My Recommendations: Book of the Week, July 2

Academics have dominated the realm of Christian theology (both systematic and biblical) for several centuries. This source for the Church’s theology has led to a degree of stagnation as well as a lack of true spiritual passion in the queen of sciences–resulting in theologically anemic churches. Great theologians like Augustine, Irenaeus, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Owen, and Jonathan Edwards (just to name a few), pastored churches. Their theology focused on the teachings of the Word of God for the people of God for living in the world. Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson’s The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision chronicles the history and issues a challenge to renew a generation of pastors as theologians–for the good of the church. Every pastor should read this book and academic institutions should take its thesis into account before hiring their next professor of theology.

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My Recommendations: Book of the Week, June 26

Pastoral leadership in corporate worship requires both passion and wisdom. John Newton was just such a pastor. He not only pastored his church through his sermons and letters, he also wrote worship-filled hymns. Beyond Amazing Grace: Timeless Pastoral Wisdom from the Letters, Hymns, and Sermons of John Newton, compiled and edited by J. Todd Murray, breathes the rarified atmosphere of the Word of God through a man of God. Newton’s pastoral example and words will rekindle spiritual fire in the reader’s own heart and life. D. A. Carson wrote of this book, it “deserves to become a classic in confessional evangelical spirituality, on par with Andrew Bonar’s Memoirs of M’Cheyne.”

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My Recommendations: Book of the Week, June 12

Reading the Old Testament sometimes can seem like ploughing through long pages filled with words without fully understanding their importance. Don’t miss the overall meaning, beauty, and power of over two-thirds of your Bible. Allow What the Old Testament Authors Really Care About: A Survey of Jesus’ Bible, edited by Jason S. DeRouchie, to guide you into understanding the themes and doctrinal emphases of each of the books of the Old Testament. Seventeen different writers present valuable insights about authorship, historical setting, purpose, theological themes, and ultimate message. Richly illustrated with many full-color photographs and charts, this volume will delight readers over and over again. The contributors include DeRouchie, Daniel Estes, Todd Bolen, Stephen Dempster, Daniel Hays, Andrew Schmutzer, Boyd Seevers, Preston Sprinkle, Gary Yates, Gary Smith, Kenneth Turner, Jeffrey Mooney, Chris Miller, Donald Fowler, Daryl Aaron, John Crutchfield, and Edward Curtis.

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My Recommendations: Book of the Week, June 5

Wyclif’s legendary status as “the Morning Star of the Reformation” fails to survive Gillian Evans’ vigorous professorial investigation. Her portrait of Wyclif in John Wyclif: Myth and Reality reveals a complex and conflicted man — an irascible academic as well as a contrite cleric. His academic setting at Oxford forms the dominant background for Evans’ portrait of both the ecclesiastic and the educator. As a parish priest, Wyclif was more educated than most. In 1379 (some years after he had departed the parish ministry) he authored a book on “The Pastoral Office” in which he defined the duties of the godly pastor: to feed his sheep with God’s Word, to purge his flock of contagious spiritual disease, and to defend his flock against ravaging wolves. Evans concludes that Wyclif found pastoral ministry less than satisfying, so he returned to Oxford to pursue a Doctor of Theology degree. He was a staunch critic of absentee pastors holding a plurality of parishes and/or benefices that drew them away from their pastoral duties. Evans’ focus is so much on the educator (and, later, the public servant of the royal court) that the ecclesiastic suffers adequate coverage. This may, in part, be due to an absence of adequate documentation, the result of the ultimate condemnation and burning of Wyclif’s books in 1410. However, if a pastor, rather than an academic, were to write the biography, Wyclif’s portrait probably would include a more detailed examination of his pastoral practices for comparison with his pastoral philosophy. In De Veritate Sacrae Scripturae (“About the Truthfulness of Sacred Scriptures”) he declares that no human writing is superior to the Bible, all Christians have a right to read it, and the Scriptures are the best foundation for secular and ecclesiastical life. As far as the Wycliffite translations of the Bible into English are concerned, Evans finds no evidence of any contribution directly from the hand of Wyclif. Evans paints a dark and disappointing picture of a failed hero. On occasion Evans’ own political sensitiveness manifests itself. She appears to use this biography as the springboard for expressing her own political bitterness and/or agenda with regard to the war in Iraq. In spite of the author’s pessimistic approach and assessment, her volume is still worth reading. Every future biographer of Wyclif needs to begin with Evans’ book. It is as much an exposé of early Oxford as it is of Wyclif. The reader will find Evans’ enthusiastic study of the Middle Ages infectious.

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My Recommendations: Book of the Week, May 29

A book like Jason S. DeRouchie’s How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2017) makes an old Hebrew professor like myself wish he could go back forty-seven years and start teaching biblical Hebrew again–with this book for the the textbook in Hebrew Exegesis. Using a “Trail Guide” (a metaphor with great appeal for me personally), DeRouchie maps out the progressive sections in the volume and identifies the “Easy,” “Moderate,” and “Challenging” paths to tailor the material to the student’s level of proficiency or achievement. The book is user friendly and packed with examples. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this volume belongs solely to the ivory tower of academics–it is a book exposing a pastor’s heart, a love for Christ, and the “holy wonder of worship” (one of John Piper’s descriptions of the book). Every student of biblical Hebrew needs this book on his desk–not just on his shelf!

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My Recommendations: Book of the Week, May 22

What do Charles Spurgeon, George Müller, and Hudson Taylor have in common? Let’s count the ways: (1) All were fervent evangelical Christians? (2) All served Christ with all that they had. (3) All left behind a tremendous legacy of faithfulness and godliness. (4) All were based in England. (5) All were contemporaries. (6) All knew each other and encouraged one another and gained energy for ministry from one another. (7) All are the subjects of John Piper’s seventh book in his series entitled The Swans Are Not Silent. A Camaraderie of Confidence (Crossway, 2016) should be high on your reading list for 2017. Our team of local church elders is reading through this book and discussing it as part of our elders’ meetings. The volume would make a tremendous gift to your pastor or to one or more of your elders. Or, you could do what I did with the first book in this series (Legacy of Sovereign Joy)–I gave it to our two sons and to our two sons-in-law, because of the impact it had on my own ministry. This series of Christian biographies comprises one of John Piper’s greatest gifts to all of us.

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