Here is a run down of the 9 books I read in October. It is a fabulous collection of books. Happy Reading!
Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro
Master of the Senate is the third volume of Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson. At nearly 1,300 pages it took me three months to finish. The second volume, Means of Ascent, was a harsh portrayal of Johnson. It read more as a hit piece than a biography. The third installment in Caro’s magisterial set, provides a more favorable depiction of LBJ. Caro still depicts LBJ’s mind boggling ego and frequent propensity for inappropriate uses of power. Yet, Caro also highlights, with admiration, how Johnson led the senate to ground breaking legislation on race equality and dramatically changed power structures within the senate. Johnson is seen in both sunlight and shadow.
This volume chronicles Johnson’s 12 year run in the Senate, 1949 to 1961. Yet, it does so much more. The volume begins with a 105 page summary of the history of the US Senate. The book also provides mini biographies on the likes of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Richard Russell, and Sam Rayburn.
It is easy to see Caro’s brilliance in this series. I can’t imagine there being a more thorough or better written biography. I want to have the fourth volume finished before the end of the year.
Mark: Teach the Text Commentary Series by Grant Osborne
As I’ve stated in previous logs, I often use this commentary series as an aid to my devotional Bible reading. I’ve now read a handful of volumes from cover to cover using this method: Exodus, Judges, Ruth, Daniel, Acts. Each morning I read a chapter in the Bible and read the corresponding sections in the Teach the Text series. This would not work well with many series but this series is tremendous for such usage. Unfortunately funding for this series was pulled. I’ll have to make due with merely 21 volumes currently published.
Grant Osborne is a bonafide scholar with a long list of commentaries to his credit. In this volume he provides an outstanding volume on Mark’s gospel. It includes helpful exegetical commentary while also providing extremely concise and precise theological material. This volume, unlike many commentaries, beats with a pastoral heart. After reading each section I often remarked, “that was downright helpful!” I would fully recommend a church member picking up this volume.
Osborne deals with tough subjects, the ending of Mark’s gospel for instance, with great care. This volume paired with David Garland’s volume in the NIV Application series would be a great start for those digging into this gospel.
Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ by Eugene Peterson
I’m a raving fan of Eugene Peterson. When he died on October 22, 2018 I wrote a brief reflection on his impact on my life (you can read it here). I just reread it. I’d be willing to write 50 more reflections on the impact of his life, writing, and ministry.
This month I reread this volume as an aid to my teaching the book of Ephesians. Like many of Peterson’s volumes, this is a running commentary of a Biblical book. He guides the reader through the book of Ephesians, dropping exegetical insights and pastoral applications on every page. Here is a taste of his discussion of Paul’s pray for the Ephesian church:
The physical act of bowing “my knees before the Father” is an act of reverence. It is also an act of voluntary defenselessness. While on my knees I cannot run away. I cannot assert myself. I place myself in a position of willed submission, vulnerable to the will of the person before whom I am bowing. It is an act of retreating from the action so that I can perceive what the action is without me in it, without me taking up space, without me speaking my piece. On my knees I am no longer in a position to flex my muscles, strut or cower, hide in the shadows or show off on stage. I become less so that I can be aware of more – I assume a posture that lets me see what reality looks like without the distorting lens of either my timid avoidance or my aggressive domination. I set my agenda aside for a time and become still, present to God.
Do yourself a favor. Read more Eugene Peterson.
The Sermon on the Mount by RT Kendall
I heard RT Kendall preach at Truett Seminary during my doctoral education. The sermon was different from those often preached in a seminary chapel. It had less of the tone of an academic treatise and more of the tone of a charismatic evangelist. It stayed with me for some time.
Kendall was the pastor at Westminster Chapel for 25 years following immediately in the footsteps of the legendary Martyn Lloyd-Jones who followed in the footsteps of legends G. Campbell Morgan and John Henry Jowett. This volume is the product of Kendall preaching through the Sermon on the Mount while behind the Westminster Chapel pulpit. It is pure gold. I can not remember reading a collection of sermons that hum from the page in such a way. It challenged my mind and nourished my soul.
I’ve read a large number of works on the Sermon on the Mount. The list ranges from heavyweight commentaries to theological treatises to devotional guides. Kendall’s volume rises to the top. If one paired Kendall’s The Sermon on the Mount along with Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, you’d not need much else.
A Basic Christian Theology by AJ Conyers
I’m always on the hunt for a great primer on Christian theology that I can pass along to congregation members. Is this it? Meh. It gets too technical at points and includes a few discussion that I think could be excluded from introductory text. I love the book but I would not pass it along to a church members just dipping toes into the theological waters.
AJ Conyers was a professor of theology at the George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University. He died two years prior to my arrival as a seminary student in 2006. In classrooms and hallways many student sand professors spoke of “Chip” and his contribution to scholarship, the seminary, and students. I’m sorry that I missed out on the blessing of meeting him.
If I had to recommend a primer on theology I would go with John Stott’s Basic Christianity along with Roger Olson’s Mosaic of Christianity. Olson’s volume is a tall task for someone getting started – but I find it to be brilliant. Again, recommending two books is far too much information to expect someone to digest when they ask for a introductory recommendation. Hence, the search for a great primer.
Replenish: Leading from a Healthy Soul by Lance Witt
This book was a gift from the North American Mission Board. It also came with a pair of NAMB socks. I’ve worn the sock at least three times since they arrived and I’ve now finished the book. Thank you NAMB!
The book is in the stream of self-care books for those in pastoral ministry. It covers the topics of prioritizing matters of the soul, developing healthy spiritual practices, creating rhythms, crafting leadership culture, and moving toward an unhurried life, plus much more.
I love the material covered. I nodded in agreement all the way through it. Yet, in the end, it misses the target. The book is comprised of 41 chapters and an epilogue. The page total? 226 pages. It is hard to provide depth when extremely significant topics are covered in 4 or 5 pages. The chapters bring up so much but end up saying very little. I’d much rather read a book of the same page total with half the chapters. Cover less topics but give me more depth.
Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention edited by Jarvis Williams and Kevin Jones
A fellow church staff member picked this book up at a Lifeway conference. He picked it up cheap and wanted me to give it a glance before we put it in the church library. I read it cover to cover in 1.5 sittings. Is the content good? Yes. Will the book be effective? Not likely.
The book provides a great overview of the history of the SBC, a history that includes affirmation of slavery and openly opposing and condemning abolitionists. The SBC failed to repudiate these sins until a resolution was passed in 1995. The book documents the profound divide between the white majority and the various minorities in the SBC. Chapters are contributed by a diverse array of thought leaders. You hear the voices of pastors, seminary professors, and seminary presidents.
My favorite chapter, written by Kevin Jones, offers educational steps toward removing the stain of racism. He offers the suggestions of reading non-anglo authors, curriculum reform, and funding scholarships for minority students among many other steps. Dwight McKissic offers a powerful chapter on why the stain remains from an African American pastor’s perspective.
Why do I doubt the effectiveness of the book? The people that need to read it – will refuse to do so.
(Note added in December 2020: The issues of racism has been pushed to the forefront in many baptist circles. Even more so, the use of critical race theory has become a hot-button issue. I feel that we can understand the Bible through the power of the Holy Spirit and very simple, time-tested hermeneutical principles. I’m no fan of CRT as an analytic tool for reading Scripture.)
The Ways of God: How God Reveals Himself Before a Watching World by Henry Blackaby and Roy Edgemon
I’ve talked about Roy Edgemon before. He led the Southern Baptists’ discipleship training program for 22 years. In April of 2000 he retired as director of the discipleship and family group of LifeWay Christian Resources. During his tenure, the concept of undated discipleship courses was introduced in 1978. He was influential in the development and writing of The MasterLife course, now used throughout the world to disciple followers of Jesus Christ. It was this very course that changed my life when I was a college freshman. I now have the extreme honor of serving as pastor to Dr. Edgemon.
In this volume, Edgemon teamed up with Henry Blackaby of Experiencing God fame. They create quite the duo. The book is chock full of truth. The book describes the ways of God as love, sovereign, holy, true, and eternal. Each chapter is concise and clear. You will “amen” your way through the book.
Some books are literary masterpieces. Others are merely dispensers of truth. This volumes leans heavily towards truth. It will not be mistaken for a masterpieces but when it comes to talk about God … I want truth above all else.
LESSONS FROM THE EAST: FINDING THE FUTURE OF WESTERN CHRISTIANITY IN THE GLOBAL CHURCH BY BOB ROBERTS
Bob Roberts uses his experiences and relationship with church pastors and church movements from around the world to speak prophetically towards some of the issues in Western Christianity. It’s a powerful read.
I’ve admitted previously that I’m a big fan of Bob Roberts. Years ago I was working through some issues regarding missions strategy. I contacted Bob and asked for an hour of his time. He graciously met me for lunch and we talked through various topics over heaping plates of pasta. Much of that conversation blessed my ministry and also later became of portion of my doctoral work. I’m grateful for his leadership, writing, faithful demonstration of ministry, and generosity. Church leaders – pick up his books.
Here’s a taste from the opening pages: “The American church doesn’t need one more silver bullet. We need a surgeon to cut us open, perform radical surgery on our hearts and minds, and then empower us to be and do all God has for us.”
He goes on: “Too often in America, we’ve made a successful worship service the focus of our strategy, our measuring stick, our biggest worry, and our heart’s desire. In our country, we don’t start churches; we start worship services … Great worship services don’t change the world; empowered impassioned disciples do.”