Thoughts on Books I Read in 2022

These are a few thoughts on the books I read last year. I may have missed one or two but this list is pretty complete. Many of the works were read as I researched Volume Two of The Words of the Covenant. Not to knock them but rarely now am I helped by books that I already agree with. I did not include two books that I am more than halfway through: Paul: A New Covenant Jew by Pitre, Barber & Kincaid, and Peter Stuhlmacher’s Biblical Theology of the New Testament. If I do this again at the cusp of 2024 I shall give my opinion on both of them. Have a Happy and Blessed New Year!

The Messianic Theology of the New Testament – Joshua Jipp

An engaging Reformed treatment of an important theme. Clearly, I don’t agree that Jesus is on David’s throne now, but it is very important because of what it highlights.

1 Peter – Craig Keener

Keener is a very clear writer. He always provides loads of background info. Sometimes he overdoes it, but this is a very good all-round commentary.

Revelation – Buist Fanning

Fanning is an excellent commentator who packs a lot of information into a page. I wasn’t convinced by everything in this book (like his treatment of the sixth seal in Rev. 6), but found this a great way to think through Revelation. Definitely deserves to be near the top of anyone’s lists on the last book of the Bible.

Colossians and Philemon: A Commentary for Biblical Preaching and TeachingAdam Copenhaver and Jeffrey D. Arthurs,

Copenhaver’s exposition is excellent. Arthurs’s homiletical notes, meh.

James: An Exegetical Guide for Preaching and TeachingHerbert W. Bateman & William C. Varner

The best commentary I have read this year. Great layout. Scores on all points a work like it explores. Requires a knowledge of Greek.

1 & 2 Kings: A Commentary for Biblical Preaching and TeachingDavid B. Schreiner & Lee Compson

Somewhat critical from Schreiner, but still very useful all the same. For what you get preachers could do worse (though Iain Provan is better). Compson’s homiletics notes are okay I guess.

Jesus Remembered – James D. G. Dunn

Finished this off this year. I love Dunn’s writing style and the way he triggers new questions. I don’t like everything I read, but am helped by it. Great material on the Kingdom.

Beginning From Jerusalem – James D. G. Dunn

Volume 2 of Dunn’s massive Trilogy and fully up to the standard of the first. Really appreciated the way Dunn intertwines expansion and the NT writings.

The Theology of the Apostle Paul – James D. G. Dunn

Rightly regarded as an exceptional work. Brilliant thinking through Paul. A stimulating work! Dunn is so good at linking up the epistles to the central pillar of Romans.

Paul and the Faithfulness of God – N. T. Wright

I haven’t completed these two volumes but have read much of them. Wright doesn’t capture my imagination like Dunn does, and I haven’t gotten as much from this book as I’d hoped. This is mainly because I disagree with his dominating thesis of Israel’s exile being ended in Christ.

Paul in Fresh Perspective – N. T. Wright

Wright at his best. Some terrific essays here, even though I disagree more than I agree.

A Theology of Paul and His Letters – Douglas Moo

Good, clear, very useful, but yet not as groundbreaking as I had hoped. Relies on Dunn (above) quite a lot. I think reading Dunn first blunted my experience of this work.

Paul and the Salvation of Mankind – Johannes Munck

Since lots of scholars cite this work I thought I better read it. Liberal dogmatism at its worse, but one or two redeeming features.

The King of God’s Kingdom – David Seccombe

Backed by scholarship but written for everyone. This book explores and explains the identity of Jesus and the significance of His work in an almost devotional way. Some of his notes date him a tad, but I enjoyed this book. It deserves to be better known – and to be cheaper!

Covenant Theology: Biblical, Historical & Theological Perspectives – Waters, Reid & Muether (eds)

An excellent compendium of articles on CT from a paedo-baptist perspective. Some of the material is from other books (e.g., Belcher on the cov. of works), but this is a really good book. Stops short of being definitive but is a must for anyone wanting to understand CT.

Paul’s Theology in Context – James P. Ware

An excellent piece of work written with deference to better known scholars but which makes a solid contribution. Focusses on the themes of Creation, Incarnation, Covenant, and Kingdom. Right up my alley.

When People Are Big and God is Small – Ed Welch

A good book dealing with self-centeredness and co-dependency. I used it for a Bible Study. Added quite a bit of my own stuff but always found good jumping off points in the book.

40 Questions About Arminianism – J. Matthew Pinson

An outstanding discussion of Classical Arminianism from a very competent writer who knows theology and philosophy. All Calvinists need to read this, especially if they think Arminius and Wesley were “semi-pelagians.” I am not Arminian but was much helped by this book. It needed to be written.

40 Questions About PrayerJoseph C. Harrod

One of the very best books on Prayer I have ever read (and I’ve read of lot of them). Balanced, sober, and uplifting. A job well done.

Yeshua: The Life of the Messiah from a Messianic Jewish Perspective (Vol. 1) – Arnold Fruchtenbaum

Finally, I was sent this book by a kind friend who wanted an opinion on it. It is the first of a massive four volume work. My intention was to review it but I felt that the review would be too negative, so I didn’t write it. Dr. Fruchtenbaum is a messianic Jewish teacher whose ministry is focused on the Jews, and this has to be kept in mind. With that said I have to report that this large book is thin on biblical exposition of its subject. It relies heavily (and questionably) upon parallels and echoes from Mishnaic/Talmudic Jewish sources, most of which stem from a time long after the times of Jesus (which is acknowledged by the author). As such the light cast from the non-inspired sources on the inspired ones is suspect. The trouble with this method is that for every assertion made on the basis of a targum another view is possible depending on the choice of source and the weight given to it (e.g., the Dead Sea Scrolls). Any familiarity with e.g., N. T. Wright or Peter Stuhlmacher will reveal this.

Personal Thoughts About Commentaries (12): The Pastoral Epistles

When it comes to the Pastoral Epistles there is a wealth of good choices. The top four in the following list are all excellent high-level works. I would personally go for Knight and Marshall if money were no object (although Mounce and Towner would be just fine). Some of these scholars dance around Paul’s clear statement preventing women from being preachers and teachers of men. I have marked such with a (w’)

1. George W. Knight III – Good at about everything. Heavy on the Greek but usable by most. Conservative. This has been around for a while but I still think it is unsurpassed.

2. William D. Mounce – Very solid exegesis and exposition. Some people don’t like the format, but Mounce makes the most of it. I have always gotten something from this volume.

3. Philip W. Towner – Impressive and accessible despite its size. An expert on the Pastorals. (w).

4. I. Howard Marshall – Helped by Towner (above), this is the most detailed and theologically nuanced commentary of the bunch. Marshall comments on Titus first because he says it tends to get overlooked – a not unwise decision. Infuriatingly rejects Pauline authorship. Expensive. (w).

5. Gordon D. Fee – I always turn to Fee on the Pastorals because of the way he writes and his ability to bring his exegesis to street level. This is one you should own. (w).

6. Andreas J. Kostenberger – The usual pithy style of the author is on display. Kostenberger is both a good distiller of other scholars and a competent thinker in his own right. Solid.

7. Donald Guthrie – A very fine scholar of the end of the last century, Guthrie is slight but always “in” the text. (w).

8. John Stott – Two small volumes by a great expositor. (w).

9. Patrick Fairbairn – Fairbairn is never easy reading, but everything he wrote is valuable in its way. I can’t say I like the textual emendations via Tischendorf, but the work is valuable. Don’t miss the excellent appendices.

10. William Hendriksen – Hendriksen is forgotten by many today, but his work is pious, scholarly, pastoral, and conservative. This is well worth having in the preacher’s library.

Other works that should be mentioned Robert Yarbrough’s volume, which is highly praised. I haven’t seen it. Had I it would probably be in my top ten. L. T. Johnson’s large scholarly treatment on 1 & 2 Timothy in the Anchor Bible is well regarded. Surprisingly, he argues for Pauline authorship. Jerome Quinn & Grant Wacker on the same is, well, odd. It’s good in places and “meh” in others. I bought it cheap, which is how you should buy it. Of course, do not neglect Calvin here (if you can get his sermons on these books you will be impressed at his conversational preaching style). Lenski is conservative and solid. I put Hendriksen just ahead of him. J. N. D. Kelly is brief but good. Continuing with initials J. D. G. Dunn’s contribution in the NIB (Vol. 11) is bound to be good. Dunn is always thought-provoking. Finally, I suppose I should include the volume edited by Kostenberger and Wilder entitled Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles. No, I haven’t read it, but it looks good.

Some Recommended Books on Covenant Theology

I am not a covenant theologian. However, I am very familiar with it in both its pedo- and credo-baptist forms. While my ongoing series critiquing CT shows that I am in disagreement with many of its major hermeneutical tenets, I want my readers to know that I have a long-standing admiration for CT for its comprehensiveness and its ability to address many areas of Theology and Apologetics. Later in the series I am writing (of which this is an interlude), I will express my appreciation of CT along those lines. But I had the thought today that I should perhaps write something about books about Covenant Theology for those not acquainted with it who may wish to dive in.

This list is not meant to be comprehensive.

Cornelius Van TilAn Introduction to Systematic Theology

An outstanding work which features Van Til’s robust approach to the doctrine of God and trinitarian perspectives. Not for the faint of heart but a book that relates Van Til’s apologetic understanding to his Reformed theology more directly than most of his other books, showing how one relates to the other. While I do not believe presuppositionalism requires CT (contra Scott Oliphint) I do agree that it requires something like CT’s teleology.

Cornelius Van TilA Christian Theory of Knowledge

Ought to be reprinted. A wonderful exploration of the sufficiency of Scripture among other things. This is what opened my eyes to the relative barrenness of Dispensational theology (DT) and made me ask the question “Why?” Short answer: because DT is not teleological.

John FrameCornelius Van Til’: An Analysis of His Thought

My first encounter (other than a dip here and there) with Van Til’s thought. I include it here because it gives an idea of the range of his revelational epistemology, which he roots in CT. N.B. Not all CT’s agree with Van Til (e.g., John Gerstner, R. C. Sproul). Recently John V. Fesko has written a critique of Van Til which repeats the old misrepresentations of his work.

Peter GoldingCovenant Theology

A Congregational minister who wrote a fine historical overview of CT. This book doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves. Traces the development of CT as well as providing a decent introduction.

Pascal DenaultThe Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology

To my mind if you want to know the difference between Baptist and Presbyterian approaches to CT this is the book to study. Denault both lets the authorities from both sides speak and provides helpful and readable commentary. Indispensable.

Greg Nichols Covenant Theology : A Reformed and Baptistic Perspective on God’s Covenants

A very full Baptist approach which goes its own way on occasion. The benefit of this work is its interaction with major North American pedo-baptist systematicians and Nichols’ attempts to find scriptural supports for his doctrines.

Herman BavinckReformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ

For a long time writers such as Vos and Van Til were our only access into the Dogmatics of Bavinck. The translation of his four volumes was long overdue. This volume includes the most detailed chapter on the Covenant of Grace I have read.

Richard GambleThe Whole Counsel of God

The first two volumes deal with the OT and NT. There is a lot to admire in this work. As far as CT goes it is important because it shows how CT mixes with Systematics.

Richard Belcher The Fulfillment of the Promises of God

This is the best articulation of CT in print as far as I am concerned. A must-have.

Michael Brown & Zach KeeleSacred Bond: Covenant Theology Explained

Now in a second edition, this book is worth reading because it successfully sets out CT while also (to my eyes) showing how the theological covenants force interpretations.

Guy Prentiss Waters, et al., EditorsCovenant Theology: Biblical, Theological, and Historical Perspectives

A recent very large book with some excellent discussions. Again, I am far from persuaded by the arguments in the first and third sections, but this is the book to have if one needs an up-to-date resource.

Herman Witsius The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man

A seminal work in two volumes. Witsius is pious and irenic and his concern is pastoral (although not the namby-pamby nonsense that passes for pastoralia today). I don’t think he is at his best when setting out the existence of the theological covenants, but he excels in explaining how they “work” with the Bible.

Robert ReymondA New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith

Reymond’s prolegomena is terrific. It’s Van Tillian without the author wanting to be Van Tillian! I include this work because I love its seriousness (he reminds me of John Murray), and because he argues in-depth for the scriptural (and even exegetical!) support for the theological covenants.

O. Palmer RobertsonThe Christ of the Covenants

There would be howls of protest if I didn’t include this one. Personally I can’t really get on with it. I’m not sure why. Maybe it is because it so self-consciously works through the biblical covenants while warping them in service of the theological covenants? Maybe it’s his style? Maybe it’s his too easy dismissal of the land-promise to Israel? Whatever, this is an important book. There is a valuable excursus chapter which contrasts CT with DT as structural systems.

John Brown of HaddingtonSystematic Theology

Brown is a legendary figure. Very pious, humble, but powerful in his writing. He reminds me of Thomas Boston, but is more concise. This book demonstrates how the theological covenants are joined to Scripture once the assumptions of the Westminster Confession are held.

Edward Fisher with notes by Thomas BostonThe Marrow of Modern Divinity

I have not read this famous book, but it is recommended frequently and Boston’s Memoirs and his Human Nature in Its Fourfold State both had an influence upon me so I include it here. In dialogical format (which I do not enjoy), its main purpose was to offset legalism. A recent “simplified” version by Andy Wilson is available.

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.


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 probably 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.

Part 3

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.



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.