2014 Top Books

I suppose a “better late than never” is in order. I recently came across a 2013 Top Ten list of books I compiled for a friend on my personal blog and it made me miss the thinking involved in compiling these lists for what I read in the past year. So, I determined I ought to make one for last year, almost halfway through this year.

I typically try to have a ‘canon of theologians’ list – the goal being to read a different theologian in church history each month – to read through every year, but outside of Christian books, I also try to vary my reading. However, on this outlet I’ll limit the list to my favorite Christian books I read in 2014. Some of these will be new releases, while others are classics that I try to re-read occasionally. Other than the first book on the list, these will be in no particular order.

The King in His Beauty by Thomas Schreiner

By far the best book I read this year. Beauty is an appropriate superlative for this book. Schreiner has done an excellent job of compiling a theology of the Bible. I am in particular agreement with his thesis of “God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s reign” but for me the reason this book is beautiful is because of its content, and how this thesis unfolds through the book. The theme is a constant reminder of everything that points to “the King in His beauty.” What a beautiful hope we have as Christians. And so not only is this book doctrinally rich, with much to learn from it, but even more importantly it will make you pause and worship. I’m thankful the church has such a gift.

The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus by Alan J. Thompson

This is an excellent work chronicling the events of Acts that primarily focuses on the work of Christ. Of course the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost is an important event in Acts, but Alan Thompson doesn’t want us to forget – as we often do – that Christ is in his “session” during this time in history as well. The Lord is Risen and is reigning, these are ultimately His acts.

Summary of Christian Doctrine by Louis Berkhof

Berkhof is one of my favorite theologians. His complete Systematic Theology is probably the work I reference most often. This summary is a great, concise resource as well. It’s a short treatment of key dogmatic issues, and is a pleasure to read. Another benefit is the opportunity to read straight through book hitting every topic. Something you most likely don’t do with a full systematic. It helps us “remember.” Something we desperateley need in order to continue to grow in areas of the Christian faith. This would be a great place to start if you’re interested in reading Berkhof. It’s also a great book to giveaway.

Expositional Preaching by David Helm

The first book I read in the 9Marks “Building Healthy Churches” series, and I’m not sure I’ve read a better introduction to expositional preaching. It’s a quick read, but it makes a great case for what is called expositional preaching. It is a style that is making a comeback in recent years, and many would argue it’s the only style of preaching that we should do regularly. Helm gives many good scriptural examples and application of what it is and how we serve our churches by preaching this way.

Behind the Ranges by J. O. Fraser

An amazing story. I was not familiar with Fraser before coming across this work and I was blown away with his pioneering work in China with the Lisu people. His endurance and patience with the work among the people is something that we should all be in awe of, and is something that I ask for more where we serve. We need more J. O. Fraser’s in the church today.

The Doctrine of Repentance by Thomas Watson

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It seems an antiquated word in our world today. But how utterly and completely scriptural it is. Maybe the reason we need to continue reading these types of works from the Puritans. They had a real grasp of sin that eludes many of us in our modern world. Watson will guide you through this doctrine from the Word, encouraging true repentance. The day of the Lord is now.

The Presence of the Future by George Eldon Ladd

Living in the “already and not yet.” Ladd is a well known Baptist theologian who talk much of the Kingdom from Scripture. This book is a treatment of eschatology and its primary focus on Christ who ushered in the end times, but explains the time has not come to fulfillment. I enjoyed this book because of my interest in this area of biblical study.

The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

A classic work. One that has endured and one that I love reading. It’s truly a journey walking with Christian – the book’s protagonist – through his life. If you haven’t taken this journey through the Christian life before, you need to take a walk with Bunyan this year. The edition linked to above is the Banner of Truth edition and is a beautiful copy you can keep for years to come.

Evangelism by Mack Stiles

The second book in the 9Marks series I read this year. I have read Stiles – who often writes on evangelism – before and wasn’t disappointed. This book is very accessible and is a good defense of why the church needs to be evangelizing It’s also and encouragement to do so. I was looking for resources to give away as gifts to pastors over here and found some great ideas in this series. Evangelism is an area that is tragically neglected in our churches today.

On the Incarnation by Athanasius

I was encouraged by a couple of friends on Twitter to read this during the holiday season, and what a beautiful read at Christmas time. The incarnation being the true miracle of the season. God becoming man is something that we should constantly be in awe of and try to remind ourselves often. This book will help do that. It’s also refreshing to read something of such antiquity.

That concludes my list.

What books were your favorite from last year since you’ve had four months to think about it, and why?

Enabled to Understand

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I’m currently reading Alan J. Thomson’s The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus: Luke’s account of God’s unfolding plan. It’s been a great read so far, as are most of the books from the excellent New Studies in Biblical Theology series.

In his chapter on the importance of the resurrection, shortly after showing that “Luke not only affirms significance of the physical resurrection, but also highlights its meaning and significance.”

We see as Jesus walks along the road with his disciples in 24:36 his teaching “is all about reminding them of what [he] had told them and their understanding of the Scriptures.” He reveals to them the words that he had spoken have now been fulfilled according to God’s plan as written in the Scripture. “When the Scriptures are referred to in Luke 24, the emphasis is not on a particular verse or two. Rather, the emphasis is repeatedly on the totality of Scripture.”

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! (24:25)

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (24:27)

They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (24:32)

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (24:44)

Then what do we read happened?

“The disciples are then enabled to understand the Scriptures.”

Isn’t it interesting that only after Jesus explained the whole of the Scriptures that they were enabled to understand?

This should be a huge challenge to us.

People must understand the totality of the Scriptures.

How can we expect people to know the hope [the resurrection of the dead in Christ the first fruits] to which they have been called if they do not understand the foundation of that hope? The fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus Christ and his continuing work to this day provide us with assurance.

We must teach the whole counsel of the Word of God. Only then will people see the beauty of the King and be truly transformed. Only then will our churches start to understand that it is the church that God has blessed to reach the nations. Only then will the nations understand as well. Only after they understand the Scriptures.

Satisfaction with Life

Satisfaction is a curious sentiment, feeling, or a state of being. Contentment is likened to it. What is it to be satisfied in this life? I suppose it has a lot to do with how someone would define contentment. If their quality of life met the demands of their definition, we could call them satisfied. So, what are these demands, or conditions that must be met? Are they physical, spiritual, financial, or otherwise? Consider this:

If asked, would you say that your satisfaction with life is directly proportional to your financial situation?

A recent poll just released by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that it is. At least, that’s the case for the nearly 1,000 African Americans they polled. However, I doubt the numbers are in any way tied to a specific people. I would argue that this outlook pervades most races and classes.

The results of the poll aren’t terribly striking. We would expect them. It really seems common sense. The more well off one is financially, the greater that persons satisfaction with life.

But, is this the way it should be, especially for Christians?

I would argue that our satisfaction with life should have absolutely nothing to do with our financial situation. Is this a bold claim? It probably seems more bold to some than it should, because all we know is a culture that has adopted this way of life.

But God’s Word tells us that Jesus Christ came and lived and preached the good news of the kingdom to us so that his joy may be in us, and therefore that our joy would be complete (John 15:11). We are to believe in the good news of Jesus Christ. Abiding in Christ is where our joy rests, not in fleeting circumstances, not in earthly trials and tribulations, but in the person of Jesus Christ, who is God.

Amen.

Maligning the Word of God

There are a few passages in the Pastoral Epistles that warn against “maligning the word of God.” I thought it would be profitable to look at those passages so as to understand the setting in which Paul used them, as well as the different examples he uses to make the same point, which should ultimately provide for us a direct line of application for our context.

First the passages that Paul uses and the context.

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:3-5 ESV)

Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.
(1 Timothy 6:1 ESV)

It’s interesting to note that both of the instances Paul uses this phrase has to do with submission. As we mentioned, he is specifically dealing with social constructs, but what implications do these exhortations have for us?

And finally, what is the application for us? In all we do we should strive to uphold the name of God and the teaching that flows from His name. If we profess to be followers of Christ, then our actions (submission) should bring glory to God’s name, as the life of Christ did. He lived to glorify the Father.

Let us then, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. The implications of this practice for the church body is transformational. Think how our lives and our congregations would be realigned if we truly sought to count others as more important than ourselves.

The Sovereign Call to Discipleship

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The shocking call of Jesus.

The way Jesus commenced his ministry was quite distinct from other teachers of his day. In fact it was remarkable that Jesus called others to follow him, and did not merely teach that they should be devoted to God. Studies from this period reveal to us that, “rabbis did not summon others to follow them. Instead, would-be disciples sought rabbis out and asked to serve as their disciples.”

But Jesus was different, he is the one who initiated the call, and further, he didn’t wait for a response. His call to be followed was effective. “He sovereignly and authoritatively called them to do so.” They dropped everything and followed him.

Other evidence from this period shows that disciples would typically study under a rabbi for a few years, graduate, and then attract their own students. Not so with Jesus, “disciples are called upon to follow Jesus literally and to leave their families.” Again, he doesn’t teach them that they should only follow God, “rather, he emphasizes the difficulty of following him and the cost of discipleship.”

——

It’s often easy for modern day readers to be ignorant of the religious culture of Jesus’ day. This ignorance tends to flatten out much of the significance of what was actually going on in many of the events. A Jewish person would have been much more shocked at the actions of Jesus than we are. It’s easy to read past the significance of the details in the story. But it’s in these details that we see the uniqueness of the person of Jesus. Jesus acted the way he did because of his divine call. And within Jesus’ call for disciples to follow him instead of the ways of God lies the point that these details help reveal to us:

The deity of the Son. Jesus is God.

-all quotes taken from New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ by Thomas R. Schreiner

Jesus and the Most Explosive Political Argument of His Day

The following is a section of notes from Dr. Schreiner’s course “Theology of the New Testament.” This was a fascinating quote that he pulled from Günter Klein (who was a Bultmannian, so read through that lens). Still, there is much to agree with in his view, especially for many Christians’ political agendas in our time. Note the bold highlights (me), and the way that Jesus treated the “most explosive political question of his day.”

———

Jesus did not believe kingdom could be inaugurated by human agency, contra the Zealots (Mark 4:28).

Jesus focused on individual repentance, not corporate repentance. Note Günter Klein, Jesus “projected no socio-political programs, he did not demonize the structure of society . . . and he did not call for revolution.”

“This is not to say that he was for a moment blind to the repressiveness of his day” (403-404). “He warned of the dangers of riches and power. But he did not call for an attack upon the structures of his day. Instead, he called for the payment of taxes, even to Caesar.” In this command “Jesus sovereignly declares as irrelevant what apparently was the most explosive political question of his day; he even goes so far as to downgrade it to a trifle by referring to God’s proprietary rights. But it is precisely God’s claim which makes us aware that his rule will not prevail by man changing any kind of structures but only by man changing himself and by preparing him for God’s coming” (404).

Locating evil in social structures “conflicts with Jesus’ proclamation which so uncompromisingly located evil in man’s heart” (415). It is not the transformation of social structures but the message of the gospel which “puts an end to man’s self-idolatry and frees him for a new obedience” (416). Individuals have been transformed, “but can it ever be said of a structure that in it Satan has been overthrown by Christ” (416)?

“This is not to give the false impression that the condition of the world is unimportant. To the contrary ‘the conversion of the individual as such brings about changes within the world.’” (417). It does not agree “with the exuberance of some ranting revolutionary to build the kingdom of God. It seeks change because it has perceived God’s mercy, yet it knows full well that changing structures does not bring salvation any closer.” Revolutionary ideology “leads to that fatal misunderstanding which says that Christ is gathering ‘the dispossessed so they together might overthrow the mighty.’ What here is laced with Christian terms and so unashamedly ideologized is the very opposite of love and would only succeed in perpetuating human conflict” (pp. 417-418).

———

See New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ by Thomas R. Schreiner for more of his view on the Kingdom of God.

Sojourners and Exiles

 

I’m not sure if this passage is where Gregg Allison got the title for his forthcoming book, or not, but I thought it still worth mentioning. It looks fascinating and is one that I’m really looking forward to.

I came across the title of this post in my reading this morning in 1 Peter 2,

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (1 Peter 2:11 ESV)

I noticed a few things from this passage that I thought worth mentioning. One was the reference to 2 Corinthians 5:1-11. It’s the section where Paul is talking about our earthly bodies as tents and that as we are looking forward to our heavenly dwelling we groan to put off this body of flesh. This is what Peter seems to mean here by calling us “sojourners and exiles.” And as long as we are on this earth, we will claim these designations.

Next Peter is warning to “abstain from the passions of the flesh.” Worldly passions. The wrong temptations and desires of this place that is not our home. Let us keep our eyes fixed on our heavenly home, as Christian did in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

Now here is the interesting part that you might normally just passover, but that upon closer inspection really makes you think. Peter warns us against these things because they “wage war against your soul,” not against your body, which would seem a more  appropriate thing to say in the context. It would just make sense that these worldly/fleshly desires would harm your body. Yet, Peter says they wage war against your soul.

That is what is at stake for us as we deal with sin and strive to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (2 Peter 2:1). Our soul is at stake. Our eternal state. Not just this temporary earthly existence that is but a breath.

 

 

The Last Letter

lastletter

 

What would you include in your last letter?

If you were in Paul’s position, under house arrest in Rome, where we find him while writing a letter to Timothy at Ephesus, what would you have included in the letter to one that you considered a “son” in the faith?

I wonder, knowing the end was drawing near––as Paul did––and that this would mostly likely be the last letter to Timothy, if we would have written on the topics Paul chose to address? I think if we are honest and can look objectively at our lives, we will find that our priorities vastly differ from those of the early Christians. It would be sobering and convicting to read what we would write if in Paul’s situation. And if that were possible, would give us great insight into what have become our most cherished possessions priorities in this life.

It’s really hard to know what we would actually write, what our priorities would actually be, but we do know what Paul wrote and we can look to his example in this letter to Timothy to see what he considered his top priorities. Paul’s final word.

—-

  • do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord
  • share in suffering
  • follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me
  • what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men
  • share in suffering
  • endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they may also obtain salvation
  • present yourself to God as one approved
  • rightly handle the word of truth
  • avoid irreverent babble
  • flee youthful passions
  • pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace
  • have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies
  • be kind to everyone
  • able to teach
  • patiently endure evil
  • preach the word
  • be ready in season and out of season
  • reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching
  • be sober-minded
  • endure suffering
  • do the work of an evangelist
  • fulfill your ministry

It’s quite an exhortation that Paul gives. Much of that list would probably be left out of my list. There doesn’t seem to be much about comfort there. In fact, Paul mentions to Timothy three times that he is to “share in” or “endure suffering.” This isn’t the picture that our western-minded Christianity has painted for us, is it? Far from it. We may unintentionally leave out much of what’s on this list, and I believe that’s because much of this list is left our of our preaching in this present generation. We don’t think on these aspects of the gospel anymore. We’ve forgotten.

And this is because we’ve begun to do what Paul warned Timothy of, “not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:2-3 ESV)

And because of this, the following is what we would probably include in our letters:

  • lovers of self
  • lovers of money
  • proud
  • arrogant
  • abusive
  • disobedient to their parents
  • ungrateful
  • unholy
  • heartless
  • unappeasable
  • slanderous
  • without self-control
  • brutal
  • not loving good
  • treacherous
  • reckless
  • swollen with conceit
  • lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God
  • having the appearance of godliness

Brothers, let this not be so! Flee from these things! Let us keep our focus where Paul did, on the gospel of Jesus Christ:

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Timothy 1:8-14 ESV)

Church Life

51TM98P3V1L._SS500_.jpgI stumbled across this 9Marks leadership interview yesterday as I was searching for a copy of Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life for my pastor, though sadly, it is no longer listed on their site for purchase. I do hope they plan to offer this volume in the future. It is a real service to Baptist Churches. The interview of the same title of the book actually uses the book a lot for jumping off points into the discussion of what Polity is.

It was a helpful interview, and as I haven’t read through the whole volume, pointed me to a few specific places that may be worth highlighting here. The following is from P.H. Mell’s chapters on “Corrective Church Discipline” which he wrote in 1860. In this section he is making a distinction between “Private” and “Public” offenses.

(2.) Refusal, after admonition, to attend upon the stated conference-meetings of the Church, is a “public offense.” … the object affected by the act is … the Church in its organized capacity.

He says this is a “public offense” because

it is committed against the authority of the Church, which the member is bound and pledged to regard.

What a high view of church membership they had, and what accountability they held their church members to. That we would have such submission to the authority of the body that we submit ourselves to.

Irreverent Babble

Irreverent babble and foolish, ignorant controversies. This is an interesting passage in 2 Timothy where Paul is instructing Timothy how to respond to the false teachers he is facing at Ephesus. It seems especially applicable in our day where the internet has spawned much babble and foolish controversies. Paul says in this section:

charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. (2 Timothy 2:14)

then

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. (2 Timothy 2:22-24)

Did you catch what Paul says happens when we succumb to these quarrels? They ruin hearers.

So how far does this go? What constitutes as irreverent babble? Ignorant controversies?

It should be noted also that Paul says this immediately after telling Timothy to “flee from youthful passions.” Which means  that many of today’s controversies are youthful in nature. Not mature. But again. What how far does this go? What classifies as irreverent, ignorant?

I don’t know that I’m in a position to make that judgement. Only I wonder if many of our infatuations with “buzz words” and with different “camps” would fall into these categories? Main aim here is to simply note Paul’s words. To call attention to his warnings.

Especially the fact that many of these quarrels ruin hearers. This is by far the greatest implication to note. In the context, the hearers being ruined are non-Christians. Brothers, this is not good. So, let us take heed lest we cause others to stumble. Let us watch our words and temperaments carefully. Let us not be quarrelsome.

Be kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting opponents with gentleness.

But to what end? Ultimately because,

God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:25-26)