Here’s a rundown of the 9 books I read November. Happy reading!
Basic Christianity by John Stott
I appreciated John Stott as a scholar and an evangelical voice. In leading a Bible study through the book of Acts and writing a doctoral project on Acts, I’ve returned to Stott’s commentary on Acts numerous times a week. This return to Stott’s commentary lead me to pick up this volume.
This is a primer on the essentials of the Christian faith or what CS Lewis described as “mere Christianity.” It is a excellent, concise work. It is divided into four parts. Part one: the claims of Christ, the character of Christ, the resurrection of Christ. Part two: the fact and nature of sin, the consequences of sin. Part three: the death of Christ, the salvation of Christ. Part four: counting the cost, reaching a decision, being a Christian. I don’t know of a book with a similar aim that does a better job.
Preaching From The Inside Out: Charles Bugg
As a preacher I love and loathe books on preaching … but I read all that I can get my hands upon. I love preaching books because the art of preaching is both beautiful and powerful. I loathe preaching books because many treat preaching less like art and more like science. Many preaching books treat preaching less like an act of spiritual formation and more like an academic endeavor. Bugg’s work is a work to love.
Bugg’s work is simple … the best books are preaching are surprisingly basic. I appreciate that it begins with a focus on the spiritual condition of the preacher. This is far too often overlooked in the field of homiletics. After looking at the spiritual condition of the preacher, Bugg moves on to discuss preaching in context and preaching in the midst of worship. All appreciated points by this reader and all points often ignored by other preaching books. After the first section, Bugg moves into familiar territory, in the next two sections. The second section includes chapters on getting inside the text, connecting to text to listeners, and getting into and out of the sermon. The third and final sections deals with specific genres of the Bible and ways to preaching accordingly to genre.
They Smell Like Sheep: Spiritual Leadership for the 21st Century by Lynn Anderson
This book was very popular years ago. I’ve picked it up numerous times but never invested the money or time to read it. That changed when I found it for $1.
Anderson does a great job painting the shepherd metaphor into a picture for church leadership. There is nothing in the book that would be considered deep or profound on its own. Rather, depth is found is Anderson’s slow reflection on the Biblical imagery of shepherding, the shepherd, and the flock.
Part one of the book covers a biblical look at spiritual leadership by detailing what leaders do. Anderson’s offers three roles of leaders that each receive a section: shepherding, mentoring, and equipping. Part two of the book surprised me. In part two Anderson provides a biblical look at elders. That’s right ~ elders. Anderson does not limit the imagery merely to pastors but provides a for a plurality of leadership. He provides a section on a character sketch of elders and a section on the authority of elders. Anderson argues that the three roles of leaders (shepherding, mentoring, equipping) fit all types of spiritual leaders ~ elders, small group leaders, Sunday school teachers, parents, etc. Yet, they are applied first and foremost to elders of the church.
What Happened to the Southern Baptist Convention: A Memoir of the Controversy by Grady Cothen
I found this book by accident and I’m so glad that I did. After reading a few pages, I voiced out loud, “How have I never read this before?!” Cothen writes about the conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention as an insider. After many years in pastoral ministry, Cothen served as the president of Oklahoma Baptist University (1968 to 1970), president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (1970 to 1974) and president of the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board (1975 to 1984). The story he tells of the conflict is not a pretty one. He describes a move from a focus on missions to a focus on fragmentation, a spirit of cooperation to a spirit of schism. Yet, he shares the story with what the reader can sense is a broken heart and he does so with much grace.
For those unfamiliar with the Baptist conflicts of the 70’s and 80’s … I dare not attempt to summarize. Simply put it was a struggle between “conservative” and “liberals” but would be more accurately described as a unnecessary fights between fundamentalists and moderates. If your looking to read on the subject, I can’t recommend a better book than this volume.
Authority: The Critical Issue for Southern Baptist by James Draper
This book was published in 1980 and is representative of the Baptist conflict detailed in the book above. Draper was the fundamentalists choice for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention and served as president from 1982 to 1984. Draper and others put the authority of Scripture at the center of the brutal squabble. Yet, reading this book reinforced my opinion that the fight was unnecessary (as mentioned in the previous review).
Draper’s description of the Bible’s authority is what I hear from people in the pew and preacher’s in the pulpit on a consistent basis ~ even from people and preacher’s Draper would label as “liberal.” The only rub would be the forms of Bible criticisms mentioned in chapter two of this work ~ textual criticism, linguistic criticism, literary criticism, source criticism, and form criticism. If you are unfamiliar with these terms proceed with a Google search. Even in the midst of discussing these forms of criticism (again, if you are unfamiliar with how “criticism” is used in Biblical studies … Google it.), Draper mentions how they are helpful in some circumstances. Yet, the Baptist battle were fought in part by calling those who use these forms “liberals”!
Is God Calling Me? Answering the Question Every Believer Asks by Jeff Iorg
This is a slim volume that attempts to provide clarity to the confusion of calling and missions. Ultimately, I didn’t find Iorg successful.
He recognizes contradicting messages: Some believers claim to be called into ministry, to missions, to the pastorate, or to some other church leadership roles as special instruction from God. Others contradict that narrow understanding with the claim that all believers are equally called to serve God … who is right about all this? Does God call people to serve him in special ways? Are all believers called? To help settle the matter, he provides a definition: A call is a profound impression from God that establishes parameters for your life and can be altered only by a subsequent, superseding impression from God. To put the subject into further focus Iorg outlines three types of calls: 1) A universal call to Christian service 2) A general call to ministry leadership 3) A specific call to a ministry assignment.
While attempting to bring clarity to the contradictions, Iorg merely adds to them. He seems to waver back and forth between narrowing and broadening the missionary call. I finished the book asking the question, “So is everyone a missionary or not?”
Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-given Potential by Gordon Smith
I read the previous book and the current book for my doctoral work on Acts 13. I’m attempting to make a connection between mission and vocation. In that regard, Gordon Smith provides a sturdier model to follow than the one provided by Iorg. Vocation plays a large role in Smith’s framework. He sates, “If a vocation represents a call of God to serve him in the world, then that vocation is sacred because it comes from God. It therefore makes no sense to speak of a secular vocation; such a phrase is a contradiction in terms. A vocation, because it comes from God, is sacred.”
For Smith, this discussion of vocation fits into his larger discussion on the three expression of vocation. The general call: the invitation to follow Jesus, to be Christian. The specific call: a vocation that is unique to each person, an individual’s mission in the world. The immediate call: the tasks or duties which God calls each person at the present time. He explains that the specific call of vocation is only one part of what it means to be a Christian and we must see our specific and unique vocation within the context of all that it means to be called a Christian. He argues that this will “require that we move away from compartmentalization of our lives. We are whole people, complex people, people who fulfill our callings within the whole setting of circumstances, problems and relationships.
Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency by Mark Updegrove
I never grow tired of LBJ books. This one is a bit different but is ultimately a very interesting read. Updegrove constructed this book around original first hand accounts from LBJ himself and those who knew him best. The story of LBJ’s presidency is told through short vignettes written by Updegrove that are supported and enlightened by direct quotes for LBJ’s inner circular without commentary.
It was fascinating to read personal stories about the JFK assignation and subsequent events. Updegrove’s format made for an interesting perspective on the Vietnam conflict. Rather, than an author providing interpretation, readers hear from the decision makers in their own words. I’m working my way up to reading Robert Caro’s massive four-volume biography on LBJ.
A Matter of Character: Inside the White House of George W. Bush by Ronal Kessler
This was not a great book. It reads like hagiography and partisan shots at opponents. Yet, as a resident for Crawford, Texas I’m interested in the presidency of George W. Bush. I’ll read nearly anything. Near the middle of the book Kessler provides a caricature of Crawford:
“Located on a stretch of the Santa Fe railroad line that runs north along the Blackland Prairie, Crawford had one traffic light and four churches for seven hundred residents. A handful of stores lined one side of the two-block span of Main Street, which ran parallel to the railroad tracks and grain silos. The two-man police force was based in a one-room police station.”
Glad to see that in some way First Baptist Church made the book.