Here’s a rundown of the 10 books I read in April. It is a diverse collection that contains a few gems. Happy reading!
King’s Cross: The Story of the World in The Life of Jesus by Timothy Keller
I’m preaching through the high points in Mark’s gospel. In preparation for the series, among a lot of commentary work, I read through Keller’s book. While you can’t tell from the title, this volume is a running commentary on Mark. It doesn’t tackle every verse but covers much ground.
Keller does great exegetical work but also brings in tons of illustrative material. The book is not a collection of sermons nor a technical commentary. It fits some strange place in between these two poles. It deals directly with the Scripture ~ to the point that it actually includes the Scripture text in block quotes. Yet, each chapter has tremendous flow and can easily be read for the sake of enjoyment as you would read any other book. It is also extremely valuable for those looking for insight into Mark’s gospel. For the preacher, it is a great example of bringing the word of the Lord into the living room of readers.
When I was in NYC last May I attended Keller’s church on the day they opened a new campus. He preached live and in person at the new campus (I assumed he was going to be on a screen). Let me just say … NYC is not Crawford, Texas.
The Philippian Fragment by Calvin Miller
I have long been a fan of Calvin Miller. Yet, I was unaware of this volume until I came across a reference to it in the Baptist Standard. Once placing my eyes on the reference, I put my Amazon “Buy with one click” button to good use.
Miller wrote this brilliant volume with his tongue planted firmly in his check. You might say this book, published in 1982, was the Babylon Bee before the Babylon Bee. It is comprised of fictional letters from the second century between Eusebius of Philippi and his beloved friend, Clement. Through humor and cunning insight, Miller demonstrates how many battles confronted by the church never go away. Rather, they merely rear their ugly head time and time again. This book will be moved into my all-time favorites category. Here’s a taste of it:
“Atticus moved to Thessalonica where there was a large congregation. There it was easier to stay unnoticed. One of the Thessalonians deacons informed me that our late friend left in anger one Sunday morning when the pastor could not immediately recall his name.” (page 129)
” It has not been more than a few decades since our Lord walked the planet and there are now hundreds of souls making trips to their Holy Land in search of relics of one kind or another. Last year Zelpha of Iconium found a board that was supposed to be a part of the cradle where Christ slept as a body. Being somewhat of a devotionalist, Zelpha kisses the wood each morning; then holds it up toward Nazareth and prays in the name of the Infant King. She is certain God hears her prayers and even if He doesn’t, the board sure brings her good luck.” (Page 146)
Paul: A Very Brief History by John Barclay
This title is extremely accurate. Yes, it is about the Apostle Paul. Yes, it is very brief. The book is a mere 87 pages contained in 7.5 x 0.9 x 5.2 inches dimensions. You can get it for $13 on Amazon. Depending on what you’ve previously read … it’s worth the money. It is the fourth volume in a series that provides brief histories on a number of biblical subjects.
The book gives you the concise nuts and bolts of Pauline studies. Barclay covers: Paul in the early Christian moment, Paul’s letters and their historical situations, Paul and the Jewish tradition, Paul’s churches in the Roman world, Early images of Paul, Paul as Scripture, Augustine and the Western Church, Paul in the Protestant tradition, Paul in Jewish/Christian relations, Paul as social cultural critics. His reflections highlight modern scholarship, to include discussion on disputed and undisputed Pauline letters.
Does the book add anything new? It does not seem so but it does give an authoritative overview. Is this book helpful? For those not well read in Pauline studies … absolutely. It is precise and concise (a great duo). It is also a beautifully formatted and packaged book.
Barclay is a bonafide scholar. I would heartily recommend his book Paul and the Gift, which made my favorite books list of 2015). It is the opposite of brief.
From Members to Disciples: Leadership Lessons from the Book of Acts by Michael Foss
This thin volumes achieves it goal of attempting to highlight the difference between the membership model and the mission model. Foss argues that the membership model of church began to break down in the early 1970’s and became a full collapse in the 1980’s. He attributes the collapse to two factors: First, the model was unable to adapt to the changing expectations of a new generation. Second, it was a matter of language. “Membership” once carried with it both an expectation of privileges as well as responsibility but in the 21st century it meant privilege with little or no responsibility.
Foss promotes a mission model by looking at key points in Acts: Acts 1, Acts 2, Acts 6, Acts 8, Acts 16:6~10, and Acts 28. His reflections are theologically pointed and he makes great exegetical statements and highly practical applications. His illustrations are hearty and helpful. His section on the need to de-credential your church is worth the price of admission.
Overcoming Sin by John Owen
I read the 2006 Crossway edition of this work edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor. This edition parties Overcoming Sin with another Owen work, Temptation. It is a wonderfully edited with section headings and italicized points. The editors have also updated the language (Owen’s work was published in 1656 titled Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers) but have maintained a sense in which you know this was from the pen of a different era.
The book is a dense theological treaty on sin. Owen takes a massive sledgehammer to the notion that sin is acceptable in the life of the follower of Jesus Christ. Many might read the previous line and begin to say, “Well, we are only human. We are going to sin from time to time.” With that line of thinking … you’ve proven Owen’s point. Sin must not be excused. It is destructive. Rather, through the power of the Holy Spirit, it should be put to death.
This is not the type of book to breeze through in a few sittings. Owen adds no fluff. Every sentence warrants deep reflection and is often followed by direct Scripture quotes or easily recognizable Biblical allusions. It is the type of book that requires a pen in hand and notes in the margin.
Holy Fire: A Balanced, Biblical Look at the Holy Spirit’s Work in Our Lives by RT Kendall
This is a topic that has been of great interest to me in the last year. If you follow my book log, you’ve seen the number of books with similar subtitles. I’m still working on my pneumatology (doctrine of the Holy Spirit). It is much less developed than my Christology (doctrine of Jesus).
I first developed interest in the work of RT Kendall when he preached a sermon at a chapel service of George W. Truett Theological Seminary during a week when I was on campus for a Doctor of Ministry seminar. It was a profound message on prayer. And I don’t mean profound in a seminary chapel profound kind of way. It was a fervent call to prayer built on the idea that God actually responds to prayer. He admonished the crowd to pray. This sermon lead me to read a couple of Kendall’s books that I already owned ~ his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount and his biography of his time as pastor of Westminster Chapel in London. When looking for books on the topic of the Holy Spirit, I was glad to see this recently published (2014) work.
The book is written from Kendall’s Reformed Charismatic position. Yes, you read that correctly. While those two descriptions seems to be at odds with each other, Kendall makes it work. He does a tremendous job stating his position from Biblical texts, refuting those who might disagree, and giving his personal testimony.
Kendall provides defense of his affirmation of miracles, healings, and yes, speaking in tongues. Those who disagree with Kendall will not be persuaded. It will be dismissed as biased and anecdotal. Those who agree with Kendall will benefit from such a solid treatment of Bible passages and critiques of opposing views.
Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations by Amy Chua
This is a volume from my local library. One of my reading goals for this year is to make better use of the library. I’m seeking to buy less books and support the library more. This month’s log actually shows progress.
This is a perfect book to read from the library. It is an interesting topic and an extremely breezy read. While I loved the topic, main points but the book proved to be lackluster. As a pastor I’m extremely interested in group dynamics and group instinct. I believe the local church is the greatest force for change and the church is ultimately … a group. I was looking for a robust discussion. Yet, Chua fills the book with helpful anecdotes but quickly follows them with sensational statements. It is light on facts and heavy on tweets.
Chapters cover American exceptionalism, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Terror tribes, Venezuela, Inequality in America, and American democracy and political tribalism.
How God Fix Jonah by Lorenz Graham Illustrated Ashley Bryan
I stumbled upon this one. I was in the library at Baylor University looking for kid’s books to read to my daughter when my eyes ran across the spine of this book. I thought to myself “Is that a typo?” when I noticed the odd grammar in the title. I pulled it off the self and found a gem that seems to be oddly placed among the kid’s books.
How God Fix Jonah was first published in 1946 and contains Bible stories offered in the idiom of the West African Native. It’s first edition contained a foreword written by WEB DuBois. He said, “This is the stuff of which literature is made; and in the lore of the world, the literature of Africa has its place, although this is often forgotten. Climate, the slave trade, and the Industrial Revolution have made the preservation of African literature depend more on traditional folklore than on written record. These modern bits of poetry rescued from passing oblivion remind us of what Africa has though and done in the long past.” I spent much time reading through Bible stories of the Old and New Testament. The book also contains wonderful pieces of art.
Here is a taste of the title story:
Jonah was a prophet.
God put Him hand on Jonah
But Jonah head be hard.
Jonah head be hard too much.
Lord God Almighty can fix the thing.
Can fix hard head
Can fix weak back
Can fix crooked leg.
God can fix anything.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This was yet another library read. Score. I feel inadequate offering my thoughts on this one. The more I think about it, the more I feel as if I did not fully comprehend it. Perhaps I didn’t comprehend it at all.
The book comes in the form of a letter from Coates to his 15-year-old son who is trying to come to grips with blatant racial justice. The book is part autobiographical and part prophetic. Yet, the book does not provide answers. Coates’ work is free of twitter points, talking points, or bulleted to do lists. Rather, he writes from to heart to his beloved son. This gives the work a rambling feel with long sentences and exhausting paragraphs. Here’s the downside to this book as a library read: I need another week to digest this one. My first read through was quick ~ perhaps three or four sittings. I need a slow reading to grasp this message.
Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward
I started Woodward’s trilogy on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq last month. The first volume tackled the decision points leading to war in Afghanistan. This second volume looks at the steps leading to war in Iraq. It is a bit harder to read than the first volume. After reading the first installment, you have the ability to predict with remarkable accuracy how certain players are going to respond to situations. I found myself muttering, “Well, I know what Cheney it going to say” or “I know Powell is not going to be happy with that!” This makes for a laborious read.
While a bit tedious, I appreciate books such as this one: Little commentary and analysis. Tons of direct quotes and resulting decisions. Leadership books are often trite generalizations with 25% content and 75% fluff. While obviously not billed as a leadership book, I’d much rather read accounts that give insider information that led to serious leadership situations. You can easily glean lesson from the narrative provided.
This book clearly shows that invasion of Iraq was the plan from the early days of 9/11. Much of the intelligence work and much of the debate in the administration dealt with providing solid reasoning for an invasion rather than intelligence work. Powell, often depicted as having a poor relationship with President Bush and aloof or insubordinate, is more clearly portrayed in Woodward’s work as one who held a different opinion within the administration. On to the third volume.
Pigs in the Parlor: The Practical Guide to Deliverance by Frank and Ida Mae Hammond
I read this book at the request of a church member who read it and asked for my opinion. As you can probably tell, this is not in my reading wheelhouse. Yet, I’m always open to discuss books with congregation members. Reading outside of your comfort zone (and critical dialogue) is crucial to being well informed.
This book is based on the image of a herd of fitly pigs coming into your parlor and making themselves at home. No one in their right mind would welcome the herd or pay no attention to the mess makers. Rather, each of us would drive them out as quickly as possible. The Hammonds use this imagery to make the connection toward demon spirits. The church should not tolerate them but do everything possible to drive them out.
Please pick your jaw up off the floor. Perhaps this notion sounds bizarre and plumb crazy. I’m with you … but do me a favor. Pick up your New Testament and give it a quick read. Jesus drives out evil, unclean, demon spirits on page after page of the gospels. I’m currently preaching through Mark’s gospel. It is impossible to avoid Jesus’ deliverance ministry. He even sends the disciples out to cast out demons.
Now what do I think of this book? Depends on who is posing the question to me. To those caught up and fascinated with the topic … you are fixated on the wrong things. To those who dismiss spiritual warfare altogether … read your Bible.