The year 2009 ended with the unveiling of the Nook, the new e-reader from Barnes & Noble. It joins the Kindle, the now-dominant e-reader from Amazon.com. Thus, an inordinate amount of attention was directed to the entire question of the future of the book. On one hand, the growing popularity of e-readers and the digital books indicates the printed word has a secure future. On the other hand, the question of the survival of the book—meaning the printing codex between two covers—goes openly questioned.
Anyone seriously concerned that the printed book will decline in popularity need only ask a preacher about that possibility. Even as preachers are making use of digital libraries and online tools for Bible study and digital books, the printed book remains the mainstay of the preacher’s study. While any number of academic journals and other materials may find their way into a digital-only format, preachers (following the example of the Apostle Paul) instinctively will reach for the printed page.
The preacher’s work is localized in the study, and the book remains the basic equipment of that work. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the past year has seen the release of literally hundreds of titles directed to preachers and those in ministry.
Walk into the average pastor’s library and you are likely to see, amid the piles of books, magazines and journals, pride of place given to biblical commentaries. This makes sense as the preaching task is so inherently centered in exegesis and the interpretation of Scripture. The preacher who would rightly divide the Word of truth will spend a considerable amount of time digging into the biblical text with the assistance of skilled guides.
The past year has seen the release of several worthy commentaries, including works on the Old and New Testaments.
Gary V. Smith has released the second of his volumes on Isaiah in The New American Commentary (Broadman & Holman). Smith, now professor of Christian Studies at Union University, has written a thorough and comprehensive commentary on the second half of Isaiah, chapters 40-66. Smith finds comfort and good news in Isaiah’s message. “These prophetic words were written to inform and to persuade people to join the millions who will be enjoying the most fulfilling experience that will be greater than anything they have ever imagined. Once people understand how great God is and what He plans to do for His people, many will want to confess their sins and be forgiven. Then they can confidently know they one day will live in that Holy City with God because their future destiny is secure.”
John L. MacKay, a minister of the Free Church of Scotland and Professor at the Free Church College in Edinburgh also has written a new commentary on Isaiah 40-66 (Evangelical Press). MacKay insists these chapters “record the grand message which Isaiah was given regarding gospel reality.” Preachers will find ample material for the enrichment of preaching in these two commentaries.
Steven Tuell of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary has released “Ezekiel” in the New International Biblical Commentary (Hendrickson Publishers). Tuell understands the challenge of preaching Ezekiel. “Ezekiel is a strange book, depicting strange actions and stranger visions. What is a modern reader to make of this prophet, a bizarre figure who shaves his head with a sword, refuses to mourn the death of his wife and sees visions of wheels, fire and preposterous four-faced creatures?” Ezekiel, he admits, can be “dark, violent and confusing.” At the same time, “Ezekiel is also a book of piercing beauty: Jesus’ image of the Good Shepherd and John’s vision of the river of life and the New Jerusalem both have roots in this odd, ancient book.”
Tremper Longman III of Westmont College has released How to Read Exodus (InterVarsity Press) and 1 Samuel thru 2 Kings: Who Ruled You? (Barbour Publishing), released in its Simplified Bible Commentary Series. A fine devotional commentary is found in Psalm 119 for Life: Living Today in the Light of the Word (Evangelical Publishing) by Hywel R. Jones of Westminster Seminary in California. This little volume is an example of biblical exposition that is grounded in the ministry of preaching to seminary students. Preachers will find it of benefit and encouragement.
Similarly, coinciding with the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin, Banner of Truth has released two major commentaries by the great reformer. The first is Commentary on the Psalms, an abridgment of Calvin’s massive commentary first published in 1557. Calvin understood that a study of Psalms leads to faithfulness in prayer and preaching—and both are modeled in this fine work. Also released is a significant volume, Sermons on Genesis: Chapters One through Eleven (Banner of Truth). Preachers especially will want to note that Calvin preached these messages during the weekday services, held daily in Geneva. These sermons represent Calvin’s faithfulness in preaching the Word and bringing our daily bread to his people. As usual, Banner of Truth has done a magnificent job in the translation, publication and presentation of these volumes.
Another worthy volume on Genesis is found in The Gospel in Genesis: From Fig Leaves to Faith by Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Crossway). The continuing release of sermons from Lloyd-Jones should be an encouragement to every preacher in a double sense: first in the sense that these books are of tremendous value to today’s preacher; second because the continuing publication of these sermon materials come a decade after Lloyd-Jones’ death, which is a reminder of the lasting importance of preaching even beyond the life span of the preacher.
The past year was especially fruitful in terms of commentaries on the New Testament. In just one series alone, the Reformed Expository Commentary, several volumes of significant work and usefulness were released. These include the two volumes on the Book of Luke (P&R Publishing) by Philip Graham Ryken, senior minister at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church. Ryken is a masterful expositor. These two volumes on Luke represent an absolutely magisterial approach to preaching the third gospel. Ryken understands preaching, exegesis, theology and literature—a rare combination worthy of the succession of faithful preaching at Tenth Presbyterian Church. Preachers will greet both of these volumes with enthusiasm.
A similar welcome will be extended to Daniel M. Doriani’s two volumes, Matthew (P&R Publishing). Doriani, Senior Pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Clayton, Mo., was formally dean of the faculty and Professor of New Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary. His two volumes on Matthew are rich in exegesis and spiritual content. The same can be said of Bryan Chapell’s volume Ephesians (P&R Publishing). President of Covenant Theological Seminary, Chapell is well known as a preacher and a teacher of preaching. His volume on Ephesians demonstrates the fruit of his preaching, even as he continues to shape a generation of preachers who are committed to the gospel.
The expository ministry of John MacArthur is unparalleled in our times. The release of MacArthur’s first volume on Luke, Luke 1-5, (Moody Publishers) is an investment in what will be a truly massive commentary on the third gospel when completed. As can be expected, MacArthur brings his relentless approach to biblical exposition to bear on every single text from the first five chapters of Luke.
Preachers also will welcome the newest release in The Pillar New Testament Commentary series. Douglas J. Moo, well known for his commentaries on Romans and James has produced The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (Eerdmans). Speaking of Colossians, Moo argues that this letter “has had an impact on Christian theology and practice out of proportion to its size.” On the other hand, he laments the fact that “most Christians never have studied Philemon; many never have heard it taught or preached.” Preachers will find new resources for preaching these important Pauline letters in this commentary.
Another very important resource is A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters (Zondervan) by Andreas J. Kostenberger, professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as general editor for the Biblical Theology of the New Testament series. This massive 600-page work offers rich theological insights grounded in faithful exegesis. We can hope that a resource like this will help spark a revival of biblical theology in this generation.
Other works released in the field of New Testament include Seeing Things John’s Way: The Rhetoric of the Book of Revelation by David A. deSilva (Westminster John Knox Press), Paul, His Letters and Acts by Thomas E. Phillips (Hendrickson Publishing), Teaching Romans: Volume I by Christopher Ash (Christian Focus Publications), Hebrews: Christ Is Greater by Stephen Ger (AMG Publishers) and Let’s Study Matthew by Mark E. Ross (Banner of Truth).
Finally, three faithful preachers have released books and study guides on particular New Testament books. Matt Chandler, lead pastor of the Village Church in Dallas, Texas, has released a study guide titled Philippians: To Live Is Christ & to Die is Gain (The Hub). The study guide is accompanied by a DVD set of Chandler’s teaching on Philippians. Richard D. Phillips has released Saved by Grace: The Glory of Salvation in Ephesians 2 (P&R Publishing). Phillips, pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, S.C., offers real help for preaching and understanding Ephesians 2. Similarly, R.C. Sproul has produced a most helpful commentary in Romans: The Righteous Shall Live by Faith in the St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Crossway). Sproul, who has inspired an entire generation of evangelicals to teach and preach the Word of God, here models exposition in a commentary based on his preaching at St. Andrew’s Chapel, where he serves as pastor.
The year also saw the publication of a significant number of important volumes in biblical theology. These include Four Views on Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology (Zondervan), in the Counterpoints series. This volume includes contributions by Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Daniel M. Doriani, Kevin J. Vanhoozer and William J. Webb. Reflections are offered by Mark L. Strauss, Al Wolters, and Christopher J.H. Wright. This volume is rare and important as it offers the equivalent of a symposium in biblical theology in less than 400 pages. The exchanges are lively and the discussion is important.
Thomas R. Schreiner has released Run to Win the Prize: Perseverance in the New Testament (Apollos/IVP). Schreiner, professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, here offers a summary of his exploration on the nature and admonitions and warnings in the New Testament. In From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology (Kregel), T. Desmond Alexander offers a compelling and concise account of biblical theology and the “meta-story” of the Bible in its canonical shape. “Good theology always has pastoral implications,” Alexander insists. Therefore, “doctrine and praxis ought to be closely related.” Alexander offers a model of theological concision in this volume.
Other significant books in biblical theology released in the past year include Theology of the New Testament by Udo Schnelle (Baker Academic), Through His Eyes: God’s Perspective on Women in the Bible by Jerram Barrs (Crossway), The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition and Interpretation by John H. Sailhamer (InterVarsity Press), and The Whole Counsel of God: Volume I, God’s Mighty Acts in the Old Testament by Richard C. Gamble (P&R Publishing).
Theology and Ministry
Preachers are avid readers of theology for good reason; we need the constant engagement with biblical, contemporary and historical sources as we attempt to be faithful in every aspect of ministry. Furthermore, we are living in an age that requires an apologetic ministry, and preachers are on the constant watch for books and resources that are genuinely helpful in framing and serving the theological and apologetic task.
Leland Ryken, professor of English at Wheaton College, has authored an important work on the English translation of the Scripture. In Understanding English Bible Translation: The Case for an Essentially Literal Approach (Crossway), Ryken makes an eloquent and impassioned plea for trustworthiness and respectfulness in Bible translation.
Lanier Burns has produced The Nearness of God: His Presence with His People (P&R Publishing). Burns offers an exploration of the essential biblical theme of the nearness of God in the face of an increasingly impersonal and technological world.
Given the significance of our apologetic task, preachers will welcome the publication of Christian Apologetics Past and Present: A Primary Source Reader, edited by William Edgar and K. Scott Oliphant (Crossway). This book, the first volume of an eventual two-volume work, covers Christian history from the New Testament to the year 1500. The readings are well chosen and offer an accessible avenue of understanding the apologetic contributions of writers ranging from Justin Martyr to Thomas Aquinas and Giralamo Savonarola. Students of apologetics will welcome the publication of Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John M. Frame (P&R Publishing, edited by John J. Hughes). This important work introduces and interprets the work of one of the most significant apologists and theologians of our time.
The challenge of ministering to the family directs attention to Perspectives on Family Ministry: Three Views (B&H Academic), edited by Timothy Paul Jones. Jones, professor of Leadership and Church Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has pulled together a team including Paul Renfro, Brandon Shields and Jay Strother to consider some of the most important models of family ministry in today’s church. Similarly, pastors will want to know of Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting (P&R Publishing), by William P. Farley of Grace Christian Fellowship in Spokane, Washington. This is truly an important work that demonstrates a biblical and theological understanding of parenthood. Farley also has released Outrageous Mercy: Rediscovering the Radical Nature of the Cross (P&R Publishing).
Those looking for help in understanding the emerging church will want to read Evangelicals Engaging Emergent: A Discussion of the Emergent Church Movement, edited by William D. Henard and Adam W. Greenway (B&H Academic). Another approach is offered by Jim Belcher in Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional (InterVarsity Press).
Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan has become one of the best-known Christian authors of our day. In Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power and the Only Hope that Matters (Dutton), Keller demonstrates an approach that is simultaneously apologetic and kerygmatic. Those who enjoyed his two recent books, The Reason for God and The Prodigal God, will welcome this new volume, as well.
Mark Driscoll, founding pastor and lead preaching pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle has written Vintage Church: Timeless Truths and Timely Methods (Crossway) and Religion Saves, Plus Nine Other Misconceptions (Crossway). Driscoll, offers an energetic defense of a truly substantial ecclesiology in Vintage Church, reversing the trend toward superficial understandings of the church that have become so popular in our pragmatic and programmatic age. Driscoll points far beyond the common notion of the church as a voluntary organization and instead grounds his vision in the church as the body of Christ. In Religion Saves, Driscoll takes on a series of nine difficult and controversial questions in the church today.
Preachers find constant encouragement in the example of Jonathan Edwards. Much of this has been sustained by an industry related to Edwards’ scholarship. The massive Edwards project undertaken by Yale University has been of enormous service to Edwards’ scholarship, but those volumes are outside the reach of many pastors. Two recent books help to close that gap. In The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards, (Reformation Trust) Stephen J. Lawson offers an insightful, moving and humbling vision of Edwards as preacher and pastor. As Lawson remarks, “It was God, majestic and holy in His intimate being, whose sovereignty knows no limits, whose grace knows no bounds, whom Edwards kept constantly before his adoring eyes. It was God, sufficient in Himself and all-sufficient for His people, whom Edwards sought with all his might to please. It was God who became Edwards’ goal in daily Christian living and whom he pursued with radical resolve and holy ambition.”
Douglas A. Sweeney, professor of Church History at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, offers a truly helpful introduction to Edwards in Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word (InterVarsity Press). Sweeney begins with the acknowledgement that it is impossible to duplicate the ministry of Jonathan Edwards. He does not attempt to make “Edwards clones” of his students. Nevertheless, he writes: “I must admit, however, that I am so compelled by Edwards’ devotion to the reality of the divine, the divinity of the Bible and the Bible’s importance for life, that I found myself attempting to make it contagious. So many of my students, moreover, have caught the Edwards bug that they feel guilty, all too often, for failing to minister as he did.”
The ministry of John Piper at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis continues to influence scores of ministers around the world. The past year saw the release of at least four volumes from the ministry of John Piper and Desiring God. These include Finally Alive (Christian Focus Publications), Piper’s exposition of the meaning of the new birth. In Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ (Crossway), Piper continues his now legendary series of biographical studies as he considers the lives of William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson and John Paton. This volume represents the fifth book in Piper’s series The Swans Are Not Silent, in which he considers the contemporary and lasting legacy of some of the most faithful Christian pastors, preachers, missionaries and leaders of past generations.
In This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence (Crossway), Piper offers an anecdote to the many books on marriage that center on nothing more than romance and the emotional dimension of the marital bond. This Momentary Marriage is richly biblical, deeply theological and moving. The Power of Words and the Wonder of God (Crossway), edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor, is another in the series of volumes produced by Piper’s annual Desiring God conference. Preachers will find this volume of particular interest as it deals with the power and meaning of words, especially in the context of the church and Christian ministry. Contributors range from Sinclair B. Ferguson to Bob Kauflin.
Bruce Gordon of Yale Divinity School has produced an important biography, Calvin (Yale University Press). Given the importance of the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth, this volume will interest many preachers and is noteworthy for his attention to John Calvin the man, with all his human passions, as well as his theological convictions. Bryan Chappell’s Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape our Practice (Baker Academic) an important book about worship that should be read by every preacher.
Other important books of the year include Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches by Russell D. Moore (Crossway), dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary. Moore offers the most theologically comprehensive understanding of adoption in terms of its place in the gospel and the glory of God demonstrated in the rescue of orphans. The book is compelling, deeply moving and genuinely important.
Bruce A. Ware has produced Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God (Crossway), a volume that is designed for use by parents as they help their children understand the basics of the Christian faith. Even as this was Ware’s main intention, he also has produced an independent book that is an exceedingly helpful primer of Christian doctrine that will be helpful to any believer.
In The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything, (Matthias Media) Colin Marshall and Tony Payne offer a truly compelling and authentically biblical understanding of a scripturally structured ministry in the local church. The book is deeply convicting as it confronts so many of the superficial ecclesiologies of our day, and it is genuinely helpful and encouraging by pointing to higher ground.
Other important books released in the past year include Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation by James K.A. Smith (Baker Academic), Simple Life: Time, Relationships, Money, God by Thom S. Rainer and Art Rainer (B&H Books), In the Beginning Was the Word: Language, a God-Centered Approach by Vern Sheridan Poythress (Crossway), The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World by Michael Horton (Baker Books), Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong by John MacArthur (Harvest House), The Bookends of the Christian Life by Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington (Crossway), Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will by Kevin DeYoung (Moody Publishers), Christian History Made Easy by Timothy Paul Jones (Rose Publishing), The Case to Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture by Scott Klusendorf (Crossway Books), Faithful Preaching: Declaring Scripture with Responsibility, Passion and Authenticity by Tony Merida (B&H Academic), What Does the Lord Require? A Guide for Preaching and Teaching Biblical Ethics by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. (Baker Academic) and Jesus on Trial by James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken (P&R Publishing).
Preachers also will be encouraged by Evangelism Handbook: Biblical, Spiritual, Intentional, Missional by Alvin Reid (B&H Academic) and Perspectives on Christian Worship: Five Views, edited by J. Matthew Pinson. Pinson pulls together a team of seminal thinkers on worship including Ligon Duncan, Dan Kimball, Michael Lawrence, Mark Dever, Timothy Quill and Dan Wilt (B&H Academic). My latest book, Words from the Fire: Hearing God in the Ten Commandments (Moody Press), is my own impassioned plea to ground an understanding of the Ten Commandments in a theology of revelation and in the narrative of the gospel.
Someone once advised readers that books should be collected with the intention of being read because, as logic suggests, a book that is not at hand is a book that cannot be read. My hope is that this list of books will encourage every preacher to collect some of the most worthy titles published in the last year in order to build a library that will be of genuine service not only for the year to come but for the years of ministry ahead.
As always, preachers should follow the example of the Bereans and test everything by the Scripture. In so doing, we not only will hone our critical reading skills, we will also demonstrate for our own congregations the vital task of being a Christian reader.