A “Must-Read” Booklist For Those Who Want To Study Theology (3)

Part Two

This post will be the last set of recommendations for those whom one might call “beginning students.” I had said that I would do Church history and biography, but first let me say something about the apologists Francis Schaeffer and C. S. Lewis. Surveying some of the works of these men does not mean that I endorse everything about their methodology or substance, but the importance of their work speaks for itself.

Francis Schaeffer wrote small but thoughtful books about worldview. His style requires a little effort to adapt to, but his concerns are of great relevance today. The first works by him that you should seek out are those which comprise what is known as The Trilogy. Those are, The God Who Is There, Escape From Reason, and He Is There and He Is Not Silent. They can now be purchased in a single volume. These books deal with the consequences of abandoning Truth and Reason, and the reality of God. Yes, you’ll have to put your thinking caps on.

Also important by Schaeffer are his Death in the City, True Spirituality, and The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century. Finally, his How Should We Then Live is a sweep through history with a diagnosis of Western despair. I’m not saying you have to read all these titles, but do try and read some of them.

C. S. Lewis was a man of great erudition but with a working man’s outlook. Of his fiction works, everyone should read (or listen to) his Chronicles of Narnia. As well as being rattling good stories they explore Christian themes such as temptation, folly and its consequences, the virtues, sacrifice, redemption, the struggle to do the good, and hope. After that I recommend the deeper, more “philosophical” yet still entertaining “Space Trilogy” (or “Ransom Trilogy”). These are remarkable reflections on the fallenness of our world, on providence and the reality of the spirit world. Lewis displays the arrogance and folly of intellectuals brilliantly; something we need to put our fingers on today.

Two more fictionalized accounts from his pen are The Great Divorce; an imaginary bus trip from “Hell” to the border of “Heaven.” The depictions of slavery to sin, and of the half-light in which we live when contrasted with Heaven are memorable. The second is The Screwtape Letters, which is profound yet delightful set of correspondence between an older demon to his apprentice regarding keeping a man from seeing truth, from dwelling on reality, and from trusting “the Enemy.”

Other non-fiction books by Lewis are Mere Christianity, and Miracles. Lewis is a thinker of the first order and his works need to be reread regularly.

Church History

Church History as History generally, seems to have suffered in our perverse and narcissistic times. It is essential that Christians have some grasp of their heritage. It links them with those who have now gone to their reward. In this regard I think the following books are most helpful:

Sketches From Church History by S. M. Houghton, and The Pilgrim Church by E. H. Broadbent. Of American authors see Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language, and Earl Cairns’ Christianity Through the Centuries.

A few books highly recommended to go with the above are J. C. Ryle’s Five English Reformers and Christian Leaders of the Eighteenth Century. Both are superb. S. M. Houghton edited the book Five Pioneer Missionaries which is very good. Then there is Leland Ryken’s study of Puritanism called Worldly Saints which is worth a mention, as is the similar volume by Peter Lewis called The Genius of Puritanism. But I’m pushing it a bit by including those titles as they’re a little tougher to get through.

Biographies

There are countless biographies of notable men and women of the Church. Some of them are maudlin encomiums of a revered individual, few are warts and all portrayals. Here are some suggestions:

Here I Stand by Roland Bainton is still the classic biography of Luther, although I also like Herman Selderhuis’s Martin Luther – A Spiritual Biography.

Since I referred to warts and all I am reminded to include Lady Antonia Fraser’s terrific biography of Oliver Cromwell: The Lord Protector (in England its title is Cromwell: Our Chief of Men after Milton’s description).

We have to have a biography of Spurgeon, and Arnold Dallimore’s Spurgeon: A New Biography fits the bill admirably. Anything by Dallimore is worth reading. If you can get it I advise reading H. C. G. Moule’s brilliant biography of Charles Simeon. Then there is the Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne by A. A. Bonar. Most of the biographies of John Pollock (Whitefield, Cambridge Seven, Hudson Taylor) are very good. Much the same holds for Kevin Belmonte (Wilberforce, Chesterton, Moody), although I can’t recommend all his stuff.

There are several good biographies of C. S. Lewis by Roger Lancelyn Green, George Sayer, and Alan Jacobs.

I close with Christopher Catherwood’s fine Martyn Lloyd-Jones: A Family Portrait. I know there are many volumes I could and probabaly should have included, but I must end somewhere. I shall pick things up when I do the list for “Advanced” readers.

A “Must-Read” Booklist For Those Who Want To Study Theology (2)

Part One

I said in the last post that I would continue where I left off, so let me say something about books covering other aspects of Systematic Theology first.

The doctrine of man and sin require some strong representation in these days. Since the books by Ryrie, Stott. Lightner and Boice already mentioned treat these issues well I shall not add any other books to the list with the exception of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s The Plight of Man and the Power of God, and Jeremiah Burroughs’s The Evil of Evils. Yes he’s a Puritan, but he is one of the easiest Puritans to read so there’s no excuse. Thomas Watson (another Puritan!) wrote a small book called The Mischief of Sin which I also recommend. For those who want to think through the craziness that is gender and body politics today and want to be grounded in truth I recommend Nancey Pearcey’s Love Thy Body.

What about the Church? I don’t much care for Mark Dever, but his little book on The Church is good. If a person wanted one book on the doctrine of the church I would direct them to Robert Saucy, The Church in God’s Program.

Now we get to the End Times!!! I am a Dispensational premillennialist so my bias is towards books which teach a literal seven-year Tribulation followed by a literal thousand-year reign of Christ, after which comes the Great Judgment and then the New Heaven and Earth. I also believe that Israel and the Church are distinct entities or peoples, who together with the Nations will comprise the one and many people of God in eternity. That was a mouthful, but the following works aren’t. Robert Lightner’s The Last Days Handbook and Paul Benware’s Understanding End Times Prophecy both fit the bill very well.

I said last time that I would include some books on the Christian Life, Biblical Studies, and Apologetics, and so I shall. My picks for the Christian Life are C. H. Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening , Arthur W. Pink’s Practical Christianity or Life of Faith. J. C. Ryle’s Holiness or Practical Religion and William Wilberforce’s Practical Christianity. I do not recommend everything Pink wrote because of his early habit of emphasizing things like types and ‘law of first mention’, and also his overly strident Calvinism and sometime tendency to criticize, but he is a great author. Perhaps balance him with J. Sidlow Baxter’s His Part and Ours. Ryle is brilliant and practical; Wilberforce is fervent and sensible.

There are many other great books on the subject, but there are a truckload of plain awful ones too. one more I would put in there for those who experience struggle in their sojourn is Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s ill-titled Spiritual Depression. None of these books are particularly easy reading, but neither should they be. All are read-able.

Up next are a few books in the broad category of biblical studies. Here are several books on diverse subjects: first I think Michael Vlach’s He Will Reign Forever is a must. It is a grand tour through the storyline of the Bible. It will repay your effort. Then there is Creation and Change by Douglas Kelly, which is an excellent defense of six day creation. Of course, one must add to that a work like Thousands not Billions edited by Donald DeYoung. but I’m getting into Apologetics now, so let me briefly draw back long enough to recommend Peter Lewis’s The Glory of Christ, Understanding Spiritual Gifts by Robert Thomas. and, believe it or not, 40 Questions About Heaven and Hell by Alan Gomes.

And so to Apologetics or the defense of the Christian Faith. I think the first thing I want to say is that it is wise to watch out for the perspective of the apologist. What I mean is that you should ask yourself whether the author is writing from the position where the divine nature or Scripture is presupposed or not. As a Christian you have been saved from the darkness and transferred to the light. It is unwise to think as though that has not happened to you. Therefore, while commending them, I will indicate below by an (<) where the author steps out of a Biblical outlook to argue back into it. Anyway, here goes:

For the right apologetics approach I recommend Greg Bahnsen’s book Always Ready. It is invaluable. I ought to include here that Bahnsen’s lectures are all now available for free through Covenant Media Foundation. While I do not subscribe to his Covenant Theology or his views on the Law, I think Bahnsen’s skills as a Christian apologist and philosopher are first rate. Get busy! Two books by J. P. Moreland (<) are Scientism and Secularism and Scaling the Secular City. Then the British publications Genesis For Today by Andy MacIntosh and Hallmarks of Design by Stuart Burgess are warmly recommended. J. Warner Wallace’s (<) Cold-Case Christianity and James R. Edwards’ (<) Is Jesus the Only Savior? are both good (Edwards’s book is somewhat challenging), and James Spiegel’s (<) The Making of An Atheist is very good. Speaking of Jesus, it may be written by a Roman Catholic but I really like The Case for Jesus by Brant Pitre (<). Something like Ron Rhodes’s (<) Big Book of Bible Answers is a worthwhile compendium of “facts.”

To finish off this post I want to put in a punt for Jason Lisle and his book The Ultimate Proof of Creation; a first class orientation to thinking from the Bible while defending it.

Next time I shall say something about Worldview, including thoughts on Francis Schaeffer and C. S. Lewis. I shall then end the proceedings by turning to Church History and biography.

A “Must-Read” Booklist For Those Who Want To Study Theology (1)

I received this question recently:

“Thank you for all the material you put out. I have benefitted quite a bit. Do you have a list of books/reading that you would recommend as “must read” for someone wanting to grow theologically? I am a part-time worship pastor and full-time elementary music teacher. Previous experience as lay/part-time church planter, youth pastor, and young adult pastor. No seminary, relatively studied, conservative theologically.”

As it’s nice to receive such requests (I remember doing the same thing many years ago) and I want to encourage study I thought I would respond in full.  I intend to split my lists between “Introductory” and more “Advanced.”  I know that not everyone is drawn to study or even read theology (there is a difference). I am pretty useless at many things, but it appears I have some ability to do Theology. I love it, my bookshelves are full of it, and I have taught it at various levels from Sunday School to Graduate level for years.  But how to write a decent list of books for those interested in it? I have already provided some help on Systematic Theology here (but that list badly requires updating), and Biblical Theology here (I need to add a few more volumes), and I did a booklist for Dispensationalism too.

What I have decided to do is jabber. I hope that decision is not the wrong one, but here we go. Naturally, there are books that could be in the list but aren’t, either because I have to be limited or because I have forgotten them (I am writing this away from my library). I will give my selections on the various topics with a little banter added.

For Those Beginning Their Theological Journey:

The first book any believer ought to be studying constantly is of course THE BIBLE!  Get to know it. That means you will have to be discipled to read a lot every week. When I started out I was blessed to be challenged by a missionary by the name of Dean McClain to read ten pages of the Bible per day. That came out as going through the Word of God about four times a year. There is no substitute. Commentaries won’t do it. Seminary won’t do it (since when did students read the Bible constantly at Seminary?). I don’t know how many graduate students (yes, Masters degree students) I have asked about their Bible reading who put their hands down once I reached “5 times” reading it through. I don’t think anyone has any business doing a Masters in Bible or Theology until they have read the whole Bible at least 10 times. You will have to do it. Not only will your soul be fed and your mind properly furnished, you will develop a sense of whether what you read elsewhere has any merit. It won’t turn you into a great theologian, but there is nothing like it for honing your theological chops.

Be careful which Bible you choose. Don’t have anything to do with paraphrases. Neither mess around with dynamic equivalence translations like the NIV. I recommend the NKJV or the NASB or the old KJV. The ESV is alright, although it has its problems, particularly in various prophetic passages. As far as Study Bibles go, there are several good ones if you wish. For a start, as a budding theologian you want one which will give you the cross-references that help you link the doctrines together. For this reason I personally don’t recommend the Scofield Bible. It is good, but it is geared toward Dispensationalism, not so much for Theology, which means that it often fails to provide the cross-references to study Systematic Theology. Better is the Ryrie Study Bible, and the MacArthur Study Bible. But I don’t want to get into Study Bibles here, so I will move on. I’m actually not a big fan.

After the Word of God itself there is one other book you must read: The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. This book hardly needs a recommendation from me, but it should be read and reread. There are many good editions. My favorite is the one edited by C. J. Lovik.  There’s a really well done Study Guide by Maureen Bradley.  

With that under our belts we are ready to push off from the shore. The first two subjects to look to are the doctrine of Scripture and the doctrine of God. On the former I recommend The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture by Rene Pache. This is a superb treatment for those investigating this essential doctrine for the first time. There is also a good book with the same title by A. W. Pink. Since it is arguably the most assailed doctrine of all, another good book to read is Noel Weeks’ The Sufficiency of Scripture.

Approaching the doctrine of God I would go for the inevitable Knowing God by J.I. Packer. I am not Packer’s biggest fan, mainly because he was too willing to compromise on issues (see also John Stott below). But this is a great book. I do have to say that I was very impressed when I heard Packer lecture on Laurence Chadderton in London years ago. He was very impressive as a scholar and as a humble man.  The Attributes of God by A. W. Pink contains great thoughts on God’s majesty and perfections. Books on the Names of God by Andrew Jukes or Nathan Stone ought to be purchased. Continue reading “A “Must-Read” Booklist For Those Who Want To Study Theology (1)”

Personal Thoughts About Commentaries (10): Daniel

As with the selections on the Book of Revelation, this list will display some bias towards Dispensational works, although I don’t want to fill it up with just those. One big reason for that is because Dispensationalists have not written many great commentaries on any book of the Bible. Often-as-not they have been content to furnish basic commentaries for the masses. The fact is that if a person wishes to go deep into an inspired author he will need to be conversant with many writers who he may not see eye to eye with. So here goes:

  1. Stephen Miller (NAC) – This is a mid-level Dispensational commentary that holds its own against the usual contenders (see below). Miller thinks through the text and asks the right questions. This is the most helpful interpretation of Daniel that I know.
  2. Leon Wood – Thorough and very competent. Good to have on hand when preaching through the book.
  3. John Goldingay (WBC) – He doesn’t believe the book was written in the 6th Century B.C. (he puts the author in the 2nd Century), and he comes up with some odd explanations (e.g. of the four kingdoms), so why have him so high on the list? Because he is an excellent exegete. Because he provides the depth one needs if the student is to know what mainline scholarship, plus much of evangelicalism, thinks about Daniel. And because it does contain a lot of insight.
  4. J. Paul Tanner (EEC) – I’m going out on a limb here, but by the looks of it Tanner’s forthcoming large commentary on Daniel is not to be missed. Tanner is a Hebrew specialist and careful scholar. I expect much from this work.
  5. Gleason Archer (old EBC) – Archer was a great OT scholar and linguist who wrote the still excellent A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. He makes very good use of his page limit and his work teems with insights.
  6. Andrew Steinmann (CC) – Steinmann is a Lutheran scholar you ought to know. He is very conservative and practical, but also analytical. I own several of his works and he seldom disappoints. This commentary is not brilliant on the prophetic portions, but is great on the early chapters and the authenticity of the Book. Focusses on the “Son of Man” theme.
  7. John Walvoord – A reliable, straightforward Dispensational commentary which does not interact much with other works. Walvoord was a top prophecy scholar.
  8. Peter Steveson – A very worthwhile effort from a conservative Dispensational scholar, with good word studies.
  9. Joyce Baldwin – Baldwin was well known for solid thinking and her pithy style. Again, the use of this work for the prophetic chapters is as a foil for the futurist view, but there is much helpful material in this little book.
  10. E. J. Young – Old, dogmatic, staunchly conservative amillennial work from a great OT scholar. This thorough commentary should not be overlooked.

The above list will not impress those readers who must have the latest cutting edge commentaries, but I stand by it. Of other works I like Zoeckler’s contribution to the Lange set. He is liberal but he is surprisingly useful. Keil’s work in the Keil and Delitzsch set is good. J. J. Collins is an expert on “apocalyptic” (for what it’s worth) and writes clearly, but he also writes as one who doesn’t believe the text he is writing about. E. C. Lucas can’t seem to make up his mind what the Book of Daniel is about, while Sinclair Ferguson is not as good as Young. J. A. Motyer is a great scholar and his small commentary on Daniel nearly squeezed out Baldwin’s.

Finally, Tony Garland is writing a massive commentary on Daniel, which, if he isn’t careful, will remain unfinished until we’re in the Kingdom. He’s just beginning chapter 5. A wise person would get to know this work and its numerous appended studies as soon as he can.

I forgot to add Robert D. Culver’s fine Daniel and the Latter Days. It is not a commentary, but a study of premillennial eschatology with emphasis on Daniel.

Personal Thoughts About Commentaries (9): Revelation

I am convinced that the Book of Revelation ought to be interpreted as a prophecy and that its numbers and symbols have identifiable referents either close by or in other Books of the Bible.  I have therefore given a list of works espousing the Dispensational point of view.  Not that non-Dispensational writers aren’t useful, but accuracy of interpretation must come first.   I have made note also of some non-dispensational works.    

  1. Robert Thomas (2 Vols) – This is Thomas’s most important book and the one that will insure he is remembered for many years to come.  Informative, technical (but not unnecessarily so).  Tackles all the issues, and interacts with opposing views.  A must have.
  2. Tony Garland (2 Vols) – Entitled A Testimony of Jesus Christ, I came across this huge work in the library of Tyndale Seminary before it was published.  I read it (well, a good deal of it) in its dissertation garb and was mightily impressed.  Offers some unique material hard to find elsewhere.  I recommend purchasing the hard copies, but for all you tight-wads out there, Tony has it all for free here!    
  3. Buist M. Fanning III – A new and impressive premillennial work with great exegesis.  Tries to please everyone and dabbles in idealism, but still good.  600+ pages, but needed more.
  4. John F. Walvoord – Accurate writing and theological reflection by an expert on Biblical prophecy.  One could wish it were more detailed.
  5. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum – A book entitled Footsteps of the Messiah, this is a study of eschatology based on the Apocalypse.  Has a few questionable assertions, but it incorporates much solid exposition and should be consulted.
  6. J. B. Smith – Some oddments, but this is a decent exegesis with focus on words and numbers.  Includes stimulating appendices.  Hard to find.
  7. E. W. Bullinger – Hyper-Dispensationalist, although it doesn’t show much.  Takes positions few will take, but for all that well worth reading because of the exegesis.
  8. Paige Patterson – I’m no fan of Patterson’s style, but this is a pretty good use of the space allotted him.  Found in the NAC series.
  9. Thomas Constable – A solid compendium of the best works with reliable notes.  And it’s free!
  10. G. K. Beale – By dint of sheer scholarship this should be near the top of the list.  If you want to dive into the Greek text this is great.  He’s also good at tracking down the many OT allusions in the Apocalypse.  But don’t think that this translates into accurate understanding of the Apostle.  Beale is amillennial and idealist.  In the NIGNT series.  A useful foil to Thomas.

As for other works, everyone is waiting for Michael Stallard’s contribution (EEC).  Hopefully it will surpass his Thessalonians work.  John MacArthur’s 2 volumes are transcripts of sermons.  MacArthur can be a bit black and white, but it’s good material.  Kendall Easley is pretty good but not great.  J. A. Seiss’s old set of ‘Lectures’ offer sound premillennial exposiion with challenging (and not always convincing) perspectives.  William Kelly’s old Plymouth Brethren commentary is worth perusing, even with his opaque word choices.  David L. Cooper is very brief, Henry Morris good but introductory, Clarence Larkin is useful for the beginner, as is A. C. Gaebelein and Harry Ironside.  Grant Osborne offers a well written mixture (I don’t say muddle) of the different approaches.  G. E. Ladd, George Beasley-Murray, Leon Morris, Robert Mounce, and Alan F. Johnson are worth reading, but Osborne is better (with Johnson just behind).

From the symbolic camp I like Stephen S. Smalley’s study of the Greek text and the “drama” theme.  I don’t think he’s close to being right, but his technical and background work is good, and he goes his own way.  He’s also good to compare with Beale to show just how muddled the non-literal gets.  I don’t like David Aune’s 3 volume work.  From what I’ve read of it he is more concerned with the Greco-Roman era in which Revelation was written than with the Book itself.

Good introductions to the Book overall are by W. Graham Scroggie and Merrill Tenney.  Mal Couch’s A Bible Handbook to Revelation is worthwhile.  Several authors were involved.  Finally, Steve Gregg’s Revelation: Four views, A Parallel Commentary is worth having on hand.

 

Recommended Books for Studying Calvinism

Having been asked to recommend a few books on Calvinism I thought it might make a good post at Dr Reluctant.  I myself am about as much a modified Calvinist as I am a modified Dispensationalist.  Although many will not agree with me, I believe that “plain-sense,” old fashioned grammatico-historical hermeneutics requires some readjustment of standard Reformed formulations of Calvinist doctrines.  My reason for this is that the hermeneutics of Reformed Calvinism, when aimed at eschatology, produces supercessionism and covenant theology.  It is a hermeneutics heavy on deduction.  I might characterize it as “deduction before induction,” whereas I believe it ought to be the other way round.

In light of this I wrote a set of posts a while back which engaged standard Calvinist formulations: Dispensationalism and TULIP.  (The link is to the last in the series, from where the others can be accessed).  The posts do not present a positive case, and I understand that these posts are not popular with many Calvinists.  But I long ago gave up trying to please others by towing the line, and I prefer to explore theology “freed” from what can become a party line.  If it doesn’t sound pompous I want to do theology from the Bible while feeling quite free to disagree with formulations that appear to me to rest too much upon inference instead of exegesis.  I am okay with having “frayed edges” to my theology.  I don’t think I am capable of boxing everything up in a tidy way.  Some things in the Bible just stick out!

Anyway, in studying Calvinism it is essential to read well and carefully.  There are too many doctrinaire works out there that bloviate much and explain little.  In no particular order, here are some of the best resources I know:

Major Works of Calvinistic Theology

John M. Frame – The Doctrine of God

In this outstanding work Frame supplies the mature student with a thorough text on the most important subject in theology.  Within its pages he develops a “theology of Lordship” based upon “Lordship attributes” of immanence and transcendence from which he expounds his views on God’s control of His world.  I personally do not think that he escapes the gravitational pull of nominalism with his discussion of accountability and responsibility, but I think he does make a pretty fool-proof case for the necessity of Divine predetermination, and he grounds everything in a well worked-out worldview and ethics.  Even where I differ, this is the best book on its subject.

John S. Feinberg – No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God

Feinberg’s book is even more massive than Frame’s.  He takes a decidedly more philosophical approach and interacts much more with modern thinkers than does Frame.  I don’t like what he does with Divine simplicity, but his discussion of compatibilism is nuanced and compelling.  More than a simple book about God, No One Like Him is one of the best things produced by an evangelical ever, although few will agree with him on everything (Frame is better on worldview).  I used to use this as my required text for teaching Philosophy of Religion.

Robert L. Reymond – A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith

When I get round to revamping my article reviewing Systematic Theologies I will again extol the overall merits of this book.  It has some quirks, but it is superior to Grudem.  Reymond reminds me so much of John Murray, which is a good thing.  Reymond is as dogmatic as they come; a bit of a blunt instrument.  But his earnestness is so refreshing.  He tries to ground his Calvinism in exegesis, and his explanations of “the doctrines of grace,” even within a revised supralapsarianism, contain some of the most straightforward expressions of classical Calvinism.

John Calvin – Institutes of the Christian Religion

You should read Calvin.  Even when he gets into murky waters with children going to hell in Book 3 he has by then said enough about God’s “powers” (i.e. attributes) to warrant serious reflection.  Calvin does not articulate a belief in definite atonement (still less in his commentaries), but his logical arguments for God’s absolute sovereignty must be read (N.b. his translator, Ford Lewis Battles wrote a classic essay, “Calculus Fidei” if I recall, in which he explained the inevitability of ending up where Calvin was if you followed his thought).  Btw, I do not recommend the book Calvin’s Calvinism, which displays the Reformer’s ruder and more pugnacious side.

As for shorter studies, I think these best explain Calvinism:

Michael Horton – For Calvinism

Horton is one of the most well versed Reformed theologians around, particularly in interacting with modern theological movements.  He is able to write books at a scholarly level and for popular readers.  This book is for the latter, and even though I demur here and there, I think it succeeds in its stated aim.

Lorraine Boettner – The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination

A standard work in which the “five points” made one of their first appearances.  The best delineation of TULIP.  Clear discussion of double predestination.

James White – The Potter’s Freedom

I actually don’t think this book is that good, but since it interacts with Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free, it is worth perusing.  White indulges in what I think are some cheap shots against Geisler (no exegesis, circular reasoning, etc) while not really addressing the charge of voluntarism (i.e. nominalism) which Geisler presses (btw, I am not a huge fan of Geisler).  Still, when he does express the Calvinist position White states his positions well.  He presents the way many contemporary Calvinists think, and for that it is valuable.

Greg Forster – The Joy of Calvinism

I reviewed this book and mentioned that what I liked about it was its forthrightness.  I also appreciated the way the author emphasized definite atonement as a linchpin of TULIP.

J. Gresham Machen – The Christian View of Man

This is the first book I read on Calvinism.  I recall studying on a long train journey back in 1986.  Machen walks the reader through the central pillars of the Reformed doctrine of salvation, including predestination and the imputation of Adam’s sin.

David N. Steele, Curtis C. Thomas, et al – The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented

The big contribution of this book is the way the authors provide succinct definitions of “the doctrines of grace” with texts supporting each step in the logical argument.  That makes it very valuable.  It took me a long time to trace each step out, but it showed that built into some of their definitions is a tendency to affirm the consequent.

Three more books which should be read are:

Dan Phillips – The World-Tilting Gospel

This is a book about the Gospel and its “transformative implications.”  But what the author manages to do while pursuing his goal is to fit the five points within a worldview narrative.  I found that to be an ingenious and unique approach.

Kenneth J. Stewart – Ten Myths About Calvinism.

In this well written book Stewart shows that there is more breadth to Calvinism than is often portrayed.

David J. Engelsma – Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel

This book is by a theologian who many would say is a hyper-Calvinist.  But the value of reading this well articulated book is to follow his logic.  Engelsma argues cogently that if TULIP is true it follows that God hates the non-elect (a common teaching found in e.g. John Owen), and that therefore you cannot offer the Gospel to the lost because the odds are God doesn’t mean well for them if they are non-elect.

These are not the only solid books on Calvinism, but they are the ones that I would choose.  If you have another list I would like to see it.  I should say that there are reasons I did not include men like A. W. Pink or John Owen in the list.  I revere both men, but I don’t like their arguments for Calvinism.

 

PERSONAL THOUGHTS ABOUT COMMENTARIES (7): THE THESSALONIAN EPISTLES

Part Six

The two small letters of Paul to the young Thessalonian Church are among the earliest of his writings.  This means that they are also among the earliest writings of the New Testament – even for those of us who opt for the traditional dates of the Gospels.  Although I am pretribulational it has to be admitted that Paul does not settle the date of the rapture in these letters.  Therefore, what I look for is careful exegesis informed by salient considerations of other biblical teachings on the subject.  Attempts to spiritualize the “naos” in 2 Thess. 2 count as a mark against any work.

1. Robert L. Thomas

This contribution to the Expositor’s Bible Commentary is, to my mind, the best single exegetical treatment of the Thessalonian Correspondence.  Although space restrictions were imposed on the author, Thomas makes very good use of his allotted pages.  The work is based on Thomas’s ‘Exegetical Digests’ of these books.

2. D. Edmond Hiebert

The Second Advent shows up in every chapter of these letters, and the material on the Day of the Lord and the Antichrist have to be treated with care, not squeezed into a theological box.  Hiebert’s exegesis is thorough enough for most pastors, and his conclusions are well thought through.

3. F. F. Bruce 

The first installment of the WBC still holds its own as an excellent commentary on these epistles.  A lengthy (for Bruce) Excursus on Antichrist is included which is worth pondering, even if all will not come out where Bruce does.

4. Jeffrey A. D. Weima

A big commentary (BEC) for such small letters.  Lots of interesting insights into the setting of the letters as well as good exegesis and practical application.

5. Charles Wanamaker

In my book this work is essential for the serious exegete.  Wanamaker’s book (NICGNT) has its idiosyncrasies (like making out that 2 Thess. was written before 1 Thess.).  But I like the thought-provoking comments a lot.

6. Gary Shogren

Okay, so I haven’t perused this, but I like the series and this one gets strong recommendations, so I’m going to stick my neck out.

7. Michael Stallard

The best contribution to a rather disappointing series (21st Century).  Stallard has the exegetical and theological muscle to write a very solid commentary.  This is a good go-to resource for the premillenial interpreter.

8. Abraham Malherbe

A well written and scholarly work in the Anchor series which repays careful reading.  Good on background and at placing the reader in the life-setting, including the thought-world of the recipients.

9. Gene L. Green

Excellent on the practical theology of the letters.  Not so great on the eschatology.  Still, this installment in the Pillar series is a fine commentary on balance.

10. Gordon D. Fee

Fee (NICNT) is always worth interacting with.  He is a great scholar who writes with pastoral passion.  He is his own man, which means he is insightful and sometimes a little irritating at turns.

 

Honorable mentions go to Richard Mayhue’s book, which though more slanted towards straight-forward exposition, has enough exegetical skill behind it to be of value to any reader.  Michael Holmes’s book in the NIVAC series, D. Michael Martin’s premillennial study in the NAC, John Stott’s always useful commentary, and I. Howard Marshall’s impressively concise piece for the NCBC are all good.  All of these might have made it in the top ten, but decisions must be made.  I also want to plug the work by Peter A. Steveson from Bob Jones University, who has given us a solid conservative commentary on these epistles.

The Men Who Trained Me (and some books) – Pt.2

In the previous post I concentrated on men in England who helped me learn about the Bible and Theology.  Quite unexpectedly, in God’s providence I came to the States in 1996 to work at a Baptist Church in Fairfield, California.  That only lasted a year but I made some good friends.  I also met the future Mrs H. there!

Anyway, after leaving the church in Fairfield I started a church plant in Napa, which I pastored for over five years until the Lord made it clear that I was to go back to seminary.  After much debate, prayer and several conversations I decided to attend Tyndale Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.  I won’t here go into my reasons for not going to DTS or SWBTS, although I will say that I always try to live by conscience, and I have seen far too many people’s consciences seared by putting career prospects before truth.  That is not to say I think it is ungodly to attend either of these institutions.  Just that it would have been wrong for me.

The Founder and President of Tyndale was Mal Couch.  He was a stickler for biblical languages and and a clear and persistent voice for the importance of Israel in God’s plan.  Although his health was not good at the time I was there, Couch taught through the four volumes (actually seven) of Chafer’s Systematic Theology as well as Biblical Greek.  Personally he could be kind and generous, as he was to me (although he had a ruthless streak in him).  I think he was one of the most gifted men I have ever met.  That he established Tyndale to preserve “old Dallas” shows something of his heart and dynamism.  Quite early on he noticed that I was a devotee of Cornelius Van Til’s writings, and he asked me to conduct an intensive seminar on Presuppositional Apologetics for Tyndale.  I used Greg Bahnsen’s Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis as my main text.  The success of that venture would lead to me teaching Presuppositionalism at Tyndale (previously they had hovered between classical and cumulative approaches), and to my eventually being hired as Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics there, although I also taught Church History, Romans, Philippians and Colossians and a few other courses.  Dr Couch also appointed me his assistant Pastor at Tyndale Bible Church.  I would teach the first hour and he would take the second.  Towards the end of his time at Tyndale I found myself on the opposite side of some of Dr Couch’s decisions.  Our unfortunate disagreement caused fallout that has made me persona non grata to some (although they have never asked for my side of the story).  Dr Couch has now passed to his reward, but I will always respect him as an educator.

John Cook was the Registrar at Tyndale for most of the time I was there, both as student as a member of the staff.  A former bull rider and oil worker, an enduring memory of Dr Cook was his realism.  His frankness and thoughtfulness in dealing with students made a real impression on me.  He always had their best interests in mind.  I took Greek (more Greek!) from him and found him concerned with the utility of the language, not so much on its rigid rules.  I found this refreshing and helpful.  After I had left Tyndale John contacted me to talk over some things he had heard I had said about him.  After some context and clarification (and rebuttal) I asked his forgiveness for anything I had said that had caused him distress and we drew closer as a result.  He would occasionally email me to ask me for book recommendations or opinions of what he was reading.  He felt that the strict Dispensationalist diet he had been taught was a bit restrictive and wanted to inquire about things dispensationalists don’t usually write about.  I was only too glad to help.  One day John called me and told me he had been diagnosed with a virulent form of cancer.  Sadly, due to circumstances, the next time I saw him was at his funeral.  The cancer had done its work on him, but the Lord had renewed his soul and will one day give him a resurrected body.  I will always be grateful to God that I could attend John’s funeral just before we left Texas for California.

Arnold Fruchtenbaum came and taught a couple of intensives while I was at Tyndale.  One was a course of Systematic Theology.  I had read and been impressed by his Israelology some years previously.  Although laborious reading, it makes an important contribution to Dispensational theology and is one of the few academic works of theology that dispensationalists have put out in the last 30 years.  While I simply cannot agree with Dr Fruchtenbaum’s “Pemberisms” (crystalline earth, gap theory, etc), I enjoyed listening to him and took note of his thoughtful way of dealing with students questions. Continue reading “The Men Who Trained Me (and some books) – Pt.2”

The Men Who Trained Me (and some books) – Pt. 1

I thought I’d do something different for a change.  I seldom write anything about myself on this blog, but I had the idea of putting down a few words about the men who trained me and to whom, to one degree or another, I owe a debt.  None of them is responsible for how I turned out.  The monster was self-made. But I want to introduce you to these men:

The first man is David N. Myers M.Min., a knowledgeable Bible teacher who helped me principally by giving me good books to read.  He showed me the value of commentaries and introduced me to the six volumes of Explore the Book by J. Sidlow Baxter.  He also kindled my interest in manuscript evidence after an encounter with a Jehovah’s Witness demoralized me (when each time I tried to prove the deity of Christ from my NIV (1984), the JW just referred me to the footnotes which through the reading into question).  I borrowed from him Caspar Gregory’s Canon and Text of the New Testament, Dean Burgon’s The Revision Revised, F. W. Kenyon’s Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, F. F. Bruce’s The Books and the Parchments, and other works to help me understand what was going on.  Burgon in particular impressed me. He was very erudite, but could write clear prose.  His arguments for what he called “the Traditional Text” were more searchant (so it seemed to me) than the other scholars, who often parroted one another.  Anyway, Dave Myers was a great help in this and other areas.  Later I would read F. H. A. Scrivener’s massive Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the NT (2 vols), and the intriguing study by Harry Sturz called The Byzantine Text-type and NT Textual Criticism.  These served as balances to Bruce Metzger (whose hard to procure Chapters in the History of NT Textual Criticism is terrific), and Kurt Aland.

Unfortunately, I was also introduced to the work of controversial American Fundamentalist Peter Ruckman.  I say unfortunately, not because of his personal issues, but because for a while his sarcasm rubbed off on me.  While I still think Ruckman made some points which needed to be made, and he did make me laugh at a time I really needed to laugh, I’m afraid I came away from his books and tapes more negatively affected than edified.  Some years later I read Westcott’s Commentary on Hebrews and discovered what I had been missing.  When attending London Theological Seminary in the mid-1990’s I came across the Life of Westcott, which gave the lie to the nonsense then propagated by Gail Riplinger. She literally composed quotes from different parts of the book and cut and pasted them together to make new quotes!  Anyway, it was Dave Myers who drilled home to me the question, “what does it say?”  And in a circle of friends who looked upon non-dispensationalists with suspicion, it was he who, when I pointed to Matthew Henry’s Commentary, told me that he was a very godly man.  Funny what things stick with you.

Bernard Lambert was a former missionary to S. America and was a Baptist preacher who would fill pulpits in many Baptist churches in East Anglia, England.  For some reason Bernard, who was retired when I knew him, took a shine to me and we became friends.  Bernard was a dark-suited 5 point Calvinist bookworm with whom I spent many hours talking about books and churches.  Like me, he was a bit of a maverick who disliked the politics and brown-nosing rife within evangelicalism.  I remember him getting emotional about the ostentation he saw at a certain Reformed conference.  He thought monies gifted to an organization should not be spent that way.  Bernard is now with the Lord. I owe him much.  It was he who confronted me with the choice I had to make between remaining as a ladder-climbing Purchaser and going to Seminary.  Since I had felt the call of God to the ministry for years, I knew the road I should take.  This was confirmed when, despite all appearances, I was accepted at London Theological Seminary (who only accepted a handful of students per year).  One of my most cherished possessions is the set of The Works of John Murray (4 vols) which Bernard gave me when I was at a rather low ebb in my life.  The great thing I remember about Bernard was his belief that the people of God needed encouragement.  Through him God encouraged me.

Graham Harrison taught Systematic Theology at London Theological Seminary (LTS) when I was there in the mid 90’s.  He was a solid and rather two-dimensional Calvinist, and, having myself my own thoughts on that subject, he seemed a bit suspicious of me.  I recall him scrupulously avoiding answering my questions about New Evangelicalism; something I think is a rather important thing for a theologian to have opinions about.  Still, his erudition impressed me.

Philip Eveson was the Resident Tutor and taught Hebrew and exegesis at LTS.  He was a pious man, always cheerful and amusing. He had a pastor’s heart, and my chief impression of him was of his concern for the students.  He noticed me staying up till the early hours reading Joseph Hall’s works and old copies of the Westminster Theological Journal and asked if I would be student librarian of the D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones library.  I naturally said yes!  I kept finding Kit-Kat wrappers in the Doctor’s books.  Eveson informed me that it was sometimes hard to get the Doctor to eat anything, but that he would always eat a Kit-Kat. When I visited Mr Eveson a few years afterwards he told me that he thought I never quite understood the Five Points.  I rattled off to him a list of authors (e.g. Pink, Palmer, Gill, Warfield, Coles, Steele & Thomas, Berkhof, Owen, Boettner) and politely told him that he was mistaken, but that I believed (and still believe) that the formulation of TULIP was more deductive than inductive and that the doctrines needed reformulating. He wasn’t impressed.  But I remain convinced that the way these “doctrines of grace” are formulated is far too deductive.  So while I have Calvinistic leanings I feel little compulsion to be a card-carrying “Reformed” man. Continue reading “The Men Who Trained Me (and some books) – Pt. 1”

If You Don’t Have It Already…Some Book Selections for Christmas and After

Thought I would write a quick post on some of the books I think are important acquisitions for a Christian’s library.  If you don’t yet have them (and in some cases, if you can get them), you should try to acquire them.  The list is somewhat eclectic and does not pander to what’s new, although some new titles were deliberately included.

This is not a Top Ten list, but all the books are, in my opinion, must haves.

1. Systematic Theology by John Frame

Although Frame said (in Salvation Belongs to the Lord) that he probably wouldn’t write a full scale Systematics, this book lives up to its promise.  It does not bother to interact with the never-ending swell of scholars’ opinions.  Instead, Frame quotes whom he must and concentrates on theological exposition.  He does not argue his covenant theology, but simply assumes it.  Nevertheless, this is a great book.

2. Systematic Theology: The Beauty of Christ by Douglas F. Kelly

The second and much anticipated volume of Kelly’s magnum opus (I was starting to wonder if we would see this volume).  Kelly’s handling of the material and his catholic appreciation of Christianity, while remaining Reformed, is noteworthy.  So too is his use of patristic and classic resources.

3. The Works of Hugh Binning

From the age of the Puritans comes this terrific big book of Binning’s theological sermons and writings.  The style is analytical and precise but clear and spiritual.  They evince a maturity which men three times his age never achieved.  Just as well, since Binning died young.  I love these sermons!

4. The Christian Mind by Harry Blamires

This book certainly deserves to be called a classic.  It remains one of the best internal critiques of the way evangelical Christianity has sacrificed the place of the mind in its self-understanding (far better than Mark Noll).  He wrote two follow-ups: Recovering the Christian Mind and The Post-Christian Mind.  They are both worthy.  The latter one does a very good job of showing how words are disconnected from their meanings and misused nowadays (which is ironic in an age of deconstructionism).  Two other hard to find but fine works are The Secularist Heresy and The Will and the Way.

5. The Meaning of the Pentateuch by John Sailhamer

A brilliant piece of exegetical and theological scholarship which has not been given the attention it deserves.  No easy ride, but worth the effort to get through.  His chapters on covenant and on Jesus in the OT are superb correctives to much of the misguided Biblical Theology being produced by evangelical scholars today.

6. Darwin’s Doubt by Stephen Meyer

Now with a chapter responding to his critics, this book and its excellent precursor, Signature in the Cell, inform us about the wonderful intricacies of life while clearly showing up the haplessness of evolutionary efforts to explain what is being discovered.  Another book worth mentioning is Cornelius Hunter’s very helpful Science’s Blind Spot.  The author shows how bad [natural] theology contributed to the push for methodological naturalism.

7. C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table ed. by James Como

A selection of pieces written by those who either knew or studied with Lewis, or else have been followers of his work.  This book really helps to set Lewis in his context as well as to show his patience and humility.  Only two chapters are disappointing.

8. Miracles by Craig Keener

Keener is one of the clearest scholarly writers around.  His (profuse} use of sources is a model for any writer.  This two volume book demonstrates the same careful balance as his previous and outstanding Historical Jesus of the Gospels, of which it is a kind of sequel.  Keener gives the reader exposure to lots of useful background on miracles in ancient sources.  He then shows how Hume’s arguments are in fact question-begging and how (he thinks) the tide is turning on the question.  His cumulative documenting of many cases of healings, etc. is difficult to ignore.  While not always convincing, this is a powerful resource which brings the question of miracles before us more than any other work.

9. Van Til’s Apologetic by Greg Bahnsen

Bahnsen’s knowledge of Van Til’s presuppositional method was encyclopedic.  His sympathy with Van Til and improvement of aspects of his thought make this the book on the subject.  Bahnsen’s Always Ready is still the best introduction to presuppositionalism.

10. Do You Know Jesus? by Adolf Schlatter

Writing approximately between the end of the 19th century and the period just before WW2, Schlatter was one of the top NT scholars of his era.  These meditations are short but engage the mind as much as the heart.  They follow the career of Jesus.  As such they provide spiritual food for thought on the only human being who really matters.

Honorary mention: Critical Stages of Biblical Counseling by Jay Adams

This books concerns itself with the first session, the “turning point”, and the end session of counseling. The advice is mature and sage from the doyen of the Biblical Counseling movement (although some of them seem to have forgotten it).  A very helpful book.