It’s late but here’s a rundown of the nine books I read in August. I’ve made progress on Caro’s third volume in the LBJ series. I’m on page 301 of 1,049. It will appear on next month’s log. Happy reading!
The Homiletical Plot: The Sermon as Narrative Art Form by Eugene Lowry
I first read this book in my introductory preaching course in seminary. I’ve read three shelfs of preaching books since but I still find this volume to be the crown jewel. While I don’t follow Lowry’s model there is much that I adapt into my own personal style and form.
Lowry argues that the sermon should follow a narrative form that moves from beginning to end, as with the plot of a story. He says, “A sermon is not a doctrinal lecture. It is an event-in-time, a narrative art form more akin to a play or novel in shape than to a book. Hence we are not engineering scientist; we are narrative artists by professional function.” Lowry structures his book and his argument around what is now known among preachers as the “Lowry loop.” Imagine the “loop” on the front cover of the book broken into fives stages: 1) Oops: upsetting the equilibrium, 2) Ugh: analyzing the discrepancy 3) Aha: disclosing the clue to resolution, 4) Whee: experiencing the gospel, 5) Yeah: Anticipating the consequences. This well-detailed structure keeps the plot form of the sermon.
Lowry ends the book with a chapter on the need to offer slight variations to the structure to avoid predictability. Yet, I think the need for variation is the downside to this model. No number of slight changes will break the predictability.
The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Acts Together by Jared Wilson
The back cover reads, “Too many discipleship books are written for perfect people who know all the right Sunday school answers. This book is for the rest of us – people who grew up, people who are weary, people who are wondering if it’s safe to say what they’re really thinking.” This is both the strength and weakness of the book. The strength of the books is content – a well defined and explained explanation of the gospel and discipleship. The weakness is style – an extreme attempt to reach out to the “imperfect” crowd. The book is filled with cultural jargon and pop culture references. I picked up on most of the inside jokes but had to google a few. Many people will be lost in certain references. Many people will be utterly dumbfound by references when they pick this book up in a decade.
My gospel is a little sweaty and ragged around the edges.
My gospel is well worn.
My gospel is smudged.
My gospel is an old hymn.
These sentences are the opening lines of the first four chapters. Each of the 10 chapters begins with a quirky description of the gospel that gets fully detailed with Biblical explanation and illustrated with down to earth examples. I personally loved the unity this provides and the multidimensional perspective it offers. My favorite: “My gospel is burning a hole in my pocket. It’s an ember smoldering, singeing my threads and my thigh. It’s leaving a mark. It is branding me. It cannot be contained. My gospel is a wildfire waiting to happen.”
The Story of Rehoboth: A History of Rehoboth Baptist Association 1856 to 1938 by Roy Johnson
The title says it all. This volume is the history of the RBA – a baptist association in North East Texas. It was written by Roy Johnson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Winnsboro, a member church of the RBA. I’ve proudly served a church in the RBA for the last four months. I look forward to the years ahead.
This is the type of book that exposes (and enlarges) my baptist nerdy-ness. It provides nothing more that history and statistical data on the association and association member churches. It provides the highlights of annual meetings and budget expenditures. I love reading about membership and baptism numbers. I picture in my mind those early church gatherings and riverside baptisms. I loved the section that detailed the RBA’s opposition to alcohol. They were so opposed that the 1898 annual report included, “Resolved, that this body request President McKinley to use his official power and prerogative to abolish the Army ‘Canteen,’ and that the clerk of this body forward to the President a copy of this resolution.” They asked the president of the United States to abolish the canteen!
As the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Sulphur Springs, I most enjoyed reading of the impact of our church staff and lay people in proclaiming the gospel in North East Texas and beyond.
My Year of Running Dangerously: A Dad, A Daughter, and A Ridiculous Plan by Tom Foreman
Running memoirs are a personal favorite of mine. Foreman’s volume just sprinted to my list of favorites. Foreman, a correspondent for CNN, was once a runner but after college put long distance running behind him. Yet, a phone call from his daughter led him to lace up the running shoes. Just 16 weeks before the race his daughter called and asked, “How would you feel about running a marathon with me?” Foreman agreed and committed to a training schedule. Even though they were states apart, they called each other to detail daily runs. It’s a running memoir but also a tremendous father-daughter story. It has all the feels.
Training for this marathon infected Foreman with the running bug. Over the course of a year, he ran four half marathons, three marathons, and one 55-mile ultramarathon. The chapters covering the ultramarathon were fantastic. Foreman is a skilled writer and provides plenty of unexpected humor. It is a well-written book and thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. Runners and non-runners alike can find much to keep them turning pages.
Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness by Richard B. Hays
Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed for the World by Andy Stanley
I placed these two volumes on my reading list for the month but I was unaware of how well they’d work together to provide serious reflection. Hays provides insights on how the four Gospel writers interpreted the Old Testament as they told the story of Jesus. He explains how Matthew, Mark, Luke and John provide a figure interpretation. You’d need to read the entirety of the book to fully grasp Hays’ argument. It is quite dense and academic. When trying to put figural interpretation into everyday language Hays writes, “Another way to put this point is that figural reading is a form of intertextual interpretation that focuses on an intertextuality of reception rather than of production.” Clear as mud. He states it better elsewhere: “All four canonical Gospels declare that the Torah and the Prophets and the Psalms mysteriously prefigure Jesus.” The book walks through the four gospels to prove the point.
Andy Stanley on the other hand, opens up a can of worms by saying the church needs to “unhitch” from the Old Testament. He argues that in Acts 15 the church gathered in Jerusalem to decide whether or not Gentiles who embraced Jesus should be required to embrace the Law of Moses as well. Ultimately, the church decided to not make it difficult on the Gentiles and merely gave them a few rules to follow. Stanley says these few rules were merely an effort to keep the peace. For Stanley shows that the New Testament church “unhitched” from their Old Testament roots.
I diligently read this book. I read a few chapters more than once. I also have listened to Stanley give sermons and interviews on the book’s content. Over the course of the month, I’m sure I listened to Stanley discuss this topic for at least 5 or 6 hours.
I understand Stanley – I just don’t agree. Yet, I don’t think he’s a heretic as some have claimed. I’d simply label his teaching on the subject confusing at best. If you handed Hays’ book to Stanley, he’d read it and agree with 95% of it. There is no passage that you can bring up that Stanley has not pondered. He’s merely after a different end goal than most. Stanley’s end goal of reaching the dechurched and unchurched causes him to lean towards the shocking statement that leads some to scream “heretic!”
Christian Baptism: A Survey of Christian Teaching and Practice by BF Smith
Troubled Waters: Rethinking the Theology of Baptism by Ben Witherington
Understanding Four Views on Baptism by Thomas Nettles, Richard Pratt, Robert Kolb, and John Castelein
Reading three books on baptism was sparked by my desire to write a booklet on baptism for my church. I find too many people are confused on the subject – even good baptist. I desire to write something of deep, deep theological substance that doesn’t add to the confusion but adds clarity to murky waters.
BF Smith’s volume was far too much of a survey. Witherington’s survey was much more helpful but infuriating at a number of points. Statements like “Infant baptism, while not a New Testament practice, cannot be ruled out as a legitimate theological development” made me drop the book and almost scream “How can you say that!” If it’s not a New Testament practice than the theology sinks.
I really appreciated Understanding Four Views of Baptism. Each contributor provides a chapter on their particular view of baptism and then the contributors who hold differing views provide a response. Through this process you can easily see the similarities and differences. Nettles provides the Baptist view, which can be described as believer’s baptism by immersion. Pratt provides the Reformed view, which can be described as infant baptism of children of the covenant. Kolb provides the Lutheran view, which can be described as infant baptism by sprinkling as a regenerative act. Castelein provides the Christian Church/Churches of Christ view, which can be described as believers’ baptism on the occasion of regeneration by immersion. Obviously these single statement summaries are far too shallow.
As you might expect from a Baptist pastor, I was thoroughly unconvinced by the infant baptism arguments and equally unconvinced by the Christian Church/Churches of Christ view. I don’t believe in believers baptism by immersion because I’m a baptist pastor. Rather, I’m a baptist pastor because I find believer baptism by immersion the clearest expression the the New Testament practice.