It would seem that with the large amount of downtime we had in 2020 back in the Spring, that I might have read more books this year, but all in all, this was probably a below-average year in terms of reading. A lot of that was probably due to Seminary work as well as finishing two manuscripts – TBD if they will ever be published.
With that being said, I did read some great works this year and I thought I would highlight 7 of them. I was going to just do 5, but like my sermons, I went over the limit! These books were not necessarily published in 2020, I simply read them this year. And I’m not putting them in any particular order. I think you’ll find all 7 a worthwhile read.
Every Day Matters
Brandon D. Crowe’s Every Day Matters: A Biblical Approach to Productivity exists to help Christians “think biblically about how to get things done (productivity), and to give practical advice for maximizing time and energy toward the most important things in everyday life.” (p. 2)
Part I lays out the perspectives of productivity and reveals the Biblical framework for living productive lives for man’s good and God’s glory. Part II reveals the principles of productivity such as priorities, goals, routines, and how to sustain energy. Part III is filled with practices and shows how to put the principles and perspectives into practical application for everyday life.
Everyone can stand to be more productive. But they must do so with the proper motivation – the love of God and the love of men. Productivity is a means by which a Christian can live most effectively for the glory of Christ and His kingdom.
God has given each person a specific amount of time, gifts, and resources to use wisely for the honor of His name. It is imperative that the believer steward these blessings well as he or she seeks to live under the Lordship of Jesus every day.
Lectures on Revival
It is my shame to say that before 2020, I had never heard of W.B. Sprague. I read his Lectures on Revival and actually even taught it in Sunday School. Believers should desire to both promote the cause of genuine revival in churches and to guard against “a spurious excitement” (p. xiii). When understood rightly, true revival of religion is a great blessing to the church and advances the cause of Christ in both the conversion of souls and in a heightened spiritual awareness and renewal in Christians toward the things of true gospel religion. When abused, revival is a detriment to the church leading some in a false assurance as well as degenerating the purity of Christ’s church.
True revival of religion is a great blessing to the church that is needed in almost every age. William Sprague’s work consists of 9 lectures that instruct us on how to understand and seek revival rightly even while guarding against certain pitfalls. Those who love revivals “will labor diligently for the promotion of their purity” (p. 258). The final 167 pages of the work is an Appendix that consists of 20 letters written to Dr. Sprague concerning the nature of true revival as well as personal experiences and reports of revival.
Show Them Jesus
“There are many good books designed to make your teaching easier, but [Jack Klumpenhower’s Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids] is not one of them” (p. 2).
Teaching children in Sunday School, Wednesday Night, and Small Group settings can be challenging but it’s also a tremendous privilege and responsibility. Creating moral children and teens who leave the church when they grow up is not the goal of any faithful bible teacher.
Rather, teachers who long to make a lasting impact on their students must keep the gospel front and center. The Bible is ultimately about Jesus and children need to see the infinite value and worth of Christ and what He has done for them in His life, death, and resurrection.
This is also a principle parents must incorporate in their family worship practices. Jack Klumpenhower is “simply looking for parents, Sunday school teachers, youth workers, Bible club directors, camp counselors, song leaders – anyone who works with kids – to join [him] in this manifesto: We pledge to teach the good news and show kids Jesus.” (p. 7).
Each chapter concludes with practical how-tos for teachers and parents.
Christian Leaders of the 18th Century
J.C. Ryle’s work on evangelicals of the 1700s was an unexpected delight. The study of history has fallen on hard times in this day and age. Sadly, this is true even in the church, as many do not know the stories of those who have gone before them.
J.C. Ryle understood this reality over 150 years ago in England and took it upon himself to give brief biological sketches of 11 men whom God used to bring about an evangelical revival that perhaps has never happened again on such an impressive scale since the 1700s.
“This volume contains a mass of facts which have never been brought together before, and throws light on some points in English Church history which have never yet been rightly understood.” (p. 379)
This book, then, is a popular level introduction to the great work of God in the 18th century. The men listed, though differing at times on points of doctrine, were united in the hope of the gospel and seeing true change in the lives of those they ministered to.
Ryle’s purpose in Christian Leaders of the 18th Century is not merely to cite interesting facts. Rather, it is to rouse the people of his day toward a return to sound doctrine, holy lives, gospel preaching, and exalting Christ.
Christ and the Future
Christ and the Future is Cornelis Venema’s abridged version (basically) of the longer The Promise of the Future.
Jesus Christ is King! He is not merely going to be King one day, but He is King over everything right now even though this rule is not recognized and rejoiced in currently by everyone. This is a major, if not the major theme of Venema’s amillennial work on eschatology.
Amillennialism, which “regards the entire period of history between Christ’s first and second coming as the period of the millennium” (p. 107), differs most starkly from premillennialism, especially Dispensational Premillennialism, “a newcomer to the millennial debate, beginning around 1825 with John Nelson Darby, a clergyman in the Church of England.” (p. 95)
Amillennialism and Postmillennialism are similar in the fact that both see Jesus as returning after the millennium. In fact, “Until about 1930, all those who rejected a premillennialist view were considered postmillennialists” (p. 101). However, there are important differences, not least of which is that amillenialism maintains that the ultimate hope believers ought to set their hearts upon is not a golden age millennium but the return of King Jesus and His faithful judgment upon the nations.
Christians do not need to fear the return of Christ but should rejoice in it. And as they await His return, “They ought to live out of the full expectation that Christ shall have dominion throughout all the earth” (p. 158). After reading this book, I want to get The Promise of the Future. This was both a rich and encouraging read.
The Church of Christ
James Bannerman’s book, The Church of Christ, is a classic, perhaps the classic, work on the doctrine of the Church. In nearly 1,000 pages (including appendices) Bannerman defines and defends the church and her authority on earth in four major sections: the Nature of the Church, the Power of the Church, Matters in Regard to which Church Power is Exercised, and Parties in Whom the Right to Exercise Church Power is vested.
Though, as a Baptist, I would not call this a perfect book, as Bannerman’s Presbyterianism clouds some of his conclusions. That being said, it certainly remains an enormously helpful book to the church today and many would do well to sharpen their understanding of Christ’s Church by taking the time to read through this work.
The Spy and the Traitor
Ben Macintyre’s The Spy and the Traitor: The Story of the Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War was a fun read that I finished in January of 2020. This book recounts the story of Oleg Gordievsky, the KGB spy you probably have never heard of who secretly defected to the British during the Cold War. It is an amazing story. I don’t want to say much else because I don’t want to ruin all that happened.
Bonus: The Christian’s Reasonable Service
For a research project, I recently bought Wilhelmus À Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service. Essentially, this is a 4-volume systematic theology put out by Reformation Heritage Books. À Brakel lived in the 17th century and, unbeknownst to me before a few months ago, was a masterful reformed theologian. This book is translated very well for the English reader. I’ve read sections on Election, the person of Christ, and the Knowledge of God from Nature. You will be surprised both at how easy it is to read and at the depth this work brings. I can’t wait to read more.