, Rick Warren, Richard Foster, Eastern Mysticism, Contemplative Prayer/Meditation, Catholicism, Kingdom Now/Dominionism, and many other people/movements to steer clear of. The only thing that did not strike me as particularly relevant to his argument was the insistence on weaving dispensational eschatology throughout chapters 9 & 13. I realize this is the predominant view in today’s evangelical church, but Oakland presents his view in a way that almost makes all other views seem Emergent by default. A position many in the reformed camp might take issue with. That aside it’s an informative, well-documented book that provides an excellent introduction into what this Emergent movement is all about and where it is going.