1. One With Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation / Marcus Peter Johnson
To be saved is to be united to the Savior because Jesus is in Himself the blessings He provides. John Murray once noted that nothing is more basic than a believer’s union with Christ. My favorite book of the year helped me see that few things are more beautiful. For example, Johnson writes:
“The Son’s relationship to His Father is everything to Him, for He has existed eternally in the intimate love of His Father. The love of the Father for His Son is the source of all love and the ground of all life. It is a love so extravagant that it overflowed into the creation of the world— God the Father created all things through and for His Son (Col. 1:16). In joining Himself to us, the Son of God has signaled the recreation of all things by opening up to us the love the Father has for Him. He became one with us to make known the love the Father has for Him. But let us be perfectly clear—Jesus came to do more than preach about the Father’s love for us; He came to make this love known in us. (John 17:25-26) To be joined to Jesus Christ is to participate in the love the Father has for the Son. It means we now belong to God as His children, and the Father now loves us no less than He loves His only begotten. It is difficult to conceive of a greater benefit than this because it impossible to conceive of a love deeper than this. How incredible, then, is the doxology that pours forth from John’s pen: ‘See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are’ (1 John 3:1). Jesus Christ is our salvation because in Him, and only in Him, we share in the love that alone can be called eternal life.” (pp. 167-168)
Isn’t that glorious? Get this book and read it slowly. You won’t regret it.
2. Expositional Preaching / David Helm
I’ve been blessed through the writing ministry of David Helm. I often use One to One Bible Reading in my discipling relationships and my daughter loves the Big Picture Story Bible. His latest book is on preaching and it’s excellent. He offers wise and practical instruction to help preachers to both faithfully get the text right and get the text across. The folks at 9Marks cranked out a bunch of jewels this year, but this one was my favorite.
3. Stoner / John Williams
The first novel I read in 2014 was the best I’ve read in a while. And it’s haunted me ever since. C.S. Lewis once reviewed a book by his friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, and wrote the following: “Such a book has of course its predestined readers, even now more numerous and more critical than is always realised. To them a review need say little, except that here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a book that will break your heart. They will know that this is good news, good beyond hope.” That’s pretty much how I feel about Stoner.
4. From the Mouth of God / Sinclair Ferguson
Imagine if you got coffee with a godly, wise, and seasoned minister of God’s Word and you asked him to share the greatest lessons he’s gleaned from his many decades of trusting, reading, and applying the Bible. That’s what it feels like reading this book. I read several excellent works on Scripture this year (like this one, this one, this one, and this one). But it was this one by Sinclair Ferguson that affected me the most.
5. Music At Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert / John Drury
If you love Herbert’s poetry, then you won’t want to miss this beautiful biography. Illuminating and moving throughout.
6. American Spies / Michael Sulick
I live in a city with a higher concentration of spies than any other location in the world. Michael Sulick, a retired intelligence operations officer who was director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service and chief of CIA counterintelligence, has written a fascinating study on espionage against the United States from the Cold War to the present that helps answer this question: What motivates people to sell their country’s most precious secrets?
7. Justification Reconsidered / Stephen Westerholm
This brief book is one of the most lucid and elegant treatments of justification that I’ve ever read. In a span of 100 pages, Westerholm helpfully, humbly, and critically interacts with recent proposals from New Perspectivists. Westerholm argues convincingly from the biblical text that “Justification through the gospel of Jesus Christ represents one way in which Paul can respond to the question inevitably provoked by a message of pending eschatological doom: ‘How can I find a gracious God?'” (p. 9)
“Jesus Christ, God’s perfect Son, is the Beloved of the Father, the Song of the angels, the Logic of creation, the great Mystery of godliness, the bottomless Spring of life, comfort and joy. We were made to find our satisfaction, our heart’s rest, in Him. Quite simply, this book will be about enjoying Him, revelling in His all-sufficiency for us, and considering all that He is: how He reveals such an unexpectedly kind God, how He makes, defines– how He is– the good news, and how He not only gives shape to but is Himself the shape of the Christian life.” (p. ix)
NOTE: This book will be published soon in America under the title Rejoicing In Christ.
10. With the Old Breed / E.B. Sledge
This book is a first-hand account of the experiences in training and combat of E.B. Sledge with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division during the Peleliu and Okinawa campaigns in World War II. Sledge and his comrades were swept into an abyss of war and brutality that often beggars belief. He kept copious battle notes on slips of paper in his copy of the New Testament. Years later, he wrote about his war experiences to explain them to his family.
“War is brutish, inglorious , and a terrible waste. Combat leaves an indelible mark on those who are forced to endure it. The only redeeming factors were my comrades’ incredible bravery and their devotion to each other. Marine Corps training taught us to kill efficiently and to try to survive. But it also taught us loyalty to each other— and love. That esprit de corps sustained us.” (p. 316)
11. Master and Commander / Patrick O’Brian
I finally got around to reading the first volume in the Aubrey and Maturin series. It was just as good as advertised. The fun thing is knowing that the remaining 20 volumes (!) are really just one long and wonderfully told story of life and war and adventure on the high seas.
12. The Gospel at Work / Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert
John Piper once wrote, “Books don’t change people; paragraphs do. Sometimes even sentences.” One of the best sentences in The Gospel at Work is one that could transform your entire outlook on your job: “Who you work for is more important than what you do.” (p. 16) The writers do a fine job showing how working for King Jesus gives purpose and meaning to the work we do everyday.
13. The Painted Word / Philip Cousineau
If you’re in love with the English language and fascinated by words, then you should pick up a copy of The Painted Word which is billed as “A Treasure Chest of Remarkable Words and Their Origins.” That’s exactly what it is. I promise you’ll learn something interesting. Check out these two examples of things near and dear to my heart, books and coffee:
A collection of words printed on paper and bound by covers. Tracing the roots of such an elemental word reminds me of what art critic Bernard Berenson called “the aesthetic moment,” which he defined as “that flitting instant so brief as to be timeless, when the spectator is at one with the work of art.” That’s what happened when I discovered that book comes from the Anglo-Saxon boc, the bark of a beech tree, traditionally believed to have emerged into German as buch, from Buche, beech. The page turns, and we’re into Old English boc, book, any written document. The notion is of beech-wood tablets on which runes were inscribed, but the word may come from the tree itself. (People still carve initials in them.) Latin and Sanskrit also have words for “writing” that are based on tree names (birch and ash, respectively). Book, meaning “libretto of an opera,” dates from 1768. The self-taught Cherokee scholar Tecumseh described books as “talking leaves.” The irrepressible Groucho Marx said, “I find television very educational. Every time someone turns on a set I go into the other room and read a book.” The first essayist, Michel de Montaigne, wrote, “Books give not wisdome where none was there. But where there is, reading makes it before.” My father was fond of the bookmarks handed out by his favorite bookstore in Dearborn, Michigan, which featured the words of Thomas Carlyle: “Blessings upon Cadmus or the Phoenicians or whoever it was that invented books.” The tea cookie inspired Marcel Proust to write, in In Search of Lost Time, “It seemed to be that they would not be my readers, but readers of their own selves, my book being merely a magnifying glass.” The ultimate mythologization of books is Jorge Luis Borges’s The Library of Babel: “On some shelf, in some hexagon, it was argued, there must be a book that is a cipher and a compendium of all other books.” Companion words include book as a verb, “to enter for a seat or place, issue tickets,” from 1841; betting book, from 1856; bookmaker, 1862. A bookkeeper was originally someone who never returns a borrowed book. (p. 43)
A tree, a beverage, a way of life. A beverage and a word that seems to have been around forever, but dates back only to 1598, when it appeared on the doorsteps of Europe as the Turkish kalve, from Arabic qalwa, and eventually Italian caffè. The crop grows in the tropics; the beverage is made in a café by percolation, infusion, or decoction from the roasted and ground seeds of any of several Old World tropical plants (genus Coffea, especially C. arabica and C. canephora). Its storied roots lie in the hills of Ethiopia, where, it is said, a goatherd noticed his flock capering about one afternoon. Wondering what had made them so capricious, goatlike, he watched them chewing a red berry from a bush. The roots of the word coffee probably come from the soil of Dutch koffie, from Turkish kaveh, and earlier from Arabia, where it was considered a kind of wine. Coffee entered the Western world during the Siege of Vienna, in 1529, when the marauding Turkish soldiers left their sacks of coffee beans behind when they were repelled at the gates of the city. The next day the victorious Austrians celebrated with croissants, as a tribute to the crescent moon that shone above the city the night of the attack. Coffeehouse, in merry old England, was vulgar slang for a woman who was taken advantage of, suggestive of “coming and going and spending nothing.” (p. 75)
See what I mean?
14. Boys of Blur / N.D. Wilson
Only a writer as talented as N.D. Wilson could take swamps and sugarcane fields and the Everglades and high school football and Beowulf and turn it into an amazing story. My two boys kept asking me to read and re-read the opening line of the book. They told me that hearing it read aloud was just fun. “When the sugarcane’s burning and the rabbits are running, look for the boys who are quicker than flame.” (p. 2).
As always, happy reading and Happy New Year!