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.
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.