Throughout church history Christians have innovated in reading technologies to share the Word of truth, and we aim at The Gospel Coalition to encourage Christians to be known as people of the Book first and foremost. As part of that calling we aid in the spread of books that foster understanding and application of God’s revelation. Each year we review more than 300 titles between our academic journal Themelios and our regular channel. We don’t want you to waste your life on bad books, so we like to recommend our favorites.
This year our editors have individually identified one winner and one or two runner-up books in an area they cover for TGC. Criteria for selecting the winners include:
- Offers gospel-centered argument and application
- Includes faithful and foundational use of Scripture, both Old Testament and New Testament
- Fosters spiritual discernment of contemporary trials and trends
- Encourages efforts to unite and renew the church
Indeed, these are the criteria we use for the books, articles, and curriculum we publish ourselves. And this list shows we’re not alone. We’re grateful to God that we live in a time and place abounding in wonderful Christ-honoring resources, and we do not take that privilege for granted. We must not forget our brothers and sisters around the world who lack such access.
As we say thank you to our friends gifted to teach through the written word, it’s an honor to recognize outstanding works from various publishers and perspectives. Congratulations to the winners of our inaugural Editors’ Picks in 2015. We encourage you to take up and read these books, then share them with family, friends, and fellow church members.
by Joe Carter
Winner: Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? (Crossway) [review]
For the past several decades, the acceptance of homosexuality has divided society; now it threatens to divide the church. DeYoung’s brief but thorough examination helpfully explains what God’s Word truly says about homosexuality and provides a superb resource for defending a biblically faithful view of sexual ethics.
Runner Up (tie): R. Albert Mohler Jr., We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, and the Very Meaning of Right and Wrong (Thomas Nelson) [20 quotes | review] and Russell D. Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel (B&H) [20 quotes | review]
On their own, each of these books provides solid, scripturally grounded assessments about the transformation roiling society and invaluable advice for how to lovingly engage culture with the gospel. By reading them together, though, you’ll gain an even deeper understanding of how we got here, where we are headed, and—perhaps most importantly—why as Christians we need not despair.
ARTS & CULTURE
by Ivan Mesa
Winner: Philip and Carol Zaleski, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) [review]
The Inklings—so named for their expression through ink as well as for their writings which gave inklings of a higher world—gathered together on a regular basis in mid-20th century Oxford to discuss their latest work and enjoy each other. The husband-and-wife team of Philip and Carol Zaleski have produced a beautifully written and thoroughly researched 644-page literary biography examining four of the best-known of the group. It’s hard to overstate the influence of the Inklings on the shape of today’s cultural and imaginative life, and this book does them justice.
Runner Up: Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (Penguin)
In the age of text, tweet, Facebook post, and Instagram picture, we are slowly losing the ability to engage in conversation. We’re digitally connected more than ever before, with more people than ever before, yet we are conversationally impoverished. What each of us experience to greater or lesser degree, MIT professor of social studies Sherry Turkle details in her latest book. Of all people, Christians can lead the way in reclaiming conversation as we live together as God’s people, establish healthy practices with technology in our homes, seek to be present with friends, and reach out to unbelievers with gospel conversations. If I can be indulged in connecting this to the winner above, the Inklings are an example of this as the Zaleskis note: “[I]f the stated purpose of the Inklings was to read and critique one another’s writings, the implicit but universally acknowledged aim was to revel in one another’s talk. Often gatherings had no readings at all, only loud, boisterous back-and-forth on a vast range of topics. Among the Inklings, pen and tongue held equal sway” (196).
by Betsy Childs Howard
Winner: Ed Shaw, Same Sex Attraction and the Church: The Surprising Plausibility of the Celibate Life (InterVarsity) [review]
Ed Shaw has written winsomely and helpfully about what I consider to be the biggest discipleship issue facing the church: sexuality and identity in Christ. This is a book for the entire body of Christ, not just those who are same-sex attracted. Shaw accurately diagnoses nine false beliefs prevalent in our churches that have undermined a biblical view of sexuality and made it seem implausible. Yet the book left me hopeful and optimistic that the church can and must replace false beliefs with life-giving truth and love.
How can a Christian be happy in God? Randy Alcorn has considered this question from more angles than I would have thought possible. The result is a comprehensive but enjoyable reference work, both theoretical and practical, that is suitable for probing inquiry or bedside reading.
by Jeff Robinson
Winner: Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan, The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision (Baker) [review | excerpt | excerpt]
This book was a key factor this past year in renewing an important (and ongoing) conversation about the nature of the pastoral office. Vanhoozer and Strachan seek to restore the vision of the Reformers and their Puritan ancestors of the pastorate as an office primarily defined by theology. The pastor must not see himself fundamentally as a counselor or motivator, but as a man called to mediate the transcendent truth of God to the people of God so they might live all of life to the glory of God.
Runner Up: Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (Viking) [20 quotes | review]
John Stott famously said preaching must connect two worlds—the ancient with the modern. There are few men more gifted at this difficult but vital task in our day than Tim Keller, and his excellent new book instructs us how in compelling fashion.
BIBLE AND THEOLOGY
by Matt Smethurst
Earlier this year I was preparing to teach through Philippians, so I picked up several commentaries. I had never heard of Matthew Harmon. Within the first few weeks of teaching, though, his became the first resource consulted. By the end, it was sometimes the only one. Academically informed, clearly written, and pastorally insightful, this is evangelical scholarship at its best. The volume is filled with helpful outlines, charts, and suggestions for gospel-driven application. I’m already anticipating Harmon’s next contribution.
Weighing in at nearly 3,000 pages with 66 contributors, 94 maps, 81 charts, and 28 theological articles, the NIV Zondervan Study Bible [50-page sample] is a remarkable feat. It nicely complements the ESV Study Bible, which focuses more on systematic theology, by accenting biblical theology—how various themes and trajectories develop across the unfolding storyline of Scripture. Most valuably, the verse notes and articles spotlight how your whole Bible is finally about one saving hero, Jesus the King.
by Bill Walsh and Joann Pittman
Winner: M. David Sills, Changing World, Unchanging Mission: Responding to Global Challenges (InterVarsity)
There’s no one I trust more to mentor me in the practicalities of effective global missions than David Sills. In this book, his decades of experience and balanced wisdom help me navigate the hyperbole and overreactions that are so common. This will be a trusted resource I go back to often.
Runner Up: Rodney Stark and Xiuhua Wang, A Star in the East: The Rise of Christianity in China (Templeton) [review]
For anyone interested in the story of what God has been up to in China, A Star in the East is a must-read. In many ways it tells the story of the Messiah’s triumph in China. Stark and Wang set out to shed light on both the how and the why of the spread of Christianity in China. Along the way, they challenge assumptions and shine new light on the types of people turning to Christianity.
FAITH AND WORK
by Bethany Jenkins
Winner: Curt Thompson, The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves (InterVarsity)
You might not expect this to be a faith and work book, but it’s amazing how much shame plays a part in our work. It’s “the emotional weapon that evil uses to (a) corrupt our relationship with God and with each other, and (2) disintegrate any and all gifts of vocational vision and creativity.” Thompson's stories, which range from the personal to the professional, illuminate how shame causes us to isolate and alienate ourselves from one another. Yet his stories also have the power to expose shame in our hearts and in our relationships. This is a beautiful and hopeful book that's both intellectually and emotionally moving.
Runner Up: Steve Graves, The Gospel Goes to Work: God’s Big Canvas of Calling and Renewal (KJK Publishing)
A seasoned conversationalist in the faith and work space, Graves focuses on his “gospel goes to work” grid, which merges two coupled concepts: baseline/blue sky and individual/organizational. (1) The “baseline” is the minimum standard for taking your faith to work, and the “blue sky” is the most integrated application of your faith and the gospel in your particular work setting. (2) The individual/organizational pair draws on the important distinction that the gospel isn’t a private faith but a public truth and, therefore, isn’t just for individual forgiveness but for the redemption of creation—a key aspect of The Gospel Coalition’s Theological Vision of Ministry.
by Collin Hansen
Winner: Julius J. Kim. Preaching the Whole Counsel of God: Design and Deliver Gospel-Centered Sermons (Zondervan)
You can find longer and more detailed textbooks on preaching. But Kim has combined the best of those works with his own insights in this wonderfully helpful introductory guide to making much of Jesus from the pulpit. This beautifully designed book would be especially useful in training preachers without seminary experience.
Runner Up (tie): Scott Sauls, Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides (Tyndale) [review] and Jeff Vanderstelt, Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life (Crossway) [review]
Sometimes I wonder how Christians can evangelize their neighbors when they can't even speak with charity about each other. These two important books address the problem from both ends. Sauls shows that you can defend difficult biblical doctrines even as you seek unity in the church. Vanderstelt models a captivating evangelistic lifestyle that can be replicated by anyone who makes it a deliberate priority in the power of the Holy Spirit.