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What Pastor Blair Has Been Reading (from October 2019 through December 2019)

What Pastor Blair Has Been Reading

(from October 2019 through December 2019)


Angel, Sivert, Hallgeir Elstad, & Eivor Andersen Oftestad (eds). Were We Ever Protestants? Essays in Honor of Tarald Rasmussen. De Gruyter: Berlin, 2019.

This is a festschrift for Taral Rasmussen, a well-regarded historian at the University of Oslo. He has been teaching at that institution since 1987. He is worthy of the honor. Many do not like festschrifts, feeling that the articles are somewhat insignificant. But I like them as they introduce the reader not only to interest of whom they honor, but also in the various topics displayed. The subject matter in this volume is wide ranging from the 16th to 20th centuries. The basic premise overall is how Lutheranism displayed itself primarily in the Nordic nations. The book made me realize how deficient is my understanding of the 30 Years War. There are many grammar mistakes owing to the fact that English is not the primary language of each author. But I am glad to get another European perspective on Lutheranism other than German.


Beynon, Graham Planting for the Gospel: Hands on Guide to Church Planting. Christian Focus: Fearn, Scotland, 2011.

This is a short, easy and quick guide to church planting. It provides a brief overview of those who are novices to the subject. I found it to be very helpful for the Sunday School class for church planting and revitalization. Beynon is a planter in England and he does provide a broader cultural context then similar books on the same subject. The only flaws might be that it lacks a robust theological construct, but that is understandable considering that this a brief survey. And there are times that the author tries to lead his readers to a certain opinion but gives little reason why. But, this is a good starting place if one wants to understand church planting. But make sure you read Mark Dever’s book, The Church, to have a proper foundation in ecclesiology.


Buzzard, Justin. Date Your Wife: A Husband’s Guide. Crossway: Wheaton, 2012.

Every year, I read a book to build up my marriage. I came across this book at the CCEF conference and looked like a subject on which I needed work. I have mixed feelings about the book. So, let me begin with the positive. The premise of the books is sound- Men need to lead and to take responsibility for dating their wives. And by ‘dating’, Buzzard means cultivating intimacy with your spouse. This book will encourage husbands to do so and will encourage them to do so in ‘manly’ way. The book is a little lite in developing a theology in this area. But that is understandable considering that the author is writing to men who are not used to reading. It is very accessible. Buzzard also provides some wonderful ideas for dates that are beyond the norm. I enjoyed those parts very much. The weakness is Buzzard’s age (I place him to be around 31-33 when he wrote the book). Allister Begg has said (Tongue in cheek) no one should write a book before age forty. The book suffers from a lack of aged wisdom. Buzzard and his wife have three young kids. There is no advice for parents of teenagers and college students when engagement with your kids and financial needs are greater. Plus, he attempts to offer paradigms that I think are unrealistic for some couples. Some are due to financial constraints. It is definitely worth investing money in your marriage to cultivate intimacy. But having the amount of money Buzzard suggests is not necessary. Also, physical limitations may prevent couples from engaging in the activities he suggests- such as a four -week trip through Canada and a 20-mile hike. Both Buzzard and his wife promote a healthy amount of sex. While I don’t disagree, the amount they suggest could certainly make couples feel inadequate. All of these might lead a husband to despair. I have written so much on this book, because I believe its message is vital for men to hear. I would love to see it used among young husbands in small groups. But have an older man present to help you manage expectations in varying stages of life.


Currey, Mason. Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Alfred A Knopf: New York, 2018.

This might be one of the more fascinating books I read this year. Currey has collected brief accounts of work ethics from some of the greatest names in science, literature, film, visual arts, philosophy and music. The reader gains insight in how various individuals got produced their work. There are a few themes that emerge broadly from this book. Each person presented went through vigorous periods of self-discipline. Each also found the time of day that was most productive for them and protected that time tenaciously. For most it was the early part of the morning after waking up. And third, most recognized that they only had a few hours that they could be fruitful. After their productive period they moved away from their work in order to focus on other matters such as write letters, go for walks (probably the activity that was most notable), have conversations with friends, etc… All to rest their minds from the rigors of creating. I found the book to be very helpful, inspiring and stimulating. But be forewarned, few of the people portrayed were Christians. So, some of the activities that they engaged would not be beneficial.


Ferguson, Sinclair. Love Came Down At Christmas: Daily Readings for Advent. The Good Book Co., 2019.

Advent devotionals seem to get better every year. Last year I was moved by Paul David Tripp’s devotion. But Ferguson has topped them all. And does so through an usual text for advent; the famous ‘love’ passage of 1 Corinthians 13. This work is not just a quaint devotional for Christmas time. It has some meat on the bones that not only convict and edify, but it will really inspire you to love the coming of Jesus all the more. Each day’s reading has some reflection questions and is followed by a hymn or a reading from the church fathers, demonstrating the rich thoughts on the incarnation throughout the centuries. Quite frankly, I was sad when the book ended. I highly recommend this for your advent reading next year. 


Hill, D. Leslie. Faithful and Free: Baptist Beliefs Through the Years. Church Strengthening Ministry: Makati City, Philippines, 2011.

Leslie Hill is a retired IMB seminary professor in the Philippines. He compiled his history of the Baptists to serve Asian Baptists. He served the Baptist of the Philippines with much distinction. But I must confess, the vast majority of the information in this book is from secondary sources and will hold little value to the historian. In addition, the writing over all is a struggle to read. It’s hard to understand where Hill is trying to direct the reader from the numerous names, dates and places as he is trying to portray their importance. There are much better textbooks to glean the history of the Baptist people. However, by reading this, I gained some knowledge of the Asian mindset and education within an academic setting. Hill provides questions and fill in the blanks after a few paragraphs as a pneumonic for the information. And the last three chapters of the book are valuable to point one toward sources that can understand the planting of Baptist churches in the far east, even if there is no assessment of the work over all (think almost like reading a list). For those reasons alone, the reading was worth the effort.


Jay William. The Works of William Jay, Vol. 3: Morning and Evening Exercises (July-September). C.A. Bartlett: Bath, 1842.

This is the third part of Jay’s daily devotionals. In 1842 about ten years before his death, the author revised and edited his previous works. Here, Jay was allowed to order his devotions (one for the morning and one for the evening) in a more systematic way, whereas the exercises were released in one volume for the morning and a much later one for the evening. The changes are revealed more in this volume than any other. Jay still has a wonderful way with striking statement. ‘If we are not content with such things we have, we shall never be satisfied with such things as we desire.’ Or ‘Glory is nothing but the completion of what grace begins.’ And ‘[Unbelief] is the only thing that stands between a sinner and the relief of the gospel.’ I highly commend Jay to you. His brief four-page devotions are a blessing to the soul.


Johnson, Andy. Missions: How the Local Church Goes Global. Crossway: Wheaton, 2017.

I have finally completed the 9Mark Challenge of reading nine of their books over the year. This volume on missions was the last. I have read many books on the concept of missions, the theology of missions, and on missionaries themselves. But I have read few books on how the local church is to participate in missions. Andy Johnson has provided a wonderful overview on how churches should be involved in the endeavor. It covers such topics as what missions is (as opposed to local ministry), how churches should and can support individual missionaries, how to get the most out of short-term trips and ways the local church can engage in missions even while residing at home (other than just giving money). I was pleased to see how well Providence Baptist is going about the Great Commission in the right way. If you want a good overview of what you can do to participate in missions, this is the place to start. The book is excellent and I plan on getting a copy for each member of our missions’ team.


Kuper, Simon & Stefan Szymanski. Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany Spain France Wina nd Why one Day Japan, Iraq, and the United States will Become Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport.  Nation Books: New York, 2018.

This is the fifth revision of this book that was updated for the 2018 World Cup. After reading Kuper’s other book, Football Against the World (which I loved), I decided to try this one. Kuper and Szymanski argue why different trends continue in the sport of soccer over decades. And the ideas are thought provoking. For example, England refuses to look at youngster from upper middle classes for their roster believing there is a bias towards underprivileged kids whereas the African nations struggle with the opposite. They also reveal great amount of corruption within the sport and that England’s professional teams are poorly managed. If you like the sport, the book is fascinating. But there are times when the authors appear to contradict themselves. Don’t look for the U.S. to be lifting trophies anytime soon.


Lawrence, Michael. Conversion: How God Creates a People. Crossway: Wheaton, 2017.

This was book eight in the 9Marks challenge. Michael Lawrence describes the true nature of conversion. He demonstrates that when a person is saved by the gospel, they are completely transformed by regeneration. They are different from their old selves. He reminds church leaders that we are looking for disciples of Jesus, not necessarily decisions for Jesus. And he moves towards the end of the book what effect true conversion should produce within the church. I heartedly recommend this one- especially for parents who wonder if their child has placed their faith in Christ.  


Leeman, Jonathan. Don’t Fire Your Church Members: The Case for Congregationalism. B&H Academic: Nashville, 2016.

This is the sixth book in this year’s 9Marks challenge that I am doing with a couple of our elders. And by far it has been the most difficult to work through. Usually, I highly regard Jonathan Leeman’s writings. And here, I admire the content, not so much the presentation. Leeman argues for a congregational, elder-led church polity. And as one believing in the Congregationalists format, I agreed with his sentiment prior to reading the book. The issues become more of what decisions are made and by who. Deciphering that from the scriptures can be a little tricky. Leeman was unable to convince me of many of his suggestions from the Bible (which is why his presentation of evidence can be convoluted). He was able to convince me from a very practical standpoint that the congregation (under Christ) should have ultimate decision making power over the major issues in a church such as who is admitted, what is the nature of the gospel, what is the church’s doctrine and who is a teacher. It is up to the elders to make up the form of how that is expressed within the church (i.e. that ministry is consistent with what the church agreed). This way each member who has the Holy Spirit, has ownership and is taking part in the operation of the church. The information here is very good, but I do wish it could be expressed in a more concise format.


Mathis, David. Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual DisciplinesCrossway: Wheaton 2016.

As I was researching the concept of corporate worship for our elder’s retreat, I kept coming across the name of David Mathis. I realized that I had actually purchased his book a couple of years ago but never got around to reading it. I am glad I was led to read it during this time. Perhaps it had the better impact because of it. The book has a chapter devoted to the typical spiritual disciplines such as Bible reading, scriptural memorization, fasting, prayer, etc … My usual go to book on the subject is Donald Whitney’s book on the same subject. But the narrative of this volume appears to be more grace oriented. I like that as there must be a careful balance in not tipping over into legalism with one’s personal disciplines. I highly recommend this book for beautiful ways to connect to God through his gospel. 


Owen, John. The Glory of Christ. Banner of Truth: Edinburgh, 1994.

The thesis of this book is a call to reflect upon the glory of Jesus Christ. Owen asks what could be more powerful in the Christians life? The first portion of the book is exposition of the many ways a believer might ponder his glory through concepts like his work as mediator, his humility, his union to the church, etc… Then Owen speaks about the difference of reflecting upon the glory of Christ by faith and not by sight. And finally, he offers advice for the believer who finds his or herself declining in their spiritual health. Whenever I read Owen, it feels like I am doing hard work (even this is a slight abridgment o the original work). It takes a while until the concepts come smoothly as he sets up his argument. But it is ALWAYS well worth the effort. I found my heart soaring as I thought of Jesus. For those willing to embrace the challenge of reading 17th Century theology, I highly recommend this volume.


Powlison, David. Safe & Sound: Standing Firm in Spiritual Battles. New Growth Press: Greensboro, 2019.

We lost David Powlison this past year to pancreatic cancer. This was his last book. It was certainly appropriate for his last setting (he calls it ‘The Last Battle’ in the final chapter. The book is a primer on spiritual warfare. I picked it up at the CCEF conference because it was on sale. And then waiting for a session to begin, I started to read the first chapter. I couldn’t put it down. Powlison correctly asserts that there are dark and unseen forces among us. And he champions that the best way to defeat them is through the sufficiency of the promises of scripture. It is simply written and eye opening. Few books describe the everyday spiritual battles we face as well as this one. It had a profound effect on me as I prepared the sermon on Jesus’ temptation in Matthew 4. Perhaps the only flaw was the inclusion of a chapter from one of his previous books as an appendix. I found that to be unnecessary and distracting form the entire work. Perhaps it was included because the book was less than 100 pages. At the end of the last chapter, I found myself slightly melancholy. In that chapter, he spoke of his last spiritual battle as he faced his own death. I realized in that moment I would no longer be able to hear from this great counselor. But I know that what always intrigued me was the voice of the Spirit working through the truth that Powlison taught me. I highly recommend this book as a primer for Spiritual warfare.


Schlegel, Zach. Fearing Others: Putting God First. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2019.

This is the second daily devotional that I have reviewed from the Biblical Counseling Coalition. There are nine in the series so far. I must say that I am impressed (see the book on addictive habits in the third quarter). These are useful tools to help a person who struggles with a particular type of sin. The last book I reviewed was to see if I could use it to help someone else. And I discovered that I have a problem with covetousness that I had not realized. So this time, I went to the devotional for my own struggles- the desire for approval from others. I found myself resonating with almost all the individual two-page studies where my sin to put others before God expresses itself. After each day’s lesson, there is a practical activity that gives one the tools to fight sin. I have found them to be very helpful in my personal battles. This is a book I plan to come back to again. I highly recommend it.


Smith, James K.A. On the Road with St Augustine: A Real World Spirituality for Restless Hearts. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2019.

If I could tell you to read one book this outside of the Bible, this would be it. I have already given copies to friends and family as Christmas gifts. I like the intelligent writing of Jame K.A. Smith in my mind, he might be this generation’s C.S. Lewis. In this volume Smith, introduces us to the philosophy of Augustine of Hippo. He begins the book by comparing the Jack Kerouac’s book On the Road, as he invites the reader into the mind and thoughts of this fourth century saint. We discover that Augustine wrestled with real and deep issues that are very much relevant for today. Augustine life and thoughts will inspire the reader, but more than that, this is the perfect book for the skeptic of faith who is genuinely searching for meaning in life. You will be entertained. I hated for this one to end. (Please note, Smith quotes from several secular sources and some of the language might appear offensive, but the quotes are relevant and not for titillation.)


Thorn, Joe. The Character of the Church: The Marks of Gods Obedient People. Moody Publishing: Chicago, 2017.

This is the second of a series of books that Thorn has produced to teach new Christians about the church. I read it in preparation for our church planting class. Thorn points to five marks of the church; the word rightly preached, the ordinances rightly administered, Leadership Biblically formed and function, discipline practiced with grace and the mission shared by all. Of course, the three we discussed in class are present. The other two are derivatives of the first mark of having the Bible be your authority. It was good to see my total agreement with Thorn (he writes very well by the way). And this would be a good teaching tool for a basic ecclesiology class.  But I would still first point people to Mark Dever’s book of Nine Marks for a Healthy Church.