The essential Christian library
I've been asked to come up with a list of 12 books that would be part of an essential Christian library. I'm very nervous about such lists because they often (a) reveal more about you than you would wish and (b) I'm always nervous about what might be left off. Nevertheless, in the spirit of co-operation, here's my attempt. My starting point is to think through what books would be useful (no books are "essential") for a thinking Christian – not particularly a leader or preacher, but a mature, keen Christian who wants to grow. I've included a word of explanation with each. But even now, as I write this, I can't help thinking there are better answers. So, no answers on a postcard please. They are in no particular order:
- New Bible Commentary 21st Century Edition (ed. Carson, France, Motyer & Wenham). This is still the best one volume commentary and, for my money, you still get more for your money with something like this than you do from a study Bible.
- Valley of Vision, a book of Puritan prayers, ed Arthur Bennett. This is my wildcard entry. Much trailed in the evangelical world and much loved in mine. Helps me to pray when I don't feel like praying. Leather edition is vastly superior to the paperback.
- Bible Answers, Derek Prime. A thinking Christian needs to have a systematic book, but which one. I honestly struggled to choose. However, as a starter, I think this is still my favourite. Easy to use, easy to read, trustworthy in content. It doesn't interact with other views in the way, say that Grudem does. Nevertheless, a good volume.
- Guidance and the voice of God, Phil Jensen & Tony Payne. Many Christians struggle with this particular issue and therefore I've included a book on it. I think that MacArthur is also good on this – but Jensen and Payne set the bar.
- Delighting in the Trinity, Tim Chester. The Trinity is such an important topic that I needed to include a book on it. Couldn't decide whether to go with Tim's or Sam Allberry's Connected. Both are good. Sam's perhaps slightly more accessibly, but neither is difficult.
- The secret of contentment, by William Barcley. I really wanted to get some older writing in, but if my target audience is the keen Christian, I've refrained from choosing puritan tones, though that is what I like to read. This is the next best thing – Barcley distilling wisdom from Jeremiah Burroughs and Thomas Watson. Discontent is one of the root sins of the age.
- When I don’t desire God, John Piper. I think Desiring God is a great book, but with this one you get the exhortation of that book plus some thinking about when things are broke. I find this an excellent book.
- The Reason for God, Tim Keller. Some of its deficiencies are much trailed, but if you understand this book for what it is, it is a superb apologetic defence of some (not all) of the basics of faith and whether God is really there. I'm always confident handing this onto friends.
- The cross of Christ, John Stott. This is a classic. Deservedly so. My list of 12 needs a book on Christ and the cross, the heart of our faith.
- The footsteps of God, John Legg. I needed a history book for my list, but couldn't decide which. There are great individual bios, but this one I like because it tackles a range of people. I've just tried to make a link and realised that this is now out of print. *Sulk* I was so keen on this particular volume, that I'm not sure what to replace it with. Perhaps this – the Story of the Church by Clouse, Pieard and Yamauchi- a wonderful little hardback with pictures! Yay! One of the most engaging church history books. Update: I've since found out that this title is out of print too! It's a travesty. I'm halfway through writing a simple church history. In the meantime, here's the next best thing (!): Christopher Catherwood's Church History Summary from IVP.
- Through the British Museum with the Bible by Clive Anderson and Brian Edwards. Did you know the Bible is true? Of course you did. We know that by faith. But, wonderfully, archaeology helps. I have bought more copies of this book than any other. I keep giving them away. Strongest volume in a strong series.
- For the love of God, vols 1&2, Don Carson. These are now available free through the Gospel Coalition website. Two wonderful devotional books based on McCheyne's Bible reading plan. Still fresh after many readings. Print versions also available.
I'm already having second thoughts about my list…. I can see some glaring omissions. But such is the nature of such things. So, I shall put my pen down. It's a useful exercise, perhaps you should do it as part of your planning a church bookstall? What would you recommend to your people?
Our friends at tenofthose.com have put the whole pack above into a search string for you. Click here to start reading!
Why should a Christian study Job?
Let me be more precise. Why should a Christian make a careful and thoughtful study of the whole of the book of Job, rather than being satisfied with a rough idea of the storyline and a few of the highlights? Why read the whole book rather than just “watch the movie highlights” through a short and often minimalist sermon series?
It’s a good question. After all, it’s a long and demanding book. Parts of it are pretty hard to fathom, and plenty of it is dark and distressing. You and I need good reasons to plunge right in to the detail. Here are seven suggestions (a good bible number!).
Above all, the book of Job will force you to think deeply about God and about Jesus Christ the Son of God.
- Job will press you to think carefully with doctrinal thoughtfulness and depth, about how the universe is governed. Many Christians default either to a monistic understanding of God’s sovereignty that is more Islamic than Christian, or to a practical dualism in which God and Satan are independent powers. Neither is biblical. Job sets before us a universe in which God is completely sovereign, and yet in which he governs the world partly through the paradoxical agency of evil powers.
- Job is God’s antidote to the prosperity gospel and the therapeutic gospel, both of which are rampant in the worldwide church. The prosperity gospel teaches that it is God’s purpose that you have plenty of money, a house, a family, and health. If you already have these things (as many of us do in developed countries) then the prosperity gospel metamorphoses into the therapeutic gospel. This adds that it is God’s purpose that you feel fulfilled and happy. Neither is true in this age. Job shows us why.
- By immersing you in suffering, Job shows you both how to feel something of the sufferings of Christ (in a way that the gospels do not) and how to feel the depths of the sufferings of Christ’s people. This will help you identify with the persecuted church.
- Job is finally full of hope and comfort, for its message rests in the end on the comprehensive sovereignty of God over all creation, and specifically on how his sovereignty encompasses all the powers of evil. To understand something of the majesty and logic of redemptive suffering gives hope to the suffering believer.
- Because so much of Job is poetry, a deep immersion in the book will help you develop your emotional and affectional ‘pallet’ (to use a painting metaphor) so that you will learn to feel, to desire, and to grow more sensitive to all manner of experiences in life. Few of us habitually read poetry. And yet God has chosen to give us much of scripture in poetry. Job will sensitise you to poetry and how it communicates. By immersing yourself in Job you will – as a valuable side effect – learn better to read, for example, the Psalms.
- God will deal with you as you grapple with Job. I have found that grappling with Job over the past several years, on and off, has been a life-changing and life-shaping experience. As I have grappled with this amazing book, God has been grappling with me. If you too will plunge in to Job, I am confident God will deal deeply and graciously with you too.
This post first appeared on the Crossway blog. Christopher's forthcoming commentary on Job in the Preach the Word series will be first available in the UK this summer at the EMA.
Marriage enrichment in Huddersfield
Huddersfield is, apparently, in the centre of the Universe. As some of you will know if you're linked through on Facebook, Mrs R and I are off there on Saturday 29 March to do some marriage enrichment training (which we imaginatively call One). It's hosted by Hope Church Huddersfield, and is for couples who are married or preparing to be married. We start at 10.00 (with coffee from 9.30) and run through to 3.15. There's a resonably long lunch break to allow you to have a lunch with your beloved. The venue is Brian Jackson House (HD1 5JP) and the bargain price is £5. Booking date has passed, but I'm sure if you ask nicely…. email@example.com. More info from Hope here.
Divorce and remarriage
When it comes to marriage, divorce and remarriage, pastoral problems are increasingly complex. Today I'm running a study day chez nous for some of our students on these particular issues. We're splitting the day into two parts. In part one, we're going to try to put together the various Bible passages and come up with some principles. I don't expect we'll all agree on these. But we need to hold them with conviction and good conscience – not other people's views, but our own carefully thought through scriptural positions.
Then in part two, I've got nine real life (names changed) pastoral situations – the very kinds of situations which these principles need to be applied to. This is important as well. It's no good having principles if you haven't thought through how they actually work. This is not to say that the situations must be allowed to drive our theology. Perish the thought! But we must know how the principles work.
Too much pastoralia does part one, but not part two. Other pastoralia is driven by part two, rather than part one. Both need correcting. That's our plan. It's no use, for example, waiting until situations come along to sort out what we think. We can't tell people in difficult and pastoral situations to wait a few months whilst we sort out what we believe.
So, here's my plea. Do you know what you believe the Bible to clearly teach about marriage, divorce and remarriage and do you know how to apply these truths to situations. If not, perhaps next time you need to come along and join us?
The pastor: a man for all the people
For your coffee table…
What's on your coffee table? If you have one, of course. Some worthy travel books and a few battered copies of What Car? Or, to put it another way, when neighbours or friends come round your place, what books do they see? What catches their attention?
I got a sneaky peak this week at a coffee table book that DayOne are producing in the early summer. It's called Evidence for the Bible and is by Clive Anderson and Brian Edwards. It's beautifully presented, and well written. 250 pages of solid coffee table material. I think we are long overdue for this kind of book. Let me tell you why.
- First, there is an increasing amount of archaeology that supports Biblical accounts. As Bible believing Christians, we're not surprised at this, of course. But our friends may be. Presenting the evidence in an attractive, accessible, professional way is a task that is long overdue. Someone who is not a Christian is unlikely to buy this book, but they may happily look at yours. This book can have, in other words, an evangelistic impact.
- Second, as Christians, it is good to reassure ourselves that the evidence for the Bible does exist. It is by faith that we believe the Bible (Hebrews 11.3) not by archaeological digs. However, God in his goodness, strengthens our faith when we see confirmed in the world what we already believe. I've got quite a few books on this sort of subject, but I don't look at them that often – they sit on the shelves with a few thousand others. Interestingly, I have a reproduction of the Cyrus Cylinder on my shelf and that does work in this kind of way. I still marvel at it as I think about Ezra 1. However, I am sure that, if I had a coffee table book, I would look at it all the time and be amazed! This book can have, in other words, a faith-strengthening impact.
Presented as it is, and by its nature, it won't be a snip or steal. But that's fine. It will be priced around the same as other similar books and I think it is a worthy investment. Watch this space for more info. And in the meantime, IKEA will sell you a coffee table for a fiver. Get ready.
Grieving over the loss of a child?
Some of the most intense pain and grief known to man is that of parents who have lost a child. I'm glad to see, therefore, that Nancy Guthrie is over in the UK teaching on Job in Manchester on 3 May (more info here). However, whilst here she is co-hosting a Manchester evening event with her husband for those who have lost a child. Gill Jump would be very interested to hear from you if you would like to get along.
What is the meaning of sex?
I've just finished reading this new book by Denny Burk, published by Crossway and available in the UK for around £11.50 or as a £7 ebook. It's a comprehensive review of the purpose of sex (clue: it's to glorify God) and precisely what that means. It's well written and not plagued by too many anecdotes or imaginary couples (those kinds of things really get me going…..!!!). There are a lot of footnotes for this type of (non academic) book, and it's interesting that many of the footnotes are taken from books I have read and liked (Piper, Ash, Hollinger etc). Along the way, as well as affirming a robust and orthodox view of sex within marriage and its significance, Burk interacts with current issues: homosexuality, transgender and gender spectrum, admissability (or otherwise) of certain sexual acts, family planning and singleness.
This is an excellent book. It is well ordered, logical and begins with the things such a book ought to begin with. There's a flow to is which is natural and helpful. The footnotes perhaps indicate that much of its teaching is gathering together what is written well elsewhere, but even at that level, it's a helpful addition. Moreover, the number of footnotes also indicate that Burk is interacting closely and carefully with views with which he disagrees, partiuclarly revisionist hermeneutics. I found this really helpful.
I particularly valued his interaction with the Driscoll's chapter "Can I…..?" (which is – at best – sloppy in its exegesis and so leads to some alarming conclusions). Burk puts us straight. I also found his latter chapters on homosexuality and (especially) transgender, very helpful and thoughtful, although I wanted him to say more, but presumably the format and purpose of the book did not allow. Inevitably, there were some areas which I thought were overstated – he presents, for example, two views on whether the contraceptive pill is also an abortofacient in some detail. I'm not sure I agree with his conclusion. But these are very minor niggles.
However, here's the thing. I still prefer – as an overarching book – my colleague Christopher Ash's book on marriage: the big one. That may be familiarity. Burk certainly quotes it a lot, always (I believe) positively. But it's not available in the US, and because it is now 10 years old, it doesn't interact with some of the recent material in the same way Burk's does. That probably means Burk's will be out of date in a short season too. So be it. That's the way of things now. But for the moment, this is well worth a bit of your time and money and provides a useful, biblical, positive and thorough view of sex as the Bible presents it. Thanks Denny!
There's a good little afterword in this month's Modern Reformation magazine. Carl Trueman is writing about the kind of reductionism which makes pastoral responses to disaster and tragedy nothing more than "Well, it is God's will." He writes:
Divine sovereignty does not negate the emotion of the moment, nor does it relativise the agony of death or lead Christ to spout aloof and trite platitudes at a moment of devastation for Lazarus' family.
The next time there is a human catastrophe or natural disaster, beware those who think they can answer the problem in 140 characters or less. They cannot. Those who simply assert that it is all part of God's will will give such a small part of the truth as to be misleading. And that is what hyper-Calvinism is but one small example of: a small part of the glorious truth of God's sovereignty presented in such a way as to hide or obscure the true riches of the biblical teaching on God.
Perhaps this temptation is not your own – but when we become one issue parties, there is surely a danger of falling into this trap?
Preacher as DJ
I used to be a radio DJ. I know, I know – hard to believe, but true nonetheless. I guess, as a failed musician, the next best thing was playing other people's records. And it's not a bad picture for what a preacher is. I thought about this as I took some Sunday School teachers training on Saturday. It's always helpful to have pictures of what we're doing when we preach and teach God's word to others. I personally quite like the picture of preacher as chef. It's a helpful illustration and one I've used here before. But here's my latest – the preacher as DJ.
Some Bible preachers and teachers are like amateurs in the karaoke bar. Occasionally you get a really good singer and you can enjoy the moment. But even when you get a good singer, it's still the singer's voice you hear. The backing track is almost inconsequential. It's just helping the singer hit the note and shine through. It strikes me that many preachers – at least subconsciously – think this way. Or, at best, it's the way their preaching comes across. The living and enduring word of God is their backing track, and their preaching or teaching is the means by which they shine through.
But your people have not come to church to hear you. They've come to church to hear God. And – to be more precise – they've not come to church to hear you take liberties with the text and make it say things it is not meant to say. That's karaoke bar show off coloratura. No, you're the DJ. Your job is to spin the discs and play the music someone else has already recorded. Your task as preacher is to let God be the lead singer, backing band and vocals. Cue it up, by all means, get the volume right, mix it nicely.
But just play the record. It's what your people need.