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John Calvin puts forward a very simple reason why love is the greatest gift: “Because faith and hope are our own: love is diffused among others.” In other words, faith and hope benefit the possessor, but love always benefits another. In John 13:34–35 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love always requires an “other” as an object; love cannot remain within itself, and that is part of what makes love the greatest gift.
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New Books You Should Know (November 2018)

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Running from Mercy: Jonah and the Surprising Story of God’s Unstoppable GraceCover of Running from Mercy

Anthony Carter

B&H, 2018

Carter sees with wonderful clarity how the story of Jonah reflects the big, Bible-long picture of God’s gracious pursuit of sinners, and he has a remarkable ability to expound each step of Jonah’s story with theological and practical insight. A thoroughly enjoyable read for any Christian and a stimulating and helpful aid for the preacher.

 

 

Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah SpurgeonCover of Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon

Ray Rhodes Jr.

Moody, 2018

You know Spurgeon, but what do you know of his wife? Did you know, in fact, that we would not know the great British preacher as we do if it weren’t for his wife, Susie? You’ll love their love story, and you’ll love their whole story. This book fills an important gap in church history studies, and its importance is matched only by the enjoyment it gives in reading. And it’s easily accessible to all readers besides. Thoroughly delightful!

 

In the Year of Our Lord: Reflections on Twenty Centuries of Church HistoryCover of In the Year of Our Lord

Sinclair B. Ferguson

Reformation Trust, 2018

Anytime I see a new book from Sinclair Ferguson, I get it. He’s one of a handful of authors whose works I’ll read and recommend every time. This book is his survey of 20 centuries of church history in 20 brief chapters. The approach is unique and the pace is swift and broad, providing an excellent overview of the church’s past. Each chapter features a representative selection from that given century, in addition to Ferguson’s insightful survey. A great read and a great choice for anyone on your Christmas list.

 

A Jesus Christmas: Explore God’s Amazing Plan for ChristmasCover of A Jesus Christmas

Barbara Reaoch

The Good Book Company, 2018

The Bible is a story about Jesus, and to understand Jesus rightly we must understand the Bible story. This little book is designed to highlight that story for children at Christmastime. Reaoch traces the story of Jesus from Genesis and the Pentateuch through the Davidic promise and the prophetic hope to Matthew 1–2, Luke 2, John 1, and the incarnation of Christ. Each step is drawn out with engaging questions and even a place for your child to draw. This little book is a wonderful idea and a wonderful resource for parents to teach their children about Jesus and the Bible story.

 

Paul as PastorCover of Paul as Pastor

Brian Rosner, Andrew Malone, Trevor Burke (eds.)

Bloomsbury / T&T Clark, 2017

A one-of-a-kind analysis of Acts and Paul’s epistles to draw out the nature of the apostle’s pastoral heart and work. It’s a dimension of study that was needed and that’s eminently useful for the pastor’s own enrichment and for enriching his expositions of the many, many Pauline passages examined in this book. A genuine contribution to New Testament and pastoral studies.

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    • You Can Teach Theology with Picture Books

      As parents, we are our children’s first theology teachers. Like the women at the tomb on Easter morning, we run fearfully and joyfully to tell the people we love, “The tomb is empty! Christ has risen.” With hope-filled hearts, we teach our children about the living Lord. God has ordained a means for teaching our children how to love him—and not primarily by sending them to AWANA, or buying another picture Bible, or using the right curriculum. Learning about God begins with wonder, and worship is our great goal. Teaching our children theology is as simple as having conversations with God and conversations about God “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:7). We have conversations with God by reading his Word, giving thanks and praise, and praying to him. In our family, we have conversations about God as we go about our daily routine—sharing meals, walking outside, and perhaps most delightfully, reading books. Book Adventures Every new book is a new place, a new journey into new worlds. My husband is our courageous captain. He navigates our ship through the shining seas of Bunyan, Lewis, and Tolkien. These days, we are on an excursion in a dragon’s lair. Theology, like food, tastes better when one is hungry. Young sailors are often hungry for definitions and explanations, while being full of questions and interruptions. When our captain recently explained various heretical views of the Trinity, our living room roared with laughter. I didn’t know that was possible. Before the current days of chapter books, however, there were years of shorter adventures in picture books. These too held truths and metaphors helpful for understanding the things of God. Illustrate and Illuminate The following picture books aren’t theology books. They should be enjoyed for their clever plots and likeable characters. But they can also illustrate biblical concepts. Through conversations, these picture books may illuminate truths about God in unexpected ways. The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown Mother bunny gives us a great picture of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. The Lord never leaves us or forsakes us. He is faithful to pursue us when we run away. He is the fisherman who fishes for us and the “tree we come home to.” His sovereignty is like the wind that blows us where he wants us to go. The little bunny is a lot like Jonah, the runaway prophet. But unlike Jonah, we see the bunny repent. What Do You Love? by Jonathan London The question “What do you love?” echoes Jonathan Edwards’s Religious Affections. Parents can help our children to see that the child in the story loves his mommy not for “park slides and piggyback rides.” Rather, he enjoys these good things because he is with his mommy. The nature of true religion is to find our greatest happiness in Christ, not merely his gifts. Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Sam Barnett This book hilariously illustrates double-mindedness. As Sam and Dave dig down, down into the ground they miss enormous chunks of diamonds because they keep changing their minds about which direction to dig. Let us pursue the Lord single-mindedly! The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy,” or where a big hungry bear might break in and steal. Our hearts are bound up with our red ripe strawberries. I asked my children: What are your red ripe strawberries? How may we store up treasures in heaven instead? Waiting Is Not Easy by Mo Willems This book helps us think about why we need patience and serves as a lesson in eschatology for toddlers. How do we answer the question, “Mommy, when is Jesus coming again?” This humorous book gives us five surprisingly profound answers: One, a surprise is a surprise. Two, waiting is not easy. Three, it will get darker before the surprise arrives. Four, sometimes waiting feels like a waste of time. Five, it will all be worth it. Wonder at the Light Like John the Baptist, parents who have seen the light are called to be witnesses to the light. Reading with our children will not save them. But we can be the voices crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the LORD” (Isa. 40:3). We can look for clues to Christ and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Learning theology begins with a sense of wonder at our risen Lord. May the families of the world fall down and worship. View the full article

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    • New Books You Should Know (January 2019)

      Darwin Devolves: The New Science about DNA That Challenges Evolution Michael J. Behe Harper One, 2019 Here the famous author of Darwin’s Black Box and The Edge of Darwinism continues to expose the scientific flaws of the Darwinian theory of evolution. He argues that Darwin’s mechanism actually damages genes that are necessary to survival. If you’re into the scientific arguments surrounding the evolution debate, this is the new “must read.”     The Legacy of Preaching: Apostles to the Present Day (2 volumes) Benjamin K. Forrest, Kevin King Sr., Dwayne Milioni, William J. Curtis (eds.) Zondervan, 2018 A marvelous compendium of Christianity’s preachers and a one-of-a-kind resource for preachers. Traces out and examines the church’s outstanding preachers from the first century through to the 21st, from Paul and Peter to Milito of Sardis to J. I. Packer. Each preacher is presented in his historical life-setting along with an examination of his theology of preaching, method of preaching, contribution to preaching, and a brief sample of his preaching. A genuine contribution to studies in church history and to those who preach. A new benchmark in the study of Christian preaching.     Justification (2 volumes) Michael Horton Zondervan, 2018 A new classic on this central doctrine. Horton provides extensive analysis of the doctrine from the standpoints of historical, biblical, and systematic theology. Gives extended attention to contemporary discussions of the New Perspective and a thorough exposition of the classic Reformed teaching. A new must-have for the study. [Runner-up in the Academic Theology category of the 2018 TGC Book Awards.]     The Church in Babylon: Heeding the Call to Be a Light in the Darkness Erwin Lutzer Moody Press, 2018 Beginning with observations from Jeremiah and Daniel concerning Jewish life in exile in Babylon, Lutzer provides insightful counsel for the contemporary church living now in a foreign culture and examines what a wise and faithful Christian stance in this anti-Christian world looks like. Lessons today’s church must learn if it is to survive in “Babylon.” Lutzer’s usual discernment with faithful application. Available with DVD of Lutzer’s teaching on each chapter, with study guide.     Textual Criticism of the Bible (Lexham Methods Series) Amy Anderson and Wendy Widder Lexham, 2018 If you work at all with the Bible’s original languages you inevitably need to understand at least something about those pesky variants. It may be a field for experts, but Anderson and Widder have provided a wonderfully accessible introduction to the study of textual criticism for both Old and New Testaments. If you feel weak in this area, this is the place to start. Clear, accessible, and even practical. View the full article

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    • 3 Books to Help You Reimagine Familiar Bible Stories

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    • The Books We Enjoyed in 2018

      It shouldn’t be surprising that the editorial staff at The Gospel Coalition enjoys reading. While our team worked diligently to evaluate the Christian market for our annual book awards (see 2018 TGC Book Awards), we also read an eclectic array of titles for professional development, historical awareness, encouragement, and just plain fun. I asked our editorial team to select at least one book they read and would commend to TGC readers. Joe Carter (Editor) Chris Voss, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended on It (Harper Business, 2016) Chris Voss, a former international hostage negotiator for the FBI, developed his skills dealing with bank robbers, kidnappers, and terrorists. But the lessons he offers on negotiation and conflict resolution can be applied to help you communicate better with salespeople, your business colleagues, or even your own kids. Too often, such business books have one, often obvious, idea that’s stretched out for an entire book. But Never Split the Difference includes numerous ideas you can apply immediately—as well as plenty of juicy stories about negotiating with bank robbers, kidnappers, and terrorists. Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology (W. W. North & Company, 2017) The Greeks and Romans are the Coke and Pepsi of mythology—they’re the only brands most Americans know or care about, and they aren’t all that different. If we know anything at all about Norse mythology it’s probably what we’ve picked up from Marvel Comics or while playing Dungeons & Dragons. Neil Gaiman (creator of Coraline and the Sandman comics) shows us what we’ve been missing in his retelling of several stories from the Norse canon. The stories are playfully absurd, and the cast of characters is always entertaining (especially Thor, who’s portrayed as being as thick as Scandinavian ice in the arms and head). I recommend listening to the audiobook, which is read by Gaiman. Russ Roberts, How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness (Portfolio, 2014) Adam Smith is the most influential economist you’ve (probably) never read. His ideas about the “invisible hand,” free trade, and self-interest have become staples of modern economic thought. Yet his earlier—even less read—work on virtue and “moral sentiments” is essential to understanding how the dross of individual self-interest is spun into the gold of communal prosperity. Russ Roberts, an economist himself, explains how Smith shows us not only why we should be “lovely” but how we can curate the virtues that make us worthy of love. Always engaging and insightful, How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life is a “self-help” book in the best sense of the term. Bennett Hansen (Acts 29 Editor) Alan Jacobs, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds (Currency, 2017) No book has proven so helpful to me in thinking about what it means to think. Jacobs observes that thinking is hard work, and we’re often unaware of the assumptions that inform our efforts in this realm. Highlighting the differences between intuitive thinking and conscious reflection, he unpacks the importance of slowing down (something we’re not usually good at) in both our thinking and also our responses to others, especially those with whom we disagree. In a polarized, post-truth age, this book is packed full of sharp, timely insight for anyone who wants to learn how to think well. Kate Fox, Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour (Hodder & Stoughton, 2001) In my ongoing, feeble attempt to understand the culture I’ve come to reside in as an expat, this book has been a great help. Clever, insightful, and often humorous, Kate Fox provides an in-depth study of English culture. Technically, it’s an anthropology book, but it reads more like a comedy with striking insights into “Englishness.” For anyone who has come to call this small, cold, wet island “home,” Fox’s book will surely prove useful. Nick Jans, A Wolf Called Romeo (Mariner Books, 2014) My love of nature writing and wolves made this a highly enjoyable read. Nick Jans tells the true story of Romeo, a black wolf who befriended the dogs and (some of) the residents of Juneau, Alaska. Jans recounts his experience of observing and interacting with a controversial mammal that has long been vilified by some and romanticized by others. Beautifully written, this is a moving account of what can happen when man and wilderness meet. Collin Hansen (Editorial Director) Matthew D. Hockenos, Then They Came for Me: Martin Niemöller, the Pastor Who Defied the Nazis (Basic Books, 2018) Many of us know about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but more famous for dissent in that troubled time was his ministerial colleague Martin Niemöller, who spent World War II in prison on Hitler’s orders. This biography isn’t quite sympathetic with the protagonist, but for that reason it’s full of humanity and complexity that makes for introspective and illuminating reading. Alicia Chudo (Gary Saul Morson), And Quiet Flows the Vodka: or When Pushkin Comes to Shove (Northwestern University Press, 2000) Laugh-out-loud funny, this book is also full of potent insights on politics, religion, history, and everything else that makes Russian literature so endlessly fascinating. It’s the perfect antidote to so much academic self-seriousness that masquerades as cutting-edge scholarship. Joseph Crespino, Atticus Finch: The Biography (Basic Books, 2018) Now that’s a novel idea: a biography of a fictional figure. But then Atticus Finch isn’t entirely fictional, as Harper Lee based him largely on her own father. Crespino shows how the publication of Go Set a Watchman was a watershed for our entire understanding of Lee and her perspective on race and religion during the civil-rights movement. Megan Hill (Editor) Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (Grand Central Publishing, 2016) I’m no stranger to the demands of a life lived with a jumble of cognitively deep and shallow tasks. I’m a mother. And a Christian. Laundry tumbles on the heels of Bible study, complex work assignments overlap with peanut-butter-sandwich-assembly, and it’s hard to get it all done, let alone produce meaningful results. Enter Deep Work, an extremely practical guide to making the most of your brain, your time, and your energy to more effectively tackle intellectually demanding projects. Newport’s engaging chapters helped me to see where I was needlessly dwelling on mindless tasks (email! group texts!) and where I could squeeze more real thinking into my days. Deep Work isn’t a “Christian” book, but it’s easy to see how worshiping and working more deeply is an eminently Christian goal—one I will continue to pursue for the glory of God in 2019. Brett McCracken (Senior Editor) Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country (Scribners, 1948) Jarring in its beauty as well as its tragedy, this South African fiction classic tells a tale of two families whose paths intersect in ways that reflect the nation’s larger racial tensions, which persist to this day. I read the book on a trip to South Africa in May (which I wrote about for TGC), and it brought vivid context and connection to the country in a manner typical of great literature that is rooted in place. Patrick J. Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed (Yale University Press, 2018) This was the best 2018-released book I read this year. I loved it not only because I think its thesis is right—that both conservative and progressive versions of liberalism are rooted in a form of radical individualism that will be their undoing—but because its prescriptions, primarily stronger localism and mediating institutions (the sort Yuval Levin talked about in The Fractured Republic), are much-needed. Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (IVP, 2000) I read this book in the weeks following Peterson’s death. What a timely treasure. The book’s title and subtitle, “Discipleship in an Instant Society,” say everything about why this is such an essential contemporary classic. Following Jesus is a journey: a specific (narrow and costly) path in which short-cuts, expectations of “best life now” instant gratification, and the tyranny of one’s “authentic” feelings can undermine our growth and mission. Ivan Mesa (Books Editor) Robert Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Knopf, 1982–) I’ll cheat here and include all of Robert Caro’s published volumes in The Years of Lyndon Johnson (the fifth and final volume is still outstanding). Caro is a masterful writer and biographer, but it’s not fair to view these as simple biographies; they’re whole examinations of the times and lively accounts of the people. To read a series of books with such depth and clarity is a thrilling experience. Here I’ll consider one of the volumes, The Means of Ascent, which covers the period from 1941 until the 1948 Texas Democratic senatorial primary, between Lyndon Johnson and Coke Stevenson. Caro chronicles Johnson’s “utter ruthlessness . . . and a seemingly bottomless capacity for deceit, deception and betrayal.” The title brilliantly captures not just how LBJ ascended to power, but also the age-old debate over ends and means—how the dark features of LBJ’s character, like his duplicity and ruthlessness (which were rooted in deep insecurity), meshed with and ran parallel to his compassion for the downtrodden (like Johnson’s later passage of civil- and voting-rights laws and the Great Society’s help for those caught in the “tentacles of circumstance”). Catherine McIlwaine, Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth (Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2018) It’s hard to overstate the influence of the Inklings on the shape of today’s cultural and imaginative life. While we grieve that we only have one surviving member of the original group—Tolkien’s son, Christopher, who in the last several decades has edited much of his father’s posthumously published work (don’t miss this exquisite profile of Christopher Tolkien)—latter-day Inklings can rejoice at the publication of Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, which draws together essays on Tolkien’s life, influences, and philology, and reproduces personal photographs and private papers. Tied to this publication, the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City will showcase a Tolkien exhibition from January 25 through May 12, 2019. Not many of us will be able to visit, but this beautifully executed book is a satisfying alternative. Victor Hugo, Les Miserables (A. Lacroix, Verboeckhoven & Cie, 1862) I’ve loved the musical version of Les Miserables ever since I was a teenager and overheard “One Day More” in a friend’s car. I’ve even read books about Les Miserables—its history, theology, and themes. 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Jeff Robinson (Senior Editor) Bob Spitz, Reagan: An American Journey (Penguin Press, 2018)  Ronald Reagan was the first president I was privileged to vote for, and he remains my favorite. I’ve read many Reagan biographies, but this latest may be the best. Spitz captures both the tenderness and also toughness of America’s 40th president. This book reminded me of what good leadership looks like—it’s clothed in humility and draws people with winsome, yet uncompromising firmness that never needs to remind those under its leadership that it is indeed in charge. Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic, Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man (Simon & Schuster, 2018) This book kept me up late into the night as I read and then turned out the light and pondered the fate of the USS Indianapolis, the 900-plus men who wound up in the shark-infested waters, the 316 who survived, and the court case decades later that sought to exonerate ship captain Charles McVay. Vincent and Vladic present a gripping, deeply detailed (and sometimes disturbing) account of this unthinkable tragedy. If more history were written like this, more readers would delight in engaging the past. Joe Posnanski, The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip through Buck O’Neil’s America (William Morrow, 2008)  This is an older book that had been sitting on my shelf for quite a while, but on the urging of a pastor friend I read it this summer and am glad I did. Buck O’Neil is one of the great figures from the old black professional baseball leagues (he was both a player and manager) that thrived, sadly, in obscurity, until Jackie Robinson brought down the color barrier in 1947. This book is about much more than baseball. It’s about an extraordinary man who enjoyed life to the full, pursuing his great loves of baseball and jazz music, and bringing joy to the lives of seemingly everyone he met. O’Neil, who died in 2006 at age 94, was a follower of Christ who dripped the joy of one who was content in his Savior. Matt Smethurst (Managing Editor) William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Simon and Schuster, 1960) Simply masterful. A sweeping history of Nazi Germany filtered through a journalist’s eyes. Brisk narrative, vivid prose, illuminating explanation—this volume has it all. Best of all, Shirer lived alongside—and in some cases, through—the harrowing events he recounts. (The U.S. foreign correspondent broadcasted from Berlin for several years, from the rise of Nazism through the first year of the war.) Shirer’s journalistic expertise, amplified by firsthand acquaintance with key persons, places, and events in the story, renders The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich a unique and unparalleled work. Andrew Gross, The One Man: A Novel (Minotaur Books, 2016) Historical-thriller fiction at its finest, particularly if you’re interested in World War II. Harrowing (most of the story takes place at Auschwitz) and beautiful. Short chapters; fast-moving plot; I couldn’t put it down. There is one brief sex scene, though not too graphic. Tara Westover, Educated: A Memoir (Random House, 2018) Difficult to read, impossible to put down. Westover grew up as a fundamentalist Mormon on a mountain in Idaho. She had no birth certificate, never saw a doctor, and didn’t go to school. Now she has a PhD from Cambridge. The story is as heartbreaking as it is astonishing. The Hillbilly Elegy of 2018.  Sarah Zylstra (Senior Writer) Jean Twenge, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood (Atria Books, 2017) Packed with surveys and statistics, Jean Twenge’s book explains the general characteristics of the generation rising up after the Millennials. The first wave of iGen, who grew up with screens, are now in college and entering the workforce. College faculty and employers I’ve spoken to confirmed this book’s observations, from fewer teen pregnancies to more anxiety to less spirituality. For parents, teachers, or youth workers, iGen offers a clear look at how smartphones have drastically affected an entire generation. View the full article

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