When Paul wrote to Timothy requesting that he come quickly, he also asked Timothy to bring his books and parchments. Any preacher will understand this urgent request, since books are such an important staple of our work. Indeed, most ministers amass a library which is as important to their work as any other earthly possession.
Given the explosion of printed materials, Timothy would have a difficult time carrying a minister’s library all the way to Rome. Each year, literally thousands of books are released to the religious market. Though many of these are popular titles intended for the mass market, many are specifically intended for preachers.
In the field of biblical studies, several long-term projects are now reaching completion. In particular, multiple commentary series are releasing new volumes. Some are new to the series, while others replace older volumes.
One of the unusual characteristics of commentary series in the recent era is that updated volumes are replacing some older classics. Furthermore, several long-awaited volumes in incomplete series have now been released.
In The New International Commentary on the Old Testament an important release is the first volume of a soon-to-be completed two volume work The Book of Ezekiel by Daniel I. Block (Eerdmans). This 850-page volume covers the first twenty-four chapters of this important Old Testament book. Block, a premier Old Testament scholar, began work on this commentary in 1983. Thus, the work demonstrates a commitment of nearly fifteen years in the research and writing of this commentary. As Block explains, “For many Christians, Ezekiel is too strange and his book too complex and bizarre to deserve serious attention. So the prophet remains a mystery. This commentary has been driven by a single passion: to make this prophecy understandable and meaningful for contemporary readers. In recording my observations, I have constantly tried to imagine what questions students of Scripture ask when they pick up the book of Ezekiel.” Preachers will welcome this commentary to their libraries.
Another helpful commentary has appeared in The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Paul Barnett’s The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Eerdmans) actually replaces a volume by Philip E. Hughes. Barnett, formerly Master of Robert Menzies College at McQuery University, currently serves as Bishop of North Sydney in Australia. As the publishers of the series stated, the release of this new volume allows the author to “take into account the recent rhetorical and sociological inquiry in elucidating the meaning of the text.” Given the sociology of Corinth and recent research into Corinthian culture, this approach should prove helpful.
Students of the New Testament will be pleased by the release of Romans in The Anchor Bible series (Doubleday). This new volume, written by Joseph A. Fitzmyer, is a massive consideration of this central New Testament book. Fitzmyer, who is Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at the Catholic University of America, also served as president of both the Society of Biblical Literature and the Catholic Biblical Association. The volume is a significant interpretation of the book of Romans. Fitzmyer has been heavily involved in conversation with Protestant New Testament scholars, and this commentary shows the fruit of his investigations.
Ten Books Every Preacher Should Read
John Piper, A Godward Life (Multnomah)
Joseph Fitzmeyer, Romans, Anchor Bible Commentary (Doubleday)
George M. Marsden, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship (Oxford University Press)
Robert H. Stein, Jesus the Messiah: A Survey of the Life of Christ (InterVarsity)
John H. Leith, Crisis in the Church (Westminster/John Knox Press)
Robert Wuthnow, The Crisis in the Churches: Spiritual Malaise, Fiscal Woe (Oxford University Press)
Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary (Wm. B. Eerdmans)
Joseph Tkach, Transformed by Truth (Multnomah)
R.C. Sproul, Grace Unknown (Baker)
Harold O.J. Brown, The Sensate Culture: Western Civilization Between Chaos and Transformation (Word Books)
A return to theological exegesis marks the release of The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary by Herman Ridderbos (Eerdmans). Ridderbos includes a thorough consideration of modern Johannine research and scholarship. Nevertheless, he consistently approaches the gospel of John as a theological exposition of the life and ministry of Jesus. As Ridderbos stated, “It seemed to be meaningful, in view of the purpose of this commentary, to furnish the reader a theological introduction, one that explains how, gradually and in broad outline, the contours of what one might call the peculiar character of the Fourth Gospel, especially on the basis of itself, have emerged for me.” Ridderbos, well known on the continent for his New Testament scholarship, taught for many years at the Theological School of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands.
Preachers will find the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (Zondervan) of great interest and assistance. This series, long in progress, is the companion to the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, edited by Colin Brown. This new dictionary, edited by Willem A. Van Gemeren, assumes a working knowledge of Hebrew, but will be of assistance even to those who are not comfortable with the original language. The five-volume set will be a happy addition to any preacher’s library.
A new approach centered on historical, social and cultural backgrounds of biblical passages is represented by The IVP Bible Background Commentary (InterVarsity Press). The first volume, covering Genesis through Deuteronomy, is written by John H. Walton and Victor H. Matthews. Preachers will find this volume and successive volumes in this series helpful in understanding the important background considerations to the biblical text.
Also released in recent months was Leviticus: A Commentary (Westminster / John Knox Press) by Erhards Gerstenberger. This volume is included in “The Old Testament Library” series begun decades ago. Other notable titles include Theology of the Old Testament by Walter Brueggemann (Fortress Press). Brueggemann, who teaches at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia, here demonstrates a revisionist and postmodernist approach to the theology of the Old Testament.
Mark Saucy approaches some of the most heated New Testament controversies in The Kingdom of God and the Teaching of Jesus in Twentieth Century Theology (Word). Saucy, who teaches theology at Kiev Theological Seminary in Ukraine, reviews the kingdom of God as approached in New Testament studies and theology of the past century and offers his own helpful suggestions.
James D.G. Dunn, well know to students of the New Testament, has released The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon in The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Eerdmans). This is an important series which gives serious attention to the Greek text, and will be very helpful to preachers studying the Greek New Testament. New volumes in the expanding Word Biblical Commentary include David Aune’s Revelation, which covers only the first five chapters of the book, and will be followed by companion volumes. This commentary, when completed, is likely to be the most thorough commentary on the book of Revelation to be published this century. The second volume of Daniel A. Hagner’s commentary on Matthew 14-28 was released in the same series.
N.T. Wright, one of the most prolific New Testament scholars of the modern era, has released several seminal volumes including Jesus and the Victory of God (Fortress Press), The Original Jesus: The Life and Vision of a Revolutionary (Eerdmans), What Saint Paul Really Said (Eerdmans), and The Lord and His Prayer (Eerdmans). Wright is both engaging and controversial. He has assailed the anti-supernaturalistic bias of the Jesus Seminar and the revisionist work of historian A. N. Wilson on the Apostle Paul. At the same time, Wright offers his own revisionist understanding of the New Testament, and his work is certain to be fiercely debated. In any event, he remains a scholar whose work demands to be taken seriously and whose writings are both lucid and provocative.
Another important book on Christology in the New Testament is The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith: The Incarnational Narrative as History by C. Steven Evans (Oxford University Press). Evans serves as Professor of Philosophy and William Spoelhof Scholar at Calvin College in Michigan. Evans categorically denies that the historicity of the Jesus narrative in the New Testament is unimportant. To the contrary, he insists that the post-Enlightenment distinction between the Christ of faith and the Jesus of history cannot be maintained.
Another helpful reconsideration of the life of Jesus is offered by Robert H. Stein in Jesus the Messiah: A Survey of the Life of Christ (InterVarsity Press). Stein, who recently joined the faculty of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, here offers a very careful engagement of the life of Jesus and an evangelical approach to understanding the life of Christ as revealed in the biblical data.
Preachers dealing with the doctrine of creation and its intersection with modern science will appreciate Douglas F. Kelly’s Creation and Change: Genesis in the Light of Changing Scientific Paradigms (Mentor Books). Kelly, who teaches at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC, offers a most helpful and insightful consideration of the modern debate. He argues convincingly for a literal interpretation of Genesis chapters one and two.
In the field of theology several imprint volumes were also released. R. C. Sproul, one of evangelicalism’s most popular theologians, has released Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will (Baker Book House). In this volume Sproul considers the issue of free will within the total understanding of the gospel. That is, he considers the debate over free will within an understanding of the totality of God’s plan of redemption. He convincingly affirms both human responsibility and God’s sovereignty. In Grace Unknown: The Heart of Reformed Theology (Baker Book House), Sproul provides a very helpful introduction to the Reformed theological tradition. In Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification (Baker Book House), Sproul energetically argues for the essential doctrine of justification by faith alone. His works will be helpful to any preacher serious about engaging these crucial doctrines.
Debates over the doctrine of creation and the challenge of modern science continue to mark popular culture and the life of the churches. One of the most helpful guides through recent debates has been Phillip Johnson. In his previous works, Darwin on Trial (InterVarsity Press) and Reason in the Balance (InterVarsity Press), Johnson deconstructed the intellectual underpinnings of the evolutionary world view. Now, Johnson has turned to write a more concise book, focusing his arguments for a popular leadership. In Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds (InterVarsity Press), Johnson, who was a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Chicago, provides a treatment of these issues and a critique of evolutionary naturalism which will be accessible to both high school students and challenging to those with much experience in the field. A Professor of Law at the University of California at Berkeley, Johnson has emerged as a major figure in the national debate over these issues.
Charles Colson, another important figure in modern American religious life, has released Burden of Truth (Tyndale). In this volume, Colson continues his creative work in apologetics and attention to the Christian world view. Two important theological works have come from England. In Theology Through the Theologians (T & T Clark), Colin E. Gunton considers the task of theology as understood by theologians ranging from Anselm of Canterbury to Reinhold Niebuhr. His work is creative and insightful. Gunton, who serves as Professor of Christian Doctrine at King’s College, University of London, is a scholar of stature. Likewise, Ethics and Religion in a Pluralistic Age by Brian Hebblethwaite (T & T Clark), is a fascinating engagement of modern ethical, theological, and cultural studies.
The debate over classical theism versus the revisionist is well demonstrated in two books recently released by InterVarsity Press. In The Case for Freewill Theism, David Basinger argues the philosophical case for the revisionist doctrine of God offered by several evangelicals who wish to reject the classical doctrine of God in favor of a more “open” understanding of divine power, knowledge, and character. The “freewill theism” they offer is convincingly countered, however, by R.K. McGregor Wright in No Place for Sovereignty: What’s Wrong with Freewill Theism (InterVarsity Press). Wright offers a devastating critique of those who now deny the omniscience and omnipotence of God in favor of a revisionist deity more compatible with the contemporary scientific world view. Wright counters what he assails as “Finite Godism” and makes his case on the basis of both theological argument and biblical exegesis.
An important consideration of modern culture through a biblical world view is offered by Ravi Zacharias in Deliver Us From Evil: Restoring the Soul in a Disintegrating Culture (Word). Likewise, Harold O. J. Brown provides a fascinating view of modern culture in The Sensate Culture: Western Civilization Between Chaos and Transformation (Word). Building on the work of Harvard Sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, Brown critiques a culture deeply in rebellion against God.
Another helpful approach to the cultural context is offered by James Montgomery Boice in Two Cities, Two Loves: Christian Responsibility in a Crumbling Culture (InterVarsity Press). Boice, well known to evangelical readers, re-visits the Augustinian conception of the two cities in a very helpful argument.
Millard J. Erickson, a premier professor of theology, offers an important consideration of trends within evangelicalism in The Evangelical Left: Encountering Postconservative Evangelical Theology (Baker Book House). Erickson’s argument should be read carefully by all those concerned for the integrity of evangelical Christianity.
Over the last several years, much debate has centered on recent proposals for common understanding adopted by evangelicals and Roman Catholics. Now, a broadening of that agenda is apparent as evangelical Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox believers have met together for a consideration of our cultural challenge. In Reclaiming the Great Tradition: Evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox in Dialogue (InterVarsity Press), we can see the results of a recent conference which sought to establish a foundation for cobeligerence and cultural engagement from these three important traditions. Readers will judge for themselves how successful this effort will prove to be.
In the field of apologetics a helpful volume has been offered by R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas. Their book, In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive for God’s Action in History (InterVarsity Press), is a stalwart defense of the integrity of the biblical miracles against modern skepticism.
Other helpful volumes released in the past year will interest preachers. Among these is Christ Triumphant: Biblical Perspectives on His Church and Kingdom by Raymond O. Zorn (Banner of Truth). Zorn offers an important consideration of the relation between Israel and the church and how both should be seen in light of the Kingdom.
One of the most fascinating stories in modern American religious life is the transformation of the group established by Herbert W. Armstrong, the Worldwide Church of God, into an Orthodox Christian tradition. In Transformed by Truth Joseph Tkach, the current President and Pastor General of the Worldwide Church of God, offers his testimony of the group’s rejection of the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong and its progressive embrace of historic Christianity. As this group embraces orthodox Christianity, we can see the almost unprecedented development of a religious cult into a distinctive Christian tradition. Though the group still has serious issues to resolve, this is a fascinating account which deserves the attention of preachers.
John Leith, who taught for many years at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, offers an insightful view into mainline Protestantism and theological education in Crisis in the Church (Westminster/John Knox Press). Leith’s pessimistic analysis is buttressed with clear argument and persuasive data.
Continuing his important work in engaging the modern academy, George M. Marsden offers critical proposals in The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship (Oxford University Press). As Marsden argues, “University culture is not necessarily hostile to religion; but the norm for people to be fully accepted in academic culture is to act as though their religious beliefs have nothing to do with education.” This book is important, not only for students and those engaged in the academy, but also for caring pastors and all those who are concerned for the vitality of Christian faith in the world of modern academia.
In devotional literature, preachers will welcome the newest offering by John Piper, A Godward Life: Savoring the Supremacy of God in All of Life (Multnomah). Piper, Senior Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is no stranger to his fellow preachers. In this book of readings, Piper continues his helpful recovery of authentic Christian devotion through the faithfulness of a Godward discipleship. In A Hunger for God (Crossway Books), Piper presents a biblical approach to fasting and prayer. He calls for a biblical balance between self-denial and self-indulgence, and an absolute commitment to the supremacy of God in all things.
Practical assistance and keen analysis is offered by Thorn S. Rainer in The Bridger Generation (Broadman & Holman). Rainer, who serves as Dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, offers a most valuable consideration of this generation, second in size only to the baby boomers. Rainer argues that the “bridgers,” born between 1977 and 1994, offer both challenge and hope to the church. His analysis is vitally important as churches will seek to minister to this generation, thus far neglected in most demographic analyses.
Robert Wuthnow, Professor of Sociology at Princeton University, continues his seminal works in American religion with The Crisis in the Churches: Spiritual Malaise, Fiscal Woe (Oxford University Press). Wuthnow argues that the most important problem facing America’s churches is not fiscal, but spiritual. He asserts that the fiscal downturn in many churches is related to a lack of spiritual direction and substance. His careful consideration of life in the pew will offer both warning and insight to preachers.
In American Evangelicalism: Its Theology and Practice, Darius Salter, currently Professor of Christian Preaching and Pastoral Theology at Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO, offers a comprehensive survey of American evangelism along with proposals for evangelism in the 21st century. In Church Evangelism (Broadman & Holman), John Mark Terry offers helpful suggestions toward creating a culture for growth in the local church. Terry is convinced that evangelism does not just “happen,” but grows out of a congregational culture committed to growth and to reaching persons with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Two important autobiographies have been released by famous literary figures. In The Quest for God: A Personal Pilgrimage (HarperCollins), historian Paul Johnson offers a fascinating recollection of his Christian experience. Similarly, William F. Buckley, Jr., a scion of American literature and politics, offers his own autobiography in Nearer, My God (Doubleday). In this volume, Buckley writes with the same lucid prose and tight argument found in his newspaper column and other books.
No consideration of recent releases can be complete. Indeed, the publishers continue to release volumes at an unprecedented rate. Nevertheless, preachers should consider with care both the quantity and quality of the materials read during a given year.
The serious and committed preacher will reserve time for reading material deeply challenging in terms of theological and biblical substance, and works which offer genuine help for the practical issues of ministry.
Books may not be the preacher’s best friends, but worthy volumes do become helpful and insightful colleagues in the quiet sanctuary of the preacher’s study. This year’s releases call for both reading and reflection.

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