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What Pastor Blair Has Been Reading (October 2016-December 2016)


Allen, Leslie & Timothy Laniak. Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. Grand Rapids: Baker Books,

In this month’s reading list, I thought I would review some of the commentaries I used in our study of Nehemiah. I only review those that I read completely. This review is only on Leslie C. Allen’s work on Nehemiah. Allen has a tendency to lean toward more liberal sources. It was helpful to know different interpretations of Nehemiah. But at times I felt like Allen was hedging his bets by not coming down on definitive positions. Good for multiple views, but one must keep that in mind when reading this commentary.

Bilkes, Gerald. Glory Veiled and Unveiled: A Heart Searching Look at Christ’s Parables.
Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2012.

Using Mark 4:11-12, Bilkes argues that the parables should not be merely seen as just an illustration of a spiritual truth, but it is an actual veiling of God’s glory. It can only be understood by those whom the spirit reveals the truth. His parables were intentional in concealing who he was along with the truth with them. I am not sure that all the parables of Jesus can be classified by using a two verse proof from Mark. There were many times that Christ’s followers had need for our Lord to explain their meaning. And one can argue that only those regenerated by the Holy Spirit can truly understand any scripture in the first place (John 16:13, 1 Corinthians 2:14). So I don’t think his overall thesis holds well- there are many examples of parables in the scriptures outside of those delivered by Jesus (Think Nathan and his confrontation with David). But Bilkes is right when he says the parables are scripture. And scripture is meant to transform our hearts. It was nice to study each parable in the gospels to allow its truth to speak to my heart. For that, I am grateful for this book.

Brenemen, Mervin. New American Commentary: Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. Nashville: B&H
Publishing, 1993.

This is probably the best technical commentary I used on Nehemiah. I thought Brenemen’s discussion on whether or not Nehemiah preceded Ezra was excellent. He convinced me that Ezra came to Jerusalem before Nehemiah. I found this commentary to be very helpful if not as comprehensive as I would have liked. I consulted it often.

Boice, James Mongomery. The Christ of Christmas. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R publishing,

Every year, I try to read a book on the incarnation to get me in the spirit of the season. This is a collection of Boice’s Christmas sermons that was put together posthumously. It is not what I had hoped for my purposes. Boice takes an analytical approach to the Christmas story and it comes across more as an apologetic than inspiration. There are some gems here in that regards. He does an excellent job summarizing Machen’s Magnus opus, The Virgin Birth of Christ. But this is a book that could be read any time of the year and for an apologetic I much prefer Paul Maiers’ In The Fullness of Time.

Boice, James Montgomery. Nehemiah: An Expositional Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker
Books, 1990.

Expositional commentaries are not technical. They are a preacher’s exposition of a book of the Bible. So in other words, they are the sermons that cover that particular book. Boice’s is typical of most Nehemiah commentaries of Nehemiah. They tend to focus more on the person of Nehemiah rather than the God that Nehemiah serves. But Boices does make the man come alive and you see his wisdom as he serves God. I found his exposition of chapter three to be very helpful. But I still prefer Vos.

Carson, D.A. & Kathryn Nielson. God’s Word Our Story: Learning From the Book of
Nehemiah. Wheaton: Crossway, 2016.

The speakers at the 2014 Gospel Coalition conference for Women exposited all 13 chapters of Nehemiah. Six women took a chapter or two to explain the text and they were joined by John Piper, Tim Keller and D.A. Carson. I picked this book up to assist me in communicating the message of Nehemiah to women. I am glad I did. The chapters done by the women were exceptional. I really enjoyed both Carrie Sandom and Jenny Salt’s exposition of Nehemiah chapter 11 and the first half of 12. Surprisingly, I did not find the men’s chapters very helpful. In a recent sermon, I already stated my issues with Carson seeing Nehemiah as a failure. Perhaps having too many verses to present within an hour kept them from capturing the overall message. Alongside of the speakers, Kathryn Nielson speaks on how to study old testament texts and their difficulties with each section. I think this will be a useful tool for those interested.

Chantry, Walter. Praises for the King of Kings. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991.

I have read a few items by Walter Chantry before and I wasn’t much impressed. I came across this small book in a used book store for $1.50 and took a chance on it. I am so glad I did. Chantry was raised in my estimation. Here Chantry exposits three coronation Psalms and each inspired me during the Holiday season. Unlike his topical works, here he really let the text speak for itself and it is very powerful. If you want to read Chantry then begin with this one. You will have great appreciation for his ability to preach.

Deyoung, Kevin. Crazy Busy: A Mercifully Short Book About a Big Problem. Wheaton:
Crossway, 2013.

Deyoung does a pretty good job of helping a person diagnose if they are too busy and how to prioritize. He confesses that being inactive is just not an option for most of us, but he deals with what we do when we are busy. The greater thought he presents is how being overcommitted is most likely robbing you of your joy and time with God. And particularly you are most likely to fall into the trap of self-idolatry- thinking you can do it all. Although he says he doesn’t offer time management helps (that is not the focus of the book), he does offer some helpful hints. It is short (128 pages) and thought provoking.

Gant, Andrew. The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your
Favorite Holiday Songs. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

Andrew Grant is a noted music historian at the University of Oxford. He has complied quite the collection of history on some of the leading carols at Christmas time. I was able to use this for our advent readings this year. A broad range is provided from the sacred to the secular. This is one of those books that you don’t want to read if you prefer not to know the truth about the origins of some of our favorite seasonal hymns. Some of them written in response to revolution, some were written to offset puritanism in England, and some to promote Roman Catholicism against Protestantism. And of course, some were written by people whose theology we would entirely disagree. I found Grants research well done. His writing style is somewhat difficult to follow at times, as he tries to be humorous and light-hearted, but it does not carry well into an American context.

Hamilton, Jr., James. Christ Expositional Commentary: Ezra-Nehemiah. Nashville: B&H
Publishing, 2014.

This review is on the Nehemiah portion of the commentary. I like Hamilton’s work on the New Testament. But I found little that I could use from this commentary. Each chapter could stand on its own and it became borderline topical at times. I found myself consulting this volume less and less as I preached my way through Nehemiah this year.

Johnson, Paul E. & Sean Wilentz. The Kingdom of Matthias. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1994.

This book chronicles one of the cult groups of 19th century America. The story of the cult leader Matthias was sensational news and carried in the newspapers throughout the nation. It’s most famous member was the black female activist Sojourner Truth. The authors try to present a reasonable account of the events. While you get an overview, there is not a fair and balanced assessment. Rather than blame the deceptions on a depraved and unstable mind, they somehow want to attribute the cause to the strict Calvinism of the day. That seems implausible considering the main leadership were all under the influence of Charles Finney. Not too surprising considering Johnson has been hostile towards religion (no doubt from his time in Utah) and Wilnentz is well-known liberal historian. The subject matter is fascinating and demonstrates how we are beings that will worship anything. But be aware of the author’s bias as you read the book.

Kidner, Derek. Ezra & Nehemiah. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove:
Intervarsity Press, 1979.

I usually like Kidner’s work, but I found this particular commentary too light. There is not much depth here. Every now and then a thought was helpful, but there was too much speculation for my taste. This one can be avoided.

Nasseli, Andrew & J.D. Crowley. Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those
Who Differ. Wheaton: Crossway, 2016.

This might be one of the best book I have read this year. My friend Andy Wisner recommended to me as a resource and he was spot on. The book teaches about why our consciences treat affect us differently and how God is working thought them. It contains solid Biblical exposition. If you are struggling with being patient with others, then you need to read this book. If you want to communicate how God may help you to see things slightly differently from your brothers or sisters then you need to read this book. I highly recommend it.

Packer, J.I. A Passion for Faithfulness: Wisdom from the book of Nehemiah. Wheaton:
Crossway, 1995.

This is a topical work on themes found throughout Nehemiah. It probably had the fault of focusing too much on the man, Nehemiah rather on than upon the Lord. Packer is the one who led me to an understanding that Nehemiah as a layman. And there is much to be said for that. Interesting but not as helpful as others when studying Nehemiah.

Robertson, E.H. Paul Schneider: The Pastor of Buchenwald. London: SCM Press, 1956.

I became aware of Schneider from the book, War and Grace. I wanted to know more about him and began with this short biography. Much of the material is told from the perspective of his wife (which includes personal letters) and was translated into English by Robertson. This biography provides more comprehensive material about his development as a pastor and his choice to become a conservative Evangelical. The letters from the prison and concentration camp to his wife are warming and encouraging. But there is very little that tells what Schneider endured as he was writing them. It only goes to show the strength of the man not to share with his wife the great suffering he was under. I have newer contemporary biography that I hope will shed more light during this period as he ministered to his fellow prisoners.

St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate- John: Read, Mark, Learn. Fearn, UK: Christian Focus, 1999.

St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate is an Evangelical Anglican Church in London. They have designed a study series to introduce books of the Bible. We worked through this in my young men’s discipleship group. The study is largely based upon D.A. Carson’s commentary on John. The text is broken down into small sections in 27 chapters. It provides an outline to show how it fits in the overall book, what details from the Old Testament are relevant to the passage, a brief commentary and the major themes. Then it asks several pointed questions to enhance your understanding of the text. This is an excellent study that stays focused on the word. It works well in small groups and one-on-one.

Stephens, Don. War and Grace: Short Biographies from the World Wars. Carlisle: EP Books,

When I first started I wasn’t sure if I would like it. But the further into the work, I became more fascinated with the content. Stephens has selected a unique group of individuals that either served the church or came to Christ in difficult circumstances during the war years. There are representative both from the axis and the allies. From the German reformed pastor Paul Schnieder who was imprisoned for standing up to the Nazis to Mitssuo Fuchida who led the air attack on Pearl Harbor. Probably the most interesting was Henry Gerecke who was the chaplain to the high ranking Nazi prisoners in Munich. There is much here that made me want to explore more about these figures. The only drawback is the authors writing is very amateur. But the content makes up for his deficiencies.

Vos, Howard F. Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther: Bible Study Commentary. Grand Rapids:
Lamplighter Books, 1987.

I have to confess, when it come to the Old Testament I am a Howard Vos fan. He reminds me of the imminent scholar FF Bruce as he has a masterful grasp of both Testaments in the Bible. I think it was the historian in both men that made them so. Vos has produced an exceptional overview of Nehemiah. This is not a technical work, nor is it entirely devotional. It is meant to assist the reader with the more difficult passages of the text, but keeping in mind the bigger picture of the entire book. Even though it is short, I found myself working consulting Vos quite frequently.

Woodbridge, John D. & Frank James. Church History: Volume 2- From the Pre-
Reformation to the Present Day. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.

I recently taught a Church history class at a local university and this was the prescribed text for the course. It was good for me to work through this new history as I have continued to rely upon Justo Gonzalez’s The Story of Christianity when I normally teach the subject. To condense 600 plus years of into a single volume is a monumental task. The authors do a good job of covering the major events and even bringing more detail to the student. But unlike Gonzalez, the text is not as readable. Gonzalez fails to adequately address events of the last sixty years. This volume does cover that period but fails to assess the key episodes of church history such as the civil rights movement. Most likely I will still recommend and stick with The Story of Christianity, but this will be a nice volume to consult.