17 Books I’ve Enjoyed in 2017
(Author Note: I received the following books from publishers to review. I was pleasantly surprised by each of them. It’s been a good year for reading.)
I’ve enjoyed reading Scripture more than ever this year, and that’s due, in part, to my adopting the Authorized Version (AV) as my primary Bible translation. There are several beautiful editions of the AV I’ve found on the market, but I’d like to focus in on the three I’ve enjoyed using this year (as well as one edition of the NKJV):
First is the Westminster Reference Bible, published by the Trinitarian Bible Society. This bad boy is bound in genuine leather that’s stout enough to hold its form, but flexible enough to lay open in your hand with ease. It contains a whopping 200,000 cross references, narrative summaries at the beginning of chapters, and explanations of archaic terms (since some words or phrases in the AV have passed out of common usage). Beautifully typeset with a four-column layout, this bible is easy on the eyes and hard on sin.
Second is my wide-margin King James Bible from Local Church Bible Publishers (LCBP). The leather is baby soft, and the paper is thick enough to prevent notes written in ink from bleeding through to the next page. For a premium Bible, you can’t beat the price. LCBP is a ministry committed to getting gorgeous King James bibles into the hands of folks who otherwise can’t afford to spend $120 on premium leather bibles. That’s why they sell them at cost. Want to buy one for yourself? You can purchase one at http://localchurchbiblepublishers.com for around $60.
Third is the Schuyler Canterbury KJV. This is the private jet of Bibles. It’s pretty enough to be on display in a museum, and soft enough to lay your head on each night. Just go see for yourself: http://evangelicalbible.com/bibles/schuyler/canterbury-kjv/.
And last (and least) is the Apply the Word Study Bible. The hardback cover and typeface/formatting aren’t anything to write home about, but the notes are clear and helpful. I’ve enjoyed consulting this bible for the commentary, but I almost never use it for my bible reading.
What About Free Will? by Scott Christensen
Calvinism is a titanic philosophical problem for many folks. If we have free will, how can God Be exhaustively sovereign over our decision making? If God is exhaustively sovereign over our decision making, how can we have free will? Logically, it would seem that to hold one view is to reject the other. But what if there was a way we could have both? What if we could explain "Pharaoh hardened his heart" and "God hardened Pharaoh‘s heart"? Scott Christenson does just that in his book What About Free Will? In this volume, Christenson does the church a great service by explaining and elaborating on the compatibilism of Reformed theologians like Jonathan Edwards - the view that God exercises his sovereignty over our decisions (and ensures those decisions are made freely) by changing our nature (and thus, our desires) in regeneration. Intrigued? Good. Go buy the book and feast on theological and philosophical genius.
The First Days of Jesus by Andreas J. Kostenberger and Alexander Stewart
Books about Christmas and the incarnation usually fall into one of three categories: creative and biblically rootless, sentimental and biblically rootless, or orthodox and dusty (and thus unnecessary). The First Days of Jesus fits into a fourth category rarely found by authors writing about the events of that first Christmas: biblical, orthodox, and praise-inducing. This volume surveys the historical, political, and redemptive historical context of the incarnation. It draws you into the story of the first Christmas in ways few books can. It takes what has grown familiar and makes it new. It’s a worthy read. I plan on revisiting portions of this book year after year during advent.
God in Three Persons edited by Bruce Ware and John Starke
I’m not sure I understand all the fuss that lead to the publication of this volume. Folks have been riled up for a few years now about the Eternal Subordination of the Son to the Father. There’s danger in saying God the Son is inferior to the Father, but there’s no danger in saying the Son, who is equal to the Father, is subordinate to the Father. I think the essays in this volume demonstrate this. They are winsome, irenic, and if not convincing, they’re thought provoking. I highly recommend this book.
The Inerrant Word edited by John MacArthur
I’m a fan of essay collections; therefore, I anticipated enjoying this one before I read it - it didn’t disappoint. The Inerrant Word makes an exegetical, historical, theological, and pastoral case for biblical inerrancy. While I prefer to speak of biblical infallibility (inerrant seems too post-enlightenment for me), this book is a much needed reassertion of the authority of Scripture.
A Peculiar Glory by John Piper
Piper has written a beautiful contribution to the ongoing conversation over the canon of Scripture, the authenticity of the books in the Protestant Bible, and the uniqueness of the biblical witness among holy books. In this volume Piper fleshes out Calvin’s doctrine of illumination with pastoral care and literary agility. A must read.
Reading the Word of God in the Presence of God by Vern Poythress
Haven’t been to seminary? Me either. But this volume by Poythress is essential reading for theological tinkers like me. In it, Dr. Poythress presents the reader with a comprehensive method for reading the various literary genres in Scripture. As a fairly simple hermeneutical "handbook," this volume makes a great reference tool for lay theologians, though one gets the sense from reading it that Dr. Poythress could have written a textbook thrice this length and still not scratched the surface of his learning. It’s on my list of best reads of 2017, so again, I highly recommend it.
Bounds of Love by Joel McDurmon
This brief introduction to theonomy has its place on your bookshelf, even if you disagree with parts of McDurmon’s thesis (as many theonomists have). In this volume, McDurmon gives a concise, yet comprehensive survey of the issues surrounding the Mosaic civil laws. He argues that, at its root, the civil applications of the Ten Commandments may be summarized as, "The punishment must fit the crime" (the lex talionis principle). This principle, he says, is still binding as the biblical standard of justice. McDurmon teases out this thesis exegetically, and then paints a picture of what our society might look like if we were committed to the lex talionis principle. I like the simplicity of McDurmon’s aim here, and the lex talionis is just general enough to encourage dialogue at the exegetical level and facilitate co-belligerency at the ethical/political level. We need this.
God Versus Socialism by Joel McDurmon
This one goes against our contemporary political grain, but it’s fantastic. Taxation is theft by majority vote - that’s McDurmon’s position in this volume, and he makes a compelling case for it. At the very least, he proves the gargantuan tax percentages that oppress Americans are - well, oppressive. And all his arguments are rooted in careful exegesis, which is essential if you care anything about the authority of Scripture (and I do). Perhaps you won’t be persuaded by McDurmon’s critique of socialism. But this is an important volume every Christian interested in political engagement (and that should be all of us) should read.
Christian Theistic Evidences by Cornelius Van Til
Cornelius Van Til was the wrecking ball who cleared the way for R.J. Rushdoony’s efforts to reconstruct a biblical society. In this volume, Van Til argues that facts aren’t neutral and that we can’t argue for the veracity of Christianity by appealing to non-Christian scientific methodologies. Rather, he argues, as he always does, that every fact, every shred of evidence we we’re presented with must he interpreted for us by Scripture. Even if you already agree with Van Til’s presuppositionalism, read this. Van Til rarely disappoints.
Restoring America One County at a Time by Joel McDurmon
If Bounds of Love lays out McDurmon’s theological and political methodology and God Versus Socialism is McDurmon’s critique of statism, then Restoring America is a handbook for applying his methodology to remedy our socialistic mess. You won’t find a more practical, comprehensive solution to the mess we’re in than this book. Will everyone get on board with McDurmon’s vision? No. But this valiant effort to move beyond critique to a constructive agenda can’t be ignored. Any authors making similar attempts at constructing a plan for positive political action would be wise to build on McDurmon’s work instead of starting over and neglecting such an achievement.
A Theology of Lordship (4 Vols.) by John Frame
John Frame is as humble as he is brilliant - that’s saying something. Each of the four volumes in his Lordship series (covering epistemology, theology proper, Christian ethics, and revelation) is written from a radically covenantal (and thus, biblical) perspective. Frame doesn’t write like an ivory tower theologian - he writes like a journalist. With particularly readable prose and an obvious aversion to citing theologians when he can build arguments for himself by skillfully citing Scripture, Frame is the gold standard for theological writers. Top that off with theological conclusions that practically leap off the pages of Scripture, and you’ve got a series worth the time and effort it takes to read. These books are a joy.
By What Standard by Greg Bahnsen
This volume popularizes the conclusions Bahnsen reached in his seminal Theonomy and Christian Ethics. In By What Standard, Bahnsen argues that the Mosaic civil code (which is just an application of the Ten Commandments to society) is still binding. If you look at the unjust laws governing our nation (e.g., imprisonment as a consequence for theft rather than restitution), it’s hard to escape the conclusion we live under a justice system that punishes victims rather than criminals. In this volume, Bahnsen provides the hermeneutical foundation for theonomy (meaning God’s law), over and against autonomy (self law). Theonomy offerings a compelling remedy for the rampant injustice in our nation, and this is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the theonomic position. Not everyone will be persuaded, but everyone can learn from Bahnsen here.
Victory in Jesus by Greg Bahnsen
This collection of lecture manuscripts is a jewel. In this volume, Dr. Bahnsen examines the exegetical case for postmillennialism (eschatological optimism), surveys and critiques other dominant millennial views, and provides an historical analysis of the decline of postmillennialism among evangelicals. This is a short, enlightening read. It’s especially helpful if you’re just dipping your toe in the postmillennial water.
NOTE: I read the following three books by RJ Rushdoony, published by Ross House Books, in beautifully printed hardback editions. Easy-to-read typeface, sturdy spines, and thick paper (excellent for note taking) make these volumes perfect for rereading and frequent cross referencing.
Institutes of Biblical Law (3 Vols.) by R.J. Rushdoony
Wowza. This is one of the most significant books of the 20th century - perhaps the most. Dr. Rushdoony surveys the law of God with unparalleled care. He digs beneath case laws to discover the presuppositions beneath them. In doing so, he deconstructs nearly every humanistic edifice we've constructed here in the west and reconstructs a worldview based solely on the Bible. If you don’t read any other book on this list (after the Bible, of course), read these three volumes. There’s much in them you may disagree with, but even when you disagree with Rushdoony, you’ll be edified by him.
Revolt Against Maturity by R.J. Rushdoony
We swim in an ocean of pop-psychological garbage. Every feeling modern man has is validated, every immoral behavior justified by his emotions. In this volume, Dr. Rushdoony re-examines the field of psychology in light of Scripture. Rushdoony approaches psychology as a branch of theology, and his primary concern is helping us understand how to account for (and recognize) the psychological differences between believers and unbelievers, regenerate and unregenerate. This volume is a bracing dose of sanity. Read it.
In His Service by R.J. Rushdoony
Christian charity is personal, not political - that’s Dr. Rushdoony’s thesis in In His Service. In a statist society which places such importance on taxing and redistributing wealth (our socialistic welfare state), it’s easy to conflate biblical charity with state funded poverty-relief programs. But this is a mistake. Now more than ever, we need to hear Dr. Rushdoony’s call to private, personal, self-sacrificial charity. If we heed this call, we’ll soon find we don’t need state funded welfare to care for the poor. Christian compassion is sufficient, if only we would exercise such compassion.