Here’s a rundown of the 8 books I read in December to finish off the year. I read 111 books in 2018. If you missed my post on my favorites of the year ~ check out the list. Happy reading!
TOO GREAT A TEMPTATION: THE SEDUCTIVE POWER OF AMERICA’S SUPER CHURCH BY JOEL GREGORY
I’ve reread this book at least a half dozen times. I’m always happy to read it again. My enjoyment of the book i increased due to the fact that I know Dr. Gregory on a personal level. He taught my first preaching course in seminary and also led my first doctoral seminar. I’ve shared the stage with him in worship and I’ve shared a table with him over heaping plates of BBQ. Hearing Gregory’s voice in my head makes reading the book even more interesting.
Too Great A Temptation is a cautionary tell about the seductive allure of power and prestige. The book details the courting process that brought Gregory to the pulpit of the First Baptist Church of Dallas in 1991. For two years he shared with the pulpit with the legendary WA Criswell. Yet, shortly after his arrival, Gregory realized Criswell had no desire to follow through with the promise to retire. The tension mounted until Gregory submitted his resignation on a Wednesday night in 1992 and slipped into a getaway car with security protection. The story is a must read for pastors. It’s a classic example of the old adage, “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.” In fact, the other side could be filled with unmet promises, relational turmoil, and the other side could force you out of the ministry. At the end of the two year period detailed in this volume, Gregory is selling prepaid funerals and burial property as a door to door salesman.
I’m thankful to know Dr. Gregory and the rest of the story. After a long period away from the public eye, Dr. Gregory remerged to teach young seminarians the subject of preaching. He slowly began to accept invitations to preach and now spends most weekends traveling the word filling pulpits and preaching the gospel in powerful ways through his incredible grasp of the Scripture, unmatched communication skill, and the redemption story that is his life and ministry. The rest of the story is a dramatic glimpse of God’s grace.
Tolkien: The Authorized Biography by Humphrey Carpenter
The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien
I read these alongside each other. As I’ve stated before, I like reading about Tolkien more than I actually enjoy reading Tolkien. That says more about me than it does the legendary pipe smoker. He’s a literary genius. No hyperbole. I’m merely not a fantasy genre reader. I read it slow and with a great deal rereading to make sure I haven’t misunderstood or missed something of importance.
The biography is wonderful. It provides a delightful glimpse of Tolkien as he was writing the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It shows how the trilogy as a labor of love with no shortage of labor.
He worked on the book and worked to get it published. His struggles to get a publisher now seems laughable as the trilogy is widely considered to be the greatest work of fiction to ever be written (Fans of To Kill a Mockingbird just gasped). Once he had a publisher he was forced to engage in fights over spelling, maps, color choices, titles, and the number of volumes.
This was my second time reading the Fellowship of the Ring. I’m going to give it some time before I dig into the other two volumes for a second time. Next up I will tackle a collection of Tolkien’s letters. I picked it up a few times and read a letter here and there. I look forward to digest the entirety of the tome. It’s big ~ 500 pages of letters big.
The Power of the 72: Ordinary Disciples in Extraordinary Evangelism by John Teter
This is a tremendous volume on evangelism. It is written by a seasoned pastor with a story to tell and provides exegetical and practical insights from Luke 10. It is a great mix of biblical insight and practical strategies for putting the insights into use.
Teter is the pastor of Fountain of Life Covenant Church in Long Beach California. Much of the anecdotes provided in the book come straight from his own ministry and provide examples of how to train church members to engage in evangelism in a way that is not forced or canned. I was struck most by Teter’s repeated discussion of his prayer life in regards to evangelism. Throughout the book he drops subtle references to his prayers for people in his life that do not know the Lord. Many times throughout the book you get the pleasure of hearing how God worked through those prayers.
I hope this book will have an impact on me. As I look toward 2019, I want to make serious strides in becoming more disciplined in praying for those in my life that need to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
The Magnificent Story: Uncovering a Gospel of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth by James Bryan Smith
I’m a fan of James Bryan Smith. I find his books to be thoughtful and wildly helpful. This is the first volume in a trilogy. The second volume, The Magnificent Journey, is discussed below. The third volume, The Magnificent Mission, will be published in the Fall of 2019. A word needs to said about the physical beauty of the books. They have gorgeous dust jackets which include cut outs that display the book titles. Once the jackets are removed, the beauty of the hardback cover is displayed. “Well done” to IVP for the work put into the physical books. As a reader that has held off the ebook trend, I greatly appreciate this effort.
The Magnificent Story is a discussion on the gospel, a conversation that thrills me to no end. Like many of Smith’s books, after each chapter he provides soul training exercises. In this volume Smith tackles two tasks: exposing shrunken gospel stories and preaching a beautiful, good, and truthful gospel. Many that have subscribed to the preaching of a shrunken gospel will have a hard time with this content. They will dismiss it as “fluff.” Yet, I think his work need to be taken seriously and examined. Smith’s two big examples of poor gospel preaching include “the do good works gospel” and “the shaming and scary gospel.” In contrast to the shrunken gospel, Smith argues for giving a bigger and fuller demonstration of God’s story as revealed in Scripture. A lot of this material would be familiar to those who have read Scot McNight’s “The King Jesus Gospel.”
The Magnificent Journey: Living Deep in the Kingdom by James Bryan Smith
This is a great follow up to the book discussed above, but a lesser book than the first volume. The bulk of Smith’s argument is made in the first volume, which gives this work less “teeth.” Yet, that same scenario make the soul training exercises in this second volume much stronger sense the book has an application focus.
The second volume is broken into two parts. Part One looks at living deep in the kingdom and covers surrender, growing in grace, setting your mind of Christ, and listening to God. Part Two looks at developing kingdom virtues and covers faith, embracing hope, love, and discovering a deeper joy. As always, Smith writes with an engaging style that provides a great mix of anecdotes and exegetical insights. I often find myself describing his writing as “widely helpful.” I think any author would be pleased with such a comment.
I look forward to the third volume in the Fall of 2019.
Hidden in Christ: Living As God’s Beloved by James Bryan Smith
Reading the two volumes discussed above, made me return to this small gem. On top of that, I will soon preach a sermon series over the passage that is this book’s focal point. This thin volume takes a devotional look at Colossians 3. The book of Colossians has been foundational for me in regards to theology and devotion. I love how Smith has provided a very approachable book that highlight the depths of the chapter for practical Christ like living.
It is designed for devotional reading – each chapter can be read in a short sitting. Each chapter focuses on a single word from the chapter. It is full of insights and anecdotes. It is a great companion to a read through the book of Colossians.
Since I mention three book by James Bryant Smith, allow me to mention a few others. I’, always excited to recommend his Apprentice Series: A Good and Beautiful God, A Good and Beautiful Life, and A Good and Beautiful Community. They are great reading and a great resource for small group material.
Spiritual Discipleship: Principles of Following Christ for Everyday Believer by J. Oswald Sanders
This book falls into the category of “Great Material but Subpar Book.” I give all the material of this book a loud “yes and amen.” It is a clear call to faithful obedience to Jesus Christ and Christlike living. Yet, it not a great book. It read less like a well composed train of thought and more like a collection of headings, subheadings, Scripture quotations, and short paragraphs.
It works well as a tool to help one dive deep into discipleship. Yet, it is not something you want to pick up for a Saturday morning read. It tackles a long list of aspects of discipliship like ambition, love, servanthood, maturity, prayer, and hope. It is full of Scripture references, quick quotations, and brief anecdotes. It would be help to read this one with a pen and highlighter in hand. It would also be helpful to have a Bible handy as well. I found myself chases down references time and time again. Of course, this is a great companion volume to Sanders’ Spiritual Leadership.