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What Pastor Blair Has Been Reading (from October 2020 through December 2020)

Capps, Matthew Z. Knowing the Bible: Hebrews a 12 Week Study. Crossway: Wheaton,

In our devotions, Lisa and I used this study to guide us through the book of Hebrews. There are pros and cons with using it. To its credit, it does capture the Biblical theology of Hebrews. And in addition, it does point out the relationship of the book to the gospel message. However, the questions overall, are lacking. Many times, they answer themselves and one is left wondering how to respond when the answer was blatantly obvious in the text of the question. There is little application in the study. Those are two attributes that are essential in a self-guided study. Sadly, I doubt we will return to this series in the future due to our experience with this book.

Chester, Tim. Do Miracles Happen Today? And Other Questions about Signs, Wonders and Mighty Works. The Good Book Company, 2020.

I have enjoyed the Question Series from the Good Book Company. These brief volumes intend to answer the bigger questions that most people have concerning Christianity. This one concerns miracles and whether or not they continue today. Chester answer is ‘that depends on what you consider a miracle to be.’ He does not discount a current miraculous work because God can do whatever He wishes. But he states the type of miracles in which we normally are consumed are extremely rare. The bigger issue for Chester is to demonstrate from the Bible that the bigger miracle is that of regeneration of the individual sinner (which happens frequently) AND that God speaks to us through the Bible. These fit the category of miracles which should be enough for us rather than seeking to have God do our bidding. The book is easy to read and easy to understand. I think it answers the question adequately.

Friend, Theodore (ed.). Religion and Religiosity in the Philippines and Indonesia. Southeast Asia Studies Program: Washington, 2006.

This is a collection of papers read at a Southeast Asia Studies at a conference hosted by the Carnegie Foundation in Washington, DC. The study was a comparison of the effects of religion in the Philippines and Indonesia. It is a fascinating study because both countries within the same region of the world are dominated by a single religion: the Philippines by Roman Catholicism and Indonesia by Islam. With the exception of two authors, the presenters were from the region and all were educated at prestigious universities within the U.S. Sadly, the scholarship is lacking because it is overall myopic. They would appear unbiased because they are willing to criticize their own social institutions. But that doesn’t mean their understanding is incorrect, nor unlimited. However, there are some astute observations. Robert Hefner notes that it is because Indonesia was never Arabicized nor imperially unified that it has a synchronistic form of Islam connected to ethnicity and region. This, as many of the speakers recognize gives Indonesia a non-militant form of Islam that does not interpret the Quran literally. It seems that the speakers do not sense a danger that ultimately Muslim Indonesians might arrive at a literal interpretation and thereby become more hostile. On the other hand, Father Jose Cruz, longs for the Catholic Church to re-assert itself in Filipino politics, but in a constructive way rather than a denunciatory manner. He feels it is the Church’s place to assert itself into social policy. It is interesting to read the viewpoints of the speakers. None had a proper grasp of Evangelical Christianity which was apparent in the discussion section.

Hoeksema, Herman. The Mystery of Bethlehem. Eerdman’s Publishing: Grand Rapids, 1944.

Every year I try to read a book on the incarnation to prepare my heart for the advent season. I find that it helps to keep me focused on Christ rather than seasonal activities. I found this volume in a used bookstore. I enjoy Hoeksema’s theological writings. Created in God’s Image and Saved by Grace are classics. But this is the first time I read a book of his sermons. All of them have the first advent as the theme. They are recorded exactly as he delivered them. And if you can get ast the occasional Yoda sounding sentences (i.e. ‘Mighty he is.’), there are some wonderful descriptions of Christ and his work. You get a real sense of the wonder and majesty of the incarnation.  I found it the sermons very enjoyable as devotion material. I am surprised the book has not been reprinted.

Jay, William. Sermons: On Various Occasions. C.A. Bartlette: London, 1843.

This is a collection of sermons by the Rev. William Jay of Bath that span from 1801 to 1833. They are an odd sort as they were delivered on special occasions as none were given on an average Sunday. The events vary and include ordination ceremonies, weddings, funerals, missionary societies and anniversaries of historical events (such a George III’s jubilee). They reveal the talent of the man who was competent to address each. I did my thesis on Jay. I still read him, not just to keep my skills up on his life, but he still speaks to my soul. I commend him to you for your edification.

Jones, Robert. Anger: Calming Your Heart. P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ, 2019.

This is the fourth of the Biblical Counseling Coalition 31-day devotionals that I have read. These books are meant to be tools to facilitate daily discipleship within various areas of personal weakness. Anger is obviously an issue which many of us struggle. Tools for the fight are much needed. Jones abridges much of the content of this devotional from his previous book, Uprooting Anger. This volume is clear, easy to read and manageable to work step by step in order to keep anger from getting the best of the reader. However, I would have to say, that much like the devotional on pornography, this one falls short of meeting the need. Perhaps like that other subject, both need to be dealt with more comprehensibly. So as a tool, I still prefer Ed Welch’s A Small Book About a Big Problem. It has more meat to it to help one struggling with anger. So it leaves this volume feeling mediocre compared the other books in the series.

Kotter, John P. Leading Change. Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, 2012.

According to Eric Geiger, this is one of the better books on leading an organization through change. Of course, it is designed for the business world and not necessarily the church. Some of the ideas do not translate to the ecclesiastical world. But what I found helpful is how to communicate change and new ideas to people that work in the business arena (which of course is the vast majority of the congregation). I can see how Kotter’s principles of change can be effective. You can’t just make a change, there must be a culture willing to embrace change.

Piper, John & Justin Taylor (ed.) Sex and the Supremacy of Christ. Crossway: Wheaton, 2020.

This is a collection of essays delivered at the 2004 Pastors Conference at Bethlehem Baptist Church on the topic of sex. It was suggested in a men’s group I participate in that we read this. I had read it over 15 years ago, and it reveals just how dated some material can become over time. Of course, John Piper’s opening essays on the theology of sex are still outstanding (though I now prefer David White’s book, God, You and Sex). David Powlison’s article on restoring broken sexuality is still wonderful. But I have found the remaining essays to now be a little lacking in the practicality. This is not because the content was not good at the time. But the needs in our current sexual cultural is certainly different than it was a decade and a half. The last two historical essays on Luther and the Puritans still have value for the student of history. But for the most part, I would love to see/hear a revamped conference on the subject.

Schechter, Harold. Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunnes, Butcher of Men. Little A: New York, 2018.

Reading accounts of serial killers is not my cup of tea. But I was fascinated with this particular case due to the time period in which it occurred. I learned to appreciate our modern technology and our current ability to keep connected in a way that keeps us safe. Belle Gunnes, was a murderer, of that there is no doubt. What is in doubt is just how many people she killed. She lured men to her Indiana farm by placing ads in papers that a widow woman with large farm was looking for a husband who could help meet the financial expenses. Naïve men came and became her victims so she could steal their money. She gruesomely dismembered their bodies and buried them on her farm. All of this occurred under the noses of her unsuspecting neighbors. It was not until after her death (she died in a house fire) that her crimes were discovered. This historical account is well-written and does not sensationalize the story. But it is fascinating to see how the story was sensationalized in the news accounts of the day.

Schilder, Klaas, Christ In Suffering. Eerdman’s Publishing: Grand Rapids, 1938.

A couple of years ago, I read Frederick Leahy’s book, The Cross He Bore. It seemed the better points that he made, came from Schilder’s trilogy on the suffering of Jesus, so I put it on my book list to read later. It was a very difficult series to find. This year, I bought the set from a pastor’s widow who was selling her deceased husbands library. I am ever so glad I did. This is one of the better books I have read on the life of Christ. Schilder takes each scene of the gospel and demonstrates how Christ suffered on our behalf in order to atone for our sins. Every now and then, the author leans into some minor speculation. But the overall purpose is to take the reader deeper into contemplating the pains of our Lord and his great affection for his people. I found myself loving Jesus more by reading this book. I am looking forward to reading the next two in the series.

Schreiner, Thomas. Revelation: ESV Expository Commentary. Crossway: Wheaton, 2018.

When it comes to teaching commentaries, my ‘go to’ set has always been the The Expositors Bible Commentary produced by Zondervan. I really haven’t had a desire to consult many other sets (though the Tyndale commentaries have some value). But I might have a rethink now that I have read through my first volume of the ESV Expository Commentary. It is well designed which makes it not only sturdy but convenient to use. I have been studying through the book of Revelation in my personal devotions. Within the last decade, Schreiner has become convinced of the amillennial view of the end times. His journey was much like my own (dispensational to historic premillennial to amillenial). I must say I am impressed. He has produced a marvelous commentary working verse by verse through revelation. There are places he has challenged my thinking (that the 24 elders might not be the church as I originally thought- I am still thinking on that one). And he has successfully defended and presented a coherent understanding of this apocalyptic book in a way that any reader of the Bible can understand. While I can’t speak for the other volumes in the set yet, I am looking forward to reading them to see if they are as well done as Schriener’s.

Swenson, Richard. Margins: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserve to Overloaded Lives. NavPress: Colorado Springs, 2004.

I was given this book by my elder. I have previously read The Radical Pursuit of Rest and Re-Set in the last four years when I had been dangerously close to burnout. Apparently, I still have not heeded the warning. Even though the book is a bit dated (2004), the message is still relevant. While we can be thankful for progress, it still has brought unprecedented stress into our lives. Swenson has correctly identified the ways in which we are pushed to the breaking point of finances, exhaustion, and emotional well-being because we refuse to allow ‘margin’ into our lives. Margin in this case being space to breathe.  I doubt anyone would oppose his thesis. He argues that we should choose a slower pace of life where relationships are more important than duties and tasks. I did not learn much that was practical for me in his suggestions. But I did learn more about myself. Swenson talks about ‘set-points’ in the book. Once we have the room to add more activity our ‘set-points’ increase and now become the new standard of what we are to accomplish, which in turn increases burn outs. I am guilty of this. Because I was able to accomplish much in a single over-worked period, my expectation is to maintain such a pace continously. There are a few places where he takes scripture out of context (p. 171 is an example). But for the most part, the authors advice is solid. He reminds us we can only deal with today. But the choices we make today, based upon what we truly value, can have lasting effect upon tomorrow.

Tripp, Paul David. Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church. Crossway: Wheaton, 2020.

Once again Tripp has masterfully produced a ministry tool for the church as, again, he addressed the topic of leadership. I write, ‘once again’ because his first work was Dangerous Calling, a book written to prevent the moral failings of those in ministry. Our Elders read DC when I first came on staff and we all found it very helpful. But eight years later, Tripp has discovered the type of leadership culture must be present if a book like Dangerous Calling is be effective. It must be a culture captivated by the presence and grace of God. Which should result in setting the example of gracious redemption for the entire church. Tripp’s main thesis is that church leadership can become consumed with the external issues (budgets, buildings, policies, planning) and forget that the most important matters are internal- cultivating a love of Christ. I must admit I found his book very convicting and I have recommended it to our elders. As Providence grows and we experience the many blessings he grants us, we must keep our eye on the prize- valuing the Lord Jesus more than our growth. One negative note- whoever did Tripp’s editing should be ashamed. There were enough split infinitives to distraction thought out the book!

Warfield, B.B. The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. Solid Ground Books; Birmingham, 2010

This book is a collection of Warfield’s writings on the subject of Holy Spirit. They come from a wide range of sources; sermons, journal articles, book reviews, encyclopedia entries and even the forward to an Abraham Kuyper book! I was not sure if I would like this format, but I enjoyed it immensely. I not only had my own opinions of the doctrine of the Spirit affirmed, but I learned several new facts. I was not aware the development of the doctrine regarding the work of the Holy Spirit, really didn’t start until Calvin. Who would have thought that those in the reformed tradition were the first to champion his active work among us?! Warfield’s works have led me to other works I want to read.

Winchester, Simon. Krakatoa, The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883. Harper Collins: New York, 2003.

I picked up this book at a used bookstore, because I have been fascinated with volcanos ever since my trips to the ring of fire. And that fact, that this historical event occurred in Indonesia, the only place I have stood at the rim of a volcano, I was even more intrigued. I was unaware of the Krakatoa eruption. And that is surprising as the effects of the eruption had worldwide consequences. The ash cloud changed the view of sunsets and the temperature of the earth was lowered. The sound of the eruption was heard over 2,000 miles away. The ocean rocked and was even felt on the shores of Britain. Entire towns on both sides of the Sunda Straight were wiped away. Never has there been a cataclysmic event so immense since the flood. Winchester is a secularist. He was a trained geologist and so the event has significance for him. He spends many chapters explaining tectonic plates and their movements. But he has milked all the history of the event that can seemingly be known almost to the point of banality. But I was drawn into the story and I doubt I will ever be able to view a volcano in the same way again.