I read somewhere that one of the simplest ways to disciple someone else is to recommend a good book. I don’t remember where or when I read that, but that quote has challenged me in numerous ways. For one, as someone who is obsessed with reading, I want to read quality books. If good books can have a positive impact on our lives, I definitely don’t want to be left out. At the same time, the pastor side of me wants to recommend books that will improve the lives of those who read them.
With this goal in mind, here are some of the best books I read in 2018. I admit that these choices are entirely subjective. Recommending books is a lot like recommending a restaurant: what I enjoy may be unappealing to others. Some of these books are more interesting than others, but everyone of them contains valuable ideas. I have not listed these books in any certain order.
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My journey to this book began in 2017. Men and women I admire repeatedly harp on the priority of older books. They frequently argue that a book people have read for 200 years is almost certainly to be higher quality than whatever just came from the publisher. As I was beginning to make a determined effort to read older books, I came across from the theologian and philosopher William Lane Craig. Craig said that he considers it a shame that Christians are in love with C.S. Lewis to the exclusion of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. He then cited some of the famous lines from this book. Later that day, my copy of The Brothers Karamazov was headed to my home.
This book is a philosophical novel packaged as a murder mystery. The story line traces the lives of a group of brothers who have little in common except their irritating father, Fyodor Karamazov. Eventually, someone murderers the old man, and one of the brothers is the prime suspect. However, beneath the story line is a commentary on the problem of evil. Ivan Karamazov, one of the brothers, famously states that without God all things are lawful. In short, one of the major themes of the book is how meaningless life is if God doesn’t exist. This book is interesting and thought provoking!
- Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World by Eric Metaxas
Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenburg church in October of 1517. Thus, every October, I try to do something to learn about the Reformers. This year, I listened to the audiobook of Metaxas’s biography on Martin Luther. I could not recommend this book more highly. Metaxas does a wonderful job of telling Luther’s life story. And, in case you didn’t know, Luther has a wild life story! He nearly killed himself early in his life when he accidently cut himself with a sword. As an adult, he was riding through the woods at night when his friends kidnapped him. He was hunted by the Catholic Church. And he was a fiery personality to say the least. Just his life story is enough to enthrall you.
However, Metaxas weaves Luther’s theology into the story. Without becoming purely academic, Metaxas explains how the significant milestones in Luther’s life made him the theologian we now look back to. Furthermore, Metaxas shows how Luther’s thought had unintended consequences that are still affecting us today.
- Against Heresies by Irenaeus of Lyons
Keeping with my desire to read old books, I decided to tackle Irenaeus’s massive Against Heresies. This book is divided into five smaller books. For the most part, you’re safe to skip books 1 and 2. In these books, Irenaeus is refuting the ancient heresy of Gnosticism.
In books 3, 4, and 5, he explains what Christians believe. One takeaway from this book is how Christian doctrine has withstood the test of time. Irenaeus lived in the second century AD (about 1,800 years ago); however, when he explains the Christian faith, it can sound astonishingly modern. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely differences. He believed that Jesus lived to be 50-60 years old, for example. However, this book shows that Christianity has a real sticking power. Our doctrine has had a remarkable amount of consistency over nearly 2,000 years.
This book has a few other important takeaways. For one, it shows the importance of contextualizing our beliefs. Though our beliefs remain the same, we have to always make sure that we’re answering the questions that our culture is asking while remaining faithful to biblical doctrine. Second, he repeatedly states that the reason he’s arguing with the Gnostics is to see them return to biblical faith. As Christians, we shouldn’t argue with unbelievers to show how smart we are, how well we know our Bibles, or simply to win an argument. Instead, we should always be seeking to see them come to faith. Irenaeus definitely had that desire.
- Salvation by Allegiance Alone by Matthew Bates
This book was a challenging book for me. I owe much of my theology to the Reformers. Finally understanding the phrase sola fide—that is, salvation by faith alone—was a watershed moment in my life. In this book, Bates argues that we’ve misunderstood the fide in sola fide. Instead of meaning “belief,” he argues that we should understand faith along the lines of allegiance. As a result, he argues that our works are extremely important for our salvation. He argues that we cannot go to heaven without doing the things required in the New Testament. Properly understood, Christianity is a religion of doing, not of believing.
I read this book during the summer, and I’m still wrestling with some of the ideas. I agree that works are important; however, the Protestant in me just can’t stomach any notion that my works could contribute anything to my salvation. At the same time, I believe that true faith is inexorably linked to good works in the strongest way possible. This book has helped me wrestle with this issue.
This book also has fascinating insights on the political overtones of the things Jesus said. It’s also a very easy read for being from an academic publisher.
- The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible by B.B. Warfield
This book has some serious meat to it. Essentially, it’s a collection of essays in which Warfield argues for a high view of scripture. He covers such a plethora of topics that I don’t think I could summarize it much better than that. In an age that attacks the Bible, this is one of the most definitive defenses of a high view of scripture. He gives advice on how to respond to the charge that the Bible has contradictions in it, he considers how Christians through the ages have understood the authority that the Bible has, and he explains how the New Testament authors understood the creation of the New Testament.
- God the Father Almighty by Millard Erickson
The doctrine of God is probably my favorite area of theology. However, this doctrine is also one of the most complicated. In this book, Millard Erickson, one of the premier theologians of the twentieth century, tackles the doctrine of God. First, he considers challenges to the modern doctrine of God. Then, he gets into the meat of the book by considering eight different qualities that Christians have traditionally ascribed to God. For each quality, he examines how the Bible and our society shape the way that we understand the quality. Finally, Erickson considers how the doctrine of God shapes our daily lives.
This is a serious theological book. However, if you want to understand the doctrine of God, this is a great resource.
There are so many good books out there that it would be impossible to read them all. However, this list is a short starting point. Not all of these books are best sellers; however, each one of them contains important ideas and keen insights. Not everyone of these books will arrest your attention; but every one of them contains life changing ideas.