“The multitude of books is making us ignorant.” Thus commented Voltaire — who, we should note — went on to write several books of his own. Nevertheless, the explosion of books noted by Voltaire is eclipsed by the multitude of books now released by American publishers. In any given week, hundreds of new volumes are released to the general public or specialized markets. Though some have claimed that the end of the book is in sight, the book buying public seems to have no such vision.
Preachers have long been noted as particularly bookish. This is fully understandable, since so much of the preacher’s work is tied to a literary culture. The so-called “Gutenberg revolution” greatly increased the bookish nature of the ministry, and democratized the profession and its books.
The most recent publishing year has seen the release of scores of volumes directed toward the preacher. As usual, many of these are quickly forgotten. On the other hand, the past year has seen the release of several books of interest to every learned preacher.
The field of homiletics and Christian preaching saw reduced publishing activity this year. Though several specialized volumes related to specific aspects of preaching have been recently released, few major treatises on preaching have emerged in the last two years. The host of comprehensive texts on preaching which emerged in the 1980’s has not yet been supplemented by more recent offerings.
Barry L. Callen, University Professor of Christian Studies at Anderson University, has edited Sharing Heaven’s Music: The Heart of Christian Preaching (Abingdon). The volume is a Festschrift to Dr. James Earl Massey, one of the deans of the American Pulpit and a Contributing Editor to Preaching. Fourteen major chapters of the volume are supplemented by a lengthy interview with Massey and three tributes by colleagues. Contributors to the volume are diverse, ranging from William L. Lane to David G. Buttrick. The book is an interesting compilation of essays which offers more than the usual Festschrift. The musical theme was chosen by the editor in order to demonstrate the nature of preaching as art form. As Callen notes in his introduction, “James Earl Massey, a prince of preachers also is a concert pianist who received his call to preach while sitting in church memorizing musical scores.”
Michael Duduit, editor of Preaching, has edited Communicating With Power: Insights from America’s Top Communicators (Baker Book House). Duduit has pulled together a collection of interviews from the pages of Preaching magazine and the collection represents a magnificent repository of material which will be of keen interest to preachers. The interview is one of the most powerful forms of communication for disclosure. In these interviews, gifted communicators speak from their own experience and out of the energy of their own ministry. Chapters include interviews with John MacArthur, Calvin Miller, John R. W. Stott, Gardner C. Taylor, William Willimon, Bill Hybels and George Barna. Readers will find much material for thought, reflection, and application in these interviews.
Carson’s The Gagging of God is 1996 Preaching Book of the Year
The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism by Donald Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is the 1996 Preaching Book of the Year. The book is published by Zondervan Press.
According to reviewer R. Albert Mohler, Carson’s The Gagging of God “is a masterpiece of theological argumentation conjoined with a keen and sympathetic understanding of modern currents in philosophy and culture.”
Other books in this year’s list of Ten Books Every Preacher Should Read:
Alister McGrath, A Passion for Truth: The Intellectual Coherence of Evangelicalism. InterVarsity Press
Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Millenium: A History of the Last Thousand Years. Simon and Schuster
Millard Erickson, God in Three Persons: A Contemporary Interpretation of the Trinity. Baker
Thomas C. Reeves, The Empty Church: The Suicide of Mainline Protestantism. The Free Press
Michael Horton, In the Face of God: The Dangers and Delights of Spiritual Intimacy. Word Books
John Armstrong, The Coming Evangelical Crisis Moody
Michael Duduit, Communicating With Power: Insights from America’s Top Communicators. Baker
Gerald Bray, Biblical Interpretation: Past and Present. InterVarsity Press
David Lyle Jeffrey, People of the Book: Christian Identity and Literary Culture. Eerdmans
Calvin Miller, whose Marketplace Preaching was released just last year, has re-released his major work on preaching as Spirit, Word, and Story: A Philosophy of Marketplace Preaching (Baker Book House). Miller, who teaches Communication and Homiletics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, is one of the most familiar names in evangelical publishing. He is a gifted writer whose ability to communicate sets him apart as one who can speak with authority to the issue of communication. His concern for communication in the marketplace is applicable to the challenge faced by every preacher in this secular age.
William Edgar, Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, offers a most helpful consideration of Christian persuasion in his recent book, Reasons of the Heart: Recovering Christian Persuasion (Baker Book House). Edgar helpfully calls for a recovery of the apologetic task in preaching. As he comments; “persuading our generation about deep issues is becoming more and more difficult as our culture moves away from certain shared assumptions and values.” Edgar’s balanced and convictional approach will be helpful to any preacher struggling to find the correct apologetic approach in preaching.
Richard L. Eslinger, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church of Brandywine, in Niles, Michigan, has released Pitfalls in Preaching (Eerdmans). Eslinger acknowledges the many pitfalls that present themselves to the modern preacher. His approach is self-consciously postmodern. Eslinger attempts to present an argument which moves from the older model of discursive preaching to the newer more narrative paradigm. Preachers will find Eslinger’s book an interesting presentation of a postmodern homiletical paradigm.
Tommy A. Turner, pastor of Twin City Baptist Church in Marion, Indiana argues that television “dominates our culture and judges all other forms of communication by its standard.” In Preaching to Programmed People: Effective Communication in a Media-Saturated Society (Kregel), Turner argues that contemporary preachers minister in the flickering shadow of the television screen. Most preachers, Turner suggests, have not taken television and its consciousness-forming power into adequate consideration. Nevertheless, he offers hope for the preacher even in light of this challenge.
In a fascinating chapter, “Seven New Kinds of Listeners”, Turner presents his case that television has produced a variety of listening patterns, all of which must be taken into consideration by the preacher. There is hope, promises Turner, for reaching jaded listeners in a television-saturated age. Preachers will find his book informative and helpful.
In the field of spirituality, one of the most important books to be released in recent years is Michael Horton’s In the Face of God: The Dangers and Delights of Spiritual Intimacy (Word). Horton, who has released several important books in recent years, argues in this volume that the false spiritual intimacy promised by popular Christianity is both scandalous and dangerous.
Horton reveals the naked barrenness of much modern spirituality. Furthermore, and even more devastating, is his assessment that much modern spirituality is inherently unbiblical and theologically heterodox. With trenchant criticism, Horton looks to much of the shallowness of contemporary evangelicalism and prescribes a healthy dose of biblical knowledge and doctrine. As he states: “while a love for sound doctrine cannot be divorced from a personal relationship with the One about whom these truths speak, it is certain that the opposite of ‘dead orthodoxy’ is not ‘living faith,’ but spiritual anarchy, superstition, and, in the end, paganism.” Our goal, argues Horton, “is not only a life that is more doctrinally grounded, but one that is more eager than ever to avoid the dangers and enjoy the delights of intimacy with God.”
Another helpful volume is offered by Alisdair Begg, a native of Scotland who currently serves as pastor of Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio. Alisdair Begg is not yet well known in some evangelical circles, but he quickly will be. He is a gifted preacher of extraordinary power and insight. The theme of Made for His Pleasure: Ten Benchmarks of a Vital Faith (Moody), is well stated in his introduction “The Priority of God in a World of Self.” Begg offers a helpful corrective to the self-referential nature of modern American life and contemporary Christianity.
Two recent offerings on the love of God present markedly different approaches. John MacArthur, Jr., well-established as one of the lions of the contemporary pulpit, has released The Love of God (Word). MacArthur’s book is more than a basic presentation of the biblical teachings concerning the love of God. His intention is to lay bare the superficial and unbiblical notions of God’s love which are present, and may be dominant in much contemporary preaching. God’s love is presented as sentimentality, indulgence, and familiarity, rather than the holy love which is revealed in Scripture to be proper to God and God alone. As MacArthur states, “love is the best known but least understood of all God’s attributes.” Almost everyone who believes in God these days believes that He is a God of love. I have even met agnostics who are quite certain that if God exists, He must be benevolent, compassionate and loving.”
If the illogical assumption of the agnostic is shocking, much more lamentable is the absence of a biblical notion of the love of God on the part of so many confessing Christians. MacArthur’s volume is a very helpful corrective in the midst of our contemporary confusion. A different approach is taken by San Antonio pastor Max Lucado, whose gift for lyrical communication has influenced the current generation of preachers. In his recent release, In the Grip of Grace (Word), Lucado presents messages, mostly out the book of Romans, encouraging Christians to move toward Christian maturity with the assurance of God’s steadfast love.
R. C. Sproul, another gifted teacher and preacher, has added to his already extensive collection of worthy volumes with The Invisible Hand: Do All Things Really Work For Good? (Word). Sproul argues that the eclipse of God’s sovereignty in our contemporary culture has blinded even many Christians to the knowledge and comfort of God’s providence. The volume is a powerful biblical and theological argument, rich with biblical exposition and practical illustration.
The field of biblical studies has been extremely active in recent years, with many interesting volumes released. Several major commentary series continue, including the Word Biblical Commentary, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, New International Greek Testament Commentary, New Testament Commentary, Interpretation, and The New American Commentary.
Among the more important releases in The New American Commentary are volumes by Kenneth A. Mathews and Gerald Borchert. Both of these recent offerings are part-volumes which will await completion in coming years. Mathews, a very capable evangelical scholar who teaches at the Beeson Divinity at Samford University, has authored Genesis 1-11:26 (Broadman & Holman). Mathews takes as his focus a “literary-theological exposition of the text that draws on its compositional feature with the aim of detecting what is highlighted by the text itself.” Thus, though Mathews gives careful attention to important historical-critical problems, his goal is theological exposition based in the text of Scripture itself. Preachers will find this volume a very helpful guide through the first chapters of Genesis. Similarly helpful is Gerald Borchert’s volume John 1-11 (Broadman & Holman). Borchert, a seasoned evangelical scholar who teaches at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, writes his commentary out of the intimacy of his knowledge of the Gospel of John.
For Borchert, the Fourth Gospel has been a close companion throughout his life and ministry. Borchert notes that the Gospel of John is often given to new converts, because it is so easily read and understood. On the other hand, the theological depth of the Fourth Gospel demands the very best of every teacher and preacher. Preachers will appreciate both new volumes and wait with expectation for the completion of both projects.
Darrell L. Bock, professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, has completed his massive exegetical commentary on Luke. With the release of this second volume Luke 11-24 (Baker), Bock brings this remarkable project to conclusion. Preachers committed to biblical exposition will find these volumes invaluable.
Preachers have come to appreciate The New International Commentary on the New Testament, and thus will greet Douglas Moo’s new commentary with enthusiasm. The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans), will stand for many years as an important exegetical commentary which is readily accessible and helpful to the preacher. Moo begins his commentary by quoting Thomas Draxe, an English Puritan, who described the book of Romans as “quintessence and perfection of saving doctrine.” Moo reveals a similar appreciation for the book of Romans in this commentary.
Other recent commentary releases include Numbers (John Knox Press) by Dennis T. Olson. Olson, Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary seeks to recover the book of Numbers for the contemporary church, which has for too long ignored this important canonical book.
Among specialized biblical studies, David Wenham’s Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? (Eerdman), will be greeted by preachers with appreciation. Though many modern scholars have attempted to drive a wedge between the teachings of Jesus and the writings of Paul, Wenham argues for the unity of the New Testament message. A lecturer in New Testament at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, Wenham is well known as an evangelical New Testament scholar.
Kevin Giles, of World Vision, has released What on Earth is the Church?: An Exploration in New Testament Theology (Intervarsity Press). In this volume, Giles presents the doctrine of the church as a model for New Testament theology. Giles indicated hopefulness in his statement that “there is now a general consensus among biblical scholars of differing confessional backgrounds on the exegesis of many of the passages that once divided Christians when they came together to discuss the church.” Readers will judge for themselves whether this assessment holds true.
The hermeneutical revolution of recent years has left many preachers wandering in the wilderness of interpretation. A most helpful guide in the midst of this confusion is offered by Gerald Bray in Biblical Interpretation: Past and Present (InterVarsity Press). Bray, who also teaches at Beeson Divinity School, is a careful evangelical theologian and biblical scholar, whose writings are influential on both sides of the Atlantic. In this volume, Bray offers a comprehensive resource for preachers, theological students, and anyone else interested in contemporary hermeneutical issues. Bray’s 600-page volume is genuinely comprehensive and is a very capable exhibition of scholarship. At the same time, Bray has directed his work to a readership which includes non-specialists. As Bray comments, “a high percentage of the academic work currently being produced has little bearing on the life of the church, and is remote from the concerns of the average Christian. At a time when church goers want to hear a clear word from God, scholars appear to be confusing issues and muddying the waters of biblical study to the point where even professional theologians find it difficult to follow what they are saying.”
Bray is a committed evangelical who holds to the total truthfulness of the Bible, and is thoroughly versed in modern hermeneutical issues. Preachers will find this volume helpful as a textbook, road map, and compendium for current reading and future reference.
Recent offerings in the field of theology and doctrine also call out for attention. Among the very finest of these is Preaching’s 1997 “Book Of The Year.” D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has released a truly landmark study in The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Zondervan). Carson is a genuine polymath, competent as a scholar in many different disciplines. In this volume he reveals himself to be both current and comprehensive in his knowledge of epistemology, world-view studies, ethics, cultural criticism, biblical interpretation, and contemporary theology. Carson states his case for the book clearly: “I am writing as a Christian. In my most somber moods I sometimes wonder if the ugly face of what I refer to as philosophical pluralism is the most dangerous threat to the gospel since the rise of the Gnostic heresy in the second century, and for some of the same reasons. Part of the danger arises from the face that the new hermeneutic and its assorted offspring are not entirely wrong: it would be easier to damn an ideology that was wholly and pervasively corrupt. But another part of the danger derives from the harsh reality that, as far as I can see, the new hermeneutic and its progeny are often profoundly wrong — and so popular that they are pernicious.”
Carson reveals that God is not gagged, despite the efforts of many moderns. Most preachers are unarmed for the hermeneutical conflict presented by our modern situation. Carson’s The Gagging of God is a masterpiece of theological argumentation conjoined with a keen and sympathetic understanding of modern currents in philosophy and culture. Clearly, Carson’s purpose is apologetic as well as critical. Preachers will find the 600-page volume accessible, and each chapter can be read on its own.
Two recent collections lament trends currently shaping evangelicalism. The Coming Evangelical Crisis (Moody), edited by John H. Armstrong, is a collection of fourteen chapters delineating the crisis in the evangelical movement and its churches. Chapters deal with issues including worship, Christian counseling, biblical revelation, and preaching. A second collection, Here We Stand: A Call From Confessing Evangelicals (Baker), edited by James Montgomery Boice and Benjamin E. Sasse, is the product of a convocation held by evangelicals concerned with the theological dissipation of the contemporary church. The group, known as Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, met in Cambridge Massachusetts this past April and heard messages which combined a critique of contemporary culture with a call for recovery and reformation. These two volumes would be of considerable interest as preachers consider the modern context and challenges both within and without the church.
The doctrine of the church has itself received recent attention. Stanley J. Grenz, Professor of Theology and Ethics at Carey Theological College/Regent College, in Vancouver, British Columbia, has released Created For Community (BridgePoint). Grenz, whose project seeks to combine the post-modern paradigm with the evangelical tradition, argues that Christian belief and Christian living are inseparable. Grenz roots Christian theology in the Christian community, and demonstrates the influence of the New Yale school of theological interpretation.
David L. Smith of Providence Theological Seminary, also in Canada, has released All God’s People: A Theology of the Church (BridgePoint). Smith has produced a study of ecclesiology, rooted in the Baptist tradition, but opened to larger ecumenical influences.
Edmund P. Clowney, former President of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, has contributed, The Church (InterVarsity Press) to the “Contours of Christian Theology” series. Clowney’s volume is richly based in Scripture and thoughtful in its exposition. As Clowney notes, “For the church to be the church in the year 2000 it must be more than ‘seeker friendly’: it must be ‘Seeker-sent’, thrust forth by the Lord to bear His gospel of the cross to the peoples.”
Alister McGrath, one of the most influential writers on the contemporary scene, has written A Passion For Truth: The Intellectual Coherence of Evangelicalism (InterVarsity Press). This volume follows the release last year of Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity (InterVarsity Press). In that volume, McGrath argued that evangelicalism was itself the most likely form of Christianity to emerge in the 21st century in a condition both vital and vigorous. He promised to flesh out his conception of the evangelical mind in a later volume. A Passion for Truth is McGrath’s answer to that issue. McGrath is concerned to chart a course for evangelical Christianity in the midst of the postmodern challenge. Principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, and Research Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, McGrath has earned an established reputation for scholarship and has demonstrated his concern for evangelicalism. Evangelicals will read his new volume with great interest and consider his proposals with reflection and care.
In the face of modern reductionistic christologies, several evangelicals have offered important works answering contemporary critics. Among these, one of the most important is Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship ReInvents the Historical Jesus (Zondervan) edited by Michael J. Wilkins and J. P. Moreland. Wilkins and Moreland have pulled together some of the finest evangelical scholars in order to defend the integrity of the New Testament and the scriptural claims concerning Jesus. The volume is well-written and engaging.
Gregory A. Boyd, Professor of Theology at Bethel College also defends the biblical teachings concerning Jesus in Cynic, Sage, or Son of God?: Recovering the Real Jesus in an Age of Revisionist Replies (BridgePoint). Against the revisionist scholarship of authors such as John Dominic Crossan and Burton Mack, Boyd argues for the comprehensive truthfulness of the scriptural claims concerning Jesus. Nevertheless, his work is not merely defensive, it is also a helpful guide through modern hermeneutical controversies and the teachings of scripture.
Robert H. Stein, Professor of New Testament at Bethel Theological Seminary, also in Minnesota, has produced a new and helpful survey of the life of Christ in Jesus the Messiah (InterVarsity Press). Stein’s purpose is to uncover the basic biblical material related to the identity of Jesus Christ. His work is informed by contemporary biblical scholarship, but it is also applicable to the preaching minister, who will find help in the clarity and forcefulness of Stein’s argument. Recent debates concerning the Trinity have also left many preachers confused. Millard J. Erickson, one of the deans among evangelical theologians, has offered assistance in God in Three Persons: A Contemporary Interpretation of the Trinity (Baker). Erickson, is, as always comprehensive and thorough.
J. I. Packer, another prominent theologian on the contemporary scene, has authored Truth and Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life (Shaw). Long known for his defense of Scripture and his concern for the integrity of the Christian life, Packer unsurprisingly combines a strong defense of biblical authority with a stalwart concern for the application of the Bible to the Christian life.
For many years, John Stott has influenced Christians in Europe and North America. InterVarsity Press has released a collection of Stott’s writings in one volume entitled Authentic Christianity, edited by Timothy Dudley-Smith. The volume is a helpful repository of Stott’s major themes and contributions.
Thomas C. Reeves, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, an insightful critique of the contemporary church in The Empty Church (The Free Press). Reeves reviews the contemporary state of the Christian churches, reveals the twists and turns of recent ecumenical foibles, and lays bare the emptiness of many contemporary churches. His book is not happy, but it is important.
Preachers have always enjoyed biographies, and three recent offerings will be greeted with pleasure. Dairmaid MacCulloch has offered a magisterial biography of Thomas Cranmer, which is not likely to be exceeded in scope or insight. Thomas Cranmer (Yale University Press) reveals the complexity of Cranmer’s character as well as the dangers of his time. MacCulloch presents Cranmer as a “hesitant hero” whose martyrdom sealed the influence of his legacy; a legacy which includes the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
David Brainerd: Pioneer Missionary to the American Indians (Evangelical Press) by John Thornbury is a helpful addition to our knowledge of this frontier preacher. Brainerd’s testimony has long been prized for its spiritual power. Thornbury, who brings the heart of a pastor to insightful historical scholarship, here offers a reflective and energetic presentation of Brainerd’s life and ministry.
The writings of C. S. Lewis continue to grow in readership and in appreciation, both among the general public and especially among Christian preachers and teachers. Michael Coren, a Canadian journalist who has long been fascinated with Lewis now offers insights into this pivotal author in The Man Who Created Narnia: The Story of C. S. Lewis (Eerdman’s). Readers already familiar with Lewis’ life will find documentation, anecdotes, and illustrations. Those unacquainted with Lewis will find the volume a very helpful introduction to his biography. For those who may not own an adequate collection of Lewis’ writings, Walter Hooper has authored a very helpful interpretation compendium in C. S. Lewis: Companion and Guide (HarperCollins).
Finally, preachers will want to note two books likely to spawn fertile thoughts. David Lyle Jeffrey, Professor of English Literature at the University of Ottawa, has released People of the Book: Christian Identity and Literary Culture (Eerdman’s). Jeffrey provides a fascinating argument concerning the literary character of Christianity and offers keen insights into the recovery of literary culture for Christian identity.
In a similar style, with a very different scope, historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto offers a quick run through the last thousand years in Millennium: A History of the Last Thousand Years (Simon and Schuster). Fernandez-Armesto, also a faculty member at Oxford University, has offered a truly interesting guide through the last millennium. As the dawn of the 21st century approaches, the historical context offered by this volume is exceedingly helpful. This is a volume preachers may wish to tuck in their case for reading over the year. The narrative is well-written and the book will hold the reader’s attention.
Arthur Schopenhauer once quipped: “To buy books would be a great thing if we also could buy time to read them.” Yet a book left unread is a promise left unfulfilled. Preachers are tied to books because we care deeply about the word in order that we might more faithfully preach the Word in truth and power.

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