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What Pastor Blair Has Been Reading (April 2016 - June 2016)


Aitken, Jonathan. John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace. Wheaton: Crossway, 2007.

I had set this book down a while back and revisited it recently to complete it. Aitken is an interesting character himself. He was once a Member for Parliament and rising political star in Britain until he was convicted of perjury in 1999. He came to faith while in prison. He is much like the British version of Chuck Colson. No doubt that Newton's encounter with grace inspired his own. His quote of Newton, "grace always has about it the scent of scandal," is apropos. This is a fine general biography of Newton. He takes into account much of the recent studies on Newton and the source material. He even spends a few chapters on the importance of Newton's hymn Amazing Grace. Perhaps the only thing lacking is more work on the time period itself. But to date, (short of Bruce Hindmarsh's academic work) this is the best overview of John Newton's life.

Allander, Dan & Tremper Longman. Breaking the Idols of the Heart: How to Navigate the Temptations of Life. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2007.

I had higher hopes for this book. I like Tremper Longman even though he thinks outside the box and delves into speculation in Old Testament Studies. He believes in the inspiration of scripture but sometimes 'colors outside the lines,' (such as his belief that there are two teachers in Ecclesiastes). The foundation for this book is to teach through the book of Ecclesiastes. Longman provides the commentary and scholarship and Allendar provides the case study and teaching. The book is set up by presenting the fictional account of husband and wife, Joan and Noah. We see how their lives allow for sin and then the authors present a teaching from Ecclesiastes to address the situation. It almost works...almost. The scenarios are realistic enough, but the teaching is not very strong nor really focused. There are better books to address the subject of temptation and idolatry.

Anderson, Nancy C. Avoiding the Greener Grass Syndrome: How to Grow Affair-Proof Hedges Around Your Marriage. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.

Every year I try to read at least one book on marriage. I chose this book based on a recommendation and an inquiry if I thought it was Biblical. First of all, Anderson confesses at the outset that she had an affair on her husband and shares the story of how she and her husband worked hard to reconcile their marriage. But she has used her personal failing for God's glory to help women avoid falling into the trap that their lives would be better if only they were out ot their current relationship or to blame their failures on their spouses. To teach this she uses the acronym H.E.D.G.E.,  where each letter represents an area to work on in marriage, (I will let you read the book to see her categories). I found her advice to be helpful, challenging and Biblical. No doubt it will resonate more with women. The only place in which I had trouble was in trying to justify the acronym (HEDGE) from Mark 12:1. To do so was to do injustice to the context of Jesus' parable. I would have preferred if she had just said, 'Here is a handy acronym to help you remember to work on these area's. But outside of that I thought this was a very practical book with a wonderful warning.

Bara, Allen. Mickey and Willie: Mantle and Mays, the Parallel Lives of Baseball's Golden Age. New York: Crown, 2013.

What do you do when you find out your heroes are not what you thought they were? This book traces the lives of American League Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle and National League Hall of Famer Willie Mays. Both rose from obscurity and captured the hearts of America from the 1950's through the 1960's. Over the years, it was always hot stove talk as to who was better; Mays or Mantle? It's strange how the Bara attacks the material and at first I did not know what he was doing. He begins by presenting their lives and their careers as many wished to see them, in fact the author inserts his own memories as a child. His own perceptions seemed to weaken the moment. But then as he begins to reveal the baseball icon's flaws which became even more pronounced at the end of their lives, you see the author struggle as to what to make of his childhood heroes. He discovered later in life that they were more human than he was willing to concede. At the conclusion, the reader discovers he has been given a glimpse of idolatry. And as always idols leave you empty and unsatisfied. Bara is just barely able to pull this off. It would have been helpful to understand his direction from the beginning. Not a book for the kids when he covers the players exploits in life, but as easy and fascinating read.

Bock, Darrell L. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Luke (2 Volumes). Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994.

Don Carson says this is the best commentary on Luke that is out today. I agree.  This was my primary commentary as I preached through Luke's gospel. I consulted it frequently because Bock does such an excellent job dealing with the sources and historicity of the Greek text. This is not a layman's work. There are easier commentaries to use without getting technical. But it is the best for New Testament scholar.

Carson, D.A. & Kathleen Neilson (eds). Mission: Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Wheaton: Crossway, 2015.

This book contains the series of key note speakers who spoke on Luke during the Gospel Coalitions annual conference. It has a who's who for contributors: John Piper. Kevin Deyoung, Don Carson, and Tim Keller among others. I used this book devotionally in order to keep my thoughts fresh on Luke as I preached through the series. While he content is good, not all of the presentations are stellar. Be prepared for highs and lows as you read through it.

Chandler, Matt ad Michael Snetzer. Recovering Redemption: A Gospel Saturated Perspective on How to Change. Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2014.

Matt Chandler is the lead pastor of Village Church in Dallas, TX and Michael Snetzer is a full time Christian Counselor. Together they have teamed up to write a book that presents a comprehensive view of redemption- not just the salvific aspect of it, but also the application of the gospel to every area of one's life. Because Christ has overcome, one can change his or her life or Christ will give you the power to endure in the midst of struggles. The book is full of stories and testimonies of people who have come out of darkness and into light. Chandler shares his own battle with brain cancer and Snetzer shares his struggles as a recovered drug addict. The message is thoroughly Biblical. But as powerful as the message is, I perceive that it might have short shelf life. As typical of Chandler's preaching, he writes in a witty style where many of the humorous references will seem passe after a few years. But this is a great book to indroduce someone who is non-churched to the gospel - just do it soon.

Emlet, Michael. Crosstalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet. Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2009.

Emlet is M.D. and a professor of Biblical Counseling at CCEF. Crosstalk proposes the right use of scripture in counseling others. Emlet helps counselors understand that there needs to be a healthy balance between addressing the counselee's short term need with an understanding that all of scripture speaks to life. Although his writing is a bit difficult to work through, his methodology is thoroughly Biblical and God honoring. I would say this is much needed reading to help Biblical counselors use the entirety of scripture in their discipleship.

Geldenhuys, Norval. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1998.

Geldenhuys was a South African scholar that taught at Princeton and Cambridge. This commentary is a classic on the work. It was a nice complimentary work to use with Bock (see above). However, every now and then the author avoided taking stands on particularly controversial interpretations. But I would recommend this volume for the Sunday school teacher looking for good commentaries on individual books of the Bible.

Liftin, Bryan. After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015.

I met Dr. Lifton when we were speaking at a conference. He is a fine scholar and as a zeal for accurate portrayals in church history. This volume is meant to be an introduction as to what historians truly know about the apostles at the conclusion of the book of Acts. All of the disciples, plus Pau, James the brother of Jesus  and the Virgin Mary are covered. The material is concise and well written. Without much speculation and sorting through the legends, Liftin provides plausible explanations as to what transpired in the lives of these figures (though I am not sure I agree with his assumption that John edited his gospel rather than wrote it). Within the text are footnotes to give the reader further material to research if one desires. This was an enjoyable read and recommended to those interested in Church History.

Mounce, William D. Biblical Greek: A Compact Guide. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

When I went to Cambridge I made a little notebook with all my declensions verb paradigms and the most common contractions. The small book has been falling apart, and I considered making another replacement. The thought of starting from scratch overwhelmed. But I found this instead and I have been using it the last few months. It is what I wish I had begun my studies in Greek. Not only does it have what I use frequently in a compact form, it also has most irregular verb forms and a brief lexicon as well. This is a great tool for the Greek student. I plan on using mine regularly.

Murray, Iain H. Amy Carmichael: Beauty for Ashes. Edinburgh: Banner of Truths, 2015.

I am a great admirer of Iain Murray. I truly appreciate his opinions of various events on history. But that being said, I was hoping for more of this overview of Amy Carmichael's (1867-1951) life. It does provide an adequate overview of the major events in her life, how a single woman from Northern Ireland became the 'mother' to over 800 orphans in Dohnavur, India. One can appreciate the heroic sacrifice and faith of this wonderful woman. But I was hoping that Murray would focus more on her writings. She was a prolific author and there is only a brief chapter on that subject which is how most people know Carmichael. She wrote to the western world of her experiences and what God was teaching her through them. I wish Murray had been able to bring this out more as he usually has with most of his other biographies. But aside from that, this might be a good introduction to Carmichael PRIOR to reading her own writings.

Ryle, J.C. Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007.

Like the Carson book listed above, I used this commentary on Luke devotionally to keep my thoughts fresh on Luke's gospel. The former Bishop of Liverpool did not disappoint. The focus on Ryle's work is more an application. He breaks down each passage in bite size chunks and gives his opinion on the text. Ryle was always good for a quote on the front of the bulletin. This might be his best work on the four gospels.

Stiles. J. Mack. Evangelism: How The Whole Church Speaks of Jesus. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014.

This book is within the 9 Marks Building Healthy Churches series. Each book is designed to help Church leadership on various topics such as elders, membership, discipline, and preaching. Stiles has produced an excellent overview of Evangelism. He is well suited to write this as he is a pastor in Dubai. He reminds the reader that Evangelism is not a program but arises from the overflowing heart of the believer as he or she goes about their daily activities. It is being faithful in the moment to share the gospel of Jesus when the opportunity presents itself. But Stiles goes a step further in teaching how to create a culture of evangelism in the church. He is spot on with his biblical exposition and wonderful illustrations. This is an easy read and one I hope to take our elders through in the days ahead.