“I cannot live without books,” Thomas Jefferson famously said. For Jefferson, that was probably something of an exaggeration. Preachers of the gospel, nevertheless, fully understand the impulse behind his statement.

The importance of books has been, from the very beginning, paramount to the Christian faith. At the end of his life, the apostle Paul asked Timothy to bring books with him when he came to visit (2 Tim. 4:13). So, while it is not true that preachers cannot live without books, it is probably true that we cannot thrive without books.

This most recent year has witnessed the publication of many worthy titles. This year saw several important biblical commentaries released, along with some very notable biblical and theological studies. Many important theological works appeared in the past year, including a considerable number of books addressed to pastoral ministry and the local church.

The following 10 books particularly deserve a preacher’s attention, each of which add something distinctive and worthy to pastoral ministry and personal development—intellectually and spiritually.

Leland Ryken, J.I. Packer: An Evangelical Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015)
It is hard to imagine an evangelical figure that could eclipse the influence of J.I. Packer. The story of English-speaking evangelicalism on both sides of the Atlantic cannot be told without reference to Packer. Through the years, his life and ministry have been the focus of much attention, appreciation and conversation. Yet, until now, there has not been a full-length biography of this major evangelical figure.

Leland Ryken, a longtime professor of English at Wheaton College, is unusually well-equipped to write this biography. Not only does he know J.I. Packer, and therefore able to trace Packer’s influence through decades, but Ryken also is also a superb writer, bringing considerable literary talent to this project.
J.I. Packer’s Knowing God was one of my first introductions to a way of theological thinking that replaced a human frame of reference with a genuinely theological and doxological worldview. Beyond this, Packer staunchly has defended the authority and truthfulness of God’s Word, as well as an entire series of other essential Christian doctrines. In fact, Packer faithfully has engaged almost every major evangelical discussion since World War II.

Including controversial issues, into which Packer also has waded, readers will find this biography interesting and thought-provoking. This is the kind of biography any major theological figure should hope one day would be written of him. With bated breath and no possibility of disappointment, preachers will read this biography with much interest and excitement.

Timothy J. Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Viking, 2015)
Timothy Keller is well known to most evangelicals in America as the pastor and founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Recently, he became respected as a pastoral mentor and model, especially among younger evangelical pastors. As a New York Times best-selling author, Keller has reached many people, who are far outside institutional Christianity and evangelical precincts. Yet, until the publication of this book, Keller’s own understanding of preaching had not been fully revealed.

In this new book, Keller describes his own understanding of the preaching task. A book such as this reveals more than the author often intends. Coming at a mature stage of Keller’s ministry, this book reveals not only Keller’s understanding of preaching, but also what he would have us all believe about preaching as art and science.

Keller believes preaching is irreplaceable, and he offers a thought-provoking work that novices to the most experienced preacher will find enormously helpful. “While we will always require a host of varied forms of Word ministry,” Keller argues, “the specific public ministry of preaching is irreplaceable.”
Keller presents preaching as Christ-centered, and he defines his own preaching as biblical exposition. From the onset, Keller acknowledges that this book is not “a complete textbook on preaching.” Yet by reading an experienced preacher describe in detail his understanding of the great task that is preaching, all preachers will find a good deal of inspiration and encouragement in the book.

Os Guinness, Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2015)
Os Guinness’ goal in this book is to make his readers rethink how authentic Christianity actually engages the world. Those of us who came to adulthood in the evangelical world in the 1970s know Guinness as a disciple of Francis Schaeffer, a man who offered his own helpful apologetic observations and insights along these same lines. Guinness serves as a public intellectual among evangelicals, and in his latest book he points to the need for Christians to learn the essential task of persuasion in an increasingly secular world.

The great value of Guinness’ approach is that he brings enormous erudition and sophistication to his understanding of culture. Rarely is analysis of this quality combined with keen theological insights in the service of the believing church. Guinness, who is certainly capable of being clever, chastens Christians to understand that a truly gospel-centered means of persuasion is based in what he calls “cross talk” rather than clever talk.

To his credit, Guinness points directly to what the apostle Paul calls the scandal of the cross, rather than seeking to minimize the scandalous predicament of biblical Christianity in an increasingly secular context. This book also calls for Christians to understand the necessity of listening, as well as speaking.
“Have we loved enough to listen, or is it that we love to hear the sound of our own answers? Are we really arguing for Christ, or are we expressing our need always to be right?” Guinness asks. This is a book that deserves a careful, slow and generous reading. It certainly deserves a place on the preacher’s reading list.

John M. Frame, A History of Western Philosophy and Theology (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2015)
Certain books represent something of a theological education in themselves. Most of us can look back to specific experiences of reading major works and coming to understand that what we had received in those moments was essentially an entire body of knowledge. Such a book not only makes us want to know more, but also becomes absolutely foundational as a resource and a program for our own thinking.

Such is the case with John Frame’s A History of Western Philosophy and Theology. To refer to this book as encyclopedic would be no surprise to anyone who knows Frame’s academic work. One of the evangelical world’s most influential theologians and apologists, he is also able to trace the development of Western philosophy. In this new work, he distills a lifetime of reading, lecturing, research and reflection in one massive volume. This book deserves a place on a preacher’s bookshelf regardless of whether the preacher intends to sit down and read it entirely.

At many points in any given year, all preachers, including the highly trained and educated, come across theological questions, philosophical references, or evidence for intellectual trajectories that raise essential questions of context and interpretation. This is where John Frame is a master. In this book, he provides a thorough narrative of Western thought and offers an analysis that is essentially unprecedented in recent publishing history.

He engages theology and theological developments in such a way that readers are able to understand how contemporary theological developments fit within the larger historical course of the Western mind. This work is also amazingly contemporary in that it traces the development of Western thought up to the present day. A History of Western Philosophy and Theology will serve every preacher as a challenge and welcome compendium.

Gerald Bray, Augustine on the Christian Life: Transformed by the Power of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015)
It would be hard to argue that any figure in the history of Christian theology since the New Testament could eclipse the influence of Augustine of Hippo. In one sense, all of Western Christendom is Augustinian in basic shape and form. As the Protestant Reformation was launched, Martin Luther and John Calvin argued at great length that they were representing Augustine and honoring his legacy more so than their theological opponents.

At the same time, most preachers know Augustine (if directly at all) only through his Confessions. They often miss the fact that Augustine not only was a titanic theologian but that he was also a working pastor and preacher. As a pastor, Augustine’s understanding of the Christian life is absolutely crucial. In this very important volume, Gerald Bray offers an understanding of Augustine that will encourage every preacher and assist every minister to be more faithful in the pastoral calling.

In explaining his own book, Gerald Bray tells his readers: “Above all, I devoutly desire that all who come to Augustine may be led through him to a deeper understanding and closer relationship with the God of Jesus Christ, to whom he was drawn and in whose service he spent the greater part of his life. It is for that, above all, that we remember him today; and it is only in light of Christ, that his career and his writings can be understood as he meant them to be.” That passion is demonstrated throughout Bray’s work, and Gerald Bray is himself a model theologian who deeply loves the church and—with excellent teaching—builds the church up to follow Christ more faithfully.

Every volume in the series published by Crossway belongs on the preacher’s bookshelf. Previous volumes have considered John Calvin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, John Newton, John Owen, Francis Schaeffer, B.B. Warfield and John Wesley.

Sometimes holding onto the faithfulness of another preacher can be essential to our own ministries. In this work, Bray offers Augustine as a model from whom we can learn much about the Christian life, and thus be greatly strengthened.

Thomas Schreiner, Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015).
A quick look at this title might imply that this volume is written in anticipation of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017. While this assumption would not be completely wrong, we should recognize this book is not only a mere historical celebration of this essential sola of the Reformation. Rather, Schreiner provides a rigorous and accessible defense of the traditional Protestant understanding of justification. He rightly understands and argues that faith alone is essential to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he offers one of the most practical and biblical presentations of justification.

Schreiner is a wonderfully gifted teacher, and his vast experience in New Testament exegesis and theology is evident on every page. Schreiner, however, is also conversant with contemporary controversies concerning the gospel and the crucial doctrine of justification. Confident and unafraid, he wades directly into waters of controversy and offers a reasoned, biblical, thoughtful and pastoral answer to each one of these controversies.

As he takes his readers deep into the New Testament to understand the doctrine of justification, he also demonstrates how this doctrine takes shape in the Christian’s life. Thus, this doctrine becomes the great joy of every gospel-centered church. This volume is published in a series issued by Zondervan on the five solas of the Reformation. Do not wait until 2017 to read this book and its companion volumes.

Various Authors, You Must Read: Books that Have Shaped Our Lives (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 2015)
Several times throughout the year, major magazines, newspapers and other media outlets produce lists of books recommended by influential individuals. As one newspaper editor recently told me, often these reading lists become the most-read publications of each news outlet. For example, every year The Wall Street Journal presents a list of books recommended by authors, politicians and cultural figures, describing the books that have had the greatest impact on each of them.

In order to honor Iain Murray, longtime leader of Banner of Truth, You Must Read offers a collection of essays from a considerable set of evangelical preachers on the books that have had profound impacts on their lives and ministries. I had the honor of contributing to this volume, and I chose to write about a book by Iain Murray himself, The Forgotten Spurgeon.

When I first received the book, I eagerly read it while looking for insights into the books that were recommended. At the same time, I knew I would gain insights into those who were themselves recommending these books. In almost every case, I could see a direct link between the author’s preaching and the influence of the book considered in the volume.

This is the kind of book that should be read as a celebration of the immense power of the printed word. Every one of the books cited within this volume is worthy of the preacher’s time and consideration. This means that You Must Read commends itself as an extraordinarily helpful introduction to each of these recommended books. Preachers and readers alike will enjoy this book’s recommendations about other books.

Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings (FSG Books: New York, 2015)
One of the amazing facts of the 21st century is the enduring influence of so many influential writers from the previous century. What makes this realization more remarkable is that as recently as 50 years ago, the influence of these books continuing into the next century seemed unlikely. This is exactly what characterizes the ongoing influence of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield and Charles Williams. Best remembered as the Inklings, these authors forever are linked together in terms of their works, personalities, literary conversation and influence upon each other.

In this important work, Philip and Carol Zaleski offer what is, to date, the most comprehensive understanding of how these four influential authors shared so much of their lives and literary development together. Furthermore, they accomplished this task with an almost unprecedented intentionality.

In reading The Fellowship, readers are drawn into a world that seemingly no longer exists—a world in which literary lions are seriously engaged with Christian theology. This world displays the majesty of the English language set in the service of literature and reflected throughout life. The Zaleskis candidly handled the personalities and the controversies among the Inklings. The authors allow all four of these figures, as well as a host of their contemporaries, to come to life. Reading this book is as close as we will come to understanding how it would have been to listen in on conversations among these formidable authors.

Preachers will find this book to be a mix of fascinating insight and a compelling catalyst for thought. This volume primarily is concerned with the literary aspects of all of the authors rather than the theological issues that linked the Inklings together. Nevertheless, preachers will find this volume to be a passageway, an opening into a world that seems now so very far away—the world of the Inklings. Those who read this book never will read the works of the Inklings in quite the same way again.

Stephen J. Lawson, The Daring Mission of William Tyndale (Reformation Trust: Orlando, 2015)
Undeniably preachers learn from other preachers, and we should not be embarrassed to admit this. A major historian of the American presidency recently noted that American presidents tend to favor reading lists that include biographies of their predecessors. We almost immediately are able to understand why. All of us desperately want to read about the lives of others who have done what we are called to do.

In this biography of William Tyndale, Steve Lawson demonstrates how a biography can be interesting, as well as fully accessible. This is the kind of biography a preacher will begin to read and find it virtually impossible to put down. Furthermore, its relatively small length means that in an economy of time it offers maximum profit for the avid reader.

Why William Tyndale? Lawson explains that Tyndale is absolutely essential to our understanding of the Reformation, and in particular the English-speaking Reformation. In one of the darkest hours of the struggle for the Reformation, “God raised up William Tyndale, an unmatched individual who possessed extraordinary linguistic skills combined with an unwavering devotion to the Bible.”

Lawson takes us through the story of Tyndale’s life, which reveals the patterns of faithfulness and conviction that led to Tyndale’s martyrdom for the cause of Scripture and the gospel. As Lawson explains, “the enormous debt owed by the English-speaking world to William Tyndale is incalculable. His crafting of the English language introduced new words into our vocabulary that are spoken every day in countries around the world. Ultimately, his work in translating the Bible from its original languages into the tongue of his homeland helped launch the English Reformation.”

Lawson’s biography of Tyndale continues a worthy tradition established in previous volumes in this series. Every one of them deserves a place on the preacher’s bookshelf and reading list. They include biographies of John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, John Knox, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, Isaac Watts, George Whitfield and John Owen. Readers of this William Tyndale biography will find themselves looking for more biographical content such as that found in the magisterial biography of Tyndale by David Daniell. However, Lawson’s biography is an excellent place to start. The great value of this work and its companion volumes is that each work tells the story well, leaving readers wanting to know more.

James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015)
Every volume in the Pillar New Testament Commentary Series is almost essential for the Christian preacher’s library. This series, edited by D.A. Carson, is a rare combination of exegetical rigor, theological insight and spiritual wisdom. This volume on the third gospel is a worthy new release. James R. Edwards, who writes from a long ministry of teaching theology and biblical studies, has distilled a lifetime of study of the Gospel of Luke into this important commentary.

“It is my hope that this commentary will be for church, academy and personal reading a window of understanding and insight into the Third Gospel,” writes Edwards. In a beautiful and straightforward statement, Edwards writes: “It is my understanding that Luke understands Jesus of Nazareth to be the incarnation of the eternal God within human history, who was sent ‘in the fullness of time,’ in fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, and that His death as the righteous Servant of God effects the salvation of Jews and Gentiles, to which the church—which Luke treats in this sequel in Acts—bears saving witness.”

With a beginning such as that, a preacher can be confident that the commentary which follows not only will be helpful but faithful. In this case, the commentary is generously helpful and committed to the faithful exposition of God’s Word.

By instinct, preachers know that commentaries represent something of the spinal column of their libraries. Other works are important, yet few are as regularly urgent. The building of a preaching library around commentaries is vital for lifelong ministry and power in the pulpit. Edwards’ commentary reminds us of how important and helpful commentaries can be.

The torrential flow of books never seems to end, defying many of the predictions of the past several years. Preachers, if no one else, have to understand the reading of books, even if countercultural, is essential and inextricably linked to long-term faithfulness in Christian ministry. Ultimately, our confidence in written words is derivative of our more fundamental confidence in the Bible, the Word of God.

The very reality that God has spoken to us in the Bible reminds us that we are a wordy people. Preachers, among the wordiest of all, understand that the potency of the written word continues beyond what we are told was the age of the book. For preachers, we are still in the age of books, and one of our challenges is choosing which books deserve our time, our eyes and our investment. At the very least, these 10 are a good place to start.

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