Note: I have posted an expanded audio version of this article as WM 87: 2017 Reading Highlights (listen here).
Otium sine litteris mors est. –Seneca
When thou comest bring with thee … the books. –Paul to Timothy (2 Tim 4:13)
The end of the year means another annual list of books read. Hard to believe that this is the tenth year I’ve compiled such a list as a blog post (see previous lists below):
Here are ten highlights from 2017 reading, in no particular order:
1. William R. Farmer, The Last Twelve Verses of Mark (Cambridge University Press, 1974): 124 pp.
Farmer is best known for challenging the reigning modern scholarly consensus on Markan Priority with his revival of the Griesbach Hypothesis, in favor of Matthean priority. Here he takes on another scholarly “consensus,” by challenging the reigning rejection of the authenticity of the traditional ending of Mark.
2. George Orwell, 1984 (original 1949; Signet reprint, 1980): 268 pp.
Orwell’s account of a dystopian socialist society marked by the subversion of the historical record, Newspeak, and totalitarian conformity is timely and frightening.
3. Christopher Hitchens, Hitch 22: A Memoir (Twelve, 2010): 435 pp.
The memoir of this gifted, witty and irreverent writer, political pundit, and anti-theist, whose life was cut down by cancer, is a reminder that unbelievers can sometimes hold penetrating insights into the world God has made, but that life means nothing apart from faith in Christ.
4. Robert Louis Stevenson, Kidnapped (original 1886; Scribner’s 1940): 289 pp.
I read this book aloud with my family after supper over the course of several weeks. I began each reading by rehearsing the extended title, which my boys came to be able to recite by heart: “Kidnapped: Being memoirs of the adventures of David Balfour in the year 1751, how he was kidnapped and cast away; his sufferings in a desert isle; his journey into the wild highlands; his acquaintance with Alan Breck Stewart and other notorious highland Jacobites; with all he suffered at the hands of his uncle, Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws, falsely so called; written by himself and now set forth by Robert Louis Stevenson.” This edition also has ten striking full color illustration of various scenes that we all found engaging.
5. Robert Letham, Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective (Mentor, 2007): 319 pp.
I read this work before making my August visit to Ukraine. It helped me understand Eastern Orthodoxy better, as a branch of the Christian tradition that never experienced a Reformation and was largely untouched by the Enlightenment. Letham’s presentation is sympathetic at points but also clear in tracing a Protestant critique of the Eastern Orthodoxy.
6. B. S. Poh, The Fundamentals of Our Faith: Studies on the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (Good News Enterprises, 2017): 147 pp.
I read this book just before Pastor Poh (along with his wife Goody) came from Kula Lampur to preach at the 2017 Keach Conference and to spend a week with our family. Pastor Poh is a choice servant of Christ with much to say worth hearing. I have also found this work helpful in my ongoing Sunday afternoon series through the 1689 confession.
7. Charles Bridges, Ecclesiastes (Banner of Truth, 1800, 1961): 319.
I completed this classic commentary as I finished up a Sunday morning sermon series through this wisdom book. This is a faithful, devotional work, that is unequalled in piety and spiritual usefulness by modern commentaries.
8. Ibn Warraq, Why I am Not a Muslim (Prometheus Books, 1995, 2003): 402 pp.
This critique of Islam from a dissident Pakistani intellectual (writing under an assumed name) is the sort book that only a former insider could have written. Very valuable. Sadly, however, Warraq embraces atheism, so many of his naturalistic critiques of Islam could be applied to other religions. One wonders what he might have written had he ever stumbled upon a winsome and compelling understanding of Christianity.
9. Irving Hexham, Understanding World Religions: An Interdisciplinary Approach (Zondervan, 2011): 512 pp.
I used this as a textbook in a college level “Religions of the World” class that I taught last semester. Hexham is a Christian scholar who teaches at the University of Calgary. From the book’s content I surmise that he is a continuationist. Despite this and some progressive views on other topics, I found this to be a quite helpful work in understanding various world religions, especially African religions (Hexham’s speciality).
10. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (translated by Constance Garnett (original, 1879-1880; Garnet translation, 1912): via LibriVox.
I continued to listen to a number of audio books this year on LibriVox, a great free resource, including this classic. I had long wanted to read this book, so I at least got to listen to it before my trip to Ukraine. It really helped me get a better feel for Russian culture and for Eastern Orthodox piety. This is a very theologically rich novel, not the least for the famed “Grand Inquisitor” section.
Here are some other things I completed reading this year:
Biblical studies, text criticism, early Christianity:
Richard N. Longenecker, The Ministry and Message of Paul (Zondervan, 1971): 130 pp.; Jason Harris, The Doctrine of Scripture (In Focus, 2006, 2013): 182 pp.; John D. Currid, Ecclesiastes: A Quest for Meaning (Evangelical Press, 2015): 155 pp.; Joseph Hoffman, Celsus on the True Doctrine: A Discourse Against Christians (Oxford, 1987): 146 pp.; Debating the Text of the Word of God: Douglas Wilson vs. James R. White (Simposio, 2017): 103 pp.; Harry Freedman, The Murderous History of Bible Translations: Power, Conflict, and the Quest for Meaning (Bloomsbury Press, 2016): 248 pp.; Robert Haldane, The Books of the Old and New Testaments Proven to be Canonical (1830; Sprinkle, 2014): 176 pp.
Archbishop Paul of Finland, The Faith We Hold (St. Vladimir Seminary, 1978, 1980): 96 pp.; Vitaly Klos, St. Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery: Guidebook (N. D.): 57 pp.; Archpriest Josiah Trentham, Rock and Sand: An Orthodox Appraisal of the Protestant Reformers and Their Theology (New Rome Press, 2015): 401 pp.
Theological and Pastoral studies:
Wade Burleson, Fraudulent Authority: Pastors Who Seek to Rule Over Others (Istoria Ministries, 2017): 166 pp.; Herman Hanko and David J. Engelsma, The Five Points of Calvinism (British Reformed Fellowship, 2008): 119 pp.; David J. Engelsma and Herman Hanko, The Reformed Worldview: The Word of God for Our Generation (British Reformed Fellowship, 2012): 142 pp.; Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (Sentinel, 2017): 262 pp.; Peter Enns, The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our “Correct” Beliefs (HarperOne, 2016): 230 pp.; Thomas Howard, Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy & Sacrament (Ignatius, 1984): 162 pp.
Politics, Religion, Philosophy:
Sam Harris, Free Will (Free Press, 2012): 83 pp.; Roger Scruton and Mark Dooley, Conversations with Roger Scruton (Bloomsbury, 2016): 213 pp.; R. B. Blackney, Ed. and Trans., The Way of Life: Lao Tzu (Mentor, 1955): 134 pp.; George Grant, Technology and Empire (Anasi, 1969): 143 pp.; Alvin Plantinga, Knowledge and Christian Belief (Eerdmans, 2015): 129 pp.; Gordan H. Clark, Religion, Reason, and Revelation (Craig Press, 1961): 241 pp.; Patrick J. Buchanan, The Death of the West (St. Martin’s Press, 2002): 308 pp.; Peter Hitchens, The Cameron Delusion (Continuum, 2010): 204 pp.
Literary Essays, Poetry, Fiction:
Adam Zagajewski, A Defense of Ardor, Trans. By Clare Cavanagh (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2004): 198 pp.; Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditations of a Modern Believer (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2013): 182 pp.; Madeleine L’Engle, The Weather of the Heart (Harold Shaw, 1978): 96 pp.; David Whyte, The House of Belonging (Many Rivers Press, 2011): 98 pp.; David Whyte, Everything is Waiting For You: Poems by David Whyte (Many Rivers Press, 2003): 102 pp.; David Whyte, Pilgrim: Poems by David Whyte (Many Rivers Press, 2014): 95 pp.; Hannu Rajaniemi, The Quantum Thief (Tom Doherty Associates, 2010): 370 pp.; Owen Stanley, The Missionaries (Castiglia House, 2016): 199 pp.; George Eliot, Middlemarch (1872): via LibriVox; Henry Melville, Moby-Dick; or The Whale (1851): via LibriVox; Gaius Petronius Arbiter, Satyricon (c. 1st century AD): via LibriVox; Thomas Moore, Utopia, trans. Gilbert Burnet, ed. Henry Morley (Latin original 1516): via LibriVox; Henry Adams, Democracy: An American Novel (1880): via LibriVox; Henry James, Daisy Miller (1879): via LibriVox.
Mark Galli, Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals (Eerdmans, 2017): 176 pp.; D. T. Max, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace (Viking, 2012): 356 pp.; Ian Smith, Bitter Harvest: Zimbabwe and the Aftermath of its Independence (John Blake, 1997, 2001, 2008): 442 pp.; Robert Spencer, The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Dangerous Religion (Regnery, 2005): 224 pp.; Einhard, The Life of Charlemagne (University of Michigan Press, 2011): 98 pp.
For past annual reading reviews look here:
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