Elegies for the demise of the printed word regularly appear, and observers of the age point to the elevation of the image at the expense of the word. Nevertheless, books continue to sell by the millions and publishers rush to expand their catalogs. Clearly, something is happening. The much-heralded demise of the book has not come to pass. Indeed, when you look around a jetliner cabin or watch persons at the beach, many will be deeply engrossed in a book.
For preachers, books represent far more than literature and interests. In avery real sense, the library is the preacher’s laboratory, repository, and arsenal. The preacher’s study is a refuge from other duties – a place of contemplation, study, reflection, and hard labor and a place where, as Machiavelli once noted, one can have a conversation with the truly great.
Of course, that means that the books included in the preacher’s library must be chosen with care. Each year brings the release of thousands of titles. Many of these are interesting, most have some justification for their publication, but far fewer are truly worthy of a place on the preacher’s bookshelf.
Publishers understand that preachers are driven by a deep hunger for books of worth, value, and relevance. Over the past year, many truly significant works have been published, and the preacher is sure to find many new friends among this past year’s new releases.
Among the most important offerings in the field of Biblical Studies are biblical commentaries – and the past year has seen the release of several significant and noteworthy commentaries on the Bible. Kenneth A. Mathews has produced the second volume of his massive commentary on Genesis. Genesis 11:27-50:26(Broadman and Holman) is published as part of “The New American Commentary”and preachers will welcome the completion of Mathews’ important work. As Mathewsnotes, “For the Christian expositor, the patriarchal history is as of greata consequence as it was for the synagogue.” This is a commentary preachers will find most helpful in explaining and applying the great truths found in the Bible’s first book.
Similarly, preachers will find a tremendous resource in Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory (Crossway) by Philip Graham Ryken. Ryken, Senior Minister at tthe Tenth Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, is a well-established authorand a powerful expositor. His huge commentary on Exodus (over 1200 pages) combines biblical scholarship with practical application and a keen understanding ofthe text. Ryken understands why Exodus is so important for Christian preaching. “For Jews it is the story that defines their very existence, the rescue thatmade them God’s people. For Christians it is the gospel of the Old Testament, God’s first great act of redemption. We return to the exodus again and again, sensing that somehow it holds significance for the entire human race. It isthe story that gives every captive the hope of freedom.”
Writing in the same series, edited by R.Kent Hughes, Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr. has produced Isaiah: God Saves Sinners (Crossway). Ortlund is Senior Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Isaiah, Ortlund explains, “writes with a clear sense of truth. He sees the one true God meaningfully at work in history. He denies all counter-explanations of reality. But this God doesn’t exploit us; He bears our burdens for us. And Isaiah doesn’t just assert that. He reasons with us. In fact, he shows God Himself coming down to persuade us, equipping us with a decisive faith in a world of confusion.”
Preachers will also be interested in Genesis: Expository Thoughts (Evangelical Press) by James Dixon. Dixon combines a study of the text with helpful devotional insights.Dale Ralph Davis has produced 2 Kings: The Power and the Fury (Christian Focus), in which he argues that, even though this biblical book begins“in the middle of things,” it offers tremendous resources for preaching.
Robert W. Jenson, Senior Scholar for Research at the Center of Theological Inquiry at Princeton, has written Song of Songs in the “Interpretation” commentary series (Westminster John Knox Press). “Whatever do you do with the Song of Songs, as a biblical text?,” Jenson asks. He answers his own question witha helpful exposition of this Song and its meaning. Jenson sees this book as “a solicitation of theological allegory,” and he offers very helpful principles about how the book is to be interpreted in order to reveal love, both divine and human.
Two additional volumes in the “Holman Old Testament Commentary” have also been released, both written by Max Anders. (Holman Reference) and ProverbsHosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah offer straightforward interpretation and application of the biblical text. Michael A. Milton offers a constructive approach in The Demands of Discipleship: Expository Messages from Daniel (Wipf and Stock). Milton serves as pastor of Chattanooga’s First Presbyterian Church, and these messages were preached to his historic congregation.
Preachers will find The Message of the New Testament by Mark Dever to be particularly helpful (Crossway). Dever, pastor of the Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., offers a fresh approach in this volume, providing a sermon on each book of the New Testament. Dever’s gift for providing an overview of each book will serve as an excellent example of how the canonical shape of Scripture can inform preaching and the congregation’s understanding of the biblical text. Dever provides a keen lesson in getting at the “big picture” of the biblical story. Worthy commentaries on the New Testament include 2 Peter and Jude by John MacArthur, Jr. (Moody Press). MacArthur, one of the nation’s most influential expositors, is nearing the completion of his great project – a commentary on theentire New Testament text. Preachers will be especially encouraged by the fact that MacArthur’s commentaries grow directly out of his congregational preachingat Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. “This New Testament commentary series reflects this objective of explaining and applying Scripture,” MacArthurexplains. “Some commentaries are primarily linguistic, others are mostly theological, and some are mainly homiletical. This one is basically explanatory, or expository.”
Andrew T. Lincoln has produced The Gospel According to Saint John for the “Black’s New Testament Commentary” series (Continuum/Hendrickson). Mark Reasoner of Bethel University in Minnesota has written an excellent resource titled Romans in Full Circle: A History of Interpretation (Westminster John Knox Press). Geoffrey B. Wilson, a British pastor, has released a useful two-volume commentary on the entire New Testament. New Testament Commentaries (Banner of Truth) represent solid exposition combined with deep theological insight. Preachers will also welcome Let’s Study Luke by Douglas J. W. Milne and Let’s Study Ephesians by Sinclair B. Ferguson (Banner of Truth). Both volumes provide an accessible, though not simplistic, review of these respective books.
Kevin J. Vanhoozer has edited a tremendous resource for preachers in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Baker Academic/SPCK). This work brings together some of the most well-known theologians and biblical scholars and features articles on some of the most important issues, events, movements, and traditions in the theological exposition of Scripture. Michael Harbin, Chair of Biblical Studies at Taylor University in Indiana, has completed The Promise and the Blessing (Zondervan), a survey of the entire Bible. Intended for classroom use, this book offers a rare approach – combining both testaments in one survey.
John MacArthur also offers a comprehensive study of the entire Bible in The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson Publishers). MacArthur provides a panoramic view of the Bible, but also deals with the actual structure andmeaning of the biblical text. Preachers will find this volume to be most helpful as a resource and guide.
Other books released over the past year include Women in the Church by Andreas J. Kostenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner (Baker Academic), Paul by N. T. Wright (Fortress Press), Paul: Pioneer for Israel’s Messiah by Jakob Van Bruggen (P & R Publishing), Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ by Alec Motyer (Kregel), Seeking the Face of God: Nine Reflections on the Psalms by Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Crossway),The Cross and the Prodigal by Kenneth E. Bailey (InterVarsity Press), How to Read Genesis by Tremper Longman III (InterVarsity Press), Renewed by the Word: The Bible and Christian Revival Since the Reformation by J. N. Morris (Hendrickson), Ryken’s Bible Handbook by Leland Ryken, Philip Ryken, and James Wilhoit (Tyndale), Old Testament Times by R. K. Harrison (Baker Books), Handbook on the Pentateuch by Victor P. Hamilton (Baker Academic), and Translating Truth by Wayne Grudem, Leland Ryken, C. John Collins, Vern S. Poythress and Bruce Winter (Crossway).
Theology and Christian Thought
For years, some have predicted that the age of systematic theologies is over. Thankfully, this is not the case. Norman Geisler completes his four-volume systematic theology with Systematic Theology: Church and Last Things (Bethany House). Geisler, one of evangelicalism’s best known theologians and apologists, has written a work that will prompt both appreciation and lively debate. Robert Duncan Culver has produced a significant one-volume work in Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical (Mentor/Christian Focus). “Sustained study of doctrines of the Word of God cannot avoid organized, coherent arrangement of the doctrines, nor should it,” Culver argues. “Meaningful study of botany, zoology, law, history, medicine, agriculture, or any other topic cannot proceed without organized, coherent arrangement of the data.” Culver’s systematic theology is both organized and coherent – and thus, very useful.
R. C. Sproul has written an insightful volume, Scripture Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine (P & R Publishing). “The church of the twentieth century not only demands an apologia for the authority of her sacred Scriptures, but an apologia for the apologia,” Sproul explains. As he adds: “Such a defense needs to be defended.” Sproul has also released The Unexpected Jesus: The Truth Behind His Biblical Names (Christian Focus).
Far as the Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption by Michael D. Williams (P & R Publishing) is a model of theological engagement and the study of Scripture. Contending for the Faith: Lines in the Sand That Strengthen the Church by Robert L. Reymond (Mentor) brings together some of Reymond’s most constructive essays and reviews.
William C. Placher has edited a wonderful collection of writings on the doctrine of vocation, drawn from the expanse of Christian history. Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation (Eerdmans) includes selections from figures ranging from Ignatius of Antioch to contemporary figures. “Downthe centuries, Christians have looked for definitions of ‘vocation’ somewhere between the trivial sense of ‘just a job’ and the hard-to-believe image of a miraculous voice from heaven,” Placher observes. This book is a feast for reflection.
Marva Dawn, an author who never fails to serve as a catalyst for serious thinking,has written Talking the Walk: Letting Christian Language Live Again (Brazos Press). “This book is my response to a crisis in the churches – the frequent corruption or rejection of key words in biblical faith for reasons that oftenseem to be merely ‘quick fixes’ of, instead of genuine solutions to, deeperproblems,” Dawn explains. “Some words like father, lord, or creed have gotten a bad reputation these days. Some words, like Hell,are corrupted by being ignored; some, like Awesome, by being overused; some, like Heaven, by being dismissed as irrelevant to (post)modern times.”
Bruce A. Ware’s Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance (Crossway) offers an accessible introduction to the doctrine of the Trinity.Ware, Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,asks, “Would God have chosen to reveal Himself to us as the one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit unless He knew that this would be important to our understandingof Him and of our faith?”
Other theological works of interest include Consider the Lilies: A Plea for Creational Theology by T. M. Moore (P & R Publishing), Created for Worship: From Genesis to Revelation to You by Noel Dew (Mentor), In Search of the Soul: Four Views of the Mind-Body Problem by Joel B. Green and Stuart L. Palmer (InterVarsity Press), Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: Six Views edited by Myron B. Penner (Brazos Press), The Religions Next Door by Marvin Olasky (Broadman and Holman), The Benefits of Providence: A New Look at Divine Sovereignty by James S. Spiegel (Crossway), by Craig L. Blomberg (InterVarsity Press/Apollos), Contagious Holiness: Jesus’ Meals with SinnersLord and Servant: A Covenant Christology by Michael S. Horton (Westminster John Knox Press), Sinners in the Hands of a Good God: Reconciling Divine Judgment and Mercy by David Klotfelter (Moody Publishers), and God, Truth, and Witness: Engaging Stanley Hauerwas (Brazos Press).
Significant works of interest in the field of Church History include When Children Became People: The Birth of Childhood in Early Christianity by O. M. Bakke (Fortress Press), The Old Evangelicalism: Old Truths for a New Awakening by Iain H. Murray (Banner of Truth), What Has Christianity Ever Done for Us? How It Shaped the Modern World by Jonathan Hill (InterVarsity Press), Augustine: A New Biography by James J. O’Donnell (HarperCollins),The Dominance of Evangelicalism by David W. Bebbington (InterVarsity Press), Masters of the English Reformation by Sir Marcus Loane (Banner of Truth), Mr. Moody and the Evangelical Tradition edited by Timothy George (Continuum), and Grace Abounding: The Life, Books and Influence of John Bunyan by David B. Calhoun (Christian Focus).
Church and Ministry
Preachers are always looking for books that facilitate making the connection between theology and ministry. In the end, the health and vitality of local congregations – their faithfulness and credibility – are the preacher’s proper concern.
Preachers will welcome several important books published over the last year. John MacArthur and the faculty of the Master’s College have produced two volumes of direct relevance to preachers. Counseling: How to Counsel Biblicallyand Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically (Thomas Nelson Publishers) will be welcomed by pastors looking for practical and convictional advice onmatters of church ministry.
Thom S. Rainer, just elected as President of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, continues to make his signal contribution to the field of Church Growth in Breakout Churches (Zondervan). Once again, Rainer combines painstaking research with deep theological commitments. Rainer also released The Unexpected Journey: Conversations with People Who Turned from Other Beliefs to Jesus (Zondervan). “In the course of a year, only one person becomes a Christian in America for every 85 church members,” Rainer explains. “Christians have become spiritually lazy and disobedient. Telling others the good news of Jesus Christ is not optional for any Christian. It is not something left to the pastors and ministers we sometimes treat like hired hands. It is the calling and the mandate of every Christian.”
If Thom Rainer is concerned with what makes churches grow, Mac Brunson and Ergun Caner are concerned with the opposite end of the spectrum. In Why Churches Die: Diagnosing Lethal Poisons in the Body of Christ (Broadman and Holman), Brunson and Caner demonstrate concern for the health of the Body of Christ.
Chuck Lawless, the newly-installed Dean of the Billy Graham School at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, considers the vital importance of church membership in Membership Matters (Zondervan). “On any given Sunday, uninvolved churchgoers sit in almost every congregation in America,” Lawless observes. Lawless’ research affirms the vital importance of church membership in the life of a Christian.
Bryan Chappell offers an insightful understanding of prayer in Praying Backwards: Transform Your Prayer Life by Beginning in Jesus’ Name (Baker Books). “Jesus so loves us that He uses the privileges of His exalted position and the affection of His heavenly Father to ask the best for those who pray in His name,” Chappell explains. “And because Jesus speaks for us, the Father who loves Him treats us with affection out of love for His own child.”
Other works of interest in this area include Stop Dating the Church: Fall in Love with the Family of God by Joshua Harris (Multnomah), Perfecting Ourselves to Death: The Pursuit of Excellence and the Perils of Perfectionism by Richard Winter (InterVarsity Press), This Little Church Went to Market: Is The Modern Church Reaching Out or Selling Out? by Gary Gilley (Evangelical Press), Our Hymn Writers and Their Hymns by Faith Cook (Evangelical Press), A Mirror for the Church: Preaching in the First Five Centuries by David Dunn-Wilson (Eerdmans), Children Matter: Celebrating Their Place in the Church, Family, and Community by Scottie May and a team of others (Eerdmans), The Passion of Christ and the Purpose of Life by Adrian Rogers (Crossway), and The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever and Paul Alexander (Crossway).
John MacArthur’s The Book on Leadership would be welcomed by many preachers (Thomas Nelson) and Sex and the Supremacy of Christ edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor (Crossway) offers a mature and urgent reconsideration of sex from a distinctly Christian perspective.
Two other books are worthy of note. Exodus by Dave Shiflett (Sentinel) offers a provocative look at why conservative churches are growing while more liberal churches are in decline. Shiflett, a reporter with considerable experience covering American church life, argues that something big is happening in Americanchurch life, and he offers a fascinating perspective even as he raises a host of controversial issues. Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a PostmodernWorld by David F. Wells (Eerdmans) represents the third volume of Wells’ massive project of theological and cultural engagement. Wells argues that theemergence of the postmodern mind and the growth of religious pluralism represent “the two motifs which are transforming culture.” Yet, as Wells asserts, “thehistory of the church shows that in every generation there are cultural challenges,in some places hostility against religion, overt persecution, difficulties ofevery kind, and yet generation after generation the Church has joyfully proclaimedthe greatness of Christ and His humility in assuming our flesh, taking uponHim our sin as if it were His own, and in conquering that sin also conqueringboth its consequence of death and the devil. The looming threats of aggressive religions, of hostile government powers, of tribes and nations bound in their opposition to Christ, are no match for the power of God made known in the gospel.”
Finally, the recent death of Dr. Adrian Rogers, long-time pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, reminds us all that our times are short. Preachers will be encouraged by reading Love Worth Finding: The Life of Adrian Rogers and His Philosophy of Preaching by Joyce Rogers (Broadman and Holman). Adrian Rogers gave himself to the task of preaching with a commitment and power that will be remembered for generations to come.
Even as we consider the past year of publishing and think about books that will be of value to ministry, we must be reminded that the real horizon of our ministry is not next Sunday, but eternity. With that in mind, let us read much – and read well.
Ten Books Every Preacher Should Read
- The Message of the New Testament by Mark Dever [Crossway]
- The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship by Robert Letham [P&R]
- Sex and the Supremacy of Christ edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor [Crossway]
- Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Centuries on Vocations edited byWilliam C. Placher [Eerdmans]
- Ryken’s Bible Handbook by Leland Ryken, Philip Ryken, and James Wilhoit [Tyndale House]
- Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity by Dave Shiflett [Sentinel]
- One Nation Under Therapy: How The Helping Culture is Eroding Self-Reliance by Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel [St. Martin’s Press]
- Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer [Baker Academic/SPCK]
- The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God by George Weigel [Basic Books]
- Above All Earthly Powers: Christ in a Postmodern World by David F. Wells [Eerdmans
R. Albert Mohler is President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.