Thursday, December 31, 2009

4 Top Ten Books Read In 2009

Following the lead of several others whose blogs I frequent, I thought I'd compile a list of the most meaningful books I've read in 2009. Not to say that my opinions are authoritative in any way, but these books are those that struck me most significantly this past year. Note that 1) this list is not in any particular order, and 2) these books aren't all published this year - I've simply read them since January 1, 2009:

1. Craig Biehl, The Infinite Merit of Christ: The Glory of Christ's Obedience in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards

A very worthwhile study of a core issue in the correct understanding of justification - the infinite nature and perfection of Christ's righteousness and, indeed, his merit. This incredibly important doctrine is under attack from many quarters, both within and without Reformed circles. As I have been unashamed to proclaim time and again, the imputation of Christ's righteousness - not the mere payment of penalty but the imputation of a perfect record of heartfelt obedience and service to God in righteous holiness MUST be reckoned to everyone who spends eternity in God's courts. Modern and pre-modern deniers of this doctrine abound.... and Biehl takes the opportunity through exploring Edwards's doctrine of the perfect merit of Christ to re-emphasize the centrality of this imputed, alien righteousness to soteriology. Not to be missed.

2. John Fesko, Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine

I was very pleased to see this come out. As worthwhile as the classic book by Buchanan is, Dr. Fesko has served the church in a very significant way in putting together a new, clear and Scripturally sound testimony to the classic reformed formulations of justification, contrary to modern retellings and re-imaginings of justification by the Federal Vision crew. Especially important in this context, I think, are the chapters on Justification and the Covenant of Works, Justification and the Work of Christ, and Justification and Union with Christ.

3. Danny Hyde, In Living Color: Images of Christ and the Means of Grace

Calling us back to the plain and powerful means of Grace that God has instituted for the feeding of the flock, Danny Hyde gives a straightforward rebuttal to the common teaching that images of Jesus Christ are allowable and desirable. The way that Hyde sets the tendency of man to want to use images in order to make God more manageable (and even to rationalize this as a "good teaching instrument") vs. the means God ordained for instructing and feeding the flock - preaching the Word and administering the sacraments - very squarely addresses the contrast we must have in view as we consider the issue of images of Christ. This work was very helpful and edifying.

4. R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession

Scott Clark's Recovering the Reformed Confession addresses several elements in the development of churches that derive from the Reformed Confessional traditions of the UK and the Continent, and points us back to a recovery of the key distinctives of these traditions - to consider what's Reformed about being Reformed today. Clark's is a broader treatment of similar issues to those explored by Hyde in In Living Color - a firm call to the church to return to the simplicity of the God-ordained means of grace, and to the Reformed Confessions that used to define who we are. In the 20th cenutry (and before, as I'm sure Clark would agree) the churches emanating from Reformed roots have seemingly undergone a sad decline, wherein all the things that once served to distinguish the carefully laid out doctrine and practices of the Confessionally Reformed have been gradually diluted from the system. It's as though these churches have rejected the distinction of being a rich, crusty, whole grain artisan bread loaf to adopt, rather, the form of bland convenience-store white bread... all in the name of being 'relevant' and 'attractive' to the general populace. It's time to recover what's been lost, and to explore why it was our ancestors in the faith among the Puritan and Reformed Orthodox took such pains to distinguish themselves and to carefully outline what they believe Scripture teaches. Not to be missed, this book - a needed wakeup call.

5. Michael Horton, The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World

It's hard to say enough good about this book - and, perhaps, hard to convince those among the Reformed and conservative evangelical communities that their church lacks a sufficiently strong focus on the regular preaching of the Gospel. Horton drives the ball straight down the middle of the fairway in this book, and pulls no punches in asserting the absolute necessity of the preaching of the Gospel (the announcement of good news for all the people... that Christ satisfied the Law perfectly for His people, that He died, taking upon Himself the punishment due the sins of His people, and was raised in proclamation of the finished nature of his Atonement and the glorious future that awaits the saints of God because of what He has done) to both unbelievers and believers alike. Horton addresses particularly the common perception that what believers in the church is more advice on living the victorious Christian life, instead of the continual reminder that they are desperately in need each day, each moment, of the full pardon from sin that is afforded only by Jesus Christ having died in their place. A critical book, and worth the cost ten times over.

6. Jason Stellman, Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet

Stellman takes to task the relatively common statement that all of life is Worship, and makes clear that in fact there is a need to distinguish the sacred acts of the covenant community wherein together they worship the Lord our God from the daily lives of individual Christians in the world of men. Reading this book requires one to take a step back from what is really thrust upon us culturally, I think, as Reformed Christians. The notion that all of life is worship is very tightly ingrained, I think, in part because we so highly value the sovereignty of God in our corner of Christ's Kingdom - and so we want to make sure that we recognize that the Lord is indeed over all things through dedicating everything we do to Him. One of the points Stellman makes in this book is that, no, it's not worship, merely because we have done our work as unto the Lord. The means of grace God has endowed the church with distinguish what goes on as we gather corporately from the lives we live among all men outside those corporate gatherings. Good, thought-provoking material.

7. Matthew Henry, Family Religion: Principles for Raising a Godly Family

From the venerable Matthew Henry, known to most as one of the Puritan commentators par excellence, comes an important collection of four pieces on the family. The first two primarily deal with the role of fathers and parents in raising children according to Deuteronomy 6, raising them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, through catechism, family worship, etc.; the second two primarily address the place of children in the covenant people of God, and the doctrine of baptism. For any parents of young children - or not-as-yet-parents, this book is an absolutely fantastic resource for consideration of the critical task of building a Christ-centered home.

8. Edward Fisher, with Thomas Boston, The Marrow of Modern Divinity

Little needs to be said about The Marrow of Modern Divinity, a work that was not without its controversy in its day, but which is still praised by many as a classic text on covenant theology. I would suggest it for anyone who'd like a solid introduction to the concepts of covenant theology. It is written in something that's reminiscent of Pilgrim's Progress, that is, it takes the form of a dialog among several characters - Nomista, a legalist, Antinomista, you guessed it - an antinomian, Neophytus, a new Christian, and finally Evangelista - the pastor. Through their dialog, the author exposits the covenant of works and the covenant of grace in a lively and edifying manner. Extremely helpful, too, are the extensive notes of Thomas Boston, which serve to expand upon and explain the dialog to the reader. The new reprint by Christian focus is very nice, and should be an attractive buy.

9. William Ames, A Sketch of the Christian's Catechism

This was an exciting find - the first of a new series of books edited by R. Scott Clark (see above) entitled Classic Reformed Theology published by Reformation Heritage Books. Ames took an interesting approach in these expositions, which are keyed to the Heidelberg Catechism's Lord's Days. It's one of very little work by Ames that's in modern reprint, and an excellent early flavor of English Puritan thought - and shows the deep connection between Ames and the continental tradition (Ames was one of those English divines invited to sit at the Synod of Dort in 1618-19). This wonderful collection contains brief expositions worthy of studying alongside the Heidelberg Catechism Lord's Day by Lord's Day; each week a short section of Scripture which illustrates the theme of that Day's Catechism selection is exposited by way of several short lessons. This would make for excellent family devotional material.

(A second volume in this series, An Exposition of the Apostle's Creed by Caspar Olevianus, is coming soon - and I suspect it might make my top reads of 2010!)

10. Samuel Rutherford, The Letters of Samuel Rutherford

Finally, and last but certainly by no means least, this volume of Rutherford's Letters blew me away this year. I've not technically finished it, but it certainly makes the list. One wonders whatever happened to the art and beauty of letter writing - and why it is that Christians don't seem any longer to talk like this with one another. Rutherford can be penetrating and pastoral, direct and understanding all at the same time. These brief letters (thanks be to God for Banner of Truth's reprinting this much larger collection!) contain some real nuggets of beautiful Christian devotion... it's no wonder that Spurgeon praised them as "the nearest thing to inspiration that can be found in all the writings of men." Wonderful stuff for brief periods of devotional reading, with an easy chair and a good Scottish Ale by your side.

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Well, that does it. Easy enough to put together a list of excellent reads - it's been a very good year for Reformed publishing, and I can't wait to see the new titles coming along soon in 2010. May the Lord of Glory bless you as you seek His Face in the coming year. May He keep you in His favor and shine the goodness of His countenance upon you all, dear readers.

4 comments:

jc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Todd said...

The only version that I know of that was readily available before the most recent version of Rutherford's letters was Banner's old "Puritan Paperback" version, found here. It was about 200 small pages, and quite abridged from the full collection of letters. The new edition is 744 pages long (a larger edition both in terms of numbers of pages and their size) and much more complete. The new edition contains 365 letters and a fantastic biographical sketch by Andrew Bonar, while the older, smaller one, only contains 69. So, while I had the older edition, I could NOT pass up the new one, which also has the benefit of being an excellent Smyth-sewn hardback.

Todd

jc said...

Hi, Todd,
Thanks for your answer to my author-removed question.

My Moody Press edition (edited by Frank E. Gaebelein) has 198 letters. The only abridgement with this edition is with the removing of letters. The 198 letters that this Moody book contains are unabridged.

So is the 2006 Banner edition with 365 letters all the letters that Rutherford, as far as we know, wrote?

Todd said...

Well, I'm quite certain it's the largest collection that exists, but I'm equally certain that the fact that there are 365 letters is no coincidence. :) Great for devotional reading at one per day.

Anyway, this could very well contain all the extant letters from Rutherford's pen, but of course there may be others out there.

I wasn't aware of the Moody Press version, so it looks like you got an in-between collection :)

 

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