The Books I Read in 2015

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By God’s grace, unlike previous four years, I did the most reading in 2015, totaling about 6,600 pages. However, I failed to include biography and other genres in my reading project.

Because I’ve been teaching through the Pentateuch to our congregation in the past year, I was forced to interact with various commentaries, which was a huge blessing. The resources have helped me to see the continuity of the redemptive drama in the Pentateuch, including unceasing sinfulness of man and unceasing faithfulness of God.

Besides one or two books (maybe three), the majority of the books have not been wasteful. The best reading under 50 pages have been Ash’s Listen Up! The best classics are Augustine, Bunyan, and Calvin.

The following are my list (in the order they were read) with brief comments.

Can I Trust the Bible? by R. C. Sproul

This 65-page book provides helpful exposition on The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. The book is divided into six chapters: 1) the Bible and Authority, 2) the Bible and Revelation, 3) the Bible and Inspiration, 4) the Bible and Inerrancy, 5) the Bible and Truth, and 6) the Bible and You. I would highly recommend this resource for bibliology.

Faith as a Way of Life by Christian B. Scharen

One of the pressing needs of the moment is to convince and cultivate that Christian faith is not simply a set of propositions to believe, but also an orienting force that impacts every aspect of daily life as employers and employees at work, parents and child at home, politicians and others in various fields that God has called. This book provides some helpful discussions in the applications of faith.

Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment by Gregg R. Allison

The author takes the reader through the official Catechism of the Catholic Church, and then he summarizes and assesses Catholic doctrine from the evangelical perspective. There is simply no other book like this presently. It truly is a gift to the church. That is why Roman Catholic Theology & Practice is in the list of notable book for 2014.

The Arrogance of the Modern: Historical Theology Held in Contempt by David W. Hall

Many people appear to have forgotten the wisdom of the past generations. If not, they hold the past in contempt. In this series of essays, the author addresses various topics such as, church heresies and orthodoxy, welfare reform and politics – all in the context of biblical worldview. This primer for the use of church history to diagnose modern issues will be a huge benefit for students, teachers, ministers, and thinkers.

Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by Kent & Barbara Hughes

According to the authors, many in the church have misguided expectations for success. For example, if you will do this one thing well (e.g., music, website, easy parking, etc.), your church will grow. That one thing may even include something good and worthy. For instance, if you preach the word effectively, your church will grow. However, many today equate success in the ministry to mean growth in attendance or number. According to the authors, that’s dangerous. This book was definitely refreshing to hear. Every pastor and church leaders (new or seasoned) need many good reminder that this book presents.

Genesis 1-11: An Expositional Commentary by James Montgomery Boice

Unlike any other books of the Bible, Genesis is utterly foundational. That explains the reason for the three volume commentary set. In this first volume, Dr Boice gives thorough expositions in all the critical sections within the first eleven chapters of Genesis. His expositions are intentionally doctrinal and devotional. Perhaps one of the most helpful tools to preach Genesis.

Genesis 1-11 (Reformation Commentary on Scripture) by John L. Thompson

If the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS) offers various comments by many of the classical exegetes, this volume provides illuminations by various exegetes of the Reformation era (e.g., Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others). Like the ACCS, this volume is truly invaluable.

The Book of Psalms, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Intro) by Nancy deClaisse-Walford, Rolf A. Jacobson, and Beth LaNeel Tanner

One of the major works on the book of Psalms that was recently published. The volume is the result of collaborated works of three distinguished psalmic scholars. Like most of NICOT series, it is written mostly for scholars and pastors.

Listen Up! A practical guide to listening to sermons by Christopher Ash

This 30-page booklet is a real gem to pastors, congregants, and churches. According to Mark Dever at Capital Hill Baptist, “We give Listen Up! to all our new members.” After reading this, you’ll understand why. However, I wouldn’t give this booklet to new members only, but to all members. It’s that important. It would help the pastors and their congregants. It’s a win-win. Perhaps the best $4 investment you’ll make.

We Still Don’t Get It: Evangelicals and Bible Translation Fifty Years After James Barr by Douglas J. Moo

This 14-page booklet was the presentation that Doug Moo gave at last year’s ETS (Evangelical Theological Society) meeting in San Diego. Although I had the privilege of listening to him when he gave the talk at the dinner for the 50th anniversary of the NIV Bible, the booklet is better. He offers not only the history of the NIV Bible, but convincing reasons for the project. Everyone should read his perspective on Bible translation, hermeneutics, exegesis, and exposition. It is quiet refreshing.

Protecting Your Ministry from Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Lawsuits: A Legal Guide for Churches, Christian Schools, and Christian Ministries by Alliance Defending Freedom

This 40-page electronic book (pdf) is a helpful resource to churches, Christian schools, and Christian ministries. With the recent interpretation by the SCOTUS, this resource offers practical ways to protect religious organizations from lawsuits.

Leviticus, TOTC by R. K. Harrison

This 254-page commentary is perhaps one of the most comprehensive commentaries on one of the most neglected biblical books. Like many of books in the TOTC series (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries), this one will not (overly) burden the readers with many technical terms and academic language, and cause to be bogged down by many details. It is concise and readable. Although it doesn’t offer verse-by-verse commentary, if offers very helpful section-by-section commentary. The author doesn’t shy away from explaining controversial topics such as homosexuality (250-54).

The Book of Leviticus, NICOT by Gordon J. Wenham

This 362-page technical commentary is well balanced between exegesis and theology. Every chapter concludes with the relationship between the biblical chapter of Leviticus and the NT, whether it be to point out some aspects of the gospel truth, Christology, or theological continuity/discontinuity. Perhaps one of the better exegetical commentaries on Leviticus.

Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments, Essays in Honor of S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. edited by John S. Feinberg

This 410-page book contributed by thirteen noted evangelical scholars shows agreements and disagreements between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism in their theological systems, hermeneutics, salvation, the Law of God, the people of God, and kingdom promises.

Is Jesus in the Old Testament? by Iain M. Duguid

This 45-page booklet offers basic help in understanding the Old Testament. The author also offers helpful list of suggested reading for anyone who want to learn further in how to see Christ and preach Christ in the Old Testament.

Saint Augustine’s Confessions (translated by R. S. Pine-Coffin)

Anyone who knows John Calvin knows that there is no one who influenced him the most than the writings of Augustine. When you read Augustine’s Confessions, you’ll know why. This 347-page book is perhaps one of the best devotional books I ever read. The book is very personal (reads like autobiography or personal journal) and at times he is explicitly transparent of his past life (after all, it’s called Confessions). However, unlike many today’s devotional books, Confessions is not without substance. You will experience one of the greatest philosophical and theological minds that God produced in the history of the church.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

This 238-page book received many accolades (e.g., L.A. Times, New York Times Book Review, etc.). Amazon rates it “#1 Best Seller” in journalism. Recently, even many professing evangelicals jumped on the bandwagon in praising her. In fact, one of the prominent evangelical websites recommended the book if one desires to improve his/her writing. Since I wanted to improve my writing and also wanted to know what the fuss was all about, I purchased the book.

The book is very easy to read. In fact, you can read its entirety in one setting. However, just because a book is easy to read doesn’t mean it is necessarily worth the time and money. I was sorely disappointed with the book. I was hoping to get some instructions on writing. After all, the subtitle is “Some Instructions on Writing and Life.” The book contains more of her worldview on life than instructions on writing.

Gospel Centered Discipleship by Jonathan K. Dodson

This 173-page book provides the author’s philosophy and methods of Christian discipleship. Although not everything is agreeable in both perspective and practices, the book does offer helpful and refreshing approaches to fighting sins with like-minded men or women in small groups setting.

Genesis for Everyone, Part One (Chapters 1-16) by John Goldingay

This is part one of the two part series of commentary in Genesis. It is not technical and exegetical commentary like the NICOT series. Rather, it reads like a devotional book. Although it is titled “Genesis for Everyone,” I would not recommend this book to just anyone or everyone. Without having some working knowledge of Genesis as a whole, one would be confused or misunderstand. This 197-page book is ideal for pastors who maybe looking for some sermon anecdotes or fillers that most technical commentaries lack.

The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

I have fallen love with the Pilgrim’s Progress (PP) all over again. Outside of the Bible, it is the most read literature. I am convinced that every Christian ought to read it (and re-read it). There is no other book that depicts what Christian life is like than PP. However, just because one would read the book doesn’t mean the reader would understand PP because it is filled with myriads of allegories. Hence, one should read the book with others in a group setting with their elder or pastor who knows how to properly interpret what Bunyan is trying to say. I would also recommend getting a better edition than the one that is listed here. The Desiring God edition has too many spelling errors and typos. Also, this one does not contain the second half of PP. Hence, I recommend you get a better edition like the one by Banner of Truth.

Revelation and Inspiration by Benjamin B. Warfield

This first volume of the ten volume set is considered by many as Warfield’s magnum opus. Many topics are covered in the book, such as, the biblical idea of revelation, the biblical idea of inspiration, and the real problem of inspiration. The two topics in the appendix are helpful too: the divine origin of the Bible and the canon of the New Testament. Most of the essays seem academic and written for theological journals. Although lay people may certainly benefit from the book, it is more for scholars and seminary students.

Numbers (New American Commentary) by R. Dennis Cole

Perhaps one of the better exegetical commentaries on the book of Numbers. It is similar to Gordon J. Wenham’s commentary on Numbers (TOTC) though a little more details.

Numbers (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries) by Gordon J. Wenham

This was most helpful in preparation for teaching the book of Numbers during our midweek Bible study. It is concise without lacking substance. Offers good chapter analysis with redemptive-historical perspectives of various topics.

Am I Called? The Summons to Pastoral Ministry by Dave Harvey

J. I. Packer is right. He said, “This is the fullest, most realistic, down-to-earth, and genuinely spiritual exploration of God’s call to pastoral ministry that I know.” I wished a book like this existed over twenty years ago when I first sensed God’s call to ministry. This is perhaps one of the better books on the subject.

Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 2 by John Calvin (Edited by John T. McNeil)

Volume 2 begins with Calvin’s Book 3.20 on “The Way We Receive the Grace of Christ,” specifically, on the nature and value of prayer. And the volume ends with Book 4.20 on “Means of Grace: Holy Catholic Church,” specifically, on the church’s responsibility to obey human government (whether good or bad magistrates). However, Calvin notes, “Obedience to man must not become disobedience to God.” Like Volume 1 of Institutes, this 885-page may seem intimidating and daunting due to its sheer thickness, but it is easy reading like a devotional book. These two volumes are simply classic.

Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church by Michael A. G. Haykin

This 172-page book is a fairly easy book to read with one Patristic figure in one chapter. The author introduces men like Ignatius of Antioch, Diognetus, Origen, Cyprian and Ambrose, Basil of Caesarea, and Saint Patrick. The author also provides what he calls “Reading the Fathers: A Beginner’s Guide” at the end, which is very helpful. This is definitely a welcome addition to anyone’s library, especially, to help introduce the church fathers.

Serving At A Small Church

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Personally, I don’t like referring to any church “small” or “big.” That’s simply offensive and rude. How would you like when someone calls you small or big? You don’t read Paul ever addressed any of the churches “I, Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, send greeting to you, a small church.” You won’t find that in Peter’s Letters. In John’s Letters. Certainly not in the Letters to Seven Churches by Jesus.

What’s small or big is relative. What’s small in this country can be big in another country. I heard from missionaries who served in France and Italy that you would be lucky to find an evangelical Bible-preaching church that is more than 30 people in attendance. Here in North America many church-goers simply have no idea. We are guilty of measuring everything by American standard, such as, big is better.

There are many pastors I know that are serving at churches that are not bustling with people on Sundays. Some are OK with it. Some are struggling. But pastors will always struggle with this issue. It’s normal. It’s abnormal if they’re not.

Several years ago I wrote “Ministering in Small Churches and/or in Small Towns” while serving at a church that I planted in South Dakota. This will give you some helpful perspective and reality, especially, serving in the Upper Midwest.

I also wrote “How To Have An Expository Preaching At A Small Church?” as a response to many questions I was asked by church-planters and discouraged pastors.

If you want to hear another perspective from another pastor, check out “6 Ways Small Churches Can Love Their Communities.

Be of good cheer.

Horton’s Christless Christianity

I want to recommend Michael Horton’s Christless Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008). A title like that truly captures one’s attention. His subtitle is even more intriguing, namely “the Alternative Gospel of the American Church.”

Dr. Horton teaches Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California. He hosts popular The White Horse Inn radio broadcast (unfortunately, no local Christian radio station around here airs the show [amongst other sound ministries], which is another whole issue I don’t want to discuss at this time) and is the chief editor for Modern Reformation magazine. Although I may disagree with a few of his theological points, his ministry has been personally helpful to me over the years. I respect him, most of all, for boldly calling churches back to the Reformation gospel.

The book contains seven chapters (total of 270 pages with helpful notes, though I wish for footnotes instead, not end notes), though some were more lengthy than others. The following are the contents:

  1. Christless Christianity: The American Captivity of the Church
  2. Naming Our Capptivity: Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism
  3. Smooth Talking and Christless Christianity
  4. How We Turn Good News into Good Advice
  5. Your Own Personal Jesus
  6. Delivering Christ: The Message and the Medium
  7. A Call to the Resistance

While Christianity today seems booming with its commercial, political, and media success, Horton pointedly asks, “Is it still Christian?” (p. 19). “My concern is not that God is treated so lightly in American culture but that he is not taken seriously in our own faith and practice” (p. 23), writes Horton. He hints his thesis at the onset of the first chapter, “My argument in this book is not that evangelicalism is becoming theologically liberal but that it is becoming theologically vacuous” (p. 23). Such statement sounds too similar to what several culturally acute evangelicals have been saying, including, recent series of books by David F. Wells.

Although some may accuse Horton for being judgmental and other nonsense brands, readers can decide for themselves what is at stake here. If you have never figured out why your pastor warns of ministries like Joel Osteen, TBN, Ed Young, Bill Hybels and Willow Creek affiliates, Emergent, and host of others, pull your head out of the sands and read this book. I still remember a few years ago when I was teaching Foundations of Faith class, one of the ladies in class attempted to correct me that it’s not “nice” to be critical of Osteen when he is faithfully preaching the gospel, to which I almost fell out of my chair literally. Trying to remain calm, I simply told her to please remain in my class for the rest of semester, so that she’ll learn what is the true gospel and what are counterfeit gospels. Sadly, that lady represents so many in the church, who, as Horton points out, “cannot tell us anything specific about the God they consider meaningful or explain the basic doctrines of creation in God’s image, original sin, the atonement, justification, sanctification, the means of grace, or the hope of glory” (p. 244).

If you are a collector of good quotations like me, this book contains several. For instance:

  • “Where Christ is not King, he is neither Prophet nor Priest” (p. 205).
  • “Unlike voluntary associations (book clubs, political parties, or fans of the opera or garage bands, the church is not made up of people I chose to be my friends. God chose them for me and me for them. They are my family because of God’s election, not mine” (p. 226).

It seems that God would raise up a prophetic voice almost in every generation to warn his churches – Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Spurgeon, Machen, Lloyd-Jones, Boice, Sproul, MacArthur, Piper, and others. I would urge all professing Christians to take heed to Horton’s dead on assessments. If you care about Christ’s church and your own soul, read this book and pass it on to others. I almost wish that the publisher should have put a warning label – “Not For A Faint-Hearted.” I can assure you that this book would cause you to tearfully pray for your own church and others.

American Christianity

In his book A Call to Spiritual Reformation D.A. Carson makes following observation about westernized Christianity:

The one thing we most urgently need in Western Christendom is a deeper knowledge of God. We need to know God better. When it comes to knowing God, we are a culture of the spiritually stunted. So much of our religion is packaged to address our felt needs – and these are almost uniformly anchored in our pursuit of our own happiness and fulfillment. God simply becomes the Great Being who, potentially at least, meets our needs and fulfills our aspirations. We think rather little of what he is like, what he expects of us, what he seeks in us. We are not captured by his holiness and his love; his thought and words capture too little of our imaginations, too little of our discourse, too few of our priorities ([Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006], 15-16).

Although I can’t personally testify of other countries in the western hemisphere, I do believe such observation is true of American churches. Over the years how many times did I hear people say the following:

  • “I didn’t like the worship today because we only sung hymns.”
  • “I didn’t like the worship today because we didn’t sing any hymn.”
  • “I didn’t like the worship today because we didn’t have special music.”
  • “Preaching was too long.”
  • “It was too hot.”
  • “It was too cold.”
  • “We didn’t have greeting time.”
  • “We don’t have fun in the service.”
  • “I don’t get anything out of the message.”
  • “You’re too serious when you’re preaching.”
  • And ad infinitum and ad nauseum.

Conversely, Carson writes:

But if we seek these things without passionately desiring a deeper knowledge of God, we are selfishly running after God’s blessings without running after him. We are even worse than the man who wants his wife’s services – someone to come home to, someone to cook and clean, someone to sleep with – without ever making the effort really to know and love his wife and discover what she wants and needs; we are worse than such a man, I say, because God is more than any wife, more than the best of wives: he is perfect in his love, he has made us for himself, and we are answerable to him (ibid., 16).