What Pastor Blair Has Been Reading (from July 2017 through September 2017)
Bruce, Robert. The Way to True Peace and Rest. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2017.
This is the most recent Puritan Paperback put out by the Banner and it is a good one. Robert Bruce (1554-1631) was a minister in Edinburgh Scotland and a leading Reformer. This is his exposition of 38:1-22. There are six sermons full of beauty, challenges and grace. The first two were preached before King James and he shows no deference to the king before the King of Kings but challenges him to be a Godly ruler. Though the sermons are lengthy (and at times the thought can be repetitive), they are full of wonderful nuggets. My favorite live is ‘True gratitude is not measured by syllables or sound, but by the attitude of the soul and mind.’ As an appendix there are two other unrelated sermons from Bruce that allow the reader to understand the mind of the great preacher.
Chantry, Walter. The Shadow of the Cross: Studies in Self Denial. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2013.
This is a series of seven messages that Chantry preached in 1981. The heart of the messages are still relevant today. Chantry reminds his congregation that the Christian life is a constant denial to self. It is not meant to cause us pain or discomfort, but to learn that Christ surpasses all that we would deny. The principle can be applied to Christian liberty, marriage, prayer and the ministry of the gospel. In sacrificing our selfish wants in the pursuit of Jesus, we discover what a treasure we have in him. Some think Chantry is old school preaching, but I like him. He renews my confidence in the word of God.
Gilbert, Mark (ed.). Stepping Out In Faith: Former Catholics Tell Their Stories. Mathias Media, 2012.
This is book is composed eleven testimonies of people who left Roman Catholicism and embraced an Evangelical Faith. All of them come from different nationalities, ages and economic backgrounds. I have had this on my shelf for a while. I picked it up in connection to the upcoming 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. I guess my thinking was that these people were trapped by their Catholicism. But I discovered this was not the case. Only about three of the individuals truly understood and lived out the practices of Catholicism. With most of the testimonies, many of the people were nominal in their faith. They rarely attended church and only did so at their family’s insistence. They identified as Roman Catholic only because they were raised in Roman Catholic homes. It made me wonder less about the strictures of Catholicism and how many protestant are nominal in their faith. How many people claim to be ‘Christian’ only because on a familial association? It reminded me that everyone needs to the gospel. No one should be presumed to understand. Everyone needs it.
Guthrie, Nancy. What Grieving People Wish You Knew. Wheaton: Crossway, 2016.
I purchased this book to help me brush up on my pastoral skills. Nancy Guthrie and her husband created the Greifshare video series to be used in a small group environment with people who have lost loved ones. She and her husband lost two children when they were infants. The premise of this book is that Guthrie surveyed grief stricken people from all over the world asking them how others could have assisted them in their bereavement period in a better way. I found many of the stories touching, but I found the advice shared to be quite maddening as it contradicted itself in places. The simple take away from the book is that it’s not necessarily what you say as much as it is about being present with the bereaved. People cope with grief in different ways. We must be tenderhearted to allow the process to happen as the Spirit leads.
Hansen, Collin (ed.). The New City Catechism Devotional. Wheaton: Crossway, 2017.
This is a devotional that is designed to be used with the New City Catechism. The purpose for it is for the head of the family to lead a weekly devotion on each particular question. The lesson begins with the question, then the scripture behind the question. Then the editors provide a classic commentary on the subject. These are clips from people like John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and J.C. Ryle. After this, members of the Gospel Coalition write a brief lesson the question as well. The purpose is to educate the individual leading the devotion, not necessarily to provide a lesson that could be read verbatim to the family. The devotions are adequate. Everything in the devotional can be found on the app. But I like the option of having a hard copy, particularly in a day and age when I have grave concerns about our dependence on technology.
Koessler, John. The Radical Pursuit of Rest: Escaping the Productivity Trap. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2016.
Few writers have affected me more than Koessler. He seems to find ways to out his finger right on the heartbeat of where I am and re-direct me back to Christ. In my restlessness, I forgot that true rest in found in a person- specifically Jesus. Koessler writes, ‘Very few of us are called to be famous for God. Most of us work our jobs and serve our churches in relative obscurity.’ And yet ‘In Christ’s kingdom is the highest honor is to be identified with the king.’ While ambition to serve the king is not bad we must keep in mind this beautiful quote, ‘If the primary aim of our ambition is to be noticed, we ought to recall that we live within sight of the one who sees the sparrow fall to the ground.’ Faithfulness to what God has called to us in the moment is what counts, not a CV of piled up glories. Christ has attained for us all the glory needed. Reset was the nuts and bolts of managing my life better. But Radical Pursuit of Rest is the foundation and clarity I needed.
Murray, David. Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture. Wheaton: Crossway, 2017.
David Murray teaches practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. I enjoyed his previous book, Christians Get Depressed Too. In this volume, Murray writes to those of us who are driven to work in excess. He brings many theological principals to bear and to consider as to what may be motivating us to live at such a frantic pace. (I would suggest Koessler’s book for a better overview). But the strength of this book is its practical application. Murray provides the reader with many ways to slow down and take better care of the body. This book is written primarily to men and while it has clergy in mind, my men’s group made up of other professions found it highly beneficial.
Sabella, Jeremy L. An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2017.
This past spring, PBS broadcasted a documentary on the life and influence of Reinhold Niebuhr. This volume is the companion piece to that film. Niehbur was the pastor of a prominent inner city church in Detroit and later a professor at Union Theological Seminary. He was known as a critical thinker of social injustice and an activist. While many traits of his life were admirable, he did nave a weak theological foundation. Neihbuhr believed that institutions (rather than individuals) needed to be redeemed in order to bring about social transformation. Then the institution could force culture to change. He was raised in the Social Gospel tradition and it made him deficient in understanding the depravity of man and the sufficiency of scripture. Even after he became a committed Christian Realists, these traits are present in his life. I was asked to review this book for the Gospel Coalition journal, Themolios. I am glad I did. It reminded me of the influence of Neihbur upon the American conscience that continues to this day.
Scott, Thomas. The Force of Truth. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1984.
This is a reproduction of the 1798 edition of Scott’s spiritual biography. Thomas Scott (1747-1821) was an evangelical Anglican clergyman who ministered in London. He is known for his commentary on the whole Bible that is often included with Matthew Henry’s. William Carey said he owed much of his preaching to Scott. He was close friends with William Jay of Bath. His story is fascinating. He entered the ministry unconverted. He even held many heretical doctrines, yet still subscribed to the church’s 39 Articles of Faith. He became acquainted with John Newton (of Amazing Grace fame) and desired to debate him on his evangelical leanings. Rather than argue with him, Newton took the opportunity to befriend the man and lovingly counseled him to prove his position from the scriptures. Scott was determined to prove himself correct and Newton wrong. Through his study, he was converted to the Lord and became born again. I thoroughly enjoyed this biography because of Scott’s frank honesty and that I saw so many similarities in my own conversion. This brief biography is still as relevant today as it was in eighteenth century.
Trueman, Carl R. Luther on the Christian Life. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011.
I have been saving this book for the right moment for a couple of years. Just before our celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation seemed to be the right time. I was greatly rewarded. Trueman has provided us with an accurate portrayal of how Martin Luther employed his theology into his life. He rightly admits that many of the great reformers beliefs and practices are foreign to the modern to the evangelical. Therefore, it is wise to see the implications of his theology upon his behaviors. After offering a brief biography, he deals with Luther’s views on the pastorate, the sacraments. His theology of the word and of course justification. The author has produced a masterful work. I plan on assigning his book in my future church history classes. Trueman writes in an entertaining and accessible way that makes his subject highly accessible. I commend this book to anyone wanting to understand the thought of Martin Luther.
Vernick, Leslie. The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2013.
As a pastor, I counsel many couples that are in crisis. It is not unusual to encounter marriages where one spouse emotionally abuses the other. This type of abuse manifests itself in many ways from ignoring and distancing your partner as a means of manipulation to physical violence. While men can be abused, Vernick has written her book for women who are oppressed in the marriages. She offers sound advice with the primary purpose of rebuilding the marriage. She has opened up my eyes to how I can better communicate and counsel wives. I also have a better understanding of the type of boundaries that need to be established for the husband to correct his sinful behavior. The only major flaw with the book is one bad paragraph (p. 120) where she discusses the possibility of a conditional and unconditional love from God. It’s not a pivotal point to her argument, but it is bad theology. However, the overall content is solid. I would be glad to recommend this as a resource provided the reader is aware of the offending paragraph. I am grateful for the insight she provides to a difficult subject.