It’s been a good summer–some down time, fun with the family, lots of PhD work, and some extra book reading along the way.
Barton Swaim, The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics (Simon and Schuster, 2015). I read the book in one sitting. Swaim’s narrative about working for former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford is revealing, insightful, hilarious, and makes me glad I never went into politics. Unlike other my-time-in-politics memoirs, Swaim does not go out of his way to trash his former boss or make everyone around look like idiots. If you are at all interested in politics, the crafting of words, and the absurdities of human nature, you’ll enjoy this book.
Donald S. Whitney, Praying the Bible (Crossway, 2015). Short, simple, straight forward, edifying. I don’t know anyone in today’s evangelical world more effective at teaching about spiritual disciplines than Whitney. This readable, conversational book will help you pray the Bible in a way that is edifying, easier, and more enjoyable than you might think. Like the best books on prayer, this one makes you want to go somewhere quiet and pray.
Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson, The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision (Zondervan, 2015). My vision for ministry has always been something akin to the pastor-theologian, so I resonated with the vision laid out by Hiestand and Wilson. It probably says something about where I fall on the pastor-theologian scale that I cringe at lines that speak of “the vocational Sitz im Leben of the pastorate,” but despite a few paragraphs here and there that I might have expressed differently, I found the overall message of the book recalibrating in a very healthy way. Chapter 8 “On Being an Ecclesial Theologian in a Local Church” was especially helpful in thinking through, “Okay, what do I do to make this vision a reality?” I’m grateful to Hiestand and Wilson–both pastors at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois–for reminding me of what I’m striving to be, and that the goal is appropriate.
Brian Borgman and Rob Ventura, Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical and Balanced Perspective (RHB, 2014). A solid, accessible, exegetical walk through Ephesians 6:10-18. There’s not a lot of flash, but these seasoned pastors provide good substance on an easily misunderstood and sensationalized portion of Scripture.
Jonty Rhodes, Covenants Made Simple: Understanding God’s Unfolding Promises to His People (P&R Publishing, 2013). I’m always looking for good introductions to covenant theology, the kind I can recommend to my congregation without fear that they will get lost in a maze of Hittite treaties. I think I may have just found my go-to book. Rhodes–that rarest of creatures, a Presbyterian minister in England–has written a non-technical, well organized, relatively brief book on a topic that usually invites undue complexification. Depending on your point of view, it is either a big plus or small minus that Rhodes’ view of the covenants is thoroughly Reformed (translation: he talks about predestination, limited atonement, presbyterian polity, and infant baptism). I consider this a good thing. Those committed to congregationalism and believer’s only baptism can still read the book with great profit.
W. Ross Blackburn, The God Who Makes Himself Known: The Missionary Heart of the Book of Exodus (IVP, 2012). I slowly worked through this book over the summer in preparation for a lengthy sermon series in Exodus I hope to begin this fall. Blackburn’s thesis–that the burden in Exodus is that God might be known in all his unsurpassed glory–makes intuitive (and exegetical) sense to me. I’ve even been able to bring out some of the points of the book as we read through Exodus for family devotions. I’ve yet to read a book in this D.A. Carson edited series (New Studies in Biblical Theology) that hasn’t been rich and illuminating.
Michael J. McVicar, Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism (University of North Carolina Press, 2015). If you love Rushdoony, read this book. If you can’t stand him, read this book. McVicar has painted a provocative picture of a man who could be brilliant and grandfatherly as well as petty, recalcitrant, and academically slipshod. The strength of the book is not theological (at one point McVicar says the Augsburg Confession was essential to Reformed Christianity), but social, political, and personal. I’ve thought for many years that there needs to be more scholarly work done on Rushdoony and Reconstructionism. This (re-purposed) doctoral dissertation is a significant and welcome contribution toward that end.
BONUS: I don’t normally mention any PhD related books, since they are typically too obscure and too expensive, but a few from this summer’s study may be worth mentioning. Thomas Anhert’s The Moral Culture of the Scottish Enlightenment 1690-1805 (Yale, 2014) offers a revisionist account of the Scottish Enlightenment, arguing that it was the orthodox party who gave a large role to reason (for apologetic purposes) while the enlightened clergy were less interested in natural theology. Every minister in a confessionally Reformed or Presbyterian church should have The Practice of Confessional Subscription (edited by David W. Hall) on his shelf. Likewise, if you have a substantial book budget, preachers would benefit from many of the essays in The Oxford Handbook of the British Sermon 1689-1901 (Oxford, 2012). And finally, in a book that will be of little interest to almost everyone but was of surpassing interest to me: Rondald Crawford’s The Lost World of John Witherspoon: Unravelling the Snodgrass Affair, 1762 to 1776 (Aberdeen, 2014) is hugely impressive. I didn’t agree with every interpretive decision, but this book is still the most significant work of original historical research on Witherspoon in the last 40 years.