2008 Year-end Book Awards

The end of the year is a good time to reflect on the previous year in a number of ways. One way I enjoy is to look back on the books I read in the previous year – what was good, what was bad, how could I improve my reading habits, etc. Last year I posted brief reviews of each book I read, but because I read more this year (37 not including school reading), that’s a silly idea.

Because 2008 was also an eventful sports year, with the Giants winning the Superbowl, Yankee Stadium saying goodbye, and Michigan football going down the toilet, I want to use a sports theme. So without further ado, here are my year-end book awards. You can click on the book titles to get more information on the title, to buy the book, or to help me get more books for free.

MVP (two-way tie):

Christianity & Liberalism, by J. Gresham Machen, 1923.
An absolute classic – definitely a must read about the supremacy of the gospel and combating liberalism in the church. A brilliant work written over 80 years ago yet still potently relevant today.

Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, by Michael Horton, 2008.
Though not as focused on one movement like Machen, this is almost a modern version of Christianity & Liberalism. Horton sounds a sincere call for Christians to recover the centrality of the gospel of Jesus Christ in preaching, sacrament, church life, mission work, and more. No one is safe as Horton calls out an American Christianity that is reverting to “moralistic, therapeutic deism”: preaching American ideals of moralism, self-help, and busyness while turning the Good News of the gospel into Good Advice or a product. Horton’s thesis is that “evangelicalism is not becoming theologically liberal but theologically vacuous.” A must read for pastors, elders, and lay persons of every denomination.

First Team (best of the rest):

The Courage to be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World, by David F. Wells, 2008.
Definitely in the MVP discussion, Wells’ book is a culmination of decades of research on the decline of evangelicalism, and is a plea for Christians to look past the language of emergents and gimmicks of megachurches and look primarily to the Scriptures. I loved reading this book.

Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate, by Jerry Bridges, 2007.
A convicting devotional book, Bridges clearly, succinctly, and scripturally discusses 14 sins that are often overlooked. Ken and I blogged through this book, and you can find our summaries here.

The Sovereignty of God, by A.W. Pink, 1918.
A fiercely argued treatise of the sovereignty of God. Many Christians today pay lip service to God’s sovereignty, but when it comes down to it they live like Deists. Pink brings home the importance of this doctrine in the lives of all Christians and discusses other difficult but crucial doctrines like predestination, election, and wrath. The chapter on prayer was especially helpful, which I wrote about here and here.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, 1960.
So much better than I remembered from high school. It is a fantastic book not only in Lee’s mastery of language and metaphor, but also in her not-so-subtle critique of reason, prejudice, and morals through the lives of children in a small Southern town.

Rookie of the Year (new author):
The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, by Tim Challies, 2007.
Challies does a good job of writing concisely, scripturally, and earnestly in an easy-to-read yet challenging style. The topic is also perhaps the most lacking “discipline” in evangelicalism today. Good for the average lay person and church leaders alike who want to grow more in this area.

Triple Crown (best trilogy – two way tie):

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1937-1949.
A classic work of fantasy, Tolkien’s trilogy is as enjoyable as a twenty-something as it was when I last read it as a pre-teen. There is so much more in the books than in the recent films, too.

The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis, 1938-1945.
Lewis mixes subtle but rich religious/moral metaphors with an enjoyable mastery of the English language, intimations of mythology, commentary on human nature, and religious lessons all in a non-dorky science fiction context.

Most Improved (most likely to improve one’s marriage):
Each for the Other: Marriage as It’s Meant to Be, by Bryan Chapell, 2006.
Elizabeth and I enjoyed reading through this discussion of the biblical model of marriage, which includes sacrifice, headship, submission, love, and forgiveness. Also includes a chapter on family/child-rearing. A good book for people who are dating, engaged, or married.

Coach of the Year (most helpful book):
Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor, by D.A. Carson, 2008.
As the son of an “ordinary” pastor, this book helped me understand the pastoral ministry generally and my dad specifically. Dad wrote a letter to Carson explaining how much the book meant to him (Dad has a special connection to the book thanks to his British-Canadian roots and fundamentalist upbringing), and I had the privilege of reading the letter. Dad got a lengthy response from Carson that said “you’re the type of pastor for whom I wrote this book.”

Defensive Player of the Year (hardest book):
Communion with the Triune God, by John Owen, 1657.
Owen’s outline is often nearly impossible to follow and his language is frequently unclear. But his big picture is worth the effort. It is not merely a theological book on the doctrine of the Trinity, but is a book that encourages a fuller, richer worship of the Triune God. Owen describes the distinct nature and work of each person of the godhead, which helps to formulate a deeper relationship with the Holy Creator.

Hall of Fame (best historical/cultural study):
American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon, by Stephen Prothero, 2004.
An intriguing and stimulating book on how Americans (including non-Christian groups like Mormons, Jews, Hindus, etc) have assimilated Jesus to fit their own molds. Well written, painstakingly researched, and enjoyable.

Best Sports Book:
How I Play Golf, by Tiger Woods, 2001.
Packed full of helpful information that has vastly improved my golf game. I’m looking forward to getting healthy and re-reading much of this book for the 2009 season.

All-mediocre Team (least helpful):

Abolition of Man
, by C.S. Lewis, 1943.
I don’t know if this is a bad book, or if I just didn’t “get” it, or if I wasn’t paying attention when I read it, but it didn’t live up to its hype.

Kingdom Triangle, by J.P. Moreland, 2007.
I expected more from someone with the initials of JP. I wrote a lengthy review of the book, which laid out that while Moreland has accurate and helpful premises and descriptions of the problem, his conclusions and solutions are largely unhelpful.

Worship in Spirit and Truth, by John M. Frame, 1996.
While I have heard much about Frame’s brilliance as a theologian and apologist, I was disappointed by this book on worship in the church. While he frames (no pun intended) his argument in Scripture, it merely seems like a weak defense of why his church does what they do in worship. He answered none of my questions about worship in the church.

Preseason 2009 All-Book First Team:

The Defense of the Faith, by Cornelius Van Til, 1955.
Hooray for presuppositional apologetics. My parents named their first cat after Van Til.

Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin, ~1559.
My parents named their new cat after Calvin. I’m not sure yet if I will stick with the Reformation21 year-long daily reading schedule, or read one book at a time with breaks in between.

Jesus, Made in America, by Stephen Nichols, 2008.
Represents the intersection of my main interests: Christianity, culture, media, and history.

We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, by G.K. Beale, 2008.
A lengthy study of idolatry, starting with Isaiah 6 and arguing that we take on the characteristics of what we worship. According to the back cover, “Beale concludes with an application of the biblical notion of idolatry to the challenges of contemporary life.”


6 thoughts on “2008 Year-end Book Awards

  1. Thanks for your reviews Joel. You have some good insights here. Christianity and Liberalism has been on my reading list for some time, but I have never gotten around to it. You have inspired me to put it towards the top of the list.

  2. Scott – there is a DVD series that goes along with it, which might be of interest to the men’s group, or a possible Sunday School class.Kevin – thanks for the encouragement, and I’m glad to hear Machen has been pushed near the top of your list. You won’t be disappointed.

  3. I like the valuable info you provide in your articles.
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