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2023 wasn’t the best year for me when it comes to reading; too many other things pushed reading out. Nevertheless, here’s my list from 2023. I try to read from a few categories: philosophy, history, fiction, theology (practical, systematic and biblical) and also some random reads. Here they are, in the order I read them.

1. Alien Encounters: The Secret Behind The UFO Phenomenon, Chuck Missler. 3/5. Missler is one of the few evangelicals willing to wade into the problem without fear of evangelical debunkers and ridicule. His conclusions are correct, in my opinion.

2. Amillennialism and the Age to Come: A Premillennial Critique of the Two-Age Model, Matt Waymeyer. 5/5. Likely the best refutation of amillennialism I have ever read, particularly his treatment of Revelation 20. Outstanding.

3. Developments in Biblical Counseling, J. Cameron Fraser. 5/5. Irenic but fair critique of the biblical counselling movement, particularly the approach of Jay Adams. Helpful contrasts with the second and third generation of biblical counsellors, and with the Puritan approach.

4. The Homiletical Plot: The Sermon as Narrative Art Form, Eugene L. Lowry. 2/5. What began as a very promising thesis steadily dissolved into a welter of liberal cliches. The irony is not small that a book about retaining interest through the suspense of narrative form should dissipate its force steadily as the book goes on. This is a thesis that needs to be taken up by a staunchly evangelical author, committed to expository preaching.

5. Israel, the Church, and the Middle East: A biblical response to the current conflict, Darrell L. Bock, Mitch Glaser (eds.) 4/5. Good, multi-author work on Israel’s relationship to the land, both ancient and modern. A healthy corrective to the anti-Israel sentiment that is growing.

6. The Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries Revealing the Mind Behind the Universe, Stephen Meyer. 4/5. Meyer delves into DNA, Big Bang cosmology (suggesting a beginning), and the finely-tuned cosmos. Written over the my non-scientific head, but nevertheless a highly competent version of the teleological argument.

7. Creation Unfolding: A New Perspective on Ex Nihilo, Ken Coulson. 4/ 5. Coulson’s take on the Mature Creation hypothesis is one of the best treatments. Instead of defending a mere “appearance of age” hypothesis – which seems to make God a creator of false histories – Coulson proposes a Supernatural Formation Process. That is, the same processes visible and occurring today took place in miraculously accelerated form during the creation week. In that way, the creation is simultaneously young and yet contains an actual history, which if extrapolated in uniformitarian terms, would give you vast ages. For accounting for geological processes, I think Coulson’s argument may be the best Young Earth hypothesis.When it comes to extra-terrestrial phenomena, Coulson posits something less attractive: a hypothetical universe, whose history existed in the mind of God and was then created with that mentally imagined history. Here I felt the argument lose its coherence. I was expecting a form of the same Supernatural Formation Process, but he went in a different direction, and it seems like the old appearance of age argument. Here I think Faulkner’s dash theory is much more coherent.

8. The Father of Lights: A Theology of Beauty, Junius Johnson. 4/5. Johnson writes one of the most intricate, analytical and thoughtful treatments of beauty, from a Christian point of view. His writing, at times, becomes too philosophically demanding for all but the naturally brilliant or the ardently curious. His discussion of contuition, metaphor, analogy, language and signs is rarely discussed but necessary to understand God’s beauty in all of life. However, I parted ways with him in his views of sacraments and icons.

9. Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today, John Stott. 4/5. Stott’s treatment is beginning to show its age, but it remains an excellent source for preachers.

10. The Logic of the Body: Retrieving Theological Psychology, Matthew LaPine. 3/5. This is a demanding book, because of LaPine’s careful and detailed scholarship. His central thesis is that much in evangelical theology does not properly consider the role of the body in shaping and affecting emotion and responsibility. It fails to view the body as providing habituation, plasticity, forms of perception that ultimately affect cognition and emotion. 
LaPine calls on Aquinas as the best example of a ‘tiered psychology’- one whose more baroque theological anthropology had plenty of nuance in terms of forms of upper and lower cognition, appetite and perception. Aquinas saw the body as playing a serious role in human perception, cognition and passion. Much of the book I agreed with, parts were genuinely illuminating, and I fully agree that some biblical counselling is in desperate need of getting away from Bob Newhart’s “Stop it!” mode of treating people. 
I disagreed with LaPine’s wholesale rejection of the concept of affections, and his rather swift dismissal of the work of Thomas Dixon. I think he does this because he dislikes the harder disjunction between upper/lower, affections/passions, rational/irrational, that is found in Dixon and also in Edwards. Lapine wants more blended concepts, to account for the complexity of emotions. He also wishes to include concepts of the unconscious, or irrational, in the entire makeup of man.
I don’t think one has to reject the concept of affections so as to properly include the body in one’s theological anthropology. Some of LaPine’s conclusions I can accept tentatively, some I’ll have to suspend judgement on until a later time. However, I think he would do better to abandon the term ’emotions’ altogether.

11. From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present, Jacques Barzun. 5/5. This mammoth, monumental work dwarfs the average reader. Its expansive scope (the West from 1500 to 2000) tracks wars, customs, governments, personages, technologies, and above all, art. Barzun believes the art is a mirror of the culture, and therefore spends considerable time on composers, writers, painters, poets, essayists, sculptors and philosophers. He does so effortlessly, with a gargantuan grasp of history, possible only for a man who wrote the book at 93, and lived to 104. The final chapter, which describes life in the early 21st century, is nightmarishly accurate in its assessment of our civilisation having come to profound decadence.

12. What about Free Will?: Reconciling Our Choices with God’s Sovereignty, Scott Christensen. 3/5. Christensen ably defends compatabilism. While compatibilism is likely the best candidate for reconciling divine sovereignty and human freedom, its Achilles heel is its inability to explain the origin of evil in Adam or Satan’s fall. It seems compatibilism must yet borrow something from libertarianism to fully explain the moral nature of the the universe. It can assert ‘mystery’ on the question of Adam’s fall, but then a libertarian may as well assert ‘mystery’ on how the power of contrary choice, alternative possibilities or indeterminate choice can be foreknown by God, or be morally worthy. I feel both systems are simply asserting mystery in those places where their logic leads them to absurd or unwanted dead-ends.

13. Hand in Hand: The Beauty of God’s Sovereignty and Meaningful Human Choice, Randy Alcorn. 3/5. Alcorn attempts to carve a middle path between soft libertarianism and soft determinism, but it isn’t clear what that is, except that Alcorn believes compatibilism is largely correct and yet contrary choice is also true.

14. The Spirit, the Affections, and the Christian Tradition, Dale Coulter (ed.). 3/5. An uneven quality of essays, some very helpful; some missing the point by a mile. None came close to defending Pentecostalism with historical evidence. Coulter’s introduction was actually my favourite essay.

15. The Philosophical Theology of Jonathan Edwards, Sang Hyun Lee. 5/5. Enormously insightful summary of Edwards’ metaphysics. Edwards both synthesised classical theism, and re-imagined it. His dispositional ontology is a lot closer to what some forms of speculative physics now posit.

16. Daddy Dates: Four Daughters, One Clueless Dad, and His Quest to Win Their Hearts: The Road Map for Any Dad to Raise a Strong and Confident Daughter, Greg Wright. 4/5. Wright does not offer anything biblical, though his practical ideas are helpful and instructive for any father of daughters.

17. Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards, Kyle Strobel. 3/5. Strobel has done a solid job at summarising Edward’s theology of the Christian life and detailing some of his practices. The writing is often rather prosaic and I found it difficult to focus. Ortlund’s book on Edwards and the Christian life is to be preferred.

18. Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, Edward Craig. 2/5. More aptly, “A Very Short Introduction to Some Philosophers Edward Craig Prefers”.

19. Aesthetics: A Very Short Introduction, Bence Nanay. 2/5. Aesthetics that is non-Western, non-judgmental, non-moral, purely relative, and entirely experiential.

20. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain. 4/5. Cain’s treatment of introversion is the best I have read, and quite helpful for understanding relationships, personalities, and leadership.

21. Ethics: A Very Short Introduction, Simon Blackburn. 1/5. Blackburn, it appears, studied ethics under Richard Dawkins.

22. Metaphysics: A Very Short Introduction, Stephen Mumford. 4/5. A basic and accessible introduction to some difficult topics.

23. Philosophy: A Christian Introduction, James Dew & Paul Gould. 4/5. Really thorough treatment of the major philosophical topics with strong Christian foundations. Only thing missing is a treatment of aesthetics.

24. Spiritual Classics: Selected Readings on the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines, Richard Foster (ed.) 3/5. A less helpful selection of readings than the companion volume, Devotional Classics.

25. An Introduction to Christian Philosophical Theology: Faith Seeking Understanding, Stephen Davis, Eric Yang. 3/5. A helpful introduction to the major philosophical questions that emerge from certain Christian doctrines. At times, I wished the authors would defend their own chosen positions more decisively.

26. Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture, John Piper. 4/5. Piper’s defence of the Word as the means of perceiving God’s beauty is excellent. Some material is repeated from When I Don’t Desire God and other works.

27. Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, John Gray. 3/5. Gray’s book is truly a mixed bag. There are some remarkably good insights regarding how men and women are different: how we process problems, how we communicate, how we ‘keep score’, how we view help and support, and so on. It’s even hard to imagine this book being written today amidst all the gender chaos. His clear demarcations of male and female are a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, the book is marred by plenty of secular psychological assumptions: that all feelings deserve to be validated, that our unparented emotions need to be found and validated, and that rebuke and correction are never really warranted. Little sanctification will take place in this setup, for all reactions and emotions are tolerated, condoned and worked around. 
For a discerning Christian, the male-female insights are worth ploughing through the rest. For those unsettled in their convictions about self-esteem, self-love etc., I would not recommend it.

28. Dune, Frank Herbert. 4/5. Herbert’s worlds suggest a thick cosmology, and yet with enough crossover to our world for familiarity to make sense of the situation. Justly loved for its intricacies.

29. The Hiddenness of God, Michael Rea. 3/5. Rea tackles the hiddenness objection to God in methodical, arithmetical fashion.

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