Best Books of 2014

December 17, 2014 — 7 Comments

Most years I spend my time catching up on books from the past years or simply follow the nose of my interests. This year, as I finished my dissertation, I found more time to grab recently published books. Below I list my favorite books from 2014 and reach back into 2013  (obviously, this reflects my interest in both biblical studies and hermeneutical issues).

I evaluate them based on three criteria

(1) enjoyment: was it a pleasure to read?

(2) stimulation: was this author one with a “mind alive”?

(3) return: will I return to this book someday for reference or research?


9780802869630The Inspiration and Interpretation of Scripture: What the Early Church Can Teach Us

by Michael Graves

Graves is careful in the book to not valorize the church Fathers, regularly critiquing them. He knows that they cared about the ad litteram sense, but also thinks they may have strayed too far from it at times. On the other hand he encourages modern interpreters to loosen a few fingers on the rope of the ad litteram and learn a few things from those who came before us.

I tweeted after reading this book that this may turn out to be one of the most important books of the year. After some reflection, I still think that is true. However, those opposed to what is now called Theological Interpretation of Scripture will doubtless not agree, and there may be some who think his conclusion is too subjective. However even if one asserts there are problems, examining entailments of the Fathers view of Scripture is a task one never regrets revisiting.

Read more here.


gospel of the lordThe Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus

by Mike Bird

The book is needed for at least two reasons. First, because the Gospels are a unique type of literature in the NT which require reflection. Jumping into interpretation without at least an elementary understanding the process of their composition, transmission, and purpose can lead to regrettable conclusions. Second, Bird addresses areas of study that have been transformed in the last 30 years. A comprehensive yet readable book is required for those who wish to stay up to date on the issues, and Bird has provided a winsome yet thorough review of the literature.

Read more here.



9780802867612How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor

by James K. A. Smith

Taylor has been a frequent reference point for Smith’s writing, and in his most recent book, How (Not) to Be Secular, he provides an introduction and guide to Taylor’s work. Written with the clarity of a gifted teacher, Smith’s 148-page book takes Taylor off the top shelf and walks us through his argument in broad strokes. But this is far from being a CliffsNotes version of Taylor’s book. Smith’s own intellect, humor, and theological convictions emerge, at times making Taylor’s concepts clearer and at times taking issue with Taylor’s views.

Read more here.



51QnxH012jL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

by Bryan Stevenson

Crawl into the eyes of one attorney as he tries to help people on death row. His work is focused on black people and some of the abuse they have seen at the hands of the law. This is a great story and although one may not agree with everything in the book, it helped me step outside of my racial majority viewpoint and see the world through new eyes.





reading-backwardsReading Backwards: Figural Christology in the Fourfold Gospel Witness

by Richard Hays

Hays closes the book by asserting his two theses again and also addressing the strengths and “dangers” of the different hermeneutical approaches of the four Evangelists. The thesis of the book was twofold. “The Gospels teach us how to read the OT, and–at the same time–the OT teaches us how to read the Gospels. Or to put it a little differently, we learn to read the OT by reading backwards from the Gospels, and–at the same time–we learn to read the Gospels by reading forwards from the OT.”

Read more here.



9780801039287Reading Koine Greek

by Rodney Decker

The late Rodney Decker has produced a great resource. I am not sure this is the elementary textbook I would initially use, but I am encouraging my elementary students after the first semester to pick up another baby Greek book and work through it. This will be the one I now always recommend. Decker has a vast knowledge of the Greek language and makes it eminently clear, even if he does include too much material for an elementary book.






Here are a few from 2013.

Paul-and-the-LawPaul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God

by Brian Rosner

The relationship of the Law of Moses to the whole of Scripture and to God’s saving purpose revealed in it has been the focus of study for its readers for millennia. Lutheran, Reformed, dispensational, and covenant theologians, and others besides, have debated that relationship. The understanding of the letters of Paul in that relationship has added fuel to the fire of the debate, which has only grown hotter with the advent of the New Perspective on Paul. Brian Rosner in his book Paul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God has made a significant contribution in the debate.

Read more here.



9780830826285The Acts of the Risen Lord: Luke’s Account of God’s Unfolding Plan

by Alan Thompson

The book aims to show that Acts is meant to be read in light of Old Testament hopes for the arrival of God’s salvation in the age to come and the inauguration of that saving rule in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus described in Luke’s Gospel.  So, Acts is about what Jesus is continuing “to do and teach” as he continues to administer God’s saving rule—hence the title, Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus!  My book, therefore, isn’t meant to comprehensively treat all that Acts has to say.  Rather, it aims to provide a biblical-theological framework and show how the major themes in Acts are integrated and relate to this framework.

Read more here.



6a00e54fc7cbdb8834019affb26fe6970c-800wiThe Sermon on the Mount

by Scot McKnight

For McKnight Jesus’ ethics in the Sermon are “messianic, ecclesial, pneumatic.” This should be the go to analysis of the SOM for all pastors.





51o15bNU9vL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Behind the Gospels: Understanding the Oral Tradition

by Eric Eve

I was able to read the prepublication manuscript of this book, and it’s fantastic. It is now the go-to first port of entry into scholarly discussion of how we got the Gospels and what the Jesus tradition would have looked like prior to its textualization in the Gospels. Eve provides an introduction to the important scholarship from form criticism up to the present. Although it’s heavily focused on the oral tradition, Eve takes clear account of the impact of memory studies as well, offering several chapters on this topic. What makes this book so great is that Eve has a very balanced perspective on everything, taking stock of the strengths and weaknesses of all the major models for understanding the oral tradition.

Read more here.




ivpDictionary of Jesus and the Gospels 2nd edition

There are more theological articles included on issues like the “Incarnation” and “Christology.”

Read more here.






watson gospel writingGospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective

by Francis Watson

Historically, Watson’s aim is to account for the genesis of the canonical Gospel. Hermeneutically, the concern is the implications of the fourfold Gospel. Theologically, the position Watson takes underlines the mediated character of all knowledge of Jesus. He does this by examining the reception of the Gospels, seeking a paradigm shift in the standard account of Gospel origins. Gospel origins have normally been relegated to the first century, but the reception of these pieces must extend to the second century. Related to this is that the standard account of Gospel origins rejects the irreducible plurality of the canonical Gospel presentation.

Read more here.


bryan-listening-to-the-bibleListening to the Bible: The Art of Faithful Biblical Interpretation

by Christopher Bryan and David Landon

Bryan and Landon begin with “the division.” The division, or the problem with biblical interpretation is the divorce between the academy and the church. The academy has adopted the historical critical model and if biblical scholarship has effected the preaching of the Word at all, “it seems chiefly to have been that is has engendered a reluctance to engage the great central tenets of the Christian faith.”

Read more here.


Best Albums of 2014

December 11, 2014 — 3 Comments

Each year I compile my favorite albums of the year (09, 10, 11, 12, 13). It is always difficult to go back through music and try to evaluate where they stand in relation to one another. Maybe this will make you aware of a few albums you missed.

Listen on.



The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream

Any list worth their salt this year has this album on it, and for good reason.

Delta Spirit – Into the Wide

fast or slow, these guys hit a home run with this album. Read the lyrics, deeper than you might expect.


Caribou – Our Love

the whole album swims with talent and softness.


Damien Rice – My Favorite Faded Fantasy

I have been waiting for this for 8 years, and it did not disappoint.

Sia – 1000 Forms of Fear

best pop album of the year, and there are more songs than Chandelier.

Passenger – Whispers

some people will hate his voice, but he is a good songwriter no matter what you conclude about his vocals.

Trip Lee – Rise

the first half is very strong, last half not as much, but still an incredible accomplishment.


Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

real country music peeps, and he is from Kentucky.


First Aid Kit – Stay Gold

the voices of this sweedish duo always sound good together

Interstellar – Soundtrack

the organ gets its groove back, great studying music.




Notable Mentions

Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like a Bell

Tweedy – Sukierae

Elbow – The Take Off and Landing of Everything

Future Islands – Singles

Trampled by Turtles – Wild Animals

The Apache Relay




The Supreme Garment

December 5, 2014 — 2 Comments

en07jun43b_deweyAlthough Jesus’s garment was torn from him and sold, the Scriptures regularly speak of us putting on Christ as a garment. Paul in Colossians 3 gives a description of what it means to put on Christ (or the new self), but afffirms one virtue stands above them all. One virtue is most like Christ.

I say this not because I prefer it, or because it is in vogue, but because Paul says it stands above all other virtues. Not only does he say it stands above them all, but he says it unites them all. What is it that Paul is so concerned that Christian’s clothe themselves with? What is it that binds all the other commands together?

The Supreme Garment

Colossians 3:14 comes in the context of the verb “clothe yourselves.” Paul raises one command above the rest.

And above all these put on love, which is the bond of perfection.

ἐπὶ πᾶσιν δὲ τούτοις τὴν ἀγάπην, ὅ ἐστιν σύνδεσμος τῆς τελειότητος.

Above All

Most naturally  the phrase “above all these” (ἐπὶ πᾶσιν δὲ τούτοις) refers to the list in verse 12-13. Above these things (compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience), put on love. The verb this phrase is modifying is “clothe yourselves” and therefore the word “above” suggests love is being pictured as a garment that is to be put on on top of the other garments. This makes love the supreme virtue, the supreme garment.

Paul’s other writings speak about the centrality of love, for love never ends (1 Cor 13:8), and love is the greatest of these (1 Cor 13:13). Paul calls that all that we do be done in love (1 Cor 16:14). It is Paul’s prayer that those in Phillipi abound more and more in love (Phil 1:9). He tell those in Thessalonica that he wants them also to abound in love (1 Thess 3:12). Therefore although one can shrink the context and downplay the importance of love, it seems that the other writings of Paul corroborate the view that love stands above them all.

Thomas Chalmers’s most famous sermon is titled “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” In it he argues trying to displace the love of the world without replacing that love with another love is hopeless. One love must be replaced with a greater love.

It is quite in vain to think of stopping one of these pursuits in any way else, but by stimulating to another. . . We must address to the eye of his mind another object, with a charm powerful enough to dispossess the first of its influences, and to engage him in some other prosecution as full of interest, and hope, and congenial activity, as the former.

Maybe that is why Paul says love is above all. The only way to displace the seeking of the things of this earth is by putting on love. Fighting the worldliness in one’s heart is done by replacing it with a greater love.

The Bond of Flourishing

Paul calls love a bond (σύνδεσμος). This word was used to indicate that which holds something together, that which fetters, that which bundles. For δεσμος means a bond or shackle. But what does love shackle together? It brings together the other virtues (compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience).

This over garment of love brings together all virtues and coalesces in perfection (τελειότης). My doctoral supervisor has convinced me that neither harmony, perfection, completion, or maturity fully captures the nature of this word, and therefore he opts for teilosness or human flourishing. For it not only a moral idea (perfection), but more expansive than this. Human flourishing means being fully human, fully radiating the image of God. As Irenaeus said, “the glory of God is a human being fully alive.”

Paul explains that love is the bond of flourishing. Love is the that which fetters all things together to allow humans to image God as they should. Love is the command that wraps all other commands together and stands above them all.







gospel of the lordOver at Books at a Glance I did a review of Mike Bird’s The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Told the Story of Jesus. I begin saying:

A myriad of questions surround the formation of the Gospels: questions such as, how was the tradition passed on? What role does memory play? Who controlled it? What is the relationship between the Gospels? Mike Bird’s latest book seeks to answer these questions, surveys recent research on these issues, and provides some of his own critical feedback. This book is not about the Gospels per se, but rather about the formation of the Gospels.

I was so pleased with this book and recommend it to all. I only had one critique, which was minor.

My only critique of Bird’s book is that he could have thought more (for pedagogical purposes) about a “loose” blueprint. In other words, why not move towards a categorization of the stages of transmission as Watson has done. Obviously much of this is guess work, but a good guess can be given for the passing on of any tradition.

My (initial) preferred outline would be the following with a smaller “interpretation + reception” listed in between each stage.

Event > Memory > Tradition > Inscription > Normativization

My point is that Bird could have more explicitly structured his book around something like this. Titles like “The Formation of the Jesus Tradition” could be conceived as being located in any of these steps and leaves something wanting in a conceptual framework for the book.

Read the rest of the review here.


Exodus 1-18

December 1, 2014 — 4 Comments

Interstellar and Love

November 28, 2014 — 1 Comment



Over at Western Seminary’s blog (Trans.formed), I did a short piece on the movie Interstellar. I note the search for transendence, but also point out the theme of love.

What I don’t mention in the review is that Interstellar does touch upon sacrificial love. McConaughey goes into space to save his children, to save the world. Nolan portrays this nearly perfectly in two scenes. The first is when McConaughey is driving away from the farm and tears fill his eyes knowing he may never see his children again. The second comes when McConaughey is in space and viewing the messages from his children. These scenes are emotionally charged because people know Nolan is reaching the deepest part of the human soul.

See the rest of my review here.