Here is a rundown of the 6 books I read in April. It was another hectic month that included a move to North East Texas and the start of a new ministry position at First Baptist of Sulphur Springs, Texas. Yet, I managed to get in some great books. The book total is down from a normal due to the new ministry setting and one of the books totaling nearly 800 pages. Happy reading!
The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson) by Robert Caro
768 pages. Over 350,000 words. And this is just volume one of The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro. The Path to Power is the first of four published volumes and was released in 1982. The fifth volume is currently being written … by hand. To the chagrin of many devoted fans of the series, Caro recently stopped work on the fifth volume to write and publish a volume titled Working, a glimpse into his life and career as a writer.
Robert Caro is a bonafide literary biography genius (two-time winner fo the Pulitzer Prize). He’s nothing less than thorough. For some readers a 800 page introductory volume is like death by a thousand paper cuts. Yet, if you’re looking for a presidential biography, Caro has provide the gold standard. His writing is lucid. He provides excruciating detail but none of it is wasted. When a new character is introduced you are not merely given a name inserted into the narrative. Rather, you get a chapter devoted to the person intersecting the life of LBJ. At first you might say “here we go again” but you’re soon swept into another pivotal part of the story. While I eagerly await the remaining published volumes stacked in my office, The Path to Power easily gains entrance into my list of favorite presidential biographies. Want to know others on that list? Here are a few in no particular order:
John Adams by David McCullough
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham
Grant by Ron Chernow
Wilson by A Scott Berg
Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter by Randall Balmer
Fighting the Good Fight: The Life and Work of Benejah Harvey Carroll by Alan Lefever
I know Dr. Lefever on a personal level. He serves as the director of the Texas Baptist Historical Collection and served as an adjunct professor at Baylor’s Truett Seminary. He’s also a lover of Baylor sports and has written to definitive book on the subject. Gotta love a guy with a resume like that!
The core of this BH Carroll biography is Lefever’s doctoral dissertation. Don’t let the word “dissertation” scare you away. I’ve longed for a good biography of BH Carroll and failed to find one. Picking this volume up at a used bookstore for $3.99 was reason to hug the store owner. Carroll is a legend among Texas Baptists. He’s known for his longtime pastorate of FBC Waco, leadership in Baptist controversies, founding Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and his amazing beard. Yet, Lefever does not provide mere hagiography. He exposes Carroll’s tendency to offer his resignation at FBC Waco in order gain influence and support and the times he had to be strong armed into taking stands in Baptist fights.
With this volume finished, I’ll move on to another biography of a Texas Baptist legendary figure – a book on RC Buckner written by JB Cranfill and JL Walker.
Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians by DA Carson
This is a slim, introductory volume to the book of Philippians. Yet it is far elementary. What it loses in depth it makes up for in concise exegesis. You’ll find no wasted words. Anyone preaching or casually studying Philippians will be blessed by Carson’s work. You’ll find everything you need without technical jargon and theological asides. Plus, he provides insightful points of application and illustration.
His discussion of “fellowship” (I prefer to translate it “partnership” in this instance) for Philippians 1:3-8 is a great example of the brilliance of this volume: “In common use “fellowship” has become somewhat debased. If you invite a pagan neighbor to your home for a cup of tea, it is friendship; if you invite a Christian neighbor, it is fellowship. If you attend a meeting at church and leave as soon as it is over, you have participated in a service; if you stay for coffee afterwards, you have enjoyed fellowship. In modern use, then, fellowship has come to mean anything like warm friendship with believers.” Carson goes on to discuss how true Christian fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel. He says, “It may be overtones of warmth and intimacy, but the heart of the matter is this shared vision of what is of transcendence importance, a vision that calls forth our commitment.”
More Southern Baptist Preaching complied and edited by HC Brown
While I love reading sermon manuscripts – never confuse a printed sermon collection as a substitute for sitting in the pews. The sermon is a live event. The printed page never fully captures the sermon’s power.
This volume features sermons by WA Criswell (long time pastor of FBC Dallas), Frank Stagg (professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary), RJ Robinson (pastor of FBC Augusta, Georgia), James Middleton (pastor of FBC Shreveport, Louisiana) and many others. The fun feature of this edited volume is the text prior to the printed sermon. Each preacher provides a few pages on “How I Prepare My Sermons.” It is delightful to read the variety of sermon preparation methods. It is also humorous to read how some of the methods mention extremely dated practices (the volume was published in 1964). I thank God for technological advances that greatly aid the modern preacher!
As you’d expect, the sermon by WA Criswell stands out. He contributes a sermon on Revelation 1:4-6 titled, “John’s Ascription of Praise.” His manuscript offers this thought: What a remarkable thing that he loves us as individuals and calls us by our names! What an astonishing thing! In the days of John, the individual counted for nothing. Kings counted. The state counted. Caesar counted. But the oppressed millions of the Roman Empire were just that many, many, pieces of chattel property, deprived of citizenship and made pawns of the government. They counted for nothing. In that regard, John’s day is a whole lot like our own day …”
The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter by Michael Watkins
This book is the product of research done by the Harvard Business Review and is often applauded as the go-to book on transitions. I picked it up for fun as my transition from First Baptist Crawford to First Baptist Sulphur Springs became a reality.
For the record – I would never consult such a book for advice on how to make a pastoral transition. For much of the book I made comments such as “That is simply not how it should be done inside of church” or “that’s not how Christians should make decisions.” Yet, if read correctly, the book does provide one the ability to contrast how the Harvard Business Review would recommend making a transition versus how a devoted follower of Jesus should make a pastoral transition. The book was a thought stimulator for me and I appreciated the mental exercise.
Watkins provides core challenges to address in the first 90 days in a new position:
- Promote yourself
- Accelerate your learning
- Match strategy to situation
- Secure early wins
- Negotiate success
- Achieve alignment
- Build your team
- Create coalitions
Many of these are helpful for providing a framework for success. Yet, I can easily scratch off #1 on the list and replace it with “Pray, Pray, Pray, Pray, Pray, Pray, and Pray some more!”
The First 100 Days: A Pastor’s Guide by T. Scott Daniels
This book obviously provides a contrast with the previous book listed on the log. Daniels takes a look at transition through the eyes of a pastor. The book does not provide earth shattering insights but offers honest, helpful suggestions. I appreciate the chapter devoted to taking care of your family during the early days of a new ministry setting. I also appreciate his exhortation to preach well. In my first few weeks in a new ministry setting I’ve succeeded in placing preaching as a priority and but I’ve already seen glaring missteps in making my family a priority. I pray for better discernment in tending to the hearts of my wife and kids.
I’ve personally benefited from my study of Philippians in my early weeks in Sulphur Springs. While I appreciate The First 90 Days and the First 100 Days nothing compares to a love for Jesus Christ and a love for his church. Apart from that double-sided devotion, you’ll never succeed in a ministry transition.