‘Tis the season for list making and while I typically create a “books of the year” list, this year I also have a “book of the year”. I do this only to highlight the exceptional quality of the book I have chosen for 2011 Book of the Year. All of my selections were so chosen because they combine quality writing and thought and some degree of uniqueness of approach or topic. Of course, one can not read every book and unfortunately this means that many excellent titles are missed. With this in mind, I ask you to add your own books to my list in hopes of giving as many books as possible there deserved recognition.
2011 Book of the Year:
Miracles: The Reliability of the New Testament Accounts, 2 Vols.
CBD Price: $32.99
Author: Craig S. Keener
Publisher: Baker Academic
Listen to Interview
It is my distinct pleasure to name Craig Keener’s Miracles: The Reliability of the New Testament Accounts, 2 Vols. as my 2011 Book of the Year. I also believe that Keener’s work will become one of most significant publications in the field of theology and its correlate disciplines in this decade. So long in coming and so sorely needed, Miracles takes back the initiative in the debate and relocates the burden of proof onto those who wish to dismiss miracles. In doing so, Keener rouses us from our western naturalistic dogmatic slumber and wipes away the scales from our eyes allowing us to see afresh God moving via the miraculous in the New Testament and in the world today. Though only published in late November, similarly enthusiastic sentiments are already being expressed from many corners of Christianity with no sign of abeyance. Finally, this book induces what is very often missing from scholarship: pure excitement about the love and power of God. Earlier this month I had the opportunity to interview Craig and our discussion is very much worth your time. Here’s what a few leading scholars are saying about Miracles:
“Craig Keener’s discussion of New Testament miracles adduces a uniquely–indeed staggeringly–extensive collection of comparative material. That eyewitnesses frequently testify to miraculous healings and other ‘extranormal’ events is demonstrated beyond doubt. Keener mounts a very strong challenge to the methodological skepticism about the miraculous to which so many New Testament scholars are still committed. It turns out to be an ethnocentric prejudice of modern Western intellectuals. So who’s afraid of David Hume now?”
“This book is a rarity in the scholarly world in that it is both rigorous in its scholarship and speaks with knowledge and passion about an exciting subject that demands our attention. We have here perhaps the best book ever written on miracles in this or any age. Highly recommended.”
-Ben Witherington III
“Craig Keener has produced an impressive work that is meticulously researched, ambitious in historic and geographic scope, and relevant to current cultural concerns. Keener’s bold exploration of the plausibility of past and present miracle claims should provoke interest–and debate–among a wide range of readers.”
-Candy Gunther Brown
More Books of the Year for 2011
The rest of my selections are also exemplary in all the way I mentioned above. But this year’s list also reflects, I believe, a growing trend of quality academic books that are also accessible to informed general audiences. Here is my list:
Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry
CBD Price: $12.99
Author: Hans Boersma
Read my Interview with Hans Boersma
Boersma aligns himself with the 20th Century Catholic “Ressourcement” movement which recognized the inherent dangers in conceptually polarizing concepts such as heaven and earth and faith and reason. To counter this trend, now so thoroughly ingrained in Christian thinking, Boersma advocates for recapturing a Medieval perspective which understood all things to be inherently related and meaningful and by doing so regain a “sacramental” view of all reality. There is no question that Christianity calls us to be counter-cultural, and with Paul’s injunction to “be transformed in the renewing of your mind” we cannot escape that our faith must impact how we understand the nature of all created things.
“Theology at its best, says Hans Boersma, is less interested in comprehending the truth than in participating in it. Skillfully marshalling passages from the church fathers and medieval theologians and drawing judiciously on contemporary evangelical and Catholic thinkers, Boersma shows that theology is not primarily an intellectual enterprise but a spiritual discipline by which one enters into the truth and is mastered by it. Though this ‘sacramental tapestry,’ as he calls it, is as old as the church, it is refreshing to have it presented anew in this engaging book.”
-Robert Louis Wilken
Addiction & Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice (Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology)
CBD Price: $19.49
Author: Kent J. Dunnington
Publisher: IVP Academic
Moral advocates, neurologists, and psychologists have debated the reasons for and nature of addiction for several decades now. Usually people are forced to take a side: Is it a choice? Is it a disease? But can either of these often options explain and/or deal with the problem on their own? Dunnington’s injects theological categories into this question and steers a path that takes account of both contributing factors, sin and the power human biological susceptibility to physical addiction. The result is a groundbreaking interdisciplinary work that takes account of all the factors in addiction and therefore understanding it as a dynamic human problem.
Drawing on Aristotle’s and Aquinas’s accounts of habit, Kent Dunnington has given us an analysis of addiction we have desperately needed. Few are able to combine philosophical analysis with theological insight, but Dunnington has done it in a manner that helps us better understand the nature of addiction and why it is so prevalent in our time. This is a book that needs to be read, not only by those who work in the fields of addictive behaviors but also by philosophers, theologians and pastors. I suspect in a short amount of time, this book will be viewed as something of a classic in the field.”
Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today
CBD Price: $18.99
Author: Craig Bartholomew
Publisher: Baker Academic
Bartholomew’s book is another work from this year’s list that addresses mostly uncharted territory in Christian thought. Bartholomew seeks to understand the concept of place and the sacredness of that place in the Christian life by drawing on biblical, theological, and philosophical elements. From these elements Bartholomew constructs a robust theoretical understanding of place which, in turn, points to its practical necessity for human flourishing and its need to be well-tended. Somewhat exploratory in nature, Bartholomew’s book provides a strong footing on which we can begin to explore anew what it means to dwell and live in God’s creation.
“Craig Bartholomew’s Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today is a stunning achievement. The book masterfully surveys the role of place in the Bible, helpfully looks at the role place has played in the Western philosophical tradition, and concludes with satisfying advice, both theoretical and practical, as to how contemporary Christians should think about place as they engage in the crucial work of placemaking. It is rare to find an author with such command of biblical, theological, and philosophical issues, who provides original, powerful ideas delivered in clear, sparkling prose.”
-C. Stephen Evans
Union with Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church
CBD Price: $12.49
Author: J. Todd Billings
Publisher: Baker Academic
Drawing on the commonly caricatured but nevertheless rich theological resources of the Reformation, Billings’ book provides a significant push-back on the theological reductionism of what “the gospel” is increasingly common among evangelicals. Whether it is correcting those who reduce the Gospel to social justice or reminding those who restrict it to mere personal salvation of their sanctified calling, Billings shows how recapturing the Reformation doctrine of “union” with Christ, a union anchored in Christ’s adoption of the believer, provides a path upon which both aspects of the Gospel, salvation and sanctification, can be coherently articulated and faithfully lived. A desperately needed reconstruction of the Gospel, Billings’ work deserves wide readership, thorough discussion, and extensive reflection.
“What does the doctrine of adoption have to say to a ‘moralistic, therapeutic, deistic’ teenager? How does the Reformed understanding of sin actually underscore human freedom? Are we getting too loose in our talk about ‘incarnational ministry’? Can we talk about a relationship with Christ without descending into sentimentalism? How does Christ’s work for us connect with his work in us by his Word and Spirit? Only after reading this book will you see just how related are all of these themes. And the integrating framework is union with Christ. In this fresh, winsome, learned yet down-to-earth exploration, Billings displays the research of a scholar and the heart of a pastor. This is one of the best books available on the heart of the gospel and its relevance for our lives.”
This is an important book on an important topic. Billings brings his expertise regarding Calvin to bear not only on misconceptions about the great Reformer but also on contemporary misconceptions of Christ and Christian ministry. Drawing on rich personal experiences, he offers an accessible and rewarding study, demonstrating that the centrality of union with Christ can solve many theological problems in a way that has direct practical significance for today.