February was a HUGE reading month for me – in terms of both books and number of pages. Here’s a rundown of the 10 books I finished. I read 1 book as part of sermon preparation, 4 books as part of my doctoral studies, and 5 books for pleasure. One book was massive that I started at the end of January. Happy reading!
What Christ Thinks of the Church by John Stott
I love Amazon. Sometimes it provides gems and surprises like no other. I ordered a used copy of this book for $3. A few days later it arrived on my doorstep. I opened it and was blown away. Not only did I find a pristine used copy from 1990 – but its an illustrated edition. It looks new off the shelf including early 90’s formatting. Beautiful. The book nerd in me is thrilled that I picked up this gem for less than a cup of Starbucks.
Besides the surprise of getting an illustrated edition – the content of this books is fabulous. I’m a big fan of the late John Stott. He was an evangelical scholar that wrote with a pastoral tone. This book is thin on pages but thick on quality. This illustrated edition is under 130 pages but provides all you need for a good grasp on the letters to the seven churches found in the book of Revelation. This volume and Eugene Peterson’s Reversed Thunder provide a dynamic duo.
The Emerging Laity: Vocation, Mission and Spirituality by Aurelie Hagstrom
I read this book as part of my Doctorate of Ministry studies. It is on my concentration reading list that will aid in the formation of my final dissertation and project which will look at the connection between mission and vocation. Obvious from the title of this work – it is a direct hit on those points.
Hagstrom, a professor at Providence College, provides a detailed look at Vatican II and its implications on laity and the topic of mission. Obviously written from the Catholic perspective and on the topic of a Catholic document, I was surprised how many amens this Baptist pastor offered up during reading this volume. Vatican II provides a strong connection between baptism and the call to participate in the mission of God. Obviously this theme is near and dear to the baptist church.
With that said, I also think this theme works better with Baptist theology and polity. A similar book must one day be written for the Baptist church. Perhaps I’m up for the task.
Either Or: The Gospel or Neopaganism edited by Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson
This is the second of four books that I read for my doctoral studies this month. This is a thin volume of collected essays that seek to breakdown what the authors believe to be a misguided idea of America as a Christian nation. The collected essays argue that those who believe America to be a Christian nation are blind to the pagan forces that influence much of American church culture. Check out a blurb from the back of the book: “Bible-centered doctrine is being adulterated, and the meaning of Christian living is being compromised by the pagan elements of modern culture. America is a new mission field where the gospel is in a life-and-death struggle with the spirits of the age.” Perhaps a bit overstated.
The essays provides much good work. Yet, lean towards the sensational side. My favorite inflammatory comment follows a discussion on Thomas Jefferson editing out the unacceptable parts of the gospel: “Jefferson was not the last to produce a bowdlerized Scripture to suit his own agenda. Contemporary lectionaries read inner churches every Sunday are doing the same abominable thing with the support of many bishops, pastors, and theologians.” While I’m no fan of the lectionary – this too is a bit overstated.
Real-Time Connections: Linking Your Job with God’s Global Work by Bob Roberts
This is the third work read for my doctoral studies. I’m a big fan of Bob Roberts. I suggest that any church leader pick up his books and give them a long, hard study. Roberts is the pastor of NorthWood Church in Keller, Texas and has led his church in dynamic work all around the world with a heavy concentration on Vietnam. He provides a workable model for churches to follow. In fact, a few years ago I sent him an email and asked for an hour of his time. Over big plates of pasta, he squeezed years of knowledge into an hour of conversation. He was both both generous and profound.
The book encourages church leaders to develop church members to seek God’s call and their own skill, vocation, and passion. Roberts argues that it is through these four things that church members hear God’s full counsel. The argument is made that your job is your ministry. Roberts provides countless examples from his church of this theology and practices at work. He speaks of a plumber who spent his two-week vacation in Vietnam digging water wells and setting up a water purification system. He shares of several doctors who have paid their own expenses to go to Vietnam and set up clinics. He writes of mechanics, carpenters, heating/AC specialists, and teachers who have developed a vocational school for tribal people in North Vietnam. Roberts is clear that this is not a church program but rather church members using their gifts and skills to open the door for ministry. The tension Roberts provides is his pushback against normal mission methods of doing what he refers to as “religious work.” He argues that if you have the proper understanding of the kingdom of God, all the work that a disciples does is religious work. He goes further to say the distinction between religious and secular work is artificial and unbiblical. Once this groundwork is in place, Roberts provides a framework in which a church can engage the society in which it feels called to work.
God Who Sends: A Fresh Quest for Biblical Mission by Francis DuBose
This is forth doctoral work I read for the month. Francis DuBose, after a long pastoral ministry, served as professor of missions and director of urban church studies at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. He is credited with playing huge role in Southern Baptist embracing a theology and practice of urban missions. God Who Sends makes the argument that we often operate without a commonly accepted definition of mission. This book puts forth the idea that mission is sending. Since mission and sending have essentially the same meaning, DuBose calls for a thorough study of Scripture on the topic of mission/sending as one would look for the meaning of covenant, kingdom, grace or any other biblical concept. He does just that.
DuBose shows the character of God through the pages of Scripture by looking at sendings designed to bless, through God’s judgmental sendings designed to correct, and through God’s salvfic sendings designed to redeem. DuBose discusses humanity by showing God’s love reaching each man and women to restore fellowship with himself through restoration and redemption sendings. The book is light on explanation and heavy of Scripture references, citations, and examples.
The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin
This registers in at 750 pages of actual text. I have one more book on Theodore Roosevelt. I have no other books on William Howard Taft. Yet, I can’t imagine any other book more detailed on these subjects than Bully Pulpit. On top of that – Doris Kearns Goodwin also offers a wealth of information on the journalism of the era. This book accomplishes a great deal. I was gripped by the book and only occasionally frightened by the size of it. I’ve actually watched an interview in which Doris Kearns Goodwin tells the true story of a person reading who fell asleep while reading this book which resulted in a broken nose. Once this book is in your hands there is no doubting the validity of the story.
If you are interested in any of the three subject matters this book is a thrilling read. Those only mildly interested will find this book difficult to wade through. Those with no interest in the subject matters will find this to be an oversized paperweight. I recommend it wholeheartedly. It is detailed yet readable. Kearns Goodwin does a masterful job of detailing the Progressive Era through the lens of the friendship of Roosevelt and Taft. Each partner in the friendship is given their due even though history holds Roosevelt in the highest regards. These two friends and U.S. Presidents provide lesson after lesson in friendship and accomplishment until things are ripped apart as they both fight for the 1912 presidential nomination. The book also gives life to a side story of Roosevelt’s use of the press.
41: A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush
This is a delightful read. It is a book by a president about his president father. You can find more objective and detailed biographies of George H.W. Bush – I’d recommend Destiny and Power by Jon Meecham. Yet, you will not find another a book written with the affection of a son writing about his father. It’s part biography and part Thanksgiving dinner conversation.
You don’t get criticism or critique. You can find plenty of that elsewhere. But you will find a son reflection on lessons learned from his father’s many failures and many successes. I appreciated getting a glimpse of the content of handwritten notes from one president to another, the view of the presidency from many difficult angles, and a detailed look at family trying to be a family in the public eye and in service to their country.
This book is noteworthy simply for its rarity. We have very little of President John Quincy Adams writing about his father President John Adams. In fact, this reality drove President George W. Bush to chronicle his thoughts on his father President George HW Bush.
A Peculiar Glory: How Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by John Piper
I’m encouraged by John Piper’s passion and longevity in ministry. He opens the Bible, studies it, and preaches it without reservation. His influence is tremendous. While I disagree with John Piper on more than one theological level, I pray that my ministry follows such a pattern. I picked this book up due to Piper’s influence among college students. He’s a frequent speaker at the Passion Conference, frequently viewed on Youtube, and frequently on the bestseller list. I wanted to read his thoughts on the Bible knowing that much of this material will filter down to college students.
This books serves as a basic introduction to the Bible. The highlight of the book is the opening chapter in which Piper shares his own story of his encounter with the Bible. What follows is a discussion on the make up of the Bible, claims the Bible makes about itself, reasons for trusting the Bible, and ends with Piper’s favorite subject – God’s glory displayed through the Bible. If you’re familiar with Piper’s preaching and theology – there is nothing that will surprise you within these pages. You’ll find a high view of Scripture, much quotation of Jonathon Edwards, and really crisp and clear arguments.
A Same Kind of Different As Me: A Modern-Day Salve, An International Art Dealer and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together by Ron Hall and Denver Moore
This is a hard book to categorize in my mind. It’s a memoir. It’s a call story. It’s a gospel story. It’s mission story. It is also a cancer story. In fact, the cancer part of the book caught me by surprise. I’ve heard many recommendations of this book over the years but I was ignorant to the basic story line. I was about 100 pages in to the book when I arrived at a service station to get my vehicle’s oil changed. I was in a lobby filled with people when I entered the cancer part of the story. Unprepared for such a tug at the heartstrings, I fought back tears as tires were rotated and engines were flushed all around me.
I really enjoyed reading through the book blind in terms of plot line. I think its the best way to read a book like this one. Ultimately, its a great book on God’s ability to move us from our comfort zones and then absolutely demolish our understanding of comfort zones. It is also a powerful testimony of the call to love people in the name of Jesus Christ.
There are a few references to the afterlife – references to angels and post-death appearances – that are a cause for discernment. Yet, overall a book well-worth the read.
God Works in Mischievous Ways: A Memoir by Paul Powell
Paul Powell died not too long ago. I knew him but did not know him well. After many years serving the local church in the role of pastor, Powell did a number of things including serving as the dean of George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University from 2001 to 2007. I entered my first year of seminary at Truett in 2006. My most vivid memories involve Powell complimenting me on my attire. Powell desperately wanted Truett to have a dress code that included long pants and collared shirts. I could have been a poster boy.
My wife had a meeting one night this month and she left me alone for a number of hours while the kids where dreaming the night away. I picked up this memoir and read it from start to finish. It is filled with Powell’s trademark humor and stories of pastoring Texas Baptist churches big and small. It is a powerful testimony of faithfully serving the Lord through pastoral ministry. I really enjoy such books. While Powell spent years serving in a large church, Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, I appreciate his stories from serving in small, rural churches not too far from my own church. If you interested in such stories also check out book like Forty Years a Country Preacher by George Gilbert and Memoirs of An Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson by DA Carson.