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Top Ten Books of 2017

It’s time once again for my top ten list of the best books of 2017. But I’m going to fudge a bit on the year. A few of these books were released before 2017, but I either only recently got around to reading them or they are of such relevance to this particular year (the 500th anniversary of the launch of the Protestant Reformation) that I thought they should be included. So we’ll start with number ten and work our way down (up?) to number one.

(10) This may be strange, but coming in at number ten are all the books published this year (and a few from previous years) on Martin Luther. As you know, we recently (October 31) celebrated the 500th anniversary of Luther’s nailing the 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg (of course, several of these authors question whether this actually happened; he may have mailed them in rather than nailed them on the door).

The two best in this genre are undoubtedly Scott H. Hendrix, Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer (Yale University Press) and Herman Selderhuis, Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography (Crossway). The volume by Hendrix came out in 2015, but it is the best biography of Luther since Roland Bainton’s classic volume.

I haven’t read every word in these other volumes, but they all appear to be worthy of your consideration, even those written from a Roman Catholic or less flattering perspective on Luther. They include: Brad S. Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne, 2017); Richard Rex, The Making of Martin Luther (Princeton University Press, 2017); Andrew Pettegree, Brand Luther: 1517, Printing, and the Making of the Reformation (Penguin Press, 2015); Craig Harline, A World Ablaze: The Rise of Martin Luther and the Birth of the Reformation (Oxford, 2017); Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017); Lyndal Roper, Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet (Random House, 2017); and Heinz Schilling, Martin Luther: Rebel in an Age of Upheaval (Oxford, 2017).

(9) This year, 2017, not only marked the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation but also the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. The latter’s significance has been somewhat lost in the tidal wave of commentary on the former. But coming in at number nine this year is Sean McMeekin, The Russian Revolution: A New History (Basic Books, 2017). At a meaty 445 pages it leaves no stone unturned in this history-making event.

(8) Andrew T. Walker’s excellent book, God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity? (The Good Book Company, 2017) cannot be overlooked. I’ve read a few other volumes on transgender, but none with the insight and pastoral wisdom that Walker brings to bear on this controversial subject.

(7) I thoroughly enjoyed Kenneth J. Stewart’s, In Search of Ancient Roots: The Christian Past and the Evangelical Identity Crisis (IVP Academic, 2017). If you know of someone who is considering converting to Roman Catholicism, give them this book. From the dustjacket we read the following: “A common complaint about Protestant evangelicalism is its apparent disconnect from ancient Christianity. The antiquity and catholicity of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy seem to outshine the relative novelty of the Reformation. The result is that a number of younger Protestants in recent years have abandoned evangelicalism, turning instead to practices and traditions that appear more rooted in the early church. In Search of Ancient Roots examines this phenomenon and places it within a wider historical context. Ken Stewart surveys five centuries of Protestant engagement with the ancient church, showing that evangelicals have the resources in their own history to claim their place at the ecumenical table.”

(6) I loved Gregory Koukl’s book, The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How it Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between (Zondervan, 2017). This is the book you need to give your unsaved friend or family member. Koukl addresses a variety of pressing issues, such as the meaning of life, death, the problem of evil in the world, and why we are here. He writes in an engaging and intelligible style on matters of profound significance. I plan on reading this again in the coming days.

(5) A short book (150 pp.) that is probably unknown to most of you, but is most worthy of your careful attention, is Mark Wilson’s, The Spirit Said Go: Lessons in Guidance from Paul’s Journeys (Wipf & Stock, 2017). Here is the endorsement I wrote for it:

“As a pastor of a local church I’m confronted regularly with urgent questions about the Christian life, but none more frequently than that of spiritual guidance: ‘How can I know the will of God?’ ‘In what ways might I confidently expect God to guide me?’ ‘I don’t want to miss God’s perfect will for my life, so what should I do?’ These are difficult but extremely important questions that all Christians face. Mark Wilson’s The Spirit Said Go is a welcome contribution to the many books that attempt to provide biblical answers. It is rigorously biblical, pastorally sensitive, and eminently wise in the counsel given. Not everyone will agree with his perspective, but we should all give it close consideration.”

(4) As I’m preaching through the book of Revelation, I couldn’t help but mention a new commentary on the Apocalypse that is extremely good. Richard D. Phillips has written Revelation in the Reformed Expository Commentary series (P & R Publishing). You don’t need to read Greek to profit from this excellent treatment of Revelation. You only need perseverance, as it comes in at a weighty 764 pages! Of course, it helps to know that I completely agree with Phillip’s amillennial perspective! If you want to go deeper in Revelation, whether in personal Bible study or in teaching the book, Phillips is the book for you.

(3) I’m sure most of you have been wondering whether or not I would include at least one book this year on Jonathan Edwards. Well, here it is. The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia, edited by Harry S. Stout, Kenneth P. Minkema, and Adriaan C. Neele, is a gem (Eerdmans, 2017). In 615 pages it includes nearly 400 articles written by 169 contributors. Any serious student of Edwards will find this an indispensable resource. One more book on Edwards is also deserving of note. Nathan A. Finn and Jeremy M. Kimble have edited, A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards (Crossway, 2017). Here is the endorsement I provided for the book:

“This volume is a wonderful addition to the ever-increasing corpus of volumes devoted to Jonathan Edwards or about some aspect of his theology. What makes this book especially helpful is its focus on Edwards’s major theological treatises by scholars who are admiring students of the great New England Puritan. That doesn’t mean they write uncritically. These essays are an engaging and discerning interaction with Edwards’s thought and will undoubtedly prove to be the standard for this sort of treatment in the years ahead. If you’ve been hesitant to read Edwards, or perhaps somewhat intimidated by the depth of his theological insights, this book is the perfect place for you to begin your study of this remarkable pastor and author. Highly recommended!”

(2) Coming in at second this year is John Piper’s, Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture (Crossway, 2017). This is something of a sequel to one of Piper’s books that was on my list last year: A Peculiar Glory (Crossway). The description on the dust jacket says what you need to know about this book and why you need to read it prayerfully and carefully: “In Reading the Bible Supernaturally, John Piper aims to show us how God works through his written Word when we pursue the natural act of reading the Bible, so that we experience his sight-giving power – a power that extends beyond the words on the page. Ultimately, Piper shows us that in the seemingly ordinary act of reading the Bible, something miraculous happens: we are given eyes to behold the glory of the living God.”

(1) It’s a tie! I had to include both of these volumes as they were released together and serve as companion volumes in helping us all understand and apply the Bible to our lives. Andrew David Naselli has written, How to Understand and Apply the New Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology, and Jason S. DeRouchie has given us, How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology (P & R Publishing). Perhaps once again the best way to describe them is by citing the endorsements I wrote for both books.

“I have long awaited and prayed for this book. I didn’t know that Andy Naselli would be the one who finally would write it, but I can think of no one more qualified to do so. If you are an average, adult-educated lay person in the local church who wants to know how to read and interpret Scripture, this book is for you. If you are a young pastor who entered ministry without the benefit of a seminary education, this book is for you. If you are a pastor who has allowed his earlier training to slip away due to the business of ministry, this book is for you. How to Understand and Apply the New Testament is challenging yet user-friendly, remarkably exhaustive yet readily accessible, and above all else reflects a deep devotion to the life-changing power of God’s written Word. In a day when the Bible is badly read, poorly preached, and horribly misapplied, we need this wise and nearly comprehensive guide to bring us back on track. So, you pastors, teachers, and all other Christians who long for the deep things of God: get this book and devour it!"

“If there is a deficiency in the contemporary evangelical pulpit, it is the absence of consistent expositional preaching of the Old Testament Scriptures. Many pastors have either lost touch with the biblical Hebrew they learned in seminary or are intimidated by the demands placed on those who would venture into the interpretation of complex Old Testament texts. If that is you, or perhaps someone you know, rejoice with me to see the publication of Jason DeRouchie’s excellent treatment of the twelve steps essential for movement from exegesis to sound and substantive pastoral theology. The church has long awaited and greatly needed this volume. I highly recommend it.”

Both of these men teach at Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I’m happy to acknowledge their work as the best books of 2017.

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