Bibliographies

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.

 

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Personal Thoughts About Commentaries (8): Mark

Mark’s Gospel is terrific for the preacher.  It really comes into its own when expounded.  Any commentary on this book that keeps flipping back and forth between Mark, Matthew and Luke should not be considered a first choice.  There is now an embarrassment of fine resources.  Here is my list:

1. James R. Edwards (Pillar)

Edwards’ commentary on Romans is very good, and it was on my experience with that work that I purchased this.  I ended up reading the whole book and marking most of its pages.  The author gives you what you need (the Markan reveal of Jesus; the theology of Mark; the personal touches; the deliberate plan of the Gospel), in clear prose with good application.  This is my top pick for the preacher and teacher of Mark.

2. William L. Lane (NICNT)

First issued in 1974 this commentary is still better than most of those which have come after it.  Yes, the form-criticism is annoying in places, but when he gets down to interpreting the evangelist’s thought Lane is always an attentive listener.

3. R. T. France (NIGNTC)

France writes beautifully and has a great ability to keep you engaged with Mark while digging deep into his language and structure.  Many would rank this one first.  I demur because I don’t like his treatment of the Olivet Discourse.

4. Eckhard Schnabel (TNTC)

Replacing the solid work of R. Alan Cole was not easy, but Schnabel, who has more pages at his disposal, has bettered the previous commentary in the Tyndale series (of which he is the new editor).  Schnabel gets to grips with what matters, and reads Mark as self-contained.  A good shorter contribution.

5. C. E. B. Cranfield (CGTC)

Talking about short contributions brings me to Cranfield’s work.  Like France (see above) Cranfield writes good prose so naturally that the reader doesn’t have to stop and wonder what was meant.  Breezes through the Greek text while not ignoring theology.  Very helpful for checking ones exegesis.

6. Andrew T. LePeau

I reviewed this when it first came out and gave it a cautious recommendation.  Very good on thought-flow and backgrounds, but questionable assumptions regarding OT allusions.  A good foil to the above commentaries.

7. Larry Hurtado (UBNT)

I like Hurtado and I like this book.  It doesn’t waste your time and inserts good information on culture, structure and the like.

8. Mark Strauss (ZECNT)

I’m not a big fan of Strauss’s survey of the Gospels so I didn’t think I’d like this one.  But it has a lot of merits: attention to Greek without getting bogged down in quibbles, good on theology, plus a great layout.

9. Timothy Geddert (BCBC)

I should perhaps place this one further up the list.  Geddert really gives Mark his due, and holds him in high esteem as a thinker.  That comes across in this helpful book.  The group of essays that come with the commentary enhance its value.  Should I have placed it higher…?

10. D. Edmond Hiebert

Coming from the same stable as Geddert, this older work is very conservative and premillennial.  It also takes the last 12 verses seriously!  A bit stodgy but reliable.

 

There are other good commentaries on this Gospel which deserve a read.  Cole is the older Tyndale work, but being older doesn’t mean it isn’t still good.  Lenski is good and he defends the last 12 verses.  Barbieri’s Moody Gospel Commentary is reliable, but I found myself defaulting to Hiebert for a premillennial view.  Honorable mentions go to Darrell Bock (who might have made the top ten), David Garland, and Robert Stein.  Older works by J. A. Alexander and James Morison shouldn’t be sniffed at (in fact I resorted to Morison quite a lot when I preached through Mark).  The sermonic works of John MacArthur and particularly Alexander Maclaren are of real use.  Finally, Dean Burgon’s ‘The Last Twelve Verses of Mark’ is still pertinent.

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

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 makingout 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 Pillar commentary 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.

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.

A Review of Robert Chisholm’s Commentary on Judges & Ruth

Review of Robert B. Chisholm, A Commentary on Judges and Ruth, Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2013, 697 pp., $39.99. 

In the past Judges and Ruth have not been particularly well served by commentators (Leon Wood’s Distressing Days of the Judges being one notable exception).  Many studies in the past were more homiletical than analytical.  The Book of Judges presents some unique problems for the Bible interpreter.  Such issues as the date of certain judges, the extent of their careers and influence, the numbers in the Book, not to mention the overall chronology of the period, offer challenges which can impact how one approaches the other historical books.

Thankfully that situation has changed in recent years with the publication of solid works by Butler, Block and Webb, supported by those by Younger and, to a lesser extent, Davis.  Thus, the gap has been filled.  How then does this new contribution from Robert B. Chisholm in Kregel’s Exegetical Library measure up?

Chisholm provides his readers with a long and detailed eighty-eight page introduction to Judges, which, by the way, includes a very useful selected annotated bibliography.  The author quickly orientates the reader to the major problems in the book and surveys the several attempts which have been made to solve them.  The chief problem has always been fitting the various localized activities in the central section, which add up to 410 years, within the framework of 1 Kings 6:1, and its 480 year time slot for all the events from the Exodus to the fourth year of Solomon’s reign.  This taxes all interpreters of Judges, but Chisholm’s careful analysis of the chronology is very well done.  He notes that the pan-Israeli perspective implicit in the narratives (for theological reasons pointing to the ideal unity of the nation, 30-31), do not encourage attempts to compress the chronological markers (37).

The author has worked out three proposals to address the problem of 1 Kings 6:1.  The first two are based on a fifteenth century dating for the Exodus, which is the standard evangelical dating, while the third works with a thirteenth century date.  Of the three options Chisholm himself opts for the second (44 n.47), which excludes Eli and Samuel as judges.

The commentary itself includes extended section outlines, a note on the literary structure, with expository sections.  Then there are separate notes on application, helpfully divided into thematic, theological, and homiletical subsections.  I really appreciated the way the translation has been arranged around the Hebrew clauses.  This feature is bound to be helpful for those who lack competence in Hebrew, but who want to get a feel for the original.  The author’s prose is a little academic but still very readable.  These features make the work both informative and manageable for the busy preacher or Bible teacher.

Chisholm has been given enough space to fully treat his material and he makes good use of it.  The reader will find lots of help from lexical, theological and background sources in each chapter.  If we take the episode concerning Jephthah’s vow as an example, we see Chisholm fully in command of his interpretive choices and well able to furnish a convincing piece of commentary.  Jephthah did indeed sacrifice his daughter (354-355), yet one must not interpret the silence of God in the matter as Divine approval of Jephthah’s actions (364).  While discussing whether an animal may have been in Jephthah’s mind as he made his rash vow, we are informed that “The construction of Iron Age houses would allow for an animal to come through the doors of a house” (353).  Nevertheless, a human being may also have been included in the vow.

In a long footnote he ably dispatches a feminist interpretation of Jephthah’s daughter which turns her into a “poster child for her fellow feminists!” (356-357 n.73).

The Commentary on Ruth covers a hundred and forty-eight pages (with a thirty-two page introduction).  Ruth certainly does not suffer from relative neglect in comparison to Judges, particularly in the exegetical department.  In his comments on the first chapter Chisholm discusses Daniel Block’s interpretation that the author of Ruth views the marriages of Naomi’s sons in a negative light, which is why they died early on in the story.  In effect, God struck them down (595ff.).  As this impacts the interpretation of chapter one quite heavily the lengthy cross-examination of Block’s thesis is profitable as an example of thinking through the text.  As with Judges, the author includes a helpful annotated bibliography of select commentaries on Ruth.  All in all, Chisholm’s work on Ruth is fully up to the high standard of his commentary on Judges.

One significant complaint I have is the inexcusable lack of indices in the book.  Although this would have added twenty plus pages to the book, it would have been worth it.  This decision of the publisher might bear some reconsideration.  Of less import to this reviewer is the way Chisholm handles the numbers in Judges (e.g. 110 n.2).  Notwithstanding this is a very good commentary and is right up there with the one by Daniel Block.

Finally, a word about the book as a product is in order.  As with Kregel’s excellent Psalms Commentary by Allen Ross, this book is well produced, with clear type, legible footnotes, and clear headings.  One can find their way around the commentary without much trouble.  The binding and cover look strong and durable.

 

This book was sent to me by the publisher.  I was under no obligation to provide a positive review.

Recommended Reading in Dispensationalism

Dan Phillips has asked me to come up with a guide to the reading of Dispensational Theology.  I hope this is what he expected.  Anyway, this is what I have come up with.  No “Progressive Dispensationalist” work is included because I do not consider that approach to be Dispensationalism proper (which does not mean dispensationalists can’t learn from them!).  Neither have I included ultra-dispensational works, nor indeed, those post-trib./pre-wrath books which deny imminence.  An asterisk indicates my recommendation of where money ought to go first.

No doubt I have let some vital resource run through the sieve that is my memory.  If readers want to prompt me to remembrance I shall add to the following list: 

Introductions

*DispensationalismCharles C. Ryrie – Updated version of the author’s Dispensationalism Today, which should still be purchased.  This is a must read, even if it is soft on the covenants. Irenic in style.

*Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths – Michael Vlach – Short and punchy.  I don’t like his restriction of Dispensationalism to ecclesiology and eschatology.

Understanding End Times Prophecy (2nd ed.) – Paul Benware -A very good introduction to the subject.

The End – Mark Hitchcock – A large but still fairly introductory level text.  I haven’t read it yet, only skimmed its contents.

The Footsteps of the Messiah (2nd ed.)Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum –  Somewhat unique in its presentation of eschatology.  Contains some “Pemberisms” (abodes of Satan, pre-Adamic crystalline earth, etc).

Major Bible Prophecies – John F. WalvoordA handy resource.

Biblical Theology:

*The Dawn of World Redemption – Erich Sauer – Perhaps the best study of God’s overall plan in the OT.  Some glitches, but the main argument is very sound.  Contains many ideas which deserve to be developed.  Includes many seed-thoughts and insights

*The Triumph of the CrucifiedErich Sauer – Coupled with the work above this is a must-have book.

From Eternity to EternityErich Sauer – Provides both an overview of God’s plan and responses to objections.  Recommended.

*The Greatness of the KingdomAlva J. McClain – An outstanding, mature study of the subject. One of the “must have” books.

*The Theocratic Kingdom (3 Vols) – George N. H. Peters – An extraordinary book.  Notable for several reasons, not least because it is theocentric and so avoids treating eschatology in isolation.  Not perfect (e.g. holds to a partial rapture), but the work on the subject.  The person who masters Peters will be a formidable Bible teacher.

*Everlasting Dominion – Eugene Merrill – An excellent Old Testament Theology, though again, soft on covenants in Genesis 2-3. Merrill gives due stress to the covenants.

A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament – Zuck/Merrill/Bock (eds.) – An often helpful treatment of the subject.

The Millennial KingdomJohn F. Walvoord – A solid contribution and critique of opposing positions.  Adopts the “two new covenants view.”  Has interesting, if not totally persuasive comments about the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven.  Walvoord’s best work.

*Israelology – Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum – Massive and cumbersome, but thorough presentation and defense of the biblical data concerning Israel. An important study of millennial systems and Israel’s place in Theology.  Ponderous and repetitive in style.

Important Studies:

The Great Prophecies Concerning the Jews, the Gentiles and the Church – G. H. Pember – The author was known for his ”Pemberisms” (Gap theory; Pre-Adamic fall; Partial rapture) but there is little evidence of them here.  A good study, elegantly written.

Israel in Prophecy – John F. Walvoord – Brief and full of insight.

*Things to Come – J. Dwight Pentecost – One of the finest texts on eschatology ever published.  The style is “scholastic” and it needs updating.

*Thy Kingdom ComeJ. Dwight Pentecost – Thorough study of the biblical data.  Good use of dispensations and covenants.

*Revelation 20 and the Millennial Debate –  Matthew Wehmeyer – The best study of this vital passage.  Undermines the whole foundation of amillennialism.

How Firm A Foundation – Hal Harless – A fine study of covenants and the Bible, even if he does teach covenants in Genesis 2-3.

*Dispensational Understanding of the New Covenant – (ed.) Michael Stallard – Chapters from a symposium on the subject seeking to answer the question of the Church’s involvement (or non-involvement) in the New Covenant.  Our position that Christ is the New Covenant and all who are saved must be saved by it is not represented.

*Continuity and Discontinuity – (ed.) John Feinberg – Top of the line articles by dispensationalists and covenant theologians (and one or two ‘inbetweenies’) about the relationship between the Testaments.

Specific Issues:

The Interpretation of Prophecy Paul Lee Tan – A very useful guide.

*The Messianic Hope– Michael Rydelnik – A slim but impressive study of the Messiah in the OT.

Jerusalem in Prophecy – J. Randall Price – Price is one of the best contemporary writers on Israel in prophecy.

*The Temple and Bible Prophecy – J. Randall Price – An expanded edition of The Coming Last Days Temple.  This is a definitive work.

Premillennialism and Amillennialism – C. L. Feinberg – Very competent analysis of these two systems.

*Future Israel – Barry Horner – A recent study which shows, among other things, the latent Anti-Israelism of evangelicals who believe the Church is the “New Israel.”  The editing could have been better.

*Jews, Gentiles and the Church – David L. Larsen – An important study of historical and biblical matters pertaining to the subject.

The Rapture QuestionJohn F. Walvoord – A well written apology for the pretrib position

Maranatha!? Our Lord ComeRenald Showers – A newer treatment which interacts with contemporary views.

The Greatness of the Rapture– David Olander – A thought-provoking work

*Kept From The HourGerald Stanton – Still the best book on the subject of the Rapture

Messianic ChristologyArnold Fruchtenbaum –A handy set of expository studies, some more persuasive than others.

There Really Is A Difference  – Renald Showers – Plain but solid comparison of Dispensational and Covenant theologies.

*Has the Church Replaced Israel? – Michael Vlach – Perhaps the best treatment on the subject.  Vlach is nuanced which makes him more valuable.

*The Company of HopeDavid L. Larsen – A valuable historical study of eschatology.  Poorly edited. Lauds Lindsey and LaHaye.  

Collected Essays:

Walvoord: A Tribute – (ed.) D. K. Campbell – This book contains several excellent articles.

Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost – (eds.) S. Toussaint & C. Dyer – Similar quality articles to above.

Issues in Dispensationalism(eds.) J. Master & W. Willis – Some good explorations of in-house ideas can be found here.

*Dispensationalism: Tomorrow and Beyond – (ed.) Christopher Cone – A good if rather dislocated series of essays in celebration of Charles Ryrie.

Vital Prophetic Issues(ed.) Roy B. ZuckReprints of fine articles from BibSac.  A little overly reliant on Walvoord’s contributions.

*Dictionary of Premillennial Theology – (ed.) Mal O. Couch– An important if imperfect contribution.  Contains some terrific articles.  Poorly indexed.

The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy – (eds.) T. LaHaye & E. Hindson – Many fine articles on issues to do with Israel in prophecy.  The one on “Dispensations” ties them too closely to the covenants.

The Gathering Storm – (ed.) Mal Couch – This is a very helpful book full of interesting essays.

Israel in the Spotlight(ed.) C. L. Feinberg – Hard to procure but with some fine contributions.  Somewhat dated.

Christ’s Prophetic Plans(eds.) R. Mayhue, J. MacArthur, et al – I haven’t read this but it looks good.

*Israel: The Land and the People(ed.) H. Wayne House – A very solid and informative work.

An Introduction to Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics – Mal Couch (ed.) – Some excellent chapters on correct interpretive issues.

The Return of Christ – David Allen & Steve Lemke (eds.) – An uneven but helpful survey of Premillennialism

Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism – (ed.) Herbert W. Bateman – Dispensationalists and “Progressives” discuss three important matters.  I found the Progressives rather confusing to read, particularly on the distinction between Israel and the Church, where the writer seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth, but the questions raised are important.  The book is not as good as it should have been. (more…)

Ten Books To Read Before Seminary

Years ago, before I attended London Theological Seminary I was given a list of books to acquire and read prior to starting my courses.  I can’t remember all of the titles on the list (there were ten I believe), but I do recall plowing my way through Calvin’s Institutes, Machen’s New Testament Introduction, Hendriksen’s Survey of the Bible, Merrill’s Kingdom of Priests.

Along with the Bible, which should have been read once through at least (!) before even contemplating going to Seminary, here is a list of books which I would strongly recommend a young preacher to read prior taking the leap:

1. Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne by A. A. Bonar, or Memoirs of Thomas Boston edited by George Morrison

The M’Cheyne biography is short but leaves an impression of a sold-out life.  Boston’s Memoirs are longer and a tad more difficult, but they portray a pastor’s heart in a small village surroundings.  Another great work would be J.C. Ryle’s Christian Leaders of the Eighteenth Century.

2. Lectures to my Students by C.H. Spurgeon, or Preaching and Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Spurgeon for practical advice delivered with humor; MLJ for focus on what a preacher should (and should not) be.

3. History of the Christian Church by Williston Walker, or (if Walker is too much), Christianity Through the Centuries by Earle Cairns

Walker is the best single volume church history in my opinion.  Like most church historians, he has his biases.

4. The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel, or Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks

This assumes one has read Pilgrim’s Progress.  Flavel is a bit easier than Brooks, mainly because Brooks is the archetypal Puritan who breaks every point down into 14 separate heads.  

5. Handbook of Evangelical Theology by Robert Lightner

A very good basic introduction to Theology.

6. Spiritual Depression by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Bad title (it’s more about spiritual mindedness), but a terrific example of exposition and application.

7. Arminian Theology: Myths & Realities by Roger Olson

I include this because Arminianism is apt to be caricatured more than Calvinism.

8. Evangelical Hermeneutics: The Old and the New by Robert L. Thomas

Contemporary evangelical hermeneutics is in a self-satisfied tailspin.  This book helps illustrate the dangers and reintroduces some common sense.

9. The Ultimate Proof of Creation by Jason Lisle

Lisle manages to introduce the reader to presuppositonal apologetics, logic, and young-earth creationism all at once.

10. The Promise-Plan of God by Walter Kaiser

I don’t agree with Kaiser all the time, and I think he pushes the promise – fulfillment thing too far (like most evangelicals!).  but this is a very good overview of biblical theology.