Here’s a rundown of the 8 books I read in February. It’s an above average collection that includes two commentaries, a presidential biography, a running memoir, and more. Happy reading!
Acts: The Gospel of the Spirit by Justo Gonzalez
I love Biblical commentaries. It’s a great joy for me to rummage through used bookstores piecing together my collection. This past month I read two commentaries cover to cover as I studied the book of Acts. This is a new habit for me. I typically use commentaries on an as-needed basis. Yet, I have recently added commentary reading as part of my spiritual disciplines. Both commentaries mentioned in this log are tremendous works of scholarship and pastoral insight.
Gonzalez’s commentary is a work in translation. It was originally written in Spanish and was designed to provide contemporary scholarship while addressing the needs of Christians in Latin America and Latino churches in the United States. The format of the text reveals these two primary objectives. One typeface is used to discuss “the text in its context” and another for for “the text in our context.” It works.
The book does not lack on the scholarship side. Gonzalez provides plenty of exegetical work and highlights the connection of themes along the Acts narrative. The application side is just as solid. With the admitted target audience of Christians in Latin America, Gonzalez provides pointed theological and practical application. The specificity provides an enjoyable read that’s free from vague generalities. Yet, the specificity does not exclude the general audience. Readers can easily move from the author’s targeted audience to their own since the theological and practical application is developed so well.
Acts (Teach the Text Commentary Series) by David Garland
I’m always amazed at the productivity and academic accomplishments of Garland. It seems like yesterday he published a 1,000 page commentary on Luke’s Gospel (I recommend all volumes in Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Garland’s Luke volume is pure gold). Yet, here is another incredible work that reads as if it took a lifetime to write.
As I’ve stated before on this log, I love the Teach the Text Commentary Series but I’m frustrated that Baker has pulled the plug and the series won’t be completed. I own every volume and would love the complete set. As in any series, the volumes are not created equal, but I love the format of each volume. This is now the second volume in this series that I’ve read cover to cover (with another two almost nearly finished). To read a commentary cover to cover is almost impossible in many series due to size and technical detail. The Teach the Text Series breaks books down into manageable sections and merely hits key points and difficult passages in the exegetical work. It also provides big ideas and key themes in bulleted format for each section along with numerated teaching points and illustrative material.
Garland’s work is insightful. I’ve been reading tons of commentary on Acts due to my Doctor of Ministry work. While this volume is slim and less technical than other I’ve read, it does not lack scholarship. The material provided is helpful. Can you ask for more from a commentary?
Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today by Craig Keener
I stumbled on this book while walking through the library at Baylor University. I had already collected my books and was walking to the door when the name “Keener” caught my attention. I pulled it from the shelf and added it to my stack. I spent about 10 minutes reading it before I purchased my own copy on Amazon. I wanted a copy I could mark up.
Keener is a topnotch scholar. I’m currently working with his three volume commentary on Acts. It is tremendous. I don’t know if I’ve read anything as thorough and precise. Surprising to me as I started reading this volume, Keener freely describes himself as a charismatic and fills the book with anecdotes. He shares his personal experiences with the spiritual gifts to also include what some call the “supernatural gifts.” Yet, this highly anecdotal nature of the book does not diminish the academic credibility of the book. Keener make the Bible the centerpiece while providing context for the exegetical work with personal experiences and reflections.
I have not read a wealth of books on this subject but I can’t imagine a better one.
Love Big Be Well: Letters to a Small Town Church by Winn Collier
This book was given to me by a good friend after I was a guest in his “Life and Work of the Pastor” class. It was a joyful surprise to find it in my PO Box.
Collier provides a unique book in regards to format and content. As the title suggests, it is a collection of fictional letters written by a pastor to his church. The letters are light hearted yet weighty. They provide a bit of a chest x ray into the inner workings of a pastoral heart. While the fictional pastor comes from a church background unlike my own (to include liturgy and numerous references to alcohol), I agreed with many sentiments raised through the onside conversation the book provides.
I’ve been the pastor of First Baptist Crawford for the 8.5 years. I’m called here. I’m called to walk alongside this church and community. I desire nothing more than to be faithful to God in serving this church. We need less “how to” books on pastoral ministry and more books that display what it looks like to love a group of people while helping to guide them to Christlikeness.
Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World by Henri Nouwen
Nouwen’s books are simple. I mean that with all due reverence. He does not cloud his books with scholarship or pretensions. He merely has a word to share. Sometimes I’m ready for them and sometimes I’m not.
I was slowly reading this book often thinking to myself, “Nothing to see here. Nothing to see.” That is until I came to a story about blessing. Nouwen shares a story about the power of speaking a blessing into someone’s life. Not the type of blessing you see from TV preachers. But something different. Nouwen, working in a learning disabled community, was to provide a blessing to a particular member. He stood and said, “Janet, I want you to know that you are God’s Beloved Daughter. You are precious in God’s eyes. Your beautiful smile, your kindness to the people in our house and all the good things you do show us what a beautiful human being you are. I know you feel a little low these days and that there is some sadness in your heart, but I want you to remember who you are: a very special person, deeply loved by God an all the people who are here with you.” Immediately afterward, hands shot up into the air requesting a blessing as well.
Sometimes you are not prepared for a book. I was not prepared for this book until this passage woke me up. I finished the remainder of the thin book in one quick sitting.
As the subtitle suggests, this book has an interesting origin and objective. The book stems from friendship in which Nouwen was asked, “Why don’t you write something about the spiritual life for me and my friends?” He did just that. This book is written as a response to that question and reads like a conversation between two friends.
Common Sense Church Growth by Howard Batson
Ignore the title. This is not a book promoting quick and easy steps to explosive church growth. Rather, this is a seasoned pastor sharing his experience with things that work and things that sputter. Batson is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas and has served that church well and provided a tremendous model to follow. I’ve had the pleasure being in the room with Batson on a few occasions and recently had a couple of phone conversations with him. He is a voice worthy of your ear. The book is a dated, written in 1999, but still provides many helpful tools. You’ll also have to look past 90’s book formatting style!
Watson provides valuable insights to establishing a healthy pastoral ministry, building church staff, developing programs, devising an effective outreach plan, creating a positive self image for the church, and issuing a clear call to commitment. My favorite quote from the book, “Dancing bears will draw a crowd, but is entertainment the goal of worship?”
Bush: Jean Edward Smith
I have extreme interest in Bush biographies for two reasons. First, I was a senior in high school during the 2000 election and the 2004 was the first presidential election in which I was allowed to cast a vote. As you know, Bush won both elections and both were the stuff made for TV dramas. Second, I call Crawford, Texas home. Crawford served as the “Western Whitehouse” for 8 years and plays a key role in any Bush biography.
Smith provides a blistering critique of Bush and the Bush administration. Not surprising for this is a popular trend. Yet, I was surprised by the angle that he took to get there. Smith tells a lesser told story of Bush as the decision maker. Prior to the start of the book Smith offers the words of George W. Bush, “There’s not going to be any question about who’s in charge. Decisions are going to come to my desk, and I’m going to be the one making them. I am THE DECIDER.” Smith credits Bush for two things: expanded American free trade and leading the global fight against AIDS. He criticizes Bush for just about everything else.
Smith sees Bush’s mistakes as a product of two things. First, his religious belief. Smith argues that Bush’s faith led him to see the world as black and white, good and evil. This led him to make decisions without critical thought. Second, his administration that enabled and enforced. Smith argues that Bush’s administration turned Bush’s instincts and intuition into policy without providing other options or a wider view of the world.
While I appreciate this newness the book offers, it becomes predictable half way through the book. Once you understand Smith’s angle, you know who he will treat every situation.
The Lure of Long Distances: Why We Run by Robin Harvie
At the core of this book is Harvie’s yearlong preparation to run 150 miles from Athens to Sparta, a race known as the Spartathlon. When the book touches on that subject it provides a tremendous running memoir. Yet, Harvie, at numerous and lengthy points, attempts to turn this running memoir into something else.
Harvie leads the book deep inside rabbit trails that cover literature, history, social sciences, and much more. In another book these might be helpful and worthy deviations. Here they are merely distractions. I pick up a running memoir to hear the runner’s story. In a good running memoir ~ that’s enough. My favorite is Adharanand Finn’s Running with the Kenyans.
The books leads up to the Spartathlon race itself. Yet, the story gets rushed. I wanted more. Lots more of the actual race.