by Sam Storms
The release of my top ten books for the year has now become an annual ritual. The decisions this year were especially difficult, given the number of high quality volumes that were published. A couple of things are different this year in that I’m including a book that was actually published late in 2009 but that I didn’t read until midway through 2010. It’s simply too good not to include. Also, I have four books that didn’t make the list but were so good that I decided to create an “Honorable Mention” list. Finally, there is one more book that will be published in early 2011 that I’m so confident will be among the best next year that I had to include it as “a preview of coming attractions”! So enjoy. Then go purchase. But be sure that you read! I’ll start at 10 and work down to number 1.
(10) Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, by John Piper (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2010), 222 pp.
It is a rare year indeed that a Piper book doesn’t make my list. Here is the endorsement that I wrote for Think:
“Those who are skittish when it comes to rigorous study, deep thinking, and theological precision have wanted us to believe that our problem is the mind, when in fact it’s the flesh. The problem isn’t knowledge, it’s pride. John Piper reminds us in this excellent book that what we need isn’t less thinking but clearer, biblical, and more God-centered thinking. Reading and thinking about Think will set you on your way to the renewal of the mind that the Scriptures insist is the catalyst for heartfelt joy and growth in godliness. I highly recommend it.”
(9) Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide, by Brett McCracken (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010), 255 pp.
I was at first a bit skeptical about what I’d find in this book, but was more than pleasantly surprised after reading it. In fact, I was profoundly impressed. If you are as sick of “cool” Christianity as I am, you can’t pass up on this one. Here is one statement from the author (a Wheaton grad, no less!) that should whet your appetite for more:
“If we are making the case that cool Christianity can be a good thing, we have to be clear that the ‘cool’ part of Christianity must exude out of the ‘Christ’ aspect of it, not from the stylish package or trendiness it might otherwise be associated with. In other words, an authentic Christian hipster community looks attractive and hip and cool, not because it tries to fashion itself in the world’s image, but because it does exactly the opposite – it fashions itself after Christ’s strange kingdom and his transforming gospel for a world that desperately needs it” (209).
(8) Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God, by Paul Copan (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010), 252 pp.
Perhaps the best way to explain what Copan’s book is about is to quote for you something written by Richard Dawkins, perhaps the most blasphemous among the new atheists who burst on the scene a few years ago. In his book, The God Delusion, he writes: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving, control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capricious malevolent bully” (31).
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard several of those adjectives Dawkins uses to blaspheme God; I’m sure you get his point. Copan’s excellent book is a response to these accusations as he addresses such topics as the nature of Old Testament ethics, divine jealousy, kosher laws, the Old Testament’s attitude toward women and slavery, polygamy, and the killing of the Canaanites, just to mention a few. You don’t need to agree with everything Copan says to learn greatly from his insights into such matters.
(7) God’s Battalions: the Case for the Crusades, by Rodney Stark (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009), 276 pp.
OK, here’s the book that actually came out in 2009. To be brief, Stark dismantles the long-held myth that “during the Crusades, an expansionist, imperialistic Christendom brutalized, looted, and colonized a tolerant and peaceful Islam” (8). Nothing, notes Stark, could be further from the truth. There’s no other way to say it: this superb historical treatment will challenge and, dare I say, change virtually everything you ever read or heard about the Crusades. It is beautifully written, meticulously researched, and persuasive.
Stark concludes his book with this brief summation: “The Crusades were not unprovoked. They were not the first round of European colonialism. They were not conducted for land, loot, or converts. The crusaders were not barbarians who victimized the cultivated Muslims. They sincerely believed that they served in God’s battalions” (248).
(6) 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law, by Thomas R. Schreiner (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2010), 256 pp., and 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible, by Robert L. Plummer (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2010), 347 pp.
These two volumes tied for number 6! They are part of what promises to be an excellent series of “40 Question” books.
(5) To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, by James Davison Hunter (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 358 pp.
Hunter’s book was surely one of the more controversial volumes published this year and also one of the more demanding. It’s not an easy read, but is well worth the investment of your time and energy. He challenges long-held views on how Christians should engage culture and what we might expect in terms of bringing about lasting change. Just to whet your appetite, consider this one statement:
“Yet the deepest and most enduring forms of cultural change nearly always occurs from the ‘top down.’ In other words, the work of world-making and world-changing are, by and large, the work of elites: gatekeepers who provide creative direction and management within spheres of social life. Even where the impetus for change draws from popular agitation, it does not gain traction until it is embraced and propagated by elites” (41).
(4) The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood, by Jane Leavy (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 456 pp.
How can I possibly leave off my list this new biography of my childhood (indeed, lifelong) hero, Mickey Mantle? My youthful energy was consumed by Mickey Mantle. I idolized him in the good sense of that word. I would trade hundreds of baseball cards, both good (such as those of the hated Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Duke Snider; “hated” because they were the players most often compared to Mickey, who, as far as I was concerned, had no comparisons) and bad (such as Eli Grba, Pumpsie Green, and Hector Lopez, one of the Mick’s Yankee teammates, just to mention a few), to get my hands on one of Mickey’s. It wasn’t until after his death on August 13, 1995, that I finally parted with a few of the dozens of Mantle cards I had collected. To this day, I regret having sold them. I kept my near excellent condition 1956 Topps card and will ask that I be buried with it close at hand (I’m kidding, but you get the point). Until then it is securely hidden away at the bank in my safe deposit box. If you knew how much it was worth, you’d understand why it is there.
While growing up and playing ball, I tried to walk like Mickey, talk like Mickey, swing a bat, run, smile, and throw a ball like Mickey. I was devastated if I couldn’t wear his number 7 on my uniform and I refused to use a bat in Little League that didn’t have his name on the barrel.
It was good, needless to say, that I was utterly unaware of his immoral and drunken lifestyle. In those days, professional athletes of the stature of a Mantle could rely on the media not to publicize their moral indiscretions. Today we’ve made a national pastime of it. I never knew of Mantle’s behavior off the field until well after his retirement in 1969. I can recall praying for him often whenever he appeared on a late night talk show or some special news segment. I wept openly and unashamedly as I watched his funeral service live on TV, broadcast from the Lovers Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas. Growing up a Yankee’s fan, it was overwhelming to see the lineup of honorary pallbearers: Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Moose Skowron, Hank Bauer, Johnny Blanchard, and Bobby Murcer.
My tears turned to joy when I heard of his death-bed conversion. Yes, there are such things and I’m convinced, as much as one can be, that Mantle’s was sincere and genuine. Bobby Richardson, Mantle’s Yankee teammate and second baseman for the Bronx Bombers, was instrumental in leading Mantle to saving faith in Christ only a couple of weeks before he died of cancer and complications related to his alcoholism.
With Christmas just behind us, people young and old are laughing about what they received as gifts. My most cherished Christmas present still sits in my closet, the ink fading with each passing day (now barely readable). Many years ago, when we lived in Dallas, Ann taught school at Trinity Christian Academy where one of her female students dated one of Mantle’s four sons (I can’t remember which one). One December, perhaps as a way of buttering up her teacher, she brought Ann a baseball, intended for me, on which Mantle had written the words: “To Sam, Best Wishes and Merry Christmas, Mickey Mantle.” No, it is not now nor ever will be for sale, at any price.
But I haven’t said anything about this book. That’s because I haven’t finished it yet. Leavy’s biography is unique among the many written on Mantle. She doesn’t cover every aspect of his well-known life but has chosen instead to focus on twenty memorable days, “each pivotal or defining. They represent highs, lows, flash points, and turning points” (xxii). Although it will be difficult for me to read yet again of Mickey’s many tragic failures, infidelities, and arrogant, angry outbursts, I rejoice in knowing that the saving grace of Christ Jesus found him, forgave him, and secured his place around the throne of the Lamb.
(3) The God Who Is There: Finding your place in God’s Story, by D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 232 pp.
You won’t find anything revolutionary or novel in this superb new book by Carson, but you will find an extremely helpful approach to understanding the flow of God’s purpose in biblical history. Carson begins with Genesis and ends with Revelation, demonstrating along the way the nature and ways of our God and how his people are to relate to him. This is a great book to give to a new Christian, or even a non-Christian who is curious about how the Bible fits together. As is typical with Carson, he writes with both clarity and depth.
(2) The Essential Edwards Collection, edited by Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney, 5 volumes (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2010). Jonathan Edwards on Heaven and Hell, 147 pp.; Jonathan Edwards on True Christianity, 155 pp.; Jonathan Edwards on Beauty, 149 pp.; Jonathan Edwards, Lover of God, 155 pp.; Jonathan Edwards on The Good Life, 155 pp.
For people who wonder how they might become acquainted with the life and theology of the church’s greatest pastor-theologian, these five short volumes are the answer. When people now ask me what they should read about and by Edwards, I point them to this excellent series of books. They are written for the average, educated Christian lay person. I highly recommend them!
And now for Number One . . . Drum roll please . . .
(1) For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper, edited by Sam Storms and Justin Taylor (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2010, 542 pp.
I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help but put this volume number one. It deserves to be there. No, this is not a conflict of interest, because neither Justin nor I receive one dollar in royalties from its sales. Having read this book numerous times (that’s what being an editor requires) I can honestly say that it is the finest collection of essays on a variety of themes that has been produced in quite some time. Justin and I, together with Lane Dennis, President of Crossway Books, presented this volume to John Piper at the Desiring God National Conference in October of this year. We carefully guarded knowledge of the book’s existence for three years and were thus able to surprise John in a special way. You can view the presentation on line by going to www.desiringgod.org and clicking on the place where the book is advertised. You will be directed to the video.
Among the twenty-seven contributors are D. A. Carson, Al Mohler, Tom Schreiner, Wayne Grudem, C. J. Mahaney, Mark Dever, John MacArthur, Bruce Ware, Randy Alcorn, and of course, Justin and myself. We interact with a variety of themes dear to John’s heart and found throughout his own books, such as Christian Hedonism, the Gospel, Jonathan Edwards, prayer and the sovereignty of God, the glory of God, and the nature of pastoral ministry. It’s a great read. Get it!
The four books on my Honorable Mention list are quite different from one another.
(1) Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture, by Wayne Grudem (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 619 pp.
This is a massive treatment of a variety of crucial issues and couldn’t have come at a better time. It isn’t the sort of book that you’ll read cover to cover, but one that enables you to dip into here and there depending on what topic is of greatest interest to you. Wayne is unapologetic about the conservative nature of his views, and does a great job of supporting his conclusions from the biblical text. Certain to become a classic reference book for the years ahead.
(2) Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to “Holy Land” Theology, by Gary M. Burge (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 153 pp.
I doubt if many of you are even aware of this book by Gary Burge, my former colleague at Wheaton College who still teaches NT there. It is something of a short sequel to Burge’s earlier and more substantive book, Whose Land? Whose Promise? Be forewarned: this is an unapologetic frontal assault on Christian Zionism and its assertion that Israel has a biblical, covenantal claim on the “Holy Land”. Burge develops a clear biblical understanding of the role that “land” plays in God’s redemptive purpose and his conclusions are profoundly significant. The NT, notes Burge, “relocates the properties of the Holy Land and discovers them in Christ himself. ‘The New Testament finds holy space wherever Christ has been.’ Thus the most sacred of all places, the Temple, is found in Christ. And so he too offers the ‘place’ of residence for Christians who yearn for a ‘better country’” (129). In brief, “divine space is now no longer in a place but in a person” (Jesus; 52).
(3) Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission, by Darrin Patrick (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 240 pp.
Darrin’s first book is an excellent one that not only church planters should read but all pastors, young and old.
(4) Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom, by Peter J. Leithart (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010), 373 pp.
Leithart debunks a lot of myth regarding Constantine and his impact on the development of Christianity. You probably don’t need to read every word of this meticulously researched book to gain from his insights.
Finally, projected for release in the spring of 2011 is a collaborative effort by two of the most highly respected Jonathan Edwards’ scholars from America. The Theology of Jonathan Edwards, by Michael J. McClymond and Gerald R. McDermott (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) will undoubtedly prove to be not only one of the most expensive books I’ll ever purchase (most volumes from Oxford are) but certainly one of the best comprehensive treatments of the church’s greatest theologian. Don’t be put off by the page numbers (it will be quite thick!) or the price. Get it. You will have to wait until the last week of December of 2011 to read my opinion of it. But knowing these two men as I do, and having read everything they’ve already written on Edwards, and having read an advance copy of their chapter on original sin and free will, I have no doubts that it will be at the top of my list.