Here is a rundown of the 12 books I read in June. It is a fun list. The high number was aided by a week of vacation, a few slim volumes, and the absence of 900 page biography!
The Minister and His Greek New Testament by AT Robertson
Now that my doctoral studies are complete, I have moved on to my next goal for the year: master New Testament Greek. Call me crazy if you want … but please pray for me! My first step in this process, was to pick up this slim volume originally published in 1923. I really enjoy AT Robertson. I have read a number of commentaries and number of volumes in the AT Robertson Library collection. Yet, this was a new one for me. As soon as I set the goal to master New Testament Greek, I saw this book recommended in an article, opened a new window, and purchased it in a matter of seconds.
Robertson has legendary status as a Baptist theologian. He was appointed as professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1892 and served until his death in 1934. His Word Pictures in the New Testament and A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in Light of Historical Research are deemed classics by many. While I was unfamiliar with the volume at hand, it too has a stellar reputation. Here is my favorite line: “The real New Testament is the Greek New Testament. The English is simply a translation of the New Testament, not the actual New Testament.” Try that on for size.
After an opening chapter on why the minister should study Greek, Robertson goes into great detail on specifics. He discusses the Greek article and the deity of Christ, the indicative mode, the grammar of the apocalypse, and a couple of real life preachers that made great use of the Greek New Testament. A few people have asked me what I’m going to do with my “free time” now that I’ve finished my doctorate work. When provided my answer every single person has responded with “Why?!” I’m tempted to hand them this book.
Exodus (Teach the Text Commentary Series) by T. Desmond Alexander
If you following my reading logs, you might remember that I’m a fan of this commentary series. I have read a handful of volumes in the series from cover to cover. Add Exodus to the list. Unfortunately funding for the project was pulled and I recently received the final volume that will be published. I’ll have to make due with merely 21 volumes.
I used Alexander’s take on Exodus as an aide to my devotional wBible reading while I was on vacation in South Padre. Each morning I woke up at an insane hour in order to have significant time before my kids busted through the doors begging to return to the beach. In those peaceful hours each morning, I read a handful of chapters in the Biblical text followed by Alexander’s commentary on the specifics chapters. This series is really built for such a reading. The series does not provided commentary on every verse but merely hits highpoint along with providing great theological reflections and summaries of key themes.
Given the nature of the series, I struggle to be too critical but a few things stuck out to me in this volume. First, Alexander corrects the NIV time and time again. In a great number of places he’ll say some to the effect of, “The NIV renders it this way …. but a more accurate reading would be ….” It is not as if the commentary series is tied to the NIV translation. It seems like an axe to grind against the translation. Second, Alexander does seem to side step difficult passages in Exodus. Again, the series by nature is limited in scope, but difficult passages need to be addressed. For example, Exodus 32 includes a strange and disturbing story in which 3,000 people die by sword toting Levites. Alexander gives no meaningful explanation.
Things You Should Know About The Bible by JB Tidwell
In a small way I stand in the shadow of JB Tidwell. I have pastored FBC Crawford for the past nine years. Tidwell pastored the church in 1913, as he led the religion department at nearby Baylor University. This small connection made the reading of this book a fun experience.
The book is a bit strange in format. It is straight information with no filler. It contains chapter titles such as Names of the Bible, Symbols of the Bible, Sacred Officers, Why We Believe Christ To Be God, Miracles, Parables, Some Evil Men and Women. Each chapter discusses the topic with the use of sections headings, lists, and minimal information. It reads more like preparation for a Bible trivia gameshow than it does a book. It is fun to have on my personal shelf. But not one I’d recommend.
Hephzibah “my Delight”: The Centennial Story of a Unique Ministry Founded in New York City by Lois Ewald
In May of 2017 I spent two weeks in NYC for my doctoral studies. Over the course of those fun filled days of learning, our group stayed at a historic building on 75th St on the Upper Westside, known as the Hephzibah house. My room was 92 steps up a spiraling staircase. It was majestic. I long to return.
The book demonstrates a healthy love for place. It recounts and reminds of the work of God centered in a physical location. Written by a former director of the house, the book is filled with affection. Hephzibah, founded in 1893, has a long history of training people for gospel ministry and housing ministers doing the work of God in NYC. Ewald details historical happening while allowing his love for place and ministry to spill on to the page. It is a biased account. But it does not matter.
For ministers visiting New York, you need to spend a few nights in these old rooms and make a number of trips up and down the spiraling staircase.
The Book of Revelation by Arne Unjhem
I’m always attracted to books that contain artwork. This brief commentary contains beautiful pencil drawing by Lajos Szalay. I don’t know how this gem found its way to a giveaway pile of books … but I’m glad a found it.
This book is actually more like a primer on Revelation than a commentary. It does not go verse by verse nor does it directly address the text. Rather, Unjhem provides a 35,000 foot view of the landscape of Revelation. He addresses the big picture of themes, symbols, and culture context in a way that provides a reading guide for John’s Revelation. This gives the book great strengths and weakness. Take, for example, this paragraph:
“Obviously, any attempt to interpret John’s visions in a literal sense will make them completely irrelevant to our way of life. But suppose we are willing to let our attention have some freedom here and grant, too, that God’s resources in addressing himself to humanity may be more varied and ingenious than sober minded theologian have tended to think? We can read Revelation as a picturesque account of what is essentially a spiritual struggle, an ‘invisible’ process in our own world, just as relevant to American suburbia and the metropolitan scene as it was to the seven small towns in Asia Minor where the were first read.”
Unjhem provides a vision for a fresh way of reading Revelation, while in the same breathe, undercutting the ability to grasp the true meaning of Revelation. He often speaks as if everything is open to interpretation. While I agree that many popular interpretations of the book are wrong, I also believe that the true meaning of Revelation can be understood. No need to grant freedom.
Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers by T. David Gordon
If you notice the picture at the top of this post, I read this book on my iPad. It has been a long time since I’ve read a book in this manner. I attempted to jump on the ebook train years ago and found it harder to finish book via this format and incredibly harder to retain information.
This was a reread for me. I will be serving as a mentor for a seminary student in the fall and was asked to provide a suggested reading list on the topic of preaching for the semester. I wanted to add this volume to the list but thought I needed to reread it before I did so. My reread confirmed foggy initial impression.
Gordon majors in snark but strikes a powerful cord. While making an accurate point he often deals out overstatements and generalities. As the title suggest, his main argument is that many contemporary pastor are poor preachers. He attributes this to a pair of major factors. First, many preachers don’t read. He argues that when preacher do read they often read merely for content. This keeps them from reading books that have beautiful and meaningful prose and this shows up in preaching. Preachers struggle to speak with words that matter. Second, many preachers don’t write. He argues that the telephone has replaced the letter and this shows up in preaching. Preachers struggle to from logical arguments.
While lacking a bit of substance, I appreciate the rebuke on the current state of preaching.
The Places in Between by Rory Stewart
This is my frontrunner for book of the year. Thanks to my dear friend, Pastor Amos Humphries, for the recommendation (Check out his church: Park Lake Drive Baptist Church).
This is essential a travel journal … but so much more. In January 2002 Stewart walked across Afghanistan. Yes, you read that correctly. In the midst of a country torn apart and flipped upside down by war, Stewart walked across Afghanistan relying on notes of introduction and the kindness of strangers. He encounters everything from lots of snow to members of the Taliban. This incredible tale is part of a much longer journey, a walk across Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal.
While reading I wanted to know more about Stewart … but he does not provide it. A bit unique in this genre of reading, Stewart keeps the work from self centeredness. He tells the story of Afghanistan and its people. I’m a sucker for stories about the Middle East and this is a good one. I’m also a sucker for stories about people doing things I’ve never done nor will ever do … and boy is this a good one.
Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges
Bridges asks the question, “Have Christians become so preoccupied with the major sins of our society that we have lost sight of our need to deal with out own more subtle sins?” He labels our own more subtle sins as respectable sins: ungodliness, anxiety and frustration, discontentment, unthankfulness, pride, selfishness, lack of self control, impatience and irritability, anger, judgmentalism, envy, jealousy, sins of tongue, and worldliness.
I give a big, loud “amen” to the premise of the book. Bridges is spot on in his assessment that the church rails against certain sins while accepting others. Prior to dealing with the specific “respectable sins” he provides tremendous chapters on “the disappearance of sin,” “the malignancy of sin,” the remedy for sin,” “the power of the Holy Spirit,” and “directions for dealing with sins.” The chapters dealing with specific sins are not of the same caliber of the foundation set by earlier chapters. As a way to fight against many of the respectable sins, Bridges merely offers “Remember this verse …” or “Remember that verse …” I would argue that if followers of Jesus Christ remembered verses they also would not fall victim to the devastation caused by respectable sins.
Breaking the Huddle: How Community Can Grow its Witness by Don Everts, Doug Schaupp, and Val Gordon
We need more book like this one. It is provides great insight, it is well written, and is backed by research. The trio of authors make the claim that churches often fall into one of three categories: Huddle communities (those with limited witness), witnessing communities (those engaged in witness ) and conversion communities (those aligned around witness). The remainder of the book provides two macro strategies for breaking the huddle and two macro strategies for becoming a conversion community.
The strategies offered by the trio of authors are based on research (does by two of the authors) that discovered the five thresholds people travel while moving from nonChristians to people of faith: from distrust to trust, from indifferent to curiosity, from being closed to change to becoming open to change, from meandering to seeking, from lost to saved.
In huddled churches, rarely are people moved from threshold to threshold, witness is a concept, nonChristian’s presence in community is rare, and conversions are extremely rare. In witnessing churches, witness is a value, some nonChristians are involved in community, and multiple conversions occur annually. In conversion churches, witness shapes everything, many non Christians are involved in community , and multiple conversion occur monthly. The book is not a “how to” book on evangelism but a tool to help bring about cultural changed within a church.
Unleashing God’s Word In Your Life: How to Understand, Study, and Apply God’s Word by John MacArthur
I read this book as a brand new follower of Jesus Christ. It was a blessing to my soul. I’ve come to differ from MacArthur in regards to various aspects of theology but this book still loudly echoes truth. I returned to this volume when I was given the task of teaching “How to study the Bible” at a nearby prison. I punched a bunch of ideas into my keyboard and sat on them for a few days. Then I pulled this volume off the shelf.
The book is solid. I gained much from it years ago and was blessed by it again. Specifically, the way I study New Testament books originated from this book. MacArthur suggests working a plan when reading from the New Testament that includes reading the same New Testament book over and over for thirty days. I still vividly remember reading Colossians for 30 days for the first time. I picked that up here and still do it 14 years later.
As a side note, I was flabbergasted when I read this line a number of chapter into the book: “In addition to a myriad of duties as a pastor of a large church, I spend some twenty five to thirty hours per week in sermon preparation.” Holy Cow! 25 to 30 hours! That’s insane. It leaves me very curious as to the details of the “myriad of duties” MacArthur performs as pastor.
The Disruptive Gospel by Mac Pier
This book was good for my heart. It is simple. Just filled with stories of people being faithful to the gospel and witnessing God work in mighty ways. It really is just that simple. Pier tells stories of movements of God in New York City to Dallas to Manila to Mumbai to Chennai to Dubai to Singapore to England and a few place others. He tells the story and ends the chapter with a page or two (literally a page or two) of “What this chapter teaches us.” He gives a simple, italicized statement with a few sentences of explanations. It is powerful.
These stories came at a good time for me. When I picked this book up I was a little weary from the routine of church life. The routine at times can become a hammer. It is relentless and no respecter of schedules. It can force you to loose sight of the importance of the task. This was like drinking big gulp of helpful reminders.
Pier comes at the stories from a helpful perspective. He is the founder and CEO of The New York City Leadership Center and helped found the inaugural Movement Day conference. Many of these stories have ties to Movement Day and Pier’s relationships. The book does not read like a journalistic rundown but a minister speaking about God working among his friends.
When the Center Held: Gerald Ford and the Rescue of the American Presidency by Donald Rumsfeld
Given today’s political climate, this beauty of this book loudly echoes. It is a beautiful depiction of a man that stood in the oval office, not having been elected, but assuming the power position after scandal. Rumsfeld, who served as Ford’s chief of staff and then defense secretary, provides a crisp biographical sketch that is not mere hagiography. He speaks with gentle and fond tones but does not shy away from voicing his criticisms of Ford’s policy or handling of situations. I can’t speak highly enough of the value of this book and the lessons it provides. The lesson that resonated the most in light of recent news? Ford’s instinct to preserve the center. He seemed to function as if he was the president of the United States of America and not the president of a particular political party. He upset both sides of the isle for the sake of holding things together for everyone.
I also can’t overstate how little I knew about the Ford presidency. With shelves filled with presidential biographies, this was my first on Ford. My ignorance made the book extremely enjoyable. I finished the book feeling as if I learned something new in every chapter. Give Ford a quick Google search and glance over key points of his term in office. Did you know all that stuff? Me neither.