How can you compile a “Best of” list unless you have read all them? This is just a list of books that I read in 2011 and really liked.
1. Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir. In depth and readable, this biography helped me to better understand the woman who was probably the best ever British monarch. It also illumined the many personalities around her. The dynamics of Catholicism and Protestantism and Puritanism are skillfully developed.
2. Is there a Doctor in the House?: An Insider’s Story and Advice on becoming a Bible Scholar by Ben Witherington III Obviously, this book is mot for all readers, but if you are a prof or student, it is quite helpful. Don’t we who are older wish we had someone to advise us early on in our Biblical studies? Witherington provides such advice, in a very personal style.
3. The King Jesus Gospel, by Scot MacKnight. I reviewed this on my blog and offered a critique. It was a favorite read, not because I think he always gets it right, but because the book has caused us all to rethink an aspect of the “Gospel message” that we often overlook - Jesus’ earthly teaching and ministry as part of a Big Story.
4. Hermeneutics: An Introduction, by Anthony Thisleton. Despite a bad sub-title, since the thorough book is not an “introduction,” this epitome of Thisleton’s thought brings out all the aspects of Biblical hermeneutics that should be considered but are often overlooked.
5. Portrait of a Spy, by Daniel Silva. The eleventh in Silva’s series featuring the Israeli super spy, Gabriel Allon, this riveting read does suffer from the familiar plot-line of every Silva novel, but it still never fails to satisfy. It is hard to imagine that Allon could recruit to work for the Israelis the daughter of someone he had killed, but… Well, that said, it offers some new twists along with that one!
6. A Skeleton in God’s Closet, by Paul Meier. This is the first of the historical and archaeological thrillers by the university history professor. It was so good that I asked for and received for Christmas his newest, The Constantine Codex (not as good!). Be prepared to be entertained as well as educated. Some combination!
7. F.F. Bruce: A Life, by Tim Grass. I can’t say enough good about this book, or about its subject. Bruce has been my academic hero since seminary, and this biography only enhanced his reputation in my eyes. Bruce was the perfect balance of a top drawer scholar and a local church oriented pastor-teacher. Bridging the academy with the church is one of my goals and people like Bruce (and NTW) inspire me as living models of that effort.
8. John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor, by Robert Godfey. This biography of the French-Swiss reformer stresses his role as a true “pilgrim” (twice exiled) and even more importantly as a true “pastor.” The last role has often been ignored by his critics and even overlooked by his fans, and I am one of those fans. What Godfrey’s treatment stresses is the personal and pastoral humanity of the great Reformer.
9. Basic Christian: The Inside Story of John Stott, by John Steer. I was introduced to John Stott during college days when I discovered his little classic, Basic Christianity. Ever since then his expository preaching has modelled to me what excellent Bible exposition should look like. Yes, I am aware of some of his views and I also am perplexed by them, but that does not destroy my deep appreciation for him.
10. A New Testament Biblical Theology, by Greg Beale. This is Beale’s magnum opus, and worthy of such a title. Beale has emerged as one of evangelicalism’s brightest lights. (Now if he could just get Rev 20 right!)
10. The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood, by Jane Leavey. My own childhood idol receives the treatment he deserves. Probably the best center fielder ever ( I am well aware of the debate about the Mick, Willie and the Duke), Mick was terribly flawed as well. Even with my childhood bubbles burst, he still fascinates me to no end. One of the best sports bios ever written.
11. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larson. It was not this international best seller’s reputation that prompted me to read it, but the news about the movie’s production. I hesitated to mention this one, because Swedes have quite “open” attitudes toward sex and marriage, and this book does not diminish that reputation. Having said that, it introduces one of the most interesting anti-heroines in literature, and it is a great thriller-mystery, but it is not for the squeamish. (I have NOT seen the movie and don’t know if I can bring myself to endure the rape scene!).
Some additional titles deserving mention. Uneclipsing the Son, by Rick Holland; Ten Myths About Calvinism, by Kenneth Stewart; Getting the Reformation Wrong, by James Payton; Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, by Jodi Magness; The Triumph of Christianity, by Rodney Stark; and Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism, ed by Harlow and Collins.