2018 Book Recommendations

by Travis Bookout

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It’s been a little while since I last posted. Finishing up and defending my thesis and the rest of my school work took priority the last few months. But I wanted to start back by wishing everyone a Happy New Year! I hope 2018 is the best one yet. Speaking of 2018, hopefully you are thinking about some goals or resolutions you would like to peruse. If reading is one of them, I have a few suggestions.

Of the books I read (or audiobooked while driving/doing the dishes/running) in 2017, I have selected a few of my favorites to pass along to you.  Obviously, a recommendation of a book in no way implies I agreed with everything in it (or even much in it) or that I approve of everything an author has ever said or done.  Rather, it means I enjoyed the read. I was challenged by it, learned something valuable from it, found it thought provoking or spiritually beneficial, etc. Hopefully you will too. So, here goes:

  1. The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation by Dr. Richard B. Hays. Over the last few years I’ve come to realize that anything written by Richard Hays is going to be absolutely fantastic. His Moral Vision of the New Testament is no exception. It was not only my favorite read of 2017, but one of my favorite books ever, on any subject. Dr. Hays is one of my favorite interpreters of Scripture and his application of the New Testament witness to modern ethical issues is the best I have read. This book serves as an introduction to Christian ethics as they can be learned from the New Testament. After examining the ethical teachings of each of the New Testament writers (which itself is well worth the price of the book), Dr. Hays proposes a methodology for understanding the ethical teachings of the New Testament through 3 focal images: Community, Cross, and New Creation. These focal images are then used to discuss five major ethical issues the church is facing today: Violence in Defense of Justice, Divorce and Remarriage, Homosexuality, Anti-Judaism and Ethnic Conflict, and Abortion. Dr. Hays’ insight into the New Testament and the ethical dilemmas facing the church will be a blessing to any who reads this book.
  2. The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scriptures by Dr. Richard B. Hays. I’ll limit it to two Richard Hays books. But, honestly, this one is really best read in tandem with Dr. Hays’ Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. And if you read that, you might as well check out Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (And I’ll also recommend Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness, which I have not read yet, but am looking forward to soon). These books will transform the way you read the New Testament, in a very good way. The Conversion of the Imagination is a series of essays that investigate Paul’s method of referencing and exegeting the Hebrew Scriptures, and illustrating how heavily influenced he was by them.
  3. The Reason for God by Tim Keller. If you are interested in apologetics there are many good sources to choose from with a lot of great information. You can find books that are more in-depth and cover more arguments and counter arguments. But not many are as accessible and enjoyable to read as Keller’s The Reason for God. He offers a great foundation for the truth of the Christian religion and beneficial responses to many of the common reasons given for rejecting Christianity. He does this with solid reasoning and kindness. I’d highly recommend, especially as an introduction to apologetics.
  4. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin. This was a fun read filled with interesting history, humorous stories, and a great look into the personality of Benjamin Franklin. Some of my favorite themes that pops up several times are Franklin’s battle with pride and humility and his constant quest for knowledge. One time, during an outdoor sermon by the famed 18th century preacher George Whitefield, Franklin, in true enlightenment fashion, got an idea to test some claims he had heard many times before but often doubted. Claims like, Whitefield had preached to 25,000 in a field, or that ancient generals could audibly address an entire army. Surely it is impossible for one voice to be heard by a crowd that large! So, during the sermon, Franklin began to walk away, as far as he could while still hearing Whitefield’s voice. He writes, “I found his voice distinct till I came near Front-Street, when some noise in that street obscur’d it. Imagining then a semi-circle, of which my distance should be the radius, and that it were fill’d with auditors, to each of whom I allow’d two square feet, I computed that he might well be heard by more than thirty thousand.” I guess if Benjamin Franklin is doing all that during a George Whitefield sermon, I can’t be too offended when someone is daydreaming during mine.
  5. Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking by Malcolm Blackwell. For preachers or teachers who hunt for good illustrations and relevant studies, this book is full of them. Blink is primarily about the split-second decisions we all make every day. These types of decisions effect the way that we view the world and can have extremely powerful consequences in our lives, marriages, and attitudes toward others. Gladwell provides helpful insights into marketing, relationships, racism, the value of expertise, the value of height, and how to make good decisions. It is full of studies and stories from police shootings to the Coke vs Pepsi controversy and everything in-between. I’d also just tack on here at the end that you may also enjoy Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.

This is getting longer than I intended, so I’ll rapid fire some other recommendations that I enjoyed. I’ll classify them by genre:

Biographies: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Eric Metaxas) and Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President (Candice Millard). I am currently in the middle of Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, also by Eric Metaxas, which has been excellent so far. I love the biography on Bonhoeffer. I read Destiny of the Republic because it was about the assassination of James Garfield, who was part of the American Restoration movement. There was not a ton about his spiritual life in the biography, but it was still very enlightening. And as I make my way through it, I’m growing in my appreciation of Wilberforce every day.

Apologetics: I did not read much on apologetics last year, but I did read Genome: Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters by Matt Ridley.  This is in no way intended to be an apologetic or Christian book, but it was an interesting scientific look at our makeup as humans. I just don’t see how you can study that without learning more about God. Also, The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis and Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright, both of which provide excellent insight into one of life’s most difficult problems.

Biblical Exegesis and Interpretation:  The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion by N.T. Wright is pretty standard N.T. Wright. If you have read much Wright, you’ll know what to expect and you know it’ll be good. But he does present the crucifixion in a light that is often neglected in churches since the Reformation, and I think there is value in his perspective. Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church by Karlfried Froehlich will be really interesting if you are interested in ancient exegetical and interpretive practices.  It’s fairly technical and if you aren’t interested in the difference between allegoria and theoria you might not love it. The New Perspective on Paul by James D.G. Dunn is a helpful guide to some of the shifts taking place in Pauline studies over the last half century. It’s also a helpful guide to understanding Paul.

Old Testament Exegesis and Interpretation: Reclaiming the Imagination: The Exodus as Paradigmatic Narrative for Preaching is a collection of sermons and essays on the Exodus by many authors, edited by David Fleer and Dave Bland. Admittedly, along with the biography on William Wilberforce, I am still reading and have not finished. But I’ve enjoyed the essays and sermons so far and some of the ideas have already made their way into my teaching. John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate and Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (which is basically a more in-depth study of the things summarized in The Lost World of Genesis One) both provide a unique perspective on the creation narrative and the way that ancient people thought. Particularly valuable is Walton’s discussion of creation as a temple narrative designed as God’s residence. Finally, I would strongly recommend to church members Sandra Richter’s The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament. This will organize your thoughts on the Old Testament and allow many of the odd stories to make a ton more sense.

Christian Allegory: I only have one in this genre but I finally got around to John Bunyan’s 1678 classic The Pilgrim’s Progress. I audiobooked this and enjoyed the story, but you’d really have to be dedicated to read the whole thing. It tells of an allegorical journey made by a man named “Christian” who meets characters of all kinds, whose names tells you all you need to know about them: Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Evangelist, Pliable, Obstinate, Hypocrisy, Charity, Prudence, Faithful, Talkative, Giant Despair, etc.  Each of these characters either helps or hinders Christian on his journey.

Final Recommendation: Lastly, I want to recommend The Domino Effect: Changing Your Life One Decision at a Time by Tim Lewis of the North MacArthur church of Christ. This short, easy-to-read guide to Biblical and godly decision making can change your life.  It will challenge you to think of the consequences of your actions and how you can best honor God with your life. This book, combined with a seminar by brother Lewis where I preach, was a great benefit and blessing to many in our church. I would encourage anyone to give it a read.

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