The Books I Read in 2016

A Christian's Pocket Guide to Loving The Old Testament: One Book, One God, One Story

A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Loving the Old Testament by Alec Motyer

As a pastor and expositor, I lament how little the Old Testament (OT) is preached in so many evangelical churches today. That explains why so many professing Christians today have so little understanding about the OT, how the New Testament (NT) is connected to the Old, how the gospel does not start with Jesus in the NT but in the Old, and most of all, how so many fail to see Jesus or make Christological connections in the OT.

This 130-page pocket sized book provides solutions to some of those issues. It is a fairly easy reading with short chapters. Definitely recommend this book.

Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray

In his preface, the author writes, “If it is true that Christians don’t get depressed, it must mean either that the Christian suffering from depression is not truly depressed, or he is not a true Christian. But if this notion is false, what extra and unnecessary pain and guilt are heaped upon an already darkened mind and broken heart!”

The 112-page pocket sized is not an academic writing as the author admits (though the author is a seminary professor and pastor). Rather, the book is immensely pastoral and practical. The author interacts with some of the conservative counseling movements (e.g. CCEF) and other notable writers, offering both positive and negative critiques. As already implied, this is an easy reading and a very helpful resource.

New Life in the Wasteland: 2 Corinthians on the Cost and Glory of Christian Ministry by Douglas F. Kelly

Christian ministers need to be reminded time to time what Christian ministry is all about. To help with that, I would recommend this book. This is not a typical Bible commentary (technical, exegetical, or scholarly). But it is a helpful one with much warm and devotional tone as the author helps the reader to consider the cost and glory of Christian ministry.

A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good by Miroslav Volf

This book offers several implications and applications to Ephesians 2:10. It is an important work though caution and discernment should be given. (But again that should apply to all reading.)

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The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented by David N. Steele, Curtis C. Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn

Perhaps one of the better books for someone who is new or interested in the subject. It is always refreshing to read it again. I often assigned this as a require reading for Sunday School.

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The Five Points of Calvinism by Herman Hanko and David J. Engelsma

The book is very polemic, especially, critical of the doctrine of common grace and other Reformed denominations. Other than that, it is a good read.

TULIP: The Five Points of Calvinism in the Light of Scripture by Duane Edward Spencer

A much shorter reading than Steele, Thomas, and Quinn’s The Five Points of Calvinism, but helpful nonetheless.

The Five Points of Calvinism: A Study Guide by Edwin H. Palmer

Besides Steele, Thomas and Quinn’s work, this work by Palmer would be my next recommendation on the subject.

The Deacons Handbook: A Manual of Stewardship by Gerard Berghoef and Lester De Koster

I recommend this book for three reasons: 1) books on the ministry of diaconate rarely focuses on stewardship as this one does, 2) helps to see the ministry as a means of evangelistic and outreach ministries, 3) offers myriads of practical implications, and 4) it is written in the Reformed tradition.

Deuteronomy (Tyndale Commentaries)

Deuteronomy by Edward J. Woods

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.

Deuteronomy (NICOT)

The Book of Deuteronomy by Peter C. Craigie

Although it is one of the older technical commentaries on the last book of the Pentateuch (1976), it is considered one of the bests.

Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction by Jonathan T. Pennington

I wish this book was available when I was preaching Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John many years ago. It is possible that one can preach the Gospels but not preach the gospel.

This book is perhaps one of the best books on how to read, interpret, and preach and teach on the Gospels. For a detailed review, you can read Dane Ortlund’s.

 

Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians by Bruce Riley Ashford

Written by a theology prof for laymen in regards to Kuyperian Christian life. If you need clarity on Christians engaging the culture via work, entertainment, education, or what have you, this book is a good start.

Confessing the Faith: A Reader's Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith

Confessing the Faith: A reader’s guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith by Chad Van Dixhoorn

This is perhaps the best commentary on the WCF. I already gave a brief comment on this book back in 2014 when it came out. If interested, you can click here.

Harmony of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms by Morton H. Smith

“The Westminster Standards are unsurpassed among confessional statements in precision and comprehensiveness and few would deny that they deserve close reading and careful study.” Yet many Christians today have little or no exposure to the Standards. Hence, to combat against such shame, this work offers helpful guide by dissecting each section, chapter, question, and points.

Church Dogmatics, Volume 1 by Karl Barth

This massive volume (500 pages in the first volume alone) tackles the subject “The Doctrine of the Word of God,” which contains the prolegomena, the criterion of dogmatics, and the doctrine of trinity in relation to the revelation of God. Since this particular volume is highly technical and academic, it is not recommended for average laymen or beginners of theology.

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.

Theology of Suffering – Part 2

Continuing from Theology of Suffering – Part 1

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I’m currently teaching Genesis at our midweek study. Last week we were in Genesis 45. We finally got to hear Joseph’s own interpretation of all that he went through up to this point. We got to hear how he saw all the wrongdoings he received (e.g., wrongly imprisoned, false accusations, mistreatment, injustice) from others, including his own brothers!

If there’s someone who had legitimate reason to complain, it would have been Joseph. If there’s someone who had legitimate reason to retaliate or revenge, it would have been Joseph. Yet he did none of that. Rather, he viewed the whole thing in utterly theocentric ways!

Joseph exemplifies a man who trusts in the sovereignty of God. The narrative doesn’t depict a man who is consumed with himself, how he feels, or how he’s hurt though he’s painfully aware of what he went through. At the end of the day, he realized that God had a bigger plan and purpose. According to Joseph, he suffered in order that others would greatly benefit (vv. 5, 7, 8, 9). And that is theology of suffering!

I’m not sure how many of us think of suffering that way, namely, we suffer so that others would become the beneficiaries!

Yet, this isn’t a foreign concept in the redemptive history. Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). This is certainly true of the voluntary, sacrificial, and substitutionary death of Jesus. He died so that we would become the beneficiaries.

All that to say, theology of suffering is real and relevant. And this doctrine must have a strong grip on God’s people because he promised that his people will suffer.

Theology & Applications of Corporate Worship

Theology matters in worship. Even those who deny it will have some display of theological worldview expressed in and through their worship service. This is because every liturgy is shaped by some theological convictions or worldview. To say one doesn’t believe in liturgy is itself a liturgical statement. Hence, every worship service (regardless of what church tradition or style) will express some theological views about God and man. I didn’t say every theological view expressed are necessarily orthodox, but every worship service will display some theological views about God and man.

Recently, I preached a sermon on “Theology and Applications of Corporate Worship” at Lighthouse Bible Church, where I pastor. I also published this message as a series of blog posts at Reforming Churches, and I want to repost them here. I hope you find it to be helpful.

The Gospel and Theology

This morning I met with the men from our church for our monthly men’s fellowship. Currently, we are reading and deeply discussing The 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever, along with additional material from their website. Shortly after a quick breakfast, we delved into the topic of the morning, namely the gospel (chapter 3 or the third mark). Our men passionately shared with one another that the gospel is foundational and it is what drives our church, our worship, our fellowship, and our evengelism.

But unfortunately, that is not the case with many churches. And too often the so-called gospel for many people has reduced to a mere moralism, self-esteem, only one facet of Christology, namely “Jesus loves you,” or only that “God is love” or that “God loves all.” Or, how about this one: the gospel is about “having personal relationship with Jesus,” as if it is privatized, without any sense of both individual and corporate accountability to a local church. Don’t people understand that Jesus has “personal relationship” with both condemned and converted ones?

And too often the gospel is simply “Jesus died for you,” while completely ignoring or neglecting that there is undividable connection between the true gospel and sound systematic doctrines. For instance, is there a direct relationship between the gospel and bibliology? The answer is absolutely! How else the gospel is known without God’s special revelation? If one has a wrong view of the Bible (such as its inerrancy, authority, or sufficiency), more likely, one would have a wrong view of the gospel.

Next, how about the relationship between the gospel and theology proper? Again, absolutely! If one would have a wrong view of God, more likely, one would have a wrong view of the gospel.

How about the relationship between the gospel and anthropology? Absolutely! It is because if one would have a wrong view of man (such as what Robert Schuller and Joel Osteen advocate), one would have a wrong view of the gospel.

How about the correlation between the gospel and Christology? Absolutely, again! If one has a wrong view of Jesus, he/she has a wrong view of the gospel. How about the relationship between the gospel and pneumatology? Again, if there is a wrong view of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, there is no true gospel.

And the list of other theological implications can go on and on (e.g., ecclesiology and eschatology). I hope you get the picture. All that is to say, there is absolutely undeniable relationship between the gospel and systematic theology. As you can see, the biblical gospel is more than “Jesus loves you” or other one-sided half truths.

I have concluded that the reason why so many do not preach the biblical gospel is because so many do not understand the biblical gospel. Many think they do, but they don’t. And one of the fundamental reasons for this is because people failed to have a high view of God and a low view of man. Dever rightfully writes:

One of the early stages of becoming a Christian involves beginning to realize that your problems fundamentally are not that you have messed up your own life or tha tyou have failed to ralize your own potential, but that you have sinned, not primarily against yourself or even against someone else, but against God. And now, because of that, it begins to dawn on you that you are yourself rightly the object of God’s wrath, of His judgment – that you deserve death, separation from God, spiritual alienation from Him now and forever (p. 83).

As much as it is important to preach or share the gospel, we must know the gospel, first and foremost.

Church and Theology

Mark Dever offers why theology is critical in how you “do” church:

Are people basically bad or good? That will determine much of what you think a church needs to do. If you think people are basically good, then a church is a simply a place where we seek encouragement or perhaps the enhancement of our self-esteem. We need simply to take the good that’s in us and build on it. However, if you think something is much more radically wrong with us humans, if you think that we are spiritually dead, guilty before God and separated from him, then there is something different that churches must do. In that case, churches need to present the Gospel clearly. Churches need to tell people how to find forgiveness for their sins and how to find new life. We will “do church” differently, depending on how we understand God and ourselves. To be biblical, we must know that God is a holy God and that we, by nature, are dead in our sins and transgression and justly stand under His condemnation [Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004), 66].