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.

Pride and Pastor #4

“I need to remember that my weaknesses are not in the way of productive ministry, but my delusions of independent strength are.” (Paul Tripp)

So true. In my twenty years in ministry I’ve seen many pastors and wannabees (young and old) who display sign of giftedness, but demonstrate their unfit for the office of episkope. Perhaps the biggest reason is due to their character, namely the perpetual demonstrations of pride. It’s true that pride comes in many forms, but I’m speaking specifically about being unteachable, untouchable, and having a transcendent view of self.

Tripp writes:

The fact of the matter is that there is never a day when you don’t demonstrate somehow, someway that you are weak. There is never a day when you don’t reveal that there are still pockets of foolishness in you. In fact, God will use the responsibilities, opportunities, burdens, and temptations of ministry to reveal to you and those who love you how weak you really are. He reveals your weakness to you so that you will continue to seek the help of his grace, and he reveals it to others so that they can be instruments of his grace in your life. Paul didn’t resign his ministry because he became convinced he was the foremost of all sinners. No, you could argue that it is your admission of weakness that protects your ministry from becoming all about human reputation and kingdom building. And it is your weakness that protects you from the dangers of self-righteousness and self-reliance.

It is your delusions of perceived strength and maturity, which you actually lack, that have the potential to derail and ultimately destroy your ministry. This is because when you think you are strong, you think you can live independently of the grace of Jesus and the ministry of others, although you may not know that this is what you’re doing (underline mine, from Dangerous Calling, 206-207).

Unfortunately, those who are unteachable, untouchable, and have a transcendent view of self would fail to discern these God-ordained sanctifying means. Even more tragically, at the end, they may destroy the very character and credibility they try to protect.

Let us take heed. May God help us all, especially, those of us who are called to the office of episkope.

Pride and Pastor #3

Pride and Pastor #3

Proud people tend to talk about themselves a lot. Proud people tend to like their opinions more than the opinions of others. Proud people think their stories are more interesting and engaging than others. Proud people think they know and understand more than others’. Proud people think they’ve earned the right to be heard. Proud people think they have glory to offer. Proud people, because they are basically proud of what they know and of what they’ve done, talk a lot about both. Proud people don’t reference weakness. Proud people don’t talk about failure. Proud people don’t confess sin. So proud people are better at putting the spotlight on themselves than at shining the light of their stories and opinions on God’s glorious and utterly undeserved grace.

(From Paul Tripp, Dangerous Calling, 175-76).

Let me add some of my observations:

Proud people (including pastors) are unthankful. Proud people are too proud to say, “I’m sorry. It’s my fault. Will you forgive me?” Proud people are unteachable. Proud people are arrogant with what little they know and boast of their little/limited knowledge. Proud people are easily offended. Proud people easily discount or belittle suggestions. Proud people resist doing what’s right. Proud people are stubborn. Proud people are unruly. Proud people have authority issue. Proud people are suspicious of others. Proud people have self-entitlement issue. Proud people are people pleasers. Proud people show favoritism. Proud people play double-rules. Proud people are hypocritical. Proud people compete for God’s glory.

 

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.

Pride and Pastor – 2

Entitlement always seems to follow pride. If you think you’ve earned _______, then you will think you deserve _______. Then, carrying around not only pride but also entitlement, you will tend to turn blessings into demands and gifts of grace into what is to be expected. We must never forget that we have earned neither our standing with the Lord nor our place in ministry. Each moment that he accepts us and each situation in which he uses us are the result of one thing and one thing alone: grace. We have no right before God or others to self-assuredly stand with our hands out. We are independently entitled to nothing but his anger; it is only grace that entitles us to his accepting love. The smug expectation of blessing will cause you to question not only the appreciation of the people around you but also the goodness of God.

Paul Tripp, Dangerous Calling (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 161-62.

Pride and Pastor

I am afraid that there is a whole lot of pride in the modern pulpit. There is a whole lot of pride in the seminary classroom. There is a whole lot of pride in the church staff. It is one of the reasons for all the relational conflict that takes place in the church. It is why we are often better theological gatekeepers than tender and humble spokesmen for the gospel. It is why pastors often seem unapproachable. It is why we get angry in meetings or defensive when someone disagrees with us or points out a wrong. We are too self-assured. We are too confident. We too quickly assess that we are okay. We too quickly make heroes out of ourselves and others. We too often take credit for what sovereign grace produced. We too often assess that we don’t need the help that the normal believer needs. We are too quick to speak and too slow to listen. We too often take as personal affronts things that are not personal. We quit being students too soon. We don’t see ourselves as needy often enough. We have too little meditative-communion-with-Christ time nailed into our schedules. We confidently assign to ourselves more ministry work than we do. We live in more isolation than is spiritually healthy. Pastor, there is ample evidence all around us that we tend to forget who we are and that we allow ourselves to be defined by things that should not define us.

Paul Tripp, Dangerous Calling (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 153-54.

Does Your Church Need Reformation?

One of the areas that today’s churches need the greatest reformation is the area of church leadership. Although anyone in the church can contribute to problems in the church, at the end of the day, it is the leadership that is ultimately responsible. However, what happens when there are unqualified people serving in the position of influence and/or leadership? Unfortunately, this problem is all too common. For instance, what do you do when a senior pastor believes that a Mormon Church is just another denomination? How about a pastor’s wife who habitually talks ill about others who she feels are threat to her husband, yet he still remains in the ministry even though he acknowledges her sins publicly?

To read more click here.