Volume 27, Issue 7, August 2021
Since I began writing book reviews a number of years ago, it seemed to some that the majority of these reviews dealt with books that were either errant or at best mixed in their biblical accuracy. So, in August 2004 I began listing, by category, the better books that I have reviewed to encourage the reading of quality Christian literature. Up until now, I have written five TOTT papers on my favorite books. Volume five added about 30 books and also listed by name all recommended books from the first four volumes. I now add another 32 books to those lists, books I have read in the last 3 years that I believe deserve mention. Hopefully our readers will recall that just because a book is cited as a favorite does not mean that it is without some problems. Complete reviews of each volume can be found on our website www.tottministries.org in which both positive aspects as well as any negative ones are discussed. We encourage our readers to turn to these reviews, and hundreds more, before drawing conclusions.
In Love Thy Body Nancy Pearcey develops the thesis that our society’s moral free-fall rests on a worldview that “doesn’t fit the real universe.” We live in a moral wasteland, Pearcey claims, “where human beings are desperately seeking answers to hard questions about life and sexuality. But there is hope. In the wasteland, we can cultivate a garden.”
In Another Gospel, Alisa Childers demonstrates how progressive Christianity attacks three key doctrines: Scripture, the cross, and the gospel (pp. 77-83). She summarizes and illustrates progressives’ attack on each of these foundational areas, then ably defends conservative and historically orthodox views of each.
Abner Chou, professor at The Master’s University, has written an important book concerning biblical hermeneutics entitled Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers. Chou’s book is not covering standard interpretation issues however, rather its focus is on how the human authors of the Bible handled and understood Scripture even as they wrote it. This is an extremely important issue and Chou handles it well.
For a relatively simple, and very accessible book on hermeneutics, Journey into God’s Word by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays is an excellent choice. It explains and develops the three main components of the hermeneutical method: observation, interpretation, and application.
Sister Aimee tells the story of Aimee Semple McPherson who at one time was the best-known celebrity in Christianity and perhaps the world. While pastoring a megachurch in L.A., Aimee was renowned as a traveling evangelist, faith healer, and leader of Pentecostalism who often found herself on the front page of newspapers due to scandals and mysteries that were truly stranger than fiction. Daniel Mark Epstein has written a page-turner.
Susie by Roy Rhodes is only the second biography ever written about the wife of the famed 19th century preacher, Charles Spurgeon. Many are aware that his Susie was a semi-invalid, seldom leaving the house for 23 years (1868-1891). Fewer are aware that prior to her illness she was an energetic, well-traveled young woman who played an important role in her husband’s success despite her afflictions.
And while we are highlighting Spurgeon, try Iain Murray’s The Forgotten Spurgeon. Murray endeavors to move beyond what is commonly known about the influential pastor (this is not a biography, the author tells us) to discuss the man revealed in his sermons—the forgotten Spurgeon (p. 4). This work actually centers around three major controversies in Spurgeon’s ministry, which shaped his life.
Makers of Puritan History by Marcus Loane contains short biographies of four important Puritans who lived during the struggles of the Stuart Regime. Alexander Henderson and Samuel Rutherford represent the Scottish Puritans and John Bunyan and Richard Baxter represent the English. All the accounts are interesting and offer insight into the life, times and matters of importance for English Puritans.
An even better book on the Puritans is Hot Protestants, a term used by their contemporaries for Protestants who would later be called Puritans. Winship traces the history of puritanism from its roots in the 1540s to its collapse on both sides of the Atlantic around 1690.
And what about The American Puritans? Dustin Benge & Nate Pickowicz have showcased the lives of nine Puritans who were greatly influential in the early settling of America including John Cotton, Thomas Hooker, John Eliot and Cotton Mather. These individuals established “The New England Way.”
A Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung deserves attention. Having recently read several tomes on the subject of sanctification, as well as some popular but misguided books on the same topic, it was refreshing to turn to DeYoung’s little book dealing with the same doctrine. The Hole in Our Holiness is gracious, readable, full of scriptural engagement and, most importantly, biblical.
Jim Berg, Dean of Students at Bob Jones University, has written Essential Virtues concerning Christian life and virtues based on the biblical text 2 Peter 1:5-7. As the foreword indicates, “This book focuses on Peter’s call to cultivate essential Christian virtues (2 Peter 1)…What Peter urges upon us in 1:5-7, therefore, are virtues essential for advancing our call to Christlikeness (1:4), for assuring us that our relation to Christ is genuine and vital (1:8-10) and for defending us against false teachings that appeal to the mind while seducing the flesh (3:17-18).
Thou Art with Me is one of the best books you will find on the subject of Christians facing death. Bruce Baker has been terminally ill with ALS for several years. He writes from experience, with the heart of a pastor, and the mind of a biblical scholar. This book has value for those nearing death, for their family, and for pastors and counselors.
Monique Ingalls’ book, Singing the Congregation, How Contemporary Worship Music Forms Evangelical Community, is an excellent researched book that will guide the reader in evaluation of music in the worship of the Lord.
Andy Johnson, associate pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, has contributed Missions to the 9Marks: Building Healthy Churches series. Johnson is not promoting a complicated mission’s program, but rather providing straight forward, wise and biblical insights into how a local church can develop and maintain a ministry of global outreach.
God’s Forever Family by Larry Eskridge is a fascinating journey into the world of the original Jesus People of the 1960s and 70s. Without an understanding of this timeframe and all that originated and emerged from it, one would be hard-pressed to comprehend the modern church.
Blessed, A History of the American Prosperity Gospel by Kate Bowler is developed according to the following three-fold thesis: Seeking to show how millions of American Christians came to see money, health, and good fortune as divine; documenting the transformation of Americans who question an ethic of self-denial, and replace it with a method of reaching into “God’s treasure trove and pulling out a miracle;” and explaining how the prosperity gospel is centered on four themes: faith, wealth, health, and victory.
If you are interested in a book that will sharpen your thinking about thinking, you could not do much better than How To Think, a Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs.
Atul Gawande believes that despite our vast knowledge in virtually every area of life, we are still deeply prone to failure. He believes many such failures could be overcome (and, conversely, much success obtained) through a simple but often ignored tool, the checklist. In his delightful book The Checklist Manifesto he paves the way.
Nicholas Carr, in The Shallows, has written a fascinating book on the effect of the internet on lives and, in particular, our way of thinking. The author’s thesis is that modern technology, especially the internet, is rerouting our brains, changing the way we think, the way we read, and is designed to divide our attention, training us to multitask (pp. 113-114), and “pay attention to crap” (pp. 142). Carr contends that internet reading is, by design, distracting and superficial; it seizes our attention only to scatter it (pp. 115, 118).
Along the same lines, read The Wisdom Pyramid by Brett McCracken, which not only develops some of the same themes as The Shallows but also offers a plan for a nutritious diet of knowledge and better habits of information intake.
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield has had a great influence regarding LGBTQ debates. First, and most likely the reason most read it in the first place, is that it chronicles the story of a former lesbian feminist scholar whose specialty was “queer theory” (p. 2), who has radically turned to Christ from her former lifestyle. While Butterfield does not want to be used as a representative of coming out (p. 171), or as a “poster-child for gay conversion” (p. 81), her account nevertheless richly contributes to the discussion of the possibility of sexual-orientation change.
Death of the Grown Up is not a Christian book, but it is an insightful one. Diana West writes to proclaim, and document, that Western societies are coming apart at the seams because adults have left the playground of our world and turned it over to the children.
Worse yet, she warns that adults have become children and there is no one left to monitor the playground at all.
There have been many excellent books written of late on the Social Justice Movement and Critical Race Theory. Three of the best include By What Standard, authored by eight leaders associated with the Southern Baptist’s Founders movement, and edited by Jared Longshore. This volume is a must read for anyone trying to unravel the social justice concerns facing our country today. Erwin Lutzer has contributed a very readable resource in We Will Not Be Silenced. Lutzer is deeply concerned that a new America is emerging due to the influence of cultural Marxism and Social Justice movements (pp. 21-25, 74, 80, 179, 182). The bulk of this book details and documents the infiltration of CRT in every area of society including education, politics, and historic revision. As the title suggests, Lutzer is not content with exposing the many enemies facing America and Christianity. His purpose is not to take America back but to reclaim the church. And Voddie Baucham’s goal in Fault Lines is to contrast two competing worldviews, Critical Social Justice (CSJ) and biblical justice, so that the reader understands the issues and can be on the right side of the fault line.
Michael Vlach dissects supercessionism in his excellent book Has the Church Replaced Israel? This is one of the best books supporting the distinction between Israel and the church and the theologies behind the scenes.
Also by Vlach is He Shall Reign, which may be the best book written on the kingdom of God since Alva McClain’s classic.
While the extent of the atonement has been debated since the Reformation, it has taken on new energy recently. One of the best ways to get a handle on any difficult theological subject is to allow opposing views to be expressed by scholars who truly know and can clearly represent their position. Hence the value of books such as Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement (3 Views).
Walter Kaiser’s classic book on exegesis and preaching is still valuable and greatly needed. His concern, when he wrote in 1981, was to close the gap that existed between the study of the text of Scripture and the delivery of the message. That gap still exists today and thus the current need to continue to study Toward an Exegetical Theology.
In Reenchanting Humanity, author Owen Strachan is dealing with the doctrine of anthropology. He wraps his study of humanity around nine themes or subjects, devoting a chapter to each. Strachan believes the “major issue of our time is that of anthropology. Does the human person live in an ordered cosmos and have an appointed identity, or does he make his own identity in a world without God?… My task is to equip the church to give an answer for the hope that lies within all who are in Christ.”
Finally, check out the massive systematic theology work written by The Master Seminary professors: Biblical Doctrine by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue. While I differ with the book’s take on limited atonement, nevertheless it is a big upgrade on Grudem’s Systematic Theology, which has been the standard for many seminaries and Bible colleges in recent years.
History, Biography and Fiction
I am currently reading and enjoying: The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs. The thrust of the book is that we should read on a “whim” the books we enjoy. With that in mind I thought I would list several books I have read recently, which are general in nature, but well worth reading.
I finally got around to reading To Kill a Mocking Bird, considered one of the great modern classics, and I am glad I did.
David McCullough, who cannot be boring no matter what his subject, has written The Pioneers about the early settling of Ohio, as well as the tragic The Johnstown Flood. A sobering but extremely informative book about the Reconstruction, written by Eric Fone, is Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877.
I love biographies. David McCullough is first up with Mornings on Horseback, about the life of Theodore Roosevelt prior to him becoming president. Daniel Boone’s life is co-mingled with legend, myths and truth; John Mack Faragher is the best at unraveling the stories and unearthing facts about Boone. Crazy Horse and Custer, Lives of Two America Warriors by Stephen Ambrose not only chronicles the lives of these famous 19th century men, but also provides incredible details of the “cowboy” era of the old West. Biographies of important historic personalities abound, among the best are Napoleon (Andrew Roberts), Washington (Ron Chernow), Churchill (Andrew Roberts), Alexander Hamilton (Ron Chernow) and Robert E. Lee (Clouds of Glory by Michael Korda).
And just for fun don’t miss James Herriot’s wonderful All Things Bright and Beautiful series.