Here’s a rundown for the 11 books I read in May.
Diary of a Pastor’s Soul: The Holy Moments in a Life of Ministry by Craig Barnes
I have loved the writings of Craig Barnes since I attended a conference he led during my seminary days. The Pastor as Minor Poet, Sacred Thirst, and When God Interrupts sit on my shelf of favorite books. This new release surpasses all of his previous work.
Diary of a Pastor’s Soul is written as a work of fiction. It is built around the premise of a pastor logging his thoughts as he completes his final year of pastoral ministry. Yet, the stories ring true to Barnes’ life and ministry. To this reader, it appears Barnes has merely collected his favorites stories and lessons learned and crammed them into a one year narrative. It works.
I read this book in three sittings. Every few minutes I was forced to stop and read passages out load to my wife. This is a clear indication that a book is a winner. When I began the book I made a social media post stating it was the front runner for my book of the year. Upon completing the book, I’ve found that to be understated. This is in contention for my Mount Rushmore of books.
This is required reading for pastors.
American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham
Andrew Jackson is rightfully remembered for being the key figure in the Trail of Tears. At the beginning of the 1830s, nearly 125,000 Native Americans lived on millions of acres from Georgia, to Florida – land their ancestors had occupied and cultivated for generations. The Indian Removal Act was signed into law on May 28, 1830, authorizing Jackson the ability to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Native American lands. Jackson forced Native Americans to leave their homelands and walk thousands of miles to a specially designated “Indian territory.”
The Trail of Tears is a stain on American History and likely the only thing you know about Jackson. Meacham’s work, which earned the Pulitzer Prize, does not shy away of Jackson’s horrendous treatment of Native Americans, but does provide a fuller picture of his presidency. Jackson shaped the modern role of the president. So much so that he was an inspiration for Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and Harry Truman.
If you’re looking for a good biography of a little known president – here’s your pick.
What Christ Thinks of the Church by John Stott
I love Amazon. Sometimes it provides gems and surprises like no other. A number of years ago I ordered a used copy of this book for $3. A few days later it arrived on my doorstep. I opened it and was blown away. Not only did I find a pristine used copy from 1990 – but its an illustrated edition. It looks new off the shelf including early 90’s formatting. Beautiful. The book nerd in me is thrilled that I picked up this gem for less than a cup of Starbucks.
Besides the surprise of getting an illustrated edition – the content of this book is fabulous. I’m a big fan of the late John Stott. He was an evangelical scholar that wrote with a pastoral tone. This book is thin on pages but thick on quality. This illustrated edition is under 130 pages but provides all you need for a good grasp on the letters to the seven churches found in the book of Revelation.
I read this volume (and the next three books on the log) in preparation for a sermon series on the letters to the seven churches in Revelation. Stott is the crown jewel of the stack of books.
Letters to the Seven Churches by William Barclay
William Barclay was a minister of the Church of Scotland and prolific author. He is most widely known for his commentaries on the New Testament. This is a great volume on the seven letters to the churches in Revelation. Barclay provides 14 chapters – each city gets a chapter and each letter gets a chapter.
It is concisely written and filled with insight and useful material for those studying the letters or looking to preach through them. His information on the seven cities was fantastic, even though I decided not to include much of that info in my sermon series. Just too little time!
If I had to pick between Barclay or Stott – I’d go with Stott. You can’t go wrong with either but every single word of Stott’s volume was preachable material. Yet, Barclay does provide much more historical information on the seven cities.
Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation by Bruce Metzger
Bruce Metzger was a Bible scholar, biblical translator, and New Testament professor emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary. This slim volume is a basic, introduction to the book of Revelation. The previous two books on the log dealt directly with the seven letters in Revelation while this volume and the next on the log are overviews of the majestic book.
Metzger’s work is a masterpiece of brevity. He summarizes the 22 chapters of Revelation in a mere 106 pages! Yet, it can’t be dismissed as insignificant. He provides everything you need without delving into various interpretations or over explanation. One could read this book and walk away with a reasonably healthy understanding of the overall components of Revelation. Metzger provides solid scholarship without provide an academic treatise or tome.
If you are looking for various interpretations, views of the millennium, or massive charts and graphs, this is not your book.
The Theology of the Book of Revelation by Richard Bauckham
This book was an eye-opener for me during my days of seminary. This was a required text for a course on the New Testament. I read it twice during the semester. I’ve probably read it a half dozen times since.
Unlike Metzger’s volume above, this is not an overview of the text of Revelation. Rather, it is an introduction to the theology of Revelation. It does not work through the text in a sequential way, but rather, works through the text in themes. This makes it a great companion volume for the Metzger book.
Warning: This is an academic work. I LOVE it and have loaned it out three or four times. Not many have shared my enthusiasm simply because of the academic nature. It is not bedtime reading. It requires your full attention.
Bauckham looks into themes of the Lamb on the throne, the victory of the Lamb, the Spirit of prophecy, the New Jerusalem, and a few other technical issues of Revelation.
Living Out of the Overflow: Serving Out of Your Intimacy with God by Richard Blackaby
I picked this book up after Richard Blackaby was a guest for an evangelism rally at my church. He was kind enough to come back the next day and provide a talk on leadership to local pastors. I was blown away. It was a tremendous time. I enjoyed it so much I felt compelled to repay him with a book purchase!
Blackaby uses Elijah (mainly) and Moses to make the argument for ministry that is driven out of an intimate and passionate love for the Lord. Yet, unlike many ministry/leadership books, Blackaby is not merely filling pages with principles and points. Rather, he walks through large passages of Scripture. The two sections on Elijah come from 1 Kings 17 and 19 and the Moses section comes from Numbers 20.
The book is a character study of Elijah and Moses but also provides lessons on living and leading out of the overflow of a personal walk with God. If you know anything about the Blackaby family, you know the tremendous work they’ve done on the personal, intimate nature of God and our ability to experience God in the context of ministry.
Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure? by Charles Stanley
This book was passed along to me by a church member after a discussion on eternal rewards. She wanted me to read it and discuss it. I’ll always take someone up on such an offer!
Stanley takes a fairly traditional Baptist view of eternal security. He pens statements like, “If our salvation hinges on anything but the finished work of Christ on the cross, we are in trouble,” which will get amens from the Baptist reading audience. While Stanley also takes a fairly traditional view of eternal rewards, his thoughts might get mixed reviews from some. Stanley advocates heavily for eternal rewards. He states, “the kingdom of God will not be the same for all believers.” He goes on to say,
“Some believers will have rewards for their earthly faithfulness; others will not. Some will reign with Christ; others will not. Some will be rich in the kingdom of God; others will be poor. Some will be given true riches; others will not. Some will be given heavenly treasure of their own; others will not. Some will reign and rule with Christ; others will not.”
Stanley gives full references for each of these statements. If interested, you can pick up the book and dig into the Scripture references. The book is a good primer on the subject and this particular view.
The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For by David McCullough
David McCullough is an honored historian having receive two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book Awards, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
This is a slim volume of collected speeches, mostly collegiate graduation addresses, that tell the story of America’s principles. It was a delight to read. I witnessed McCullough give a speech on a college campus about the Wright Brothers as he was promoting his book on the famed aviators. It still stands out in my mind after many years.
I loved this volume. It’s a bit idealistic but I find myself in the mood for a heavy dose of idealism these days. A George Washington quote is found in a flyleaf, “Perseverance and spirit have down wonders in all ages.” You will read speeches with titles such as “The Animating Spirit,” “History Lost and Found,” The Bulwark of Freedom,” and “The Summons to Serve.” The book is printed on high quality paper and is filled with photographs and supplementary material.
Pick this one up. It will do you some good.
If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty by Eric Metaxes
Eric Metaxes is an interesting guy. He’s done everything from write comedy for Veggie Tales to produce massive biographies of Bonhoeffer and Luther. I’ve always found his Socrates in the City programs to be fascinating and high quality intellectual entertainment. Look them up on Youtube. Yet, in recent days he’s become a bit more of a flamethrower. While he’s never shied away from politics, he’s jump headlong into identity politics and has grown accustomed to careless Tweets. While this book has its toes in politics, this is Metaxes on his best behavior.
In 1787, when the Constitution was drafted, a woman asked Ben Franklin what the founders had given the American people, ” A republic,” he shot back. “If you can keep it.” Metaxes argues that America is not built upon geography but an idea. This book is his attempt to clearly define what the founders passed down to us
The foundation of the book doesn’t actually belong to Metaxes but Os Guinness. It is the “The Golden Triangle of Freedom” which states 1) freedom requires virtue 2) virtue requires faith and 3) faith requires freedom. The book is filled with anecdotes that make the point.
Love your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt by Author Brooks
Along with the previous two books, this volume completed my trifecta of Americana reading for the month. Yet, this book is a bit of a jumbled mess. It is about too many things but it is mostly about political division and Twitter. Along the way, Brooks quotes and discusses a large number of behavioral research studies. This is right up the ally of Brooks, who serves as the president of the American Enterprise Institute.
The book works really hard to finally arrive at set of rules to get past division and Twitter fights:
- Stand up to the Man. Refuse to be used by the powerful.
- Escape the bubble. Go where you’re not invited and say things people don’t expect.
- Say no to contempt. Treat others with love and respect, even when it’s difficult.
- Disagree better. Be part of a healthy competition of ideas.
- Tune out: Disconnect more from the unproductive debates.
Brooks even reduces those five rules: Go find someone with whom you disagree; listen thoughtfully; and treat him or her with respect and love.
I just saved you the price of the book. I’ll gladly accept small forms of compensation.