There’s a lot of Christian books out there, and much less that are worthwhile. These aren’t the best books out there, but the best books I read this past year. I’m happy to lend out any of these books to you if you’ll give them back.
Holiness by JC Ryle: Besides feeling a bit on the long side, I really enjoyed this book. I read through it slowly and devotionally, and that’s how I would recommend someone else read it. This book was written in 1877 but still very relevant and helpful. If you need some encouragement in your walk with God, or want to learn about sanctification and assurance, this is a good book.
The Christian Looks at Himself by Anthony Hoekema: In my opinion, Anthony Hoekema wrote the best systematic theologies out there on the doctrine of man, salvation, and eschatology (“end times”). This shorter book deals with the doctrine of man, and in particular our identity as redeemed in Christ along with the implications for how we should view ourselves. I was not crazy about his use of the language of “positive/negative self-image”, but if you can get past that, the book makes an important point: that as redeemed people in Christ, we should consider ourselves new and able – new because we have been regenerated (given new spiritual life when we were previously spiritually dead) by the Holy Spirit and been made genuinely new creatures, though never totally new or perfected in newness in this life; and able – enabled and empowered by the holy Spirit to “walk in newness of life”, please God, and make progress (however slow it may feel) in the struggle against sin. He makes the probably less-popular point that Romans 8, not the end of Romans 7, describes the normal Christian life, which I agree with. Certainly, no one is arguing for perfectionism in this life, or denying the reality of the continual struggle with sin in this life. But, it is my opinion that the doctrine of regeneration and the implications of it in regards to our sanctification tend to be overlooked nowadays. And, I agree with one of the main ideas of this book: that having a more biblical view of ourselves is in itself empowering, as is gives us hopeful expectation of slow progressive victory in a hard, life-long struggle through the power of the Spirit, instead of resigning ourselves to an expectation of continual frustrated defeat and enslavement to our sin. Here’s a quote that probably summarizes the main burden of the book: “This is not to deny that there continues to be struggle and tension in the Christian life. But the unique message of the New Testament is this: For those who are in Christ, and therefore in the Spirit, the battle against sin is to be fought in an atmosphere of victory, not defeat. ‘Walk by the Spirit’, Paul says, ‘and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.’… Our way of viewing ourselves should reflect this kind of victorious faith.”
What does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung: There’s lots of popular and frequently-repeated but ultimately uninformed arguments out there about the Bible and homosexuality (For example: “Can’t we just dismiss everything in the Old Testament since it contains all kinds of odd laws which we disregard now?”; “Jesus didn’t address homosexuality.”; “During biblical times they had no conception of loving same-sex relationships.” etc). These arguments are easily overcome by the plain biblical and cultural evidence. In the end, you can’t claim to hold to the teaching of the Bible AND claim that it affirms or allows homosexual practice. You can reject the bible, say it’s wrong, deny that it’s God’s word, or pick and choose which parts of it you listen to – but you can’t have it both ways. This book does a good job of demonstrating the clear teaching of the Bible on this controversial topic, along with refuting the common “revisionist” interpretations.
When your Husband is Addicted to Pornography by Vicki Tiede. This is one of those books that you wish didn’t need to be written. I got it as a free kindle deal, and it interested me since this topic is usually discussed from the sinner’s point of view only, and not from the victim’s point of view. Unfortunately, in discussions over pornography, often the victim is at best overlooked, and at worst blamed. I found it helpful if only to emphasize this fact: viewing pornography is not a victimless crime. If you are a husband, it is a sin against your wife, possibly a much bigger and more hurtful sin from her perspective than yours, and not one for which she is at all to blame.
Rejoicing in Lament by J Todd Billings: Lament is a right and proper expression in the Christian life, though often it is buried underneath the false idea that Christians should always be happy and never sad. This is a very honest and “raw” book, written by an author in the midst of his diagnosis and treatment of terminal cancer, and had some helpful thoughts on how to view your own suffering and how to minister to someone who is suffering. Good insights into the book of Job & the Psalms, and I especially found helpful the whole idea of viewing lament as a “protest” against the fallenness of this world, based upon faith in God’s promises and goodness. Here’s a few quotes:
“In the midst of a crisis with “pain” and “sorrow”…the psalmist brings this before the Lord, protesting that this is not the way things are supposed to be.”
“The fact that Psalms 39 and 88 are in the biblical canon gives us hope that God can handle our hardest pleas and protests. Total despair would not invoke God’s presence. Total despair— with no hope at all— does not pray. Yet even the most despairing protests of the Psalms still bring their pleas before God.”
“It is precisely out of trust that God is sovereign that the psalmist repeatedly brings laments and petitions to the Lord. Thus the psalms of lament are not like the grumbling of the Israelites in the wilderness, who displayed a lack of faith in God’s promises… Because [the Psalmists] take God’s promises seriously, they lament and protest when it seems that God is not keeping his promises.”
The Preacher’s Portrait by John Stott and Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by Kent Hughes: Here’s some good advice: read anything and everything by John Stott. Maybe don’t start here though – these books are more for people interested in pastoral ministry. The Preacher’s Portrait is, dare I say, the single best book on preaching/pastoral ministry. Every pastor, elder, & person in ministry in some capacity should read it. Kent Hughes’ book was also very helpful in laying out the top priorities of ministry, with many practical applications.
These last two are books that I enjoyed and wanted to mention, but may not be books that most people would enjoy – and so not necessarily recommended generally:
God’s People in the Wilderness: The Church in Hebrews by O. Palmer Robertson. You’d probably only like this if you are a seminary student or wanting to study the book of Hebrews in-depth. I read this while preaching through Hebrews and it confirmed my suspicion that the Church in Hebrews is God’s people in the wilderness. It is described in like terms, and even put into the place of the Israelite wilderness wanderers (yet of course with far superior resources in Christ than they had) – not at home, not at rest, still struggling, suffering, enduring hardship and persevering in faith until we reach our heavenly rest. In fact, this is a major, though sometimes overlooked, paradigm for the Church in the New Testament – a pilgrim people. The book had some helpful insights into the book of Hebrews, along with some helpful implications of this image of the Church. I think that remembering this reality of the Church will greatly help the Church when it experiences (as it is now in our culture) decline in terms of cultural influence, power and respectability; and it will greatly help Christians who are lamenting the “loss” of the culture by reminding us that in this life and world we are not at home but only wilderness wanderers; and it will help Christians who feel the hardships of the wilderness life in suffering, temptation, and trial.
How Jesus Runs the Church by Guy Waters: Unless you are really into “Church Government”, don’t read the book. Instead read my post on the basics of Presbyterianism here. I read this book while reviewing for our Church Membership class, and found it very helpful but way more than even I wanted to read on the subject. It was probably written for seminary students, or pastors like me who didn’t pay enough attention in their polity class.