I haven’t done a “years best” post in the last few years, but I’ve had more time to read, so it’s time to pass along the goodies I’ve enjoyed this year. Everything on the list was not necessarily released in 2012; rather, the items consist in what I came across and enjoyed. The music list will follow.
Justice: Rights and Wrongs (2008) by Nicholas Wolterstorff. This was the best book I read this last year as I gained a deeper sense of this timely topic. Broadly speaking, Wolterstorff gives his theoretical account of justice in light of his career of activism on behalf of the ‘coloreds’ in South Africa and Christians living in Palestine. Specifically, he argues for an inherent-rights conception of justice that is theistically grounded and biblically rooted. The goal of his theory is to give us ears to hear the cry of pain, to help us see what justice is through the eyes of those who have suffered injustice.
Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (2012) by Alvin Plantinga. This book functions as a nice summary of Plantinga’s thought on the relationship between science and religion. Even if they do not agree, readers will appreciate the methodical way he argues for the compatibility of the theory of evolution and Christian belief, the relevance of and coherence of design arguments, the fecundity of a theistic worldview for scientific reasoning, and the conflict between believing in the reliability of our cognitive faculties and the conjunction of naturalism and evolution. Some might be put off by the fact that Plantinga is only concerned with “Christian belief” rather than “religion” in general, but if you have read anything by Plantinga in the last 25 years, then this shouldn’t be bothersome. While it is technical at times, the author did work hard to make it as accessible as possible. Non-specialists might struggle through it, but its worth the effort.
The Logic of God Incarnate (2001 ) by Thomas V. Morris. This should be considered a Christian classic because it is still very helpful in addressing challenges to the coherence of the Incarnation. It requires some background in metaphysics and logic to fully appreciate, but a patient reader will benefit, nonetheless. I found Morris’ defense of “perfect being theology” persuasive and respected the careful way he lays out “the two-minds view,” a view of the person of Christ I had wrongly deemed implausible. I will be returning to this volume again and again to glean insights about the differences between being merely human and fully human, what is metaphysically possible and what is epistemically possible, and what is essential to an individual and what is essential to a natural kind. This should be required reading for anyone who wants to engage seriously in philosophical reflection on the person of Christ.
Forsaken: the Trinity and the Cross, and Why it Matters (2012) by Thomas McCall. I cannot remember the last time I read a theology book I so thoroughly enjoyed. McCall contends that the fellowship between the Son and the Father was not broken on the cross. Other topics addressed include a theology of the atonement and how it relates to the believer’s justification and sanctification. Nor should I forget to mention that the discussion of God’s simplicity and impassibility helpfully makes sense of the relationship between God’s attributes of love and justice, and his mercy and wrath. I could not recommend it more to new believers, educated laypersons, seminarians, or members of the academy. One whose faith is Christian will be nurtured. Those committed to simplistic slogans will find no refuge in its pages, and that, of course, is a good thing.
The Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice (2010) by Christopher Kaczor. I had the privilege of meeting Chris Kaczor when his book was newly published and I was impressed with how he conducted the dialogue during the colloquium. This is the best defense of the pro-life (or anti-abortion) position in print. Even if one disagrees with the author’s conclusion, one will be challenged by the elegant arguments and vivid thought experiments Kaczor deftly deploys. The book has the virtue of being short, to the point, and cognizant of the vast amount of literature on abortion.
The Elusive God: Reorienting Religious Epistemology (2009) by Paul K. Moser. What is necessary for belief in God, argues Moser, is a shift from thinking “What does God have to do to prove that he exists?” to “What do I have to do to show that I am open to God existing and making claims on my life?” Or as Moser puts it the questions we are responsible for is not “Do we know that a perfectly loving God exists?” but “Are we willing to be known and thereby transformed by a perfectly loving God?” According to Moser, the volitional component to accessing knowledge of God is one that God requires of us–he makes cognitive demands of us so that we will be properly situated to know that he is God and we are not. This book had a big impact on me as it challenged me to think of our knowledge of God as depending on God’s grace and our willingness to come to him on his terms.