Barton Swaim in the Wall Street Journal today highlights why many moderns aren’t interested in reading the Bible in a critical review of a book on the Bible that assumes all the assumptions of modern critics of the Scriptures. What C.S. Lewis said of Christianity is true also of the Scriptures on which it is based: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” If the Bible isn’t true, then it is relatively unimportant and one must find ways to convince people to read it (as this author has attempted). This review, in my mind, exposes the arrogance of those who critique the Bible with no awareness or recognition of the massive amounts of scholarship that interprets the Bible as historically accurate and affirms the supernatural nature of the book and the miraculous events it describes. Everyone comes to the Bible with presuppositions. If you come to the Scriptures with a presupposition that the supernatural is impossible in a fixed/closed universe governed merely by natural laws then you will dismiss the supernatural. But if you come to the Scriptures with an allowance that the supernatural is a possibility, you may well discover that the events described are possible and given the many historical accuracies, prophetic fulfillments, and, this is a big one—the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, you may well become convinced of the Bible’s truthfulness and trustworthiness and become one of the millions whose lives have been changed by its central message of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Typically at the end of each year I post a list of my favorite books read that year. That time is now upon us. This list is not of books written in 2020 (although six of the ten were published in the last two years), not is it a list of all the books I read; it is a list of my favorite books read in 2020. This list is also not ranked in order of my favorite or the ones I think were the best. They are in roughly the chronological order that I read them. The books on this list were my favorites because of what they taught me, the joy they brought, how they edified me, or the way they enabled me to see things from others’ perspectives. I try to read books that I not only know I will agree with, but also books that will challenge me and allow me to think critically about issues of importance. I’m thankful that in a year of uncertainty, there were still books. God is good.
- Grant by Ron Chernow (2017). An epic biography that covers the scope of Ulysses Grant’s life from shopkeeper to General to President. While honest with struggles that Grant had with alcohol in his life, this account is a corrective to the stereotypes associated with Grant and presents him as a man of integrity overall who was oftentimes to trusting of his associates. Most revealing was how instrumental he was in a positive way in the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era seeking to secure the rights of the recently freed African Americans. He may have done more for Civil Rights for African Americans than any other President in history. The progress that was made under his administration highlights the immediate setbacks and backlash that happened in the American South, the results of some of which continue today.
- The Amazing Spider-Man, Volume 1 (Masterworks Series) by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Contains Amazing Fantasy #15 and Amazing Spider-Man #1-10 (1963). My favorite comic book super hero while growing up was Spider-Man. During my early teen years in the late 1980s I would purchase, read, and collect each month’s issues of Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, The Web of Spider-Man, and Marvel Tales (featuring reprinted Amazing Spider-Man classics). When I saw that some editions of Marvel’s Masterworks series were available to read for free on Kindle for Amazon Prime members, I decided to read the first volume featuring the first eleven appearances of Spider-Man from the early 1960s. Although the stories were much simpler then, the 1960s artwork is my aesthetic. Excelsior!
- The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral-And How It Changed the American West by Jeff Guinn (2011). My first foray into historical research was a research paper written in high school exploring the true stories behind some of the myths of the Old West. As much as I love the genre of western, I love even more the real stories that inspired the mythos of the wild west. This book, therefore, appealed to me with its promise in the subtitle to tell the “real story” of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It starts out somewhat slow with a lot of background to the town of Tombstone, but when the main characters of the gunfight are introduced it becomes riveting. It turns out that “Doc” Holiday in real life is almost as fascinating as the version played by Val Kilmer and the closing chapter detailing the influence of this gunfight on the development of the modern western is very enlightening.
- Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine by Barry Strauss (2019). This work surveys the first four-hundred years of the Roman Empire by examining the ten most influential Roman Emperors during that period. As a classicist and professor of ancient military history, Strauss is an expert guide on this tour through early Roman history. Strauss is a master storyteller and his book is an enjoyable read. Particularly interesting to me was the way in which these “Ten Caesars” shaped the world into which Christ was born and in which Christianity developed. The interplay between the various Roman emperors with one another and the Senate makes for fascinating (even if sometimes soap-opery) reading.
- Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by Aimee Byrd (2020). I have long appreciated the corrective that complementarianism is to both egalitarianism on the one hand and patriarchalism on the other hand. However, correctives also sometimes need correcting. Aimee Byrd provides helpful pushback to overreaches in the “biblical manhood and womanhood” movement from biblical, theological, and historical perspectives. In the end, she remains committed to her confessional tradition in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (Westminster Confession of Faith) and the teaching of Scripture regarding gender roles in the church and home while she rejects many of the contemporary evangelical interpretations of exactly what that should look like in today’s world. Helpful and thought-provoking if read with charity and a willingness to listen.
- Reformed Evangelicalism and the Search for a Usable Past: The Historiography of Arnold Dallimore, Pastor-Historian by Ian Hugh Clary (2020). This work was originally Ian Clary’s doctoral dissertation submitted to the University of the Free State. Clary has modified that work for publication and it was released this year in the series in Reformed Historical Theology published by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Clary’s work, while focused on the Canadian historian Arnold Dallimore, provides a compelling case study on the role of the Christian historian. Clary analyzes the historical writings of Dallimore pointing out both strengths and weaknesses. This analysis allows Clary to propose a way for Christian historians to approach history in a way that is faithful to tell the truth “warts and all” about its heroes, while also telling the story of the past in a way that is usable, profitable, encouraging, and instructive for the church today. In this work, Clary models exactly what he commends to the good of all who will read it.
- Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope by Esau McCaulley (2020). This work by New Testament scholar and Wheaton professor Esau McCaulley was very eye-opening to me. Although written for a primary audience of African-American students of the Bible, this work provides rich insight into the ways in which the Black church in America has interpreted the Bible. Just reading this book is an important reminder of the way that our context influences our interpretation of Scripture. It is very important to read how other groups interpret Scripture because many other groups may have more in common with the first century readers of the New Testament. This is certainly true of those who have lived as minorities and experienced persecution. For such communities, the hope of eternity, when all wrongs will be made right and there is no more suffering, is especially understood and celebrated. By reading this book I was able to eavesdrop on conversations that have long been taking place in the Black church in America and I have a richer understanding of Scripture because of it. I lament with the author his struggle to find a home in the white church, both among theological conservatives who share his high view of Scripture but who have little interest in matters of racial justice or among theological liberals who share his concern about social justice but whose beliefs regarding Scripture undercut the very hope that has sustained the African-American community over centuries of suffering. I’m grateful to Dr. McCaulley for opening a window into a long ongoing conversation that I have sadly been mostly unaware of. I pray that white evangelicals and African-American Christians will learn from one another and sharpen one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
- Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund (2020). This is quite simply the most soul-encouraging, heart-strengthening, gospel-sustaining books that I have ever read. I was moved to tears many times as Ortlund vividly portrayed the beauty of the gentle mercies of Jesus Christ. In this work, Ortlund draws from the rich devotional literature of the Puritans, especially Thomas Goodwin’s The Heart of Christ. Although filled with the gospel-saturated Puritan ethos, Ortlund writes in accessible English for the modern reader. In many ways, Ortlund has distilled the teaching of the Puritans on the compassion of Christ into single breath-taking volume. After reading my copy, I placed it on my bookshelf with my Puritan classics where it rightfully belongs and from where I will pull it again and again as I often need to be reminded of Christ’s love for me, a sinner.
- The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby (2019). This book doesn’t tell the full story of American Christianity. It doesn’t claim to do so. However, it does tell the part of the story that has often been ignored or left out when white evangelicals write their own history. I think of Churchill’s quip that history will be kind to him because he intended to write it! We have often been far too kind to ourselves in our recounting of our history. Tisby provides an important and instructive look at the ways that the white church in America has often been complicit in the racism of the wider American culture. You may not agree with Tisby’s proposed solutions, but clearly the white church has not been what it should have been on this issue. Honestly acknowledging the problem is the first step toward changing that and this book confronts us with facts from our past that will begin us on that journey.
- Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith (2012). I ended 2020 the same way that I began it—by reading a 1,000+ page biography of a two-term Republican president who had previously served as an United States General leading his country to victory. The parallels between the lives and careers of Grant and Eisenhower are striking at times, highlighted by the fact that the author had also written a biography of Grant and makes several comparisons. Both men arose from relative obscurity to become commanding generals where their success propelled them to the presidency. Eisenhower is presented by Smith, not as a flawless man, but as a steady leader who led with integrity. Although he was identified with war due to his role as Supreme Commander in the European theater during World War II, his presidency was a period of stability and peace due to his measured leadership at the beginning of the Cold War era. Eisenhower was uniquely qualified to oppose the extremists within his own party. He was able to withstand and ultimately squelch the McCarthyian Communist witch hunts due to his own stature as a trusted leader. His role in integrating the Armed Forces and using the military to enforce the Supreme Courts ruling to desegregate schools is an important, though often overlooked legacy that paved the way for the Civil Rights movement.
I’m beginning to see the list of favorite books/reads of 2017. I love to read others’ lists. I also like to think about over what I’ve read this year and choose my favorites. These are my favorite books I read in 2017. Only three of the books were actually published in 2017.
- The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy.
This book explores the relationship between Graham and eleven United States presidents from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush. It is both a fascinating and frightening portrayal offering an encouraging look at the possibility of gospel ministry to political leaders and a cautionary tale of the perils of such ministry.
- Henry Clay: The Essential American by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler.
An exhaustive biography of a truly important American, the Kentuckian Henry Clay. It’s amazing how entwined his life was with the life of our nation from 1800-1850. This is not only a primer on Clay, but a good overview of American political life in the first half of the 19th century.
- The Other Side of Infamy: My Journey through Pearl Harbor and the World of War by Jim Downing.
I loved reading this book by 103-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor, Jim Downing. Downing, who I met this year, is very lucid in his recounting of his experience at Pearl Harbor and his years of service and ministry that followed. A great first-hand account of the day that lives in infamy and of the early history of the Navigators.
- Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
After you get past the creepy psycho-analysis of Johnson early on, this is a very compelling read. This combined with the portrayal of Johnson’s relationship to Graham in The Preacher and the Presidents paints an interesting picture of a man increasingly isolated during his presidency who looked for loyalty and love of people.
- He Died for Me: Limited Atonement and the Universal Gospel by Jeffrey D. Johnson.
A compelling look at the nature of the atonement with an understanding of its nature that allows for/demands a proclamation to the world.
- Controversy of the Ages: Why Christians Should Not Divide Over the Age of the Earth by Theodore Cabal and Peter Rasor II.
This book is well-described by its subtitle. While discussions about the age of the earth often divide Christians, this work argues that should not be the case. Interesting analysis of historic debates between science and Christianity provide a model for how to engage in perceived conflicts in the present and future.
- The Reason for God: Belief in An Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller.
An excellent apologetic work that winsomely argues for the existence of the Christian God. C. S. Lewis for the modern man. After reading on Kindle, I ordered a hard-copy to have on hand for reference and perusal.
- Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir by Carolyn Weber.
Beautifully written memoir of an American who converted to Christianity while studying at Oxford. Fascinating details about life at Oxford sprinkled throughout a conversion narrative that takes place slowly, but powerfully.
- Lincoln’s Bishop: A President, A Priest, and the Fate of 300 Dakota Sioux Warriors by Gustav Niebuhr.
Insightful portrayal of the impact of a minister who appealed to Abraham Lincoln on behalf of Native Americans. This book has everything from details of conflict on the frontier between settlers and Indians to the conscientious stand by an Episcopalian bishop for the equality and protection of a despised group of people.
- All That is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism by James E. Dolezal.
A short, but dense treatment of some of the foundational issues related to the doctrine of God that have seemingly been assumed, then lost to a current generation of evangelicals. Dolezal builds the classical doctrine of the Trinity while affirming and safeguarding the foundational doctrines of simplicity and impassibility. In the end, he shows that the orthodox position on the Trinity must take into account these doctrines in any formulation of a doctrine related to the Godhead.
A little over a month ago, a new edition of Teaching Truth, Training Hearts: The Study of Catechisms in Baptist Life was released by Founders Press. The book by Baptist historian Tom Nettles was originally released by Calvary Press in 1998. This first edition was instrumental in my own education about Baptists’ use of catechism historically. I could never have guessed when I first read this book that I would be involved in a future edition of it.
Due to my doctoral work on Hercules Collins under Dr. Nettles, he invited me to contribute material on Collins’ Orthodox Catechism to the new edition. My contribution was to provide a complete, edited transcription of the catechism and a substantial chapter-length historical introduction to the work. This amounts to 75 pages of the 328 page work.
The book is available for order directly from Founders Press.
Below is my expression of appreciation to Dr. Tom Nettles (He insists that I call him Tom, but I struggle to do so.) from the Foreword:
I would first like to express my appreciation to Tom Nettles for including me with him in the second edition of this important volume. I must confess that I share Tom’s love for catechisms, largely due to his influence on my life. In fact, like for so many others, it was when I read the first edition of this volume that I became convinced of the importance of catechisms in Baptist life. Therefore, it is a distinct honor to have had the opportunity to pursue doctoral studies under the primary author of this volume and now to contribute in a small way to this second edition. My prayer is that this new edition will lead to the continued recovery of the use of catechisms in Baptist life today.
I appreciate the following endorsements of the work from men who I greatly respect.
“As this superb collection shows, Baptists have made ample use of catechisms throughout their history, and they still have practical value for building up God’s people today. I welcome this volume and cheer it on!”
Founding dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University
and general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture
“Tom Nettles’ Teaching Truth, Training Hearts is a helpful introduction to the rich tradition of Baptist catechisms. All who desire to better know their faith, and to more effectively pass it on to the next generation, will benefit immensely from this book.”
Jason K. Allen
President, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary & College
“Passing sound theology from one generation to the next is a matter of vital importance for developing strong Christians. The time-tested use of catechisms has been proven to be a most effective tool for this safe transfer. Here is a collection of ‘the best of the best’ Baptist catechisms that have shown themselves to be an invaluable teaching aid in instructing both children and adults, new believers and seasoned disciples alike. This book is a treasure house of Bible doctrine that will benefit all who plunge into its concise statements of core scriptural truths.”
Steven J. Lawson
President, OnePassion Ministries
I love books. I have thousands of them that surround me both at my home and church study. In the past couple of years, however, I have discovered the advantage of having a digital library for life on the go. Between my ministry at Farmdale Baptist Church and my ministry at the Kentucky State Capitol, along with a few other opportunities here and there, I usually preach or teach the Bible six to eight times a week. This requires me not only to stay on the go, but also to be able to study on the go. This is where Logos Bible Software has become a huge blessing to me over the past year or so.
Logos allows me to have access to a complete biblical and theological library anywhere and anytime. This is extremely helpful as I am sometimes studying at home, other times at church, and even more often at the local coffee shop. Before I started using Logos I would have to carry a box of commentaries with me everywhere I went (I know you can photocopy specific pages and take with you in a folder, but I have never been that far ahead in preparation and never had a secretary to do that kind of task.). Even on family vacations or visiting family on holiday, I would carry a large box of books with me because for the pastor there is always a Sunday approaching soon. Now, while I still take some books, most of my reference works are readily available on my tablet or laptop. I often have as many as ten different commentaries on a passage open on my Logos program on my laptop. Those commentaries stay open throughout a sermon series to exactly where I am in the book of the Bible (you can configure the settings to sync the books to the same passage and to open where you close it each time). This is both a time and space saver. I no longer have to several books open on my desk at the same time (although I still do it sometimes for fun and old times sake!).
Another feature that I love about Logos is the app for my Android tablet (the same is available for iPads). It is a free app that provides access to your entire digital library. In other words, any book that you own for your desktop software is available on the app (I should mention this app also works on smartphones.). What I love most about the app is that it allows you to read the books in your Logos library in Kindle-like fashion. One of the difficulties with owning virtually any of the Logos packages, is that you have more books than you can even remember that you have. Also, having books that are only accessible on your computer are not very reader-friendly. Using the app enables you to read one book at a time, whether at home at night waiting to fall asleep or on the beach. This gives you a virtually inexhaustible supply of reading and study material while on the go.
Disclaimer: Logos provided me a free copy of one of their base packages for the promise of a review. I was not required to give a positive review. Because of the usefulness of the software as noted above, I have subsequently purchased multiple add-ons to the original base package given to me.
In Baptists in America: A History, Thomas S. Kidd and Barry Hankins, both professors of history at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, show how American Baptists have functioned alternatively as outsiders and insiders in American culture. Tracing Baptists from their beginning in the new world as a persecuted minority all the way to their late 20th-century prominence in the culture wars, Kidd and Hankins demonstrate that individual Baptists have often enjoyed acceptance while others have been maligned. It is a compelling narrative expertly told.
The authors are to be commended for not merely painting with a broad brush, but for dipping down into some of the individual stories and weaving the narratives together seamlessly. More than merely descriptive, Kidd and Hankins also delve into how theology shaped practice in particular areas. Most fascinating in this regard is their analysis of how the “soul competency” theology of Edgar Young Mullins (4th president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) accounts for how even progressive Southern Baptists were so little engaged in the Civil Rights movement (221-225).
While excellent overall, as a frequent reader of Baptist history I thought certain treatments were the best I have seen heretofore in an American Baptist survey text. I thought the treatments of “Baptists and Slavery” (chapter 6), “Baptist Schism in the Early Twentieth Century” (chapter 10), “Baptists and the Civil Rights Movement” (chapter 12), and “Schism in Zion: The Southern Baptist Controversy” (chapter 13) were especially well done. What made these treatments unique was the balanced way in which these controversial topics were discussed with an apparent attempt to understand and explain the why and how behind developments that could be viewed both positively and negatively.
Even the conclusion (chapter 14) is fruitful as the authors explore the markers of Baptist identity, briefly discussing important distinctives such as religious liberty, soul liberty, the authority of Scripture, and the separation of church and state. This book focused on the dual nature of Baptists variously and at sundry times as insiders and outsiders. This evidence is surveyed in the concluding chapter; but the authors also seek to drop some conclusions about what makes a Baptist a Baptist. Noting the extreme diversity of Baptists, they rightly show that we cannot “make broad claims about what makes Baptists distinct.” Instead, we should talk about what “most” or “some” Baptists believed and did. Nevertheless, the authors do propose “three features that mark all Baptists throughout history”: (1) Baptism for believers only, (2) independence of local congregations, (3) Willingness to call themselves Baptists (251).
I recommend this book to all who want to understand the history of Baptists in America or the impact of Baptists on American culture (and vice versa). It will serve as an excellent textbook for a history of religion in America or American Baptists elective course on both the undergraduate and graduate levels. This book raises all the important issues and will make for a great discussion starter, while at the same time being a competent guide, for the doctrinal and practical issues that have been, and continue to be, debated by Baptists. This book could also prove useful for those from other religious traditions, or “none,” who want to understand the complexity, and sometimes seemingly contradictory, identity of Baptists.
During 2014 I was blessed to read a number of great books. Here are ten of my favorites. These were not all written in 2014, I just read them this year. I list these books in no particular order, just ten of my favorite reads in 2014.
- Ardent Love for Jesus: English Baptists and the Experience of Revival in the Long Eighteenth Century by Michael A. G. Haykin
This book focuses on an special area of interest of Michael Haykin, who is a respected Patristic and 17th-century English Baptist scholar. But as a former student and friend, I know that very near to his heart are the Baptist men and women of the 18th century. Haykin’s love for this period is infectious in this delightful volume that explores both the need for revival among 18th-century English Baptists, their reaction to the Evangelical Revival, and the fruit of the revival among Baptists in the modern missionary movement.
- George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father by Thomas S. Kidd (Kindle)
Thomas Kidd, professor of history at Baylor University, has quickly established himself as one of the foremost historians of religious life in colonial America. This book further cements this position. Kidd has successfully navigated the scholarly waters by offering an interpretation that is both true to his cultural context socially and Whitefield’s own self-understanding theologically.
- Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (Kindle)
This New York Times bestseller has been made into a major motion picture. Hillenbrand expertly describes the trials and triumphs of Louis Zamperini, 1936 Olympian and World War II POW. The book is an inspiring story of perseverance and the grace of forgiveness.
- The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry by Jared C. Wilson (Kindle)
Pastors are often depressed. This book provides the only lasting remedy–the gospel of Jesus Christ. Pastors need the gospel too and this book applies the gospel to the unique struggles which pastors face.
- Daniel (Concordia Commentary) by Andrew E. Steinmann
I preached through the book of Daniel in 2014 and I really came to love this commentary. It is a comprehensive commentary that combines both the exegetical and theological.
- Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon by Tom Nettles (Kindle)
Although there are a number of biographical studies of the Prince of Preachers, there was lacking a systematic survey of Spurgeon’s theology. Nettles has filled this lacuna admirably with this massive tome. If you want to learn what made Spurgeon tick, you will want to read this book.
- What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman (Kindle)
I love books on productivity and I love the gospel. This book combines both of these in a practical way. Perman not only provides a gospel-centered look at productivity, he provides a model for how the gospel should infiltrate and impact every aspect of our lives.
- The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace: More Than a Memory by Richard C. Barcellos (Kindle)
Baptists are often thought to have only held to a memorial view of the Lord’s Supper. Barcellos provides the biblical and theological data to support a higher view of the Supper. This case is not only made biblically and theologically, but Barcellos also demonstrates that this was the view held by seventeenth-century English Particular Baptists.
- One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology by Jarvis Williams (Kindle)
With all the racial tension in our world today, this is a great biblical treatment of racial reconciliation. Racial reconciliation is not primarily a political or social issue, it is a gospel issue. Williams skillfully demonstrates this from the Scriptures. This volume is timely appropriate, eminently readable, and expertly researched. Read this and be reminded that racial reconciliation must begin at the house of God.
- The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology: A Comparison Between Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist and Paedobaptist Federalism by Pascal Denault (Kindle)
Many proponents of 1689 Confessionalism seem to view the Covenant theology contained in the 1689 London Confession as identical to its Westminster counterpart. Denault, however, shows that the seventeenth-century Baptists had a different starting place than their Reformed contemporaries. In short, they took the view of the new covenant espoused by the Congregationalist John Owen and took it to its logical ecclesiological conclusion. A very important work for understanding Baptist Covenant Theology.
James Hamilton, associate professor of biblical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, has written a helpful book explaining the place of the Old Testament book of Daniel in biblical theology. I read the book in preparation for my sermon series on the book of Daniel at Farmdale Baptist Church. It served as a great introduction to the book and the larger themes of redemptive history that are prominent in the book.
Hamilton uses the chiastic structure of Daniel to summarize the message of Daniel into one sentence. I find this to be a helpful and concise, yet comprehensive explanation of the message of Daniel. It reflects the overall structure of the book and accounts for the content of each chapter (see below).
Daniel encourages the faithful by showing them that though Israel was exiled from the land of promise, they will be restored to the realm of life at the resurrection of the dead, when the four kingdoms are followed by the kingdom of God, so the people of God can trust him and persevere through persecution until God humbles proud human kings, gives everlasting dominion to the son of man, and the saints reign with him.
James M. Hamilton, Jr. With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology. New Studies in Biblical Theology 32. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014, 83.
The book is not available in the US until next month (September 2014), but you can pre-order the volume here. If you can’t wait until then, consider ordering the book from the UK where it has already been released.
C. S. Lewis, in his Introduction to a translation of Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, warned that: “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.” He went on to explain:
Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.
Postscript: I wrote and scheduled this post for publication last week. Since that time, my friend David Schrock posted “Twelve ‘Old Books’ Every Christian Should Read”, inspired, in part, by Lewis’ admonition quoted above. It is a great list that will get you started on your quest to read old books!
J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God should be required reading for all who desire to understand and discuss the relationship between divine sovereignty and human relationship with its implications for evangelism. It is at once a plea to take Scripture’s teaching regarding both divine sovereignty and human responsibility seriously and a call to declare the gospel indiscriminately to all. In the paragraph below, first published in 1961, Packer presciently responds to the current debate between Calvinists and Traditionalists in the Southern Baptist Convention. His words are a stern warning against the tendency of both sides “to grow self-righteous and bitter and conceited as they criticize each other.”
This is a question that troubles many evangelical Christians today. There are some who have come to believe in the sovereignty of God in the unqualified and uncompromising way in which (as we judge) the Bible presents it. These are now wondering whether there is not some way in which they could and should witness to this faith by modifying the evangelistic practice which they have inherited from a generation with different convictions. These methods, they say, were devised by people who did not believe what we believe about God’s absolute sovereignty in salvation; is that not of itself reason enough for refusing to use them? Others, who do not construe the doctrine of divine sovereignty in quite this way, nor take it quite so seriously, fear that this new concern to believe it thoroughly will mean the death of evangelism; for they think it is bound to undercut all sense of urgency in evangelistic action. Satan, of course, will do anything to hold up evangelism and divide Christians; so he tempts the first group to become inhibited and cynical about all current evangelistic endeavors, and the second group to lose its head and become panicky and alarmist, and both to grow self-righteous and bitter and conceited as they criticize each other. Both groups, it seems, have urgent need to watch against the wiles of the devil.