Favorite Reads for the New Year

To start off the new year, we asked a number of Western faculty and staff members to weigh in on their favorite reads from the past year in the fields of biblical studies, theology, pastoral ministry, spiritual disciplines, and missions/cultural engagement. The results are presented below. Some of the books were recently published, while others have been around for some time. No matter, these are titles to consider as you begin putting together your reading list for 2018.

Randy Roberts, President

Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification, by Sinclair Ferguson

It is always a delight when a seasoned pastor-theologian who has very effective communication skills gives attention to an important topic in a way that makes you rethink and, as necessary, revise your understanding of what Scripture actually teaches about that subject.  All of those components are in place with this book.

Gerry Breshears, Professor of Systematic Theology

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical, by Tim Keller

Much as I appreciated the rational directions of his Reason for God, this goes deeper, to the heart level of human life. Keller respectfully examines the world view pillars of secularists (AKA atheists or “nones”), and shows their inadequacy for real life. More powerfully, he shows secularism has no explanation for such values as courage, love, beauty, or self-giving.

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, by James K. A. Smith

Smith speaks powerfully to the necessity of recovering the Christian mind/heart, shaping your desires and what you love, through practicing and rebuilding your habits. While I don’t share his faith in liturgy, his emphasis on habituating our lives though disciplined practices is spot on.

Patrick Schreiner, Assistant Professor of New Testament Language and Literature

The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing, by Jonathan T. Pennington

Pennington’s book sets the Sermon in the nexus of both Jewish wisdom literature and Greco-Roman virtue traditions. But this is not merely a background book. Pennington argues that Sermon (and the Scriptures) answer the question of what the “good life” means. “The Sermon is Christianity’s answer to the greatest metaphysical question that humanity has always faced—How can we experience true human flourishing? What is happiness, blessedness, shalom, and how does one obtain and sustain it?” (14). The answer the sermon gives is that true flourishing is only available through communion with the Father God through his revealed Son as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Pennington is coming to give talks on the subject on March 3rd at the Northwest Regional Evangelical Theological Society that will meet at Western Seminary.

Josh Mathews, Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies

Text and Canon, edited by Robert Cole and Paul Kissling

This is a collection of essays written by former students and colleagues of John Sailhamer, to honor his career and teachings. Dr. Sailhamer passed away early in the year and these essays provide a sample of the way he approached the Bible. He had a keen eye for literary patterns and connections. His hermeneutical commitments were careful and consistent, maintaining that biblical texts are divinely inspired products of intentional authors that point to the Messiah. And his life and work were constantly motivated by a deep love for Christ and his Church. This book represents the legacy he has left.

Demetrius Rogers, Director of Admissions 

Center Church, by Tim Keller

Keller surveys the evangelical landscape and constructs a mediating position for doing contextualized ministry in urban centers. The book reads somewhat like a textbook; however, it never bogs down in tedium.  This book is a valuable resource, which contains a wealth of experience and is full of excellent ideas.

The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb, by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel

The content of this book comes from interviews the authors conducted with various “sages in the faith, who embodied power in weakness.” Drawing from James 3:13-18, the authors compare the wisdom that comes from above to worldly wisdom that comes from below. This book is a beautiful restatement of The Beatitudes – doing ministry in the way of Jesus.

John Johnson, Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology

Karl Barth, by Mark Galli

I had dismissed Barth’s contributions to pastoral theology in my early training, but I have come to appreciate his profound insights, especially on the greatness of God.

Ryan Lister, Associate Professor of Theology

The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization, by Arthur Herman

The Cave and Light exposes the philosophical (and often theological) threads that have and continue to weave their way into almost every argument and worldview of the Western world. Herman’s writing builds a clear highway through our tumultuous history and hints at how Plato and Aristotle still argue through us without our knowing it.

Ron Marrs, Associate Professor of Pastoral/Youth Ministry

Joy and Human Flourishing: Essays on Theology, Culture and the Good Life, edited by Miroslav Volf and Justin E. Crisp

This has been a significant book in my life journey as I fight cancer.  The biblical overview of joy is excellent.  I’ve been captivated by the idea of cultivating joy in myself and in the Christian community.

Carl Laney, Professor of Biblical Literature

Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness, by Richard Hayes

This book considers how each of the Gospel writers understood and interpreted the Hebrew Bible Christologically. The book is full of helpful exegetical insights!