Top Ten Books of 2013 from Pastor Sam Storms (6-10)

By Vineworker


Top Ten Books of 2013 - #6


God's Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America, by Larry Eskridge (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 386 pp.

There were times, in the reading of this book, that I was brought to laughter, and times where I nearly wept. Those of you who are old enough to remember the Jesus People movement may have a different response, but mine is one of both gratitude and joy.

I was 19 years old in the summer of 1970. Two friends and I drove cross-country from Norman, Oklahoma, to Lake Tahoe, Nevada, to participate in a summer project with Campus Crusade for Christ. These were volatile times, in more than one way. Politically, President Richard Nixon was midway through his first term and the war in Viet Nam was escalating. Culturally, the 60's had taken their toll on the country, especially on its conservative and more traditional folk. Spiritually, though, it was a revolution! Most experts date the full-blown explosion of the Jesus movement to the summer of 1970. Only divine providence could have arranged for this ultra-conservative, Southern Baptist, nineteen-year-old-soon-to-be-sophomore at the University of Oklahoma to be present when it happened.

During my time in Tahoe, I borrowed a friend's car and drove by myself to Berkeley, California, the center of the anti-war protests and the home of the Christian World Liberation Front, the brainchild of former Campus Crusade for Christ staff member, Jack Sparks. I spent two days and nights with the men and women of the CWLF, eating rice and drinking water and sleeping on a concrete floor and singing the songs of the burgeoning spiritual revival. It was an odd experience, to say the least.

Two years later, Ann and I were married (May 26, 1972), followed by a short, three-day honeymoon in Dallas, Texas. We never expected that three weeks after the wedding, in June, we would be back in Dallas for Explo '72, or as most people called it, "Godstock"! But there we were, together with nearly 200,000 others, listening to Larry Norman sing "I Wish We'd All Been Ready," with a hand raised, index finger pointed toward heaven, chanting in unison: "One way, Jesus! One way Jesus!"

Larry Eskridge has written what is undoubtedly the definitive history of this time in American spiritual culture. Spanning from 1968 through 1975, he traces the people, places, songs, beliefs, troubles, triumphs, and the many tragedies of the Jesus movement. This book is a sheer delight to read. It is a serious work of scholarship, complete with an insightful survey of those who participated in the movement. Part nostalgia, part news reporting, part cultural analysis, it is a wonderful walk through a remarkable period in our country's, and the church's, history. I loved reading it. I trust you will as well.

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Top Ten Books of 2013 # 7


God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet, by Nathan Schneider (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013), 254 pp.

Don't be put off by the cover design. This is a substantive and challenging book! It is somewhat similar to the volume that was number one on my list last year (Why Does the World Exist? by Jim Holt). The primary difference is that Schneider's focus is the variety of "proofs" offered throughout history for the existence of God. Like Holt, Schneider has traveled far and wide and even overseas to interview various theologians and philosophers on this subject.

This is not a book for the faint of heart (or lazy of mind!). But it's not so deep that you can't greatly enjoy it. Schneider is an engaging writer and interweaves throughout his narrative his own personal journey of faith. The most helpful section was toward the end where he interacts with the numerous "new atheists" such as Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens. It is here that we encounter William Lane Craig, perhaps the most effective and eloquent of all evangelical philosophers who has personally debated most of the more well-known atheist authors. It is evident throughout the book that Craig has exerted the greatest single influence on Schneider himself.

So, if you are fascinated by the many arguments for the existence of God (and believe me when I say Schneider leaves no intellectual stone unturned), this is the book for you (again, in spite of that awful cover design!).

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Top Ten Books of 2013 - #8


What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Jesus' Bible, edited by Jason S. DeRouchie (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2013), 496 pp.

Number 8 on my list is a change of pace from the first two. You might be surprised to find here an introduction to and survey of the Old Testament. But trust me, it's not like the ones you've read before. I was asked to provide an endorsement for the book, and here is what I wrote:

"This is truly a remarkable resource for the student of Scripture, especially those who've struggled to understand the Old Testament and how it relates to the New Testament. Jason DeRouchie has assembled an impressive team of scholars who explain the nature and flow of the Old Testament with an eye toward its fulfillment in the coming of Christ. Unlike your standard (and all too often stodgy) survey of the Old Testament, this volume is written in a vibrant and engaging style and is visually stunning. But best of all, it is distinctively Christ-centered. This will be the book to which I send all future inquisitive students of God's Word. I highly recommend it."

This is the sort of volume that you can dip into wherever your curiosity may lead. You need not read it cover to cover (although that would be perfectly ok!). Each chapter is devoted to a book or collection of books in the Old Testament, and the volume concludes with a Bible-reading plan that takes you through the entire Word of God in one year.

I have to admit I'm a bit prejudiced in favor of this volume, if only because Jason is associate professor of Old Testament at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, a school on whose board of trustees I'm honored to serve. But I assure you, even if I didn't know Jason personally I would recommend this book without reservations. If you feel inadequate in your grasp of the Old Testament, or you simply need a refresher, this one's for you!

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Top Ten Books of 2013 - #9


Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I, by Peter Ackroyd (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2013), 507 pp.

I confess to having a love affair with 16th century English history. The story of Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, Katherine Parr (my goodness, who can possibly keep up with his multitude of wives?), the boy-king Edward VI, "Bloody" Mary, her half-sister Elizabeth, and countless others has always captivated my attention.

So what makes this volume by Ackroyd deserving of inclusion in my list of best books of 2013? After all, there have been countless others devoted to this period in history. In fact, while browsing at Barnes & Noble the other day I came across yet another volume published this year that covers the same period and people. Written by Leanda de Lisle, its title is Tudor: Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of England's Most Notorious Royal Family (New York: Public Affairs, 2013), 539 pp. Perhaps if I'd read hers first it would be on my list instead of Ackroyd. In any case, her subtitle alone tells you why this royal family has captured the interests of so many: Passion! Manipulation! Murder! And that's no exaggeration.

Ackroyd's volume is not only informative, it is flat out fun to read. It is not your typical history, dry and burdened by excessive attention to meaningless detail. He writes with energy and ease and it is a sheer blessing to read. Ackroyd is not free from error, especially when it comes to his obvious prejudice against John Calvin. But his portrayal of the intrigue in Henry's court (and bedroom) that opened the door to the Reformation making its way into England is fascinating.

Be forewarned: Ackroyd pulls no punches and softens no blows in describing the atrocities that were a commonplace in the 16th century. The simple and disturbing fact is that virtually every problem had a swift and decisive remedy: decapitation. If that didn't suit the party in power, burning at the stake was also an option. The ease with which rulers sent their enemies (as well as those only suspected of being an enemy) to a gruesome death is nothing short of shocking.

Whereas the whole book is a blast to read, Ackroyd does a much better job in the first half where his focus is Henry than he does in the concluding chapters where Elizabeth is his subject. But it's all worth the reading.

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Top Ten Books of 2013 - #10


Paul and the Miraculous: A Historical Reconstruction, by Graham Twelftree (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 390 pp.

Many Pauline scholars are of the (critical) opinion that the miraculous played little if any role in Paul's life or ministry. In this we are supposed to see a disjunction between the ministry of Jesus in the Gospels and that of Paul himself. Paul, so they say, was almost exclusively "a thinker and theologian" for whom the miraculous was greatly downplayed. Twelftree is to be commended for demonstrating that "the long-standing and widely held view . . . that Paul thought he was waging war with the word alone is patently false. Paul reminds the Thessalonians that his gospel 'did not come to you in word alone' (1 Thess. 1:5)" (316) "but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction."

Following a thorough examination of the many texts where the miraculous characterizes Paul's personal life and public ministry, Twelftree believes that "for Paul, no more could the gospel be proclaimed without words than it could come or be experienced without miracles. Without the miraculous, Paul may have had a message, but he would not have had a gospel. Without the miraculous, there was no gospel, only preaching" (317; emphasis his). Thus, Twelftree rightly concludes that "for Paul, miracle was a fundamentally generative factor for his life, theology, and mission" (278).

The inclusion of Twelftree's book on Paul and the miraculous in my best books of the year list comes with a measure of hesitation. This is due, in large part, to three factors.

First, after a critical study of the book of Acts he concludes that "a number of Luke's stories and references to the miraculous in Acts have to be set aside in assembling material that can contribute to a reconstruction of the historical Paul" (270). Among those that he would dismiss are: Paul being healed of blindness (9:18; 22:13), the healing of the lame man at Lystra (14:8-10), the report of signs and wonders (15:12), Paul's missionary call to Macedonia (16:6-11) together with his escape from prison in Philippi (16:25-34), and several others as well. In other words, he doesn't believe such miracle stories meet the sort of historical criteria essential to establish that they actually occurred in Paul's life as reported by Luke. He isn't saying that these narratives have no historical value at all, but that he "was unable to establish them as probably originating in, or being faithful to, firsthand reports of his [Paul's] life" (270). This is very unfortunate and serves only to undermine an otherwise excellent book.

The second factor that diminishes my confidence in Twelftree's approach is that he endorses the presence in the NT of pseudepigrapha. In other words, he argues that Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus, while carrying the name of Paul, were not in fact written by him. These epistles are "the work of his disciple or disciples rather than of Paul himself" (280). These epistles, then, "are to be taken as the remembered Paul rather than the historical Paul" (280).

Finally, although it was not part of his purpose in writing the book, Twelftree makes no attempt to relate his conclusions to what the ministry of the church in subsequent centuries (our own included) ought to be. I probably shouldn't fault him on this ground, as his aim was simply to reconstruct the history of Paul himself (note the sub-title, "A Historical Reconstruction"). But I was left asking the question most pastors and Christians today would ask: "So what? Now what? How does this affect my approach to ministry today and with what expectations ought I to preach and pray and serve others in need?"

These criticisms notwithstanding, I found Twelftree to be insightful and very persuasive in his argument that the Apostle Paul was a thoroughgoing supernaturalist who viewed the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit as a very important element both in personal life and in the ministry of the body of Christ. This book totally debunks the oft-heard cessationist claim that, as the years passed and Paul came near to death, miraculous spiritual gifts and other supernatural phenomena gradually diminished and eventually disappeared altogether from the life of the church. Those who continue to argue in this way must answer Twelftree or remain silent. For that reason alone, he merits inclusion in my list.

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