They say better late than never. We’re a month into 2017, and I have not yet published my usual top reads of the previous year. But here they are:
1. NT Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress, 2003). Originally slated to be the final chapter in Jesus and the Victory of God, this work ballooned into a 700+ page epic. This examination of the biblical idea of resurrection takes a historical approach, comparing the New Testament assertion of Christ’s resurrection from the dead alongside it’s Jewish origins, and Second Temple Judaism’s notions of resurrection, as well as the Hellenistic understandings of death and “the afterlife” to show how the profession of Christ’s resurrection, though having considerable continuity with the Jewish hope, is still in many ways a revolutionary confession, shaped by the conviction of the earliest Christians, and their fervent contention that Jesus was indeed physically raised and they were eye-witnesses of that. Without this conviction, Wright concludes, the early church could certainly not have survived or offered anything of substance to the world around them.
2. Richarb B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. (Yale, 1989). Preaching through Galatians led me to some form some ideas about Paul’s argument and the way he employed Scripture in that letter. My continued digging led inevitably to this book, which was immensely helpful. This ground-breaking work examines how Paul exegetes and uses the Old Testament to further his arguments about Christ and the new humanity being formed by God, and the creativity he shows. Hays shows how Paul usage of Scripture takes some liberties which would violate modern critical standards, but also that Paul differed in his usage from the evangelists messianic proof-texting usage in the Gospel accounts. He argues that Paul uses Scripture ecclessiocentrically (church centred) to depict the new reality which God has brought through Christ as the revelation of God’s righteouness.
3. Brad Jersak, Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hell, Hope, and the New Jerusalem (Wipf & Stock, 2010). This one was a huge surprise for me. I read it in preparation from an interview with Brad Jersak for the Rethinking Hell podcast. I was impressed both with the tone, and the depth of this study. I don’t always agree with Brad, but found him to be a generous, and gracious conversation partner, and his book well argued. He argues that Scripture provides very real warnings regarding judgment, while simultaneously holding out hope for the triumph of God over all sin and evil, such that we cannot presume that all will be saved, or that any person will not be saved. My full review is here.
4. Rupen Das, Compassion and the Mission of God. (Langham, 2016). The author gifted me a copy of this book when he came to speak at Centre Street this Spring. Yes, I am biased because I know the author, and our congregation supports his ministry in Europe and the Middle East. But this is simply a good book. This book centres around the question of the biblical assertions of God’s special concern for the poor (in the broadest sense of the word). How does God’s (and our) treatment of the poor and vulnerable fit within the soteriological and eschatalogical pronouncements of salvation made available through faith in Jesus Christ? Is compassion and social justice an add on, or secondary component to the primary task of “saving souls”? Das argues no, the two are interconnected and mutually informing. Das studies the sweep of Scripture to show the extent of biblical focus on justice and compassion for the vulnerable, as well as providing considerable historical and practical work for the Church of the 21st century to engage in the fullness of the missio dei. My review is available here.
5. Stanley Grenz, Renewing the Center. (Baker 2006). This was actually my second time through this work by one of my favourite historical/systematic theologians. For some reason, I don’t remember it being as good as I found it the second time through. But this is a helpful guide to understanding what it is that originally sat at the core of evangelical christianity, and how recovering that may bring a greater sense of unity as certain doctrinal debates continue to drive wedges between varying groups under the umbrella of the term “evangelical”. Ultimately, Grenz concludes that the one thing that really galvanized these varying groups within the broader movement was not a set of shared doctrinal convictions, but a focus on “convertive piety”, that is the focus on bringing about transformed lives through the conversion to faith in Christ. This common thread, although using different terminology in different times and locations, is generally consistent throughout evangelical history.
6. Gregory MacDonald (Robin Parry), The Evangelical Universalist 2nd Edition. (Cascade, 2012). Another of those books I find myself strangely compelled by. This isn’t because I actually agree with Robin Parry (who wrote under the pen name Gregory MacDonald), because I don’t. But his questions resonate, and need to be wrestled with. I’ve put more time than I care to admit into the study of hell, and still affirm conditional immortality. However, I have grown considerably in my respect for universalists. The usual out-of-hand dismissals won’t do. Parry, Jersak, and Allin (see below), score some serious points for challenging theological assumptions, and actually doing serious biblical exegesis and historical inquiry. Universalism isn’t what it is usually depicted as- a wishy-washy liberal heresy. It’s the result of real wrestling with Scripture and Church history. Parry’s work is perhaps the most comprehensive and forceful case for universalism from an evangelical and is likely to be the standard for some time. But I enjoyed this one more than I’m supposed to. My review is available on the Rethinking Hell blog.
7. Thomas Allin, Christ Triumphant: Universalism Asserted as the Hope of the Gospel on the Authority of Reason, the Fathers, and Holy Scripture. Annotated Edition (Wipf & Stock, 2015). Wipf & Stock kindly provided a copy for review on the Rethinking Hell blog (which should be available very soon). This updated, annotated (by Robin Parry) edition of Allin’s case for universalism was a bit more feisty than Parry’s The Evangelical Universalist. It’s a fairly polemical approach to theological discourse (the 19th century was less gracious on this front). But overall, Allin has put together a considerable body of evidence to suggest that Christ’s victory over sin will be total, and that the punishments of the age to come will be remedial and ultimate bring all to reconciliation. I’m not ultimately convinced, but the case is stronger than I was willing to admit, especially his case for universalism in the early church.
8. Craig R. Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things. (Eerdmans, 2001). While not ground-breaking, Koester’s survey of the theology of the Book of Revelation is a good, and accesible corrective to some more extreme and speculative interpretations which fail to take context, rhetorical style, and purpose into account and end up viewing Revelation as a coded history in advance text rather than a theopoetic, pastoral, prophetic encouragement written using apocalyptic style which would resonate with a first century audience. Koester’s conclusion seem very much along the same which are found in similar works by Bauckham and and the more recent work of Michael Gorman. This was very helpful in my recent sermon series in the Book of Revelation.
9. James V. Brownson, Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships. (Eerdmans, 2013). I hesitated about including this book on this list. It’s a topic which produces a lot of friction right now. But one of the most important things we can do is understand the varying opinions, and so I encourage people to read arguments from all sides, and find the best arguments for any given position. If you want to read a thorough, exegesis based argument for a more inclusive approach to same-sex relationships, whether you are for or against currently, this is a helpful, recommended option. Brownson identifies as a reformed evangelical, who affirms the authority of Scripture. This book isn’t just about same-sex relationships, but about the underlying assumptions about human sexuality, and examines the biblical arguments often used by conservative Christians, and find considerable weaknesses in those cases. This book will challenge, and aggravate many, but is worthwhile.
10. Kim Papaioannou. The Geography of Hell in the Teaching of Jesus: Gehenna, Hades, the Abyss, the Outer Darkness Where There is Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth. (Pickwick, 2013). I reviewed this volume for the Rethinking Hell blog as well. Papaioannou examines the teachings of Jesus in the synoptic Gospels regarding hell, looking specifically the passages which specify a location for judgment and punishment. Papaioannou makes a strong case for seeing Hades, Gehenna, and the Abyss as separate places/realities, though they are often conflated by translators and interpreters. He concludes that hell is the place where the lost a completely destroyed after judgment following the resurrection of the dead. His case is very strong, and his approach/methodology very strong. Not a fun read because of the topic at hand, but an informative and compelling one.