I don’t know what others mean when they say “top 5 books,” but for me, it’s pretty straightforward:
- What I enjoyed reading most
- What impacted the way I think most
- If it uncovered a new idea for me
- If I was carried through the entire book
- I would recommend it to others
- I would read it more than once
Ok, let’s get started at the top of the list…
1. When the Church was a Family: Recapturing Jesus’ Vision for Authentic Christian Community, by Joseph Hellerman.
Ever feel frustrated over the individualism and consumerism punctuating the American church? Ever wish your local church was more like the family you read about in the book of Acts? Do you long for revival in your city? This is the book you need to read. But brace yourself–you’re probably not impervious to Hellerman’s piercing diagnosis. Of all the books I read in 2013, this gave me the most chills, the most hope, and the most excitement for the future. But it cost me dearly.
The Trinity is simultaneously the most important Christian belief, and the most difficult to understand (one might think). Reeves delivers it simpler than vanilla, and more delicious than salted caramel. In fact, his adjectives often remind me of food, with lines like, “Such is the spreading goodness that rolls out of the very being of God” (29), or “The Father, Son and Spirit have always been in delicious harmony” (59). These simple, yet vivid descriptions of the relationships between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will cause you to reel in joy, and desire to get caught up into the same.
Biblical Theology (BT) is that area of study that looks at how the entire Bible is unified by a single story. There are some BT books that show you the story or themes unfolding through the Bible in a narrative fashion. Others, like this one, show you how to interpret the story itself. Not only does Lawrence nail this topic, but he is very comprehensive, including exegesis, systematics, and other areas of Bible study that intersect with BT. He masterfully lays it all out with practical, and fascinating precision. This is a book I am constantly referencing.
If you preach, you might consider this method. Preaching without notes brings the speaker to life, allows engagement with the listeners, and forces the preacher to condense their (oft-times scattered) ideas to a single, unforgettable point. Even the days I choose to use notes–which has it’s own merits–I still reference this book for it’s helpful methods. To preach without notes, there must be a fundamental shift in the way you think about the sermon itself, and that affects how you construct one. Unlike many books on preaching, this one is as practical as you get–if you really want to preach without notes, this one will do it for you in a week.
If you like to write, blog, or even tweet, I suggest you read this book. “Why on earth would I read about something as dry and lifeless as punctuation,” you say? Because stylistic punctuation, as this book argues, is what breathes life into your sentences. You’ve never been more romanced by a semi-colon or thrilled to wield a dash than after reading this book. The best part is, Lukeman writes the book with flair and style, often using punctuation in the very way he instructs throughout the book. For example, there are nicknames for every punctuation mark; the period is the Stop Sign; the semicolon is The Bridge; the dash is The Interrupter. And of course, there is a cornucopia of classic writers to give you examples of all of these.
These are on this list, because they are game-changers, and it would be a crime to keep them off even though the ones above were my first choices.
- The Cross of Christ, by John R.W. Stott
- Paul and Union with Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study, Constantine R. Campbell.
Obviously, I haven’t read every book that has ever been written, so take my list with an appropriate grain of that salt. Here’s the list I was working from.
What were your favorite reads of 2013? I’d love to hear.
I remember facing an uncomfortable tension many years back while studying pre-calculus (math is not my forte). Everything discussed in the class was absolutely foreign to me–from the symbols being used to the professor himself, who danced around the chalkboard as if these complex formulas were poetry to his heart. I, however, work better with words, not numbers! The tension was between not understanding the subject and the nagging feeling that it was important to learn. So there I sat, wrestling with concepts I couldn’t grasp, hoping they would eventually sink in. But they never did. So I relegated most forms of math to the back of my brain, assuming that if I’m ever required to use derivatives, referring to the calculator on my iPhone will suffice. As it turns out, I’ve discovered that life is full of equations that bewilder my smart-phone.
So, what does this have to do with a review of a book on God?
What I just described is how many deal with the doctrine of the Trinity, Christianity’s basic belief in a God who exists in three persons. We sense that it’s an important doctrine to believe, but we may not necessarily know why we believe it, or why it matters. So as I did with pre-calculus, we put the doctrine of the Trinity on the shelf where it won’t bother us, but can be easily accessible in case an angel of the Lord drops in to give us a theological pop-quiz.
But there is good news!
Michael Reeves writes Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith to confirm that our intuition is at least half correct. It is an important doctrine, for “what makes Christianity absolutely distinct is the identity of our God” (15). But it can also be thoroughly enjoyed. In fact, Reeves will make his case that the doctrine of the Trinity is worth pulling off the dusty shelf to gaze at for a while.
The first two sections are worth the price of the book alone.
In the introduction, Reeves explains that the essence of the Trinity is the source of everything Christian you will ever experience, declaring that “what we assume would be a dull or peculiar irrelevance turns out to be the source of all that is good in Christianity. Neither a problem nor a technicality, the triune being of God is the vital oxygen of Christian life and joy” (18). And it’s this hope that Reeves uncoils through the rest of the book.
Having a knowledgable professor (King’s College) write on a weighty topic with a young audience in mind seems to give the book a pleasant feel. Reeves keeps the jargon at a distance, choosing to wrestle only with concepts that satiate the average reader’s appetite for who God is. His writing style is sprinkled with a charming vernacular not ordinarily found in a subject of this girth. For example, he refers to the doctrine of the Trinity as a “perplexing dish” (12), a “vital oxygen” (18), and “delicious” (96). One of my favorite aspects of this book is that Reeves wrestles with your affections, as well as your intellect.
But don’t think this book is only for the young believer. Though Delighting in the Trinity is winsome, it is imbued with a robust theology spanning a panoramic view of church history, ranging everywhere from the Athanasian creed to Martin Luther, from ecclesiastical developments, to vignettes of past saints.
Chapter one is a beautifully crafted doxology. If Reeves desires to persuade you in the introduction, his main intent in this chapter is to thrill you. He moves you past the necessity of believing in the Trinity to wondering how your communion with God ever got along without such a potent view! Interacting with God the Father and God the Son, he tackles the themes of life they affect, from childhood issues and broken relationships to our longing for something more.
The rest of the book is filled with the personal interactions between each Trinitarian Person, where Reeves devotes one chapter to each. This is followed by a treatment of inevitable misunderstandings that are typical when talking about God, such as the reason for evil, and whether God is just in displaying his wrath. Throughout his writing, Reeves never assumes the reader will capitulate to his viewpoints, but carefully navigates his convictions using clever analogies, conditional statements, and sound logic, all of which is done with tremendous compassion.
The book concludes as succinctly as it began, with an intellectually honest appeal to consider the object of your worship. If you are a Christ-follower, or are thinking about becoming one, this is a fine introduction to Christianity’s most enduring tenet: “So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and yet they are not three God’s, but one God.” (Athanasian Creed, 15-16)
Get your copy on Amazon!