Top Ten Books of 2013 from Pastor Sam Storms (1-5)

By Vineworker

Top Ten Books of 2013 - #1

Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, by Tom Nettles (Ross-Shire, Scotland: Mentor, 2013), 683 pp.

Selecting what I believe to be the best book of 2013 is somewhat arbitrary. Virtually any of the volumes listed from 10 to 2 could have made it to number 1. But that doesn't mean I have any reservations whatsoever in placing this biography of Spurgeon at the top of the list. I've known Tom Nettles for a couple of decades and I always enjoy what he writes, whether it be on selected themes in Baptist history or the biography of some great Christian leader. But this has to be regarded as his best yet.

Before diving into Nettles's massive work, I had greatly enjoyed the biographies of Spurgeon by Arnold Dallimore and Lewis Drummond. Without in any way diminishing the value of these other two, I have to say that Nettles has forever set the standard by which all subsequent studies of Spurgeon must be judged. This massive text was more than fifteen years in the making. In fact, Tom gives thanks to his publishers for their remarkable patience in waiting for it to arrive! And when I say "massive" I mean "massive"! Don't be misled by the 683 pages. They are 683 double column pages! I haven't finished it yet, but from what I've experienced thus far this is certainly deserving of the best book of 2013.

A good summation of what is contained here is provided by Michael A. G. Haykin, Nettles's colleague at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. On the back cover he writes:

"It has long been my conviction that, despite the goodly number of Spurgeon biographies that have been written since the Baptist preacher's death in 1892, there really is lacking a definitive study that not only takes account of his remarkable ministry and the inspiring details of his life, but also adequately deals with the theology of the man. Finally, in this work by my dear colleague Tom Nettles, a sort of magnum opus upon which he has labored for many years, is justice done to not only Spurgeon the man and preacher, but also to Spurgeon the theologian. Here is an 'all-round' study of Spurgeon that provides us with a fully reliable, substantial examination of an extremely important figure in the life of Victorian Evangelicalism and the world of that era."

So make it your New Year's Resolution to read this book. It will probably take you all of 2014, but what a way to spend the year!

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Top Ten Books of 2013 - #2

From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective, edited by David Gibson & Jonathan Gibson (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 703 pp. No, I haven't yet read all 703 pages (actually, 667 of written text), but I've read enough to rejoice that a volume like this is now available to the body of Christ. What a monumental achievement this is! And why was such a book even necessary? In his Foreword, J. I. Packer provides the answer: "as the Reformed faith and its pastoral corollaries is the true intellectual mainstream of Christianity, so the belief in definite, particular, and sovereignly effectual redemption . . . is its true intellectual center" (13). The contributors to this volume and the topics they cover are extensive, but some that are of special note include Paul Helm (writing on Calvin's view of definite atonement), Carl Trueman (on John Owen), Thomas Schreiner (who addresses "problematic texts" for definite atonement in the pastoral and general epistles), Sinclair Ferguson (on the assurance of salvation), and John Piper (who writes on "preaching the fullness of definite atonement to the glory of God"). There are 23 chapters that cover not only the full range of biblical instruction on this subject but also the most important theological, historical, and pastoral issues as well. The final chapter by Piper is itself worth the price of the book. There are two themes in particular that Piper addresses that I want to highlight. The first concerns how one preaches a universal and sincere gospel offer in the light of Christ having died as a substitutionary sacrifice for the elect alone. The second issue is Piper's response to the views of Bruce Ware and Mark Driscoll, both of whom advocate a universal or unlimited atonement and both of whom are friends of Piper. It isn't easy to interact critically with those who are your friends and colleagues in ministry. Piper does it with great care and precision. He exposes the biblical, theological, and logical errors in the so-called "unlimited limited" view of the atonement but with a gentleness and respect for those who defend it. He is particularly helpful in responding to the arguments of Gary L. Shultz, Jr., one of Bruce Ware's former doctoral student. Shultz argues that only an unlimited atonement makes it possible for us to preach a sincere and universal gospel. Piper counters by insisting that "only particular redemption can account for a fully biblical, universal gospel offer. The fullness of Christ's achievement on the cross can be offered only if it has been fully achieved. And only definite atonement expresses the fullness of that achievement" (658). The way in which Piper makes this case is a model of careful and thoroughly biblical thinking. As noted above, this is a "big" book, both in terms of its size and the biblical insight it brings to bear on our understanding of the nature and extent of Christ's sufferings. Don't be intimidated by it. Eat it in small bites. Savor the taste. Digest it slowly. You'll enjoy the feast! - See more at:


Top Ten Books of 2013 - #3


Does God Desire All to Be Saved? by John Piper (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 62 pp.

This book is almost too short to qualify as a book, but don't let that keep you from reading it. What Piper addresses in these few pages is one of the more important theological issues facing all Christians. In fact, I would argue that his thoroughly biblical distinction between God's will of decree and God's will of precept is a truth without which it is impossible to fully understand God's saving grace and his intentions toward this fallen human race.

Perhaps the best thing to do is to let Piper himself describe his aim in this book:

"My aim in this short book is to show from Scripture that the simultaneous existence of God's will for all people to be saved and his will to choose some people for salvation unconditionally before creation is not a sign of divine schizophrenia or exegetical confusion. A corresponding aim is to show that unconditional election therefore does not contradict biblical expressions of God's compassion for all people and does not rule out sincere offers of salvation to all who are lost among the peoples of the world" (13).

The bulk of this book, therefore, is devoted to demonstrating the biblical cogency of differentiating two ways in which God may be said to "will" something to be. "Affirming the will of God to save all, while also affirming the unconditional election of some, implies that there are at least 'two wills' in God, or two ways of willing. It implies that God decrees one state of affairs while also willing and teaching that a different state of affairs should come to pass" (16).

Note well: Piper's aim is not to make the case for a distinction in the way God wills because that is what logic or theological deduction or common sense require. He makes this distinction because Scripture does. And I would add my own endorsement of this view by saying that I do not believe you will ever joyfully appreciate Scripture, God's ways in the world, the nature of salvation or saving grace, as well as the urgency and message of evangelism and the nature and necessity of prayer until such time as you recognize and embrace the truth of this distinction. As bold a claim as that may seem, I firmly believe it to be true.

Although this book is number three on my list (although it could easily have come in at number one), it may well be the most important one you read this year. In fact, of the volumes that made my list of the Top Ten Books of 2013, I strongly urge you to read this one first. If you have the time for only one of the ten, make it this one. You can read it in a mere two hours, but it will likely change your life forever.

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Top Ten Books of 2013 - #4


The High King of Heaven: Discovering the Master Keys to the Great End Times Debate, Dean Davis (WinePress Publishing, 722 pp.).

When I was much, much younger it was always taken for granted that one must never vote for oneself in an election. I can recall being nominated for the Student Council at my school, and also for the presidency of the Letterman's club. In both cases, I followed suit and voted for the other guy. He won both times! I can't break free of this, and that explains why I declined to include my own book, Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative (Christian Focus), in my list of Top Ten Books of 2013. How's that for shameless self-promotion!

Seriously, though, I'm very happy to include in this list the new book (released this week) by Dean Davis, The High King of Heaven: Discovering the Master Keys to the Great End Times Debate (WinePress Publishing, 722 pp.). Davis's book is very much in line theologically with mine and presents, in my opinion, an overwhelmingly persuasive case for amillennialism. Here is the endorsement I provided for it, found on the inside cover:

"The High King of Heaven, by Dean Davis, is the most sweeping and comprehensive book on eschatology that I've ever encountered. The scope of this book is simply breathtaking. As is typical with all books on eschatology, no one will agree with everything he says. But everyone should wrestle vigorously and thoughtfully with his approach to reading prophetic texts. This isn't for bedside, late-night reading. In fact, it will probably keep you up at night!"

What makes this book so helpful is the extensive treatment of virtually every Old Testament passage relating to God's eschatological purposes. Davis does a remarkable job of explaining those very difficult and challenging texts such as Ezekiel 38-39 and its reference to Gog and Magog, as well as the vision of the restored temple in chapters 40-48. His treatment of Zechariah, and in particular chapter 14 (long believed to be a mainstay of premillennialism), is masterful. Davis provides an extremely helpful hermeneutical key to reading such texts that will unlock their meaning and their fulfillment in the Church of Jesus Christ.

The back cover of the book has this explanation of its contents, and with this I'll close. But before I do, let me again say how excited I am to be able to recommend this volume together with my own in defense of the biblical truth of amillennialism.

"For the last 150 years the evangelical world has been embroiled in a Great Debate about eschatology, about the true biblical picture of God's ultimate purpose for the universe, life, and man. Much of the debate swirls around the Kingdom of God: What is its true nature? In how many stages does it enter history? How shall we interpret the Old Testament prophecies of the Kingdom - literally (in terms of Israel) or figuratively (in terms of the Church)? There is also controversy about the Consummation: Will our world get better and better, or worse and worse? Will Christ return once, twice, or even three times? When He does return, will it be before the millennium or after? How many resurrections should we expect? How many judgments? What will the universe be like when God finally creates the new heavens and the new earth? This book was written in the conviction that the High King of heaven has given his people certain master keys by which they may know the answers to these questions,and so be fully prepared for the awesome consummation of all things. In it, pastor and author Dean Davis seeks to place those keys in our hands, so that we may behold afresh the simplicity and glory of our Blessed Hope, and thereby resolve, once and for all, the Great End Time Debate."

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Top Ten Books of 2013 - #5



Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, by Kate Bowler (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 337 pp.

This book is simultaneously informative and infuriating. It is the most comprehensive history of the so-called "prosperity gospel" and its purveyors yet to be published. Kate Bowler is Assistant Professor of American Religion at Duke Divinity School. She is to be commended for her meticulous research and the eminently readable way in which she portrays this deviant and profoundly unbiblical expression of American Pentecostal / Charismatic religious life.

Why is this book infuriating? Certainly not because it is inaccurate or misrepresents the people who promote this view of Christianity. Bowler is fair and forthright with her subject. It's infuriating because it forces the reader to acknowledge the pervasive presence and influence of this perspective in America and the long-term destructive effects it will have on the lives of countless unsuspecting Christians.

Bowler is not a biblical scholar. She makes no attempt to refute the pathetic interpretations of Scripture one regularly finds among the proponents of prosperity. This is more a sociological study that tries to identify both the essence of this "gospel" and the underlying appeal that explains why it is so widespread and popular.

What, then, are the unifying themes of the prosperity gospel? Says Bowler, "the prosperity gospel . . . centers on four themes: faith, wealth, health, and victory. (1) It conceives of faith as an activator, a power that unleashes spiritual forces and turns the spoken word into reality. (2) The movement depicts faith as palpably demonstrated in wealth and (3) health. It can be measured in both the wallet (one's personal wealth) and in the body (one's personal health), making material reality the measure of the success of immaterial faith. (4) The movement expects faith to be marked by victory. Believers trust that culture holds no political, social, or economic impediment to faith, and no circumstance can stop believers from living in total victory here on earth" (7).

I wish I could list all the people mentioned by Bowler, but most of them are already well-known. Simply turn on the TV! What I found especially insightful comes in the concluding chapter where she asks the question: "What does the prosperity gospel offer to its believers?" (232). She insists that "we must not think that it is simply the lure of financial success" (232). In other words, there is more to its appeal than good old-fashioned greed (although that is certainly a major factor). She explains:

"On one level, the appeal of prosperity theology is obvious. The faith movement sells a compelling bill of goods: God, wealth, and a healthy body to enjoy it. But it is the enjoyment, the feelings that lift believers' chins and square their shoulders, that is its fundamental achievement. The first step in accessing this good news is the belief that things can get better. The prosperity gospel's chief allure is simple optimism" (232).

There is so much more I could say about this excellent volume, but I'll close with this. If you are disinclined (as I am) toward this particular aberration within the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, this book will supply abundant grist for your mill!

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