by Theological Commission
It is the time of year when many readers are finishing up their last minute Christmas shopping. But by now, many who read blogs will also be seeing “Top Books” lists of many shapes and sizes. Sometimes these can be difficult to wade through as they point to a seemingly endless supply of Christian books that most of us know we’ll simply never have time to read. On the other hand, reading multiple lists such as these can be helpful since key books will no doubt surface on more than one list, making them easier to identify them as books worth one’s time.
Members of the Theological Commission sympathize with the challenges Christians face in selecting good books, and so we have offered our own effort toward helping our readers make good selections as they move forward into 2016 (this will be our final regular post of the year).
Below are list of books that we have enjoyed reading this year, ones which were intellectually stimulating for any number of reasons. Each Commission member has identified one specific favorite, along with two Honorable Mentions. We would only further offer one caveat, which is that our enjoyment/recommendation of any book is not to be taken as a blanket endorsement of the entirety of any book’s argument. We hope that the work of the Commission through the years has helped equip our readers to discern theological arguments and trends that are sometimes contrary to historic faith and practice of Free Will Baptists, and the larger Christian tradition.
With this said, we offer these recommendations and we also say ‘Merry Christmas’ and a ‘Happy New Year’!
Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Eerdmans, 1992).
In the category of old-but-helpful books, I read Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson. Essentially Peterson takes the story of Jonah as an analogy of what it was like for him to become a pastor. There is a good deal of inventiveness in the book and some things that might be a bit questionable, but I would have to say it was a thought-provoking book. I have read two of Peterson’s other books on the pastoral life and, while he would not be to everyone’s taste, I have to admit that I have benefited from his them. Currently, I am reading his autobiography, The Pastor. It is filled with both wisdom and humor—and pastors need both.
Honorable Mentions: Mastering Life Before It’s Too Late by Rob Morgan (Howard Books, 2015); Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey (Zondervan, 2014).
Timothy Tennent, Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century (Kregel, 2010).
The best theological book I read in 2015 was a philosophy of mission (missiology) text by Timothy C. Tennent. As a historical theologian by trade, I don’t tend to read many missiological texts, but I was doing some reading on the Trinity and the subtitle intrigued me. Tennent is an excellent writer and the strength of the text lay in his application of theological thought to practical ministry. He provides a helpful overview of missiological methods, but strives to move beyond them to develop a theological basis for ministry that can be applied in cross-cultural settings and in church ministry generally. In addition to the theological background, an additional strength lies in his “new creation” approach to the missio Dei. Tennent highlights four central realities: God, sin, redemption, and new creation. The missio Dei is God’s response to these realities and the Church is the means through which God builds a restored culture. In Christ, we find the perfect model for human culture, and the Spirit works to recreate and restore a fallen humanity around its appropriate focus in the Father, the Creator and Redeemer of this world.
Honorable Mentions: The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society by Brad S. Gregory (Harvard, 2012); Advancing Trinitarian Theology: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics by Oliver Crisp and Fred Sanders (Zondervan, 2014).
Paul D. Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Crossway, 2012).
Rarely have I found a book that speaks so effortlessly to the “stage life” and the “secret life” of ministry and the myriad of problems therein. Many contemporaries had recommended this tome to me and I regret now not reading it earlier. I would suggest that this book be introduced to those graduating from our colleges and seminaries, as well as disseminated to our current ministers. Dr. Jeff Manning described this work as “a painful blessing” and I concur. This book is necessary for spiritual and emotional health of those in the gospel ministry.
Honorable Mentions: One Year to Better Preaching: 52 Exercises to Hone Your Skills by Daniel Overdorf (Kregel, 2013); God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation by Andreas J. Kostenberger and David W. Jones (Crossway, 2010).
William F. Roach, Hermeneutics as Epistemology: A Critical Assessment of Carl F. H. Henry’s Epistemological Approach to Hermeneutics (Wipf & Stock, 2015).
I didn’t read many theological books this year that were published this year. But there is a book that came out this year that stands out in my mind, which deals with the more philosophical side of theology. It is William F. Roach’s book on Carl Henry. This is one of several recent books pointing a new generation of scholars to the Christian theological and philosophical wisdom of Carl F. H. Henry, who needs to be read by today’s younger scholars and about whom I wrote a brief article a couple of years ago for the Gospel Coalition.
Carl F. H. Henry, the “dean of evangelical theologians” in the modern world, explained and defended the traditional Protestant understanding of the revelation and inspiration of Scripture in a way that was very conversant with modern thought. I think younger evangelical theologians need to grapple with Henry as they do the same thing he did, but in the context of postmodernity. Roach’s book is a helpful guide to be read alongside works such as Henry’s Remaking the Modern Mind (which I recently checked out of Welch Library and benefitted greatly from) and his magisterial God, Revelation, and Authority.
Honorable Mentions: John Frame, A History of Western Philosophy and Theology (P&R Publishing, 2015); Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman, eds., Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age (B&H Academic, 2015)
Richard John Neuhaus, Freedom for Ministry (Eerdmans, 1979).
Few ministry books combine perceptive cultural criticism, theological depth, and pastoral counsel. But Richard John Neuhaus accomplishes all three in his Freedom for Ministry. First published in the late-1970s, Neuhaus narrates the theological nature of the church and its ministry against the backdrop of cultural developments in the mid-late 20th century. While Neuhaus is much better known for his book The Naked Public Square, I think Stanley Hauerwas is onto something when he says that Freedom for Ministry was Neuhaus’ best book. Few pastors and church leaders really are honest with the types of fears that hold them captive in their service to Christ’s Church. Part of this may be hubris, but the other part of it is a lack of understanding about how our conception of the ministry and the church’s life has been shaped by the spirit of the age. Additionally, there is a “heaviness” (as one mentor of mine often says) that is pervasive in the experience of pastors and lay Christians alike. Neuhaus helps offer a Biblical release from this heaviness in his valuable book.
Honorable Mentions: Gerald Hiestand & Todd Wilson, The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision (2015); Peter Berger, The Many Altars of Modernity: Toward a Paradigm for Religion in a Pluralist Age (2014)