End-of-year book lists are fun because they tell us a lot about the list-maker, give us a snapshot of the past year, and remind us of that book we saw in March and couldn't decide whether or not to pick up. Book lists also tell us that, though the Luddite will never finally win, the written word may yet survive.
So some of The Gospel Coalition staff have compiled a "recommended" list of books published in 2011. These are the books that stuck with us, that will continue to teach us in the coming year and beyond. We'd gladly hand out these books to friends, family, and neighbors. After you read our list, join in the fun and share your own favorite reads among the books published in 2011.
Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian, John Piper (Crossway). You might think racial and ethnic harmony has been exaggerated as a value we ought to pursue in our churches. Piper combats such complacency with all the biblical and theological zeal we've come to expect from him. The more you shrug off this book, the more you need it. I also enjoyed interviewing Piper about this book (Can't Afford to Be Color Blind | Confronting the Racial Sins of Our Fathers).
The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God, Timothy and Kathy Keller (Dutton). Christian bestseller lists include many books about marriage and relationships. We'd all be in better shape if more of them followed the Kellers' approach and kept the gospel of Jesus Christ central to their teaching. This is the marriage book I wished I read when single—and wished I could apply more consistently today. Even before you buy the book, take an hour and watch the Kellers address a lot of the trickiest issues surrounding marriage.
Reading Scripture with the Reformers, Timothy George (InterVarsity). The general editor of the Reformation Commentary Series writes a compelling introduction to the life, thought, and times of the Reformers with careful attention to their handling of the Word. George draws on decades of extensive Reformation study to thrill readers by honoring God and these ministers as divine agents of a blessed revival in gospel preaching and Bible study.
King's Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus, Tim Keller (Dutton). Seeing The Meaning of Marriage already on the list (as it must be!), I'll mention another by Keller. Based on a sermon series from the Gospel of Mark, King's Cross features Keller's distinct combination of pointing into the Word and speaking that Word artfully into today's world.
These Last Days: A Christian View of History, ed. by Richard D. Phillips and Gabriel N. E. Fluhrer (P&R). How can we keep reminding ourselves that all our lives and ministry happen in a rapidly moving flow of last days, toward that Day? I recommend this stimulating collection, which grew from the 2010 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology.
Pastors in the Classics: Timeless Lessons on Life and Ministry from World Literature, ed. by Leland Ryken, Rhilip Ryken, and Todd Wilson (Baker). The book does say 2012! But, having it in hand in 2011, I must say that reading the literature here wisely recommended might hugely enliven the minds and hearts not just of many pastors but of all the rest of us!
G. K. Chesterton, Ian Ker (Oxford). I didn't looove this book, but I liked it a lot. Like Chesterton, Ker is a Roman Catholic, so his perspective on Chesterton's conversion and anti-Calvinism is sympathetic and perhaps over-emphasizes his dependence on Dickens. But Ker does a good job of locating and showing Chesterton's humor and wit, which is why we love reading and quoting him still today.
Doctrine of the Word of God, John Frame (P&R). John Frame is one of the clearest and deepest thinkers among evangelicals. This is the last contribution to his Lordship project, and it may be the most developed theologically of the four. Frame always seems so fresh, while staying historically evangelical. However, he seems to challenge traditionally confessional conclusions more in this volume. I won't say his appendix "Something Close to Biblicism" is worth the price of the book, but almost.
Athanasius, Peter Leithart (Baker). I keep saying that in the rapid release of books by Leithart he will publish a bad one. I've yet to read one. Athanasius is theologically sophisticated, historically engaged, and up-to-date at all levels. Plus, Leithart is a superb writer.
Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God, Sam Crabtree (Crossway). I desperately needed this book. And I already need to read it again. (Here's an interview with the author.)
Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books, Tony Reinke (Crossway). I read a lot of books, but I read them at different levels. I give some books mere minutes. Others get an hour or two. Some draw me in and compel me to stay. After spending just minutes in Reinke's book, I placed it in the draw-me-in-and-compel-me-to-stay category.
Interpreting the Pauline Epistles. 2nd ed., Thomas Schreiner (Baker). A good book just got better. The most valuable chapter in this book—or at least the one that most strongly influenced me—is "Tracing the Argument" (pp. 97-124). It revolutionized how I read Paul.