Josh Philpot

Theology, the Church, and Music

A Long List of Favorite Books from 2017

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IMG 2142I do not keep track of how many books I read each year, but I estimate it to be around 60, give or take. I’m always working through two or three at the same time, coupled with audiobooks for driving and exercise.

Most of these books were not published in 2017, but ones that I read or finished this year. I work at a church full-time, which means I have plenty of space to read and write daily. I also teach Old Testament at Houston Baptist University adjunctly, and since my area of study is the Old Testament, I read and re-read many books on that topic.

Tolle lege!

Top Ten Biblical Studies Books of 2017

1. Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus (Michael Morales) I saw several friends post this as a favorite in 2016, but judging from the reviews, I couldn’t actually tell if they had read the full book or just skimmed the pages. I read it this year. It’s in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series edited by D.A. Carson, and I wrote a review for the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies. It’s a great book. We should be chided for our neglect of mastering a Pentateuchal book like Leviticus, not least of all reading it. Overstatements aside, one would be wrong to understate the potential of Morales’ book in reinvigorating scholars and pastors to examine its content closely. Morales’ fresh approach to Leviticus is welcome, and I cannot think of a better book on the theology of Leviticus that this one. I highly recommend it.

2. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical (Tim Keller) This is sort of like a prequel to Keller’s The Reason for God. It’s a stirring read. Keller is a master at making difficult concepts easier to grasp, and also at getting non-believers and skeptics to think through their underlying assumptions before dismissing the claims of the Bible altogether. His rhetorical skill coupled with beautiful storytelling often caused me to stop and re-read entire chapters.

3. God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ (Stephen Wellum) Wellum is my go-to scholar for thinking through Christology. I was glad to see this book arrive last year, and it doesn’t disappoint.

4. Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum) I skimmed this book when it was released a few years ago because I had Gentry and Wellum several times during my M.Div. and was familiar with the argument in the book. But I decided to read it during the summer. They argue that the biblical covenants are the theological framework of the Bible and summarize its message progressively through time. This point has huge implications for biblical theology, and it’s worth consideration.

5. The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus: Luke’s Account of God’s Unfolding Plan (Alan J. Thompson) Like Morales’ book, this one is another in the NSBT series, and a pleasant surprise. Thompson argues that scholars and commentators are too general in saying that the work of the Holy Spirit is the driving force in the book of Acts. Rather, the acts of the risen Lord Jesus is the main thrust of the apostles’ message. In other words, Jesus’ acts continue after his ascension in the growth of the church by the Spirit. Excellent book!

6. Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible (Stephen Dempster) Another re-read for me, now for the third time. I know many do not agree, but I consider this book the best Old Testament theology today. Certainly another may surpass it down the road, but for now, nothing is better in my opinion. Out of all the books on this list, I would recommend reading this one first.

7. How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament (Jason DeRouchie) and New Testament (Andy Naselli) I skimmed these two textbooks, which are great for hermeneutics and exegesis. DeRouchie is more wordy than Naselli, but both authors have provided excellent resources for pastors and students. For me, these books have replaced Old Testament Exegesis (Stuart) and New Testament Exegesis (Fee).

8. Exodus (T. Desmond Alexander) I wrote my dissertation on Exodus, and so I try to keep up with new resources on Exodus as they are published. Alexander is a strong evangelical scholar in Old Testament studies (see his excellent, From Paradise to Promised Land), and this volume does not disappoint in an otherwise disappointing commentary series (Apollos Old Testament Commentary—I have not enjoyed other volumes I’ve reviewed in this series). I’ve been slowly making my way through it. It’s not technical but still exegetical. Source are in-line with the text instead of footnotes, and there are transliterations instead of Hebrew/Greek. I don’t prefer these details in a commentary, but at 764 pages, I’m glad to see another major evangelical book on Exodus with a strong view on the veracity of the events depicted therein.

9. The Heartbeat of Old Testament Theology: Three Creedal Expressions (Mark Boda) I wrote a review of this book for TGC. It’s short, and a helpful way forward in thinking through key expressions that give shape to the theological message of the Old Testament.

10. The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story (Craig Bartholomew) Last year, HBU changed the format of the class I teach, and so a new textbook was needed that would give the students a whole Bible overview. Thus, I had to read this book in prep, and now all of my students have to read it as well. I like how Bartholomew pictures the story of the Bible in six “acts”, like a modern drama with a beginning, plot, setting, rising tension, climax, and resolution.

Here are a few other academic titles that I also enjoyed reading this year:

11. The Old Testament: A Historical, Theological, and Critical Introduction (Richard Hess)

12. Isaiah Old and New: Exegesis, Intertextuality, and Hermeneutics (Ben Witherington III)

13. The King As Exemplar: The Function of Deuteronomy’s Kingship Law in the Shaping of the Book of Psalms (Jamie Grant)

14. Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation (G.K. Beale)

Top Ten Non-Fiction and Fiction Books of 2017

1. The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Robert Caro, 4 vols) A couple of years ago, I was at a dinner where Albert Mohler and Jason Allen were talking biographies. I mentioned how much I liked William Manchester’s Churchill biography, and they both commented that the only other biography that compares is Robert Caro’s books on Lyndon Johnson. Having very little knowledge of Johnson but now living in Johnson’s home state, I decided to pick up these four volumes and read them over the summer. They are a fascinating study on power (political or otherwise) and the choices/compromises a person is willing to make in order to achieve their ambition. Johnson grew up dirt poor in central TX, and yet rose to be President of the United States. That alone is a tale worth telling. Caro is a master at telling it.

2. American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur: 1880–1964 (William Manchester) The book is a biography of General Douglas MacArthur, a true “caesar” in his own context in the Pacific theater during and after WWII. This is also another great story of WWI and WWII, if that is of interest, and told by Manchester, who wrote perhaps my favorite biography on Winston Churchill.

3. The Russian Revolution: A New History (Sean McMeekin) I have always been interested in the fall of Tsar Nicholas II and the rise of Lenin and Bolsheviks. When I was a classical pianist, I used to play a lot of Russian composers like Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, and I still enjoy listening to these works in my office. This new history was on Albert Mohler’s summer reading list, and so I devoured it in a few short days. The seeds behind the American-Russian divide are traced to this period of revolution in the early 20th century, and many of the ramifications of these events are still being felt today. I’ve already recommended this book to several people.

4. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (Cal Newport) In sum, the hypothesis behind Deep Work is that the ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive. This is an easy read and really fascinating.

5. The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance (Ben Sasse) A very non-political book by the estimable senator from Nebraska. I felt like I was reading a parenting manual, and with two kids in the second grade, I found Sasses advice very helpful. This is a really diagnosis with what is wrong with a lot of our cultural habits, and a good remedy for how to move forward. I took copious notes while reading this book.

6. The Malazan Book of the Fallen (Steven Erikson, 10 vols) My brother is a sci-fi and fantasy book geek, and he recommended this to me some time ago. It’s very long—10 volumes!—and took me almost six months to finish (along with other reading). But it’s a great fantasy tale. Fair warning: the book is tough to begin because the backstory comes gradually instead of chronologically. Even so, I couldn’t put it down, and I’m now reading through it again.

7. The Dark Tower Series (Stephen King, 7 vols) Before this year, I had never read a novel by Stephen King, although I did read this memoir On Writing several years ago (Which is also excellent, by the way. Here is a collection of good quotes from that book.) I have two friends who kept telling me to read the Dark Tower series, so I started and finished it this summer. It’s a long tale loosely based on the poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came by Robert Browning. King is not for everyone, and I can understand why, and also understand why my parents were wise to keep his books out of my hands during my adolescence. Reading the books now, I found them a riveting tale of human nature and quest for truth in the world. I enjoy King’s storytelling and writing style, even if the sometimes graphic content is not to my taste. I often think that a novel’s real merit is in how real or unreal the dialogue is between characters. King’s contribution is that he a master at writing dialogue.

8. The Stand (Stephen King) Having read The Dark Tower, I decided to go through a few other Stephen King books. The Stand is perhaps King’s most popular novel that is not a major motion picture like The Shining or Carrie or IT. The Stand is a dystopian novel about humans trying to band together in the wake of an apocalypse, and the book is simply that—a tale about survival. But like the Dark Tower, King is a masterful storyteller. It’s very long, but worth reading, and not nearly as graphic as The Dark Tower.

9. Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life (Steve Martin) Get the audiobook. Steve Martin narrates his bio as a standup comedian trying to make a living, and he tells his jokes (and songs!) with the same voices he did when it was his profession, which he quit at the height of his success. Really fun read.

10. Oathbringer (Brandon Sanderson) This is the third book in The Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson. I read the other two books in 2016. Oathbringer is fantasy novel where an off-world society is based on the prejudice of light eyes vs. dark eyes, and where knights and warriors have ancient swords called shard blades and armor called shard plate. The characters are real enough to keep me interested in how the tale is unfolding, although the dialogue feels stilted at times. Even still, I think the story is a lot of fun, and Sanderson always builds up to a major climax at the end, one that’s usually worth the wait.

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Written by Josh Philpot

December 5, 2017 at 3:29 pm

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