As part of my blogging rhythm each year, today here is the 11th annual posting my top reads of the year.
For starters, I read through the full Bible in a year. Of course, I read it, study it, teach it, preach it, write about it and more. But it was good to engage in this longer-term reading plan from Genesis to Revelation. I do so using the CEB (Common English Bible).
Honestly, it was a challenge to read the whole Bible in a year. I’ve attempted before and got caught up in life, missing multiple days, deciding to then just head into a particular biblical book or the sort. I am thankful to have stuck with it this year. I do not believe I get any special marks with God for completing this project. It’s simply good to get into the story that runs across the whole sweep of Scripture (check out this great video to explain the important of this). But my annual reading for 2019 had one thing as top priority – reading through the whole of the Bible.
The rest of these are in no particular order.
Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King by Matthew Bates: I highlighted this book in last year’s post because I had begun the book at the end of 2018. But I wanted to highlight it in 2019 as well, since my reading of it spilled into this year. There are two central points to the book: 1) providing a holistic understanding of the gospel and 2) uncovering what the the word “faith,” or pistis in Greek, is all about. Bates’s work is not too different from other New Pauline Perspective theologians of the past few decades. I am a proponent of this perspective when reading the New Testament, as I believe it is better rooted in the Jewish history and narrative of the Bible. In all, I agree with Bates that pistis is best defined as allegiance. This does not mean we are working or earning salvation – that “thing” of which evangelicals are petrified. But rather pistis is ultimately worked out in allegiance to, or truly following, the one we claim to believe in, Jesus, the Messiah. The main niggle I would have with the book is one of his eight components of the gospel. His first point of the gospel is that Jesus preexisted with the Father. While I do not negate this theological point, I am not convinced it is a central point of the good news. Titles such as Messiah and Son of God can perhaps point to the divine, preexistent nature of Jesus. However, I would argue these titles primarily refer to Jesus’s Kingship-Lordship and his fulfillment of Israel’s story, over and above a preexistent state. Even more, as stated, I am not sure I see this as a central component of the good news.
How the Bible Actually Works by Peter Enns: Lots of folk are writing popular books these days on how to engage the Bible. Enns has been doing it for quite some time. In this book, Enns continues on from his previous works about the Bible – The Bible Tells Me So (my review) and The Certainty of Sin (my review). I want to say a big thank you to Pete, as I won this at a giveaway while he was in town delivering a talk! Thanks for giving away copies of your book! The thrust of this volume is that the Bible is not a strict instruction manual or rulebook neatly put together with all the answers to our theology and practice of the faith. Rather, it is a library of “books” (meaning there are a multiplicity of voices) calling us to wrestle with the text in order to gain wisdom, ultimately the wisdom of God. Therefore, the mantra of “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” falls short of what it means to wisely engage the holy Scriptures. No one actually lives that mantra out. One thing I would like to have seen Enns do was engage the typical evangelical hermeneutic known as the grammatical-historical method and why that might fall short of best engaging the Bible. I’d also like to see him talk more about an overarching theological thread that he may see developing across the Scripture. Many evangelicals are fearful of Enns’s thoughts, feeling they are too progressive. He and I might not be on the same page with all issues, but anyone who has engaged biblical critical scholarship, and done so without dismissing it full throttle, will understand why Enns’s works offer an important voice as we wrestle with the ancient text of the Bible.
A Life of Listening by Leighton Ford: I am beginning to enjoy the reading of memoirs. I think it’s because I like stories and I can relate to stories – the joys, the pains, the ups, the downs, etc. That may be why I penned my own memoir a few years back. Matter of fact, I imagine we all enjoy stories and can relate to them. A Life of Listening is the memoir of Leighton Ford, the brother-in-law of the late Billy Graham (married to Graham’s sister). This book recounts the past 80+ years of his life and ministry. What stood out the most from the book was his reflections on the pressures of ministry, working with Billy Graham, as well as the processing the grievous passing of his own son.
Pastor Paul: Nurturing a Culture of Christoformity in the Church by Scot McKnight: Because McKnight has been one of the more influential theologians I have read, I tend to try and read most of his works. My tops are The Blue Parakeet, The King Jesus Gospel and Kingdom Conspiracy. Pastor Paul is his newest release with the central focus being that of mining Paul’s letters to develop a pastoral theology centered in the concept of Christoformity. Many speak of cruciformity – being shaped through a deeper understanding of Christ’s sacrificial laying down of himself through his death on the cross. And that is so very important! However, the concept of Christoformity carries a more holistic balance, highlighting who Christ is, what Christ has said, and what Christ has done as bigger than the cross alone. My hope is to offer a more thorough review of the book in the near future.
A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together by Scot McKnight: I had read some of this book a few years back, but I picked it up again in an effort to integrate it into a new class I taught this past semester called Ministries of the Church. The focus of the class was to develop a theology of the church and practice of ministry. This book lays out a basic yet solid introduction to the church as God intended. It isn’t like your normal systematic book on ecclesiology, but it rather gets much more practical, into the nitty-gritty of church. McKnight begins with a unique picture for the church – a salad. But not the normal American salad. Rather a salad as it was meant to be. One of my favorite parts of the book is McKnight’s reflections on the church’s call to be much more heterogeneous – meaning we are called to be an actual fellowship of differents. Even in our highly non-denominational – or inter-denominational – settings, we can still be very homogeneous. McKnight argues that is not God’s design. The book proved a solid text for the course.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: The Illustrated Edition by J.K. Rowling: I finished the book series quite a few years back. My wife and I have also watched the films each holiday season (November and December), having kept that tradition in tact this year as well. I must say I do somewhat loathe the idea that it seems a newly printed and packaged Harry Potter series is released each year now. Good ol’ fashioned capitalistic consumerism to make a buck…or a billion. But I will say this series did capture my attention, my eyes really, when I first encountered it. The Potter story is already fascinating for me, as I love fantasy fiction. The illustrations in this series heighten that even more! I’ve had the first couple of editions, recently gifted The Prisoner of Azkaban as well. But only recently did I sit down to begin the journey again. It was a wonderful first of the series!
The Guardians by John Grisham: I’ve mentioned at the blog that I have read every Grisham book that’s been released (outside a few of his teen novels). So I happily grabbed this book from the shelves back in October when it released. This one had a unique plot line connected to a group known as Guardian Ministries, with one team member being an Episcopal priest. They are a small non-profit focused on exonerating people who have been falsely incarcerated. I imagine this book flows out of some of Grisham’s current focus and work, which can be seen through the Netflix documentary The Innocent Man. This was an enjoyable read and I look forward to his new Spring release Camino Winds, which is part 2 of his 2017 release, Camino Island.
If interested, below are the links to my top reads from the previous ten years.
Hi Scott – after your comments on the book “Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King” – perhaps a question I have been wanting to ask you has now found an appropriate context in which it can be asked 🙂
I am indebted to you in being the first to bring to light for me the “New Perspective(s)” on Paul that have emerged in recent times, and I have also found your conclusion about them as being “better rooted in the Jewish history and narrative of the Bible” compelling.
I sense that you have consequently moved quite significantly away from a more traditional reformed view – and my problem is that in seeking to reshape the traditional understandings of the meaning of justification and the righteousness of God, it seems to me that NP writers – specifically NT Wright – in helping us see better one part of the soteriological vista, have created significant holes in other parts. I specifically refer to theology which describes how moral virtue is imparted to believing sinners. For me, as I daily contemplate the ravages of my soul that my sinful nature produces in me, the traditional understanding of the power of Christ’s virtue imputed to me is a wondrous balm for an uneasy conscience. As we both know, this was Luther’s discovery in Romans 1, which he says “opened the gates of heaven to him”.
What concerns me is that NT Wright seems to almost mock Luther’s over-sensitivity to sin’s presence in his life. Yet surely this is one of the most real and identifiable personal issues for anyone who acknowledges the fallenness of ones flesh in the sight of a holy God. It seems that traditional reformation spirituality and teaching in regards to this matter of imputation, is uniquely powerful in providing theology to lead such troubled souls into the rest of Christ’s arms. Yet The NP seems to have swept the heart out of such theology, basically leaving the believer to conclude that he’s foolish to feel so bad about the corruption of his flesh, and any sense of a nagging conscience should be safely ignored.
So I was wondering how you understood these matters yourself?
Jonathan, as always, thanks for your thoughtful engagement.
On the issue of imputation – it is a very interesting concept, one to consider. But asking whether that is a concept found within Scripture (i.e., 2 Cor 5:21) has to at least drive how we handle Scripture. I am not sure Wright gets that passage exactly correct, but I do like how he embeds it (the full chapter 5) within what Paul is saying about his and his team’s ministry. Vs21 isn’t a sentence that stands all by itself, and thus I think it does call into question our general idea of imputation. We love vs21, but vs21 takes on fresh meaning within all of ch5 and all of the letter.
I don’t sense that Wright mocks the idea of sin in Luther’s writings. At least from what I’ve read, I don’t recall it. I think Wright very much understands sin. But here is the thing that the NPP does get correct – it focuses in on the communal soteriological understanding of Scripture, over and above our western obsession with the individual concept. Now, I don’t want to chuck aside the personal as a whole. I believe in applying Scripture personally, but I believe doing so (from a Scriptural standpoint) comes first from considering the communal aspect. God’s people as a whole were going to be “saved” (delivered) from the impending judgment (which does include individuals). But that flows from the collective understanding together.
It is so challenging to read Romans without a Luther/Calvin (even Augustinian) influence. So difficult. And I think what was happening in their time was important – as we would want to read Scripture and think “how shall we then live in light of this today” in our own setting. But at least starting at base foundation with Scripture, the way the Jews thought was very different from us. The Scripture is thoroughly ancient and Jewish – it talks like it, tastes like it, smells like it, you get the point. 😉
Perhaps a book to start with to introduce how our western ideas can get in the way is Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes. I reviewed half of the book in multiple articles here that you could look into. I don’t think that book goes far enough in helping us understand how to better read Scripture without western blinders. But I think it’s a good intro.