What Pastor Blair Has Been Reading (from April 2020 through June 2020)
Begg, Alistair. Pray Big: Learn to Pray Like an Apostle. Epsom, UK: Good Book Co., 2019.
Every year, I try to read a book on prayer to inspire me in the discipline so that it doesn’t become a monotonous duty. I want prayer that helps me thrive spiritually. And this short book was the right medicine for such an occasion. I did not learn much that was new. But is was an excellent refresher. In fact, this book might be considered a primer to D.A. Carson’s Praying with Paul (Carson’s book is still one of the top two books on prayer that I have read). Begg works through the prayers of Paul in his letter to the Ephesians in his easy-going manner. It is a wonderful reminder of the type of things I should be praying for and expect from God. I found it to be devotionally nourishing.
Bettis, Chap. Donut Date Journal: 70 Questions to Connect You to Your Child’s Heart. Diamond Hill Publishing, 2017.
If you are a parent, I am sure you have been in the position of trying to communicate with your kids and you have no idea where to start. Thankfully, Chap Bettis has produced a number of resources to help you disciple your children. The key to it all is to keep the conversation going. I have been using this book over the past year and a half with two of my daughters. We go get donuts (and I have had endless varieties from Krispy Kreme, Duncan, Kroger, Beignets, and Bagels and the occasional Egg McMuffin), pray and then I pull out the book, ask the question and write down their response WITHOUT commenting. I just listen. By doing so, I have seen how this is creating valuable communication with my girls. They know I value them by listening to them. I think the book can work for children at any age. I only wish I had this resource available for my older daughters.
Binning, Hugh. Christian Love (With and extract from The Sinners Sanctuary). Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2004.
It is my practice to read a puritan writer every year. For 2020, I selected this Puritan Paperback from Banner of Truth by Hugh Binning (1627-53). Binning was a young pastor serving near Glasgow, Scotland during the Commonwealth period. It is said that Oliver Cromwell found him to be a formative preacher. He died at age 26. This book is a collection of his sermons based upon 1 Corinthians 13. There are three additional sermons on Romans 8:15 to give the reader a ‘feel’ for the man’s overall work. His messages are shorter than most of the era and do not branch into as many divisions. But the sermons expositing Christian love are the real gem here. While there is nothing remarkable about them but for a few pithy insights, they are a wonderful historical study into the minds of those trying to hold a nation together when various doctrines and church practices threatened to tear it apart. I am not sure I will return to Binning in the future. But I am glad for the greater comprehension of the period.
Bridges, Jerry. The Pursuit of Holiness. Navpress: Colorado Springs, 2006.
I know this book has been around forever, but I am just now getting to it. It is probably the best primer on the topic of holiness that I have read. Bridges covers the material well in an easy to read manner. He demonstrates from the scriptures that Christians are called to be holy. And then he precedes to describe what that means and what it looks like. The writing is clear and crisp. He provides great encouragement in finding joy in our holiness. For a deeper discussion on the topic, J.C. Ryle’s book is still the best. But this is a nice introduction. Lisa and I did this one together and it generated much discussion. The only thing I found disappointing is the discussion guide. It became stagnant and predictable after the first three lessons (not something I expect from a NAVpress publication). But if you are trying to understand holiness and your part within that state, this is a great place to start.
Broadus, John. Favorite Sermons of John A. Broadus (ed. Vernon L. Stanfield). New York: Harper and Brothers, 1959.
John Broadus was one of the founders of the Southern Baptists Theological Seminary (and its second president). He is considered one the most prolific American preachers of the nineteenth-century. Don’t be fooled by the title. Broadus did not choose these sermons as his favorites, rather they were compiled from manuscripts in SBTS archives by Vernon Stanfield, a former professor of preaching at the seminary. Broadus was more of a topical preacher than an expositor. Twelve of the sermons are complete. The remaining twelve are outlines with notes. They reveal that Broadus was a master of homiletics. He was poetic with his words and a marvelous illustrator. He had command of the Greek language (which is shown also in the fact that most of the sermons were taken from the New Testament) which displays his excellent scholarship. But he also kept his hearer’s attention firmly on Jesus. For the most part, I found the full sermons a joy to read. The partial manuscripts and outlines allowed me to see where Broadus was going but without the vivid portrayal of the complete sermons. And while the messages are wonderful, one still has to keep in mind that like many southerners of his day, Broadus had the stain of ante bellum slavery upon his reputation. Such sermons reveal that the Lord can use a man for His glory, despite the sin of the messenger.
Chandler, Andrew. George Bell, Bishop of Chichester: Church, State, and Resistance in the Age of Dictatorship. Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing Co, 2016.
Outside of Britain, there is likely to be few who are familiar with George Bell (1883-1958). Prior to becoming the Bishop of Chichester, the minister served in the prestigious positions as chaplain at Lambeth Palace and later the Dean at Canterbury before being installed as bishop. He was an Anglican insider who lobbied for a stronger ecumenical presence in the worldwide church. He was a patron of the arts, often recruiting writers, poets and artists from around the world to engage with the Church. It was through his association with officers from other denominations, Catholics and Orthodox that formed much of his thinking throughout his career. During World War II, the bishop was a champion for the Confessing Church of Germany. Through his advocacy, he sought to draw the distinctions between the German people and the Nazi party. Bell was admired by his friend, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He even was a secret messenger of the German resistance to the British government. Because of his concern for the people, he lobbied against ‘area’ bombing within the House of Lords (the technique of bombing industrial targets despite the civilian presence in and around the factories). It made him unpopular with Churchill and Conservatives most likely costing him an appointment of Archbishop. He was a chief promoter and designer of the World Council of Churches. But it is also clear from the author’s portrayal that Bell was idealist and often naïve. He wanted to love for humanity to be his prevailing notion. And yet, while seeing the evidence of sin around him, did not have a solid grasp of it as a doctrine.
Clement, ‘1st Clement & 2nd Clement’ in Holmes, Michael W, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (3rd Ed.). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007.
On the recommendation of Brian Litfin’s book, I picked up this Greek translation of the early church fathers. I want to first, say something as to the translator and then second address the translated works of 1st & 2nd Clement. I am grateful for Litfin’s recommendation because Holmes’ work is much more superior than the Loeb series. The introductions to each piece are thorough and easily readable. The apparatus and footnotes make the work more accessible and the actual translations are done to be useable rather than just poetic. Real research can be done through this volume to compare these early works to the New Testament. If you are considering which translations to invest in, this is the one.
I was fascinated to read 1st Clement. Most likely, Clement was the correspondence secretary of the church at Rome writing to the church at Corinth. The letter gives insight into what the second century church did in belief and in practice. For example, pastors were not merely appointed by other elders but also approved by the congregation. The congregation at Corinth had a plurality of elders of whom Clement expected the Corinthians to obey. So, while there was interaction between churches. Each congregation had its own polity and was expected to obey its leadership. Clement also encouraged the church to submit to the civil government. The second letter is not a letter but a sermon. It was not written by Clement but only associated with him because the only manuscripts we have are with Clement’s letter. It reveals how various ‘gospels’ were circulating among the churches and makes one appreciative of the canonization of the New Testament. Several quotes from extrabiblical sources are given. And there is a definite emphasis on works-based righteousness. But what is clear is that the early believers expected an immediate return of Christ to bring judgment on the world and that the church would receive tribulation. I found the study enlightening and I look forward to reading the other works in this volume.
Duncan, Ligon. Does God Care How We Worship? Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing,
I did not plan on reading two books by Duncan this cycle, but one of my resolutions for the year is to examine theologically the topic of corporate worship. And this short volume was one of the books distributed by T4G. The book was originally composed as part of a festschrift for James Montgomery Boice. It is outstanding. It reminds the reader that God does care about how we worship and that God’s Word must inform every part our corporate worship. Duncan affirms that we should read the Word, sing the Word, pray the Word and preach the Word. I was both affirmed regarding our intent at Providence to do this, but also convicted by a few areas as well- mainly that we don’t teach enough from the scriptures as to why we do what we do in our services. I highly encourage every member to read this little volume. You will be glad you did.
Duncan, Ligon. When Pain is Real and God Seems Silent: Finding Hope in the Psalms. Wheaton: Crossway, 2020.
Ligon Duncan is the President of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS. He is also a brilliant expositor. His forte is also the Old Testament. Few preachers can deliver messages from left side of the Bible like Duncan. He has a rich southern voice that is a pleasure to the ear which is combined with excellent exposition. This book is two sermons on the Laments of Psalm 88 and Psalm 89 that were delivered at the Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. Both Old Testament texts reveal the hearts of men who were grappling with suffering under a sovereign God. Duncan handles the text masterly and provides hope for the Christian. The sermon on Psalm 88 is superior to the second. I found great encouragement in this little book. I envisage that it could be handed to someone who is having severe trials in their lives. But the audio messages can still be downloaded from the church’s website if one is more auditory in nature (and they are free).
Ferguson, Sinclair. To Seek and To Save: Daily Reflections on the Road to the Cross. Epsom, United Kingdom: Good Book Company, 2020.
I never knew that I needed a devotional for lent. Leave it to a brilliant preacher, theologian and historian like Ferguson to teach me that I do. The book provides forty daily devotionals based upon Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem (and ultimately to the cross) as found in the gospel of Luke. Each lesson fits on three pages and is followed by space to capture one’s own reflections. The devotions are easy to read and applicable. I found them to be inspiring, challenging and encouraging. They can easily be read anytime of the year, but they are designed to make Lent more memorable. I highly encourage the use of this book for such a practice.
Foss, Joe. Joe Foss: Flying Marine- The Story of His Flying Circus (as told to Walter Simmons). E.P. Dutton, 1943.
Every year around Memorial Day, I try to read about an American veteran that will help me appreciate the sacrifices that were made for my country. This year, I chose this biographical account by Joe Foss (1915-2003). For those unfamiliar with him, he was one of the top American fighter aces of World War II. He served two tours in the pacific theater, won a Congressional Medal of Honor, became the president of the NRA and later the commissioner of the American Football League. This account was given verbatim to a reporter when he was sent on tour a of the U.S. after winning his CMH. It is very raw and unpolished. I liked it because it gives us a glimpse both into the man, his leadership and the time period. It was clear that Foss carried his national bias with him using vulgar phrases regarding the enemy that we would never use today (and also how women were addressed). It would shock some readers to hear how he ruthlessly exterminated his opponents when the opportunity presented itself. But in his mind, he was saving Allied lives when he did so. He was quick to give all the credit of any fame he received to his fellow pilots and grounds crew (dubbed ‘the Flying Circus’). He believed it was a team effort. He also provides many humorous stories of how ‘the boys’ coped with war. He was truly a remarkable man. This is an authentic first had account of the battle of Guadalcanal; a boon to any historian.
Lennox, John. Determined to Believe? The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human Responsibility. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018.
On occasion, there are times when one reviews a book and does not know where to begin because it is so bad. Sadly, this is one of those occasions. I have had the opportunity to hear John Lennox in person. He is a gracious and eloquent speaker. He is a master debater in the truest sense that he knows how to argue in a such a way as to win the debate, not so much as present factual information. This book is full of those techniques. There are numerous strawmen arguments, scripture taken out of context, and the overwhelming of information (not relevant to specific points) that floods the reader to distract from the meaning. The book begins innocently enough in very moderate language. He claims that he is arguing against a strictly theistic deterministic view which has long been debated among Calvinists between lapsarianism and Supralapsarianism (Lennox neither introduces nor uses those terms). And he claims that the main problem is our adoption of labels (such as TULIP, Calvinism, etc…), where as the Bible does not use labels. But as you read the book, Lennox is merely arguing for an Arminian position without using that label. He aligns himself with figures like Adria Rogers who want free will choice and yet still maintain eternal security (a ‘have your cake and eat it too theology). Reading the reviews on Amazon, those who oppose Calvinism think they have found a champion in Lennox when he has been using the same rationale as Jacob Arminius in the 16th century. I doubt they have read the book in its entirety. I struggled to get through its 380 pages. Several times I wanted to give up because of the shear amount of irrelevant information (and conveniently skipping over verses that argue against his points). But I wanted to be fair and read to the end. Again, Lennox is a very gracious person, but don’t let his kindness disarm you from the falsity of his argument. This is a little sad, because Lennox is known primarily as a scientist who advocates that faith can be included with science. It will now cause me to re-examine his arguments to make sure I haven’t been manipulated by them.
Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids: W. B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.
The great expositor Martyn Lloyd Jones has left us 60 individual sermons on Matthew 5-7. At one time they were published in two volumes, but they have been combined into one large book of 585 pages. I have used it as reference before, but this is the first time I have read it cover to cover. The author gets down into the minutia of the text. And he brilliantly provides wonderful application as he brings the situation of Jesus’ audience to the modern reader. But its strength is also its weakness. I think Lloyd-Jones can overreach as well. There a few times that he can be anachronistic and gleans from the text an application that could never have been intended for the original hearers. There is no way they would have understood Jesus in that manner. The author, as brilliant as he is, never wavers from orthodoxy. But it is a flaw to this otherwise wonderful book.
Murray, Iain. The Life of John Murray. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2007.
I have long admired John Murray (1898-1975). When I was in seminary I was ‘forced’ to read Redemption Accomplished and Applied (for which I am ever grateful) and I have read his sermons devotionally. But this is the first time I have read his biography. John Murray is primarily known as being the professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary since its inception. He was born in Scotland and trained at Princeton before that seminary became untenable due to its doctrinal drift. His influence over many of those I admire is immense (for example he trained my friend, Geoff Thomas and Murray was a founding trustee at Banner of Truth). The author, Iain Murray (no relation), like most of his other biographies has presented his subject within a favorable light and an humble estimation. I wanted to read this revised edition of his life because it contained several letters that the first edition did not contain at the time of his printing. But I would encourage anyone to invest in the four volumes of Murray’s works published by the Banner. It would be well worth the overall price to have the majority of his writings along with the biography.
Ortlund, Dane. Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. Wheaton: Crossway, 2020.
At a time when many tend to emphasize the judgment and the wrath of God (which sadly includes most within the reformed faith), Dane Ortlund has written a book to remind us of the heart of God. The author wants us to see that our savior is not harsh and condemning towards his children, but that he is gentle and lowly. Ortlund begins with the person of Jesus and then takes us into the Trinity in the latter chapters revealing that the Godhead has a tender heart. He combines a wide mixture of Puritan quotes from Thomas Goodwin, John Bunyan, John Owen and even the later Jonathan Edwards. Perhaps the only flaws are that sometimes Ortlund attempts to be clever in being culturally relevant, which for me was distracting at times. And that there are numerous split infinitives (also distracting!). This book comes at a wonderful time in our current world. If you are looking for something to lift up your soul and be reminded of God’s love for you, this volume will meet that need.
Peterson, Eugene. The Message of Psalms in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs: rNavPress, 2018.
Confession time: When I was youth pastor, I hated Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible entitled The Message. If one of my students got started on the message it was difficult to get them to read a real translation of the Bible because they assumed a paraphrase was easier. There are other books that Peterson has written that I benefited from reading. But I could not recommend his paraphrase. That being said, I was at a recent conference where we were each given a copy of only the Psalms from The Message. With Andrew Peterson (one of my favorite music artists) as an endorsement in the forward for this little volume, I thought maybe it was time for a rethink on The Message. I still struggle to see any value in a paraphrase- especially this one. I found myself saying in my head, time after time, ‘that is not what the Psalm says’. For example, using our Psalm of the year- Psalm 57:7 in the ESV says ‘My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody!’ (a key verse in the text that David knows he is still in God because he has not quit). Peterson paraphrases with ‘I’m ready, God, so ready, ready from head to toe, ready to sing, ready to raise a tune.’ (What????). And then ‘Soar high in the skies, O God! Cover the whole earth with your glory’ doesn’t quite capture the majesty of Psalm 57:5 (ESV) ‘Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!’ I am all for reading one’s opinions on scripture. (After all commentaries do that). But save your time and read the beautiful poetry of God’s Word and allow the Spirit to teach you through it. It will be of much more value.
Piper, John. Coronavirus and Christ. Wheaton: Crossway, 2020.
Amazingly, John Piper was able to respond to COVID-19 within a week of the nation shutting down. This is a short book of 112 pages. It would probably take the average reader a little under two hours to read. It is a clear and concise Christian response to the coronavirus outbreak. It deals with subject in two parts; first to present the Biblical view that God is still in sovereign control over the universe despite the pandemic and second, what God is doing through this crisis. If you are an avid reader of Piper, then you will not find much from him that is new in this volume. Much of what is written you can find elsewhere in his writings or within the content of his sermons. But despite that, the organization of the book is marvelous. It is an exceptionally good response to those wondering why God could allow such something tragic in the world as this virus. It is also commendable that Crossway and Desiring God ministries found many ways to get the book to the public for free. I recommend the book. It will encourage believers in God’s sovereign purposes in suffering.
Saxton, David W. God’s Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan practice of Biblical Meditation. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015.
This is a maddeningly frustrating book. I say that because the content of the book is excellent, but it is poorly written. The book is intended to be a comprehensive study of the Puritan teaching on the spiritual discipline of meditation. Saxton has collected numerous sources from the 17th Century to draw upon this lost art of meditation. I think he has wisely gleaned what members from that century taught. However, he has presented it in a poor format. The author makes his point and then just offers a list selective quotations as evidence. He never defines puritanism or what makes his sources a ‘puritan’. And he makes personal broad sweeping comments throughout the volume without backing up his statements. (I am sure Roman Catholicism would not claim to be outside the bounds of the Bible as Saxton suggests on p. 17). However, despite the apparent weaknesses, it is still the most accessible book on the subject and will enlighten the reader on the benefits of spiritual meditation.
Shaw, Ed. Same Sex Attraction and the Church: The Surprising Plausibility of the Celibate Life. Downer’s Grove: IVP Books, 2015.
There are books you wish you had read earlier in your career. This is one of those. It was given to me at a T4G conference in 2018 and has sat on my shelf the last two years. I took it up to read during Pride Month when the world celebrates homosexuality (you may wonder why- I figure instead of being frustrated with the occasion, I could use it as a way to learn more and pray for those that struggle with same sex attraction). Ed Shaw is an English pastor that struggles with same sex attraction. After much study, he concluded that the Bible teaches it would be wrong to act on his feelings. Now, he has written a book to give advice to the church and those that struggle with these feelings how one can remain celibate and still honor the Lord. He is a hopeful individual. His wisdom is solid, and to date, it is the best book I have read on how to minister to those dealing with same sex attraction. I hope to implement much of his advice in our church. I cannot recommend it enough- especially to parents who have children that struggle with this issue. It is definitely one of the best books I have read this year.
Smith, Jame K.A. Letters to A Young Calvinist: An invitation to the Reformed Tradition. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2010.
In this book, James K.A. Smith presents us with a dialogue of letters between himself and ‘Jesse’ a young man that has just discovered Calvinism. As typical of those ‘converted’ to Calvinism, ‘Jesse’ has become prideful in his theology. And he feels he must ‘fix’ everyone else (which is entirely antithetical to God’s sovereignty). So, through this series of letters, Smith mentors him in his newfound theology. The letters are engaging and humorous. And they do lead the reader to some wonderful resources. In many ways, we are witnessing the author’s own spiritual pilgrimage. Despite Smiths smugness that reformed Baptists are only Presbyterians in waiting (a sentiment that only proves that the author is not as intelligent as he presents himself), there are many wonderful explanations Reformed theology. Even Baptists would benefit from reading his letter on confessionalism (which I still struggle to understand how the writer agrees with confessionalism and yet maintains a theistic evolutionary view). While I enjoyed the book, my interests were more for Smith’s life and outlook than anything else. I would find it difficult to use in any other manner, and I certainly would not want to use it in discipleship.
Snyder, John. Behold Your God: Rethinking God Biblically. New Albany, MS: Media Gratia, 2013.
Behold your God is a daily study on the person of God and how that should impact your life. It has a daily workbook and a series of thirteen videos that are to be conducted over twelve weeks. Lisa and I did this study together and we both have profited from it. I have been wanting to do this study for several years as I heard many good things about it. And it did not disappoint. The content of the workbook is excellent. Using scripture, it takes you straight before the throne of God to see Him as He is. The lesson activities are varied that continue interest for the twelve weeks and break up monotony. Scattered throughout the workbook are wonderful quotes by saints of old that add their opinions to the subject. There is a wonderful reading list in the back to take the student to further study on the week’s lesson. The only caution I would give participants is to plan on giving yourself plenty of time to work through the material. Some days require more diligence than others.
The video series has both pros and cons. The format is that Snyder introduces the audience to a historical Christian figure of the past as a launching point to the topic (persons such as George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, and Amy Carmichael). Then he provides a 35 minute sermon for the week’s subject. And then several other notable speakers comment on the material such as Paul Washer, Eiffion Evans, and Conrad Mbewe). First let me say that the content of the sermons is excellent. I have no complaints in that. But the delivery is weak. Snyder is not a dynamic speaker. One must have ‘listening’ constitution to continue. I would also say that the format of the other speakers can become a bit monotonous. The study overall would benefit from having a reshoot of the videos (possibly an update). Overall, this is an excellent study that I encourage people to do. Buy the workbooks and borrow the videos from me.
Spurgeon, Charles. An Exposition of Matthew: The Gospel of the Kingdom. Springfield: Particular Baptist Press, 2015.
I used Spurgeon, devotionally on my third time through Matthew. There were a few places where Spurgeon had an insight that helped me, but there is not much original in the commentary. The great preacher wrote this commentary in the final two years of his life. And all through the text are warnings and admonitions regarding the infamous ‘down-grade controversy’. It was good not only for spiritual nourishment but also as a historical document of the late Victorian period. As a bonus, there are dozens of unpublished letters by Spurgeon added to the end of the book. There is not much new insight into Spurgeon within their contents. But they do reveal the forcefulness of his personality.
Stott, John. The Message of the Sermon On The Mount. Downer’s Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1978.
Even though it is over 40 years old, I think this is one of the best commentaries on The Sermon on the Mount. I have read through it three times. I am surprised how many times that I disagreed with Stott on the first reading where I now am convinced that Stott was correct all along. The strength of the book is how well Stott handles the topic of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’. He really helps the reader understand the ‘already- but not yet’ aspect of our Lord’s kingdom. And as such, Stott emphasizes our Kingdom citizenship. Places in which I disagree are only minor, and I am even grateful for the differing perspective. I only wish that the author might have increased his study for a fuller commentary on the sermon. If you were going to use one book to help you study Matthew 5-7, this would be the one that I suggest.