What Pastor Blair Has Been Reading (from April 2021 through June 2021)
Begg, Alistair. Made For His Pleasure: Ten Benchmarks of a Vital Faith. Moody Publishers: Chicago, 2018.
In this short volume, Alistair Begg (pastor of Parkside Church in Cleveland, OH) outlines the basics of Christian growth. While this book is essentially about sanctification, it’s not so much what one has to do as much as it is a description of what the Christian experience should look like. He covers such topics as spiritual disciplines, relationships, suffering, and evangelism. If you ever hear Begg speak, he is a master at illustrating his points. He has wonderful anecdotes from the Puritans to the Beatles. His Scottish accent makes him very winsome as he humbly shares his message. I always enjoy hearing him speak. Sadly, like a few of his other books I have reviewed, that doesn’t necessarily translate well to the written word. I can’t remember anything Begg wrote that was objectionable. But in the same manner, there was little here that I remembered as transforming. I would prefer more exposition from the author.
Budiansky, Stephen. Her Majesty’s Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage. Viking Publishing: New York, 2005.
As the title suggests, this book is about Sir Francis Walsingham, general secretary to the Queen’s privy council. Walsingham was not an aristocrat, but a gentleman that rose from the ranks of civil service to become the chief of intelligence in the court of Elizabeth I. He first came to prominence as ambassador to France in protecting protestants after the St Bartholomew Massacre. Henceforth, he was always of the guard in protecting England from Roman Catholic plots to unseat Elizabeth. He was the one that discovered and proved the clandestine of Mary, Queen of Scotts to invite the Philip, King of Spain to England (which of course, led the great Spanish Armada towards their subsequent defeat). The reader gets the sense of the great network of spies employed by Walsingham all throughout Europe. We are also introduced to a host of other historical figures such Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh and The Duke Of Leicester. It is fascinating to see just how intricate espionage was at such an early date. Budiansky writes well and for the general reader. This was a very entertaining book.
Holmes, Michael (trans.), ‘The Letters of Ignatius’ in The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2007.
Ignatius was the Bishop of Antioch in Smyrna early in the second century. He was called to Rome in order to be tried for his faith. And on his way there, he wrote to individual churches about his impending martyrdom. One consistent theme in all six letters is that Ignatius considered it an honor to die for Christ. He pleaded with the individual churches not to interfere with the process. In addition to Ignatius's noble example, we also see the activities of the early church. For example, it was clear that each city had a church with a presiding bishop, a council of elders, and deacons. The bishop was chief among the elders (more akin to a senior pastor in a church). And yet, the bishops of the different cities considered themselves co-equals. We would definitely balk over the amount of authority that Ignatius argued for the bishops. But we see doctrines of ecclesiology developing. The ‘Letters’ are remarkable for their encouragement and historical value.
Merker, Matt. Corporate Worship: How the Church Gathers as God’s People. Wheaton: Crossway, 2021.
This is the newest title in the 9Marks Building Healthy Churches series. I have been looking forward to this volume in the series. Too often churches do not question why they are gathering in the first place. The book is broken down into three sections. First, Merker begins with a Biblical view of the church in answering the question ‘who gathers together?’ And then second he answerers, ‘why we must gather? And then the third question is ‘what should we do when we gather?’ The questions must be answered in this order if we are to arrive a Biblical understanding of the worship service. Merker is fair in his assessment; he allows for a multitude of expressions of worship provided they adhere to the purpose of corporate worship. I did not learn much that is new, but I can heartily endorse this book in providing a wonderful general overview of the concept. It succeeds toward that end.
Motyer, Alec. Preaching? Simple Teaching and Simply Preaching. Christian Focus: Fearn, Scotland, 2013.
Alec Motyer was the former principal of Trinity College in Bristol, England. He is a beloved preacher in the United Kingdom. Every year, I read a book on the craft of preaching and in 2021 I chose this one. Probably the key idea stressed in the book is simplicity. Keep what you are preaching, simple. But that does not mean approach the text of scripture lightly. Motyer encourages rigorous study to make sure the preacher has the correct meaning. He reminds the reader that preaching is meant to be hard work in the preparation of the sermon. At times, Motyer’s writing can get a little convoluted and I prefer not as many personal anecdotes that tend to magnify the author. I have a feeling that much like Alistair Begg, I would prefer to listen to the author more than I do reading him.
Tootoo, Jordin (with Stephen Brunt). All the Way: My Life on Ice. Viking Publishing: Toronto, 2014.
If you know me well, then you are aware that I am a fan of the Nashville Predators. One of the more exciting players for the team was Jordin Tootoo, the first native Inuk to play in the NHL. Tootoo was an enforcer and a high energy player. But what most didn’t know was that his fearlessness on the ice came from his alcohol addiction. Tootoo grew up in a troubled home. And his only brother committed suicide. This book was fascinating to read. While the man overcame his addiction, he is still searching spiritually. It is the kind of story I wish I could have a cup of coffee with him and share the healing of the gospel. If you choose to read it, be forewarned that there is colorful (Canadian) language.
Ursinus, Zacharias & Caspar Olevianus. The Heidelberg Catechism. Banner of Truth: Edinburgh, 2013.
It has been since my seminary days that I last read the Heidelberg Catechism. I think I have come to appreciate it even more. The catechism provides a wonderful way to construct a proper theology to students. The questions draw upon the most important principles, while the answers are concise and Biblically solid. The only place I could rigorously disagree with this document,(constructed and approved in 1563) was the application of baptism to infants. And perhaps, missing from a document in that era is the promotion of evangelism. This was a wonderful review for me and the Banner of Truth Trust has produced a quality leather version that will stand the test of time.
Welch, Ed. A Student’s Guide to Anxiety. Christian Focus: Fearn, Scotland, 2020.
Right now, anxiety among teenagers is a very great concern. Our kids are under pressure like no other time in history. They have had to endure a pandemic, tumult in the political arena, and sadly they have witnessed their elders (as in adults- not the office) behave badly. Expectations to succeed are higher than ever. And they are inheriting a thoroughly sin sick world. I am always on the lookout for resources to help. This book is an easy read. The chapters are brief with simple exercises. Welch gets across the key concept of fearing God more than our fears. Sadly, I am not sure that Welch a man in his sixties, appeals to teens with his illustrations. The publishers would have been better served having a teen assist them with that. Good content with just adequate presentation.
Woodward, C Vann. The Battle for Leyte Gulf: The Incredible Story of World War II’s Greatest Naval Battle. Sky Horse Publishing: New York, 2007.
Every year, around Memorial Day, I try to read a book on American military history. It gives me a sense of gratitude to those Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. This year, I challenged myself to read a naval history. I have never done that before (individual biographies, but not of individual naval battles). The battle of Leyte Gulf has some attachment due to my travels in the Philippines. It still claims to be the largest naval engagement in modern warfare. Woodward has done an excellent job in collecting data from the sources available at the time, particularly from Japanese prisoners of war and exit interviews. At times I found it difficult to follow due to jargon. For example, I am not familiar with all the classes of warfare ships and their capabilities. The author makes such an assumption. And I would love to have more maps. But I was able to follow the general gist. And I am glad I read it. I have a better appreciation for survival on the seas.
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