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Of the publishing of books, there is no end. And for book lovers, that is not a bad thing! However, there is nothing like the disappoint in putting time and energy into a book only to put it down in disappointment. So in an effort to help you kick off 2012 with a pile of good books to read, here are a few of my favorites from 2011 that would benefit the body at Five Points.
Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick & Jessica Thompson ~ Wonderful help here for those who are raising children or for those about to. Definitely one of the best parenting books I’ve ever read.
The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders ~ The Trinity is widely believed by evangelicals, but “rarely is it fully understood or celebrated.” And with a subtitle like “How The Trinity Changes Everything”, you may think you’re about to be disappointed. You won’t be. If you own a Kindle, there is no excuse to not have it for only $2.99!
Union With Christ by Robert Letham ~ If the Trinity is largely assumed and rarely understood, then the doctrine of union with Christ is a close second. At 140 pages, it serves as a tremendous introduction, but doesn’t waste one inch of those 140 pages. It may not look like much, but a rich feast awaits for the reader.
The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller ~ There are a number of biblical, helpful and excellent marriage resources for the evangelical, reformed couple. This is one of the best.
King’s Cross by Tim Keller ~ A provoking journey through the Gospel of Mark. In the preface Keller writes: “Mark wants us to see that the coming of Jesus calls for decisive action… Therefore we need to respond actively. We can’t remain neutral. We may not sit and reflect and find excuses for not changing our lives now.”
A New Testament Biblical Theology by Greg Beale ~ Still working through this one, but it is oustading! Coming in at 1072 pages, it is not for the faint of heart, but well worth the work!
Gospel Wakefulness by Jared Wilson ~ You might believe the gospel, but do you find yourself rejoicing in it daily? Wilson will help you approach the gospel afresh and see how it renews our affections for our glorious Savior.
Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian ~ One of the better “gospel” books that was published in 2011. Tullian writes as a pastor and calls Christians to reorient their lives around the gospel.
Crossway has published a wonderful edition of Pilgrim’s Progress. CJ Lovik excellently edited Bunyan’s classic and Mike Wimmer produced beautiful illustrations. If you are looking for a family gift this Advent season and you do not own Pilgrim’s Progress, or you do not have an edition that is easily accessible to young readers and listeners, this would make a perfect addition to your library.
If you are looking for ideas for your younger children’s stocking, Christian Focus has published a few little books that would be excellent gifts. For 1-3 year olds, they have a series called ‘Bible Art‘. They are coloring books dealing with the biblical topics of creation, holiness, redemption, repentance and salvation. There are also ‘Color the Bible’ books that take your children through books of Bible.
For 4-7 year olds, they have the ‘My First…‘ series. I gave Grace three of these that I really found helpful:
(HT: Paul Levy)
Michael Lawrence. Biblical Theology In The Life Of The Church: A Guide For Ministry. Crossway Books, 2010. 240 pages.
Seeking to produce a theological vision for ministry today, Michael Lawrence addresses the need for biblical theology in the life of the church. “Our theology determines the shape and character of our ministry,” he says. Though this book is about theology, it is really about pastoral ministry. Biblical Theology In The Life Of The Church puts the essential tool of biblical theology back in the pastor’s tool belt.
Biblical Theology divides into three sections: The Tools That Are Needed; The Stories To Be Told; and Putting It Together For The Church. Section One: The Tools That Are Needed, explores the exegetical, biblical theology, and systematic theology tools that are needed to “construct a theology that tells the whole story of the Bible.” Beginning with the grammatical-historical method of exegesis, chapter one teaches you how to use this method in the different literary genres of the Bible. The heart of this section forges the tools of biblical theology to “give your whole Bible back to you” and helps pastors and theologians escape the pitfalls of moralism, legalism and hobbyhorses by staying faithful to the story of the Bible. To do this, Lawrence offers six tools of biblical theology: covenants, epochs, canon, prophecy, typology and continuity. Covenants, epochs, and canon form the details of the story, while prophecy, typology and continuity put the details together so it can be read as a single story about Christ and the gospel. Lawrence applies these tools to build a practical theology that opens the entire canon of Scriptures for preaching and daily ministry. He closes Section One by demonstrating how to move from exegesis to biblical theology to systematic theology—“the attempt to summarize in an orderly and comprehensive manner what the whole Bible has to say about any given topic.” According to Lawrence, the tools of systematic theology, namely biblical knowledge, personal knowledge and situational knowledge, allow sound application of the whole biblical story to our context. He effectively argues that the church needs both biblical and systematic theology because though biblical theology seeks to understand the whole story of the Bible, systematic theology uses that foundation to connect the biblical story with our own.
Section Two: The Stories To Be Told, applies Section One by taking five major storylines of the Bible—creation, fall, love, sacrifice and promise—to tell it’s whole story, from Genesis to Revelation, from the vantage point of that particular theme. Each chapter in this section uses the exegetical, biblical and systematic tools to show “the many ways in which our story is already incorporated into and interpreted by the biblical story” and how the Bible gives “an all-encompassing worldview that challenges the idolatrous worldviews of our age.”
In the final section, Section Three: Putting It Together For The Church, Lawrence takes Chapter eleven to focus on the main use of biblical theology in the church, namely preaching and teaching, and demonstrates how to begin with the a biblical text and do biblical theology. Through four text studies, Lawrence demonstrates how to get from a particular text to the major biblical storyline running through that text. Further he demonstrates how that specific text connects to the rest of the Bible so it can be applied soundly and faithfully to our lives. Chapter twelve skillfully agrues that biblical theology is not just useful for preaching and teaching, but for every ministry in the local church. Lawrence skillfully applies biblical theology to the four case studies of counseling, missions, caring for the poor and church/state relations.
Lawrence’s pastoral heart and wisdom fills every page. He exhibits a tremendous command of the Scriptures and a pastoral ministry characterized by the conviction that God’s Word, and not our words, actually changes and shapes people’s lives. By opening up the entire Bible to use in ministry by doing biblical theology, Lawrence helps pastors give their congregations a profoundly deep theology that impacts every aspect of their lives. Moreover, Lawrence reveals the beautiful tapestry of the Bible by teaching and imploring pastors to teach or preach on any text through the lens of “the ultimate revelation of Jesus Christ, his saving work, and his promised kingdom.”
Though “theology” may invoke thoughts of conflict or ivory towers, Lawrence proves that biblical theology is “really useful theology” and that the better theologian you are, the better pastor you will be. As a pastor, Biblical Theology In The Life Of The Church has been one of the most helpful books I have ever read. It stirred my affections for the God of the Bible and His Word and helped me better understand the whole counsel of God and how it applies to all of life and ministry. Of all the books that will vie for your attention this year, do not let this one get pushed to the periphery. Get this book, read it, and find help for teaching biblical theology to your fellow staff, elders, and other church leaders. Even if you are not a pastor or lay leader, it will help you teach, train, counsel, and exhort other Christians. Biblical Theology In The Life Of The Church truly is a God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, Word-centered guide for ministry.
Another book I read this past week on vacation was Feelings and Faith by Brian Borgman (You can read an interview with Brian on the book here). I have read a few books on how the emotions play a large part in the Christian life, such as the Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. It is not up for debate in my mind that the emotions play a larger role in our spiritual growth than many churches and pastors seem to acknowledge. And while the other books on this topic were helpful, this book is far and away the best book I have read on this subject, which I readily admit is not many. However, I am glad that this book came to me early in my life rather than later.
The book aims to help its readers cultivate godly emotions through laying a biblical-theological foundation and putting forth specific applications of the theology in four sections. In the first part, Borgman lays a foundation through exposing “the most common misconceptions about the emotions, the cultural clutter of unbiblical thinking” and “provides a working definition of the emotions.” Borgman accomplishes his mission in Part 1. He begins by laying a biblical-theological foundation for understanding emotions by discussing the character of God, Jesus, and the Bible. He closes this section with a biblical theology of humanity (anthropology) that seeks to prepare us to receive the grace of God to conform our emotions to the Bible and the image of Jesus Christ. One subject that is touched upon here is the impassibility of God, which is a doctrine that takes up the discussion of whether God has passions (emotions) or not. While he only briefly writes about this doctrine here, the first appendix takes up the subject with help from Bruce Ware, DA Carson, Charles Hodge and JI Packer. While some have commented that he does not understand this doctrine, I believe his appendix proves he does and provides a helpful balance to what divine impassibility means and how it is a glorious doctrine.
Part 2 focuses on how our emotions and the process of sanctification. Borgman challenges the common assumption that the emotions cannot be changed or governed, so God cannot tell us how we feel. However, he exegetes the many Scriptures that show us that God does care about our emotions and even commands us how to feel. He goes on to talk about how the theology of Part 1, namely “the sovereignty, faithfulness, love and goodness of God not only bolsters our faith, but it gives us emotional equilibrium and joy, peace, and a whole host of other godly emotions that can sustain us.” This section ends with a quick overview of how the biblical writers handled their emotions in the Psalms, Lamentations and in the New Testament.
The second half of the book looks at mortifying ungodly emotions (Part 3) and cultivating godly emotions (Part 4). The first half of the book was well worth the price of the book, and the second half was just as excellent, if not more so. In fact, I believe Borgman wrote the first half of the book so well, that the second half just fell into place and was easy to read, meditate on, convicting and helpful. So many books start well, finish well or don’t do too much well at all, but this book was biblically solid, theologically sound, and pastorally practical through and through. Ungodly emotions such as anger and anxiety, unforgiveness and fear are taken up in Part 3 with a view towards killing these ungodly emotions in the life of the believer. Part 4 includes two chapters on how Jesus is our pattern for cultivating godly emotions because he perfectly possessed and displayed “the full spectrum of human emotions, without any darkness” and we see in Him “the goodness of emotions and the godly pattern of emotions.” Part 4 is an extremely helpful section to close the book because it is thorougly Christ-centered in its focus and practical in its application. I especially benefited from chapters 17 and 18, The Emotions & Worship and The Emotions & Preaching.
This is a book deeply rooted in the pages of Scripture that works itself out in practical theology and incisive application. The emotions are a very personal subject and they play a large role in our lives, so it is crucial to understand what the Bible teaches about the emotions and the Christian life. Borgman helps us understand the emotions, carefully provides help in mortifying ungodly emotions and gracefully encourages the cultivation of godly emotions. I recommend this as a great resource for the church and its families.
One of the books I read while on vacation here in Florida is A Praying Life by Paul Miller. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it to you as an encouragement for your prayer life. One thought that I particularly thought was striking was his belief that people struggle with prayer because they are pursuing prayer rather than God. This book helps rightly refocus the pursuit! Tim Challies has posted a great review and talks about one area of caution in the book. If you are looking for a new book on prayer, I echo David Powlison: “A Praying Life will bring a living, vibrant reality to your prayers. Take it to heart.”
I recently listed my top 8 books that were published in 2008. But as Solomon wrote, “Of making many books there is no end” and 2009 will be no different. However, I am excited about a few forthcoming titles that I will definitely be reading…
Finally Alive by John Piper releases in January and you can pre-order it for $5 from Desiring God! “Why is the church so ineffectual and characterized by the mosaic generation as unchristian? The term born again has been devalued both in society and in the church. Recent social studies surveys have shown that those who regard themselves as born again Christians have the same tendency to divorce as people who aren’t Christians at all! In these surveys, being born again is defined by what people say they believe. The New Testament defines Christians very differently. Piper defines new birth biblically and helps us to embrace the reality of it. I hope that showing that the new birth is not in our control helps make pastors and other Christians desperate for the supernatural in their ministries.”
Unfashionable by Tullian Tchividjian has the potential to be one of the best books published this upcoming year and I am very excited for its release. You can watch a video of his talking about what the book is about and why he wrote it. If you do not know, Tullian is the founder and senior pastor of New City Presbyterian Church in Florida and is also the grandson of Billy Graham. It is due for release in April.
The Bookends Of The Christian Life by Jerry Bridges looks to be a great work by one of my favorite contemporary authors. “So what are the bookends of the Christian life? Christ’s righteousness as it is transferred to dependent believers, and the Holy Spirit’s power as it enables their transformation. In continuing their goal to re-center the church at large onto the historic gospel of Jesus Christ, Bridges and Bevington have served up this little book with a big message so that believers and seekers alike can understand these two keys to a genuine Christian life.” A book on Christ’s imputed righteous and the Spirit’s work in us has to be worth the time and price! This book will be published in late March.
Heaven and Earth In The Gospel Of Matthew by Jonathan Pennington will be released in July. Dr. Pennington was a professor of mine at Southern Seminary and truly enjoyed his classes. Matthew is my favorite gospel and his lectures on this subject were fascinating. I am sure this one will repay the time invested many times over.
Learning Evangelism From Jesus by Jerram Barrs is set for publication in late May. This work from the Director of the Francis Schaeffer Institute ” draws lessons and principles for attractively communicating the gospel to unbelievers in our day. Living in a culture that is opposed to Christianity tempts God’s people to conform, to retreat, to be silent. But Jesus showed the way to live faithfully before an unbelieving world. As the greatest evangelist, Jesus exemplified how to attract people to the gospel. He modeled how to initiate spiritual conversations full of grace and truth. Christian evangelism, then, both in theory and practice, must be shaped by his pattern.” Barrs, by studying Jesus’ diverse encounters with people throught the Gospels, seeks to articulate the passions and principles present in Christ’s life and words. This looks like it will be a very practical and helpful book.
Living Water: Studies in John 4 by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones will be published at the end of January. This volume contains 56 previously unpublished sermons on John 4 and how Jesus is the only one who can quench our thirsts. Lloyd-Jones is one of the most well known preachers of the twentieth century and I am looking forward to sitting under his teaching yet again.
The End Of Christianity by William Dembski is scheduled for release in October. “Theodicy attempts to resolve how a good God and evil world can coexist. The neo-atheist view in this debate has dominated recent bestseller lists through books like The God Delusion (Richard Dawkins), God Is Not Great (Christopher Hitchens), and The End of Faith (Samuel Harris). And their popularity illuminates a changing mental environment wherein people are asking harder questions about divine goodness. Surprisingly, these books please intelligent design champion William Dembski, because ‘They would be unnecessary if Christianity were not again a live issue.’ Here, Dembski brings the reader to a fresh understanding of what “the end (result) of Christianity” really means: the radical realignment of our thinking so that we see God’s goodness in creation despite the distorting effects of sin in our hearts and evil in the world.” I am very interested to see how one of the leading proponents of intelligent design attacks the issue of theodicy in light of the neo-atheists.
I like making lists and reading lists, so here is my list of the top 8 Christian books that were published this year. If you are looking for Christmas presents for friends and family, no better place to start than a great book… to go along with a Starbucks giftcard!!
Living for God’s Glory edited by Joel Beeke is a tribute to Calvin in celebration of his 500th birthday. It contains contributions by Dr. Jim Grier, who also is one of three men to whom the book is dedicated, and Dr. Sinclair Ferguson. It is an excellent introduction and exploration into the doctrinal tenets and Calvin’s influence on the church and the world. It is divided into sections of Calvinism in History, In The Mind, In The Heart, In Practice and Its Goal. This work definitely accomplishes Beeke’s goal of covering “the intellectual and spiritual emphases of Calvinism, the way it influences the church and everyday living, and its ethical and cultural implications.”
New Testament Theology by Tom Schreiner explores the major themes in the New Testament and his approach leads the reader to see a unified core of teaching throughout the canon. Schreiner sees two overarching themes and focus his book through the lenses of the unity of redemptive history to the kingdom of God and the goal of the kingdom is the the glory of God through the work of Christ and the empowering presence of the Spirit. Although the book is aimed at scholar, students and pastors and is quite large, it is a very accessible guide to the New Testament canon. Dr. Schreiner was the most influential professor on my studies at Southern Seminary and this work shows why.
The Courage To Be Protestant by David Wells… need I say more? He is one of my favorite authors and this book is his call for the Church to stand courageously faithful to what Biblical Christianity has always stood for, which will give it hope for the future. He calls us to take hold of the historic faith, which he defines through the Reformation’s solas and to reclaim of reverence of doctrine. It is a summary of his previous works on the landscape, critique and challenges of evangelicalism. He is definitely one of the most profound thinkers in Our Time and this work deserves to be read, pondered and applied.
We Become What We Worship by Greg Beale is a biblical theology of idolatry. His main thesis is that “we resemble what we revere, either for ruin or restoration.” Throughout this fascinating work, Beale weaves together Old and New Testament passages in careful study of the destroying power of idolatry on the one hand and the restorative power of worshiping the One True God. Though the book is a little daunting and slow-going at times, his argument is both “convincing and convicting” indeed. Reading this book will challenge you to reflect upon the things in our lives that may actually be idols. It is also a great example of how to truly do biblical theology.
The Prodigal God by Tim Keller was an absolute joy and encouragement of soul to read. I read it in one sitting and the highest praise I can give is that it raised my affections and caused me to worship our great and glorious God. Though the title seems provocative, Keller addresses that concern and it actually brings everything together. “God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life-changing experience, and the subject of this book.” If you want to read a book about the amazing grace of God, this one will cause you to stand in awe of our amazingly gracious God.
He Is Not Silent by Albert Mohler is a treament on the task and challenges of preaching in postmodern times. He wants the church to re-center the element of preaching in the public worship of the church, as he believes and rightly argues that it has been pushed to the sidelines. However, this book is not just for preachers. Any Christian that reads this book will gain a better understanding at what kind of preaching they should expect and seek out in Our Time.
Crazy Love by Francis Chan is a call to a passionate love relationship with God. It is a compelling challenge to to those “who are bored with what American Christianity offers. It is for those who don’t want to plateau, who would rather die before their convictions do.” It is targeted for a younger generation, but, honestly, who wants to plateau in their love for God? I was a little fearful that this book would not live up to my pre-reading hope and the hype surrounding it. I did not agree with every thought and point in the book, but his overall message and theme cannot be ignored. This a great challenge to all Christians that emphasizes loving God through knowing, obeying and living passionately for Christ.
The Reason for God by Tim Keller is a greatly anticipated title from the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Keller had compiled a list of doubts about faith that he encountered throughout the years and in this book he takes each one apart with amazing apologetic skill. This book is probably one of the best books published this year and is definitely worth your time. It would also serve “doubters” well as a gift because it is both incisive in its argument, but full of compassion and grace. Read this book as it is a great apologetic resource for living in our postmodern times.