You might be interested in some of my current reading:
Those who know even a little bit about me will understand that this may be a rather dumb question. I am always reading good books. One simply has to walk into my home and notice the precarious piles and stacks of books reaching to the ceiling: a slight bump of them could result in the death of any mere mortal who happens to be standing nearby.
So there is never a shortage of new titles that might be recommended. And I have penned similar pieces to this one over the years. And with Christmas fast approaching, maybe some of these volumes might be of use as gifts for yourself or a friend or loved one.
As usual, there is a real mix here. While most are authored by Christians, not all are. And there is a wide range of topics: history, theology, the arts, politics, biography, current events, and so on. So I present here – simply in alphabetical order of the author – some of the volumes I am going through at the moment. I will offer a few words about each one, and include just one useful quotation. Here then are 10 newish books worth being aware of:
Averbeck, Richard, The Old Testament Law for the Life of the Church. IVP, 2022.
One of the most contentious and hotly debated theological and biblical topics is that of how the Old Testament law relates to and is to be understood by the Christian church. There has been a wide spectrum of beliefs here, from those wanting to dispense with the law altogether to those seeking to make it binding on all people today. Averbeck gives us a careful and detailed look at the various options, and examines all this in light of scripture, theology, history and pastoral concerns.
“The Old Testament law continues to be good for the believer, but it is also weak. It never had the power to change the mind and heart of any believer in any age. No law can do that, not even God’s law. Law simply does not work that way. It takes the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer to transform the heart. The spirit does that by bringing all that God has freely given us in Christ to bear down deep within us – our thoughts, motives, perspectives, purposes, and all.”
Bray, Gerald, How the Church Fathers Read the Bible. Lexham Press, 2022.
Too often Christians today, including most evangelicals, think they are doing their study of Scripture afresh, with nothing preceding. But they miss out the rich history of how the saints who have gone before sought to read and study the Bible. The early church fathers not only gave us so much important theology, but helped to bring the Bible together as we know it today. A brief but illuminating study with plenty of detail and relevance for us.
“The first Christians did not have Bibles as we understand them and did not think of their sacred writings as a single collection in the way that we do. They faced difficulties that are unknown to us, and unless we understand what they were up against, we shall find it very hard to appreciate the greatness of their achievement.”
Chang, Geoffrey, Spurgeon the Pastor. B&H, 2022.
One can never get enough of the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon. And plenty of biographies and works about the man, his mission, his theology and his legacy have already been penned. But it is always worth revisiting Spurgeon the man and the pastor. Long before we had megachurches Spurgeon was leading one in London. And all the suffering and hardships he endured along the way would have stopped many other Christian leaders. He was above all a biblical pastor who looked to Christ and his Word to enable him to have such a great impact on so many.
“Spurgeon [was] convinced of the truth that he had held from the beginning: the church is the pillar and ground of truth; not the pastor, or the denomination, but the church, that gathering of faithful men and women under the gospel, set apart from the world by baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is the church that exists to protect and proclaim the gospel. Therefore, the best thing that he could do amid the confusion of his day was to continue pastoring his church: to keep preaching faithful sermons, practicing meaningful membership, raising up elders and deacons, mobilizing his congregation, training up pastors, and planting gospel-preaching churches.”
Groothuis, Douglas, Fire in the Streets. Salem, 2022.
The culture wars are certainly hotting up in America, along with their underlying ideological battlefronts. The big issues of religion, politics, race, and culture in general, and things like Critical Race Theory and BLM in particular are assessed in light of the biblical framework. The American apologist, ethicist and theologian ably steers us through the muddy waters here.
“This book has advocated that we fight fire with fire. However, the fire I commend is not the fire that animates CRT and its allied advocates and activists. It does not spark violent protests, riots, hate fests, cancellations, or the dismantling of the American system by limiting free speech, vilifying all white people, or imposing socialism. This fire is a well-reasoned, knowledgeable, and humble conviction that the American creed is worth reaffirming and living by, that all people are created equal by a just and loving God, and that a virtuous citizenry is necessary for the moral and spiritual recovery from the perils we now face.”
Hazony, Yoram, The Virtue of Nationalism. Basic Books, 2018.
The noted Israeli philosopher and political theorist has penned a number of important works, including his 2022 Conservatism: A Rediscovery, which I perhaps should have run with here. But given how the nation state is viewed so dimly in recent times, it is worth noting his spirited defence of nationalism. The nation of course simply stands between clans and tribes on one hand, and globalist superstates on the other. As such it serves an important function. Hazony offers us a historical, political and philosophical overview of its importance and ongoing necessity.
“The nationalism I grew up with is a principled standpoint that regards the world as governed best when nations are able to chart their own independent course, cultivating their own traditions and pursuing their own interests without interference. This is opposed to imperialism, which seeks to bring peace and prosperity to the world by uniting mankind, as much as possible, under a single political regime.”
Klavan, Andrew, The Truth and Beauty. Zondervan, 2022.
The subtitle informs us of Klavan’s aims: “How the Lives and Works of England’s Greatest Poets Point the Way to a Deeper Understanding of the Words of Jesus.” The author was a secular Jew who converted to Christianity later in his life. As he revisits great English literature, be it by Milton or Shakespeare or Keats or Coleridge through his new Christian eyes, he finds wonderful truths there that amplify and illuminate the truths of Christianity and the gospels.
“Stories have a purpose then. They are a language for communicating a type of reality that can be communicated in no other way: that interplay of human consciousness with reality in which we experience the good, the true, and the beautiful. We may be deluded in that experience. We may see water on a bone-dry highway or mistake infatuation for love or convince ourselves that slavery is justifiable. But the fact that we may be mistaken tells us that we are capable of getting it right. It matters how we mold the silent truth. It matters what stories we tell. In the end, life becomes literature, and literature has meaning because life has meaning.”
Littlefield, Matthew and Tim Grant, Defending Conscience: How Baptists Reminded the Church to Defy Tyranny. Locke Press, 2022.
These two Australian Baptist pastors, and co-authors of The Ezekiel Declaration, offer us a theological and historical overview of important social goods like freedom of conscience and religious liberty, and how they have been championed by various Protestant movements. They examine key Reformation figures and English and American Baptists. But they also look at all this in light of the Covid lockdowns and discuss how these key beliefs tie in with what we are now going through in the West. At nearly 400 pages, there is a good amount of material to work through here in a wide-ranging survey of the key issues.
“Each Christian denomination has a legacy of faithful servants who advocated for a conviction of the truth of Scripture and through that, have given great input into the development of the modern world, particularly the Western world. But it was baptists who helped remind the Church universal of the importance of defending liberty of conscience and defying the tyrannical coercion of conscience.”
Mosher, Steven, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Pandemics. Regnery, 2022.
With the recent Covid episode still bubbling along, it seems like we never had or knew anything about pandemics prior to this. But of course there have been many, and the way we treated Covid often differs markedly with how we responded to past pandemics. Mosher looks at both past ones and the Covid pandemic. Being an expert on China, he spends a lot of time looking at what really happened there, and what lessons we can learn for the future. A very helpful volume that cuts through so much of the official narrative we have been inundated with.
“The Covid pandemic of 2020-2021 showed that we face two threats – one from without and one from within. The external threat is obvious. It comes from Communist China, whose leaders, pursuing their ambitions for world domination, unleashed the China Virus on the world. . . . The other threat, much more insidious, comes from within. Our corporate ruling elite – Washington, Wall Street, and Big tech – profited from the Covid pandemic both politically and economically.”
Ryken, Leland and Glenda Faye Mathes, Recovering the Lost Art of Reading. Crossway, 2021.
So let me get this straight: Bill the manic book reader even buys books about reading books? Yep, ‘fraid so. But given that we live in a culture where people are reading less and instead more and more immersing themselves in technology, social media, smartphones and the like, we need to remind ourselves why reading is so very important. With this we need to remind ourselves why we neglect great literature at our own peril.
“The decline of reading has impoverished our culture and individual lives. We have lost mental sharpness, verbal skills, and ability to think and imagine. Our leisure has little meaning, and we’re consumed with self. We fail to recognize beauty or the value of either the past or essential human experience. We suffer from a lack of edification and a shrunken vision.”
Vaughn, Ellen, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot. B&H, 2020.
Most believers know about Jim Elliot and the other four missionaries killed in Ecuador in 1956. Many books have been penned on their stories including by Jim’s widow Elisabeth. This is her official biography. She passed away in 2015. Here we learn even more about this great woman of God, and all that she went through before, during and after those tumultuous years as a missionary in South America.
“In her own encounter with the cross, Betty determinedly sought the path of obedience, regardless of how she felt. . . . Betty knew that it was ‘always hard to look at things spiritually, especially when they look a mess.’ One could easily fall into one of two extremes analyzing the work among the Waodani. One is cheery triumphalism, which shines up the story… The other is to focus solely on human flaws, magnify any weaknesses, and bitterly discredit the entire work as a failure. The hard road is to see both the good and bad, know that God works in all kinds of ways through all kinds of people, and praise Him that he is sovereign over it all.”