The past year has been one of the most tumultuous in the history of publishing and book selling. The revolution, long seen on the horizon, of the electronic book is now fully upon us. Major publishers now indicate that a majority of the copies of many of their titles are being sold as electronic books rather than the traditional book in printed form. This development has caught publishers and booksellers in something of a quandary—along with the rest of us. This much is clear: Though the book will survive, many of the books we read in the future are likely to be images on a screen rather than ink on paper.
In the same period, we have seen the demise of some of the largest and the most substantial names in book selling. The corner bookstore, long a facet of modern commerce, is fighting for its life. The most endangered bookstores of all are now the big-box mega-stores, which may have aided and abetted their own demise by means of their necessary entry into other forms of bookselling.
Nevertheless, even as those ominous trends have come to light, perhaps the most remarkable observation is this: The book persists. As a matter of fact, every publishing and distribution revolution brings more reading, not less. Even in this very distracted age, readers are ravenous for new books; and as distribution and publishing channels change, there is likely to be a further explosion of materials available to readers of all stripes.
The electronic publishing revolution has caught preachers—among the world’s most avid readers—wondering exactly how this revolution will affect sermon preparation and the kind of reading that forms the intellectual substance of the Christian ministry. The comfortable and familiar image of the pastor in his study surrounded by books persists. At the same time, the average pastor now can walk around with a veritable library of thousands of titles at instant access on a tablet computer in his briefcase. Sentimentality aside, that is a tremendous advance for preachers.
The past year has seen the release of hundreds of titles that should be of interest to Christian preachers. We will look at an assortment of these with an eye to the needs of the pastor, especially in the responsibility of preparing messages and fulfilling the work of the ministry.
The Bible stands at the very center of the Christian ministry. This is true not only for preaching, but for the entirety of the ministry and the minister’s work. For this reason, works that illuminate the meaning of Scripture, affirm the authority of Scripture and assist the preacher in the task of interpreting Scripture are worth their weight in gold. Among the titles released in the past year are several that will be particularly helpful to pastors and others that pastors will read with a critical and discerning eye. Several works in biblical studies will assist the preacher in understanding the overarching story of Scripture. Roger Crooks in his book One Lord, One Plan, One People, a Journey Through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation (A Banner of Truth) looks at the unified message of the Bible from beginning to end. His approach is to take every book of the Bible and to set it within the context of the cannon, affirming the consistency of God’s plan and purposes. Similarly, Stephen J. Nichols, researcher of Christianity and culture at Lancaster Bible College and Graduate School, has written Welcome to the Story: Reading, Loving and Living God’s Word (Crossway). Nichol’s approach is a bit different, taking the major movements in the meta-narrative of Scripture and tying the Scripture together in terms of these thematic movements. Thus, the reader is taken through creation, fall, redemption and consummation with an eye to how the meta-narrative helps us interpret every passage of Scripture in its true context and light.
In addition, preachers will want to know of Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature and Theology by Andreas J. Kostenberger and Richard D. Patterson (Kregel). In this substantial volume, Kostenberger and Patterson offer a wealth of material for biblical interpretation. The book is massive, but it answers and addresses precisely those questions that are often most difficult and troubling to preachers. Preachers will find the “Hermeneutical Triad” approach of Kostenberger and Patterson to be genuinely helpful. Similarly, preachers will want to know of a wordy collection of essays, published in honor of D.A. Carson on his 65th birthday. Carson, one of the most significant evangelical scholars of this generation, is worthy of this collection, edited by Andreas J. Kostenberger and Robert W. Yarborough (Crossway). The essays in this volume are, as with the previous work, of particular interest to pastors. Preachers will find genuine encouragement and sound counsel in this volume.
A volume that addresses a particularly neglected theme in biblical studies is Presence, Power and Promise: The Role of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament (InterVarsity Press). The work is edited by David G. Firth and Paul D. Wegner. The contributors include scholars that cover the spectrum of evangelical Old Testament interpretation and theology. The book addresses the role of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament which, as the book states, “has been the focus of surprisingly little scholarship.” This book will help to reverse that neglect.
The past year has seen the emergence of several worthy commentaries, covering the Old and New Testaments. Among the most important of the Old Testament commentaries is Job 38-42 and The Word Biblical Commentary (Thomas Nelson). The Word Biblical Commentary is an unfinished project. Though started by one evangelical publisher and continued by another, the work actually should be seen as something of a successor to the old International Critical Commentary. Thus, though it is written by those who have an association with evangelicalism, the scholarship is not always representative of evangelical scholarship. Nevertheless, as with the old ICC, each volume is a helpful distillation of the most current critical scholarship. In this case, David J.A. Clines, the emeritus professor of Biblical Studies at Sheffield, offers a conclusion to his study of Job. In this work, he covers some of the most theologically intensive sections of the book, then concludes with a massive bibliographical and research review.
Exodus: Aan Exegetical Commentary by Victor P. Hamilton (Baker Academic) is a substantial commentary on the second book of the Bible. Hamilton, retired after a long career of teaching the Bible and theology at Asbury University, offers a work that is exegetical and theological. The book bares all the fruit of decades of study invested in the book of Exodus. T.J. Betts, assistant professor of Old Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written Famous: An Ordinary Man with an Extraordinary Message (Christian Focus). In this book, Betts looks to the prophet Amos in a new light. This commentary will be particularly helpful to preachers looking to preach Amos. As Betts makes clear, there is nothing particularly remarkable about Amos, but there is something very remarkable about his message.
Preachers also will be encouraged by the release of 1 Kings in the Reformed Expository Commentary by Philip Graham Ryken (P&R). Ryken, now president of Wheaton College, was previously senior minister at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He has written commentaries on Galatians, 1 Timothy and Luke, among others. Now, he adds 1 Kings to this list. Preachers will find the book particularly helpful, precisely because it is the fruit of Ryken’s preaching ministry in Philadelphia.
A work introduced in the Old Testament as a whole that will be of interest to preachers is The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament by Eugene H. Merrill, Mark F. Rooker and Michael A. Grisanti (B&H Academic). This work, written by a trio of evangelical scholars, provides a very helpful overview of the Old Testament. This kind of introduction often helps pastors, for whom introductory work in the Old Testament may be rather far back in terms of seminary and Bible college preparation.
Finally in terms of the Old Testament, Douglas Sean O’Donnell has written The Beginning and End of Wisdom: Preaching Christ from the First and Last Chapters of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job (Crossway). This book may win the prize for the most awkward title, but it is because O’Donnell has linked together the messages of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job to the ministry of Jesus as revealed in the New Testament. O’Donnell reveals the Christocentric content of these crucial Old Testament passages in a way that will be fascinating and helpful to the preacher. As Old Testament scholar Sidney Greidanus has said: “These six sermons are model sermons that will inspire and teach you how to preach Christ from Old Testament wisdom.”
It should come as no surprise that in 2011 we saw the release of a great number of titles covering the New Testament and its books. Two commentaries on Luke have emerged. John MacArthur continues his expositional ministry in Luke with the second volume, Luke 6-10 in The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Moody Publishers). John MacArthur is one of the greatest biblical expositors of our time, and his project of preaching verse by verse through the New Testament has been completed at Grace Community Church in California. As successive volumes complete his commentary series, that expositional ministry will be shared with preachers in the form of some of the most accessible biblical commentaries. We look forward to further releases in this series that will complete Luke, then Mark. At that point, MacArthur will have released commentaries covering every verse in the New Testament.
A different approach to Luke is undertaken by David E. Garland, dean and professor at the George W. Truett Seminary at Baylor University. In Luke: Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan), Garland offers what can only be described as a massive commentary on the third gospel. Preachers will find the size and scope of Garland’s research to be particularly helpful. The commentary is written in such a way that it will benefit preachers who are fully at home in the New Testament Greek, as well as those who are not.
Commentaries on Acts include Alan J. Thompson’s The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus: Luke’s Account of God’s Unfolding Plan (InterVarsity Press). Thompson teaches at Sydney Missionary and Bible College in Australia. Preachers will recognize him as the author of the book One Lord, One People: The Unity of the Church in Acts in its Literary Setting. In this book, published in the New Studies in Biblical Theology Series helps to put the Book of Acts into an interpretive context that continues Luke’s work in his gospel. Thompson explains that Luke wrote the Book of Acts “to provide reassurance to believers about the nature of the events surrounding Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, the spread of the message about Jesus, and the nature of God’s people following Jesus’ ascension. He is providing assurance that these events really are the work of God, that God really has been accomplishing His purposes, that Jesus really is who He said He was, and that believers and Jesus really are the true people of God.”
Preachers also will want to look to Acts in Reformed Expository Commentary by Derek W.H. Thomas (P&R). Thomas, now senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, S.C., has written another very worthy commentary offering biblical exposition and theological insights from the Book of Acts. Taking an approach that is completely compatible with that of Alan Thompson, Thomas introduces the Book of Acts as “the continuing ministry of the ascended Jesus.” Preachers working through the Book of Acts will find both of these volumes to be most helpful.
The Book of Galatians has received a particular focus in the past year. One of the most important volumes addressing Galatians and Ephesians is the volume on those books edited by Gerald L. Bray in the Reformation Commentary on Scripture Series. That series offers a wealth of hermeneutical, historical and theological material for preaching, especially drawn from the riches of the reformation. In a day in which so many preachers are looking for deeper substance, this is a volume and a series that is particularly helpful in this regard. The genius of this series is in drawing together exegetical and expository insights from the reformers and their heirs in a way that follows the canonical shape of Scripture.
Preachers also will be encouraged to know of the release of Galatians: God’s Proclamation of Liberty by Joseph Pipa Jr. of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in South Carolina (Christian Focus). Pipa offers a very accessible and trustworthy commentary on this crucial New Testament epistle. Preachers also will be very encouraged by a work on Galatians written by one who shares the weekly task of biblical exposition.
Josh Moody, senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Ill., has written No Other Gospel: 31 Reasons from Galatians Why Justification by Faith Alone is the Only Gospel (Crossway). Moody offers insights that sometimes are polemical, sometimes unifying. Moody offers a sure-footed approach to understanding the message of Galatians.
Other commentaries worthy of the preacher’s attention include The Letter of James in The New International Commentary on the New Testament by Scott McKnight (Eerdmans), 1 and 2 Thessalonians in The Preaching the Word Series by James H. Grant Jr. (Crossway), 1-2 Peter by R.C. Sproul in the Saint Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Crossway), Exploring the New Testament: A Guide to the Letters and Revelation by I. Howard Marshall, Stephen Travis and Ian Paul (InterVarsity Press), and finally, Latin Commentaries on Revelation by William C. Weinrich in the Ancient Christian Text Series (InterVarsity Press).
Theology is, quite naturally, the inescapable focus of the preacher. At the same time, works of a historical nature are particularly helpful in situating our contemporary issues in a larger context. Preachers will want to know several worthy volumes in theology published in the past year.
Michael Horton, professor at Westminster Seminary California, has released his systematic theology, a massive work of more than a thousand pages. Horton proved that the age of the great systematic theologies has not ended. His work The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology of Pilgrims on the Way (Zondervan) is, as readers of Horton will expect, a very thoughtful and deeply textured work. Horton is in conversation with a host of theologians, ancient, medieval and modern. Preachers of all theological and denominational backgrounds will find more than enough to make them think more theologically in Horton’s work. Other important works released in the past year include several that are particularly helpful in setting out issues of controversy.
A number of publishers have discovered the helpfulness (not to mention the marketability) of works that address several views in a focused conversation within one volume. B&H Academic has released three of these volumes. Perspectives on the Sabbath: Four Views brings together a conversation between Charles P. Arand, Craig L. Blomberg, Skip MacCarty and Joseph A. Pipa. The views range from sabbatarian to non-sabbatarian; the internal debate is truly helpful. That volume is joined by Perspectives on Tithing: Four Views by David A. Croteau, Bobby Eklund, Ken Hemphill, Reggie Kidd, Gary North and Scott Preissler. Some of the most intensive conversations on any text of Scripture have been directed to
InterVarsity Press has released Justification: 5 Views. This work brings together contributions by Michael S. Horton, Michael F. Bird, James D.G. Dunn, Veli-Matti Karkkainen, Geralod O’Collins and Oliver Rafferty. Needless to say, this is one of the hottest issues in biblical studies and theology. The strength of this book is that the five views are presented by first-rate contributors. Another benefit of this volume is that it truly spans the spectrum of contemporary theological studies.
Zondervan has released two in this series in the past year. The first, Four Views on Divine Providence includes contributions by Paul Kjoss Helseth, William Lane Craig, Ron Highfield and Gregory A. Boyd. Once again, in this book we encounter some of the most difficult issues faced by theologians and pastors. The contributors in this volume cover a spectrum of positions from absolute divine causation to divine self-limitation. In the second volume, Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, the contributors include Kevin T. Bauder, John G. Stackhouse Jr., Roger E. Olson and myself. I was glad to join in conversation with these other scholars in this work in which we sought to define the identity of evangelicalism—one of the most persistent questions of recent decades.
Finally, preachers will want to know of the publication of The Deity of Christ: Theology in Community (Crossway) edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson. This volume, along with others released by this pair of editors, offers a summary of some of the best contemporary scholarship.
Two books published by Zondervan may pioneer a new form of theological conversation. It was Zondervan that really initiated the multiple-views books that include various positions within one volume. In this new project, it has released two competing volumes that are linked together by subject matter and a larger theological conversation. Michael Horton has written For Calvinism and Roger E. Olson has contributed Against Calvinism. These two works, taken together, constitute a theological education in one of the most pressing theological debates of the past several centuries. In my view, the two volumes are successful in addressing this issue in an interesting and informative manner. Partisans on both sides of this theological conflict likely will want more, but no one should settle for less.
Ministerial Studies/Practical Theology
This past year, numerous articles of homiletic and pastoral interest were released. Preachers will be edified by Ruth A. Tucker’s Parade of Faith: A Biographical History of the Christian Church (Zondervan). Tucker offers vignettes and a narrative of church history, focusing on the crucial individuals who played such important roles in the history of the church. Preachers will find the narrative of interest, but will also find the volume a veritable treasure trove of illustrations.
Pastors helping their congregations understand and confront intellectual challenges of the current age will want to know of books that include Mark Coppenger’s Moral Apologetics for Contemporary Christians: Pushing Back Against Cultural and Religious Critics (B&H Academic). Coppenger has written a book that is truly fascinating on every single page. He is a genius at tying together contemporary culture and opportunities for the defense of the faith. The book is a tour de force.
Preachers similarly will be encouraged by Truth Considered and Applied: Examining Postmodernism, History and Christian Faith by Stewart E. Kelly (B&H Academic). Kelly, who teaches at Minot State University in North Dakota, understands some of the most important questions framed by our times. In this book, he offers intellectual assertion and genuine assistance in terms of interpreting the challenges of the day. A series of scholars has honored the late Christian philosopher L. Russ Bush with Defending the Faith: Engaging the Culture. Authors ranging from Daniel L. Akin and Richard Land to Udo Middelmann and Gary Habermas have contributed essays.
Two works on parenting and family ministry are worthy of note. Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones have edited Trained in the Fear of God: Family Ministry in Theological, Historical and Practical Perspective (Kregel). Stinson and Jones brought together a very worthy collection of essays that will help to redefine family ministry in a way that is far more biblical than the norm. Similarly, Joel R. Beeke has written Parenting by God’s Promises (Reformation Trust). Beeke offers a wealth of scriptural advice for parents in terms of the Bible’s comprehensive treatment of the child, child rearing and the responsibilities of Christian parents. The book is a goldmine of practical and sound advice.
Preachers are readers, but no preacher can read everything. For this reason, preachers will be encouraged by a recent work by John Mark Reynolds of Biola University. Reynolds has edited The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Bethany House). Reynolds, a well-known teacher and apologist, has edited a volume that brings together introductions to some of the most seminal and influential books of our civilizational legacy. His work is complemented by Pastors in the Classics: Timeless Lessons on Life and Ministry from World Literature by Leland Ryken, Philip Ryken and Todd Wilson (Baker Books).
An important theological, biblical and pastoral consideration of race is offered by Pastor John Piper in Bloodlines: Race, Cross and the Christian (Crossway). Piper’s central thesis is pastoral and earthshaking in its power: “The bloodline of Jesus Christ is deeper than the bloodlines of race. The death and resurrection of the Son of God for sinners is the only sufficient power to bring the bloodlines of race into the single bloodline of the cross.”
Preachers always are encouraged by the example of other preachers. For this reason, preachers will welcome the release of John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock by Ian H. Murray (Banner of Truth). Murray wrote this work in connection with the 40th anniversary of John MacArthur as pastor of Grace Community Church in California. The work will encourage preachers in the task of exposition. Preachers also will want to know of the release of The Mighty Weakness of John Knox by Douglas Bond (Reformation Trust). Bond, head of the English Department at Covenant High School in Tacoma, Wash., offers a powerful and insightful look at the life of one of the most colorful and influential figures in church history.
Preachers will benefit from a work edited by Christopher J.H. Wright. In Portraits of a Radical Disciple: Recollections of John Stott’s Life and Ministry (InterVarsity Press), Wright has brought together heartwarming recollections of John Stott, one of the most influential preachers of the last century. Sean Michael Lucas has contributed God’s Grand Design: The Theological Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Crossway). As Lucas writes, “During his lifetime, Jonathan Edwards was many things: pastor, a preacher, revivalist, a husband, father, author, a controversialist. But if he was anything, he was a theologian of the Christian life.”
Finally, two works dealing with the mission of the church deserve the pastor’s attention. Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert have written What is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom and the Great Commission (Crossway). DeYoung and Gilbert, two very gifted and committed young pastors, here address some of the most controversial issues related to the mission of the church. They desperately want to see Christians live in obedience to Christ. Accordingly, they point the church’s mission as that of evangelizing and then making disciples—the very disciples who will make a difference in the world.
Ronnie Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas, has written Our Last Great Hope: Awakening the Great Commission (Thomas Nelson). Floyd is a pastor with a deep commitment to evangelism and to mobilizing the church in order to reach the world. Our Last Great Hope is a work that will challenge every church and pastor.