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The 2012 Preaching Survey of the Year’s Best Books for Preachers

Preachers need books as camels need water. The preacher knows the experience of needing a particular book at a particular time in order to prepare a message; other than friends and family, books are often the preacher's closest companions.

"When I want a book, it is as a tiger wants a sheep," said Oliver Wendell Holmes. "I must have it with one spring, and, if I miss it, go away defeated and hungry."

The 2012 publishing year was productive for preachers, and the preacher looking for books need not go away hungry. The following is a review of some of the more interesting and important titles of the past publishing year.

Biblical Studies/Commentaries
Above all, the preacher's library needs a collection of worthy commentaries. The function of commentaries in the life of the preacher is complex. No commentary should produce a sermon. Rather, the sermon should be drawn from the text of Scripture. However, that underlines the actual value of a commentary. A valuable commentary provides assistance in the translation and exegesis of a passage, and then goes on to provide information that would be difficult for the preacher to unearth on his own. This would include everything from practical insights on the text to archeological findings and, most importantly, the context of biblical theology.

That last function also points to a pattern in modern publishing. The renaissance of interest in biblical theology and in the interpretation of Scripture as a whole, honoring the grand narrative of Scripture, has led to several series and individual commentaries the preacher will welcome as being of particular significance in seeking to develop a well-rounded preaching ministry.

An illustration of this is the Preaching the Word Series from Crossway. This worthy series, edited by R. Kent Hughes, saw the release of at least three volumes this past year. Raymond C. Ortlund Jr. provides a commentary on Proverbs in Proverbs: Wisdom that Works. Ortlund is lead pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee. His writings on Scripture are always worthy of the preacher's attention and space on the preacher's bookshelf. Before entering the pastorate, Ortlund taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for nearly a decade.

In Proverbs, Ortlund reminds us: "As we come to the Book of Proverbs, God does not intend to crush us with layer upon layer of demand. He intends to help us. The Book of Proverbs is practical help from God for weak people [such as] us stumbling through daily life. It is His counsel for the perplexed, His strength for the defeated, His warning to the proud, His mercy for the broken." Those words suffice to indicate this commentary on Proverbs will be of great profit to the preacher.

Ajith Fernando has contributed Deuteronomy: Loving Obedience to a Loving God. Fernando teaches and preaches in Sri Lanka, where he serves as teaching director for Youth for Christ. Fernando is well known as an author, and this new commentary will introduce him to an entirely new audience of readers. Given the stature of Deuteronomy, this is a hefty commentary; the preacher will find it to be of great value. "Why am I so excited about Deuteronomy? Primarily because in this book, Moses is attempting to do something that is still so important for all Christians. He is close to death, and they are close to entering the Promised Land without him, the one who led them for forty years. Deuteronomy gives Moses' farewell address to them. His aim is to motivate them to go forward and to conquer the land and to help them to be faithful to God in the midst of all the challenges to such faithfulness that they will face."

James M. Hamilton Jr., associate professor of Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has produced a worthy commentary on the last book of the canon. Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches will add a great deal to our understanding of the Book of Revelation. Hamilton is a skilled biblical theologian, and this is evident throughout the commentary. As the Book of Revelation ends, focusing on the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, Hamilton reminds us of the importance of eschatology. "When Jesus comes again for His own, His coming will be as startling and rejuvenating, as thrilling and heartening, as enlightening and reassuring as was His resurrection from the dead."

Another important commentary to emerge on the Book of Revelation is Revelation in The New American Commentary Series published by Broadman and Holman. This long-awaited volume is the contribution of Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, where he also occupies the L.R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism. The Book of Revelation has been one of Paige Patterson's life-long obsessions, and it was natural that he would be asked to write this volume. Patterson's new commentary is richly Christological and pays close heed to the text, offering a wealth of exegetical and theological insights, mixed with his own helpful observations, drawing from history and observations of life. Patterson is surely right when he observes with specific reference to Revelation 22:17, "The plaintive plea of the Spirit and the bride concluding the Apocalypse should be the appropriate consummation of the message of the church in every age."

Several other important volumes in worthy commentary series emerged during the past year. These include Paul's Letter to the Romans by Colin G. Kruse in The Pillar New Testament Commentary Series (Eerdmans). Kruse is senior lecturer of New Testament in Melbourne School of Theology in Australia. The Pillar New Testament Commentary is well known for its exegetical and theological worth under the general editorship of D.A. Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Another of the most respected commentary series known to evangelicals is The New International Commentary on the New Testament. The Book of Hebrews is the subject of its latest volume as Gareth Lee Cockrill has produced The Epistle to the Hebrews (Eerdmans). This 700-page commentary will be essential to any preacher working through the Book of Hebrews.

Many have noted the relative neglect of the Psalms in terms of recent commentaries, and for that reason alone the emergence of the work of Allen P. Ross is most welcome. Ross, who is professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School, has produced volume 1 of a three-volume work. This first volume, A Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 1:1-41 (Kregel Academic & Professional), covers the first 41 psalms, and it is rich in exegesis and understanding. As Ross affirms, "It is impossible to express adequately the value of the Book of Psalms to the household of faith. For approximately 3,000 years, psalms have been the heart of the spiritual life of the people of God."

A massive and important new commentary on Luke has appeared in the Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament Series. Luke by David E. Garland (Zondervan) is a massive, unprecedented contribution to the exegesis and understanding of the third gospel. Garland is a skilled interpreter of the New Testament, who currently serves as dean and William B. Henson Professor of Christian Scriptures at George W. Truett Seminary of Baylor University. Preachers will welcome this new commentary and will recognize its massive size as indicative of its enduring value.

Other commentaries worthy of the preacher's attention to have emerged in recent months include 1 Samuel by Richard D. Philips in the Reformed Expository Commentary Series (P&R Publishing). Philips is a preacher and a scholar currently serving as senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina. He is well known to preachers for the insight offered in his writings.

Tremper Longman III has produced Job in the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms Series (Baker Academic), which Longman also edits. Longman has produced an important new commentary on one of the most demanding but important books that requires theological and pastoral work from the preacher. Longman's approach in the commentary is well-summarized by a sentence he shares with his readers: "A healthy church is a church that nourishes itself with constant attention to God's words in Scripture, in all their glorious detail."

Preachers also will want to know of the release of Galatians by J.V. Fesko in The Lectio Continua Series (Tollege Press), Haggai, Zachariah and Malachi in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries Series by Andrew E. Hill (InterVarsity Press), James in the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament by Chris A. Vlachos (B&H Publishing Group) and Right in Their Own Eyes: The Gospel According to Judges by George M. Schwab (P&R Publishing).

In addition to commentaries, other worthy volumes on Scripture include two volumes in the New Studies in Biblical Theology Series (InterVarsity Press), also edited by D.A. Carson. Each volume in this series is worth its weight in whatever currency you trade. The two most recent volumes include Andrew G. Shead's A Mouth Full of Fire: The Word of God in the Words of Jeremiah and The God Who Makes Himself Known: The Missionary Heart of the Book of Exodus by W. Ross Blackburn. Both volumes will captivate the preacher's mind and heart. Preachers should especially appreciate Blackburn's point: "Mission is a theme of tremendous biblical importance, but not adequately appreciated in the Old Testament, which runs the risk of distorting our understanding of biblical mission as a whole."

The preacher also will want to know of the release of Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative in Theological Introduction by Jonathan T. Pennington (Baker Academic). Pennington, associate professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written a book that has been needed for a long time—a book that assists preachers and others in understanding how to read the gospels as gospels. As Pennington asserts, the gospels are to be approached "as Holy Scripture and with wisdom."

The importance of biblical theology from a new perspective is made clear in the publication of another very significant volume, Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants by Peter J. Gentry and Steven J. Wellum (Crossway). Gentry and Wellum teach as colleagues on the faculty of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, though in separate disciplines, which are happily combined in this volume. Gentry is professor of Old Testament Interpretation, and Wellum is professor of Christian Theology. They combined their hearts, minds and disciplines in this important work of biblical theology.

The preacher's library will welcome several books in biblical studies this year, drawn from the wealth of titles that were published in recent months. Other titles include Teaching 1 Timothy by Angus Macleay and Teaching Ephesians by Simon Austen (Christian Focus). N.T. Wright, recently retired as bishop of Durham in England in order to resume his academic calling, has published How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels (HarperOne).

G.K. Beale has produced Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation (Baker Academic). This work serves as a summary and introduction to Beale's massive work of biblical scholarship, The Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (Baker Academic).

Several worthy reprints also will be welcomed by the preacher, including a beautiful seven-volume reprint of J.C. Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (The Banner of Truth Trust). Once again, The Banner of Truth Trust has produced volumes of tremendous worth, packaged in bindings that will last a lifetime. When it comes to expository insights, it is hard to imagine a commentator who can surpass the enduring value of J.C. Ryle. That great evangelical titan demonstrates his commitment to orthodoxy, combined with sensitive pastoral and theological insight in this series.

Church, Theology and Ministry
Preachers looking for new resources dealing with the task of ministry, contemporary issues and enduring concerns also will welcome many volumes published in the past year. Preachers always are looking for worthy works on preaching and will welcome Preach: Theology Meets Practice by Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert (B&H Publishing Group). Dever and Gilbert are friends and pastors known for the care and intensity of their preaching ministry.

Addressing many of the more recent arguments for the marginalization or redefinition of preaching, Dever and Gilbert stalwartly defend the preacher's role in delivering a message to a congregation. As they write, "We think the sermon as monologue—one person speaking while others listen—is both an accurate and a powerful symbol of our spiritual state and God's grace. For one person to speak God's word while others listen is a depiction of God's gracious self-disclosure and of our salvation being a gift. Anytime God speaks in love to human beings it is an act of grace. We do not deserve it, and we contribute nothing to it. The act of preaching is a powerful symbol of that reality."

Dan Dumas has edited a worthy series of essays on preaching in A Guide to Expository Ministry (SBTS Press). Dumas writes, "If God's people are going to be presented mature in Christ, then biblical expository preaching needs to return to the sacred desk of local churches."

Preachers will want to know the publication of The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung (Crossway). DeYoung, senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich., has written a very important corrective to so much of the superficial spirituality in our day—a spirituality devoid of holiness—in other words, a spirituality entirely foreign to the New Testament.

Carl R. Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary has produced an important argument in The Creedal Imperative (Crossway). As Trueman writes, "I want to argue that creeds and confessions are thoroughly consistent with the belief that Scripture alone is the unique source of revelation and authority. Indeed, I want to go somewhat further: I want to argue that creeds and confessions are, in fact, necessary for the well-being of the church and that churches that claim not to have them place themselves at a permanent disadvantage when it comes to holding fast to that form of sound words which was so precious to the aging Paul as he abided his young protégé, Timothy."

Another volume in the always-interesting series of multiple-perspective books published by Zondervan has emerged in Four Views on the Apostle Paul, edited by Stanley N. Gundry and Michael F. Bird. The contributors to this volume include Thomas R. Schreiner, Luke Timothy Johnson, Douglas A. Campbell and Mark D. Nanos. They present Reformed, Catholic, post-new perspective and Jewish views of the apostle Paul. As is so often the case in multiple-perspective volumes, this book serves as an introduction to the current status of enduring debate.

Douglas S. Huffman has edited a new book on the Christian worldview, Christian Contours: How a Biblical Worldview Shapes the Mind and Heart (Kregel Academic & Professional). A major apologetics work has emerged in Christian Apologetics: An Anthology of Primary Sources, edited by Khadloun A. Sweis and Chad V. Meister (Zondervan). What makes this large volume particularly helpful is its compilation of apologetic writings from the history of the church. Nothing equivalent to this has yet been done, and this makes this volume particularly valuable to the preacher's library.

Gerald Bray, a much-respected evangelical Anglican, has released a very distinctive, one-volume biblical and systematic theology, God Is Love (Crossway). Bray's work is intensely theological and richly biblical, with the unifying doctrine of the love of God serving as the unitive principle of his theology. This is not a volume that amounts to a conversation by a theologian with contemporary theologians. This volume is distinctive in that it is a deep engagement with biblical theology, without the chatter of scholar to scholar that is so often an encumbrance to such works. As Bray promises his readers, he sets as his priority dealing with issues that have enduringly concerned and divided the church, rather than short-term controversies that have not proved to be major challenges to the church.
One of the most important works in theology to have emerged in recent months, and one of the most important works on ecclesiology to have emerged in many years, is Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church by Gregg Allison (Crossway). Allison, professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written a tour de force in the field of ecclesiology. This volume will become a standard touchstone in terms of the doctrine of the church for generations to come. As Allison writes, the church "is the people of God who have been saved through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and have been incorporated into His body through baptism with the Holy Spirit." As Allison further affirms, the Christian church is a paradoxical institution, defined in Scripture as pilgrims enduring as sojourners and strangers. Preachers will find themselves turning to this volume again and again.

Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Church in New York City, has released two important volumes this year. The first is Center Church: Doing Balanced Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Zondervan). This is a mature volume drawn from decades of ministry in Manhattan, and it serves as a field guide to metropolitan ministry for the church today. Few preachers have the experience and the credibility Keller enjoys, given his very visible ministry and obvious commitment.

The second volume from Keller's pen this year is Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's People (Dutton). Keller, joined by Katherine Leary Alsdorf, sets out to reclaim work and vocation as indispensable Christian categories. As Keller indicates, "Perhaps not since the Protestant Reformation has there been so much attention paid to the relationship of Christian faith to work as there is today." Keller addresses the obvious need for clarification of some of these issues in this volume.

Contemporary Christians, including pastors, often wrongly assume that issues of contemporary controversy are new in the life of the church. For example, controversy and difficulty in coming to terms with how the church should respond to people with disabilities is a very current concern; but as one important, recent volume makes clear, this is hardly new. In Disability in the Christian Tradition: A Reader (Eerdmans), Brian Brock and John Swinton have pulled together a reader on disability from the history of the church. This book becomes the indispensable volume for understanding how Christians through the ages have dealt with disability and the quest for authentic humanity. The book begins with the early church and continues through contemporary Christianity. Accordingly, the book considers the contribution of the patristic fathers and follows the discussion in the history of the church to Stanley Hauerwas.

Robert Peterson has produced a substantial new volume in Salvation Accomplished by the Son: The Work of Christ (Crossway). Peterson, professor of Systematic Theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Mo., assists the church to understand the work of Christ in this very accessible and richly exegetical volume.

Ron Sider, long known for his work among evangelicals, has contributed a very important work in The Early Church on Killing (Baker Academic). This volume represents another unprecedented contribution to our contemporary discussion. Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action and professor of Theology at Palmer Theological Seminary, has pulled together primary sources on the questions of war, abortion and capital punishment from the early church. Contemporary readers are likely to be surprised at the richness and diversity of these selections from the life of the early church. After all, the issues of war, abortion and capital punishment are hardly new issues. Sider's work reminds us of how the church struggled with these issues from its founding.

Other significant works of the past year include Christ-Centered Biblical Theology by Graeme Goldsworthy (InterVarsity Press). Once again, Goldsworthy has produced an important volume that contributes to a Christological understanding of biblical theology. Interestingly, Goldsworthy covers some issues and subjects not addressed in his previous writings. That alone makes this volume worthy, but the volume also serves as a helpful primer to biblical theology.

Kelly M. Kapic and Bruce L. McCormack have produced an interesting survey of contemporary theology in Mapping Modern Theology: A Thematic and Historical Introduction (Baker Academic). Several authors of this work cover the theological waterfront—there is no unified theological perspective to be found in the volume. It is, as the title suggests, a map to the maze of modern theology.

Bruce A. Ware of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has produced a Christological contribution, The Man Christ Jesus (Crossway). Ware has written this book from his own personal conviction and sense of urgency. "I want to present here some of the evidence from Old and New Testaments that the human life of Jesus is real and to show how important it is that He lived our life in order to die our death and be forever ‘the man Christ Jesus' who intercedes for us and reigns over us."

Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., has produced an important, short ecclesiology in The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (B&H Publishing Group). Few pastors have given such intensive and continuing attention to the doctrine of the church in this generation. Dever is a committed churchman, a very capable historian and theologian, and a passionate voice on behalf of a recovery of biblical ecclesiology in order to rescue the integrity of evangelicalism in this generation.

Thabiti Anyabwile, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands, has produced two helpful volumes in the 9Marks Series. The first of these, The Life of God in the Soul of the Church: The Root and Fruit of Spiritual Fellowship (Christian Focus Publications), takes the reader right to the heart of the New Testament and the very nature of the church, demonstrating that fellowship is one of the signs of the gospel to the church itself and to the watching world. In Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons (Crossway), this faithful pastor offers one of the most helpful and practical guides to identifying and honoring the biblical pattern of church leadership.

Andreas Kostenberger, together with David W. Jones, has offered a short and helpful work on the family in Marriage and the Family: Biblical Essentials (Crossway). This volume will serve as a powerful antidote to so much contemporary confusion about marriage and the family—a confusion that threatens not only the central institution of human society but the integrity of the church, as well. Jonathan Leeman has produced Church Membership: How the Church Knows who Represents Jesus (Crossway). Once again, a very helpful approach to understanding the vital integrity of church membership comes from the very context of a local church.

The doctrine of the trinity never can receive too much attention; and Michael Reeves, theological advisor for the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship in Great Britain has produced a powerful and concise treatment of the trinity in Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (InterVarsity Press). One of the strengths of this volume is its practicality and accessibility. One of the most exciting aspects of this book is Reeves' skill in helping readers understand what it means to enjoy God and understand the doctrine of the trinity to be a demonstration of "the beauty, the overflowing kindness, the heart-grabbing loveliness of God."

An interesting book on a much-neglected figure from church history is The Saint who Would be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of Nicholas Myra by Adam C. English (Baylor University Press). English, who teaches at Campbell University in North Carolina, turns the skill of an historian to understanding Nicholas of Myra, whose role as a figure in church history and in the popular Christian imagination was vastly expanded long after his lifetime. English demonstrates the evidence for the historical Nicholas, indicating the great probability that such a man actually lived; but the greatest value of this volume is English's skill in demonstrating what it meant for Nicholas to take on such qualities and narratives in the course of hagiography and popular devotion in subsequent centuries. Preachers will find this to be particularly interesting and helpful in light of the many contradictions about Saint Nicholas, especially as connected with the persona of Santa Claus.

Volumes worthy of the preacher's attention include God is Impassible and Impassioned: Toward a Theology of Divine Emotion by Rob Lister (Crossway), a new edition of John Piper's classic work Future Grace: The Purifying Power of the Promises of God (Multnomah), Women, Slaves and the Gender Debate by Benjamin Reaoch (P&R Publishing), Come Let Us Reason: New Essays in Christian Apologetics by Paul Copan and William Lane Craig (B&H Publishing Group), Counseling the Hard Cases edited by Stuart Scott and Heath Lambert (B&H Publishing Group), Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything by Steve DeWitt (Credo House Publishers), Dangerous Calling: Confronting Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul David Tripp (Crossway) and The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler with Jared Wilson (Crossway).

Every year, it seems publishers release a new torrent of books. Many if not most of these are deservedly forgotten soon after publication. Nevertheless, in every year of publishing, titles emerge that preachers find themselves treasuring year after year and turning to again and again. This year, the pattern is just the same. Preachers considering the building of a library for a life of ministry will be thankful the printing presses are still rolling.

The future of the book may be an open question in the larger world, but it is a settled question in the library of the preacher. In print or on a digital screen, the book remains a mainstay of the preacher's life and work. So it was from the beginning, so will it ever be.

Ten Books Every Preacher Should Read
1. The Juvenilization of American Christianity by Thomas E. Bergler (Eerdmans)
2. Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church by Gregg R. Allison (Crossway)
3. Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction by Jonathan T. Pennington (Baker Academic)
4. Christ-Centered Biblical Theology: Hermeneutical Foundations and Principles by Graeme Goldsworthy (InterVarsity Press)
5. Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD by Peter Brown (Princeton University Press)
6. Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray (Crown Forum)
7. The Intolerance of Tolerance by D.A. Carson (Eerdmans)
8. Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat (Free Press)
9. God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology by Gerald Bray (Crossway)
10. Delighting in the Trinity: an Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves (InterVarsity Press)

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