Here’s what I’ve been reading over these few months.
Thomas Kidd, The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America (Yale, 2009). Kidd prefers to call it the “long First Great Awakening.” This designation highlights the fact that the there were important revivals before the traditional dating of 1740. The Awakening started before Edwards’ revivals of 1734-35 and continued on through the end of the American Revolution. To bring it all together, it can be said the the First Great Awakening was a lengthy period 50 or 60 years that included revivals, “then a whole range of missions, agendas, and less celebrated developments” (xix). Kidd presents four reasons the Great Awakening happened because (1) God graciously poured out the Holy Spirit; (2) ongoing tensions between Protestant Britain and Catholic France and Spain; (3) of the so-called consumer revolution of the 18th century and, in particular, the advent of new media sources and techniques; and (4) of the role that simple hard work played in generating the awakenings. This is well-documented and important read.
David McCullough, Truman (Simon & Schuster, 1993). Remarkable biography! I would have had a hard time supporting many of Truman’s progressive agenda, but I’m thankful for the man, his impeccable integrity and the dignity he brought to the presidency. He was routinely mocked and minimized, but he overcame all his obstacles with a tireless work ethic and devotion for and duty to his country. I’ve enjoyed every McCullough book I’ve read, and this is no exception.
Allen Ross, Psalms: 42-89 (Kregel, 2014). Books are an indispensable component of a pastor’s arsenal. Commentaries hold special place in this arsenal as a preacher seeks to rightly handle the Word of God in his exegesis. Allen Ross’ three-volume work on the Psalms deserve to be on the shelf of every pastor. They blend the best of rigorous interpretation of the text and warm pastoral application. I have some minor quibbles with the presentation, but this is an invaluable resource that will help the preacher study and apply the treasure trove of the psalms.
Marilynne Robinson, Lila: A Novel. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014). It’s hard to surpass Robinson’s Pulitzer prize winning Gilead (2004), but this is a beautiful book in a raw kind of way. Think of it as an extended autobiographical reflection on Ezekiel 16—it pervades the novel from beginning to end. I read one reviewer compare Robinson to Flannery O’Connor and noted that where O’Connor shouts (with her grotesque), Robinson whispers. I find that to be so true.
Scott Swain, Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and its Interpretation (T&T Clark, 2011).This slim academic book is gold. It is well written and conversant with a wide-ranging collection of ancient and contemporary theologians. His discussion on the inspiration, clarity, and sufficiency of Scripture is grounded and precise. Perhaps most helpful are the final two chapters on reading Scripture “as an act of covenant mutuality.” In these chapters he highlights the “rule of faith” and the “rule of love.” I wasn’t entirely convinced by the various “dogmas” we should subscribe to, but it was good fodder for thought. Swain’s presentation of the four “phases” of interpretation—prayer, explication, meditation, and application—ought to be instilled in every student of Scripture. Swain identifies himself with the TIS movement (Theological Interpretation of Scripture). The movement as it currently stands is broad on the theological spectrum—it has Roman Catholics, liberal Protestants, and evangelicals. I’m wary of TIS and afraid that will move people away from “the faith once for all delivered to the saints,” but this work presents the movement at its best.
Mike Cosper. The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth (Crossway, 2014). I really enjoyed this book. I learned a lot about TV shows and movies I’ve never watched—or care to watch, really. Again and again Cosper shows how the stories we tell reflect—to greater or lesser degree—the grand story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. There are echoes of Eden all around us. And this books helps us hear them well.
Eugene Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir (HarperOne, 2014). First, some concerns. Eugene Peterson’s blend of ecumenism and mysticism is problematic and often irritating. He has no problem associating in his “company of pastors” with Christian and Jew and from conservative to liberal. He praises Reformers like Luther and Calvin while then embracing the dangerous, experience-based mysticism of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. That said, his insights into Scripture and pastoral ministry are refreshing and spot on as he counters the commercialization of American Christianity. In this, his words are prophetic and needed in today’s church culture.
Tim Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Dutton, 2014). (I wrote a lengthier review here.) I devoured this book in a matter of days. It is the kind of book that invites multiple re-readings since we never master prayer. Keller showed me how cold I often am before the Lord (seen in an impoverished and anemic prayer life), but he also pastorally pointed to a better way to truly experience “awe and intimacy” with God. Frequently I was compelled to close the book, apply its rich truths, and seek the Lord in secret. If it has the same effect on others, I think Keller—and the Lord—will be pleased.
Philip Jenkins. The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade (HarperOne, 2014). This past summer marked the 100th anniversary of First World War (1914-1918), a war often forgotten and little understood. Philip Jenkins, professor of history at Baylor University, retells the story afresh in The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade. Jenkins argues that we cannot understand the war apart from understanding its religious and spiritual aspects. ”The war took place in a world in which religious faith was still the norm,” he writes. Elsewhere he writes that “[r]eligion is essential to understanding the war, to understanding why people went to war, what they hoped to achieve through war, and why they stayed at war.” Some readers will find his presentation disjointed, missing a unifying theme; others will appreciate the various selections that serve as snapshots into the religious dimensions of the war. All readers, however, will come away with a better understanding of the “Great and Holy War” and grasp how it irrevocably changed the world, even into our own present day.
Eric Metaxas. Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2011). Metaxas has made more accessible his earlier, more expansive work on the German pastor-theologian. One common criticism is that Metaxas’ portrays Bonhoeffer more like an American theological conservative than what he actually. (I think recently this image has been helpfully balanced by Marsh’s account). That said, I still appreciate Metaxas’ lively book. Though a biography, it reads a lot like a novel or spy thriller. Here was a man who stood up to Hitler and the compromising German church of his day, and ultimately paid the price with his life. This is a melancholy yet inspiring account of a man who truly picked up his cross and followed the Master.
Greg Forbes. 1 Peter. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (B&H, 2014). One of the joys I have in seminary is to head up a ministry at two local nursing homes with some devoted and faithful brothers. With a rotation of three or four men, it’s been wonderful to work my way through 1 John, Philippians, a smattering of the psalms, the Gospel of John, and now a return to 1 Peter, an apt epistle for those suffering and eager for glory. What I most appreciate about this series from B&H is that it helps the student of Scripture, who knows Greek but is a bit rusty, remove the mental cobwebs and use the original languages in preparation. Also, the epistle is broken up into digestible, exegetical units. Those wanting further study will no doubt appreciate the “For Further Reading” section which highlights journal articles, dictionary entries, monographs, etc. The “Homiletical Suggestions” are honestly a bit tacky at times, but they stimulate thinking and provide helpful examples on how to divide a passage into preaching points. Overall, this is a great tool for the preacher to own and use. (Download a sample chapter here.)
Paul Johnson, Eisenhower (Viking Adult, 2014). Johnson is a master (short) biographer. He can take a large, titanic figure and present the essence of that life into a digestible book. His brief account of Churchill is one of my favorites. Last year he wrote on Mozart. And now he turns his attention to Ike. While I eagerly looked forward to this addition, I was not as impressed. Perhaps it’s that I read this in conjunction with McCullough’s sizable Truman. Or that Eisenhower and Truman were at odds with one another, with Eisenhower bordering on disrespect of his predecessor. Or perhaps it’s that Johnson paints Ike in glowing colors or that Johnson too often interjects into his account a lot of his own political and personal opinion. In any case, I learned a lot about Ike, but somehow this book fell flat on me.