Thomas Jefferson once famously remarked, “I cannot live without books.” Fortunately for Jefferson, he never had to test that thesis. Most preachers can identify with Jefferson’s love of books. Indeed, preachers are dependent upon books; their libraries are basic equipment for ministry.
America’s publishers continue to release a vast constellation of books each season. It is estimated that more books are published in the United States each year than in all the centuries from the invention of the printing press to the year 1945. This past year has brought several significant new titles worthy of the preacher’s attention. It certainly appears that the much-prophesied “death of the book” has not yet appeared.
Biblical Studies
Naturally, the preacher’s book shelf focuses upon works in biblical studies, including commentaries and other helpful materials. Since the preacher’s business is the exegesis and exposition of scriptural text, these works are of particular importance. The world of biblical studies has become as complex as any other academic discipline. Various schools of interpretation and hermeneutical theories compete for attention and the titles compete for priority in a minister’s library.
Among the most significant titles released in the past year are three major reference works. The Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Eerdmans) edited by David Noel Fredman replaces an earlier volume also published by Eerdmans. This is a massive work of over 1400 pages and it contains a remarkable collection of articles. The list of contributors includes a significant segment and spectrum of modern biblical scholarship.
InterVarsity Press has produced two significant works that will be of interest to preachers. The first, Dictionary of New Testament Background (InterVarsity) is a massive work of historical detail. It is especially helpful in demonstrating the Jewish and Greco-Roman backgrounds to the New Testament. The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (InterVarsity) represents something new and very much needed in the preacher’s library. In this volume, a list of worthy contributors has produced a collaborative work that brings historic traditions and the latest theological scholarship in a form accessible to every preacher. Too many preachers address texts and issues without adequate biblical analysis. This important volume will be of tremendous assistance to the preacher in this regard.
One of the most controversial issues in biblical scholarship today concerns the translation of the original text into so-called “gender-neutral” or “gender-specific” language. Several works on each side of the controversy have emerged in recent years, but a new title offers a robust argument in favor of retaining gender for the integrity of biblical translations. The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy (Broadman & Holman) by Vern S. Poythress and Wayne A. Grudem is a comprehensive analysis of the issues at stake. All readers should agree with the authors that “it is surpassingly important that the bible be translated accurately.”
Among the significant commentaries released in the past year, preachers will welcome Mark F. Rooker’s volume, Leviticus in the New American Commentary Series (Broadman & Holman). Rooker makes a significant contribution towards our understanding of this important book from the Pentateuch. It may well be that few preachers venture into Leviticus for preaching texts. Rooker helps us to see that this important book has much to say to the contemporary church as well as to ancient Israel.
One of the most important commentaries of the past year is the Letter to the Ephesians (Eerdmans) in the Pillar New Testament Commentary Series. Written by Peter T. O’Brien, the commentary provides ample exegetical investigation and good theological analysis. O’Brien is Vice-Principal and Senior Research Fellow of New Testament at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia. He will be recognized as the author of the volume on Philippians in the New International Greek Commentary.
Commentaries written for preachers by preachers are often especially helpful. This is always the case in the successive volumes of the MacArthur New Testament Commentary. John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA, is one of the most widely known and respected preachers in America today. MacArthur has now completed his two-volume work on the book of Revelation. Revelation Commentary (Moody Press) will be appreciated by all preachers who address the book of Revelation in preaching. Word Publishing has also released the MacArthur Topical Bible. This work is far more than a concordance, since the verses are actually printed according to subject matter in the text. Any preacher will find this volume of considerable assistance in preaching, Bible studies, and personal devotions.
Andreas J. Kostenberger assists pastors through Encountering John (Baker Book House). Kostenberger identifies the Gospel of John as “the theological pinnacle of the gospel tradition,” and his commentary address historical, literary, and theological issues in the exposition of this important gospel. Preachers will appreciate the accessible format and conversational style of this commentary.
Mark A. Seifrid has contributed an important volume in Christ, Our Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Justification (Apollos). Seifrid, a very competent Pauline scholar, here responds to the proposals made by John Sanders and N. T. Wright. Seifrid insists that “there can be no justification of the sinner which is not simultaneously a justification of God in His wrath against the sinner: the revelation of the saving righteousness of God is based upon the righteousness of God’s wrath which is revealed against all idolatry and hypocrisy.” Therefore, Seifrid argues for a forensic understanding of justification that underlines the great Reformation theme of sola gratia
Other helpful works released this past year include The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation by Vern S. Poythress (Presbyterian and Reformed); Reframing Paul: Conversations in Grace and Community by Mark Strom (InterVarsity); Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. (Baker); The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic by James K.A. Smith (InterVarsity); and The Gods of the Nations: Studies in Ancient Near-Eastern National Theology by Daniel I. Block (Baker).
The example of Martyn Lloyd-Jones is an inspiration to all preachers. This is particularly seen in the fact that many of his sermons are even now being published for the first time–nearly twenty years after his death. In Authentic Christianity: Studies in the Book of Acts, Volume I (Crossway), Lloyd-Jones provides a model of expository preaching in a pastoral approach.
Preachers should invest in worthy books with a serious theological engagement. Too many preachers spend their book budget on volumes related to specific issues, often without adequate theological foundation. The past year has seen the release of a large number of worthy volumes addressing theological issues.
D.A. Carson, one of the most prolific and admirable authors in the evangelical academy, has released Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Post-moderns (Zondervan). Carson has edited a work that will be of interest to any preacher seeking to understand the challenge of postmodernism. Carson’s own major work on this subject, The Gagging of God (Zondervan) is must reading for the evangelical preacher. In Telling the Truth, Carson argues that “the evangelist must find ways into the values, heart, thought patterns–in short, the worldview, of those who are being evangelized but must not let that non-Christian worldview domesticate the biblical message. The evangelist must find bridges into the other’s frame of reference, or no communication is possible; the evangelist will remain ghettoized. Nevertheless, faithful worldview evangelism under these circumstances will sooner or later find the evangelist trying to modify or destroy some of the alien world-view and to present another entire structure of thought and conduct that is unimaginably more glorious, coherent, consistent, and finally true.” Pastors will gain key insights from reading The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Crossway), also by D.A. Carson. Carson provides a clearheaded biblical understanding of the biblical doctrine of the love of God.
R.C. Sproul has released The Consequences of Ideas: Understanding the Concepts that Shaped our World (Crossway Books). Sproul, well known for his writings on apologetics and doctrine, here addresses the makers of the modern mind and provides analysis from a Christian worldview perspective. The issue of postmodernism also stands behind the release of A Confessing Theology for Postmodern Times, edited by Michael S. Horton (Crossway). The volume grew out of a major consultation sponsored by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. Contributors to the volume include D.G. Hart, Richard Lints, Richard G. Gaffin, Jr., and Paul Zahl.
Books addressing critical theological issues include Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics (InterVarsity) by J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae. Moreland and Rae address the modern scientific reductionism that threatens our humanity. Terrance Tiessen deals with God’s relationship to His creation in Providence and Prayer: How Does God Work in the World? (InterVarsity). Doug Groothuis also addresses contemporary philosophical challenges in Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Post-Modernism (InterVarsity).
Hans Schwartz, who teaches at the University of Regensburg, Germany, has produced Eschatology Eerdmans). As Schwartz argues, “a denial of eschatology and of God’s victory in history will lead to lifestyles that run counter to what the Bible expects from us.” Paul R. House and Gregory A. Thornbury edited an interesting collection of essays in Who Will be Saved? Defending the Biblical Understanding of God, Salvation, and Evangelism (Crossway). The book actually addresses a considerable range of the most important theological issues facing the church today. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson continue their fruitful collaborative work by editing Sin, Death, and the Devil (Eerdmans). Two of the most important thinkers in the theological world today, Braaten and Jenson have collected these essays into a volume most worthy of the preacher’s reading. Similarly, Richard John Neuhaus provides genuine help to the preacher through the publication of his edited work titled The Eternal Pity: Reflections on Dying (Univ. of Notre Dame Press).
Ronald H. Nash brings keen biblical and theological analysis to When a Baby Dies: Answers to Comfort Grieving Parents (Zondervan). Nash provides amasses a wealth of argumentation to buttress his case for the salvation of those who die in infancy.
Millard J. Erickson, one of evangelicalism’s premier theologians, defends the gospel of God in Making Sense of the Trinity: Three Crucial Questions (Baker). Erickson argues that the doctrine of the Trinity is fully biblical, coherent, and of enormous importance for the church today. Mark D. Futato argues that the created order testifies of the glory of God. In Creation: A Witness to the Wonder of God (Presbyterian and Reformed), Futato provides a very helpful model for preachers in demonstrating the magnificence of God as revealed in creation.
Important works on controversial issues include Catholics and Evangelicals: Do They Share a Common Future? (Paulist Press) edited by Thomas P. Rausch; Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialogue (InterVarsity) by Edward William Fudge and Robert A. Peterson; and Science and Christianity: Four Views (InterVarsity) edited by Richard F. Carlson.
Made in Our Image: What Shall We do With the User-Friendly God? (Multnomah) by Steven J. Lawson, pastor of Dauphin Way Baptist Church, Mobile, Alabama, demonstrates that expository preaching is deeply and inherently theological. Preachers will be encouraged by his model.
Other titles worthy of note include Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling (InterVarsity) by James W. Sire; Psychology and Christianity: Four Views (InterVarsity edited by Eric L. Johnson and Stanton L. Jones; and On Christian Theology (Blackwell Publishers) by Rowan Williams.
Finally, the challenge of so-called “open theism” represents one of the most urgent issues faced by evangelicals today. Those looking for a significant volume addressing the most critical issues will gladly turn to God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism (Crossway) by Bruce A. Ware. Ware considers the entire range of issues related to this important issue. He argues: “As goes the doctrine of divine providence, so go vast portion of our entire doctrine of God and with it our conception of God’s glory.”
Church History
We look to the past in order to understand the present. The field of church history has been exceptionally fertile ground in recent years. Anew corps of scholars has been re-investigating some of the most significant persons and periods in church history. Carol Harrison of the University of Durham addresses one of the critical founders of the western theological tradition in Augustine: Christian Truth and Fractured Humanity (Oxford University Press). Harrison puts Augustine in his historical context, looking especially at how Augustine the thinker engaged critical philosophical and rhetorical ideals of his surrounding culture. Addressing a very different era, L. Gordon Tait has written The Piety of John Witherspoon: Pew, Pulpit and Public Forum (Geneva Press). Witherspoon is perhaps most famous as a signer of the Declaration of Independence. This important volume looks at the Christian piety that animated and influenced Witherspoon’s life and career.
Gerald R. McDermott considers one of the titans of American theological thought in Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods (Oxford University Press). McDermott demonstrates how Edwards engaged the deism that was so quickly possessing the American mind in his own generation.
In Chaplain to the Confederacy: Basil Manly and Baptist Life in the Old South (Louisiana State University Press), A. James Fuller deals with one of the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention, and one of the mainstays of southern culture. Fuller offers keen insights into antebellum culture and the forward of influences of the American south.
Alister E. McGrath continues his voluminous publishing schedule with T. F. Torrance: An Intellectual Biography (T & T Clark). Torrance has been among the most influential theologians of the last half-century, and was a recipient of the Templeton Prize for Progress and Religion. A colleague of Karl Barth and one of Barth’s primary translators and editors, Torrance has influenced an entire generation of theologians on both sides of the Atlantic.
Speaking of influence, few evangelical leaders can compete with Abraham Kuyper. As both theologian and statesman, Kuyper exerted vast influence, not only in the Netherlands, but also in North America. A substantive theologian, Kuyper also served as Prime Minister of the Netherlands. His famous lectures delivered at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1898 established the foundation for the Reformed “cultural mandate” that influenced successive generations. In Abraham Kuyper: God’s Renaissance Man (Evangelical Press), James E. McGoldrick provides a helpful introduction to this seminal figure.
Mark E. Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C., considers one of the Puritans who might be unknown to many Americans. In Richard Sibbes (Mercer University Press), Dever places Sibbes in his context and provides an exposition of his fertile and pastoral theology. Sibbes is one of the warmest of the Puritans and his writings will be greatly loved by those looking for pastoral substance and theological conviction. Dever’s introduction is a good way to become acquainted with this Puritan divine. Similarly, Erroll Hulse provides a helpful overview of Puritans and Puritanism in Who Are the Puritans? And What Do They Teach? (Evangelical Press). Those unfamiliar with the Puritans will find in this volume a most helpful introduction. Those who love and appreciate the Puritans will read this volume and appreciate its rich material.
Iain Murray addresses many of the most critical issues facing evangelicalism on both sides of the Atlantic in Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950-2000 (Banner of Truth). Murray brings a critical mind and an insider’s perspective to several of the most interesting chapters in evangelical history.
D.G. Hart, now on the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary in California, brings a provocative analysis and argument to University Gets Religion: Religious Studies in American Higher Education (John Hopkins University Press). Hart argues that the rise of religion as an academic discipline has been unhealthy for both the church and the academy. His book is an important contribution to American religious life today.
The controversy within the Southern Baptist Convention has been one of the most important stories in American Christian life in the past quarter of a century. Those seeking to understand the issues at stake will gladly welcome The Baptist Reformation: The Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention (Broadman & Holman) by Jerry Sutton. Sutton, pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, writes as pastor, church historian, and participant in the conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention.
The year has seen the release of three important titles on John Calvin, the great Reformer. Bernard Cottrett’s volume, Calvin: A Biography, has been released by Eerdmans, and translated by Wallace McDonald. This influential French work is now available to an English-speaking readership, and is one of the most substantial biographies of Calvin to emerge in the last 25 years. George H. Tavard addresses Calvin’s theological method in The Starting Point of Calvin’s Theology (Eerdmans). Tavard looks to Calvin’s earliest writings for insight to his method and the structure of Calvin’s thought. Anthony N. S. Lane looks to the Reformer’s engagement with the patristic era in John Calvin: Student of the Church Fathers (Baker).
Finally, the year has seen the release of two important reference works. The Dictionary of Historical Theology (Eerdmans) edited by Trevor A. Hart, is an unprecedented collection of articles on historical theology. The 600-page volume is a masterful introduction to historical theology as a field and as a resource for contemporary Christianity. The Oxford Companion for Christian Thought edited by Adrian Hastings, Alistair Mason and Hugh Pyper, is a creative and rather fascinating collection of articles on the most important thinkers and issues related to Christian thought. The volume will be greatly appreciated, as all readers are certain to find many articles of significant interest.
Pastoral Theology
An historical perspective reveals that certain issues recur again and again on the pastoral landscape. At the same time, each generation faces challenges and issues unknown to the generations before. Important books in pastoral theology released during the past year include Spiritual junk Food: The Dumbing Down of Christian Youth (Winepress Publishing) by Cathy Michaels and Audrey McKeever. The book will be of interest not only to youth ministers, but especially to pastors who must provide leadership as the church ministers to youth and prepares parents for their own challenges. Gene Edward Veith, Jr. writes a volume that is both autobiographical and deeply theological in The Spirituality of the Cross: The Way of the First Evangelicals (Concordia). Veith is a skillful writer and careful thinker. His book will be read with great profit.
Mark Dever calls for the recovery of authentic ecclesiology in Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Crossway Books). The volume is a clarion call for a recovery of evangelical essentials in the life of the local church.
In A Mighty Long Journey: Reflections on Racial Reconciliation (Broadman & Holman), Timothy George and Robert Smith, Jr. have edited a collection of essays that is both honest and insightful. This volume will be warmly greeted by all preachers and all who care about racial justice and racial reconciliation within and without the church.
Other important titles in pastoral theology include The Spiritual Quest: Pursuing Christian Maturity (Baker) by Luder G. Whitlock, Jr.; My Soul Magnifies the Lord: Meditations on the Meaning of Christmas (Crossway) by Martyn Lloyd-Jones; Ten Lies About God: And Hon: You Might Already be Deceived (Word) by Erwin W. Lutzer; Life on Fire: Radical Disciplines for Ordinary Living (Word) by Ronnie Floyd; Inside Out: Worship in an Age of Mission (Fortress) edited by Thomas H. Schattauer; At the Origins of Christian Worship: The Context and Character of Earliest Christian Devotion (Eerdmans) by Larry W. Hurtado; Calling and Character: Virtues of the Ordained Life (Abingdon), by William H. Willimon; Exploring Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Reader (Baker), edited by Kenneth J. Collins; Surveying the Religious Landscape: Trends in U.S. Beliefs (Morehouse Publishing) by George Gallup, Jr. and D. Michael Lindsay; Never Beyond Hope: How God Touches and Uses Imperfect People (InterVarsity), by J. I. Packer.
Finally, the field of missiology is addressed in a comprehensive new reference work, the Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions (Baker), edited by A. Scott Moreau. This massive volume is an encyclopedic survey of world missions, past, present, and future.
The contemporary scene is marked by so many ideological, cultural, and social challenges, that any preacher faces a daunting task in attempting to address the world in a relevant way.
Perhaps the best approach is for preachers to read widely as well as carefully. A review of the contemporary literature must include everything from major newsmagazines to books written by authors who are formative influences with the culture and others who are keen analysts of culture and society.
These days, no preacher can afford to be unaware and uninformed. Pastors face the very real challenges of the bio-medical revolution, sexual confusion, postmodern ideologies, and the ravaging impact of a consumer culture.
At the same time, preachers must not allow attention to contemporary issues to rob them of the riches gained by reading literature that will endure as well as inform. Umberto Eco once commented that “the good of a book lies in its being read.” Choose carefully, buy carefully, read carefully, and then get to the task at hand–preach the Word.
Ten Books Every Preacher Should Read
Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Fredmans)
James J. O’Donnell, Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyber Space (Harvard University Press)
Gilbert Meilaender, Things That Count (ISI Books)
Robert Conquest, Reflections on a Ravaged Century (W.W. Norton & Company)
D. A. Carson, Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns (Zondervan)
Jeremy Rifkin, The Age of Access (Putnam Books)
John Blanchard, Does God Believe in Atheists? (Evangelical Press)
James Davison Hunter, The Death of Character: Moral Education in Age Without Good or Evil (Basic Books)
Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: Five Hundred Years of Western Cultural Life (Harper-Collins)
Adrian Hastings, The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought (Oxford University Press)

Share This On: