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Editor’s Picks for 2009: Executive Editor’s selections for the best books of 2009

Editor’s Note: Serving the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a calling to read. The Bible itself is the greatest of books which must be mastered by Christians as they seek to walk worthy of the calling they have received (Eph. 4:1). The discipline of reading good books is a sacred obligation for those who preach and lead the church. These books represent but a small sampling of the excellent writing given to the church for the building up of itself in love (Eph. 4:11-16). It is our prayer that time invested with these authors might result in greater advancement of the Gospel and the expansion of the Kingdom of God.
Yours in Christ,

Douglas Baker

1. Counterfeit Gods
– Tim Keller
Establishing the fact that human beings are constantly making idols, Keller carefully reveals that the heart of many (perhaps most) spiritual struggles emerges from idolatry in the heart. Working to break down the defenses of religious people steeped in language of the church, he exposes the seduction of success and the hidden idols in the lives of Christians. With surgical precision, he is able to lead readers toward the end of their own idolatry and point them to Jesus Christ as the source and sustainer of all truth.

“More than other idols, personal success and achievement lead to a sense that we ourselves are god, that our security and value rest in our own wisdom, strength, and performance.” P. 75

2. Southern Baptist Identity – David Dockery
A collection of essays brought together under the skillful guidance of one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s premier theologians. Each essay carefully exposes areas of danger for the SBC at this hour in her history. Dockery proposes a way forward through a renewed focus on the Gospel and the primacy of the local church.

“We want to begin to build a new and much-needed consensus around the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ—a consensus that was present at the first Triennial Convention in 1814 and again at the inaugural convention of Southern Baptists in 1845. We need to commit ourselves foremost to the Gospel, the message of missions and evangelism and the message that is found only in Jesus Christ and his atoning death for sinners.” P. 20

3. Why Johnny Can’t Preach – T. David Gordon
A short but precise analysis on the modern American culture and the ways pulpit ministers have succumbed to the forces of consumerism by “dumbing-down” biblical content in sermons. Without resorting to mere critique about modern preaching, Gordon offers reason why Christian preaching has suffered in the modern day and offers ways to restore sermons to their rightful use in the life of the believer and their role in the ministry of the church.

“Faith is not built by preaching introspectively (constantly challenging people to question whether or not they have faith); faith is not built by preaching moralistically (which has exactly the opposite effect of focusing attention on the self rather than on Christ, in Whom our faith is placed); faith is not built by joining the culture wars and taking potshots at why is wrong with our culture. Faith is built by careful, thorough exposition of the person, character, and work of Christ.” P. 76

4. Adopted for Life – Russell Moore
Russell Moore not only calls the church to action, but he also carefully fuses the ideas of Christian doctrine to the active mission of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Accomplishing what few theologians have done in the last century, he has carefully and systematically laid out orthodoxy and orthopraxy without sacrificing either on the altar of raw activism on the one hand or cultural withdrawal on the other. Truly, a book for our time.

“We believe Jesus in heavenly things—our adoption in Christ; so we follow Him in earthly things—the adoption of children. Without the theological aspect, the emphasis on adoption too easily is seen as mere charity. Without the missional aspect, the doctrine of adoption too easily is seen as mere metaphor.” P. 18

5. The Gospel Driven Life
– Michael Scott Horton
Against the backdrop of theological drivel that often passes as “the gospel” in the modern American context, theologian Michael Scott Horton carefully defines the gospel, applies the Gospel, and calls the church to renew its focus on the Gospel as the power for her ministry during difficult times. This book is a one-stop-source for gaining a primary understanding of the doctrine of salvation as well as a view of the grand themes of God’s redemption accomplished in history. Horton constantly presents Jesus Christ as the central figure in all Biblical theology.

“The Bible is not a collection of timeless principles offering a gentle thought for the day. It is not a resource for our self-improvement. Rather it is a dramatic story that unfolds from promise to fulfillment, with Christ at the center. Its focus is God and His action. God is not a supporting actor in our drama; it is the other way around. God does not exist to make sure that we are happy and fulfilled. Rather, we exist to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” P. 26

6. J.I. Packer and the Evangelical Future – Edited by Timothy George
Perhaps no other figure towers above modern evangelicalism like J.I. Packer. His classic work, Knowing God, has been the gateway for countless thousands to a deeper and more Scriptural understanding of God and the great doctrines of the Bible. In honor of Packer’s life and ministry, Timothy F. George has assembled some of the world’s best pastors and theologians to write about those aspects of doctrine, theology and church history which have personally impacted Packer’s life and through him the modern church.

“Evangelicalism has functioned as a renewal movement within historic Christian orthodoxy. This draws us to the issue of the Great Tradition, and how the Great Tradition relates to the Puritan, Protestant and Reformational exclamation points in church history. Packer reminds us that the reformers did not intend to begin brand new churches from whole cloth but that they saw themselves as faithful and obedient servants of the one holy catholic and apostolic church, ever calling that church to be reformed on the basis of the Word of God.” P. 166

7. Evangelicals Engaging Emergent – Edited by William D. Henard and Adam D. Greenway
No current topic can draw a crowd quite like a discussion of the Emergent Village and the Emerging Church Movement. Confusion still exists surrounding the theological issues raised by various pastors/theologians in coalitions surrounding everything from the doctrine of Scripture to the way people comprehend truth. In this compilation of essays by leading theologians, Greenway and Henard have brought clarity out of confusion. The essays by Southern Baptist theologians Mark Devine and Ed Stetzer are particularly helpful in gaining a better understanding of this movement and its effects on modern congregations.

“Underlying motivations of the doctrine-friendly emerging leaders coincide significantly with one of the original motivations of the seeker and purpose-driven tributaries within the wider church growth movement, namely, the impulse to see the Gospel advance within communities, neighborhoods and segments of the populations largely untouched by or impervious to existing models of church and evangelistic approaches. Yet having gained from observance and consideration of these efforts, these doctrine-friendly emerging churches seem comparatively more protective of core orthodox, evangelical theological commitments than either seeker or purpose-driven models.” Mark Devine, p. 44

8. Evangelism Handbook – Alvin Reid
A better compendium on the history, sociology, methodology and theology of evangelism cannot be found. This book will solve many modern dilemmas surrounding issues such as the modern invitation; God’s sovereignty and human free will; and ministry contextualization. The research of this book—particularly data surrounding the changing North American scene—will be a great help to church planters and churches who desire to make an impact in the largest metropolitan areas of the United States.

“Too many evangelicals think ‘revival’ refers to a four-day meeting with an evangelist, aimed at reaching the lost. This is actually mass evangelism. Such attractional meetings can be useful, but they are not revival. Today, many churches hold such meetings aimed at revival of the saints and conversion of the lost, but it is still a meeting unless God moves in a mighty way. Such protracted services might be called ‘revival meetings’ but not ‘revival.’”
P. 103

9. A Praying Life
– Paul Miller
Honest, personal, thoughtful and biblical assessment of and encouragement in prayer. Written for those who struggle to begin and maintain a consistent prayer life, Miller connects his personal life experiences and breakthroughs in prayer to the biblical texts which have helped him and his family grow in prayer. His teaching about praying the Psalms is particularly helpful for those whose private prayer life seems dry and cold.

“Our natural desire to pray comes from Creation. We are made in the image of God. Our inability to pray comes from the Fall. Evil has marred the image. We want to talk to God but can’t. The friction of our desire to pray, combined with our badly damaged prayer antennae, leads to constant frustration.” P. 15

10. Counsel from the Cross: Connecting Broken People to the Love of Christ
– Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Dennis E. Johnson
Often, there seems to be a division between psychological principles and biblical reality. This often results with therapy void of theology. This book steps in to fill the void and solve the problem of how to apply the Gospel to particular areas of human pain. Both Fitzpatrick and Johnson teach pastors and other church leaders how to lead others out of the darkness of their experiences into the light of the glory of God through Christ by carefully applying Scripture honestly, directly and in love. They show how the cross of Jesus Christ is the foundation for all true healing and the ultimate answer to life’s greatest suffering.

“Most of us have never really understood that Christianity is not a self-help religion meant to enable moral people to become more moral. We don’t need a self-help book; we need a Savior. We don’t need to get our collective act together; we need death and resurrection and the life-transforming truths of the Gospel. And we don’t need them just once, at the beginning of our Christian life; we need them every moment of every day.” P. 30

Douglas E. Baker is executive editor of The Baptist Messenger and Communications Team Leader for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

Author: Douglas Baker

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  • I haven’t had time to read all the books on your list, but I know Paul Miller personally. I saw him weekly during the early days he talks about with his family and recognized their incredible strain and stress. To read this book 20 years after having seen that is a remarkable testimony to the faithfulness of the Heavenly Father who hears the pleas of His children and sustains them! Good choice!

    • Douglas Baker

      Chuck –

      Thanks for sharing that insight into Paul’s life. The book brims with sincere issues of prayer from his own life which I found particularly helpful. I trust his work will continue to get a wide reading.

  • Dude, where’s my book?

    • Douglas Baker

      Marty –

      You have a book? 😉

      • Man, that hurt. I’m going back to the Christian Index.

  • Marty has a book? 🙂

  • Hal

    Dear Doug,
    While I applaud you generally for campaigning for (re)emphasizing orthodox theology in our churches, facing open theism, the emerging church movement, etc., I’ll have to say there is one issue bothering me. Since several of the authors of the books you picked for your “Editor’s picks for 2009” are from the reformed or Calvinist tradition, I hope you aren’t advocating defining orthodoxy around 5 point Calvinism, the Westminster Confession (only) or something equally narrow. If we as Baptists aren’t careful we’ll get into arguments as to which of the Calvinist, Arminian, or Molinist traditions are truly orthodox, which seems to me would lead to unnecessary polarization within our churches/conventions and would most likely detract from accomplishing the greater mission of the church.

    We have plenty of work to do to get our folks grounded on the doctrine of an omnipresent, omnipotent, omnicient, omnibenevelent God who cannot tolerate sin; the doctrine of the trinity, the doctrine of atonement, including the doctrine of the resurrection, etc., including the apologetics for defending these positions. We don’t need to get bogged down in issues such as whether the membership of the elect is solely a unilateral choice by God or whether they are those who have responded to the Spirit’s call and accepted the offer of salvation. As some of the 20th century Baptist leaders recognized, it’s not a deal breaker as far as one’s salvation is concerned if one is an amillenialist or a premillenialist. Similarly , we don’t need tests of orthodoxy around whether acceptance of Christ’s offer of salvation is a “work”. We can disagree on and discuss these things while frying the bigger fish–which in my opinion is rectifying the shallowness of the teaching/preaching within our churches and being better armed to fulfill the great commission.

    With regard to differences among Calvinists, Arminians, Molinists, open theists, etc., I firmly believe the best way to deal with these issues as and if they come up is to take a proactive approach and educate our folks on each view, its essential proof texts, and the pros and cons of each. Of course, each presenter will and should sum up with “here’s what I believe and why”, but this approach forces people to think past memorizing a few proof texts for each article of some canned confession, and gets them closer to the point of not only knowing what they believe, but why. The “four views” book series appear to be a really useful tool for this. I’ve only read one, “Divine Foreknowledge; Four Views”, which treats open theism, Augustinianism/Calvinism, Molinism, and the Simple Foreknowledge views, which helped me immensely (I didn’t even know about open theism until I read it). Although this is a 2001 book, I’d recommend it to you if you haven’t read it.

  • Douglas Baker

    Hal –

    Thank you for your comment. In the future, however, your full name will be required in order for your comment to be posted. We do this to maintain accountability and integrity as we work to help sharpen one another toward greater use in the service of Jesus.

    I, too, share your concern that any such polarization would ever rise in Southern Baptist life. This published list was compiled based on research which quantified the following: the mention of the book in news outlets as helpful and gaining traction in the evangelical world (and beyond as in the case of Tim Keller’s volume which was a New York Times best seller); a particular theme that addressed a pertinent news item(s) as evidenced by the mention of the subject in various news stories and in a variety of outlets; and the historical/cultural significance of the volume dealing with a controversial issue(s) such as preaching, the gospel in modern culture, J.I. Packer the evangelical schism of the past, current Southern Baptist issues and controversies, etc.

    Therefore, to your point regarding advocacy. The list was designed to be educative in scope and sequence, not adhering to any particular theological orientation. Of course, this goes without saying that all who serve at the Baptist Messenger would maintain the evangelical distinctives of the gospel. While some on the list do confess Reformed theology, others do not. All confess the consensus of orthodox/Biblical theology – which you have so ably articulated. I appreciate your challenge to confront the “shallowness of the teaching/preaching within our churches” and trust that this list might be used of God to help do just that.

    I have read the book edited by Bielby and Eddy. I, too, found it helpful. I also found help with another four perspectives book on election which Southern Seminary professor Chad Brand edited.

    Thanks again for your comment.

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