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What Pastor Blair Has Been Reading (July 2023 through September 2023)

Adams, Isaac. Talking About Race: Gospel Hope for Hard Conversations. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2022.

I started this book back in February during Black history month. I had to lay it aside as a bigger project interfered. But I resumed reading it this summer. This is a great book regarding race and much needed. Note the title- this is not a book about race- but a volume on how to talk about race. Too often Christians are talking past one another and not to one another. This book helps one to understand why that is the case and how we can do better. The book begins with a fictional shooting of a black man. And then it examines the different perspectives about how different sides may feel about it- making no judgments on the opinions. The second part of the book explains why- as difficult as it must be- Christians need to have conversations about racial relationships. This is a helpful tool that can help with that difficult conversation- particularly in a small group setting. I was encouraged as I read it that it could open great dialogue among evangelicals.

Bevins, Vincent. The Jakarta Method: Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade & the Mass Murder Program that Shaped our World. BBS Public Affairs: New York, 2020.

I was browsing through the book store when this title caught my eye. I have long been interested in the history of Indonesia. And the Suharto (second President of Indonesia) years have often been shadowed as many refuses to talk about his dictatorship. Bevins does a decent job demonstrating how Suharto came to power by eliminating left leaning opposition forcefully. Like Pol Pott, thousands died under his regime. And because he was willing to cooperate with the U.S. in holding back communism, he had the blessing of Washington. His strong-arm tactics were so effective that the phrase ‘The Jakarta Method,’ was the used as term to eliminate opposition by branding them ‘communistic’ in other countries. Guatemala, Brazil, and Chile adopted this ‘method’. As one reads, they must keep in mind the author is sympathetic to the left. But he is completely justified in being outraged at the sheer evil involved. 

Bray, Gerald. Preaching the Word With John Chrysostom. Lexham Press: Bellingham, WA, 2020.

I was recently reading some of the sermons of John ‘Golden Mouth.’ He was a fourth century patriarch and a contemporary of Augustine. John is credited with returning Biblical interpretation from allegorical to literal.  I had some confusion over some of the ideas John was addressing.  So, I picked up this little primer on his life. It did the trick. Gerald Bray does and excellent job covering the pertinent details of this great preacher’s life. Then he addresses his major thought in his sermon series in Genesis, the Gospels, and the letters of Paul (who was a role model for John). This little volume is readable and a sufficient introduction. It makes me want to know even more about the John Chrysostom.

Downs, Tim & Joy. Fight Fair! Winning at Conflict Without Losing at Love. Moody Publishers: Chicago, 2010.

Every year I seek to read a book on marriage. I was at a conference recently and was intrigued by this topic. The authors desire to minimize conflict and improve communication. I am glad I read this, because it reminded me just how dangerous integrative psychology can be. Supposedly, ‘integrationists’ believe they are using both the Bible and the best observations of secular psychology. This is combining the best of ‘both worlds’, hence the word ‘integration’. However, most integration is putting forth secular counseling and then seeking support in scripture that proves the point of the authors. This is an excellent example. In over 150 pages, I counted only twenty-three verses that were referenced. Most of these were from the New Living Translation and The Message and were cited in the margin apart from the text; and a few in the text were taken out of context. And providing quotes out of context was consistent with citing other authors was an issue as well. Sadly, there was very little practical advice they proffered that I disagreed with. Yet hardly any dependence upon the Holy Spirit mentioned. As Jesus taught, when the principles are built upon sand, it is doomed to fall down once the storms come. While I know this couple are popular speakers, I do not recommend this book.

Gibson, Jonathan. Be Thou My Vision: A Liturgy for Daily Worship. Crossway: Wheaton, 2021.

First let me comment on the construction of the book. This is beautifully done. It has a cloth cover, three ribbons for place marking and comes in an ornate bookcase. It makes the reader desire to read each day and gives the feeling that the contents are holy. The book is a forty-day liturgy that leads the devotee through scripture of calls to worship, law and gospel, and a daily Bible reading. It also contains prayers and confessions from historical Church figures (I was delighted to see Jay included). And it encourages a daily reading in one of the historical church catechisms. While I enjoyed the exercise, I did find it to a little too rote for my tastes. It is definitely presbyterian in its design. But it did give me an appreciation of the liturgy. The author has released an advent addition and I look forward to trying that.

Hamilton, Victor P. The New International Commentary of the Old Testament: The Book Of Genesis Chapters 18-50. Eerdmans Publishing: Grand Rapids, 1995.

This is the second volume on Genesis by Hamilton. I would almost repeat word for word what I wrote when I reviewed the first volume. This is a well done commentary on Genesis. Hamilton is conservative and argues against the documentary hypothesis throughout, but he is kind when presenting their views and offers alternatives to their criticisms. This is an academic and technical work. And it shows throughout. That is its drawback. Too many times Hamilton chases needless rabbits that have nothing to do with the Biblical text. One feels that he is trying to get the first work in on ancient subjects. I still prefer Waltke’s commentary overall. But this was a good technical companion to it.

Ursinus & Olevianus. The Heidelberg Catechism. Banner of Truth: Edinburgh, 2013.

As part of the Gibson reading above, I chose to read this leather-bound edition of the Heidelberg Catechism. It was produced in 1563 and remains a monument of sound theology. Bill VanDoodewaard provides a nice introduction preceding the catechism. The first question of ‘what is our hope in life and death? Still cannot be answered any better. Of course, I would disagree on their statement on infant baptism. I also would disagree that the Lord’s Prayer is to be prayed repetitively (as Jesus said that it is a model). But I prefer their answer on how to celebrate the Christian Sabbath better than I do the 1689. If you have not read the great catechisms recently, I would encourage you to do so.

Heiser, Michael S. Angels: What the Bible really Says About God’s Heavenly Host. Lexham Press, Bellingham, WA, 2018.

Sadly, the world lost Michael Heiser last year. He was a brilliant scholar and from all accounts a humble Christian. Heiser’s specialty is the Unseen World. I reviewed his book on Demons a few years ago. This is the companion volume. It is not as strong as the other but still a worthy read. Few have the scope and knowledge of second temple literature as Heiser. And he is very good at language. However, like the previous volumes, I struggle with the authors understanding of Genesis 6 where the sons of God mingle with the daughters of man. Heiser sees these as spiritual beings who marry humans. I am not inclined to agree as the phrase ‘sons of God’ can also mean the redeemed. I tend to think these are the sons of Seth and Adam. That being said, much of what Heiser says is valuable.

Najapfour, Sarah. When I Am Afraid. Reformation Heritage Books: Grand Rapids, 2023.

This is a new children’s book that is designed to help children cope with their anxiety. The story follows a little girl named Anna who gets scared often. She is trying to determine what to do with her fear. The plot is overly simplistic, and the illustrations leave much to be desired. However, that portion of the book is only a tool to help a parent speak to their child about their fears. The real substance of the book is the appendix where Dr. Rebecca Huizen gives parents really practical exercises for parents. And that is followed by a second appendix with an article on practical strategies to help children deal with anxiety. I like what Huizen says. Her advice is Biblical, and it also takes into account the way children’s bodies react to fear. Those two appendices are worth the price of the book. I have purchased multiple copies and put them on the bookshelf. I encourage parents to pick up a copy then share it with others.

Schilder, Klaas. Christ On Trial: Gethsemane to the Condemnation. Eerdman’s Publishing: Grand Rapids, 1939.

Klaas Schilder (1890-1952) was a Dutch Reformed pastor who did much to combat the neo-orthodoxy of his day. This is the second volume in a trilogy based upon the sufferings of Christ. It is Schilder’s magnum opus and it does not disappoint. The reader will be drawn deeper into the considerations of the sufferings of Jesus. It will make one love God, his sovereignty, and the sacrifice of our Savior even more. I will say this is stout reading. I cannot tell if it is Schilder or his translator that makes him so verbose. It can be tedious reading. Schilder does say a few speculative things (like there being no need for blood in heaven). But despite such drawbacks it is worth it. I love Jesus more because of these two books. I look forward to reading the third volume in the upcoming year.

Spurgeon, Charles. Encouragement for the Depressed. Crossway: Wheaton, 2020.

This is a volume in the Crossway Short Classics series. They have taken sermons from several historical preachers and arranged them topically. Spurgeon was a pastor that suffered often from bouts of depression. (You can read Zach Eswine’s excellent work on this titled, Spurgeon’s Sorrows). These sermons address the church on how to help one battling discouragement and also how the minister might cope with depression. I found both subjects to be very helpful. Spurgeon is a master with words. He still encourages today.

Swarns, Rachel. The 272: The Families Who Were Enslaved and Sold to Build the American Catholic Church. Random House: New York, 2023.

I have dear brother who is a pastor in Baltimore. He told me about a book that had recently been released that chronicled the history of his family. It also had affected him emotionally. I picked up my own copy and I can say it had an emotional effect on me as well (though not nearly as deep as my friend). Rachel Swarns tells the story of the men and women descending from an indentured servant, who were unjustly enslaved. Eventually they became the property of the Jesuits. Then as the families grew larger were eventually sold and parceled off in Louisiana in order to finance Georgetown University. Swarns writes with some speculation, but with fairness and equity in her comments. The reader cannot help but feel the tragedy of the situation. The fact that this was the family of my friend made it more impactful. But the book also reveals the resiliency of these former slaves as they gained their freedom and made a new life for themselves after the Civil War. This is a difficult read due to its content, but it is an important historical work.