What Pastor Blair Has Been Reading (from January 2021 through March 2021)
What Pastor Blair Has Been Reading (from January 2021 through March 2021)
Alcorn, Randy. Heaven. Tyndale: Carol Stream, IL, 2004.
I have never read this book cover to cover until now. Prior to this I read the abbreviated 50 day devotional and consulted the larger work as a reference. I am glad that I did this now. In 2021 I have been re-evaluating my eschatology (the doctrine of last things). You might notice a few titles related to it my reviews. Alcorn has done a masterful job of pointing the reader toward heaven. He reminds the reader there is an intermediate heaven that will eventually give way to a new heaven and new earth that will be combined. But it is not simply that the old earth passes away. It is redeemed and made anew without the stain of sin. Therefore, Alcorn demonstrates that we will enjoy the new earth much like our present earth. It will be the ‘promised land’ of the inheritance of God’s chosen people. While Alcorn is primarily Biblical, there are multiple places that he speculates. It also bothers me that he quotes his fictional works as illustrative (almost gives the impression of self-promotion). And he and I would disagree on the millennium. But overall, I found the work encouraging and refreshing. This is a great reminder of our eternal home with Jesus.
Beeke, Joel & Nick Thompson. Pastors and Their Critics: A Guide to Coping with Criticism in the Ministry. P&R Publishing: Philippsburg, NJ, 2020.
This is a very timely book for ministers. 2020 brought about several controversial issues: the pandemic, protests and politics. But regardless of such contemporary matters, preaching the gospel will always draw criticism. Joel Beeke and his student, Nick Thompson have provided an adequate resource to help pastors cope. The book is divided into three parts. They first look at the Biblical foundations of criticism both in the Old Testament and New Testament. The second section works through the practical out working of that foundation. And the third part looks toward the future as the minister endures criticism. The reader will find valuable advice from a veteran pastor alongside someone new to the ministry. For those in leadership needing to refocus and reset, this book will be a good asset.
Boekenstein, William. The Future of Everything: Essential Truths about the End Times. Reformation Heritage, Grand Rapids, 2019.
This is a wonderful and timely book on ‘last things.’ Too often we confuse the concept of eschatology only with the second coming of Jesus, which tends to create division within the church. But Boekenstein reminds the Christian reader there is far more to ‘the end’ that unites us than our belief on the millennium. There are also issues such as death, judgment, the intermediate heaven, hell and more. Furthermore, our view of the end should strengthen our passion for the church and its mission. This is the perfect book to introduce these concepts to the student that desires to grow their theological understanding of the end times. Start here before you even begin to wonder about the millennium.
Bolton, William Jay. The Story of the Stratford Martyrs. Wilson and Whitworth: Stratford, 1879.
This is a brief book written by the grandson of William Jay of Bath. Jay’s wife never officially left the church of her birth. His oldest daughter married a man who entered orders in the Episcopal church of America. His grandson, William Jay Bolton, returned to England where he received a Masters degree from Cambridge. Bolton entered the Anglican church and became the vicar of St John’s in Stratford, just outside the city of London. Later he moved back to Bath and became the rector at St. James’ Church where he worked in a ministry to prostitutes in the city. He almost had as an eventful life as his renowned grandfather. While at Stratford, he led a group of fellow protestants to erect a monument to men and women who were martyred under Queen Mary on the church’s premises. The monument stands today. This book tells their individual stories and why they were persecuted. It is a fascinating read as Bolton is clearly anti-Catholic. Not only that, he includes an appendix with a study on the ‘absurd’ theory of the ‘futurist’ eschatology claiming that there could possibly be another antichrist to come after the pope! Bolton would have definitely rejected dispensationalism and saw it as a Roman Catholic contrivance. It is a quaint book, but probably not much interest for those outside Victorian Protestantism.
Capers, Walter. The Soldier Bishop: Ellison Capers. Sprinkle Publications: Harrisonburg, 2000.
This is a reprint of the 1912 biography on Ellison Capers. Capers had an unusual career. And in some ways even paralleled my own. His son who was the President of the Columbia Bible Institute in Tennessee wrote the biography. Ellison was born into a prominent South Carolina family. His father was a Methodist bishop. Ellison became one of the first graduates of The Citadel. Shortly afterwards, the Civil War broke out and he enlisted in the Confederate army. He rose to the rank of Brigadier General, fighting in the western theater. After his surrender, he felt called to ministry in the episcopal church, He became the rector of Christ Church in Greenville, SC (my hometown). He became the bishop of South Carolina and eventually became the chancellor of the University of the South in Sewanee, TN (where I served for 10 years). The book is fascinating, not only because of the geography that coincides with my own, but also how life was portrayed from the perspective of the Southern white elite. There are many things stated that one on the 21st century would find offensive. And yet, it shows how someone with blind spots can also be saved by grace. The changing episcopal theology of the period is also interesting to observe. Capers is a stimulating study of a man who is both proud of his past, yet still trying to atone for it.
Dodson, Rhett. With A Mighty Triumph!: Christ’s Resurrection and Ours. Banner of Truth Trust: Edinburgh, 2021.
This is the latest Banner release. I wanted to read this to prepare my own heart leading up to Resurrection Sunday. Dodson, a Presbyterian Pastor in Ohio, provides a fine exposition of 1 Corinthians 15. It is very gospel oriented. He leads his readers towards the ultimate hope of our own bodily resurrection from the dead because Christ was risen from the dead. He does an excellent job with verse 29 concerning ‘the baptism of the dead’ (though I think he misses the big picture of what Baptism represents by immersion). While his message is inspiring overall, at times he can get bogged down into a kind of running commentary on the text. He also will draw upon major evangelical whipping points (inerrancy of scripture, expository preaching, etc…) which can seem forced into the text. But never-the-less, Dodson provides his readers with a thorough rendering of this major New Testament doctrine of the resurrection of our bodies.
Fitzpatrick, Elyse. Doubt: Trusting God’s Promises, 31-Day Devotionals for Life. P&R Publishing: Phillipsburg, NJ, 2018
I have slowly been working through these devotional tools developed by the Biblical Counseling Coalition. These devotionals are meant to be done as homework by individuals struggling with the accompanying problem. To date, I have reviewed the devotions on fearing man, pornography, and addiction. I like the project and think they are useful. In this volume, Fitzpatrick deals with the overall subject of doubt. She divides the book into five sections: a look at individuals in the Bible that struggled with doubts, proofs for your faith, sinners who overcame disbelief, the nature of faith, and enduring trials and suffering. Each day the reader is given a scripture passage and two truth statements to mediate upon. That makes this devotional different than the others that had questions at the end of the reading. One should use the statements to preach the truth to oneself. Like the volume on pornography, this devotion would be better suited as a launching pad for dialogue with a counselor, rather than the reader trying to self-manage their struggle with doubt.
McIntyre, David. The Hidden Life of Prayer: The Life-Blood of the Christian. Christian Heritage: Fearn, Scotland, 2020.
David McIntyre was the president of the Glasgow Bible Institute (this was the same school that trained our dear, brother George McGuinness). McIntyre wrote this little book on prayer in 1891. I am not sure how or why I am just finding out about it, because it is by far one of the best books on prayer that I have read. One of the beauties of the volume is it’s transparency. Prayer is hard work. But what McIntyre provides is inspiration to do the work. Not only does he provide Biblical exposition, but he provides historical anecdotes and quotes that demonstrate just how powerful the pursuit of this spiritual discipline can be. He does this all in just a little over 120 pages. It is eight chapters and can be done as a daily devotional. This is one of those books like The Gospel Primer that can be read over and over (which I plan do- maybe even as early as the end of the year).
Oates, Stephen B. The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner’s Fierce Rebellion. Harper Perrenial: New York, 2004.
This was my chosen book for Black History month. Oates is considered a first-rate historian writing on the lives of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. Few historians can bring the facts of history into a well-written narrative. Typically, there is much embellishment. But not so with Oates. He writes with a precision that draw the reader into the event. Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in 1830 is no different. Oates lays the foundation of the atrocities committed against American slaves that lay the backdrop of the rebellion. We should never forget that blemish on our nation’s history. But Oates is equally revealing in the brutality of the rebellion itself, despite that it was led by ‘preacher Nat’- a man who claimed to be God’s servant. The book displays that this was an age in which life was considered cheap. But even further, Oates goes on to reveal that the consequence of the rebellion did not bring about a reasonable response to slavery (such as seeking abolition), but for whites to become even more stringent upon blacks in the South hoping to put down further uprising by force or breaking the spirit of their slaves. Turner’s rebellion had ripples long through the 20th century. This is a book worthy of reading if one desires to understand slavery in the Antebellum South.
Ortlund, Gavin. Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case of Theological Triage. Crossway: Wheaton, 2020.
I totally disagree with Gavin Ortlund … on at least one specific issue. And likely, you will disagree with him on a few points as well. And that is OK. That is what this book is about- Christians that disagree with one another on issues that are near and dear to their heart. What issues are non-negotiables? What issues are irrelevant? We are not supposed to be the same and agree on all things of non-importance. In fact, it is the supernatural power of the gospel that unites us despite our differences. But there are some essential gospel issues that we must all believe in order to apply the name ‘Christian’. There are issues that are important for the sake of church unity. And there are matters that are important for us as individuals because they are important for our sanctification, but we would be fool-hardy to separate from our brothers and sisters for those single concerns. Ortlund provides a paradigm that guide Christians to know what cannot be compromised. I still think every Church attending Christian should read Conscience by JD Crowley and Andrew Nasselli. Then pick up this book to help you know if you can fellowship people from different political parties, different eschatological interpretations, or those who listen to different types of music. Learn how to do theological triage and it will make you a happier and more content person.
Ryken, Leland. 40 Favorite Hymns on the Christian Life: A Closer Look at Their Spiritual and Poetic Meaning. P&R Publishing: Phillipsburg, NJ, 2019.
Leland Ryken is a professor emeritus at Wheaton College. I can’t think of anyone better than he to lead a reader in the beauty of the English language. He selected 40 of his favorite hymns to analyze. The classics are here from William Cowper’s God Moves in Mysterious Ways to Charles Wesley’s And Can It Be?. There are also contemporary hymns such as Getty and Townsend’s In Christ Alone. Ryland takes each and provides a bit of historical background, then examines the poetic structure of the lyrics and ends with a scripture passage on which the hymn was based. The analysis is only three to four pages in length, which makes it perfect for devotional material. I found my heart rising to the exhortation of these hymns. If you want to gain an appreciation for the hymns we sing in church, this is a volume for you. I am aware the Ryken has just released a second volume. I plan to add that to my devotional exercises in the near future.
Thomas, Derek. The Storm Breaks: Job Simply Explained. Evangelical Press: New York, 1995.
This is a volume in the Welwyn Commentary Series produced back in the mid- 1990s. Their purpose was to be both expositional and devotional. Thomas states in the introduction that he desired to produce a commentary on Job that would explain the book ‘simply’. He has done a masterful job. This commentary was a balm to me soul during these difficult days. The author works through Job chapter by chapter staying on point with the main idea without getting lost in the weeds of the details. He draws quotes from numerous church fathers and puritans that are pithy and sat with the reader. Of course, there are times one would wish for fuller explanation (such as why God didn’t address Elihu or was God describing pre-historic creatures in Job 40-41). But none of these are issues are primary to the overall message. I learned much from my study. Perhaps most of all, how NOT to counsel people in distress. I highly recommend this commentary for devotional exercises.
Tripp, Paul David. Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry. Crossway: Wheaton, 2012.
This is the second time I have read this book. The first time was with my fellow elders after we had a moral failing in our leadership. We were trying to discover how such a thing could occur in our midst and ways we could ensure it does not happen again. After the Ravi Zacharias scandal, I picked this up to re-read in order to check my own soul and health. Tripp’s primary thesis is such matters happen when pastors and elders neglect their own soul care and lose their awe of God. This happens when both the congregation and the pastor, himself, begin to think that he doesn’t need the same ministry that is available to any other member. Tripp has a way of pulling away the blinders. I see now, many temptations in a new light that had not seen when I first began my ministry. I am grateful for this reminder and the repentance it has produced. I encourage people in ministry not only to read this book, but apply its content. (Disclaimer- As usual Tripp drives me crazy with his split infinitives- Please Mr. Tripp- get an editor!!!!).
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