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.


A Backwards Glance: 2011

My chosen title shouldn’t alert you to my reflections on News stories of the last year   Albert Mohler is a good place to go for that.  Neither should you come here expecting to read about the controverted topics in the smaller world of Evangelicalism (e.g. the overdone saga of Rob Bell’s book – after all W.G. Scroggie, J. Wenham, J. Stott had issues with Hell too).  These have their place, but I often find them somewhat boring.  And anyway, why should anyone be interested in my opinions about such things?

No, I’m just going to write something about books and things.


I start with fiction.  I don’t read a lot of it.  But over the past three years or so I have found in it a nice diversion.  Beginning early in 2011 I started reading John Buchan.  Buchan was a very popular Scottish writer in the first part of the 20th Century, but by the last third of it was looked upon as a representative of old hat “stiff upper lip” British-ness.  He is best known as the author of The 39 Steps;  a cracking cloak and dagger which careers all over England and Scotland as its main protagonist, Richard Hannay, seeks to disembroil himself from a false murder charge.  The book has spawned several movies, the best being Hitchcock’s 1935 classic starring Robert Donat.  None of the movies sticks faithfully to the book.  If you haven’t read it I recommend you do.

After the first Hannay adventure I was hooked and have enjoyed following Hannay’s exploits in Greenmantle and Mr Standfast, both high caliber yarns set during the Great War.  I’m going to read The Three Hostages as soon as I can.

I have also been reading Margery Allingham’s “Albert Campion” mysteries.  These are set in the England in the late 20’s to early 50’s and are uniformly good.  Campion first appears as a side character in The Crime at Black Dudley where he basically takes over the book.  He is a fascinating amateur sleuth, clearly from the upper crust, although Allingham only drops hints about his real identity throughout her books.  I haven’t been careful enough to read the novels in order, though I did next pick up the first Campion mystery proper, the excellent Mystery Mile.  Since then I have thoroughly enjoyed Sweet Danger, Police at the Funeral, and Tiger in the Smoke.  What makes Campion interesting is the way the author makes him out to be deliberately somewhat idiotic.  It’s as if he hides himself behind his large horn-rimmed specs.  He is acquainted with much that is evil, even being recognized as an expert in many matters by Scotland Yard, yet he comes across as a bit of a fool.  Great stuff.  The old BBC series with Peter Davison does a good job of transferring the character to the screen.

Christian Books

Most of my reading time is spent either with the Bible or with more academic books.  Albeit I have managed to peruse one or two lightweights like David Platt’s Radical, which I may summon the courage to review here soon (that’s right, I’m not that impressed).  Beyond that I have been impressed by P. T. O’Brien’s new Pillar Commentary on Hebrews, and have been using Robert Gundry’s Commentary on the New Testament with real profit.  Douglas McGready’s work on the preexistence of Christ called He Came Down From Heaven has been very worthwhile, as has Craig Keener’s study The Historical Jesus of the Gospels and N. T. Wright’s New Testament and the People of God.  I was hoping to be on the third installment of Wright opus by now but got diverted onto other things.  I am eager to explore his fully worked out views on Paul’s theology when that book finally arrives sometime in 2012.  I know I shall have many disagreements, but I want to see what he has to say all the same.

Back with Jesus studies I have been very much helped by Paul R. Eddy & Greg Boyd’s The Jesus Legend, although I have not yet finished it.  On the more apologetic front A. Kostenberger & M. Kruger’s The Heresy of Orthodoxy is the best argued defense against the lucrative hypothesizing of Bart Ehrmann I have seen.  Erhmann is just warmed over Bauer, but people have forgotten about Bauer so it all appears new.  Not so good an apologetics book in my opinion is God is Great, God is Good edited by W. L. Craig & Chad Meister.  Evidential/Classical apologetics seems to give away as much as it takes.  It is a fairly short step to Nancey Pearcey’s good but rather gloomy Saving Leonardo.

Turning to theology I must confess to having not completed many books.  Fred Sanders’ The Deep Things of God makes the case that Christians intuitively adopt a Trinitarian outlook even though they might not be able to articulate it.  Kenneth Keathley’s Salvation and Sovereignty presents a well thought out Molinist approach to the issue which deserves attention.  I shall be using it alongside of Bruce Ware’s God’s Greater Good in future in my course “The Doctrine of God (2) – Creation & Providence” at Veritas.  Among the unfinished volumes are Roland McCune’s Systematic Theology (1), and Greg Nichols’ Covenant Theology, the second of which, though well written, has been painful to read on account of the author’s seeming unawareness of his own assumptions.

Karl Barth has loomed in the background all year.  I am midway through Volume 4.1 of his Church Dogmatics.  I enjoy the challenge of Barth, and he really helps me to think through my own presuppositions.  The man can play on one string for longer than any person I know.  But some of what he plays is downright brilliant, whether one can completely sign off on it or not.  Of one thing I am convinced.  Barth was more God-fearing than many of his modern devotees.

Finally, in Biblical Studies I am looking forward to finishing Larry Helyer’s The Witness of Jesus, Paul and John.  Like all Helyer’s books, this one will teach you even when you find yourself parting company with him here and there.  Helyer deserves more attention than he gets.

Vying for my time in the New Year is G. K. Beale’s new tome A New Testament Biblical Theology.  A kind student bought it for me for Christmas and I am already a hundred pages through it.  I may try a series of blog posts through the book but I haven’t decided that yet.  Beale is brilliant and I shall learn a great deal from him, but so far he has built too much conjecture into his argument for the storyline of the OT.  Last but not least, John H. Sailhamer’s The Meaning of the Pentateuch, with all its editorial peccadilloes, has made an indelible impact on me.  I still can’t understand how covenant theologians could hail this book in such glowing terms as they have.  It contains one of the most sustained arguments against covenant theology I know of!

That’s it.  Better late than never!  It remains for me to thank everyone who has bothered to read my blog.  May God bless you and yours.  Even so, come Lord Jesus in 2012!

Your brother,

Paul H.

Fred Butler has written a nice post on his reading which is worth a read.


Personal Thoughts About Commentaries (6): Ephesians

It’s about time I returned to this series recommending commentaries.  There are also lists on John, Romans, Matthew, and Genesis, plus my Introduction.  

1. Harold Hoehner – A massive book with an impressive argument for Pauline authorship and extremely detailed in the exegesis department.  There is room for him to survey all the options and argue for his choices.  One of the best commentaries on any Book.

2. Peter T. O’Brien (Pillar) – Okay, I haven’t read this or even perused it.  But it’s by P.T. O’Brien, whose other works, especially his “Colossians” I am very familiar with.  Everyone recommends this and I’m sure I can trust their judgment.

3. F.F. Bruce (NINCNT) – Paired with Colossians & Philemon, this work gives the pith and substance of Paul’s letter.

4. Markus Barth (Anchor) – Huge treatment, hard to read, but very suggestive.  Two volumes with impressive theological reflection based on minute exegesis.  Surprisingly for a German he argues for Paul as the author.

5. A. T. Lincoln (Word) – Lincoln sometimes reads like an evangelical; sometimes like a liberal.  He rejects Pauline authorship (for no good reason that I can see).  I like this work because one gets the sense of the forward-looking strain in the epistles.  Shame he doesn’t write on Philippians!. (more…)

Personal Thoughts about Commentaries (5): GENESIS

Commentaries on the Book of Genesis are ten-a-penny.  But some of them are too concerned with ANE parallels that they forget to teach the Book itself.  Some are over speculative, while others too critical and unbelieving.  The pastor who wants to get at the meat without spitting out too many bones might do worse than study the following:

1.  Kenneth A. Mathews (NAC) – These two volumes are the best thing I have read on the text of Genesis.  They are up to date, readable, and conservative.  The writer pays attention to the NT uses and deals fairly with the literature.  The book has a refreshing quality about it that makes it interesting to read.

2. Gordon J. Wenham (WBC) – This is the one most commentary lists will put first for Genesis, and with good reason.  It is written by an expert, and it is clear that he is at home in the details.  The style is terse and clear.  Some critical stances bring this two volume work down a notch to second spot.

3. Victor Hamilton (NICOT) – Another two volume work at about the same level as Mathews and Wenham.  I like Mathews better on the first chapters, but this is an excellent commentary.  It provides a lot of background and linguistic material. (more…)

Personal Thoughts about Commentaries (4): MATTHEW

Here are my personal picks for the most profitable commentaries on Matthew.  I favor a modified ‘Dispensational’ approach to the book which takes seriously the way Matthew provides lines of continuity and discontinuity with the Old Testament.  But I have little problem with including studies which do not handle eschatological issues as satisfactorily as I would like.  There is, after all, more to Matthew than eschatology:

1. Donald A. Hagner (WBC) – This was a hard choice as I don’t hold to ‘Q’.  But there is so much great exegetical, historical, and practical material in these two volumes that I cannot think of being without it.  Eat the meat and spit out the critical bones!

2. D. A. Carson (EBC) – I rarely find Carson as helpful or as clear as Hagner, but this is a first-rate work.  More tentative on ‘Q’s’ influence than Hagner though.  The revised work in this set is sure to keep Carson at or near the top of everyone’s list.

3. R. C. H. Lenski – Scoff if you must, but then get over it!  It teems with solid exegesis and outstanding preaching values. (more…)

Personal Thoughts about Commentaries (3): ROMANS

The Best Commentaries on Romans:

Remember, this list has preachers primarily in mind:

1. Douglas Moo (NICNT) – Somewhat dense, which may hinder readers somewhat, but interaction with the text and the literature is very impressive.  Deals well with the ‘new perspective’, and even manages some applications (but see Moo’s contribution to the NIVAC series).  His Introduction is on the short side, but there are numerous excurses.  Not all will like his treatment of Chapter 7.

2. Thomas Schreiner (BECNT) – I might have put this first because of its accuracy and usability.  Still a big book, but not as intimidating as Moo.  Pastors should purchase both works. (more…)

Personal Thoughts about Commentaries (2): JOHN

I said in my first post in this series that I am not primarily interested in writing commentary lists for would-be scholars.  The audience I have in mind are pastors and Bible teachers who are concerned about what these books mean and how their meaning can be brought to bear on contemporary living.  The question I am concerned to answer is, “How will these people be most helped?” For this reason some will not agree with my recommendations.  Most Christians cannot afford to purchase more than a few commentaries upon any book of Scripture they wish to study.  Therefore, an expensive commentary, while desirable, would need to be essential, in the true sense of the word, to make it high on my list.   (more…)

Personal Thoughts about Commentaries (1)

There are many commentary booklists around nowadays. Some are very useful, others less so. This series of posts will contain my personal appraisals of Bible commentaries on individual books, beginning in the next installment with the Gospel of John. I have in view the God-called preacher, not the would-be scholar. For this reason my opinions will at times cross those of such luminaries as D.A. Carson and Craig A. Evans. I could not hold a candle to these men as a scholar, but, for all that, and since it has been requested of me, I shall give my halfpenny’s worth.


What Kind of Commentaries Should I Use and How Many?

If a preacher is going to study a book of the Bible seriously he needs good commentaries. Assuming his familiarity with Scripture and his prior study of a book or passage, he will need two different kinds of commentaries: exegetical, and expositional/theological. (more…)


This booklist is meant to serve those believers who are either new to the faith or are not used to reading and may feel inhibited at the prospect of beginning to study or at a loss as to what pick up and read in a day when we are awash with Christian books.

I should say immediately that there must be a willingness to read good books. We live in a day when many Christians are reluctant to take advice on such matters. We also live in a day when many of God’s people underestimate themselves and their ability to comprehend so-called “serious” Christian literature. There is great release in realizing the truth that this is just not the case.

I have chosen those books which I think will both inform and encourage the reader while not leading them astray and not over-taxing them. This is not to say that these works are somehow inferior or of less value than “scholarly” tomes. On the contrary, any who read these books, whether new to the faith or seasoned student, will be blessed. Happy reading. (more…)