Another year has come and gone, and with it, another round of book of the year lists have slowly but surely made their rounds around the blogosphere. Here at Servants of Grace, we review a lot of books. We review books Monday through Friday and sometimes on Saturdays. That means we reviewed over two hundred books this year on Servants of Grace. That’s a lot of books! We trust that you, our readers have found those book reviews not only helpful but thought provoking. In addition to this we offered quite a few author interviews, including some from our own contributors. Next year you can expect the same from us—great reviews on great books that people are talking about. Our goal as it pertains to book reviews is to keep you, our readers up to date on the latest and greatest in Christian books.
It is for this reason we offer the following list from the leadership of Servants of Grace: Craig Hurst, the book review editor of Servants of Grace, Mike Boling, the associate editor of Servants of Grace, and myself (Dave Jenkins).
Between Craig, Mike and myself, we are often asked for our recommendations whether at church or on social media. This list serves as our recommendations on the best books of the year. For as many books as we all read, you’ll see not much overlap. We all have our differing interests. We trust that this list will be helpful to you as you consider which books to get for either Christmas, for your book nerd friends, or for 2015 for perhaps yourself, your pastor or one of your friends.
These are by no means in order of their significance or importance; except in the case of number one which in my view was one of the most important books published in quite sometime.
10) Be Holy: Learning the Path of Sanctification by Jason Garwood. I wrote an endorsement for this book, “We are living in a time (and culture) when great confusion exists in the Church regarding how we are to grow in Christ. While many people rightly teach the biblical balance between grace and effort in the Christian life—some overemphasize grace to the neglect of effort. Understanding the difference between grace and effort is critical. This is why I’m thrilled to recommend the book, Be Holy: Learning the Path of Sanctification by Jason Garwood. Garwood understands firsthand the struggles people face because he deals with them every day in his own life and pastoral ministry. He writes to help Christians and the Church to think through the issue at hand in order to more fully understand what sanctification means. As he does this, he roots the explanation of our new identity in Christ to our growth in Christ. Christians are to live from their new identity in Christ; we are to return to the basics of who we are in Christ, remembering what He has done to transform us. Our union with Him informs our communion with Him, which makes not only repentance possible, but provides the basis for our slaying the “dragon of sin” in our lives. This excellent book follows in the tradition of the Reformers and the Puritans, and contemporary authors like John Piper and Kevin DeYoung, who understand this biblical balance. I highly recommend this book, and pray the Lord will powerfully use it in the life of His people, and for the edification of the Church, for His glory.”
9) Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung. Here’s an excerpt from my review: “I highly recommend this book, and it is my sincere prayer that Pastors and ministry leaders would pick up this book and buy it by the truckloads for their people. The Body of Christ has needed a book like this on the doctrine of Scripture for quite some time, one that helps the reader to know what to believe about the Word of God, what to feel about the Word of God and what to do with the Word of God. I hope and pray this book sells by the truckloads for in doing so, we may see the tide of biblical illiteracy begin to turn and a true delight, hunger and yearning for the teaching of the Word of God take its place.”
8) Active Spirituality: Grace and Effort in the Christian Life by Brian Hedges. Here’s an excerpt from my review: “his book will be of great help to you as it has to me as I continue to think through this particular topic. I highly recommend Active Spirituality not only because it is well-written, but also because it stands with the Bible while upholding the long and rich Augustinian and Reformed tradition on the issue of the perseverance of the saints and the assurance of the believer.”
7) The Company We Keep by Jonathan Holmes. Here’s an excerpt from my review, “All in all, The Company We Keep is an excellent book. As I’ve noted already we live in a society that is increasingly isolated. We need books like The Company We Keep to help us think through what biblical friendship is and to provide helpful guidance to us on this vital subject. Whether you are a new or mature Christian, The Company We Keep will help you to not only understand Christian friendship but to grow deeper and more meaningful Christian friendships with God’s people.”
6) The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ by Ray Ortlund. Here’s an excerpt from my review, “Overall, The Gospel How The Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ is a very good book. This book will help Christians at all stages of the Christian life to understand how the gospel impacts relationships and how they are to engage one another within the local church because of the gospel. I highly recommend this book and pray the Lord uses it to awaken a culture in local churches where the gospel may not only be the driving force behind what is said on Sunday’s, but also in practice fuel how we do life with one another to the glory of God.”
5) Proof: Finding Freedom Through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace. Here’s an excerpt from my review, “PROOF is an excellent book that will help a generation of fresh adherents to Reformed theology understand what they believe from the Word of God. Drinking deeply from the well of God’s grace is immensely satisfying and life changing. This book invites readers to drink from the well of God’s grace. As you do, you’ll awaken once again to the wonder of the cross and discover afresh how Jesus rescues sinners from their sin to Himself. I highly recommend this book and pray the Lord will use it to awaken a new generation from a shallow evangelicalism to the majesty truths taught throughout the history of the church. PROOF is rooted in the history of the Church’s theology, faithful to the Word and accessible to the lay person on up to the scholar. As the authors open up the Word, they invite readers to drink from the well of life in Jesus. This book will not only lead readers to the living well in Jesus Christ but cause you to jump in headlong in wonder at the God who by His grace has saved His people, and who is even now saving sinners, sanctifying His people and will one day glory His own.”
4) Hit List by Brian Hedges. I wrote an endorsement for this book, ““We live in a culture in which spirituality is on the rise, including a resurgence in mysticism, Gnosticism, and every other -ism. Many are confused about what they believe and why it matters, and sin is often minimized or hidden. Hedges draws on the best wisdom of the church to help readers better grasp the seven deadly sins and how the gospel frees God’s people from them. As Hit List blows away misconceptions about the sinfulness of man, readers will be captivated by the magnificence of what Jesus has done so sinners can put their sin to death and grow in the grace of God. This is an excellent and needed book. It can convict you of your sinfulness while pointing you to the sufficiency of the finished work of the Savior—Jesus Christ.”
3) Prayer by Tim Keller. Here’s an excerpt from my review, “Whether you’re a new Christian struggling with prayer or a seasoned saint, Keller’s book Prayer Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God has something for you. This book will help you not only how to pray but why you should pray. In addition to this this book will help enlarge your vision of God’s majesty which will stir your affections afresh with a passion and desire to pray. I highly recommend this wonderful resource by Dr. Keller and pray that the Lord would use it powerfully in the life of His Church and among His people, for His glory.”
2) What’s Best Next by Matt Perman Here’s an excerpt from my review, “I highly recommend this book for Bible college and seminary students and encourage seminary professors to incorporate it into your curriculum for future pastors and ministry leaders. This is a great resource for pastors and ministry leaders to business people and stay at home mom’s. We live in a rapidly changing and fast-paced world. Books like What’s Best Next will help us to learn that the purpose of our work goes beyond just the 9-5 or even making a pay check. Our work is for God’s glory and to expand His fame to the nations. I highly recommend this book and pray it will help readers at all stages of their journey with Christ to discover the true nature and purpose of their work for His glory.”
1) Dispatches from the Front by Tim Keese. Here’s an excerpt from my review, “This book tells some of the grand story of God’s redemptive work in the world. It is for this and many other reasons I think Dispatches at the Front is my book of the year and one of the best books I’ve read in the past decade. I highly recommend this book and pray the Lord would use it to fan the flame of His global mission in His people for His glory.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works – I have had the pleasure of working my way through the first three books of this series and am looking forward to digging into the remainder of the books. Okay, so this is cheating a bit, but these three books count as one submission on my list.
Sanctorum Communio: This is an excellent dissertation on the biblical concept of community, how that community was broken by sin, how the church is to be an example of what community looks like to a world that only knows brokenness, and how Christ is the center of the communion of saints. For anyone desiring an in-depth study on the topic of biblical community and what that looks like within the church and in daily life, I highly recommend this book.
Act and Being: While the concepts and terms presented by Bonhoeffer in this book are scholarly and many might not be completely familiar with the terminology used in this book, the copious footnotes help serve to explain the more difficult concepts and terms in a way that will help the reader grasp what Bonhoeffer is getting across. This is an excellent resource for understanding matters of ontology and epistemology as they relate to sin and the individual’s relationship to God and the necessity of the cross.
– Creation and Fall: I highly recommend Creation and Fall by Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a valuable overview of creation, the fall, and the promise of redemption. While I have a few quibbles with some positions Bonhoeffer takes on things such as the days of creation, they are extremely minor points of disagreement that do not impact the overall excellent truth Bonhoeffer shares with the reader throughout this book.
Hit List by Brian Hedges – As Christians, we are called to do battle with sin, what the Puritans called mortifying sin. If you are truly serious about dealing with sin in your life, I recommend you read this book and apply the sound biblical truths Hedges shares. As noted by one of the endorsers of this book, outside of John Owen’s thoughts on the mortification of sin, Hedges book is a clarion call for the importance of allowing the Holy Spirit and the word of God to cut to the root of sin in your life. Give this a book a read as soon as possible!
Resisting Gossip by Matthew Mitchell – Gossip is a poison, one which has infected us all more often than we would like to admit. Mitchell’s book is replete with sound biblical advice containing the prescription that will dig at the root of this cancer in our lives. The only way to rid ourselves of this cancer is to have our hearts endure the life changing chemotherapy found in God’s Word and through the work of the Holy Spirit. I highly recommend this book by Mitchell for all believers, especially those who find themselves struggling with the sin of gossip which is pretty much everyone.
Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung – Taking God at His Word is a highly needed book for a day and age where Scripture so often comes under attack. Sadly some of those attacks come from within the body of Christ itself. DeYoung does an excellent job of sharing what Scripture says about itself, why we can trust the Word of God and most importantly, why all that even matters for us as believers. I highly recommend this book for all believers as it is a tool you will return to over and over again. It is brief yet in-depth, accessible yet scholarly when needed, and most importantly, this book powerfully yet simply states the reality that God’s Word is truth.
The Godly Home by Richard Baxter – Marriage, parenting and family dynamics are no easy issues for anyone and there certainly are no perfect marriages, no perfect parents, and no perfect children as we are all sinners in need of a daily dose of God’s grace. With that said, books such as The Godly Home by Richard Baxter should be required reading for parents and their children. This would be an excellent book to utilize during family devotions as its addresses a plethora of important issues facing families. I highly recommend this as a resource for parents to implement in their parental tool chest as the sound guidance found within its pages will be of great assistance for your family, your children, and their children’s children.
The Watchers in Jewish and Christian Traditions by Angela Harkins, Coblentz Bauch, and John Endres – I highly recommend this book again for the serious Bible student who is interested in understanding the various traditions that interact with the Genesis 6 storyline as well as the writings found in the Book of Enoch. The Watchers is rigorous yet fruitful reading that will provide those who engage its essays with a valuable look into how the tradition of the Watchers has taken shape over the years. Since this story is in the Bible, it is well worth studying.
After They Are Yours: The Grace and Grit of Adoption by Brian Borgman – I highly recommend this book for those thinking about adopting, those currently in the adoption process, and for those who have already adopted a child. Borgman’s personal stories repeatedly hit home, the guidance he provides is biblically sound and extremely practical, and this book will assuredly be a blessing to those who may feel as if they are overwhelmed in the daily grind of what is often involved with adopting and raising that adopted child.
10 Things for Teen Girls by Kate Conner – I highly recommend this book for parents to purchase for their children. Furthermore, I truly encourage parents to read this book as well. Conner includes some very helpful points for discussion at the end of each chapter that would be perfect for family bible study or even in a youth group setting. This book would also be useful as part of a homeschool curriculum, either for reading class or bible class. However you utilize this book, it will greatly benefit your teenage daughter.
Everyone’s a Theologian by R. C. Sproul – For anyone desiring a place to start studying theology, I highly recommend this book. Dr. Sproul is always scholarly yet has the ability to break down difficult scholarly points into manageably understood concepts. Thus this book is very accessible to all believers. As an introduction to systematic theology and some very important and fundamental matters of theology as a whole, namely issues highly relevant for all believers, this book is a homerun. It will be a tool I will refer to for many years to come and it will make a nice addition to the other more voluminous systematic theology texts in my personal library.
Heaven by Christopher Morgan – I highly recommend this excellent book. It will be of great use for all believers in their study of heaven and what Scripture has to say on the subject. Reading this book stirred within me a renewed longing for that day when the Bride will return for his bridegroom for we know that then we will be with him forevermore in a place of perfect peace in the presence of our God forevermore.
What’s Your Worldview by James Anderson – Ideas have consequences and so do beliefs. What we believe shapes the way we live. Using the “Choose Your Own Adventure” concept, James Anderson helps readers navigate through various worldviews. By answering basic questions you are led on the path those beliefs lead you. This is an amazing apologetics book for Christians to hone their understanding of other belief systems and use as an evangelistic tool with a friend.
Growing Up God’s Way for Boy and Girls by Chris Richards & Liz Jones – As a Christian parent I want to teach my kids about sex and do so in a way that is Biblically faithful. No Christian parent should ignore the sex talk with their kids and every parent should be in dialogue with their kids about it as they grow up and leave the house. These two books are both scientifically and biblically based. They address the basic issues surrounding puberty for boys and girls from a Christian worldview. These are must have books for parents.
China’s Reforming Churches by Bruce Baugus – Since I have adopted three children from China I am naturally interested in the country and the state of Christianity within it. Written from a Reformed perspective, this book offers great insight into the state of the church in China. It has insider perspective, theological evaluation as well as positive perspective for the future. This is a great book for those interested in the growth of the church outside USA and China in particular
For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship by Daniel Block – I anticipated this book from the day I saw it and it did not disappoint. Block is the kind of writer you wish you could clone. This book is a comprehensive analysis of worship in Scripture with comprehensive application for the church. It is biblically based and pointedly practical. There will be small quibbles every reader will have but you cannot argue with the main thrust of the book – worship is for the glory of God and not about us.
A Passion for the Fatherless: Developing a God-Centered Ministry to Orphans by Daniel Bennett – As an adoptive father I read as many books on adoption as I can. Most are good but Daniel Bennett’s is the best when it comes to thinking theologically and comprehensively about orphans and adoption. Bennett writes from a pastoral and adoptive father’s perspective which makes the book all the more effective and clear. This is for anyone thinking about adoption, anyone who has adopted but wants to understand it better from a biblical perspective and for churches looking to start an orphan ministry.