The Five Best Books I Read in 2014


The Reign of the Servant Kings, Joseph Dillow

Halfway through the first chapter of The Reign of the Servant Kings I felt the way I imagined David Bazan felt as he wrote the first lyrics of what would eventually become Curse Your Branches, his musical “breakup letter to God.” It wasn’t God I was breaking up with – it was reformed theology. I used to be reformed theology’s biggest advocate. I’d figured out a way to ignore all the questions I’d never found answers to. Questions about anthropology, and eternal rewards, and the relationship between grace and works. Reading The Reign of the Servant Kings I found answers to some of those questions. I also found more questions. One thing was for sure: I could no longer accept five-point Calvinism as a satisfying summation of the Christian experience. The Reign of the Servant Kings is out of print, but it’s been expanded and re-published as Final Destiny. It’s well worth the months it will take you to read it.

Quote: “Here is the key to our modern dilemma. The Reformers feared free grace and, as a result, did not take the Reformation far enough. That is, their doctrine of the saints’ perseverance in holiness compromised the free grace of God. Because the doctrine of justification by faith alone was potentially vulnerable to the charge of promoting license, the Reformers simply could not let go of the notion that works played a necessary part in our final arrival in heaven. Unable to accept that a regenerate man could live a life of sin and still be saved, they included works on the back end of the gospel as the means (result?) of salvation.”


The Artisan Soul, Erwin McManus

I’ve always liked Erwin McManus, but I’ve always felt like I never quite understood him – that is, until I read this book. I read the Artisan Soul in one sitting, feeling in over my head and totally depressed after moving from Austin to Dallas, knowing no one, and starting seminary. And for what seemed like the first time in a long time, I couldn’t stop smiling.

Quote: “It takes courage to not only accept our limitations, but to embrace our potential.”

Between noon and three

Between Noon and Three, Robert Farrar Capon

Capon uses the story of an extramarital affair as source material for a meditation on grace. And it’s staggering. In a whirlwind of thought that defies explanation, I fell in love with Jesus all over again, reminded that grace that isn’t scandalous isn’t grace at all.

Quote: “The life of grace is not an effort on our part to achieve a goal we set ourselves. It is a continually renewed attempt simply to believe that someone else has done all the achieving that is needed and to live in relationship with that person, whether we achieve or not. If that doesn’t seem like much to you, you’re right: it isn’t. And, as a matter of fact, the life of grace is even less than that. It’s not even our life at all, but the life of that Someone Else rising like a tide in the ruins of our death.”

free grace

Free Grace Soteriology, David R. Anderson

Free Grace Soteriology was the first book I read after reading The Reign of the Servant Kings. So many questions answered. So many troubling passages addressed. A systematic dismantling of “Lordship Salvation” – the cruel slavemaster of a belief system that backloads the gospel with works. I found freedom in these pages.

Quote: “For both the Arminians and the Calvinists, one must persevere faithfully until the end of his life or he does not go to heaven. The Arminians claim that the one who does not remain faithful loses his salvation, while the Calvinists claim that one who does not remain faithful never had salvation. In either case, faithfulness until the end of one’s life is the ultimate litmus test for one to spend eternity with God. When a faithful life is made a requirement for salvation, teachers of free grace claim that works have been appended to faith, turning God’s so great salvation into more of a bribe than a gift. It turns the Christian life into a ‘have to’ life rather than a ‘thank you’ life, which is often the difference between a job and a joy.”


Antifragile, Nassim Taleb

I really enjoyed Taleb’s earlier book The Black Swan, despite understanding maybe a fifth of it. Antifragile is better in every way. I applied some of the concepts from this book to fantasy football and made it to the playoffs as the number four seed in a twelve-team dynasty league. For whatever that’s worth.

Quote: “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better”

What were your favorite reads this year? Feel free to comment below.


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