What Pastor Blair Has Been Reading (from July 2019 through September 2019)
Allberry, Sam. Lifted: Experiencing the Resurrection Life. Phillipsburg, NJ: P& R Publishing, 2010.
I am very familiar with Sam Allberry’s writings as an evangelical who struggles with same-sex attraction. I have found his counsel and example to be inspiring. But this is the first work that I have read by him that does not delve into that subject. Allberry provides a comprehensive study of the Resurrection explaining why it is important to the believer. He writes well with wonderful British humor and encouragement. He illustrates his points masterfully. I can see why he appeals to millennials. I was greatly encouraged by this book. I highly recommend it, especially for quiet time material.
Asmus, Barry. Apollo: An Outer Space Economic Adventure. Phoenix: AmeriPress, 1996.
This reading is out of character with me. Barry Asmus is a senior economist with the National Center for Policy Analysis. I recently read his collaboration with Wayne Grudem in The Poverty of Nations. He wrote this novella as a means to teach children between the ages of 10 to 13 the free market system. The story is a family who is sent into space for research and ends up on an alien world where they observe its economic system. Apollo 13 astronaut, James Lovell was impressed enough with the work to write an introduction. I, however, was not impressed. It is a cute story, but the book fails to achieve its goal. I am not sure a child would have any better grasp of the free market system.
Bebbington, David. Baptists Through the Centuries: A History of a Global People. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2010.
I have consulted this book often, but this is the first time I have read the book cover to cover. The volume is intended to be a prime on the history of the Baptists. It is a difficult task to describe four centuries of Baptist history and even an even greater one to do so within 285 pages. But Bebbington has been able to do so remarkably well. Rather than just present the reader with a chronological overview, the author also discusses Baptist distinctives and beliefs in each chapter. He covers wide-ranging topics from race, women, missions and religious freedom demonstrating how they have changed and evolved for various Baptists over the centuries. He is fair in his description of contrasting beliefs. But the real strength is the author’s ability to set the Baptist perspective within a global perspective. From Eastern Europe to Australia Baptistic expressions are analyzed. No doubt, one would desire more from such greater subject matter, and this might be the weakness of the book. At the end of each chapter, Bebbington provides a ‘further reading’ list. But many titles are obscure. While this reveals the author's great knowledge of the sources, it would be difficult for laymen to obtain his suggestions.
Dunham, David. Addictive Habits: Changing for Good. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publications, 2018.
Recently, the Biblical Counseling Coalition released a slew of 31- Devotionals to assist with counseling people with various sin issues. I picked up a few to review. I started this one thinking of a particular person struggling with substance abuse- and as I read through the devotionals, I became convicted myself. Dunham frames much of his counsel to addictive personalities in the sin of coveting- what are you seeking that you think God is not providing already. This is an excellent resource for those that struggle with a broad range of addictive issues (pornography, screen time, substance abuse, over-eating, shopping, etc…). Each day’s devotion is concise and accompanied by exercises for the reader to apply the principles. They are not taxing and lead the reader in a gentle way towards recovery. I am looking forward to seeing if the rest of the series is as good as this one.
Freeman, Emily. The Next Right Thing: A Simple Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions. Grand Rapids: Revell, 2019.
As I write my review, this book has a five-star rating on Amazon with 383 reviews. It obviously addresses an issue that many people struggle with- the fear of making a decisive decision. I had high hopes for this book. Freeman is an excellent writer and storyteller. There is definitely a feminine appeal to her writings. Therefore, I had hopes that this would be a resource I could recommend to women who feel paralyzed in making choices. But as I read the book, I grew uncomfortable. By the time I hit chapter 15, I knew this was a book, I would not be able to recommend. Freeman is a professed Christian. And she speaks well of God and encourages an intimate relationship with him. But she does not use scripture well (at least the very few times she quotes it). And in the above-mentioned chapter, she encourages the practice of Quaker quietism. I want to be charitable. She does tell wonderful and thought provoking stories that resonate with the reader (which is probably why the book could be considered ‘dangerous’). But this is not a resource I would want to put in someone’s hands when making a decision. For that, I still think Kevin Deyoung’s Just Do Something and Sinclair Ferguson’s Discovering God’s Will are much better choices.
Gordon, Wayne & John M. Perkins. Making Neighborhoods Whole: A Handbook for Christian Community Development. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2013.
I had started this book three years ago via a recommendation. But I had gotten side-tracked with another project and have just recently completed the last two chapters. Basically, the book teaches the principles of Christian Community Development Association. It begins with a brief history of how the CCDA was founded up to the writing of the book. Then each chapter is written by a member to explain each principle of community development. You have to be careful when reading John Perkins categories of ‘Relocation’ and ‘Redistribution’. He is not referring to how those words are used in the system of socialism. But the principles make perfect sense. They empower people in impoverished communities to make lasting healthy change in their environments. You will not agree with the viewpoints of every writer. But you would be hard-pressed to disagree with the practicality of these steps.
Kidner, Derek. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Proverbs. Downers Grover: Intervarsity Press, 2008.
The Tyndale commentary series are designed to be brief quick access commentaries that provide a broad overview of a biblical book. I do enjoy this set because they remind me to keep the broad themes of the book in the forefront and not get bogged down into details. I really like Derek Kidner, I think his work on the Psalms in the same series is both succinct and masterful. It is still relevant for today. That being said, this commentary on Proverbs (which was originally published in 1964) falls short. His introduction and subject studies were useful, but the analysis of the individual proverbs fell way short of being helpful. There are too many difficult proverbs that need to be addressed and most are overlooked by this work- no doubt to be consistently brief.
Lake, Kisopp (trans.), Didache, in The Apostolic Fathers I. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1985.
I have been trying to reread the early church writings. There is perhaps no better way to review them than with the Loeb Classical Library volumes. The Greek is on the left side of the page and the English translation is on the right. And even though this translation is from the early 20th century, it is still masterfully done. The Didache (or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) is considered to be a first-century document by most scholars. It was used to instruct the church towards a distinctly Christian ethic. It tells us that there are two ways to live; the way of life and the way of death. It definitely picks up from the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. The Didache is not scripture. But it does give us some insight into practices of the early believers. For example, the church insisted on an initiate to give a credible confession before they were baptized. And from the language and context it would seem the baptism was by immersion (of course, our paedo- Baptist friends would say it was only natural to do since this was the first believers baptized- but I would challenge them why there is no mention of baptizing their children within the ethic. That would seem to be important to emphasize). The early church also forbade abortion and homosexual intercourse; two areas of much confusion in the 21st century. It also advocates that one ensure that a person is truly in need before alms giving. This was a helpful exercise and one I commend to other scholars of the Bible.
Lawrence, Michael. Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.
This book was to be my textbook for my Biblical Theology class at Legacy (until the class was postponed). It is not a typical textbook- only 217 pages and easy to read. The main thrust of the book is that the local church needs a robust Biblical Theology. We need to understand that big picture of the Bible that God called a people to himself to reflect his glory and in order to do so he instituted a plan of salvation before the beginning of time that was implemented from the Old Testament to the New. Churches tend to get bogged down into the details of Bible study and forget the overarching reason why we are doing it. This book serves as a corrective to that. The book is formulated into three easy to understand sections- the tools for doing Biblical Theology, the stories to be told (which are the metanarratives in scripture), and the application to the local body of believers. This book is definitely what the modern church needs to be reminded of constantly. We have a wonderfully majestic God who loves and has worked through spacetime history to bring us to himself. I highly recommend this book.
Longman, Tremper. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms: Proverbs. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.
I have found this set of commentaries to be very useful. And as I continued to look at references when studying Proverbs, I found myself continuing to return to Longman. It became my ‘go-to’ commentary for study and was easily the most accessible. It is thoroughly academic, but it doesn’t get bogged down into the weeds, like Waltke. Longman also offers his own personal translation of each verse from the Hebrew (a plus of this series). One must be aware that Longman can get drawn into speculation. But in this particular volume, there were few instances of that.
Onwuchekwa, John. Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church. Wheaton: Crossway, 2018.
This book killed three birds with one stone. First, it was part of the 9Marks Challenge that myself and several elders have taken in 2019. Second, I read it with my accountability group. And third, it fulfills my own discipline to read a book on prayer every year. Out of all the books I have read, this one is unique as it is devoted completely to the topic of corporate prayer. Onwuchekwa makes a strong argument to recover this vital practice in the life of the local church. I am convinced more than ever that Providence needs more gatherings for times of prayer and this book affirms that inclination. I encourage you to read it to understand how prayer solidifies and shapes the unity of the body.
Porter, Linda. Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr. London: Pan Books, 2010.
I read this intriguing biography while I was traveling in North England. I am, now, more than convinced now that out of Henry VIII’s six wives, there was none more important than Kate Parr. I have enjoyed reading Kate Parr’s writings and now I am getting a fuller picture of her life. The author, Linda Porter, introduced me to many facts that I was unaware. While she does not seem to understand the full nature of Christianity, she is at least sympathetic. There is not much gleaned from her spiritual writings which is . But never-the-less, she paints an accurate picture of Parr. I did not realize that the queen was twice a widow before marrying Henry. I also was not aware of her protestant influence on Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth as step-mother. And I was sad to learn that Parr succumbed to a poor fourth marriage to Thomas Seymour that stained her reputation as a Christian. It is a reminder that even at our best, we still stand in need of grace (think King David here). Porter writes fluidly but she does have a tendency to get bogged down in minutiae that have no relevance and only leads to speculation.
Reinke, Tony. 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You. Wheaton: Crossway, 2017.
Brian recommended this book to me when he was teaching the youth about social media. Based on the title, I was sure that I was not going to like it. I assumed it was going to be a diatribe on how bad smartphones can be. But I was wrong. I should have known better because I have read the author’s other works. The technology of smartphones is here and is not going away. So how is that technology shaping us and changing us? How can we be more God honoring with this technology? Reinke answers those questions brilliantly. His material is well researched and well written. I really think every parent and possibly every smartphone owner should read this book. I highly recommend it.
Waltke, Bruce. The New International Commentary of the Old Testament: The book of Proverbs Chapters 1-15. Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing 2004.
Waltke, Bruce. The New International Commentary of the Old Testament: The book of Proverbs Chapters 15-31. Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing 2005.
D.A. Carson called this the best commentary on the book of Proverbs. I find that distinction hard to argue. Waltke has brilliantly researched the fine nuances and interpretations of this book of wisdom. It almost seems he has exhausted what material there is. From Waltke, you can learn the Hebrew poetry and background as intended by the original readers. He is thorough and he is clear. However, he does have a tendency to see connections between the individual proverbs in chapters 10-29. Some of these I could easily agree- most seemed a stretch of the imagination. For conciseness, I relied upon Longman. But no in-depth study of Proverbs would be complete without this two-volume set.
Woodcock, Eldon. Proverbs: A Topical Study (Bible Study Commentary). Grand Rapids: Lamplighter Books, 1988.
I normally can count on this brief set of commentaries to be helpful. Sometimes I can get so buried in the minutiae of my study that I need a good overview to communicate well and in steps the Bible Study Commentary. Unfortunately, this particular volume was not as helpful as the others. I think Proverbs is a tremendous challenge for any commentary, but to do a brief work is even more difficult. I found the author’s approach to be more complex than necessary in the way he grouped the text. It also did not take advantage of the first nine chapters being a coherent whole. That being said some of the concepts that he defines at the beginning of the book were concise and helpful. But I would probably choose another commentary to lead me through Proverbs.