2008 Books of the Year

An annual highlight is to pile up all the books we’ve read for the year and select our favorites. In 2008 we have chosen as our top books of the year The ESV Study Bible and Reformed Dogmatics by Herman Bavinck. What follows is our top 15 books of 2008:

1. ESV Study Bible by various authors and edited by Wayne Grudem and J.I. Packer (Crossway). Think of this: When George W. entered the White House, there was no published ESV. We were all using the NASB, NKJV, NIV or KJV. And now just a few months before W’s presidency ends, the ESV now celebrates the crowning achievement of any translation—a study bible. With a library of commentaries, theology, ethics, bible interpretation, apologetics, and references all contained in one volume, The ESV Study Bible is the most comprehensive study bible since John Brown’s Self Interpreting Bible was released 230 years ago.

And when you purchase the print version, you gain access to the online version of the SB where all the illustrations are viewable, all the notes are included, all the cross-referenced texts are hyperlinked (very slick), and the audio version is available. And you can highlight portions and add personal notes in the margins. What more do you want in a study bible?

2. Reformed Dogmatics by Herman Bavinck (Baker Academic). Although the first three volumes were completed in previous years, 2008 marked the translation of the fourth volume and the completion of the set.

It’s hard to state the importance of these volumes beyond the words of J.I. Packer, who writes: “Bavinck’s Dutch masterwork was the Everest of which the textbooks by Louis Berkhof and Auguste Leoerf were foothills, and Berkouwer’s studies in dogmatics were outliers. Like Augustine, Calvin, and Edwards, Bavinck was a man of giant mind, vast learning, ageless wisdom and great expository skill…Solid but lucid, demanding but satisfying, broad and deep and sharp and stabilizing, Bavinck’s magisterial Reformed Dogmatics remains after a century the supreme achievement of its kind.”

While certainly not the most important systematic theology in the development of the church, this is to my knowledge the most theologically rich. Already in 2008 a rising interest in Bavinck has resulted from the completion of RD and I assume we will be hearing a lot more about the Dutch theologian in this country over the next several years. No doubt this growing interest in Bavinck will be traced back to the printing of this English translation, one of the crowning achievements of 2008.

3. Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck (Moody). Evaluating the emergent church is a tricky thing. There are many nuances and a cast of characters that try hard to avoid creating a cohesive unity that would be more easily definable (and therefore critique-able). But DeYoung and Kluck were able to do this very thing.

Using sharp wit, theological discernment, and humble evaluation, they have crafted the most important and most potentially influential critique of this new trend. And what ranks it as the third most important book of the year is for what it is not—a technical book written by socio-theological theorists for seminary professors. It was written by two normal guys in a format that will appeal to the very same audience drawn towards the emergent ‘movement.’ Brilliant.

4. Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World by Carolyn McCulley (Moody). Carolyn carefully chronicles the history and influence of feminism and why it matters today. She explains the roots of feminism that arose during the Fall, and she does this with a genuine care for women and with a style that merges both her journalistic excellence and her gift of storytelling. Chapter titles include: “’Men are Scum,’” “Men Aren’t the Problem,” “The Mommy Wars,” and “Raunch Culture Rip-Off.” A fantastic book for women and men alike in understanding God’s created purposes. For more information, watch Carolyn’s 5-minunte intro video here.

5. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller (Dutton). Few men are better gifted at articulating the message of the gospel for a broad audience than Tim Keller. The fact that he has written an entire book on issues directly related to the gospel—and the fact that this book is featured in Barnes & Nobles across the country—make The Prodigal God one of the most important books of 2008. But its value extends beyond non-Christians. Christians who struggle with grasping the depth of the cross and grace, and those that struggle with self-righteousness will benefit from the book as well. In other words, Keller’s target audience is the whole world. A fairly small book that would make a great Christmas gift.

6. The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World by David Wells (Eerdmans). The final volume in Well’s tetralogy that includes: No Place for Truth, God in the Wasteland, and Losing Our Virtue. I personally liked all four volumes but especially No Place for Truth and The Courage to Be Protestant. This latest volume is the most theologically constructive of the series. It doubles in my library not only for helping me to understand the present theological health of the broader church, but also as a frequent reference in my systematic theology studies.

7. Complete Works of Thomas Manton in 22 volumes (Solid Ground). One of the most important Puritan publishing achievements of the year was Solid Ground Christian Publishers re-printing of the complete works of one of the most prolific authors in history. Add to that the excellent index in the back of the final volume, and this set will provide preachers and pastors with decades of reading and a seemingly endless supply of spiritual food. We completed a full review with detailed pictures here.

8. Instructing a Child’s Heart by Tedd and Margy Tripp (Shepherd Press). From the author of Shepherding a Child’s Heart, anything by the Tripps on parenting makes this list automatically. Instructing is the latest gem. As to be expected, this latest book is filled with theology and practical helps to help parents grasp the big picture of parenting priorities and drops down into the specifics of how these priorities are expressed in daily life.

9. Pocket Puritans by various authors (Banner of Truth). For a while I wasn’t sure the Banner was going to be capturing the attention of Puritan novices. In this country Crossway and overseas Christian Focus were repackaging the Puritans for a new audience. Well, this year the Banner came out with a winner—edited and abridged sermons and book excerpts from the Puritans in a pocket-sized format. Titles include Impure Lust by Flavel, Living Faith by Ward (personal favorite), Heaven, A World of Love by Edwards, Anger Management by Baxter, Repent and Believe by Brooks, and Binge Drinking by Flavel. Whenever I travel, I put two of these titles in my computer bag and have found them to provide excellent devotional material when I have limited time. Great work, Banner!

10. A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards by George Marsden (Eerdmans). Marsden on Edwards is always worth a read. This is not better than Marsden’s large and defining biography Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale, 2003) but it samples some of the highlights of Edwards life in a very helpful way. If you are intimidated by A Life, start here. And if you have read A Life, you’ll still benefit from A Short Life.

11. Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God by Bob Kauflin (Crossway). Kauflin’s chef d’oeuvre. Bob is one of the most gifted worship leaders and songwriters I’ve seen. I get this from watching him lead musical worship. And he is very wise and humble man. I get this from observing him in my living room. A friend, author, and worship leader. If you lead worship in a church, this is your go-to manual for everything related to leading worship. There is really nothing like it.

12. Concise Reformed Dogmatics by J. van Genderen and W. H. Velema (P&R). A contemporary Dutch systematic theology, recently translated into English. At 940 pages it’s hardly brief, but it is concise. Somehow the authors have captured in this single volume some of the best dogmatic exegesis, the most valuable contributions of Augustine, John Calvin, and Martin Luther, the best of Dutch scholars like Herman Bavinck, Wilhelmus à Brakel, and Abraham Kuyper and manage to interact frequently with the notorious Karl Barth. The authors have composed for us a treasure of theological gold that is to-the-point. For its size it packs the same theological weight as a multi-volume systematic theology.

13. Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey With the New Calvinists by Colin Hansen (Crossway). The rise of Calvinism among young Christians caught the attention of Christianity Today editor Colin Hansen. Hansen invites others to ride “shotgun” as he travels across the country discovering the far reaches of the emerging Calvinism. One of the most engaging and adventurous books of 2008. Read it to meet the cast of characters behind this rise; read it to discover the far-reaching influences of Calvinism on the lives of young men and women; read it for the excellent and descriptive perception of the author.

14. The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures by Dan Roam (Portfolio). Thought I would add at least one business strategy and problem-solving book to this year’s list. Thinking through, solving, and explaining complex problems on a napkin with a pen, icons, and stick figures. Wonderful book for visual thinkers like myself. A gem!

15. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell (Little, Brown and Company). Gladwell’s inquisitive nature frames all of his books and makes them always interesting and often quite fascinating. Outliers is no different (though The Tipping Point is my favorite).

Gladwell covers too many different facets of success to boil down here. But the one argument I thought he made well was related to the IQ threshold. He argues that once your IQ hits the “above average” category, your ranking of being, say, a “genius” is no longer a determinative factor in your success. As an illustration, he points to professional basketball. If a guy is 5-feet tall, he has little or no chance at playing in the NBA. But if he is 6-foot-6 his chances are greatly improved. However, if he’s 6-10, his chances do not greatly improve over the 6-6 guy because once you hit this threshold your chances of playing pro basketball are then determined by other factors—speed, smarts, etc. It’s a compelling argument. What I most appreciate about Gladwell is not his research, but his ability to craft words. He is an excellent writer and this factor—more than any other—is why I’m putting this on the list of top 15.

So there you have it. My top 15 books of 2008. Would you add any to the list? Please let me know in the comments.

And for those of you interested, here are the winners from the previous two years:

2006 Book of the Year

1. Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson (Reformation Heritage).

2007 Top 10 Books of the Year

1 (tie). ESV Literary Study Bible edited by Leland and Philip Ryken (Crossway).

1 (tie). An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach by Bruce Waltke (Zondervan).

3. Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution (UK:IVP/US:Crossway).

4. The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones (Zondervan).

5. When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage by Dave Harvey (Shepherd Press).

6. Communion with the Triune God by John Owen (Crossway).

7. Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart by John Ensor (Crossway).

8. The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World by Stephen Nichols (Crossway).

9. The Reading and Preaching of the Scripture in the Worship of the Christian Church: The Modern Age by Hughes Oliphant Old (Eerdmans).

10. Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Religious Affections’ by Samuel Storms (Crossway).

19 thoughts on “2008 Books of the Year

  1. Thank you for this list Tony – I have been looking forward to it for the past week. I am continually edified by your blog and your love for Christ. I appreciate your efforts here at “Miscellanies” very much. The Lord bless you today.

    Eric Smith

  2. […] Tony Reinke’s Top 15 Books of the Year Filed under: Academia, Bible, Bible Doctrine, Biblical Languages, Biblical Themes, Blogs, Christianity, Churches and Ministries, Cultural Relevance, Faith, Family, Life, Love, Marriage, News, Personal, Politics, Relationships, Religion, Spirituality, Theology, Women — ltbp @ 4:29 am See His List Here […]

  3. to echo the other comments… great list. :) thanks. i’ve read some, have others on my “to read” list, and now have an even longer “to read” list.

  4. Eric, Emily, et al. Thank you all for your kind comments on this list. I hope in some way I have served you in your book buying and reading. Your comments are an encouragement! Tony

  5. Tony I like your list, but I am surprised that you did not mention, *Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor* by D. A. Carson. Carson’s study of his Dad’s ministry was my favorite read for 2008. I am small church pastor and found the insights in the book incredibly encouraging.

  6. Hi, just found your blog tonight… Love my ESV study bible so much my husband had to get a second one for himself. I loved The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller it really challenged my motives am I serving God because of what He can give me? or because HE IS GOD! I am definitely an “older brother” redeemed and set free by God’s grace.

  7. Tony,

    I’m officially overwhelmed at all the Calvin books available for 2009!

    We’re planning on going through Church-history for our Sunday school class and wanted to know what you would recommend as good books on the Reformation era. Not merely just on Calvin but also a good overview of how the Reformation began and its impact in Europe and its effects today.


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