So many books, so little time (and money). Here’s a brief guide to some of the best academic theology books of 2018 for all those without the time (or the money) to waste on disappointing reads. For our picks of ‘trade’ religion releases, see the Consuming 2018 post.

Militant Grace: The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology, by Philip Ziegler

Hands down, my favorite book of 2018 – one that I’ll be revisiting for many years to come. Taking his cues from the beloved Gerhard Forde and J. Louis Martyn, Ziegler ventures to outline the parameters of a theology that is wholly dependent upon, and consistent with, the radical inbreaking of the grace of God in the person of Jesus. If you love Fleming Rutledge, Apocalyptic theology or PZ’s Grace in Practice, this is the book for you. Have I dropped enough names to convince you?

Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ, by Fleming Rutledge

Speaking of Rutledge…she has another another book out! If you thought this gem was a strange, in-crowd, Episcopalian book about an often ignored portion of the liturgical calendar, you’d be dead wrong. What appears to be a collection of Advent sermons is really an extended treatise on the life of the Church in between the times of Jesus’ first and final comings. Theology is for proclamation and Rutledge is a master time-keeper.

God’s Two Words: Law and Gospel in the Lutheran and Reformed Traditions, ed. by Jonathan A. Linebaugh

This collection of essays by an all-star cast successfully delineates the Reformed and Lutheran views of Law and Gospel in an uncommon spirit of charity. For all their similarities, the two traditions are significantly dissimilar on a number of fronts. But unlike their theological ancestors, the contributors of “God’s Two Words” are not waging a war by rehearsing ancient debates, but are seeking mutual understanding of difference. In a time when denominational differences are so often swept under the rug in the name of eclecticism, the clarity of this volume is a necessary antidote. Read the intro here.

The Apostles’ Creed: a Guide to the Ancient Catechism, by Ben Myers

Eclecticism, in the hands of a skilled craftsman, can be beautiful and emotionally effective. This is precisely what Ben Myers has accomplished in his popular-level guide to the Apostles’ Creed. Utilizing a wide range of sources, he helps us hear the confession of this creed repeatedly sung by the Church across successive generations. Coupled with his many pastoral insights, the almost-poetry of Myers’ prose takes you by surprise. Ok, maybe this was my favorite book of 2018.

Luther’s Outlaw God, Volume 1: Hiddenness, Evil, and Predestination, by Steven D. Paulson

Paulson is a well-known name in Mockingbird circles – and for good reason. It’s difficult to name a modern theologian who has so thoroughly imbibed the spirit and message of Martin Luther. In this vein, Luther’s Outlaw God does not disappoint! Here, Paulson plumbs the depths of Luther’s concept of the “hidden God” and he is as comical, brilliant, cantankerous, and evangelistic as the old Reformer from Wittenberg. For Luther/Paulson, it is the distinction between the hidden and preached God that serves as the basis for proper distinction between Law and Gospel. So while Paulson refrains from direct commentary on modern theological developments (my only minor disappointment), the Luther that emerges is as contemporary as he is provocative.

Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism, by Kathryn Tanner

What does grace have to do with economics? As it turns out, a great deal! Placing many of the key tenets of capitalism under the scrutiny of the economics of God’s grace, Tanner inquires into how Christian faith should reimagine our business beliefs and practices in a far more devastating fashion than the slogans currently espoused by the neo-liberal left and right. Few stones are left unturned as Tanner provocatively demands one’s allegiance to either Christ or mammon.

Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, by Douglas A. Campbell

Every year offers a new book on The Apostle that should not be missed, and Campbell’s book more than aptly fits the bill – much to my own surprise! Campbell has taken some unconventional positions within Pauline scholarship on the dating/authorship of Pauline epistles and Paul’s argument in Romans. So I did not expect to love this book as much as I did. This is a profoundly pastoral book on Paul, one that captures his heart for mission and discipleship. Very few books on Paul have accomplished such a feat. Complete with study guide questions at the end of each chapter, this book is didactic in the best sense of the word.

The Bible in a Disenchanted Age: The Enduring Possibility of Christian Faith, by R. W. L. Moberly

Whether one comes from a high-minded Mainline Protestantism that views the Bible as a curious historical relic or a fundamentalism hell-bent on preserving inerrancy, the Enlightenment has done some serious damage to how Christians read the Bible today. Equipped with a literary and hermeneutical sophistication that is rare for Biblical studies, Moberly walks the reader through the thicket of historical-critical skepticism that undergirds both liberals and fundamentalists to arrive at faithful reading of scripture that is intellectually coherent and (perhaps even) emotionally satisfying.

Finally, I’d be remiss to not at least mention two of Mockingbird’s own publications from this last year. You can read more about each elsewhere, but I must add my own two cents:

Capon’s Exit 36 has everything his fans have grown to love in his writing – a clear-eyed view of the world and all its sufferings, tragedies, and misgivings, coupled with a full-hearted appeal to the hopefulness of the Gospel.

Larry Parsley’s A Easy Stroll Through a Short Gospel: Meditations on Mark should be your go-to devotional read this coming month. His readings of Mark more than pass the muster of this miserly Bible scholar and the takeaways from most of his reflections genuinely cut to the heart!

CODA:

I know this is a year-end retrospective, but I thought I’d add a short recommendation (or two, or three) that is more topical in nature. I am frequently asked for book recommendations on the subject of the historical Jesus. The bookshelves of Barnes and Noble are filled with the antiquated, yet uncannily persistent, works of critical scholars like Bart Ehrman, Reza Aslan, N. T. Wright or John Dominic Crossan. But what the trade publishing world has yet to realize is that the approach of these authors and those like them has crested and is now receding in popularity within the scholarly world. In my view, alternative works pioneered by Dale Allison, Jens Schröter, and Anthony Le Donne offer far more nuanced and sophisticated approaches to the issue of how the past of Jesus’ ministry can and cannot be retrieved.