Favorite Books in 2023: Part 1

Cory Thompson

(Editor’s note: Over the next few weeks several Commission members will be sharing some of their favorite books they read in 2023. As we always say, inclusion of a title in no way signals a blanket endorsement by the individual Commissioner, or the Commission as a whole. However, these are books we benefited from and which we feel are worthy of readers’ time.)

The relationship between the Old Testament, Genesis in particular, and Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) myths and literature continues to be a critical issue. Recent publications continue to bring this topic to the forefront. Some of these publications are William Lane Craig’s book, In Quest of the Historical Adam: A Biblical and Scientific Exploration and many of Michael Heiser’s works (Unseen Realm, Demons, Angels, and Supernatural). While these individuals are regarded as rank-and-file evangelicals, their reliance on ANE myths for understanding the Bible raises concerns. One book that I read this year that is helpful in thinking through these issues is The Bible Among the Myths by John Oswalt.

In the first half of the book, Oswalt seeks to define myth and whether the Bible can fit in this category. For most people, a myth is a story that is not true. The definition, however, is more complicated when considering stories related to ancient cosmology. Oswalt notes that all the definitions for myths have one thing in common: a worldview of continuity. This means “all things are continuous with one another. Thus I am one with the tree not merely symbolically or spiritually, but actually” (43). Every great religious literature shares this common feature, except the Bible. Oswalt emphasizes that the Bible isn’t a myth. He argues that drawing direct parallels between the Bible and ANE myths to claim that they’re identical is an exaggeration, despite any shared similarities.

In discussing the worldview of the Bible, Oswalt describes it as “transcendence.” For the Bible, God is not the creative order, and the creative order is not God. God is everywhere present in the world, but he is not the world and the world is not him. He is radically set apart, transcendent from it all. Oswalt discusses several realities related to the God of the Bible that are strikingly distinct from ANE religious myths: monotheism, God is not represented by images, God is Spirit, the absence of conflict in creation, a high view of humanity, and much more.

Oswalt also discusses the Bible in relation to its historicity. He examines a variety of definitions for history. The book contends that the history of the Bible is not the same as modern history, but it is history, nonetheless. God has revealed himself in the historical events and persons of the Bible. Yet the importance of these historical events in contrast to secular history is their meaning and interpretation as it relates to the God who has revealed himself in history. 

I was recently having a discussion with a deacon in my church who told me about a friend who suggested the Bible cannot be trusted because all religions have similar creation stories. This book is not just for academic discussion but can be a helpful tool for evangelism in situations such as these.

My second favorite book comes from the 40 Questions series. The 40 Questions series published by Kregel touches on a variety of biblical, theological, and pastoral topics. The format of these books is helpful for quick reference and initial research.

Our Sunday School class asked me to explore the various beliefs associated with different Christian groups. They were particularly interested in Roman Catholicism since it is the dominant branch of Christianity around the world. 40 Questions about Roman Catholicism by Gregg Allison was a helpful book in exploring the various beliefs of the Catholic Church and providing an evangelical assessment of these beliefs. A few years ago, I read Allison’s Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment. In my opinion, this is the best evangelical response to Roman Catholicism. The format of the 40 Questions book, however, is a more accessible and readable edition and was helpful in teaching material for my Sunday School class.

It touches on every major Catholic doctrine and provides a biblical and theological rebuttal from an evangelical perspective. One of the best features of the book is that Allison does not engage in straw man arguments. He seeks to represent Catholic dogma fairly, even pointing out where Protestants and evangelicals agree with Catholics. Allison is charitable, yet he does not equivocate in pointing out the errors of Catholicism. 

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