Henry Ward Beecher, one of the most famous preachers of the nineteenth century, once remarked that “a library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life.” Well, it certainly seems that way to the working preacher, whose library is a most important material resource.
One of my seminary professors exhorted young seminarians to think of their library as the most important financial investment in ministry — much as physicians and dentists must invest in quality medical equipment. Unfortunately, many preachers are not as diligent as their medical counterparts in keeping the “equipment” current.
Ministers must be discriminating purchasers. After all, publishers release hundreds of titles each year addressed to a church-related market. A strategic purchase plan is essential, as well as a knowledge of available titles. What follows is a fast-track tour through some of the more noteworthy recent releases. Given space constraints, the listings by category do not constitute critical reviews, but mention does indicate that these titles are worthy of notice.
Biblical Studies
Central to the working library of the preaching minister are commentaries and related works on biblical studies. Such are indispensable to the serious and inescapable task of biblical exegesis. Among the significant commentaries released in the past year is George W. Knight III’s Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles in the “New International Greek Testament Commentary” (Eerdmans). Knight’s commitment to “faithfully communicate the apostolic message found in the Pastorals” has produced one of the most important commentaries on the neglected Pastoral Epistles to be released in many years.
Five new volumes in “The New American Commentary” (Broadman) add to the growing dimensions of that series, which will eventually cover the entire canon. Craig Blomberg’s Matthew is joined by 1, 2 Timothy, Titus by Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, Jr. John B. Polhill’s Acts has justifiably drawn much favorable comment. The first two volumes on Old Testament books include Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs by Duane A. Garrett and Jeremiah, Lamentations by F. B. Huey. All five volumes are worthy of places on the preacher’s active bookshelf.
With ties to the biblical theology movement, the “Interpretation” series (Westminster/John Knox Press) continues, now with twenty-six volumes available. Recent releases include Isaiah 1-39 by Christopher R. Seitz, Matthew by Douglas R. A. Hare, First, Second, and Third John by D. Moody Smith, and First and Second Timothy and Titus by Thomas C. Oden.
Also noteworthy is David Garland’s Reading Matthew (Crossroad), which offers a penetrating view into the first gospel.
Robert H. Gundry of Westmont College has produced what is claimed to be “the fullest commentary ever to come out” on the second gospel in Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Eerdmans). The 1069-page work is massive, yet accessible.
Shorter commentaries are also worthy of notice. George M. Stulac’s James in “The IVF New Testament Commentary Series” (InterVarsity) and The Message of Judges by J. A. Motyer in “The Bible Speaks Today” series (InterVarsity) are clear and helpful, though brief. The Message of John by Bruce Milne, also in “The Bible Speaks Today” series (InterVarsity), is more lengthy, but no less clear.
Two series by popular preachers also demand attention. James Montgomery Boice, the skilled senior pastor of Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church, has contributed Romans: The Reign of Grace as the second volume of his expositional commentary on Romans (Baker Book House). Covering chapters 5-8, the work is the fruit of a well-established ministry of biblical preaching.
R. C. Sproul of Ligonier Ministries has released two volumes in his Before the Face of God series (Baker). The first volume on Romans and the second on Luke combine the devotional heart of Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening with concise exegetical insights.
J. Alex Motyer’s The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary (InterVarsity) must be counted among the most significant recent contributions to the study of Isaiah. The 544-page volume is as handsome as it is substantial, and it represents a significant advance for the exegetical line offered by Inter-Varsity Press.
A neglected theme in Old Testament theology has been addressed by T. V. Farris in Mighty to Save: A Study in Old Testament Soteriology (Broadman). Students of the Biblical Theology Movement and its continuation will look to Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Fortress Press) by Brevard S. Childs as the most noteworthy volume to emerge from that school in recent years. Childs has contributed to the shape of the “New Yale Theology” with Yale colleagues David Kelsey, George Lindbeck, and their late colleague Hans Frei. In this volume Childs attempts to bridge the gap between exegesis, canon, and dogmatic theology. Childs deserves credit for underlining the theological continuity between the Old and New Testaments, yet his work draws concern over the role of history within the biblical text and the historicity of biblical events.
Preachers must not miss the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (InterVarsity), which will long stand as it is a advertised — “a compendium of contemporary biblical scholarship.” Over two hundred articles cover issues from “Abba” to “Wrath, Destruction.”
Theological Studies
Perhaps the most important recent contribution to theological studies is not a work of dogmatic or systematic theology at all, but rather a jeremiad against the evaporation of theological content from American Christianity. David Wells, professor of theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, offers a penetrating indictment of contemporary Protestantism in No Place for Truth (Eerdmans). It is a stern and unflinching look at the absence of theological content in modern evangelicalism. Readers may wince and question some of Wells’ illustrations, but his basic thesis resists dismissal.
Yet at least one major work of systematic theology came to completion with the publication of Thomas C. Oden’s Life in the Spirit: Systematic Theology, Volume III (HarperCollins). Oden, professor of theology at the theological school of Drew University, is now one of the most important figures on the theological scene. His writings are well worth the investment of time and funds.
Walter A. Elwell, whose compilations of reference works are well-known, has added to his line of helpful resources with Handbook of Evangelical Theologians (Baker). The volume includes interesting and unique articles on figures ranging from Augustus Strong to Alister McGrath. The volume is a “Who’s Who” of evangelical theologians past and present.
Alister McGrath, identified as “energetic scholar, effective teacher, and committed churchman” in Elwell’s handbook, is one of the brightest stars in the evangelical firmament. His recently-released The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Thought (Basil Blackwell) is a major contribution to theological scholarship.
Stanley Grenz and Roger E. Olson review contemporary theology in 20th-century Theology: God and the World in a Transitional Age (Inter-Varsity), which surveys modern theology through the issue of the relations between the Creator and creation in theological models. Grenz offers his own methodological proposal in Revisioning Evangelical Theology: A Fresh Agenda for the 21st Century (InterVarsity).
More systematic efforts came from Rex A. Koivisto, One Lord, One Faith: A Thology for Cross-Denominational Renewal (BridgePoint) and John H. Leith, Basic Christian Doctrine (Westminster/John Knox Press). Koivisto argues that Christians should unite around the central tenets of the gospel and minimize the divisiveness of denominational differences. His concern for “core orthodoxy” is commendable, but denominational differences are no longer the major dividing lines in American religion.
John Leith, professor emeritus of theology at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, wrote Basic Christian Doctrine as a reaffirmation of the centrality of theological confession to the Christian church.
Two shorter and more popular doctrinal efforts will be warmly greeted by preachers looking for faithful and effective models of theological communication in the pulpit and church. Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs by J. I. Packer (Tyndale) and Essential Truths of the Christian Faith by R. C. Sproul (Tyndale) are both excellent models of theological instruction and reflection.
In a style reminiscent of C. S. Lewis, Homer Rogers reflects on basic Christian doctrines in Uncommon Sense: An Introduction to Christian Belief (HarperCollins). John Stott, whose ministry continues across several continents, considers a host of theological, biblical, and ministry issues in The Contemporary Christian (InterVarsity).
Other worthy monographs include The Work of Christ by Robert Letham (InterVarsity) and The Doctrine of God by Gerald Bray (Inter-Varsity). Both are interesting evangelical considerations of major doctrines, part of Bray’s edited series, “Contours of Christian Theology.”
A praiseworthy festschrift to Carl F. H. Henry was released as God and Culture, edited by D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge (Eerdmans). The contributors and their chapters survey the intersection of theology and culture at several well-chosen points along the line of engagement.
Other interesting volumes include Ecumenical Faith in Evangelical Perspective by Gabriel Fackre (Eerdmans) and Unbaptized God: The Basic Flaw in Ecumenical Theology by Robert W. Jenson (Fortress). Both Fackre and Jenson offer penetrating critiques.
A marked tendency away from dogmatic theology and toward hermeneutical investigations has marked contemporary theology — to the extent that the viable content of theological substance is in jeopardy even in some evangelical circles. Millard Erickson, whose Christian Theology (Baker) has become one of the most widely-used theology texts in American seminaries, addresses these issues by means of a short primer, Evangelical Interpretation: Perspectives on Hermeneutical Issues (Baker).
Without doubt, one of the most discussed and debated works of recent vintage will be Anthony C. Thiselton’s New Horizons in Hermeneutics: The Theory and Practice of Transforming Biblical Reading (Zondervan). Thiselton, now principal of St. John’s College of the University of Durham in England, has now offered the magnum opus of contemporary biblical hermeneutics, even if it leaves many important issues unresolved.
Alvin Kimel, Jr., has edited a much-needed collection of essays on the challenge of feminist God-language in Speaking the Christian God (Eerdmans), which includes contributions by Roland Frye, Robert Jenson, Geoffrey Wainwright, and Preaching contributing editor Elizabeth Achtemeier.
Other works addressing specific theological issues include God’s Kingdom and the Utopian Error by Peter P. J. Beyerhaus (Crossway) and The Law, the Gospel, and the Modern Christian (Zondervan) by five evangelicals offering different interpretations of the law-gospel debate. A stern warning about the worldliness of the Church comes from John Mac-Arthur, Jr., in Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes Like the World (Crossway).
A helpful survey of New Testament references to Jesus as Theos has been contributed by Murray J. Harris in Jesus as God (Baker). And the worthy contributions of Thomas C. Oden continue with The Transforming Power of Grace (Abingdon Press).
Historical Studies
Preachers often neglect historical studies more than other disciplines, and thus cut themselves off from the richness of the Christian past. This tragedy can be averted by investing time in reading worthy titles on historical themes. One of the best starting points is historical biography, and preachers should not miss the final volume of Martin Brecht’s massive three-volume biography of Luther, Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church, 1532-1546 Fortress). A monumental project comes to a conclusion with this well-written volume, which covers the final years of Luther’s life. Brecht writes with energy and insight.
Another interesting biography comes as Ernst Troeltsch: His Life and Work by Hans-Georg Drescher (Fortress). Troeltsch exerted a far greater influence on contemporary Christianity than has been generally acknowledged, and mainline Protestantism has largely followed his methodological assumptions and theological conclusions. This is the first book-length biography of Troeltsch, and it is long overdue.
Graham Miller’s helpful compilation, Calvin’s Wisdom: An Anthology Arranged Alphabetically by a Grateful Reader (Banner of Truth Trust), is a must-buy for the preacher’s bookshelf. Banner of Truth Trust publishes some of the most worthy materials — both reprints and new works. Even those preachers who have the entire works of Calvin (virtually impossible for most) will find Miller’s anthology a gold-mine.
A creative approach to surveying church history comes from the collaboration of Robert G. Clouse, Richard V. Pierard, and Edwin M. Yamauchi in Two Kingdoms: The Church and Culture Through the Ages (Moody). Their project is an interesting read, and a helpful resource.
Those interested in recent work on American church history will turn to New Dimensions in American Religious History, edited by James P. Dolan and James P. Wind (Eerdmans). A festschrift to Martin Marty, the volume brings together interesting but unrelated essays written by Marty’s students.
Another interesting contribution is The Assurance of Faith: Conscience in the Theology of Martin Luther and John Calvin (Fortress) by Randall C. Zachman, who argues for a basic continuity between Luther and Calvin on the relation of the external witness of the Word of God and the internal witness of the Spirit on the conscience.
Why Wasn’t the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching Our Top Pick for 1993?
Following its release in spring 1993, a number of publishers and readers told us of their expectations that the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (published by Broadman Press) would be the clear choice for our 1993 Preaching Book of the Year.
The reviews thus far would bear out the judgment that the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching is the most significant work in homiletics to appear in 1993. With some fifty authors representing the finest of American preaching — one reviewer compared the list of writers to the 1961 New York Yankees! — I am as proud of this book as anything I have ever been involved with professionally. As editor of both the Handbook and Preaching, there’s nothing I’d like better than to introduce the Handbook to more readers.
Unfortunately, we decided to take it out of the running altogether because of the inherent conflict of interest involved. It’s hard for me to be objective (witness the paragraph above), and more than half of our Preaching Contributing Editors are also authors of chapters in the Handbook, as is the author of our annual survey of books. So it’s hard to find any unbiased folks around here.
So, much to the consternation of my publisher (sorry, Broadman), we did not include the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching as a candidate for Book of the Year. But I hope you read it anyway! (Michael Duduit)
A more contemporary era is considered by Jackson Carroll and Wade Clark Rook in their edited volume, Beyond Establishment: Protestant Identity in a Post-Protestant Age (Westminster/John Knox Press).
Westminster/John Knox Press has performed a genuine service by reprinting several classics in new editions through the “Library of Theological Ethics.” Those titles include The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches by Ernst Troeltsch, Christianity and the Social Crisis by Walter Rauschenbush, and Religious Liberty by John Courtney Murray. Each is worth the investment and careful critical reading.
Ministry and Preaching
The selection of Wade Clark Roof’s A Generation of Seekers: The Spiritual Journeys of the Baby Boom Generation (HarperCollins) as Preaching’s 1994 “Book of the Year” is one indication that the past year experienced a turn from monographs on homiletics to works addressing larger ministry themes. Certainly the role and identity of the baby boom generation will frame ministry issues for years to come. Roof’s view into the baby boomer’s stories and patterns will be helpful to the preacher as the challenge of reaching baby boomers looms large.
But the year was not without noteworthy contributions to homiletics. In particular, the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman), edited by Michael Duduit, has already earned a place of prominence on many preachers’ most accessible shelves. It stands alone in the field in terms of comprehensiveness and clarity.
The year also saw the publication of Best Sermons 6, edited by James W. Cox (HarperCollins). The last in the series, the volume includes representative sermons including different styles and approaches.
Other significant titles include Preaching to Strangers: Evangelism in Today’s World by William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas (Westminster/John Knox Press) and Homiletical Handbook by Donald L. Hamilton Broadman).
Craig Loscalzo offers Preaching Sermons that Connect: Effective Communication Through Identification (InterVarsity). Loscalzo argues that effective preaching requires an identification between the preacher and the congregation — an identification that cannot occur without the investment of time with the congregation.
Raymond Bailey edited Hermeneutics for Preaching (Broadman), a helpful volume which lays out six different models of biblical interpretation, all in the service of biblical preaching. Paul Scott Wilson’s A Concise History of Preaching (Abingdon) offers helpful vignettes and sample models from the history of the Church.
Addressing broader issues of ministry, Aubrey Malphurs offers Pouring New Wine Into Old Wineskins: How to Change a Church Without Destroying It (Baker) as a primer for leading congregations through transition. Ed Dobson, senior pastor of Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, suggests how traditional churches can reach non-traditional persons through Starting a Seeker Sensitive Service (Zondervan). Dobson, once an associate to Jerry Falwell at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, argues for his model of being seeker “sensitive” without abandoning the imperatives of the Gospel.
Thom S. Rainer has produced the most comprehensive text yet on church growth in The Book of Church Growth: History, Theology, and Principles (Broadman). Rainer has performed a genuine service through this book, which will assist pastors to build the church through clear principles and demonstrated methods.
Two glimpses into the lives and heartaches of pastors are afforded by George Barna and the team of H. B. London and Neil B. Wiseman. Barna, whose name has become synonymous with trend-tracking research, looks at the inner lives of pastors through over 1,000 interviews and additional research published in Today’s Pastors (Regal Books). It is not a pretty picture. Frustration, anxiety, and weariness are evident as pastors reflect on their ministries — their hopes and congregational expectations. Another interesting approach is taken by London and Wiseman in Pastors at Risk (Victor Books). London and Wiseman offer both research insights and practical suggestions for a recovery of pastoral strength and vitality.
Lyle Schaller, whose books now number in the dozens, has written another interesting volume in Center City Churches: The New Urban Frontier (Abingdon). Schaller, unlike some others, never gave up on urban ministry during the 1960s and 1970s. He now argues that the most dynamic and creative context for congregational growth is not the suburbs but the center city.
Two additional important works of research which demand the attention of preachers are Christianity in the 21st Century by Robert Wuth now (Oxford University Press) and The Church of America 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark (Rutgers University Press). Wuthnow, whose stature among sociologists of religion was well established with The Restructuring of American Religion (Princeton University Press), now looks to the future on the basis of his continuing research.
Finke and Stark look at the changes on the American religious scene through the lenses of a market economy, and trace the related rise and decline of various religous bodies. Their work has incited a good deal of of controversy, and readers will find the volume provocative as well as informative.
One of the most discussed books on the current national scene is Stephen Carter’s The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion (Basic Books). The volume has caught the attention of everyone from President Clinton to the radio talk-show hosts. Carter’s concrete proposals will leave many of the faithful cold, but his indictment of the secularizing tendencies of modern American law and government is irrefutable.
Those who confidently predicted the end of the printed page as a primary communications medium years ago must now answer for the dramatic increase in the American book market — a trend which shows no signs of reversal. Preachers knew better all along.
Beecher said that “a little library growing each year is an honorable part of a man’s history.” For men or women, this holds true. But the most honorable parts are those books chosen well and read carefully.

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