What Pastor Blair Has Been Reading (from July 2020 through September 2020)
What Pastor Blair Has Been Reading (from July 2020 through September 2020)
Davis, Dale Ralph. In the Presence of My Enemies. Christian Focus: Fearn, Scotland, 2020.
This is Davis’ third installment in this series. Previously he released, The Way of Righteousness in the Much of Life and Slogging Along in the Paths of Righteousness. This book covers Psalms 25-37 (don’t let the title from Psalm 23 fool you because he is portraying the overall theme of this particular set of psalms). I get excited every time Dale Ralph Davis releases one of these because he is one of my favorite devotional writers. The first two were excellent. However, this one left me feeling I wanted more from him. The exposition is still good, but not the same care as his previous work. Some of the alliteration in his divisions are forced and then there were sections of the Psalms he did not even address (for example, he barely touched on the last 10 verses of Psalm 37 as he ends the book). Still, his exposition on Psalm 29, 32 and 35 are marvelous. Those alone are worth purchasing the book. But this volume felt like the author was rushed to complete it.
Fukuyama, Francis. Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux: New York, 2018.
I picked this book up on the recommendation of Jonathan Leeman. Fukuyama traces the origin of cultural tribal identity and why it manifested itself within the world’s political system. It explains white nationalism, the Islamic state, along with movements such as Black Lives Matter, transgenderism and even the rise of Donald Trump. The author proposes each arises out of an intrinsic psychological need to be recognized. It is not enough to just be considered equal, but also celebrated. Identity politics emerge from the concept that sees the cultural system as suppressing the authentic self and therefore, it will resent whoever does not afford the respect that the individual feels they deserve. I do not disagree with his conclusions. They are well documented and demonstrate that every human being is searching for their identity in something. I do disagree with his solution in which that identity can be provided by the state through inclusion as provided there is submission to citizen common ideals. It lacks the spiritual component that our true identity must be found in Jesus Christ alone. Our sin-sick souls cannot rise above our selfishness without a unity in the one who can overcome our sins. This is a fascinating read, and I commend it to you for its insight to how we have arrived at this place even though he is a political scientist proposing a secular solution to a spiritual problem.
Fuller, Andrew (eds. Michael D. McMullen & Timothy D. Whelan). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, Vol. I: The Diary of Andrew Fuller, 1780-1801. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH, 2016.
Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) is considered one of the foremost English theologians of the eighteenth century. Not only is he noted for his contributions to Baptist life, but he is also recognized as a leading figure among other Evangelical denominations of the period that modeled his moderate Calvinism and enthusiasm for worldwide missions. The contents of the dairy, while incomplete, cover many of the most significant events of his career such as the
agonizing move from the congregation at Soham to the chapel at Kettering, the publication of The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation and his interaction with the Northampton association. What the diary conveys that the biographies do not are the personal feelings and emotions of this great theologian, not just his intellectual pursuits. The reader sees a real man who had many difficult struggles. Perhaps the greatest contribution of the diary (a point sadly missed within the introduction) is to see Fuller as a pastor. He is usually only seen light of his accomplishments as a theologian and organizer of the Baptist Missionary Society. His present-day admirers often miss the fact that he was first and foremost the shepherd of a local congregation. Andrew Fuller’s diary makes him a much more accessible individual than reading his biographies. It still acknowledges his accomplishments and the endurance it took to achieve them. Yet, within its contents we see a real pastor, a real Christian, and a real man.
Grier, W.J. The Momentous Event: A Discussion of Scripture Teaching on the Second Advent. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976.
Others have challenged me lately on my eschatology due to recent events. I thought it good to do a quick brush up on my a-millennial understanding of the second advent. When I ever I do this, I start where I began with The Momentous Event. According to Thomas Noble, it was this little book that changed Martyn Lloyd-Jones opinion on the subject, and it did the same for me. Ever since I have arrived at this position, I have found little to convince me that it can be disproved. Grier begins this book with defining the various positions. Then he traces how the differing views emerged over church history. He next appeals to Old Testament prophecy and then how the New Testament interpreted those prophecies. The last third of the book focus on the book of Revelation overall before narrowing down on the concept the millennium and Satan’s binding in Revelation 20. The book is short and easy to understand. It is very Biblical, but one does need to have their Bible open since the book only gives scripture references rather than quoting directly. This is a wonderful overview of the subject, and even if you disagree with Grier’s position, you will take away an adequate understanding of the a-millennial view.
Grudem, Wayne, John C. Collins & Thomas R. Schreiner (eds.) Understanding Scripture: An Overview of the Bible’s Origin, Reliability and Meaning. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.
If you were teaching Sunday School class on hermeneutics and you were looking for a companion book that helps your students understand the historical issues of the bible this would be the perfect book to use. The editors have assembled a wide array of accomplished scholars such John Piper, J.I. Packer, David Powlison, Peter Williams, and Peter Gentry. Each author has written a short chapter on a basic issue of the Bible without being too academic. They cover topics such as translation, historical interpretation, canonization, and reliability. Each chapter is short and to the point. But they are intended only as a starting point to guide the reader into further study. All of it is accomplished in under 200 pages (quite a feat indeed!). This is the perfect introductory book on basic facts about the Bible. It will greatly encourage the new student of the Word of God to have confidence in the scriptures.
Heiser, Michael S. Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the Powers of Darkness. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020.
This is a scholarly work that addresses the origin of demons. I must confess that Heiser has provoked my thinking on this subject. He proposes that the New Testament concepts of malevolent spirits that rebelled against God, are not only built on the Old Testament text but also on the thinking of the Second Temple period (the time between the return of the exile and 70 A.D. when the second temple was destroyed). He begins by surveying the terms used in the Old Testament itself, then he lays out how much of the extra-biblical works of the intermediate period built upon the understanding of those spiritual powers and concludes by showing the influence same themes of the inspired New Testament authors. I am persuaded that there is some merit in his argument, but some of what he presents seems speculative and reliant upon extra-biblical sources. However, none of what he proposes affects doctrine regarding these powers of darkness. The last chapter of the book affirms a proper understanding of spiritual warfare by refuting the idea of Christian demon possessions and ‘binding Satan’ or ‘lifting curses’- all of which were accomplished by the gospel already.
Hendriksen, William. More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1967.
Even though A-millennialism, has been around for centuries, Hendriksen’s book is considered one of the finest introductions to the position. It was originally written in 1940 and came to define the ‘classic’ position. I enjoyed re-reading this volume in my brush up on eschatology. For those not, familiar with the a-millennial position, it interprets the certain scenes within the book of Revelation as repeating and recurring throughout the history of the Church, not just a one time event. If one is willing to accept the symbolism (as defined by the Old Testament), it is hard not to see the logic of it. It makes the message of Revelation encouraging to the Church as a whole, and not just frightening (as dispensationalism tends to portray it). After reading it again, I see several flaws in Hendriksen’s interpretations of specific events. (I would now recommend G.K. Beale). However, the first six chapters of the book, which provide the introductory material of Revelation are still outstanding.
Hill, Andrew E. Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: The Tyndale Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2012.
This review is only for the Zechariah portion of the commentary. I read through Zechariah n my morning devotions and I was looking for an introductory commentary to guide me. The TOTC series is generally good for this sort of thing, but I found Hills exposition lacking. The last three books of the Old Testament almost demand that one take an eschatological stance. Hill doesn’t do so (though I suspect he is pre-mil) and it leaves the reader hanging on interpretation. I was helped through the first eight chapters of Zechariah’s visions and sermons. But I remained confused for the remaining six chapters of the prophecy. That may be due to the passages being difficult to interpret in the first place, but Hill left me desiring more understanding rather than the clarity I was seeking. Perhaps reading his exposition of Haggai and Malachi would help.
Lloyd Jones, D. Martyn. Preaching and Preachers. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.
I have had this book on my shelf for several years. While I consulted it from time to time, it always intimidated me. I have never read it from cover to cover. But I chose it this year to improve my preaching skills. Lloyd-Jones is arguably the greatest preacher of the 20th century. In 1969, he delivered a series of lectures at Westminster Theological Seminary which became the contents of this book. Surprisingly, I found myself not overwhelmed as I read. I was encouraged that much of the methodology that the doctor taught, I employ when crafting my own sermons. Of course, the good doctor never fails to remind you where you come up short. But I also discovered that much of those standards were his personal opinions and not taken from scripture. This 40th anniversary edition also included reflections from contemporary pastors such as Kevin Deyoung, Mark Dever, and John Piper. I was pleased that they also commented that Lloyd-Jones was very opinionated. It is clear that the doctor took his role as preacher in the Westminster Chapel very seriously. I would commend any pastor to read this book. The author will challenge you and grow you and give you a sense of the gravity of delivering the Word of God every Sunday.
Nichols, Tom. The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.
Tom Nichols has put his finger on one of the major problems in our culture. We know longer trust those who have devoted a lifetime of study and research in a particular field. We now ignore the experts. In our narcissistic culture, we prefer our own opinions. Nichols does not write as a Christian, nor from a particular political viewpoint. But as a political science expert he demonstrates clearly that we are reaping what we have sown. Universities now cater to students as consumers rather than educating them. We know longer want to dialogue over subjects to gain perspective but rather assert our own views. We are not willing to read well. Instead, we want quick digestible sound bites and brief internet articles. Anyone can claim to be a journalist or expert without being peer reviewed. And of course, because we can ‘google’ a topic, it automatically makes us an expert on it, regardless of the sources we use. Nichols discusses this in connection to climate change, flat-earthers and even how we ended up with Trump and Hillary Clinton as candidates in our last election. It is maddening, and Nichols doesn’t offer much of a solution. But an awareness of the problem is key. If you are interested in understanding contemporary culture, this is an excellent place to start.
Osman, Jim. Truth or Territory: A Biblical Approach to Spiritual Warfare. Kootenai, ID: Kootenai Community Church, 2015.
This book contains great information that every western Christian should read. For far too long, within the arena of spiritual warfare, the Evangelical Church has been guided by teachings that are not in scripture. Practices such as removing curses of generational sin, hedges of protection, and binding Satan have become the prevalent themes of the spiritual warfare movement. But they are not scriptural. Osman guides the church back to the Bible to understand the battle ground is over truth, not power encounters with the demonic. This self-published book does a remarkable job of leading the reader in Biblical truth. However, there are three weaknesses. First, I disagree with Osman in his section debating strategic mapping. It does appear in scripture that certain demonic princes are over regions of the world. YET, I do agree with the author that we are not told to do anything in scripture about this other than proclaim gospel truth. Second, most of the author's arguments come from the writings of Thomas Ice and Robert Dean. There are multiple long quotes from them. Which makes one wonder if it would be better just to go directly to the original sources. And finally, there is a bit of a condescending tone to Osman’s polemic. While we are called to speak the truth, we are to do so in love. His arguments would be better received without that attitude (which sadly pervades many within Independent Churches). Those caveat’s aside, I do recommend this book. It addresses a sincere need in the church today.
Payne, Tony. The Tony Payne Collection: The Best Articles from Three Decades of Christian Writing. Sydney: Matthias Media, 2017.
Many American Christians are familiar with Tony Payne for his books related to church ministry such as The Trellis and the Vine and the evangelistic presentation, The Two Ways to Live. He is also a founder of Matthias Media. But he was first known as a columnist in Australia for a magazine entitled, The Briefing. This book is a collection of his articles spanning from the late 1980’s to when The Briefing concluded in 2015. I don’t always agree with Payne, but he is always thought provoking. Many times, I discover that he is correct. Payne was saved under the influence of Charismatics and grew from that earlier influence to a more biblical position. And his writing helps me to understand the mind of the Pentecostal as one repenting from that stance. Plus, he has a habit of challenging why the church engages the culture like we do, but always within the boundaries of scripture. The book is over 400 pages, but it is developed nicely by themes (Truth, Evangelism, Discipleship, Controversial issues and so on…) You will grow from reading Tony Payne’s writings. And even if you disagree, your own viewpoint will be sharpened.
Smith, Ken G. With Him: A Biblical Model of Discipleship. Leyland, England: 10ofthose publishing, 2017.
This is a brief book intended to motivate men to disciple other men. The basic premise is to allow another to have access to your Christian life in teaching in order to make a disciple. It comes from the principle that the original 12 disciples were known to have been ‘with him’ (meaning Jesus). Smith promotes not just seeking candidates for discipleship and not just teaching (which are both fundamental to the great commission) but inclusion in everyday practice. He also promotes hospitality and relational instruction as one goes through life. While his target audience is for men, the strategy works well for women also as Ken Smith and his wife’s relational evangelism is what led to Rosaria Butterfield’s conversion. The book leans highly on techniques founded by the Navigators and Smith’s writing can be a bit trite. But its design is to be non-intimidating to men. In that sense, it works very well.
Tassell, Nige. The Bottom Corner: Hope, Glory and Non-League Football. London: Yellow Jersey Press, 2016.
This was a fun read for me. A noted soccer journalist, Nige Tassell, spent a season exploring the lower levels of British professional soccer teams. For those unfamiliar with those, it would be like touring the single A and semi-pro leagues of baseball. The reader is introduced to a plethora of characters from referees to players trying to make it to the upper levels again, from owners to groundskeepers. And of course, we are also introduced to the odd assortment of fans. This is a real slice of life description. Tassell is a talented writer that enables the reader to see both the seriousness and humor of the situation. It is probably entered into one of the ten best sports books I have read. If you love soccer, give this one a read. Warning: It is Britain and Tassell’s portrayals and quotes are accurate, so be prepared for the occasional profanity.
Tripp, Paul David. Instruments in the Redeemers Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change. P& R Publishing: Phillipsburg, NJ, 2002.
I first read this book in seminary shortly after it was released. And our pastoral staff read it together devotionally. It is surprising how eighteen years after its publication, this book is still relevant. I am sure that it is because it is so Biblical. Tripp’s premise is that any Christian is capable of counseling most everyday problems. He explains how to do so within these pages. He teaches the reader from the text of scripture how to enter into the world of the counselee, discover the root of the problem, and apply the right scripture as a solution. Counseling is not just for the professionals and the pastors; it is meant for discipleship for every member in the pews. It is still the best and most accessible book on Christian counseling.
White, David. God, You and Sex: A Profound Mystery. Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2019.
For years, the single most influential writing on the theology of sex upon me was the first two chapters of Sex and the Supremacy of Christ by John Piper. That has now changed with David White’s book. This is the new standard. I was familiar with White from his work a Harvest USA and his book, Sexual Sanity for Men (which is also my ‘go-to’ in discipling men with sexual sin). In God, Sex and You, he has produced a volume that covers the entire range of sexual issues from a Biblical perspective. He provides an overview of why God created sex, what happens when we ignore the boundaries, how to recover a broken understanding of sex, how to speak to your children about sex and why a proper comprehension is it still relevant for singles. This is a book I wish I had decades ago when I began ministry. It definitely made my top ten for the year. I would encourage every Christian to read it.