Are we witnessing the end of the book? That is the question being asked by educators, publishers, and booksellers as a recent report indicated American adolescents currently enrolled in high school and college programs are reading less. While educators debated the causes for this deficit in reading, some noted the competition now represented by digital technologies.
As if to make the point, Amazon released its new digital book format, the “Kindle,” just in time for the 2007 Christmas season. This new technology supposedly allows for more natural appearance to the page, making it appear more like traditional ink on paper. This may be so, but I still doubt many readers will look forward to curling up in bed with a digital screen.
The anxiety among publishers over the future reading habits of American adolescents should be mitigated, at least in part, by the voracious reading appetites of preachers. Preaching is intimately related to books and study, and this goes all the way back to biblical times. Preachers and books simply go together, and the most powerful combination of preacher and book comes when just the right book is available at just the right time in order to clarify and focus the preacher’s thoughts on the biblical text and the challenge of preaching.
The past publishing year has seen the release of a nearly unprecedented number of new titles. Many of these will be of tremendous interest to preachers. This review is offered as a way of introducing preachers to some of the most noteworthy titles released over the past year.
If preachers are integrally tied to the study of books, this is especially true when it comes to books helpful in Bible study for the preparation of expository messages. Over the past several decades, something of a renaissance in evangelical biblical scholarship has occurred, and we are now in a season of publication with many of the most mature biblical scholars reaching the point of maximum scholarly production.
At the same time, publishers are releasing interesting new commentary series, some pioneering new ground in theological and historical materials intended to supplement the pastor’s engagement with the biblical text. Donald K. McKim has edited a fascinating resource in the massive Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters (InterVarsity Press). This reference volume – adding up to more than a thousand pages – reviews the major interpreters of the Bible from the patristic era to the present. Helpful articles will provide something of a summary of the development of biblical exegesis over the last twenty centuries. While preachers may not need this resource on a weekly basis, the task of interpretation and the challenge of hermeneutics is now so acute, that preachers will find this volume to be a very helpful guide in understanding the present challenge in light of historical developments.
Another helpful reference work is found in the form of the Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times (Zondervan) edited by J. Daniel Hays, J. Scott Duvall, and C. Marvin Pate. “Biblical prophecy is a relevant and important topic for the church today,” the editors explain. “Not only does biblical prophecy provide hope for the future and strength for today, but its broad-sweeping themes help us understand the entire Bible. Indeed, prophecy ties the Bible together from Genesis to Revelation.” As the editors admit, the topic of prophecy often is complicated by controversy among evangelicals. This work attempts to present the best of biblical scholarship in order to help people study the issue in light of the biblical texts.
Gordon Fee, one of the best known evangelical New Testament scholars, has produced Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study (Hendrickson). Fee brings a lifetime of research and scholarship devoted to the Pauline materials and offers preachers a wealth of study related to the person of Christ as understood within the Pauline corpus.
Preachers looking for an update on biblical scholarship related to the two testaments will find two volumes of particular assistance. In The Torah Story: An Apprenticeship on the Pentateuch (Zondervan), Gary Edward Schnittjer offers a narrative review of the first five books of the Bible. Schnittjer brings a fascinating literary eye to the text and his purpose is to assist his reader in understanding how the text holds together as a whole. Helpfully, Schnittjer puts the study of the Torah in a Christian context. “The Five Books of Moses were the writings most read, most studied and most quoted by the New Testament writers, and any and every practicing Judaic person at the turn of the era,” Schnittjer notes. “The meaning of the Torah preoccupied both the followers and opponents of Jesus. The Apostle Paul claimed that the Torah explained the human problem of sinfulness and pointed toward its remedy in the Messiah. Jesus proclaimed that Moses had written about Him. For these teachers the Pentateuch was crucial to explaining the meaning of God, religion, messiah, life, death, hope, and every important aspect of the human phenomenon.”
Similarly, Mark L. Strauss has produced Four Portraits, One Jesus: An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels (Zondervan). Modern scholarship has devoted so much attention to the gospels that most preachers will find keeping abreast of this scholarship to be a daunting challenge. Strauss offers a very helpful guide in understanding current scholarship and, more importantly, understanding the biblical text. This book, as the Schnittjer volume above, is intended to serve as a text for seminary students and an update for pastors devoted to biblical scholarship.
Several books are devoted to a defense of the historical reliability of the Gospels in light of recent controversies such as the attention devoted to The Da Vinci Code and the discovery and publication of the so-called “Gospel of Judas.” Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory Boyd have produced The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition (Baker). The authors argue Matthew, Mark, and Luke offer “the most historically probable representation of the actual Jesus of history.”
Mark D. Roberts, until recently, senior pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in California, offers a defense of the gospels in Can We Trust the Gospels?: Investigating the Reliability of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (Crossway). As Roberts argues, “My basic point in this book is that if you look squarely at the facts as they are widely understood, and if you do not color them with pejorative bias or atheistic presuppositions, then you’ll find it’s reasonable to trust the Gospels.”
Another helpful volume is Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ (Thomas Nelson) by Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary. Bock directly addresses the challenges presented by recent controversies in the media and offers an apologetic defense that will be helpful to pastors who are confronted by questions and troubled Christians who do not understand the controversy and are looking for reassurance about the trustworthiness and historicity of the gospels. Pastors should also take note of Misquoting Truth (InterVarsity Press) by Timothy Paul Jones. Jones exposes the fallacious arguments of scholars who claim the manuscript traditions of the New Testament cannot be trusted.
Other recent titles in biblical studies that will be helpful to preachers include Reading the Old Testament with the Ancient Church by Ronald E. Heine (Baker), The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John by Richard Bauckham (Baker), Central Themes in Biblical Theology: Mapping Unity in Diversity (Baker) edited by Scott J. Hafemann and Paul R. House, The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments (Eerdmans) edited by Stanley E. Porter, Reading the Bible with the Dead (Eerdmans) edited by John L. Thompson and Paul, the Pastoral Epistles, and the Early Church (Hendrickson) edited by James W. Aageson.
A rich harvest of biblical commentaries also appeared over the last year, with some representing editions to existing commentary series and others standing alone. G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson have edited a most helpful and innovative commentary in Commentary on the New Testament Use on the Old Testament (Baker).
Three major commentaries on Isaiah have appeared. Gary V. Smith has produced Isaiah 1-39 (Broadman and Holman) in “The New American Commentary” series. Preachers will welcome the release of this volume. As Smith notes, the message of Isaiah and his words “still have a ring that should reverberate a warning and a hope in the ears of every present day disciple who is willing to listen to God’s voice.” We look forward to the release of the second volume of this study.
Robert Louis Wilken has produced the volume on Isaiah released in the “The Church’s Bible” series (Eerdmans). This series, along with the “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture” mentioned below, brings together a wealth of material from the early church and ancient sources. Preachers will be able to see how the church fathers dealt with these texts in preaching. Mark W. Elliott has produced Isaiah 40-66 (InterVarsity Press) in the “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture” series. “One of the main contributions the church fathers have provided the church in its reading of Isaiah is enabling the people of the church to receive the message of Isaiah in the light of its fulfillment,” he asserts. “The Fathers help us to see the nature of the trinitarian God reflected in the verses of the Old Testament.”
Nobuyoshi Kiuchi has produced a massive volume on Leviticus in the “Apollos Old Testament Commentary” series (InterVarsity Press). Kiuchi offers over five hundred pages of in-depth exegesis of this important book. The work is not likely to be surpassed in terms of scholarship in this generation. Another helpful work on Leviticus is The Beauty of Holiness: The Book of Leviticus Simply Explained (Evangelical Press) by Philip H. Eveson, which offers an accessible exposition of the book. As Evenson explains, “Without this book we cannot begin to understand the death of Christ and His priestly work on our behalf, as the author of Hebrews constantly indicates. Neither can we appreciate the many references to cleansing, purity, wholeness, separation, and holiness that we find in the New Testament.”
Pastors will find another helpful resource in Deuteronomy (Evangelical Press) by John D. Currid. Other important Old Testament commentaries released in the past year include 1 and 2 Kings (Zondervan) by August H. Konkel and Zechariah (P&R Publishing) by Richard D. Phillips. Phillips brings the book to life, indicating “the hero of Zechariah is none other than Jesus Christ, whose portraits fill this prophecy with a depth and vibrancy unsurpassed anywhere else in the Old Testament.” This volume is one of several released this past year in the “Reformed Expository Commentary.”
Other Old Testament commentaries released in the past year include Gerald H. Wilson’s Job (Hendrickson) in the “New International Biblical Commentary” series, and two volumes in the “The Gospel According to the Old Testament” series (P&R Publishing). These two volumes include After God’s Own Heart:The Gospel According to David by Mark J. Boda and Crying Out for Vindication: The Gospel According to Job by David R. Jackson. Both of these volumes are helpful in placing these Old Testament books within the story-line of God’s saving work.
Significant New Testament commentaries released over the past year include 1 Timothy (P&R Publishing) by Philip Graham Ryken and James (P&R Publishing) by Daniel M. Doriani. Ryken, senior minister at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church, reflected that his study of the epistle “was like sitting shoulder to shoulder with Timothy during his pastoral internship with the best of teachers: the apostle Paul.” Doriani, senior pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Clayton, Missouri, demonstrates that James is “eminently practical” and “full of vivid exhortations to godly living.” As he explains, “In short compass it offers concrete counsel on an array of issues Christians confront every day: trials, poverty and riches, favoritism, social justice, the tongue, worldliness, boasting, planning, prayer, illness and more.”
Preachers certainly will welcome the release of the latest volume in “The MacArthur New Testament Commentary” (Moody Press). MacArthur, whose legendary commitment to biblical exposition serves as a model to the entire generation, shares his preaching ministry and study of the Bible in 1-3 John. “In our inclusivistic age of secularism, post-modern relativism, New Age cults, and militant world religions, the apostle’s words of warning and assurance are timely and relevant,” MacArthur emphasizes. “As always, the church ignores them at her peril.”
Other helpful volumes related to the New Testament include The Epistles of John (Evangelical Press) by Joel Beeke, Compelling Christianity: Studies in the Book of Acts (Crossway) by Martin Lloyd-Jones and Because the Time Is Near (Moody Press) by John MacArthur. The volume by Lloyd-Jones is the sixth released from his series of messages preached on the book of Acts several decades ago. The sermons still resonate with deep insight and biblical faithfulness.
Finally, Darrell L. Bock, whose commentaries on Luke already belong on the preacher’s bookshelf, has now released Acts (Baker) in the “Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.” The Acts volume completes Bock’s magisterial study of Luke’s writings in the New Testament.
Theology and Historical Studies
Preaching is an essentially theological discipline. Regrettably, many preachers neglect serious theological study after graduation from seminary. Over the past year, many worthy volumes of theological studies have appeared, and these particularly deserve the preacher’s attention.
John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has written The Future of Justification (Crossway), intended as a response to the proposals of N.T. Wright. This volume will assist preachers in understanding the issues at stake in contemporary debates over justification and the Pauline letters. Piper’s book is not only a model of theological and biblical scholarship, but also a reminder of the fact that much of the most faithful theological scholarship in the history of the Christian church has been produced by pastors who have devoted themselves to this task, along with the manifold tasks of local church ministry. Piper serves as an important model in this regard.
Another most helpful volume released in the past year is Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution by Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, and Andrew Sach (Crossway). This book is nothing less than the best defense of penal substation to have appeared in many decades. It belongs on every preacher’s bookshelf and sets the record straight on a number of controversies related to the atonement.
Other important books in theological studies released over the past year include A Theology for the Church edited by Daniel L. Akin (Broadman & Holman); Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception by John MacArthur (Thomas Nelson); He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit by Graham A. Cole (Crossway); Jesus In Trinitarian Perspective by Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler (Broadman & Holman); Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper by Russell D. Moore, John Hesselink, David P. Scare, and Thomas A. Baima (Zondervan); Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, edited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright (Broadman & Holman); Sealed with an Oath: Covenant in God’s Unfolding Purpose by Paul R. Williamson (InterVarsity Press) and Revelation and Reason edited by Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Tipton (P&R Publishing).
In addition, preachers will want to know of books related to current controversies and issues of cultural debate. Important books in this regard would include Intelligent Design: William A. Dembski & Michael Ruse in Dialogue edited by Robert B. Stuart (Fortress Press); Reasons for Faith: Making a Case for the Christian Faith by Norman L. Geisler and Chad V. Meister (Crossway); Rethinking World View: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in this World by J. Mark Bertrand (Crossway); A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the World View Test by Kenneth Richard Samples (Baker); The Supremacy of Christ in a Post-Modern World edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor (Crossway) and The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine by Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath (InterVarsity Press). As the McGrath’s acknowledge, Richard Dawkins has emerged as “the world’s most high-profile atheist polemicist, who directs a withering criticism against every form of religion.” The McGrath’s offer a critique and response to the challenge represented by Dawkins and his best-selling volume, The God Delusion.
Important works in historical studies of interest to preachers include The Expansion of Evangelicalism by John Wolffe (InterVarsity Press). This volume continues a major series of the history of evangelicalism, looking at one of the most formative periods of evangelical history. Those looking for an introduction to the patristic era will welcome The Fathers of the Church by Hubertus R. Drobner (Hendrickson) and Getting to Know the Church Fathers by Bryan M. Litfin (Baker).
Thabiti M. Anyabwile has produced a most interesting volume in The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three African-American Pastors (Crossway). Anyabwile, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman Islands, chose three preachers who deserved closer study because of “their consistently high and biblical view of the pastoral ministry.” All pastors would be encouraged and instructed by this volume.
Significant biographies released in the past year include William Wilberforce: A Biography by Stephen Tomkins (Eerdmans); John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aitken (Crossway); Billy Graham: His Life and Influence by David Aikman (Thomas Nelson) and The Expository Preaching of John Calvin by Steven J. Lawson (Reformation Trust). Lawson looks carefully at Calvin as a model of exposition. As Lawson reflects, Calvin “literally died quoting the Bible he preached, having expended himself in the work and will of God.” Preachers will also welcome the republication of T.H.L. Parker’s John Calvin: A Biography (Westminster John Knox Press).
Two specialized studies also will be of interest to preachers. Stephen J. Nichols has produced For Us and for Our Salvation: The Doctrine of Christ in the Early Church (Crossway) and Alister McGrath has produced Christianity’s Dangerous Idea (Harper One). This volume represents McGrath’s history of what he calls “the Protestant Revolution.”
Other Volumes of Interest
Overtime, the preacher’s bookshelf is likely to include an entire collection of books that defy categorization. The past year has seen the release of many volumes that will be of interest to preachers. These range from works that engage the culture to others that preachers will find helpful in dealing with particular issues of current controversy or church ministry.
Considering the ministry itself, historian E. Brooks Holifield has produced God’s Ambassadors: A History of the Christian Clergy in America (Eerdmans), which should be of interest to every preacher, as he traces the development of the ministry in its American setting. Holifield explains that, in some sense, the Christian ministry “will always be in crisis.” A bit of historical perspective will help to calm the waters and help pastors to focus on the enduring tasks of ministry.
Robert Wuthnow of Princeton University has produced another interesting volume in After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty-and Thirty-Somethings are Shaping the Future of American Religion (Princeton University Press). Wuthnow turns his attention to the generation that has followed the Baby Boomers, noting that this generation is redefining much of the culture and establishing a significant challenge for the Christian church.
Other helpful books released over the past year include Pleasing People: How Not to be An “Approval Junkie” (P&R Publishing) by Lou Priolo. Priolo, well known as a biblical counselor, argues the desire for approval can become a form of idolatry. Two books related to local church ministry were produced by Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. In The Gospel & Personal Evangelism (Crossway), Dever encourages the expectation “that Christians will share the gospel with others, talk about doing that, pray about doing it, and regularly plan and work together to help each other evangelize.” As Dever insists, evangelism ought to be normal, not exceptional in the life of Christians and the church. Dever also produced What Is a Healthy Church? (Crossway), a most helpful volume related to the display of God’s glory within the local congregation.
John Stott, now in retirement, offers reflections on his ministry in The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor (InterVarsity Press). Helpfully, Stott directs himself toward younger ministers – something he has done now for several decades. “Now that I am in the ninth decade of my life,” Stott observes, “I often find myself looking into the future and longing that God will raise up a new generation of Timothys.”
Two truly helpful volumes related to preaching have appeared as Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from all the Scriptures by Dennis E. Johnson (P&R Publishing) and Preaching Christ from Genesis: Foundations for Expository Sermons by Sidney Greidanus (Eerdmans). Both of these volumes represent helpful models for the Christological interpretation of the Old Testament and both belong on the preacher’s bookshelf.
Leland Ryken and Todd Wilson have edited a worthy volume in honor of R. Kent Hughes, long-time pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, titled Preach the Word: Essays on Expository Preaching (Crossway). As Kent Hughes often explained, “what you believe about the Bible determines everything.” The contributors to this volume point to the authentic preaching of the word of God as the very foundation of ministry. Contributors include J.I. Packer, John MacArthur, D.A. Carson and a host of others. Preachers may also want to note the release of Preaching the Cross (Crossway), bringing together addresses from the 2006 “Together for the Gospel” Conference with chapters by Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, C.J. Mahaney, and myself.
Those looking for help in understanding the contemporary “Battle of the Mind” will find assistance in David S. Dockery’s Renewing Minds: Serving Church and Society Through Christian Education (Broadman & Holman). Dockery defends his thesis that “Christian colleges and universities represent the academic division of the kingdom enterprise.” In other words, Dockery ties Christian scholarship to the Christian church and calls for a recovery of true Christian scholarship in the coming generation.
These are but a sample of the hundreds of titles released over the last year by evangelical publishers and authors. The sheer volume of scholarship now being produced on behalf of the church underlines the fact that the preacher is without excuse when it comes to the availability of resources for the preparation and delivery of sermons and growth in the comprehensive task of Christian ministry. Preachers should also be reminded of the fact that, in terms of a historical perspective, books never have been as inexpensive and accessible as they are now. The preacher’s commitment to personal growth and serious study is, at least in part, indicated by the amount of time, budget, and attention devoted to the reading of those books that will be of greatest assistance to the minister’s growth and faithfulness.