The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Books and more books

with 2 comments

How many churches have recently heard a series or even a sermon drawn from the prophet Micah? How many Christians would recognise even the better known phrases of the man of Moresheth? He lurks among other prophets quickly overlooked as minor, rarely touched and probably little understood.

Dale Ralph Davies redresses the balance somewhat in this excellent commentary (Evangelical Press, 2010, 189pp). Beginning with a devastating illustration that leaves the liberal critic looking a little foolish, and providing an overview of the whole book, he then guides us through the three main sections of the book: through judgement to preservation, through judgement to peace, and through judgement to pardon. Under each section shorter elements are supplied in the author’s own vivid and illuminating translation, discussed briefly, and then pointedly and movingly applied to the church of Christ today.

The author’s ability and readiness to cut to the chase is welcome. He is clearly abreast of other material old and new, and gives us a swift and sure assessment of various interpretive issues, leaving us with little (or significantly reduced) doubt as to the Spirit’s probable intended meaning. Indeed, so surefooted and definite is the writer that there is a significant danger of simply being carried along and allowing him to do all the work for us. Micah’s messianic focus is made to shine brightly at appropriate points, and equally plain throughout is the Lord’s holy hatred of sin.

Those who have previously used and enjoyed the author’s commentaries on other Old Testament books will need little persuading to take up and read this new offering. For any reader who has not yet had the pleasure of making his acquaintance, this would be a fine place to start, and they may find themselves wondering how Micah so quickly yields up treasures they have never before appreciated.

I should imagine that many gospel ministers (who might otherwise not have touched the prophet with a reverent bargepole) are picking up this book and after a few pages beginning to wonder whether or not there might be a series or a few sermons in Micah after all. If they make this book a tool to help them and not merely a template to follow, then they will be right.

Moving on more swiftly, if you still have no idea why you should care about the fact that John Calvin has just had his 500th birthday, then Calvin for Today, edited by Joel Beeke (RHB, 2009, 296pp), may be the collection with which to start. Bringing together the addresses from the 2009 conference of the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, it is a deliberately popular, entry-level survey of Calvin the man and his faith and life. Considering Calvin and his Bible, as a theologian, Calvin and the church, Calvin’s ethics, and his contemporary impact, a range of contributors bring their minds and hearts to bear on some fifteen separate topics. If some of the material coming out of the quincentennial has seemed too dense and weighty, here is an antidote, providing accessible but careful scholarship in engaging fashion. (Amazon)

Following on from This Little Church Went to Market and This Little Church Stayed Home, in This Little Church Had None: A Church in Search of the Truth (Evangelical Press, 2009, 236pp) Gary Gilley continues his assessment of the illness of the church in the modern West, perhaps with particular emphasis on the US. Though by definition any snapshot of a situation dates quickly, there is plenty here that will remain relevant for some time. The author begins by looking at six problems the church faces: seeker-sensitivity, the emergent movement, paganism, the prosperity gospel, pragmatism and the new atheism. Having analysed the problems, he moves on to the solutions, calling for true spiritual leadership by men who are confident of the truth of God’s Word. His co-author steps in particularly in the final section, calling the saints to evangelism that speaks of a holy God, sinful men, judgment to come, and a great Saviour. One particular virtue of this book is its clarity and brevity in providing a helpful overview of present assaults on the church of Christ (from within and without), and calling her simply and plainly to stand where she should and trust whom she should and do what she should. Not ground-breaking, but earnest and helpful. (Amazon)

How many well-intentioned efforts to read systematically through the Scriptures have come a cropper on the book of Numbers (Evangelical Press, 2009, 479pp)? With his final commentary on the Pentateuch in this EP Study Commentary series, John Currid puts in the hands of believers a helpful guide not merely to get us through this book but to feed us from it. Showing how the Book of Numbers centres on the worship of the God who is present with his people in the wilderness, guiding us carefully through alternating sections of lawgiving and historical narrative with penetrating insights, and with thoughtful applications along the way, the author equips us to profit from our tour through the wilderness to the borders of Canaan. Currid says no more than needs to be said, never allowing us to get bogged down in multiple competing perspectives but rather giving a clear and concise understanding of the text. Knowledge and wisdom combine to make this a very helpful addition to any library for those who need stimulating direction through this portion of God’s Word. (WTS/Amazon)

Another helpful commentary in this line, in Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (Evangelical Press, 2010, 255pp) Iain Duguid illuminates the three too-often neglected prophets who close out our Old Testament. Taking particular pains to demonstrate how much these authors are taken up with the Messiah and his coming, and with this series’ familiar pattern of clear exegesis and crisp application, Duguid uses these low-key authors in low-key settings to highlight lessons for churches like ours, too readily obsessed with glitz and glamour, who forget that our true glory is God with us, whether or not that glory is publicly displayed. Preachers or leaders of Bible studies or Christians working through their Bibles – anyone who has wondered at Haggai’s concern for God’s house, stumbled through Zechariah’s visions, or felt that they are missing something in Malachi – will find clear instruction, helpful guidance and heartening exhortation in this volume. Where many readers might feel that they are not quite getting what they might, here is a commentator who takes us by the hand, and – without treating us like nincompoops – helps to clear a way for us to enjoy the treasures of these men of God. (Amazon/Monergism)

Why On Earth Did Jesus Come? by John Blanchard (Evangelical Press, 2009, 40pp) is a booklet about Jesus Christ. Debunking all manner of myths and mistakes along the way, it sets out the reality of and reason for the incarnation of Christ with the author’s customary clarity and logic. Drawing constantly upon the gospel records, setting forth the truth and addressing objections along the way, Mr Blanchard builds to a punchy climax with a call to acknowledge the truth, repent of sin and believe in the Son of God. If you are giving gifts this Christmas, and want to add to the stack something that will bring Christ to bear, Why On Earth? would make a very useful addition to your Christmas stockpile. (WTS/Amazon/Monergism)

Born of the author’s own excitement at his discovery of the overarching theme of Scripture and how the great mountain chain of God’s covenants binds the whole together, From the Garden of Eden to the Glory of Heaven: God’s Unfolding Plan and How it Relates to Christians Today by James R. Williamson (Calvary Press, 2008, 240pp) sets out to bring that perspective within the reach of all of God’s people. With simplicity and balance, James Williamson treads along that mountain range, introducing the concept of covenants and zeroing in on God’s redemptive promises and purposes, before leaping from peak to peak, from Noah to Abraham to Moses to David and then to the New Covenant in Christ Jesus, before driving home some further lessons. The whole is thoroughly orthodox. The author’s Baptistic convictions naturally colour his approach at certain points; many will appreciate a book on covenant theology grounded in such a perspective. Enthusiastic and earnest, this is an excellent and thought-provoking introduction to covenant theology. As such, readers should not anticipate engagement at every point of contention and debate. This is essentially a positive book from which – caught up with the splendour of God’s saving plan – readers can progress to further study and rumination. (Amazon)

Piety’s Wisdom: A Summary of Calvin’s Institutes with Study Questions (RHB, 2010, 368pp), a series of studies by J. Mark Beach through Calvin’s Institutes, would be a useful tool for those who might have missed the opportunity that the 500th anniversary year provided to dig into the man himself, or those who felt that they simply lacked the capacity to do so. After brief introductions to man and book, Beach guides us through the Institutes in brief segments, beginning with an orientation (allowing us to follow the flow and development of the whole) and then a summary of each chapter of Calvin’s work (sometimes further subdivided for ease of understanding). Each unit ends with questions for reflection and discussion. Eschewing the infantile exercise in basic comprehension provided by many study questions, here we face demands for genuine and critical engagement with Calvin’s thought. All in all, whether for groups or individuals, this would be an excellent means of studying the Institutes at a slight distance, or as an insightful guide alongside them. (WTS/Amazon/Monergism)

The Philippian church is sometimes considered as the one model church to which an epistle was written. While not denying the blessings that they had received, Hywel Jones also recognises that Paul had good reason for writing to the Philippian church, and it is this perspective which guides his straightforward but helpful commentary, For the Sake of the Gospel (Philippians Simply Explained) (Evangelical Press, 2010, 167pp). Determined to protect the church from stagnation, division and declension, Paul writes a letter of instruction and exhortation, urging these saints to walk worthy of the gospel. While the language is generally simple, the occasional knotty problems of exegesis and application quickly reveal the author’s depth of understanding and degree of insight. Thus guided, we are able to enjoy this commentary communicating a stirring call to hold fast to the truth and to live a life of godliness. Those looking for a simple overview of the letter, or an easy introduction to it, might confidently start here. (Amazon)

Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (Crossway [RE:LIT], 2010, 176pp) is Don Carson’s attempt to get to the heart of the gospel and to address it in brief scope. He does so with a written record of five addresses on significant passages of Scripture concerning Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. Delivered at a conference in Seattle, these still have something of the flow and form of speech. As we would expect from Mr Carson, there is a wide range of reference outside the Scriptures, helpfully illustrating the text or its principles, and demonstrating the continuing applicability of those principles to our world. Occasional passages are particularly penetrating and powerful. In one sense, there is nothing new here, nor should there be; rather, we have the simple presentation of the scandal of the cross, the gospel of the crucified Christ which remains the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes. (WTS/Amazon/Monergism)

This careful and colourful biography makes splendid reading: carefully constructing the context into which Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born and in which he was raised, tracing the influences intellectual and spiritual which contributed to his formation as man and Christian, and considering the principles and practices which he inculcated and worked out in his own life and the life of others, in Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2010, 608pp) Eric Metaxas gives what seems an honest view of this complex, even contradictory character. For the most part, while the author’s esteem of his subject is evident, readers are left to make their own judgement of Bonhoeffer’s faith and life. His historical circumstances, theological convictions, intellectual pursuits, ecumenical commitments, educational dreams, spiritual aspirations and political actions are all laid out in their intricate relationships, revealing both harmony and tension. So much here to commend, so much to admire, and yet at points serious questions to raise. A book to engage both the mind and heart. (WTS/Amazon)

2 Responses

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  1. Thanks Jeremy
    Although “of making many books there is no end”, you have given a useful list of ones to consider

    David

    Tuesday 26 October 2010 at 13:09

  2. […] a comment » When I first read Eric Metaxas biography of Bonhoeffer, I was both impressed and intrigued. What I was reading […]

    Battering Bonhoeffer « The Wanderer

    Wednesday 19 January 2011 at 19:22


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