Here’s a rundown of the 7 books I read last month. This month’s log is a great example of my tendency to randomly binge read on a certain topic. I planned to read a Eugene Peterson book on Jeremiah ~ which lead me to read Peterson’s pastoral biography (one of my all-time favorites). This led me to read two more pastoral biographies. Enjoy. Happy reading!
The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting The Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross (Vol One The Cruciform hermeneutic) by Greg Boyd
I’ve anticipated this book for along time. Greg Boyd is not only an incredible scholar and theologian, he is also an active pastor. This characteristic is more rare than people like to admit. Boyd preaches and pastors each week and this pastoral experiences drips from every book that he writes. Yet, this does not take away from his high level of scholarship. This book is an academic specimen with the footnotes to prove it.
I listen to Boyd’s preaching each week via podcast. For the past decade, through podcasts and blogs, I’ve heard the germination of the ideas of this book. The ideas germinated for so long that the book has been published as two volumes combined for over a 1,000 pages! The first volume make the case for his argument.
Boyd contends that the centrality of the crucified Christ provides an alternative view of the warrior God often depicted in the Old Testament. He argues for readers of the Bible to “discern the self sacrificial, indiscriminately loving, nonviolent God revealed on the cross in the depths of the Old Testament’s sometimes horrifically violent depiction of God.” Ultimately, his aim is for “the revelation of the agape~loving and sin~bearing crucified God” to allow for “the permanent crucifixion of the violent warrior god.” Those quotes are backed up with tons of historical and Biblical evidence. Boyd leaves no stone unturned in the 628 pages of volume one. He looks at arguments from history that both agree and disagree with his thesis and speaks to both sides. He looks at Biblical examples that support his thesis and Biblical passages used to argue against it. Once again, he speaks to both sides.
I now joyfully move on to volume two. For those interested in the topic but frightened by an academic work of over a 1,000 pages, Boyd will soon release a popular version (nonacademic and readable size) of the two volume set titled Cross Vision.
Run With The Horses by Eugene Peterson
I considered Eugene Peterson a mentor, even though we’ve never met. He has taught me countless lessons through the pages of his work. He has a reserved shelf in my office. In some strange way, I find comfort in knowing his wisdom and experience is at my fingertips.
I was a few chapters into this work when Peterson made social media waves due to a interview in which he seemingly expressed a change in his view on marriage. This revelation causes a dust up among blogs, Christian news sources, and booksellers. After a few days of hysteria, Peterson clarified his statements and affirmed the traditional view. I don’t know how to file the entire ordeal, but I do know that Peterson’s impact on my pastoral identity is set in stone.
This book is a great illustration of Peterson’s academic capability and his pastoral sensitivity. The book covers the book of Jeremiah, not in its entirety, but in great detail. Peterson pulls certain passages throughout the prophet’s writing and provides historical details, insightful comments, and an overdose of congregational application. A great companion volume for those studying Jeremiah.
The Pastor by Eugene Peterson
Reading Run with the Horses made me return to Peterson’s pastoral biography. Without exaggeration I’ve read this volume no less than half a dozen times. It has started to show the wear of a frequently handled book. It deserves such treatment. It is a brisk walk through a life devoted to God and pastoral ministry.
Peterson’s ministry is a direct assault against the pastor as CEO model. Rather, he provides a blueprint for the contemplative model. He demonstrates leadership not through decision making, conflict management, or capital fundraising. Rather, he demonstrates shepherding a flock through a life devoted to prayer, Scripture, and obedience. Yet, the book never preaches or wags a finger at the reader. Instead, Peterson, with the humility that comes from experiences, merely shares the wisdom gained from lessons learned the hard way.
A few of my favorite moments include Peterson beating up a school yard bully and forcefully leading the bully to Christ, Peterson filling out denominational reports with fictional stories confident that they were going unread, Peterson planting a church in his basement and seeing it grow through pastoral care, Peterson dealing with the ups and downs of ministry, and Peterson finding the balance between being a father and being a pastor.
Too Great A Temptation: The Seductive Power of America’s Super Church by Joel Gregory
Reading Peterson’s bio led me to return to another beloved pastoral biography. I consider Peterson a mentor from a distance but I know Dr. Gregory on a personal level. He taught my first preaching course in seminary and also led my first doctoral seminar on the same subject. I’ve shared the stage with him in worship and I’ve shared a table with him over heaping plates of BBQ. Hearing Gregory’s voice in my head makes reading the book even more interesting.
Too Great A Temptation is a cautionary tell about the seductive allure of power and prestige. The book details the courting process that brought Gregory to the pulpit of the First Baptist Church of Dallas as pastor in 1991. For two years he shared with the pulpit with the legendary WA Criswell. Yet, shortly after his arrival, Gregory realized Criswell had no desire to follow through with the promise to retire. The tension mounted until Gregory submitted his resignation on a Wednesday night in 1992 and slipped into a getaway car with security protection. The story is a must read for pastors. It’s a classic example of the old adage, “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.” In fact, the other side could be filled with unmet promises, relational turmoil, and the other side could force you out of the ministry. At the end of the two year period details in this volume, Gregory is selling prepaid funerals and burial property as a door to door salesman.
I’m thankful to know Dr. Gregory and the rest of the story. After a long period away from the public eye, Dr. Gregory remerged to teach young seminarians the subject of preaching. He slowly began to accept invitations to preach and now spends most weekends traveling the word filling pulpits and preaching the gospel in powerful ways through his incredible grasp of the Scripture, unmatched communication skill, and the redemption story that is his life and ministry. The rest of the story is a dramatic glimpse of God’s grace.
Life is Mostly Edges: A Memoir by Calvin Miller
In an act of binge reading I moved on to my third pastoral biography. Miller provides a truer memoir than the previous two mentioned. Peterson’s is heavily a pastoral bio, Gregory’s is laser focused on a two year time period, while Miller’s volume spans his childhood, pastoral ministry, and beyond. It spends significant time looking at his upbringing by telling humorous stories of his family and hometown of Enid, Oklahoma. It discuss his pastoral life through highlights and lowlights. It touches on his post pastor life spent as a professor during the years of the Baptist wars over seminary education.
Miller is an underrated voice in my opinion. His writing can be highly poetic, highly comical, and understatedly profound ~ all on a single page. His books range from allegorical works of poetry, textbooks on preaching and communication, spiritual formation pieces, and extremely well written children’s books, just to scratch the surface.
Here’s a bit of my favorite story from Life is Mostly Edges. Miller recounts his relationship with a pastor friend who lost his vision. This friend’s loss of vision resulted in a deep relationship with God which subsequently grew his church. During this same time period, Miller experienced a dark season in ministry. Here is conversation Miller relays,
He only laughed and finally, like Samson in Phylistia, told all his heart. “I’m glad I lost my vision,” he said. “Know why?”
“I cannot possibly understand why you would say such an irresponsible thing.”
“Because for twenty-nine years I could see, I loved the church, the hymns, the ministry, Sundays. In short, I loved the things of God. But now, in this wonderful darkness, I love God. Do you get what I’m saying?”
“Sort of,” I said.
I love the subtle response.
Profiles in Courage by John F Kennedy
My presidential reading for the month was not a biography of a president but a biography written by a president. Profiles in Courage won JFK the pulitzer prize for biography. In the work he profiles a number of senators who performed their role with a tremendous amount of courage. The profiles are crisp and informative and Kennedy sets each profile in context with a well written vignette of the cultural and political time of each case study.
The introduction chapter is worth the price of admission. Kennedy provides reasons why senators lack courage through outlining the mentioned and unmentioned pressures faced by politicians. First, is the pressure to be liked. Politicians are by nature social animals and desire the approval of friends and colleagues. Second, is the pressure on the conscientious Senator. In public life Senators are expect to sacrifice private interest to permit the national good to progress. At time this works for or against conscious. Third, and the most significant source of pressure, is the pressure of the constituency, interest groups, organized letters writers, and average voter. They can’t be ignored.
The bulk of the book highlights individual senators who faced these pressure and did extraordinary things. Some names and stories are familiar, others are brought to life by Kennedy’s pen. The lineup includes: John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Burton, Edmund Ross, George Norris, and Robert Taft. Kennedy also provides a catch all chapter that includes “other men of political courage.”
Adapt or Die: Principles from an American General by Rick Lynch
I read this book while spending the 4th of July with my parents. The book was sitting on a reading table located in my parents “quiet room.” The book grabbed my attention due to the author, a family friend. My father spent 34 years in the US Army and for a number of years served alongside Gen. Lynch. That’s all it took for me to pick the book up and finish it in a day.
I generally consider most leadership books 90% fluff and 10% content. A good leadership books simply makes good use of the 10% of content. Perhaps it is impossible to write a leadership book without filling it with axioms, catchphrases, and often repeated lines. The 10% of content is comprised of what preachers call the “lived experiences” the author provides. The 10% of content is weak if the lived experiences are flat, generic points of application. On the other hand, the 10% of content comes alive if the lived experiences are derived from the author’s unique experiences or areas of expertise. Gen. Lynch comes through on this end. After the expected catchphrases, Lynch provides lived experiences from his wartime experience.