This year I worked through quite a bit of non-fiction. Although it is extremely difficult to narrow it down, here are my top five picks ranked in descending order:
#5: Interpreting Eden: A Guide to Faithfully Reading and Understanding Genesis 1-3 by Vern S. Poythress
When it comes to the interpreting the first three chapters of the Bible, there is no apparent end to the number of relevant questions that can be asked. What genre are these chapters? What is the relationship between these chapters and modern science? How should we think about time in reference to the seven days? What does it mean to read the Bible literally? With a PhD in mathematics from Harvard, Westminster Theological Seminary professor Vern Poythress is a well-equipped guide to handle these very important topics. With recommendations from the likes of Don Carson, John Frame, C. John Collins, Justin Taylor, and Wayne Grudem, I do not stand alone in thinking that this a well-handled discussion of the foundation of the Biblical story. Poythress is not afraid to push against the metaphysical assumptions of the West, nor to question the “moral innocence” of certain “accommodating” interpretations, yet he does so with intense intellectual rigor and radical Biblical fidelity, an unfortunately difficult combination to find.
#4: Confessions by Saint Augustine
Over the last few years I have been attempting to become more “Catholic” in my faith. No, not Roman Catholic, but Catholic as in the universal and historical sense. Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the faith handed down once for all to all the saints (Jude 3) and, therefore, all Christian traditions must understand that the Church has been in existence since Christ inaugurated his Kingdom. One of the ways to grow in appreciation for this is to read saints of the past. There is no better place to start than Augustine. The man’s life is fascinating and his influence vast. Reading the works of believers of the past can also open our eyes to the blind spots of our present age. Nowhere did this occur more than Augustine discussing the perils of gladiatorial blood-lust. It made me wonder what warnings he would have for much of our violent “entertainment” that we indulge in and if he would see validity in the idea of it “not being real.” I do not think this saint would entertain such an idea.
#3: Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion by Rebecca McLaughlin
What does a same-sex attracted, heterosexually married, mother of three, with a PhD in Literature from Cambridge have to say about Christianity? Quite a lot. With compelling arguments and rich writing McLaughlin offers fresh arguments for orthodox Christianity in a style similar to Tim Keller’s: The Reason for God. Here is but a taste, “In Jesus’s world, we find connective tissue between the truths of science and morality. We find a basis for saying that all human beings are created equal, and a deep call to love across diversity. We find a name for evil, and a means for forgiveness. We find a vision of love that is so much deeper than our current hearts can hold, and a true intimacy better than our weak bodies could ever experience. We find a diagnosis of human nature as shot through with sin and yet redeemable by grace. We find a call to care for the poor, oppressed, and lonely, a call springing from the heart of God himself and grounded in the hope that one day every tear will be wiped away, every stomach will be filled, and every outcast will be embraced. But we do not find glib answers or an easy road. Instead, we find a call to come and die.”1
#2: How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor by James K.A. Smith
Never have I read a book that so captured my experiences. To have the reality of your life “captured” in a book, is really a bit unnerving. Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor’s “Our Secular Age” is a rather large exploration into our current cultural environment, but Smith has, with his own fantastic writing style, taken the “weight” off of Taylor’s work. Anyone seeking to understand the “cross-pressures” of our current age, would do well to read this book, whether believer or unbeliever.
#1: Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique
With organizations such as BioLogos and many other Christian leaders (several of which I have read) pushing for the Church to fully embrace the vast amount of the Neo-Darwinian take on the developments of life this book assembles an impressive array of scholars and well-credentialed scientists to combat what they, and I, believe to be “intellectual pacifism that lulls people to sleep while the barbarians are at the gates.”2 The systematic nature of the critique is refreshing, and includes 500 pages merely on the science alone. The book also shows wisdom in knowing where to take aim, they are not concerned with the age of the earth, nor even the various “types” of evolutionary beliefs shard among some Christians, but they have set their attack on Neo-Darwinian Christian accommodation. The amount of public acceptance of evolutionary theory is, in my opinion, a result more of Taylor’s “unthoughts,” and group think, than it is a careful examination of the evidence. The amount of confessions given by “hostile witnesses,” (that is evolutionary believing theorists) is enough to make one put on the brakes for belief. Consider just one such theorist, Jeffery Schwartz, “We are still in the dark about the origin of most major groups of organisms. They appear in the fossil record as Athena did from the head of Zeus—full-blown and raring to go, in contradiction to Darwin’s depiction of evolution as resulting from the gradual accumulation of countless infinitesimally minute variations…” This is just one example, from just one field. Theistic Evolution takes the reader through a diverse number of related fields and, if nothing else, makes one wonder at the confidence at which such a theory is held. The intelligent design movement takes a lot of heat from believers defending evolution, creationists critiquing their methods, and the vast majority of the methodologically naturalistically bound scientific field, but when this group of “dispassionate intellectuals making orderly scientific arguments” de-converts a prominent Yale Computer scientist from his Darwinian beliefs, ought we to pay a bit closer attention to such a group? Especially believers who “want to win people to Christ and destroy strongholds that undermine knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:3-5), to penetrate culture with the Christian worldview—to undermine our culture’s plausibility structure which, as things stand now, does not include objective theological claims.” This is one such work and it was my best read in 2019.
- Rebecca McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 222)
- J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, Christopher Shaw, Ann K. Gauger, and Wayne Grudem, Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique (Crossway, Wheaton, IL, 2017), Ch. 21 “How Theistic Evolution Kicks Christianity Out of the Plausibiliy Structure and Robs Christians of Confidence that the Bible is a Source of Knowledge” by J.P. Moreland, 646
- Ibid. 646-47