Here’s a rundown of the 11 books I read in September. It includes two library books (I’m making great progress on that goal!), two doctor of ministry culminating projects, and five books on the topic of holiness. Happy reading!
You’ll notice the amazing bookends in the pic above. These were a Doctor of Ministry graduation gift from my good friend Jody Hickman, pastor of FBC Rosebud, Texas.
Called to be Holy: A Biblical Perspective by John Oswalt
*I read 5 books on the topic of holiness this month. I log them while also ranking them 1 to 5.
#1 out of 5 on the topic of holiness. This was not only my favorite of the five books I read on the subject of holiness, but it might crack into my all-time favorite list. The subtitle is accurate. This is a solidly Biblical perspective. Oswalt is an Old Testament scholar and provides a wide ranging view of holiness that spans the Bible from the table of contents to the maps in the back.
This volume is unique in its blending of the Old and New Testament to form a holistic view of holiness. He writes,
If the Church is to be all that is called to be, we must begin to read the two parts of the Bible in the light of each other. If we read the Old Testament apart from the New, we will almost certainly misread it and come to believe that with Judaism that one comes into a saving relationship with God through works of obedience. We need to hears Jesus and Paul telling us, “no, that not what it is about at all.” And that same is true for the New Testament. If we read it apart form the exposition of the human problem and the divine character found int eh Old Testament, there is a very good chance we will come to believe that the only significance of Christ’s death was to procure forgiveness for us humans.”
You need to read the entirety of the book to grasp the depth of that paragraph. Oswalt argues that in both the Old and New Testament God’s goal for human life is that we live in fellowship with him. He says, “Fundamental to such fellowship is both the proper understanding and proper character. No true relationship is possible unless the parties understand each other correctly and unless they have common goals and concerns. ” He goes on to say that fellowship with God “is only possible if we renounce at the outset all attempts to manipulate him. In fact, there is only one way to receive the blessings he wants to pour out on us: absolute renunciation of all efforts to control him and complete surrender to him.”
Holiness: Its Nature, hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots by JC Ryle
#2 out of 5 on the topic of holiness. JC Ryle (May 10, 1816 – June 10, 1900) was an evangelical Anglican clergyman and first Bishop of Liverpool. He was renowned for his powerful preaching and extensive tracts. This work was originally published in 1879 and in some ways reads a bit like an extensive tract. It is filled with clear, concise theological statements followed by long enumerated paragraphs to back up the point being made. This makes the book a difficult read. You are not taking small sips but large gulps. I could not sit with this book for long periods of time. Rather, I took a big drink and took some time to swallow the depth of thought.
Ryle’s chapter titled “The Fight” was fantastic at addressing my underdeveloped theology of spiritual warfare. His reflection on spiritual warfare, especially in light of holiness, is worthy the price of admission. I loved holding Ryle’s work in one hand and chasing his Scripture references with my Bible in the other hand.
As a side note, you can find this work online for free in many places. You can also find numerous different bound volumes. I picked up a bound body from Icthus Publications and I loved the format. The book is oversized with large, floppy pages. It makes for a great reading experience and allows you to easily scribble notes in the margin.
The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges
#3 out of 5 on the topic of holiness. I love the simplicity of Bridges’ definition of holiness: Holiness is nothing less than conformity to the character of God. The entirety of the book speaks with such clarity. Of all the books I read on holiness, this is the volume that would be most helpful to the average church member. It has depth but it is also clear and concise. It is clear in that it puts things on the bottom self, free from technical or overly theological detail. It is concise in that is 130 pages … and, like other reprints of Bridges’ books from Navpress, it also includes an additional 50 pages of study guide.
My only complaint about the book is Bridges’ frequent return to his love for desserts as an example of sin. It is a common point of illustration and application. While this emphasizes our propensity to sin on a variety of levels, it also cheapens the discussion for me. We are talking about the holiness of God and our ugliness of our sin and you keep brining it back to ice cream!? I think many people would read this and say “If God’s got a problem with your ice cream habit then I don’t stand a chance with my list of sins!”
The Holiness of God by RC Sproul
This is a classic among the reformed crowd and for good reason. Sproul makes an airtight case for the holiness of God and our need to repent of sin and pursue holiness. For the early portion of the book I was head nodding, underlining, and note jotting in agreement. On the topic of God’s holiness and need for holiness Sprout is pinpoint accurate.
Yet, further into the book Sproul unpacks more and more Scripture from his Calvinist perspective. He nearly knocks you out from his heavy handedness. At many points I scribbled in the margin, “Is that a fair reading of the Scripture passage? I see it differently.” For example, on a discussion of the cross, Sproul writes:
The Cross was at once the most horrible and the most beautiful example of God’s wrath. It was the most just and most gracious act in history. God would have been more than unjust, He would have been diabolical to punish Jesus if Jesus had not first willingly take on Himself the sins of the world. Once Christ had done that, once He volunteered to be the Lamb of God, laden with our sin, then He became the most grotesque and vile thing on this planet. With the concentrated load of sin He carried, He became utterly repugnant to the Father. God poured out His wrath on this obscene thing.
I agree with Sproul’s end argument but I don’t agree with how he gets there. The paragraph above was difficult for me to type. I would never describe Jesus on the cross as grotesque, vile, repugnant, or obscene. Sproul also does some ungenerous describing of the theology of those who would disagree with him. For example, he writes: It has been said that historically three generic types of theology compete for acceptance within the Christian church: Pelagiansim, Semi Pelagianism, and Augustinianism. This is laughable. Sproul compares his theology (Augustinianism) with two heresies … as if other options doesn’t exist. Or even worse, as if other options are indeed heresies. I think all of those in the Arminian traditional would have something to say about this comparison.
The Hole in our Holiness: Filling the Gap Between Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness by Kevin DeYoung
#5 out of 5 books on holiness. Last month I logged DeYoung’s children book about the Bible titled, The Biggest Story. I still contend that it is the best illustrated work I ever laid my eyes and hands upon.
I appreciate the intent of this book. There is indeed a need for a modern book to address the topic of holiness in the modern world. The other books on holiness in this log are dated (Oswalt’s book is not dated but it will never be read by a popular audience). We need a voice crying out in the wilderness of technology, social media, and 24 hours news cycles.
The strength of this book is its brevity and great use of lists. For example, DeYoung makes the statement that holiness looks like a life marked by virtue instead of vice. He then proceeds with two pages of Scripture references (with the actual verses on the page) to make his point. Later in the book he says “Here are just some of the ways in which the Bible motivates us to pursue holiness” and then provides four pages of Scripture references (with the actual verses on the page) to make his point. This volume serves as a great primer on the subject of holiness.
Maturing Laymen Through Training in Personal Evangelism by William Tinsley
A fews weeks ago I was donating some items to Salvation Army and found myself running early for a lunch meeting nearby. I said to myself, “Might as well go inside and see if they have some books worthy picking. up” Boy, did hit a small jackpot. My treasure included this Doctor of Ministry project by William Tinsley.
I’ve known Bill Tinsley for a number of years. He’s served faithfully in Baptist life in a number of ways and our paths crossed a few years back when he was temporarily living in the area. I laughed to myself as I took home his D Min project in exchange for a quarter! Having recently completed my own D Min, I was also saddened by the fact that the product of years of my hard work might one day end up at a donation center.
Tinsely’s project was competed at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1975. It focused on taking a small group of church members through evangelism training which culminated in evangelism encounters. It was fascinating to read through the training process and see the personal growth of participants. There is a tremendous need in 2018 for church members to receive hands on, practical training in being people that share faith with others. I’m not suggesting an extensive evangelism program or door to door witnessing. Rather, an intentional “on ramp” for people to engages in spiritual conversations. There is also a need for a clarion call for preaching the good news of Jesus as a nature part of the Christian life.
Evangelicals, Gay Persons, and Hospitality by James Coston
Coston and I were in the same Doctor of Ministry cohort. This volume is his culminating project. He did not pay me to say this … but his work is compelling, persuasive and … brilliant. I’m happy to pass along this work to those with any interest in the subject. It is an extremely helpful ministry tool.
The project addresses how the evangelical church can maintain biblical and theological integrity whole showing intentional hospitality to gay persons. What is Coston’s view of homosexuality? He assumes “the plain reading of the Scripture that is in line with two millennia of Christian tradition and its far older Jewish roots.” What is Coston arguing for? He puts forth the notion that Christian hospitality “is rooted in transformation. It welcomes the stranger fully but that welcome initiates a process of change; the welcome is not the end or culmination of the new relationship; rather hospitality begins a gifting with the goal of becoming Christlike.”
The argument made is too important to reduce it to a tweet or even a few selected quotes. Coston’s brilliance is showed, not only in the argument made, but in his refutation of opposing viewpoints. It deserves a generous reading by all.
Letters By A Modern Mystic Excerpts and letters written by his father by Frank Laubach
After many years as a missionary in the Philippines, Laubach set his focus on living moment by moment in conscious communion with God. These letters and excerpts provide the details of the journey that followed. At points they are moving, at points they are simply void of substance. Most of the time the excerpts are simply too short to provide any depth. After a thorough explanation of his intentions to commune with God, Laubach provides what is essentially a transcript of a particular conversation with God. After retelling the dialogue (from both directions of the conversation), Laubach immediately addresses those that might seek to cast a stone:
“I am well aware of the probability of criticism because it is “mysticism” ~ as though any man could be a believer in Jesus without believing in “mysticism”!~ or because many people think that the days of direct connect with God, or at least words from God, stopped with the closing of the New Testament. But then what a stupid world this would be if one never did anything different for fear of criticism.”
I’m sure many would agree with that paragraph and many would be ready to confirm the criticism of mysticism! I enjoy collections spiritual journals and letters. Yet, this volume is not one I’d recommend. Not necessarily for the mysticism mentioned above, but because I didn’t find it helpful. Its too short and a bit too strange. Yet, the underlining foundation of the book is well worth remembering. We should all strive to be in constant communication with God. Far too many dismiss that endeavor as impossible.
The Briefing: Politics, The Press, and the President by Sean Spicer
I was a tad shocked by how much I enjoyed this book. Spicer, despite his performances giving press briefings in the early days of the Trump administration, is a skilled communicator. The book is winsome. Take for example this description of President Trump: “His high-wire act is one that few could ever follow,” Spicer writes. “He is a unicorn, riding a unicorn over a rainbow.” You can’t get much better than that. And its a shocking, and surprisingly accurate, depiction.
While I enjoyed reading the book, Spicer is an apologist for almost every Trump decision. The blame is most often laid at the feet of the media and never at the president. We’ve heard that song and dance before. The closest Spicer gets to criticism is an an acknowledgment that the Trump administration was understaffed from the beginning and overstaffed with political novices throughout.
This book did not get the publicity that other Trump “tell alls” have received. And for good reasons. The book offers no surprises.
Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward
This is the exact opposite of the Spicer book. Woodward, a man filled with presidential journalism credentials, offers a scathing look inside the chaos of the Trump Administration: Documents removed from the president’s desk. Rampant distrust and misinformation. Bad hire followed by even poorer hire followed by even poorer hire. Decisions made without a process. Repeated breaks in the chain of command.
The book is obviously sourced by Trump White House insiders. Due to the intimate quotes it seems as if President Trumps former chief of staff and former staff secretary must be included in their number. This does give the work an extreme sense of credibility. You hear words quoted from the mouth of decision makers and the president himself. It seems like less sizzle and more steak.
After having said that, my favorite Trump quote is all sizzle. As President Trump lamented Twitter raising the maximum size of an individual tweet from 140 to 280 characters he said, “I was the Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters.”
The World As It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House by Ben Rhodes
I did not intend to read so heavily in the political arena but it appears I’m logging three books in that vein this month. Yet, I don’t see myself as a political junky but a amatory presidential historian.
Rhodes’ tour through the Obama Administration was much like Spicer’s reflections on Trump’s early days in office. He offers no surprises. Rhodes provides an extremely enjoyable memoir. His writing is lucid and weaves a gripping narrative. I thoroughly enjoyed his perspective of events. As a foreign policy adviser and speechwriter, Rhodes was not in the decision seat. His perspective offers insight from the inside but on the edge of the inside. He hears info given to the president by others, offers his own info to the president, and writes speeches that either ignore and follow the advice he personally offered. This sets the stage for “I told you so” and finger pointing when it comes to a memoir … but it never happens. Rhodes comes across as an Obama loyalist. His loyalty likely stems from a incident of being stung by the media as told at the end of the memoir.
Rhodes details sitting down for a number of interviews for a full scale story done by David Samuels. When the article reached daylight it became fodder for Twitter and Obama critics. A few day after the story made shockwaves, Obama called Rhodes into the president’s private dining area and asked, “Why were you so eager to talk about how the sausage was made?” It seems as if this conversation, with the most powerful man in the world, was taken to heart.
Truth be told, I read the book looking for an insiders take on many situations … to mainly include the Benghazi scandal. Rhodes toes the party line.