At the end of each year I look forward to hearing what books people enjoyed over the past 12 months. My good friend Jeff Purswell posted a great list for pastors at the Sovereign Grace website, although anyone could benefit from them. I also appreciated these lists from Kevin DeYoung and Tony Reinke.
I read fewer books than I had hoped to in 2014, but these three stood out.
1. Job: The Wisdom of the Cross—Christopher Ash
In recent years I’ve intentionally read through Job five or six times each year, making notes as I go. I’ve learned a great deal about suffering, about God’s sovereignty and how not to counsel those who are going through difficult times. But this commentary, recommended to me by C.J. Mahaney, shed light on passages I didn’t even know were dark!
Three things I most appreciated about this book. First, Ash walks through every verse in a thoughtful, contextually sensitive manner. He’s done the hard work of making connections you’d easily miss, while staying on firm exegetical ground. He also helps us see where Job got it right and where he got it wrong. I especially appreciated his explanation of Leviathan as the worst Satan can throw at us. Second, he writes pastorally, exposing the misguided comfort of Job’s counselors and pointing us to true, God-honoring wisdom.
Third, and most importantly, Ash consistently helps us see how Job prefigures Christ, the truly innocent sufferer. I don’t think I saw before how important the book of Job is to the story of redemption. A few favorite quotes:
We need to be on the lookout not only for the wrong teaching Bible teachers give but also for vital biblical ingredients they habitually omit. p. 94
If there is no undeserved suffering, there can be no redemptive suffering, no sacrificial substitutionary suffering. And if there is no substitutionary suffering, there can be no grace. p. 138
When we listen to Job’s speeches, we need to bear in mind the distinction between Job’s perception and Job’s heart. … We will hear Job say some things that are plain wrong, and yet we hear him say them from a heart that is deeply right. p. 139
It is utterly stupid, and deeply hurtful, to suppose that we can deduce from someone’s situation in this age the true state of his or her heart. A bad person may enjoy a good life, and a good person may suffer the pain of a bad life. Only the end will reveal the heart. p. 234
There is not one inch of strange wildness that lies outside the counsel of God. p. 396
2. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God—Timothy Keller
I actually finished this book in 2015, but wanted to include it. Reading books on prayer is like reading cookbooks. You might be fascinated by what you read, but you don’t know how good the book is until you actually follow the directions.
Reading Keller’s book both motivated and equipped me to press into prayer more thoughtfully and biblically. It’s changing the way I pray. Here’s what I wrote on my Amazon review:
I’ve read numerous books on prayer through the years, seeking to inspire a greater passion, consistency and depth in my own prayer life. This is without question one of the best I’ve read. It is at once insightful, motivating and practical. One of the things that makes Keller so helpful is his breadth of reading which gives clarity, depth and variety to his own thoughts. Most of all, he constantly roots practical application in the gospel and Scripture, avoiding the twin errors of experiential mysticism and dry orthodoxy.