My 5 Favorite Books of 2019

It’s become an annual tradition for me and many others to write a post like this. There are a few reasons why I continue to compile this list. First, I love reading and I love to share what I’m reading. Second, I’m also always encouraged by others’ thoughts and their lists often help me pick out a few last books for my Christmas wish list. Third, I get a lot of books from publishers, and while I don’t review or share books I don’t end up liking, I’m always willing to recommend a good book if it is, in fact, good. Fourth, I’m regularly asked by folks what books I’m reading or “what’s a good book to read for X topic?” I think this is primarily because I sometimes share book photos on Facebook.

Anyway, in no particular order, here are my five favorite books that I read in 2019. Check out my 2015 list and 2016 list at my old Patheos blog, and my 2017 list and 2018 list posted here at Biblical Reasoning.

Works on the Spirit by Athanasius the Great and Didymus the Blind

I intentionally read several primary texts every year, always with at least a couple of patristic-era works included. This year I read this one for the first time. While Basil the Great’s On the Holy Spirit is a must-read classic, this work shows in particular the development of Athanasius’s Trinitarian theology as he defends the divinity of the Holy Spirit after Nicaea, while also revealing some of the distinctions in language between Athanasius and Basil. If you want an excellent introduction to patristic exegesis, definitely pick up Craig Carter’s latest, Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition.

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant

Judging by the title, you might not want your boss to be aware that you’re reading this. But this isn’t a book about anarchy or revolution or antiauthoritarianism — it’s a book about nurturing creativity and elevating good ideas, using examples from business, sports, parenting, and more. This book helped me to feel more at-home in my own personality, as well as helped me better understand my peers.

Introducing Evangelical Theology by Daniel J. Treier

Perhaps the most underrated evangelical theologian publishing right now, Treier has written a fantastic introduction to theology that is built around the structure of the Nicene Creed. The first part of the book, which surveys the Creed as method, the Ten Commandments as moral formation, and the Lord’s Prayer as spiritual formation is worth the price of the book by itself. I hope to use this as a textbook sometime in the near future. I interviewed Dan at ETS for Church Grammar, so lookout for his return to the podcast soon.

The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations edited by Michael W. Holmes

At the urging of my Doktorvater, I read through this slowly over the last year. These writings reflect a sort of bridge between the New Testament writings and some of our earliest church fathers, such as Irenaeus and Tertullian. My particular favorite is the collection of Ignatius’s letters.

Matthew, Disciple and Scribe: The First Gospel and Its Portrait of Jesus by Patrick Schreiner

Among the biblical studies books I read this year, Schreiner’s had me the most interested in returning to its pages (with an honorable mention to Carmen Joy Imes’s Bearing God’s Name). In short, Schreiner is a clear writer who tells a compelling story (with robust biblical-theological insights) about Matthew’s role in writing his Gospel for the sake of advancing the story of Jesus.

Stefana Laing on History, Being a Theological Librarian, and Kids at ETS

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Stefana Dan Laing of Beeson Divinity School. We discuss bringing your kids to ETS (2:28), becoming a scholar (6:40), how to understand Christian history (21:10), being a theological librarian (36:12), being a female scholar in evangelicalism (47:20), and more. Buy Stefana’s books.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.

Alan Noble on Politics, Oklahoma, and Overrating C. S. Lewis

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Alan Noble of Oklahoma Baptist University. We discuss basketball fandom (3:45), the weirdness of the Shawnee, OK mall (7:30), overrating Flannery O’Connor and C. S. Lewis (16:45), how the intersection of technology and secularism impacts our worldview (21:25), the importance of liturgy (34:00), the future of evangelicalism in America (40:00), and more. Buy Alan’s books.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.

Gilead > Jayber Crow

Last night I finished Home, the second novel by Marilyn Robinson set in the Iowa town of Gilead (which is also the name of the first novel). I’ve also been reading Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, and although I haven’t yet finished it – I’m in Part III, though, so I have a good sense of it – my continued reaction is that Robinson does the better work with the stories of Ames and Boughton than Berry does with Crow in Port William.

I’m no literary critic, and so for awhile I chalked this up to my irritation with Berry’s preachy tone at a few points, namely the chapter on Bible college and his less-than-eloquent waxing on WWII. And, to be fair, I’m sure my reaction to these soliloquies of Berry’s through the mouth of Jayber still has something to do with how I feel about the book even without comparing it to Gilead or Home. I’m also sure that it influences my emotional attachment to the characters, and the fact that I just “like” John, Robert, Jack, and Glory better than I do Jay.

But I also think that there is a tangible and critique-able difference between the two novelists, namely how they portray the relationship between grace and localism. For Robinson, grace and localism are closely connected, as it is through the local that grace is communicated. As the elder Boughton says to Jack in Home, it is through families – and, inferentially, local places and people – that God shows his grace to individuals. God communicates forgiveness, mercy, and hope tangibly. There is something sacramental about this world, not in the same sense as baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but in the sense that God uses material means to communicate his blessings to us. This is Robinson’s point through and through.

Berry, on the other hand, seems to either conflate grace and localism or, most often, to elevate the latter above the former. For Jayber, finding a place to call home is salvation. Although he later talks about his “beliefs”, this seems oddly disconnected and disembodied from his real conversion experience, his baptism in the flooded river he crossed getting to his final destination, Port William. There is no need for forgiveness, mercy, or hope, so long as there is the local.

Again, I’m not an English prof or a literary critic. So I could be completely off base. For those of you who’ve read these books, what do you think?