What Pastor Blair Has Been Reading (September 2022 through December 2022)
Allen, Leslie C. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1976.
I was able to grab hold of this reputable commentary at a thrift store. The NIC series is well known and even the older copies are of great use. I was not satisfied with the previous study on Joel, so I thought this might help. I was disappointed. Leslie does hit all the highlights of the four minor prophets, but he is overly complicated. He makes general comments about specific scripture references without citing the reference itself. It can confuse the reader and cause one to re-read the paragraph to make sure one knows to what the author is alluding. While not incorrect in the overall interpretation, this commentary is cumbersome to use. I would suggest others.
Berry, Wendell. What I Stand for Is What I Stand On. Milton Keynes: Penguin Books, 2018.
I have to admit I am late to the game when it comes to Wendell Barry. Many of my friends have encouraged me to read him and I lagged behind. But this little volume seemed like a good introduction and non-intimidating. For those unfamiliar, Berry is a farmer, poet, essayist, and conservation activist from Henry County, KY. He is also a professing Christian (though he describes it as ‘marginal’ at best). Much of his writings are rooted in faith. He has long been warning of the dangers being done to our environment, particularly through mega-corporations within the farming industry. It’s important to note that Berry is not anti-capitalist (which many presume). He is an advocate for local economies. He encourages sustainability within communities rather than reliance upon big business. This brief volume is composed of four essays written between 1970 and 2000. I found them extremely thought provoking. I am not sure if I buy into all he is saying (especially as someone who has been advocating Wayne Grudem’s position in Poverty of Nations). But he does have me concerned about what I may be sacrificing on the altar of global economies without thinking through the long-term consequences.
Blaikie, William. Glimpses of the Inner Life of Our Lord. Tentmaker Publications: Stoke, 1995.
William Blaikie (1820-1899) was a Free Church of Scotland Minister who also served as Professor of Apologetics and Pastoral Theology at New College, Edinburgh. This volume is a re-type of the original produced in 1876. It is a wonderful devotional work on the emotions of the Lord Jesus. Perhaps one might think of this book as a pre-cursor to the recently released Gentle and Lowly. Blaikie leads the reader to meditate on twelve various aspects of Jesus’ life such as his ministry, his prayerfulness, his sorrows, and his sympathy with man. The question he poses in each of these categories is ‘How did Jesus experience these? What does the text of scripture reveal was happening inside of Jesus that motivated his behavior?’ And by answering these questions, Blaikie gives us a model for our own lives. I really enjoyed the first ten devotions. They led me to think deeply about Jesus that I had not considered before- the chapters on the Lord’s joy, peace, and his prayer life were especially convicting and stimulating. The last two chapters, despite their glorious topic (His enduring the Cross and His dying word), left much to be desired. They weren’t necessarily bad, they just failed to reach the heights that the previous chapters inspired. But regardless, I highly commend this devotional to those who desire to know Jesus better.
Chernow, Ron. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller. Vintage Books, New York, 1998.
I asked one of my mentors what his favorite biographies were. This volume was at the top of his list. In terms of style and substance, his assessment is hard to argue against. I have long been fascinated with Rockefeller. He is still considered the wealthiest American that ever lived (based upon current conversion rates). He was a staunch Baptist, yet lost much of his theological moorings. And this book helps explains why. It reveals not just the subject’s life story, but those of his ancestors and his children and grandchildren, as well as being a history of the oil industry in the United States. It deals with Rockefeller's work ethic as well as his religion. It is incredibly thorough. One of the most comprehensive biographies I have ever read (How Chernow has written so many others from different time periods is astounding!). It is over 670 pages. I doubt it will ever be surpassed. If you want to know about this American family, this is where the journey starts (and most likely will end).
Harvey, Dave. The Plurality Principle: How to Build and Maintain a Thriving Church Leadership Team. Crossway: Wheaton, 2021.
I greatly admire Dave Harvey. I have enjoyed his previous books Am I Called? and Rescuing Ambition. I am convinced Harvey is a pastor to pastors. Our elders are reading this work to improve our own teamwork. The book is written in three parts. Part one discusses building a plurality among a local church’s elders and the second, speaks about thriving as a plurality. The book concludes with four appendices on practical matters (how should a vocational pastor negotiate his salary, how much should an elder reveal to his wife, etc.). There are several chapters that I thoroughly enjoyed. There is much wisdom within these pages. The strength of the book is probably the first section where Harvey advocates for the role of a senior pastor (‘a first among equals’). I was greatly convicted on this topic as I felt the weight of my responsibility. But the book does have one overall flaw- While Harvey talks about building a team and thriving as a team, he neglects to discuss what it is that elders do corporately together (at least in any detailed manner). I think that would be vital to the discussion. And the lack of addressing it, I found to be frustrating. Despite that weakness, I am sure that our elders will benefit from the strengths of this book.
Kolber, Aundie. Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move us Out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mod- and into a Life of Connection and Joy. Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2020.
This is a book that I was reluctant to read. It seemed a little touchy-feely and light on the scripture. I was encouraged to read it by someone I trusted who thought it might help me. And my original concern proved to be true. It was ‘touchy-feely’ and ‘light on the scriptures', but that does not mean the premise of the book was wrong. In fact, I found very little disagreement with Aundie Kolber who is a trained trauma psychologist. Science has proven that we have neural pathways in our brains and nervous systems that are affected by our actions. Repeated stimuli of stress and trauma create patterns within our synapsis that cause us to exhibit certain behaviors when we feel threatened. Kolber understands our biological make-up within what theologians call ‘general revelation’. These are things we can learn about God and His creation through observation. She encourages her patients to observe their behaviors and see what patterns have developed within our responses. These ‘responses’ must be read and interpreted accurately. Then she encourages the reader to submit these to the truth of God’s word. I agree with her premise. She is gentle and hopeful in her presentation. If there is a flaw, I would have encouraged her to include a more Biblical theology with her practical theology. I think this is a great book to put into the hands of someone who has undergone tremendous stress. But I would encourage them to read it alongside someone who can make sure they keep a healthy balance between the physical and spiritual.
Law, Robert. The Emotions of Jesus. Edinburgh: T & T. Clark, 1915.
Robert Law (1860-1919) was a Toronto Pastor and later a lecturer at Knox College. This volume is a companion to Blaikie’s book. Both were reprinted by Tentmakers. As pointed out by the editors, it is not nearly as strong as the former’s work, but it does have some key moments. I found myself challenged by a few of Law’s points. His observation that Christ has compassion for sinners because he pities us due to our condemnation, knowing what we deserve was a point I had not considered in the full weight of the subject. Yes, Jesus is a righteous judge, but he sees how helpless we truly are in our sin. I also appreciated Law’s focus on the resolve of Jesus (He calls it his ‘straightenedness’). This too is often neglected in such studies. The book does have a few deficiencies. Law quotes from some questionable authors. And he leans himself to a postmillennial position encouraging his readers that they must act the same in order to bring Christ’s kingdom into the world- no doubt influenced by adherents of the social gospel. While I received benefits from reading The Emotions of Jesus, I would recommend others to read it under caution.
Leithart. Peter. The Ten Commandments: A Guide to the Perfect Law of Liberty. Lexham Press: Bellingham, WA, 2020
This volume is within a series called the ‘The Christian Essentials’. They are meant to be short treatises on the most important subjects in Christian Doctrine. This may be one of the best primers on the Ten Commandments I have read. Leithart has presented the reader with a brief overview of the decalogue that is both challenging and accessible. There are two keys to the book’s success. First, Leihart situates the commandments within their literary and historical context. It is essential to see that these laws were given to Israel to liberate them from captivity of sin as well as from Egyptian culture (see Exodus 20:1-2). They were not designed to be oppressive, but to enable them to become as they were created. And second, the commands are framed within the character of God. They were intended to show us the God whom were created in His image. This book is wonderful. If I teach on this subject any time soon, this will definitely be required reading. I highly recommend it.
McGuinn, Roger, Chris Hillman, & David Crosby. The Byrds: 1964-1967. BMG Publishing: Nashville, 2022.
This was a guilty pleasure. I rarely spend this much money on a book, but this is a volume that I think will bring me much enjoyment over the years. My all-time favorite band is The Byrds. The time of the original members was short-lived, but overall, the band had tremendous influence in all veins of modern music. Two of the original members (McGuinn and Hillman) are now professing Christians. This is a large, oversized coffee table-type book that is a photographic essay of the band. Even though The Byrds had many line-ups, this focuses exclusively on the original members. The authors have gathered never-before-seen photos of the years between 1964-1967. And all throughout the book are comments by the living members of the group describing the situation and context of the photos. I have not read every word in the book, but I have perused it at my leisure (it will take some time to get through it). And no doubt, I do not endorse some of the behavior of the band during these early years. But I have thoroughly enjoyed this bit of music history.
Murray, Iain. The Puritan Hope: Revival and Interpretation of Prophecy. Banner of Truth: London, 1971.
Iain Murray argues that it was the Puritan postmillennial thinking that led to the evangelical transformation of Britain and America and eventually launched the modern missions movement. They believed that Christ was establishing His Kingdom on the earth through the preaching and the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, they had hope in their work and effort and were not pessimistic of a ‘greater tribulation’. Murray’s grasp of the resources is stunning. He makes his case convincingly that Postmillennialism was the prevailing norm and did not begin to shift until the preaching of pre-millennialism of Edward Irving and writings of J.N. Darby in the mid-nineteenth century coupled with the adherents of the social gospel hijacking the concept of postmillennialism. While recounting this history, Murray argues for a return of revivalist preaching that ushers in this hope once again. Considering this book is fifty years old, it still holds up well and aids the student of history to understand the impetus of this type of philosophy. Murray argues so convincingly that one might become post-millennial in their own thinking.
Rainey, Dennis. Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood. Little Rock: Family Life Publishing, 2011.
I picked this book up at a recent marriage retreat. Dennis Rainey is the founder of Family Life. He has written this book to men who need to know what a healthy concept of manhood looks like. The author covers the five stages of male life: boyhood, adolescence, manhood, mentor, and patriarch. Rainey exposes how many men never leave adolescence and why it’s important that they do. The biggest threat to biblical masculinity is an impassiveness to seek God and apply his principles to life. I found the book to be very encouraging. It was easy to read and full of stories that made it more palatable to the non-reader. The author does not begin with scripture. He eases his way into the Bible, remaining conscience that wives might purchase the book for husbands and it ‘turn him off’ due to the religious nature. Despite that, I found it appropriate for devotional reading. There is a wonderful appendix that provides a clear presentation of the gospel. I also appreciate that Rainey deals with old age. Men are not called to sit on the sidelines, no matter their years. This book would make a great gift for husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons.
Ware, Bruce. The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ. Crossway: Wheaton, 2012.
Every year prior to the Christmas season, I try to read a book on the incarnation. This was my 2022 selection. I confess that this volume shaped much of my thinking as I prepared the last sermons in December. When I was a student at Southern Seminary, Bruce Ware was one of my systematic theology professors. He was an exemplary theologian. I really enjoyed reading this as I felt like I was back in his classroom over 20 years ago! Dr. Ware has a wonderful way of taking complex ideas and making them understandable. And few things are more difficult to grasp than the two natures of our Lord, Jesus. In addition, Ware argues convincingly for the eternal submission of the Son (an issue I am still trying to reconcile in my mind). Despite its simplicity, be forewarned, this is not an ‘easy’ read. It will make you think deeply about the humanity of Jesus. For those of you who read Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund, this would be a great ‘next step’ book.
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