The demise of the book has been predicted for years now – its doom supposedly inevitable after the advent of the digital age. Well, someone forgot to tell the reading public in general, and preachers in particular, that the book is supposedly dead. Among preachers, the book is very much alive.

This is for good reason, of course. Books are the arsenal of the pastor’s work, the basic equipment of the pastor’s study. Those called to preach the Word find themselves the friends of books. Of course, the question is this – which books shall we read?

This annual review essay is intended to help preachers identify at least some of the books that belong on the preacher’s bookshelf.

Biblical Studies

We start, naturally, with books about the Bible. Frank Thielman of Beeson Divinity School has written the title Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach (Zondervan). This massive work, wide in scope and keen in analysis, brings together Thielman’s canonical understanding of Scripture. As Thielman explains, “The study of New Testament theology is . . . .a narrow and self-defeating enterprise. When pursued within the church and under the authority of the texts, it can provide the means through which the prophetic voice of the texts is heard clearly in the modern church and, through the church, in the world.”

In keeping with his canonical method, Thielman presents each of the New Testament books while simultaneously attempting “to honor the theological connections between these different texts by summarizing them” and by providing a theological overview.

Similarly, Eugene H. Merrill of Dallas Theological Seminary and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has published Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament (B & H Academic). Merrill states his approach clearly: “At the onset we have, without apology and equivocation, undertaken our work with the settled conviction that the Old Testament is the written word of God, revealed by Him to the prophets of old, preserved from error in matters of fact and doctrine, and authoritative for both Israel and the church.” Merrill, one of the most seasoned and respected Old Testament theologians of our time, presents a thorough and expansive theological analysis of the Old Testament and its writings.

One of the daunting challenges faced by any preacher is that of preaching through the Old Testament. One of the most helpful models of how to engage the Old Testament in preaching is provided by Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C., in his significant new book, The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made (Crossway). Dever provides a single sermon on each of the Old Testament books.

Why should Christian preachers give so much attention to the Old Testament? As Dever explains, “The undeniable emphasis that Jesus placed upon the Old Testament Scriptures is that they testify to Him. Of course they testify to all sorts of other things as well: godliness, faithfulness, the progress and regress of God’s people, sinfulness, judgment, and so on. But Jesus, along with the apostles and the other authors of the New Testament, emphasize that the Old Testament, above all, is about Him.”

Worthy reference books in biblical studies are always important to note, and this is the case with Dictionary of the Old Testament Historical Books, edited by Bill T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson (InterVarsity Press). The book is massive (over one thousand pages) and includes detailed articles that will be of inestimable value to those preaching through these strategic books of the Bible. The authors of the articles appear, however, to represent a variety of approaches and conceptions of biblical authority and the treatment of biblical history. Nevertheless, the book offers a wide view into the state of Old Testament scholarship in these areas.

Many years ago, when I first began my ministry, an older pastor advised spending most of my library budget on biblical commentaries. That was and still is very good advice. Good, substantial, worthy, commentaries stand the test of time and will never grow out of date on the preacher’s bookshelf.

Notable new commentaries released in the past year include Exodus in the “The New American Commentary” series (B & H Publishing Group) by Douglas K. Stuart, who teaches at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Commentaries on wisdom literature are often few and far between. Therefore, preachers will welcome the publication of Proverbs by Tremper Longman III (Baker Academic). Longman, who teaches at Westmont College, sets the record straight, arguing that the book of Proverbs is indeed a book about theology as well as prudential wisdom. “Proverbs is not readily understood if it is taken as a book of practical advice with and occasional nod to Yahweh,” Longman insists. “The book is thoroughly and pervasively theological.” In the same series, John Goldingay of Fuller Theological Seminary has released the first volume of Psalms (Baker Academic). Both volumes are released in the “Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms” series.

Iain M. Duguid, Professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in California, has written two important commentaries based in Old Testament books. Numbers: God’s Presence in the Wilderness (Crossway) is released in the “Preaching the Word” series edited by R. Kent Hughes. Duguid, who also understands the Old Testament to point to Christ, suggests that the book of Numbers should be both the substance of convictional Christian preaching and a source of genuine encouragement to the church. As he argues, “It should stir us up to present faith in Christ and thanksgiving to His name, along with a hunger for the end of the wilderness and the beginning of our final rest.”

Duguid has also released Esther & Ruth (P & R Publishing) in the “Reformed Expository Commentary” series. Once again, Duguid helps to set the record straight concerning the meaning of oft-neglected Old Testament books. “The Books of Esther and Ruth are not really stories about their respective ‘heroines.’ Rather, they are part of the Bible’s larger story about God and his dealings with his people, and with the world. This is true even though the Book of Esther does not so much as mention the name of God. As in everyday life, God’s intervention is everywhere visible in the Book of Esther, even though his presence is concealed.”

Worthy New Testament commentaries include Hebrews (P & R Publishing) by Richard D. Phillips, Senior Minister of First Presbyterian Church of Coral Springs/Margate, Florida. Phillips sees the Book of Hebrews to be a source of great encouragement and theological conviction for today’s church. “Written by an unknown apostolic leader to a group of Jewish Christians facing persecution in the mid-first century A. D., the words of this book speak to Christians everywhere about standing firm in Jesus Christ,” Phillips asserts. “Is there a message more relevant and necessary to the times in which we live?”

Preachers will find particular encouragement from the continued publication of new volumes in “The MacArthur New Testament Commentary.” The newest volume, John 1-11 (Moody Press), represents the fruit of Pastor John MacArthur’s preaching and scholarship. MacArthur, now in his fourth decade as pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, has, perhaps more than any other preacher in North America, served as a model of biblical exposition for other preachers.

Similarly, preachers will welcome the publication of 2 Corinthians: Power in Weakness by R. Kent Hughes (Crossway). Hughes, Senior Pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, also serves as editor of the “Preaching the Word” series of which this volume is a part. A faithful and eloquent preacher, he brings both pastoral and biblical insight to this commentary. As Hughes explains, anyone who has seen a loved one led astray by another will appreciate Paul’s purpose in 2 Corinthians.

“This book is about the nature of the gospel and authentic ministry,” Hughes explains. “Those who really care about the gospel and the care of souls will find 2 Corinthians captivating. For those who don’t care, this is about what your heart ought to be – and what you ought to be about!”

The expository ministry of Martyn Lloyd-Jones continues to reach published form through the efforts of a team committed to the publication of his recorded sermons. The newest volume released from this powerful expositor’s ministry is Studies in the Book of Acts, Volume 5: Triumphant Christianity (Crossway). This volume – like all others by this preacher so famously known simply as “the doctor” – deserves a place in every preacher’s library.

Preachers will also want to note the release of two volumes in the “Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible” (Brazos Press). Peter Leithart of New St. Andrews College has written 1 and 2 Kings and Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University has written Matthew.

Other works in biblical studies worthy of the preacher’s attention include Hearing the Old Testament in the New Testament, edited by Stanley E. Porter (Eerdmans), Canon and Biblical Interpretation, edited by several scholars (Zondervan), The Gospel of Matthew in “The New International Greek Testament Commentary” by John Nolland (Eerdmans), Galatians by Peter Barnes (Evangelical Press), Judas and the Gospel of Jesus: Have We Missed the Truth About Christianity? by N. T. Wright (Baker Books), The Nature of New Testament Theology, edited by Christopher Rowland and Christopher Tuckett (Blackwell Publishing), Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament by Matthew A. Elliott (Kregel), Sermons on the Beatitudes by John Calvin (Banner of Truth), and Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary by C. John Collins (P & R Publishing).

Other helpful titles include Pierre Grelot, The Language of Symbolism (Hendrickson Publishers), The Apostolic Fathers and the New Testament by Clayton N. Jefford (Hendrickson Publishers) and The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority by Lee Martin McDonald (Hendrickson Publishers), and Commentary on the Gospels by Andrew Gregory, David Bartlett, Morna Hooker, and Henry Wansbrough (Fortress Press).

Theology and Christian Thought

The preacher’s library should also include worthy volumes on theology, church history, and the history and development of Christian thought. This year has seen the release of many significant titles in this expansive category. Preachers will be particularly interested in works like The Pre-Existent Son by Simon J. Gathercole (Eerdmans). Gathercole, who teaches New Testament at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, argues that all three of the synoptic gospels reveal the preexistence of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

John M. Frame of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando has written Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (P & R Publishing). Frame argues consistently that “the Bible is not a miscellaneous collection of ideas but a coherent, consistent system of truth in which the major doctrines depend on one another.” Gilbert Meilaender of Valparaiso University has written The Freedom of a Christian: Grace, Vocation, and the Meaning of Our Humanity (Brazos Press). Meilaender, one of the most fertile Christian minds of our generation, understands that freedom represents one of the most significant theological questions of our time. How do we offer a distinctively Christian understanding of freedom in an age of personal autonomy as the dominant worldview?

Other worthy contributions in the field of theological studies include By Faith, Not By Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Paternoster), The Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth About the Antichrist by Kim Riddlebarger (Baker Books), Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement by Brant Pitre (Baker Academic), Cross Words: The Biblical Doctrine of the Atonement by Paul Wells (Christian Focus), Assured by God: Living in the Fullness of God’s Grace, edited by Burk Parsons (P & R Publishing), Truth with Love: The Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer by Bryan A. Follis (Crossway), and New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics, edited by W. C. Campbell-Jack and Gavin McGrath.

Additional titles include Seeing the Word: Refocusing New Testament Study by Markus Bockmuehl (Baker Academic), Why Good Arguments Often Fail: Making a More Persuasive Case for Christ by James W. Sire (InterVarsity Press), Tradition, Scripture, and Interpretation: A Sourcebook of the Ancient Church edited by D. H. Williams (Baker Academic), Full Gospel, Fractured Minds? by Rick M. Nanez (Zondervan), and The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis by Guy Prentiss Waters (P & R Publishing).

Finally, preachers will want to know of the publication of several books by John Piper, Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In Contending for Our All, Piper presents his continuing series of biographical vignettes, this time looking at the lives of Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen (Crossway). In addition, Piper has released What Jesus Demands from the World (Crossway). In this significant book, Piper reviews all of the commands of Jesus found in the New Testament. As Piper acknowledges, his hope in writing the book is that “God will use [it] to bring about impossible obedience to Jesus. And all of that for the glory of God.” Piper, along with Justin Taylor, has edited Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Crossway). This volume brings together contributions by figures like Mark R. Talbot, Joni Eareckson Tada and others who have both experienced and reflected upon the meaning of suffering under the sovereignty of God.

Quality works in systematic theology include the translation of volume three in Reformed Dogmatics by Herman Bavinck (Baker Academic). The continued translation of Bavinck’s masterful theological exposition is to be welcomed by all who care about theology and its service to the church.

Yet other significant volumes include Truths We Confess by R. C. Sproul (P & R Publishing), Perspectives on Election edited by Chad Brand (B & H Academic), The Reformation by T. M. Lindsay (Banner of Truth), and God the Holy Trinity, edited by Timothy George (Baker Academic).

Sproul has also released A Taste of Heaven: Worship in the Light of Eternity (Reformation Trust). Sproul argues: “In our time, we have experienced a radical eclipse of God. The shadow that has fallen across the face of God cannot destroy His existence any more than a passing cloud can destroy the sun or the moon. But the eclipse hides the real character of God from His people. It has brought a profound loss of the sense of the holy, and with that, any sense of the gravity and seriousness of godly worship.”

Worship and Ministry

Books dealing with the dimensions of Christian ministry, preaching, and worship are among the titles most welcomed by preachers. Accordingly, preachers will want to know of Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation by Allen P. Ross (Kregel). As Ross, Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School, explains, “The words of worship flow so easily from our lips that we seldom stop to think about them: we casually talk about knowing the Lord; we say we talk to God and in one way or another hear from God. We attend churches on Sundays to have, as we say, fellowship with God and each other. There we celebrate the belief that he is our God with songs and hymns, but even these have become so familiar to us that our minds drift to other, more immediate concerns.” As those words make evident, Ross is concerned that worship has become routine and ordinary in many churches. His massive study should help to rectify that situation and help preachers, along with others, to think seriously about what the recovery of genuine Christian worship would mean in our time.

C. J. Mahaney, founding pastor of Covenant Life Church in suburban Washington, D. C. and the leader of Sovereign Grace Ministries has written two books worthy of the preacher’s attention. Both of these will serve as medicine for the preacher’s soul. In Living the Cross Centered Life (Multnomah), Mahaney argues for a cruciform shape to the Christian life. In Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah), Mahaney argues that the Christian should see humility as our greatest friend and pride as our greatest enemy. As he acknowledges, “In a culture that so often rewards the proud – a world quick to admire and applaud the prideful, a world eager to bestow the label ‘great’ on these same individuals – humility occasionally attracts some surprising attention.” Unfortunately, some of this attention misses the biblical point. Mahaney gets right to that point.

Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle has written Confessions of a Reformission Rev.: Hard Lessons from an Emerging Missional Church (Zondervan). Driscoll raises serious questions in this book and offers his perspective on the shape of the church in the future.

Other significant volumes released in recent months include The Sense of the Call by Marva J. Dawn (Eerdmans), Simple Church by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger (B & H Publishing Group), Preaching the Old Testament by Scott M. Gibson (Baker Books), Women’s Ministry in the Local Church by J. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt (Crossway), The Ministry by Charles J. Brown (Banner of Truth), and Twelve Essential Skills for Great Preaching by Wayne McDill (B & H Publishing Group). (You’ll find additional information about recent books on preaching in the survey by Preaching’s editor that follows this article.)

In Singing and Making Music: Issues in Church Music Today (P & R Publishing), Paul S. Jones, organist and music director at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, provides some of the most helpful thinking concerning the role of music in authentic Christian worship.

Michael Duduit, editor of Preaching magazine, has edited an outstanding volume of interviews with leading American preachers. In Preaching with Power: Dynamic Insights from Twenty Top Pastors (Baker Books), Duduit brings together insights from preachers ranging from John MacArthur and Jerry Vines to Ed Young, Jr. and T. D. Jakes. Preachers would be hard pressed to find a more wide-ranging variety of preachers and models of preaching than what can be found in this single volume.

Two important books on Christianity in America and beyond are also worthy of the preacher’s attention. These include The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South by Philip Jenkins (Oxford University Press) and Believers: A Journey into Evangelical America by Jeffery L. Sheler (Viking).

Francis Bacon, famous for his dictum, “knowledge is power,” offers significant advice from the past concerning books. “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested,” he argued. Wise preachers learn to choose books with care and to plan reading strategically. At the same time, the serious work of reading reveals surprises along the way, and keen readers are always prepared to encounter these as well.

The past year has seen a significant volume of books released, indicating that the book is anything but a dead letter. Preachers may understand this fact better than most, and there is good reason why this is true. Now, who knows what the next year will bring?


R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.

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Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

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The shipping agent who provided an estimated cost of moving our belongings from Louisville to Atlanta took one look at my study and commented: “You must be a minister.” He could not have read a single title from his vantage point, but a mere glimpse at the room told him the resident was a preacher. He later explained that he had provided over 2500 estimates in the course of his career, and that he could spot a minister’s library in an instant.
Publishers have learned the same skill. The religious market is a thriving growth industry, and preachers are inundated with quality works ranging from biblical studies to homiletics and theology. Preachers are wordsmiths by calling, and words thrive on the printed page. Each year Preaching offers our readers a “birds-eye” view of recent offerings in the hope that preachers will find titles worthy of their time and investment.
The renaissance of interest in preaching has continued to build. Mandatory classes in homiletics are becoming standard fare in most seminaries, with several requiring two or more courses for basic degree programs. The public profile of preaching continues to build, though the media often ignores the strength of preaching in the mainline/evangelical churches.
Well over one hundred books on preaching have been released since 1985, with a discernable pattern at work. The first signs of a serious renaissance in preacher were evident with the publication of major works on preaching by seminary professors (Fred Craddock’s Preaching; Homiletic by David Buttrick; and Preaching by James W. Cox). These comprehensive works indicated the return to homiletics at the seminary level, and provided homiletics professors with substantial texts for teaching in the field.
The second wave included a myriad of shorter volumes, each dealing with a specific and limited facet of the preaching task. Publishers released new series with individual volumes offering creative approaches to homiletical issues — “Fortress Resources for Preaching” (Fortress Press), “Preaching About …” (Westminister Press), and “The Craft of Preaching” (Zondervan).
The third wave consists of more lengthy volumes dedicated to major issues in preaching, but less comprehensive than the works of Craddock, Buttrick, or Cox. Sidney Greidanus’ The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text (Eerdmans) and Calvin Miller’s Spirit, Word and Story (Word) are two works representative of this trend. Each is an important contribution to the field.
The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text is a solid contribution to the field, with exegetical and hermeneutical challenges now basic to careful preaching. Miller’s Spirit, Word and Story is an invigorating and perceptive volume sure to attract a large and appreciative readership. Miller, a Preaching contributing editor, has produced a volume which should prove of lasting value for the preacher.
Ralph L. Lewis, another Preaching contributing editor, has produced Learning to Preach Like Jesus (Bristol Books). A proponent of inductive preaching, Lewis co-authored the book with his son, Gregg L. Lewis. The authors point to Jesus’ preaching and His focus on pressing human needs as the model for preaching at the end of the twentieth century. Recent work in brain theory and psychology also inform the volume.
Other significant volumes appeared in the past few months, including John R. Brokhoff’s As One With Authority! (Bristol Books). Brokhoff, Professor Emeritus of Preaching at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, was prompted to write the book by a sense that many modern preachers lacked any sense of authority in the pulpit. Fred Craddock, Brokhoff’s successor at Candler, had published a 1974 volume, As One Without Authority (Abingdon Press), which heralded the rise of inductive preaching. Craddock’s title indicated his uncomfortability with the assertion of the preacher’s own authority, while Brokhoff deals with the authority of the preacher’s message.
Several helpful volumes emerged from the “Fortress Resources for Preaching” series, among them The Spoken Word by Sheldon Tostengard, The “I” of the Sermon by Richard L. Thulin, and Imagery for Preaching by Patricia Wilson-Kastner. Of special interest to preachers serving smaller churches will be Preaching With the Small Congregation by Laurence A. Wagley (Abingdon Press). Wagley, professor of preaching at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, focuses on the unique potential for participatory preaching in the smaller church, as well as the challenges of preaching with a small group of worshippers.
Eugene Lowery, whose contributions to narrative preaching have earned him recognition from his fellow preachers, offers helpful insights into the narrative power of Jesus’ parables in How to Preach a Parable: Designs for Narrative Sermons (Abingdon Press). The volume is arranged in a workshop format, and representative sermons by Fred Craddock, Leander Keck, and Dennis M. Willis are included.
Preachers looking for assistance with preaching the Old Testament will appreciate Preaching from the Old Testament (Westminster/John Knox Press) by Elizabeth Achtemeier. An accomplished preacher and teacher of biblical studies and homiletics, Achtemeier brings the full force of her insight to this volume.
James A. Forbes Jr., recently elected senior minister of the Riverside Church in New York, has published his 1986 Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale University in The Holy Spirit and Preaching (Abingdon Press). Formerly professor of preaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York, Forbes is a powerful and effective preacher. His lectures provide an important discussion of the oft-neglected role of the Holy Spirit in Christian preaching.
Biblical Studies/Exegesis
The persistence of interest in biblical studies has provided an enriching context for the renaissance in preaching and homiletics. Publishers continue to invest their resources in major commentary series and worthy biblical reference and exegetical studies.
Preachers are among the glad beneficiaries of this investment, for they must face a congregation each week with a fresh and insightful message from the biblical text. This happy challenge taxes the resources of every preacher, and quality works of biblical studies are a necessity for effective and faithful preaching.
1989 saw the return of the one-volume biblical commentary with the release of the Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Baker Book House) and The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Prentice Hall).
The Evangelical Commentary, edited by Walter F. Elwell of Wheaton College, is a solid contribution to the field. The thirty-eight contributors are all evangelical scholars with established reputations. The commentary is insightful and cogently presented. It makes use of contemporary biblical scholarship but is free from most technical jargon. Preachers looking for a contemporary one-volume biblical commentary will greet the Evangelical Commentary with enthusiasm.
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary marks the revision of the 1968 Jerome Biblical Commentary. Edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, the work represents the best Roman Catholic biblical scholarship in a one-volume commentary on the entire Bible. Protestants and Catholics alike demonstrated their appreciation for the 1968 edition and the New Jerome will be appreciated for its updated scholarship and cross-referencing.
Work continues apace on the major commentary series such as the Word Biblical Commentary and Hermeneia. Four substantial volumes appeared in the Word series. Among them were James D. G. Dunn’s two-volume commentary on Romans (Word Books). Dunn, professor of divinity at the University of Durham in England, is a New Testament scholar of world-wide recognition. His two-volume commentary in the Word series is must reading for preachers looking to the book of Romans.
Another helpful volume is Mark 1-8:26 in the same series. Written by Robert A. Guelich, the volume is the first of two to be released in the series. Guelich is the author of a much-appreciated volume on the Sermon on the Mount, and has produced a worthy addition to the series. Daniel by John E. Goldingay, principal of St. John’s College, Nottingham, England, is a helpful contribution to the Old Testament series.
The Word Biblical Commentary has spawned another helpful series, Word Biblical Themes. These much shorter volumes bring a concise but thoughtful treatment of biblical books based upon the more comprehensive treatment found in the larger commentary volumes. Recent volumes include Hosea-Jonah by Douglas Stuart, 1, 2 Thessalonians by Leon Morris, John by George R. Beasley-Murray, and Isaiah by John D. W. Watts.
Hebrews is a noteworthy addition to the Hermeneia series published by Fortress Press. Harold W. Attridge of the faculty at the University of Notre Dame produced this massive 410-page critical commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Claus Westermann, no stranger to students of the Old Testament, has produced The Living Psalms (Eerdmans), a commentary and interpretation of selected psalms. Westermann brings the full force of his scholarship and insight to bear on the selected psalms, and preachers will find the volume a valuable companion when preaching on the psalms.
Leon Morris continues his series on the Gospel of John with the release of two more volumes (3 and 4) in his Reflections on the Gospel of John (Baker Book House). Morris is among the first echelon of evangelical biblical scholars and had previously written a major exegetical commentary on the Gospel of John in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans). His Reflections will be of special interest to preachers, who will discover Morris a skilled and creative interpreter of John’s gospel.
InterVarsity Press has produced several interesting volumes dealing with difficult passages in the Bible. Manfred Brauch of Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary faces his challenge squarely in Hard Sayings of Paul (IVP). Forty-eight sayings receive treatment, such as “Hand this man over to Satan” (1 Corinthians 5:5). The book is suggestive and careful. David Wenham, a member of the Oxford University faculty, offers a brief but helpful introduction to the parables in The Parables of Jesus (IVP).
Philippians by Moises Silva of Westminster Seminary marks the advent of another major new commentary series, “The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary” from Moody Press. Under the general editorship of Kenneth Barker, the series promises to be a genuine contribution to the crowded field of biblical commentaries. Silva demonstrates a command of his subject, and Philippians is the product of a serious exegetical and theological wrestling with the text of the Epistle.
An interesting and innovative model of biblical commentary comes from Crossway Books in the form of “Preaching the Word,” a series written by R. Kent Hughes, senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois. Hughes is a skilled biblical preacher and the volumes are the product of his rich preaching ministry at College Church. The series is projected to cover each book of the New Testament, with recent releases including Mark (two volumes) and Colossians and Philemon: The Supremacy of Christ. The series is directed to the preacher seeking resources for biblical preaching, and is not intended to be a series of sermons ready for preaching. The recent releases are rich and thoughtful.
Another significant volume linking homiletics with biblical exegesis is Joy in Ministry by Preaching editor-publisher Michael Duduit (Baker Book House). Preached to a congregation in Birmingham, Alabama, the sermons are skillful applications of texts from 2 Corinthians. Duduit’s commitment to biblical preaching is evident in the sermons, and preachers will find the volume a useful model of preaching from 2 Corinthians.
Students of biblical theology will not be strangers to Brevard Childs, whose suggestive model of canonical criticism has changed the terms of the debate in the field. Childs’ earlier works, An Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, The New Testament as Canon, and Old Testament Theology in Canonical Context (all from Fortress) set the stage for a continuing and profitable upheaval in biblical theology.
The extent and impact of this upheaval is the subject of a noteworthy set of essays in Canon, Theology, and Old Testament Interpretation (Fortress). Edited by Gene M. Tucker, David L. Petersen, and Robert R. Wilson, the volume contains twenty significant essays by Childs’ friends, colleagues, students, and controversialists. Readers will gain a familiarity with the terms of the debate in contemporary biblical theology, and will find Childs’ canonical model a suggestive catalyst for biblical preaching.
Church History/Historical Theology
Church history well may be the field of study most neglected by those engaged in the preaching task. The demands of an ongoing preaching ministry often seem to leave little time for communion with the saints of old, or to trace the development of doctrine and church teaching. Indeed, some preachers find this neglect easy to rationalize, for reading time is often directed toward what has proven most useful in sermon preparation.
Yet this neglect imperils the church, for very few churches suffer from an overload of historical consciousness. In fact, most churches have little knowledge of their heritage, or of the events and issues which have shaped the church through the ages.
A major resource for those committed to a reversal of this trend is Christian Doctrine and Modern Culture, the fifth and final volume of Jaroslav Pelikan’s majesterial work, “The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine” (University of Chicago Press). Pelikan, Sterling professor of history at Yale, is the foremost historian of doctrine in America. His “The Christian Tradition” is the most comprehensive contemporary history of doctrine.
Christian Doctrine and Modern Culture brings the series from 1700 to the present, covering the period from the Enlightenment to neo-orthodoxy and Vatican II. The volume also concludes Pelikan’s thesis concerning the process of historical change and the development of doctrine. Preachers should find a place for this volume in their reading agenda for the coming year.
Also released from Pelikan’s fertile pen is The Melody of Theology (Harvard University Press), a suggestive and creative “autobiographical dictionary of philosophy.” Though it sounds to be a difficult genre, the “autobiographical dictionary” contains several gems in the form of the author’s brief essays on themes from angels to Zion.
Christian Thought Revisited: Three Types of Theology is the latest work by Justo L. Gonzalez, now adjunct professor of theology at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta. Gonzalez is the author of a three-volume History of Christian Thought (Abingdon) newly issued in a revised version. Gonzalez has written the present volume as a companion to his history, and sets his own model of the development of Christian theology in terms of three regions of theological activity in the early church. The first, Carthage, represented a quest for moral development and was exemplified by Tertullian. The second region, Alexandria, was represented by Origen, and was interested in a quest for truth. The third model, and the one favored by Gonzalez, is rooted in Asia Minor and Syria, and is described by the author as pastoral in intention, as represented by Irenaeus.
Gonzalez’ thesis is both interesting and fertile, but he is occasionally forced to bend his categories to make his point. The triumph of “Type C Theology,” his third type, is not yet secure at the end of the twentieth century, when conservative, revelation-based theology shows signs of a dramatic renaissance. Nevertheless, the book is sure to prod the reader to critical thinking and reflection.
Alister E. McGrath, member of the faculty of theology at Oxford University, has produced no less than six serious books in the last three years. Among the most significant of these is Reformation Thought: An Introduction (Basil Blackwell). McGrath refuses to follow the path set by political and social historians, who see the Reformation as the necessary result of social crisis. Instead, while making use of their suggestions, he moves into the theological and intellectual context of the movement and the Reformers, placing the movement within the Renaissance and late medieval scholasticism. Preachers within and without the Reformation churches will discover Reformation Thought a helpful and provocative guide.
The period just after the American Revolution remains an untapped field of study for historical inquiry. Nathan Hatch, professor of history and vice president of advanced studies at the University of Notre Dame, fills some of that gap with the release of his important volume, The Democratization of American Christianity (Yale University Press). Hatch, an evangelical Protestant, produced the volume after intending to research the Federalists. Instead, he turned to the people and movements the Federalists opposed. The Democratization of American Religion focuses on the rise of democratic religion in America, seen in the development and expansion of the Christian movement, the Baptists, the Methodists, the black churches, and the Mormons.
Another neglected area of study in American religion has taken a great step forward with the publication of the Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Zondervan). The Dictionary is now the standard reference work for the Pentecostal and Charismatic traditions, with over 900 pages of detailed and documented articles. Nevertheless, the book does not read like a dictionary. Indeed, readers of all denominational traditions will find the volume difficult to lay aside for other reading.
The fortunes of theology since World War II have soared and fallen with movements from neo-orthodoxy to radical “death of God” theology, neo-evangelical theology, and the myriad of revisionist variants on the scene today. Those surveying the scene have termed the current state of affairs a “shattered spectrum” and “the end of the line.”
When seen as a necessary function of the church, the spectrum seems less shattered. Indeed, a church without concern for theology is a church doomed to meaninglessness and eventually devoid of any message.
One result of the confusion in contemporary theology has been the rediscovery of classical formulations and sources. There is probably no better representative of this turn than Thomas Oden of Drew University, a former “radical theologian” who has recently turned back to classical orthodox sources for the development and content of his theological investigations.
The Word of Life (Harper and Row) is the second volume of his projected three-volume systematic theology. It is a massive 542-page work which is both contemporary and classical. Oden recognizes the questions modernity addresses to theology, but he refuses to allow modern assumptions to frame the issues or to provide the critical answers. Oden demonstrates a commitment of faithfulness to the scriptural teachings concerning Jesus and a rich appreciation for the classical and conciliar traditions of Christology.
The long-awaited systematic theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg is currently in the process of translation and the recent three-volume systematic theology of Gerhard Ebeling may never be translated. Moltmann’s work continues apace, but no immediate volume looms on the horizon. Thus, the great theological guns of Germany have remained somewhat silent to the English-speaking world.
A notable exception is the recent publication of Theological Essays (T & T Clark) by Eberhard Jungel. Professor of systematic theology and philosophy at the University of Tubingen, Jungel is probably the least known of the major German theologians, but he may enjoy the largest reputation within Germany itself. His works are generally dense and complicated, making translation a challenge. J. B. Webster of Wycliffe College, Toronto, has rendered readers a service by bringing eight of Jungel’s essays to translation.
Several interesting and valuable essays on theology have appeared in recent months. Donald McKim of the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary chose nine major issues of theological debate and controversy for consideration in Theological Turning Points (John Knox Press). Ranging from trinitarian issues to eschatology, McKim brings a careful investigation and treatment of each issue and addresses the book to non-specialist readers. The volume is actually a brief and clever history of theology.
Unapologetic Theology (Westminster/John Knox Press) by William C. Platcher is addressed to the contemporary context of pluralism. Platcher rejects foundationalism, or any other basically apologetic approach, and yet allows pluralism to set the context. His approach is provocative, but more apologetic than he probably intends.
Pluralism also plays a major role in Douglas John Hall’s Thinking the Faith: Christian Theology in a North American Context (Augsburg). Hall has been in search of an “indigenous” theological method for some time, and this volume is his most comprehensive treatment of the theme. Hall concedes much to the acids of modernity and his theological method for North Americans is formulated in a deliberate disjunction from the older European traditions.
A South African context is apparent in the recent offering by Wentzel van Huyssteen, Theology and the Justification of Faith (Eerdmans). The volume is a good introduction to contemporary theology at the level of method and theory. Another promising release is Imagining God by Garrett Green (Harper and Row). Green seeks to determine the proper role of imagination in theology, while remaining committed to traditional Christian doctrine. Imagining God is the fruit of Green’s conviction that imagination is the “point of contact” between divine revelation and human experience.
Baker Book House, itself a part of the Dutch Reformed tradition, has released Dutch Reformed Theology as a part of its “Reformed Theology in America” series edited by David F. Wells of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. A brief but interesting volume, it is a good primer for those interested in the remarkable influence of the Dutch Reformed in America. Future volumes in the series, all to be edited by Wells, include The Princeton Theology and Southern Reformed Theology.
A good representative of that Dutch Reformed tradition was Anthony A. Hoekema, for many years professor of systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary. Saved by Grace (Eerdmans) was his last work, and is a thorough treatment of the biblical teachings on salvation. David F. Wells provides a much-needed investigation of the biblical doctrine of conversion in Turning to God (Baker Book House).
Helmers and Howard, a new and aggressive publisher in Colorado Springs, has released a stellar booklist of quality books, among them Theological Notebooks (Volume 1) by Donald Bloesch and The Christian Frame of Mind by Thomas F. Torrance. Bloesch is one of the foremost evangelical theologians on the stage today, and his intellectual diary is a fascinating glimpse of a first-rate theological mind at work.
The difficulty of obtaining good primary sources daunts many preachers, who will doubtless greet the continuation of “The Making of Modern Theology” series by Harper and Row. Collections of the writings of Rudolph Bultmann, Paul Tillich, Friedrich Schleiermacher, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were released over the past two years. Recent releases include Adolph von Harnack, edited by Martin Rumscheidt; Reinhold Niebuhr, edited by Larry Rasmussen; and Karl Barth, edited by Clifford Green. The editors have chosen their selections with care and the volumes will provide the reader with a solid introduction to these significant theologians.
American Religion/American Society
Though the American Nomenklatura habitually predict the decline of religion in national life, signs of such a decline are by no means conclusive. Indeed, while the cultured despisers ignore or patronize the role of religion in America, others see a resurgence of vitality in religious activity and interest. This mixed picture is chronicled and documented in The People’s Religion: American Faith in the 1990’s by George Gallup Jr. and Jim Castelli (Macmillan). The authors provide a wealth of statistics and documentation on American religion and issues of moral concern.
The emergence of evangelicalism as a political and social force has often eclipsed its diverse character in the national media. Randall Balmer, a historian at Columbia University, provides an eleven-stop travelogue through American evangelicalism in Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory (Oxford University Press). His “Atlantic Monthly-type” essays are sensitive and perceptive.
The role of religion in American government is the focus of four very interesting volumes worth the preacher’s attention and investment. Richard V. Pierard and Robert D. Linder consider the critical intersection of civil government and civil religion in Civil Religion and the Presidency (Zonderan). The authors consider nine presidents in the course of their study.
Richard G. Hutcheson Jr. focuses on the modern presidency in God in the White House: How Religion has Changed the Modern Presidency (Collier Books). Though Hutcheson provides an historical overview and a brief look at the Bush administration, his primary focus is on the distinctive role of religion in the Carter and Reagan presidencies.
A look at some of the same issues from the perspective of two veterans of the “Religious Right” comes in The Seduction of Power: Preachers, Politics, and the Media (Revell). Ed Dobson and Ed Hindson were both colleagues of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority. They offer a cogent and reflective analysis of the movement and its future.
Though its proponents and the media may exaggerate the significance of the New Age Movement, it remains a significant challenge to the church. Two recent volumes which avoid the conspiratorial alarmism often found in pop-Christian literature are Understanding the New Age by Russell Chandler (Word Books) and Another Gospel by Ruth Tucker (Zondervan). Chandler is religion writer for the Los Angeles Times and an established journalist. Tucker is a popular religious writer who broadened her book to include material on the older cults and sects such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Preachers, along with most of their church members, are inveterate workaholics. Leland Ryken demonstrates a sensitivity to our work-focused and leisure-seeking society and places both in a biblical view in Work and Leisure in Christian Perspective (Multnomah Press). Ryken indicates that society holds deficient views of both work and leisure, and offers a corrective course for the church.
Finally, preachers will want to note what many of their church members are reading. Most books released by religious publishers are never recognized by major trade publishers or secular bookstore chains. Exceptions to this are noteworthy, and generally point to a sensitive treatment of an urgent theme.
Such is the case with This Present Darkness by Frank E. Peretti (Crossway Books). First released in 1986, the volume caught fire in 1989 and became a publishing sensation, with reviews in The Wall Street Journal and other national papers. Sales have exceeded all expectations and the sequel, Piercing the Darkness (Crossway Books), promises to follow with record sales. The novels are well-written and deal with current issues and the New Age movement from an explicitly evangelical perspective and world-view.
The volume of worthy books always outpaces the preacher’s time and attention. Preaching offers this brief survey in the hope that preachers will find worthy titles for their reading agendas. Many worthy and significant titles were necessarily omitted.
Mark Twain once described the difference between a good word and the right word as “the difference between a lightning bug and a lightning bolt.” The same difference pertains to books. In the midst of many good books are the right books for your reading plan. Vive la difference!

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About The Author


Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

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