Cover Story
Matt Rose

Books of the Year

2014 Books Issue | Excellence in popular theology, history, and analysis

Issue: "2014 Books Issue," June 28, 2014

This year, instead of having one Book of the Year, our committee of five WORLD writers chose an outstanding title in each of three categories—popular theology, history, and analysis. Two more in each category are runners-up, and we’re also spotlighting a book that doesn’t fit in those categories but deserves special recognition.

POPULAR THEOLOGY

WINNER:
What’s Your Worldview?
by James N. Anderson
RUNNERS-UP:
Extravagant Grace
by Barbara R. Duguid
How to Talk to a Skeptic
by Donald J. Johnson

THE ORIGINALITY and conciseness of James Anderson’s What’s Your Worldview? An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions (Crossway) make it our Book of the Year in this category. Structured like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” interactive story, the outcome depends on the choices readers make. What’s Your Worldview? should appeal especially to teens and college students. 

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For example, answering yes to a question about the existence of objective truth takes the reader to the Knowledge question: “Is it possible to know the truth?” A yes answer there leads to the Goodness question: “Is anything objectively good or bad?” That yes answer leads to the Religion question, “Is there more than one valid religion?” A no answer leads to “Is there a God?” followed by “Is God a personal being?” and “Is God a perfect being?” Answering yes to both leads to questions about God communicating with humans, then to questions about Jesus, and eventually to Christianity. 

Other answers start the reader down paths to many other worldviews, including atheistic dualism or idealism, deism or finite godism, Islam or Judaism, materialism or monism, mysticism or nihilism, pantheism or polytheism, relativism or skepticism, Platonism or Unitarianism, and so forth—21 options in all. When readers hit the end of the trail they have chances to think again: For example, those whose answers bring them to deism may reconsider the Communication question by going to page 34, the Perfection question by going to page 32, or the Personality question by going to page 29.  

Some “Choose Your Own Adventure” storylines do not end happily—choose poorly and belligerent goblins await. What’s Your Worldview? demonstrates that most endings are self-contradictory or hard to live with. For example, Anderson asks readers who end up at pantheism, “Are you willing to say that ultimately everything is good and nothing is evil? Perhaps you are. But can you walk the talk as well? Can you live consistently with that result of your worldview?” —M.O.

(Editors note: Listen to an interview with James Anderson on The World and Everything in It.)

THE TENSION BETWEEN law and grace (or works and faith, or legalism and antinomianism) is basic both to the Christian life and the Christian church. We all tend to fall on one side of the fence or the other, and given our basically unbalanced nature, perfect balance is impossible. In Extravagant Grace (P&R), Barbara R. Duguid attempts to sweep aside the dichotomy and frame the issue in terms of 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” “God thinks that you will actually come to know him better as a desperate and weak sinner in continual need of grace than you would as a triumphant Christian warrior who wins each and every battle against sin.”

This might be an especially timely reminder for a church wounded and bleeding in the culture wars. Over our failure rides the truth that God is in control and will work out all things for our good, both in the public arena and in our hearts. A certain tension remains, and a single book can’t settle it once and for all, but Duguid reminds us where grace abounds, and that the greatest strength for a Christian lies in complete and utter dependence. —J.B.C.

(Editor's note: Read an excerpt from Extravagant Grace.)

DONALD JOHNSON'S How to Talk to a Skeptic (Bethany House) rightly criticizes the idea of marketing Christianity as a consumer product to be sold by means of an advertising pitch: It will meet your needs and desires. Instead, he understands that the important question regarding Christianity (or any other religion) is not “What can it do for me?” but “Is it true?” Reacting to each specific assault on Scripture keeps us playing whack-a-mole, so a comparative approach works better with today’s young people. “Talk about which story of the universe is more reasonable to believe: Christianity or something else.” 

To make that case, we should show that “Christianity is the worldview that best accounts for the evidence. Compared to any other worldview an unbeliever cares to offer, Christianity most adequately and comprehensively makes sense of life as we experience it every day.” Johnson shows that defending the reliability of Scripture and the historicity of the resurrection of Christ is crucial, but other bulwarks to faith—such as personal experience of God, our intimate knowledge of being conscious and having a conscience, the overarching unfolding of history, and the way the world and the universe seem designed—may be more relevant to an unbeliever. —M.O.

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