Books have been a central furnishing for the life of the minister from the time of the New Testament until now. Nevertheless, the transformation of the book into its current most popular form as a printed work between two covers is a story unto itself. We are now witnessing a third major transformation of the printed text—away from absolute dependence upon the codex and toward alternative formats such as the e-book.
According to publishing authorities, 2010 recorded more than $1 billion in sales of e-books. Amazon.com reports that its largest number of sales of leading titles now sold now are for reading on its Kindle reading device. During the past year, many pastors have discovered the iPad as an indispensible tool for ministry and reading.
Nevertheless, when all that has been said, preachers may be among the very last who will allow the printed book to be pried from their fingers. Why? The answer to that is quite simple: It is difficult for us to imagine the work of ministry without the physical reality of books.
Gladly, the past year has seen the publication of a worthy torrent of books that deserve the preacher’s attention. It is to a select number of those books that we now turn.
As always, biblical commentaries form the core of the working library for most preachers. The wise preacher chooses carefully among available commentaries, but this does not always mean choosing commentaries with which one will always agree. The careful preacher will want to hear many voices in coming to terms with the text, but will find certain commentaries of far greater value than others.
Among the important volumes published in the past year is Genesis by R.R. Reno, published in the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Brazos Press). Reno, professor of theological ethics at Creighton University, here provides an interesting engagement with Genesis, featuring a fascinating theological conversation among its pages.
Preachers will welcome the revision of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. In this new edition, the series is edited by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. The new edition of volume four, covering 1 Chronicles through Job, includes commentary by Frederick J. Mabie, Edwin M. Yamauchi, Elaine Philips and Elmer B. Smick. Preachers will welcome this volume, remembering what the original editor, Frank Gaebelein wrote in 1979: “The title of this work finds its purpose. Written primarily by expositors for expositors, it aims to provide preachers, teachers and students of the Bible with a new and comprehensive commentary on the books of the Old and the New Testament.”
Volume seven, covering Jeremiah through Ezekiel, includes commentaries written by Michael L. Brown, Paul W. Ferris Jr. and Ralph H. Alexander. If the old adage that the best commentary is the commentary most used, preachers are likely to find volumes such as these to be of particular interest.
Following Gaebelein’s advice that there is great value in exposition done by expositors, preachers will want to read Ecclesiastes: Why Everything Matters by Philip Graham Ryken in the “Preaching the Word” series (Crossway). Ryken, recently inaugurated as president of Wheaton College, served for many years as senior minister of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He is a gifted preacher and scholar, and preachers will find great help in this commentary.
Similarly, Richard D. Phillips has produced a worthy commentary in Jonah & Micah, published in the Reformed Expository Commentary Series (P&R). “I will not be the first Bible teacher to point out our great need to recover the Old Testament today,” Phillips writes. “The New Testament is of course indispensible to Christians and justly loved by us all; but the Old Testament presents the same God, the same gospel and the same issues of sin and redemption in the form of historical events that powerfully connect with us today.”
Other commentaries welcomed by the preacher will include Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi by Iain M. Duguid (Evangelical Press). Duguid, who is professor of Old Testament at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, also serves as pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church. Dale Ralph Davis, teaching elder at Woodland Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg, Miss., has written Micah (Evangelical Press). Davis formerly served on the faculty of Reformed Theological Seminary, and he brings experience as preacher and teacher to this important Old Testament prophet.
Additional Old Testament commentaries published in recent months include The Psalms as Christian Worship: An Historical Commentary by Bruce K. Waltke and James M. Houston (Eerdmans), The Book of Hosea in The New International Commentary on the Old Testament by J. Andrew Dearman (Eerdmans), Longing for God in an Age of Discouragement: The Gospel According to Zechariah by Bryan R. Gregory (P&R) and Teaching Isaiah: Unlocking Isaiah for the Bible Teacher by David Jackman (Christian Focus). Many preachers will recognize David Jackman as the former president of the Proclamation Trust in Great Britain.
Turning to the New Testament, several important commentaries have been released during the past year. Among these, preachers will welcome Ephesians in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament by Frank Thielman. Thielman, who teaches New Testament at Beeson Divinity School, has written a major scholarly commentary on Ephesians that preachers will find of great value.
Two volumes have appeared in the important Pillar New Testament Commentary Series. Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner have produced The First Letter to the Corinthians (Eerdmans). This massive commentary represents years of scholarship, and preachers will find this volume to be of tremendous service as they come to terms with this important Pauline epistle. Similarly, Peter T. O’Brien, who teaches New Testament at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia, has written The Letter to the Hebrews (Eerdmans). “Hebrews is a magnificent New Testament document,” O’Brien writes. “It is carefully constructed and beautifully written, theologically profound and powerfully argued.”
Additional New Testament commentaries include Thomas R. Schreiner’s Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Galatians and Clinton E. Arnold’s Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Ephesians (Zondervan). Both of these commentaries will be of tremendous value to preachers. Schreiner offers a careful exposition of Galatians that is well informed by contemporary controversies.
Other recent volumes include Matthew and Mark in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary Series, written by D.A. Carson, Walter W. Wessel and Mark Strauss; Acts: Witnesses to Him by Bruce Milne (Christian Focus); and Acts in the St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary by R.C. Sproul (Crossway).
Preachers also will want to know of the publication of Hebrews by David L. Allen, dean of the School of Theology and professor of preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. This commentary is published in The New American Commentary Series (B&H).
Preachers will welcome worthy books in biblical theology precisely because they help paint the big picture of Scripture’s master narrative. Preachers must start with God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology by James M. Hamilton Jr. (Crossway). Hamilton has written a brilliant biblical theology that focuses on the concept of salvation through judgment. It is a worthy book by a promising scholar. Preachers also will welcome Thomas R. Schreiner’s Magnifying God in Christ: A Summary of New Testament Theology (Baker). Schreiner, one of the most prolific New Testament scholars of our time, here authors a volume that is accessible and insightful.
An important new volume that helps us understand the role of the church in the contemporary world is Living in God’s Two Kingdoms by David VanDrunen (Crossway). VanDrunen is professor of systematic theology and Christian ethics at Westminster Seminary in California. In this book, he helps focus on the responsibility of the church in this age and in two kingdoms.
Other interesting and informative books include Atonement by a writing team that includes J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul and Alistair Begg (P&R), 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law by Thomas R. Schreiner and Benjamin Merkle (Kregel) and Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles by Andres J. Köstenberger and Terry L. Wilder (B&H).
In recent years, there has been something of a renaissance of theological interest. Books worthy of the pastor’s attention include two important works on Scripture. First, The Doctrine of the Word of God by John M. Frame (P&R) is a massive volume representing the fourth contribution to Frame’s series, A Theology of Lordship. This important book is worth the pastor’s diligent reading. Similarly, we all are indebted to D.A. Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. In Collected Writings on Scripture (Crossway), Carson offers a wealth of theological firepower in an unprecedented single-volume collection.
One of the most interesting works to appear in recent months is Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Baker Books). Copan, who teaches at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida, has written an important contribution to the debate about the character of God as revealed in the Old Testament. This book truly belongs on every preacher’s bookshelf.
An interesting work in biblical theology is Arie C. Leder’s Waiting for the Land: The Story Line of the Pentateuch (P&R). A helpful book on the Lord’s Supper is The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes, Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford (B&H).
Other important theological works released during the past year include B.A. Gerrish’s Thinking with the Church: Essays in Historical Theology (Eerdmans), Worshiping with the Church Fathers by Christopher A. Hall (IVP), God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom by Graham A. Cole (IVP) and Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry by Michael Lawrence (Crossway). In terms of historical theology, preachers will find a wealth in Shapers of Christian Orthodoxy, edited by Bradley G. Green (IVP).
Preachers also should welcome biographies such as Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson). Metaxas offers an interpretation of Bonhoeffer’s theology that is helpful and likely to spark interest. His telling of Bonhoeffer’s biography is masterful. Likewise, preachers will find interest in Ron Gleason’s biography, Herman Bavinck: Pastor, Churchman, Statesman and Theologian (P&R).
Wayne Grudem has contributed a massive study, Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture (Zondervan). Great help also will be found in the publication of a revised and updated edition of Ethics for a Brave New World by John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg (Crossway Books).
Pastoral helps for the preacher will be found in The Faithful Parent: A Biblical Guide to Raising a Family by Martha Peace and Stuart W. Scott (P&R) and Wayne Mack’s Maximum Impact: Living and Loving for God’s Glory (P&R). Good works in some of the most important ethical issues of the day include Tim Chester’s Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free (IVP), and Bioethics and the Christian Life: A Guide to Making Difficult Decisions by David VanDrunen (Crossway).
Additionally, pastors will welcome What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage by Paul David Tripp (Crossway). Other books of interest to the preacher will include Eric L. Johnson’s edited volume Psychology and Christianity: Five Views (IVP) and Apologetics for the 21st Century by Louis Markos (Crossway).
Brett McCracken has written a thought-provoking book in Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide (Baker), raising some of the most fundamental questions concerning the shape of evangelicalism in the future. Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge have contributed a heart-warming volume preachers will welcome in A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir (Zondervan).
Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney have assisted us all by offering a five-volume series on Jonathan Edwards titled The Essential Edwards Collection. These volumes cover Jonathan Edwards in terms of his love of God and his teachings on beauty, heaven and hell, true Christianity and the good life. Strachan and Sweeney bring Edwards to life and make him accessible to every reader.
Other books that should be on the pastor’s reading agenda for the coming year include American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us by Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell (Simon & Schuster), To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davidson Hunter (Oxford University Press), Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults by Christian Smith with Patricia Snell (Oxford University Press) and Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church by Kenda Creasy Dean (Oxford University Press). The works by Christian Smith and Kenda Dean are based on a massive research project that offers essential insights into the actual beliefs and Christian practices of young adults. Both books are bracing reads that will challenge everyone who cares about the generation of young Christians before us. James Davidson Hunter’s latest book considers the possibilities and perils of cultural engagement as the church experiences the pressures of the late modern age.
Three books deal with the challenge of Christian thinking in our times. These include John Piper’s Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God (Crossway Books), Bradley G. Green’s The Gospel and The Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life (Crossway) and Alister McGrath’s, The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind (IVP). All three of these volumes come as timely reminders of the responsibility of Christians to be engaged intellectually as a part of our worship of God. All three offer keen insights and they arrive as Christians in this generation are summoned by an unprecedented call to intellectual engagement.
This much is clear—preachers will need books as surgeons need the tools of their trade. We simply cannot faithfully serve unless we faithfully read. With that in mind, preachers are likely to find plenty of worthy titles to deserve our attention in the year ahead.