What About Me? the Books Cry Out

Yesterday, I posted my choices for the “Best Books I Read in 2013.”  Over the years that I have been doing this, I have made a few friends, but even more enemies.  Books that were quietly shelved together have broken out into squabbles and fights.  Books are tempermental.  They demand our time and expect our full attention.  They hate speed reading and resent scanning.  They crowd themselves into our lives and expect to capture our full attention.

Sure, there is the novel that is happy to be read once and then tucked away, and there is biography or history that is satisfied knowing that it once filled a niche in our lives.  Then there is the serious study that rests assured of its own merit and doesn’t mind that it is not pulled off the shelf again and again.  But most books are possessive.  They expect their imprint to be life changing, their content to be revolutionary, and their extent to be all embracing.  Yes to all those expectations.  But we are limited, too limited in how much, now many , and how often.  As Andrew Marvell’s speaker in his poem tells the “Coy Mistress,”  “if we had worlds enough and time.”  We don’t.  So we read quickly, we glance, we scan, we read and file away, we read in part, we read a selection, we jump from table of contents to index, we dissect to get the vital truths, we extract bits and pieces, we laugh and forget, we think and move on, we love but only briefly.

But the books remember and seethe.  Franz Kafka said, “If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, when then do we read it?”  But there are only so many reading headaches we can endure.  And for us incurable, unstoppable, unsatiable readers, we grow used to and pleased with the fist of books hammering our skulls.  Of course, some hammer harder, more forcibly, and longer than others.

Here then are some other good reads from the past year:

1.  Man With a Bull Tongue Plow by Jesse Stuart.  I wish I had met Jesse Stuart.  Why I never wrote to him back in the 1970s, I will never know.  Authors were more mysterious to me then.  I continue to read and reread his works.  I am already looking forward to teaching Hie to the Hunters to my junior high this spring, and I am currently reading from To Teach, To Love.  This past year, I read Stuart’s 703 sonnets in Man With a Bull Tongue Plow.  Stuart was not as good a poet as Frost, but he was more prolific and varied.  If one judges 1 out of 10 Stuart poems as very good, that is still an impressive 70 poems in this book.  The content ranges from fair to good to very good.  But it is not the ranking of the poems that matters.  It is the story-line.  This collection of poetry tells a story.  It is, in many respects, an American version of Virgil’s Georgics.  The agrarian world, life on the farm, the man with a plow–these are all captured here in the beauty of the fields, the changing of the seasons, the miracle of life cycles.  A man with a plow is a picture of Eden, but also of the Fall.  That too is in these poems.  The lives captured in the poems are those of successful people and failures, of tragedies and triumphs.  People do good and sometimes great things.  People do bad and sometimes really awful things.  People live and die.  The story of mankind–as seen through the microscope of rural Kentucky–compressed into a mere 703 sonnets.

2.  Medieval histories and literature.  Last year, I taught the Medieval portion of Humanities.  I feel completely overwhelmed in this course and recognize my own limitations.  But Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization and his Mysteries of the Middle Ages delight, instruct, and irritate in ways that only Cahill can do.  Morris Bishop’s The Middle Ages was a great survey of Medieval history, but largely focused only on social history.  Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy was a classroom favorite, and The Rule of St. Benedict never lures me to the monastic life, but does remind me of the need for contemplation.  One of the great, but incomplete, delights was reading from John Ciardi’s translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

3.  Amity Shaes’ The Forgotten Man is a critical and revisionist history of the Great Depression and the New Deal.  Her scholarship exceeds her writing style, but her books are worth the effort.  Her biography of Calvin Coolidge, titled Coolidge, rushes in with a much needed re-evaluation of an underestimated and good President.

4.  American history studies also included two other incompleted readings:  The Education of Henry Adams is ranked as a classic of American literature.  Therefore, it suffers from the fate that Mark Twain described concerning classics:  “A book that everybody talks about, but nobody reads.”  But worse, this book is rarely talked about, in my experiences.  I began reading it last summer and got about halfway through.  It may be next summer before I resume the reading, but it is a “must finish” book.

This book is now titled “How Then Shall We Worship.”

5.  Some great theological reads included Killing Calvinism: How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology by Greg Dutcher, Inerrancy and the Gospels by Vern Poythress, A Taste of Heaven by R. C. Sproul, and Name Above All Names by Alister Begg and Sinclair Ferguson.  Portions of books by John Frame, James Montgomery Boice, Michael Horton, and Tim Keller were also instructive.

6.  Was it last summer when I read The Rector of Justin by Louis Auchinloss?  That was a really good novel.  A second reading will probably land it on a future “Best Books” list.  Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full was a powerful read.  I thought it was the best non-Christian conversion story I have read.  Lief Enger’s novel Brave, Young, and Handsome was not as good as his Peace Like a River, but it was still a fun book.  I am also glad to be finally getting into some of Larry Woiwode’s books.

Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne

7.  The American classics that I have assigned and reread this year in Humanities:  The American Story all improved on the reading.  Twain and Cooper, Melville and Hawthorne are all masters and models.

8.  Two short books that packed full messages were Andrew Sandlin’s Christian Culture: An Introduction and Herman Bavinck’s The Christian Family.  Sandlin, a friend, has written and spoken often on topics related to Christian culture.  For the long time readers of Christopher Dawson, Francis Schaeffer, and others, this book will be a good reminder and good application of the lessons of Christian culture.  For Christians who have never connected the walk with Jesus to the greater application of Christianity to all areas of life and thought, this book is a vital introduction.  Bavinck is best known for his more in-depth theological works.  His four volume Reformed Dogmatics is a weight-lifting set, but The Christian Family is a small, practical book.  Yes, there are a thousand and one Christian books on the family, but only one is written by Herman Bavinck.  This book also is Dutch and old, and just recently translated and made available in English.  Some of the issues and approaches, therefore, will be interestingly different.

9.  Sermon on the Mount and Matthew Studies.  This will necessitate a whole blog post in time.   I don’t know exactly which books I read completely or almost completely back in the spring and summer as I was preaching through the Sermon on the Mount.  I just know I read extensively and often re-read certain portions.  In quick order, the books by Martin Lloyd-Jones, John R. W. Stott, Sinclair Ferguson, D. A. Carson, and David Doriani were most useful on the Sermon on the Mount.  Thomas Watson’s Beatitudes and The Lord’s Prayer were little used, but treasured in the portions.  Books by Philip Graham Ryken, N. T. Wright, and Wayne Mack on the Lord’s Prayer were all moving.  Commentaries and sermon sets by William Hendriksen, Leon Morris, Charles Spurgeon, R. C. Sproul, and John MacArthur all provided helps, teaching points, and encouragement along the way.


10.  A lot of other books.  Some were read through.  Some were started and remain unfinished.  The recent reading of David Calhoun’s Southern Zion paved the way toward a return to reading Moses, Jesus, and the Trickster in the Evangelical South.  One book always reads to another, or in some cases, it leads to a whole range of other books.

Best Books of 2013

The numbering system in this listing of the best books has little meaning. It is hard to argue with Spurgeon’s book being the best of the year, but perhaps that it because I have spent the year preaching. Bret Lott’s book was the best book I read on being a writer. It almost convinced me to try to be one. Miller’s book was one of many good ones on prayer. Each book achieved a certain goal in a particular area. Some books, like equipment used on fields, merely break up the ground. Others dig deep into the soil, while others serve to plant, till, or harvest. In different areas of my life, the field is in different stages. On other years, in other times, the order and inclusions would be totally different.

The Banner of Truth version is the most attractive and well bound, but this classic is available in many formats.

1. Lectures to My Students by Charles H. Spurgeon
The best book I read in 2014, I am ashamed to admit, is Lectures to My Students by Charles H. Spurgeon. Why ashamed to admit this? Because I have had a copy of this book for years. Yes, I read selected chapters in years past and liked them, but it was only this year when I plodded along page by page from beginning to end. It was originally 3 separate volumes, and I read it like that.  I feel like congratulating myself for reading the book and firing me for not having read it years ago and often since then.  I will try to be better in the future by reading this book in whole or part often.

Lectures consists of talks that Charles H. Spurgeon gave to theology students on Friday afternoons, after their minds had been saturated through the weeks with heavy studies. Spurgeon sought to lively, practical, convicting, and humorous. He achieved all his goals. This book made me laugh, left me broken in conviction, provided me with sermon fodder, enriched me with pithy quotes, and challenged me all along the way.

One of my favorite chapters concerned Spurgeon’s own style of preaching. Unlike so many in the Reformed faith, Spurgeon was not a traditional expository preacher. He did not typically preach through books, chapters, or even verses. Spurgeon was prone to lift a phrase from its context and proceed from there to his message. And, he defended his methods and methodology. I was totally unconvinced by his chapter on this matter, but found it incredibly enjoyable and instructive. That attests to Spurgeon’s high skills. Thanks to George Grant, D. Lowrie, and David Richardson for inspiring me to read this book.

2. The Day of Battle:  The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 by Rick Atkinson
This book has to be read in as part of the Liberation Trilogy, in which the first volume is Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 and the last and most recent volume is Guns at Last Light:  The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945. (I have not read the last one yet.) America’s wartime efforts in World War II are amazing. The sheer magnitude of what America did from December 1941 through August of 1945 ranks as one of history’s greatest events. Included in those momentous and terrible times were the Italian campaigns that involved the invasion of Sicily and then the Italian peninsula. The defense put up by the Italian armies was short lived, but German rushed troops and materials into Italy and contested the campaign every step of the way. The Americans had to contend with tensions between themselves and the British, the geographical challenges of Italy, the harshness of the winters spent in Italy, and with a series of poorly planned and badly executed campaigns. If I had not already known that the Allies were going to win, I would have assumed that the Germans would have won the campaign. But we did win and that message still resonates in an American’s heart.

War is not an abstraction where armies and divisions move and confront enemy forces. War involves individuals, some adept and prepared, some totally overwhelmed by the horrors of war. Atkinson tells the big picture story, but tells it through the accounts of those men who were there.

3. Wavell in the Middle East, 1939-1941: A Study in Generalship by Henry Raugh
I cannot complete explain why this book was so important to me.  Until I heard of this book, I had not thought about General Wavell since the time when I was in high school.  (Every boy, at about age 15, imagines himself under General Wavell’s command in the deserts of North Africa….) I was impressed, however, because this study of General Archibald Wavell is one of the less-told stories of World War II. General Wavell is not in the top or near the top tier of best known leaders of World War II. But, his role in the Middle East in 1940-1941 may have been more important, or at least as important, as that of any one else on the Allied side in that war. With minimal forces, with an incredibly strung out area of operations, with the odds against him, Wavell drove the Italians out of Ethiopia and eastern Africa. Then he oversaw the near complete destruction of the Italian forces in north Africa. He helped secure the Middle Eastern countries that could have tipped in their positions toward Vichy France and then Nazi Germany. His greatest setback, a campaign he did not favor, was in trying to slow or halt the German invasions of Greece and Italy. Had northern and eastern Africa and the Middle East not been securely in Allied hands, the war could have gone far differently. British loss of the Suez Canal and Egypt, the rallying of Muslims toward the Axis, and the lack of a substantial British victory somewhere would all have had bad repercussions for the allies.  The quiet, gentle, scholarly, and poetic general paved the way to the ultimate victory of the Allies in World War II.

4. Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul David Tripp
In some ways, it is hard to raise a cheer for this book, and yet it was undeniably one of the best books I read this past year. Dangerous Calling was some serious, somber, sober, soul searching reading. This book is as critical for the pastor as Spurgeon’s Lectures. But there is little laughter here. Every pastor reading this book sees himself, sees dangers, and sees the many pot holes, bridges that are out, and deceptive side roads we face. I read and hear far too many stories of pastors whose ministries, churches, families, and personal lives are disrupted and destroyed by sin. Any Christian can stumble and fall. Pastors are not stronger than the rest of the congregation, but they are highly vulnerable. Strong medicine for bad diseases.

4. The Preacher and the Presidents:  Billy Graham in the White House by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy
I love reading about Presidential lives. I am especially drawn to the late twentieth century Presidents. I have not read a lot about the life of Billy Graham, but I recognize him as one of the greatest preachers in all of history and probably the most important preacher of the 20th Century. Graham had a true heart of concern for quite a few U. S. Presidents. He truly loved and cared for Presidents Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Clinton, and both Bushes. His attempts at a friendly relationship with Truman failed.  He answered some of the most basic, and yet important, questions that Presidents asked about their souls, salvation, and eternity. Because of Graham’s prominence, he was courted and wooed by lots of political leaders. He sometimes stumbled, particularly in regard to his friendship with Richard Nixon, but he truly tried to maintain the role of a spiritual counselor to powerful men who were usually quite weak spiritually. An example of his popularity and prominence with Presidents can be seen in the fact that he stayed at the White House on George H. W. Bush’s last night there and stayed again the next night for the first night that the Clinton’s were there.  This man truly loved and loves politicians that I don’t like, along with some that I do.  (Gibbs and Duffy have another book out on Presidents that I cannot wait to get and read.)

5. Desiring the Kingdom:  Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation by James K. A. Smith
I am anxious to read the next volume in Smith’s series, which is titled Imagining the Kingdom so that I can better piece together his message. Smith nudges Christian educators out of thinking merely of a fact-based Christian worldview to seeing something bigger, more all encompassing, more spiritual, imaginative, and cultural. This is not a “read once and discard” type of book. The series is called “Cultural Liturgies,” and that captures some of the whallop of Smith’s ideas to our thinking. To divide worship and worldview is not our calling. Talk to me more about this book as I continue to read and think on these things.

6. I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven
I read quite a few novels this past year, including ones by Tom Wolfe, Lief Enger, Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper, Larry Woiwode, and others. I continue to try to figure out what novels do and how they mean (you read that right). This short novel was a re-reading after a thirty-year gap. The parish priest in this story has a year or so of life to live among a tribe of native people in Canada. The old ways are threatened by the new, the Faith contends with the customs, and eternal matters edge up against temporal ones. The story is beautiful and sad, short and haunting.

7. A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War by Thomas Fleming
Thomas Fleming is one of the best popular historians in America. His skill can be seen in this book where he explores some very familiar material and presents a new and better way of looking at it. The disease in the public mind, a phrase coined by the little noted President James Buchanan, was the tensions of slavery. The ugliness of the institution is found in this book, but the errors and shortcomings and near-successes and tragic failures of dealing with slavery are the gist of the book. Slavery and its remedy was not a problem merely caused by Southern sin. Some proposed cures as bad as the disease.  This is good history and good story-telling.

8. Recovering Classical Evangelicalism:  Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry by Gregory Alan Thornbury
Carl Henry was a mighty force in American evangelicalism. He was a Christian intellectual thinker of the highest magnitude. Unfortunately, like a lot of brainy people, he wrote in a style that was not popular and hammered away on issues that were not compelling. But Christian thinkers are not raised up to draw crowds, appeal to the masses, or achieve fame. They are called to study, to think, and to be faithful. Henry did all that. He bolstered the walls of the defense of Scripture and orthodoxy. Building on the labors of men like Cornelius Van Til and Gordon Clark, he aptly defended the faith. This study is a good defense of the importance of the man.

9. Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian by Bret Lott
This book is a companion volume of sorts to Before We Get Started: A Practical Memoir of a Writer’s Life. I have been enjoying Lott’s writing for the past four years. I have acquired and read most of his books and am anticipating more good novels and short stories to come. This book addresses issues related to being a Christian and being a writer. There are those writers who love the Lord and seek to express an explicitly Christian message through the medium of a novel. Lott does not typically write the “Come to Jesus”-type of novel. A Christian worldview and foundation underlies his work, but his message is there for all to read. This book helps explain some of the nuts and bolts of such a Christian approach to writing.

10. A Praying Life: Connecting With God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller
This was a year of good reading on prayer. I read one of E. M. Bounds’ books on prayer with much enjoyment and conviction. I preached through the Sermon on the Mount and devoted about seven sermons to the Lord’s Prayer. That sermon series was directed and helped by a number of books and portions of books I read on prayer. These included books by Philip Graham Ryken, N. T. Wright, Thomas Watson, and Wayne Mack. These reads were all profitable, but the best of all was A Praying Life by Paul Miller. Perhaps one of the most encouraging messages of the book was the call for praying in all of life’s circumstances. When our lives are busy, chaotic, and unfocused, then hurried, chaotic, and unfocused prayers need to be the order of the day. Prayer is to be our life, not just an add on.

Honorable Mention:

C. S. Lewis: A Life–Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet by Alister McGrath is a fine biography of one of Christendom’s most engaging and interesting men. This book had to crowd itself onto a full shelf of Lewis studies, but it is one of the best.

I Wish I Had Been There: Twenty Historians Bring to Life Dramatic Events That Changed America, edited by Bryan Hollinshead, was a dollar bargain, like-new,  used book that I picked up at a store in Wheaton, Illinois. At first, I only read and intended to read an interesting chapter or two. But I read the whole book. It was a good preparation for getting back into teaching American history.

Humility–America’s Greatest Virtue?

Five biographical sketches illustrating humility.

There is a big difference between having humility and being humbled.  We are more likely to see or experience the latter than to acquire the former.  Part of the problem of humility is that when one realizes even hints of it in themselves, it disappears.  Being “proud of our humility” is a contradiction, but it is not non-existent in human experiences.  “Pride in humble roots”  is a recurring American political theme.  Humility sells especially when accompanied by photo-opts.  When it sells or it promotes itself, once again it disappears.

The book Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America’s Greatest Virtue by David J. Bobb explores the nature of the virtue and some American examples of it.  Humility is a national need.  Authors as diverse in views as Edward Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and Augustine in his City of God both faulted Rome with excessive pride.  “Immoderate Greatness” was Gibbon’s phrase.  Historians, political philosophers, and preachers have often made or attempted to make connections between the Roman Empire and the United States.  Almost any political or social fault in our country can be discovered in the writings of Livy or Augustine in relation to Rome.  Greatness almost naturally leads to immoderation.  If humility is America’s greatest virtue, it has increased value because of its scarcity.

Augustine said in a letter that humility is the crown of the virtues.  He wrote, “This way is first humility, second humility, third humility…If humility does not precede and accompany and follow every good work we do, and if it is not set before us to look upon, and beside us to fence us in, pride will wrest from our hand any good deed we do while we are in the very act of taking pleasure in it.”

The first portion of this book is an examination of the virture from ancient and classical sources.  Along with Augustine, Bobb cites Benjamin Franklin’s observation that he would “Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”  That sounds simple enough and noble enough, but it doesn’t cohere.  What Jesus taught about humility–both in life and messages–and what the Greek world thought about humility were different things.  Socrates has been as often or more often noted for arrogance as for humility.  Even in his subtle “Socratic method” of questioning, he was a fox.  He was not simply seeking truth, but was craftily destroying arguments.

Aristotle saw the greatest virtue as being pride or magnanimity.  He defined it as having the right estimate of one’s worth when one’s worth is great.  “It’s hard to be humble,” Mohammed Ali reputedly said, “when you are as great as I am.”

Other voices that join in these early chapters of Bobb’s book are Acquinas, Machiavelli, Acquinas, and Thomas Hobbes.  As expected, Jesus’ words and example are also cited.  Humility, therefore, along with its opposites, such as pride and hubris, has been debated, referenced, explored, and honored (although often in the breach) by both virtuous pagans and Christians.

The larger part of this book explores humility as found in the lives of five prominent Americans:  George Washington, James Madison, Abigail Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass.  David Bobb explores the lives of these people and locates certain times and conditions where their greatness, their strengths, were moderated and directed by humility.

These are five interesting case studies.  These are five important Americans.  One wonders why Bobb did not include at least one more recent American.  It is hard not to get the impression that virtue existed in the world of the past and pre-modern technology and ideas. It is hard to apply the word “Humility” to modern political leaders.  One might think of someone like Mother Theresa or Billy Graham as exhibiting humility at certain points.  C. S. Lewis was both great and humble.  But one can hardly apply the word to the likes of the current President, the Clintons, almost all Hollywood personalities and popular entertainers.  I would have liked to have seen a chapter on Ronald Reagan who, I think, did exhibit true humility quite often when he was President.

Perhaps the virtue of humility and the strength of the book is found in its calling attention to a much needed virtue.  In other words, it is not that we have it, but that we need it.

Concerning the five biographical sketches, I will make a few brief comments:

1.  George Washington:  In regard to the uneasy combination of greatness and humility, one finds occasions of it in George Washington.  It does not characterize his entire life and demeanor, but is there in some sterling moments, such as when he surrendered his sword (and power) to the President of the Continental Congress. (Remember:  George Washington was not our first President; rather, he was the first one under the Constitution of 1787.)   The chapter on Washington was enjoyable. If one cannot write a morally inspiring or interesting account of George Washington, one cannot write.

2.  James Madison:  Madison’s worst political calamity was his time in the Presidency.  He was a gifted and brilliant political leader and thinker at the lower eschelons of power.  He excelled behind the scenes, in his study and studies, and in use of gifts that are now described by the phrase “policy wonk.”  His lack of physical impression was exceeded by his intellectual abilities.  His framing of ideas and legislation was successful due to a humilty and realization of his skills.

3.  Abigail Adams:  Bobb’s point is that Abigail was a remarkable woman with humility married to a very unhumble man.  What I especially enjoyed was Abigail’s desire to learn and willingness to admit her limitations.  She also hated the social world and demands of politics.

4.  Abraham Lincoln:  Perhaps it is the long entrenched Southernness of my mind, but the typical gushiness over Lincoln is hard to read.  Bobb discusses Lincoln’s hatred of slavery, but perhaps he does not say enough about Lincoln’s own very 19th century views of African-Americans and his own willingness to endure slavery if that meant preserving the union.  Bobb also discusses Lincoln’s troubles in finding a fighting general.  That is an amazing story and has been told by many historians including Bruce Catton, Kenneth Williams, and others.  That General George McClellan was anything but humble is a fact.  This chapter could have been much better had it been a dual study of Lincoln and General Robert E. Lee.

5.  Frederick Douglass:  The main point I got out of this section was the encouragement to read Douglass’ autobiography, Narrative  of the Life of Frederick Douglass.  Unfortunately, in this section Bobb made an extensive comparison between Southern (actually American) slavery and Russian Communism.  The gulags and the Old South were equated.  Having recently read David Calhoun’s Southern Zion which chronicled the many efforts (and shortcomings) of Southern preachers to minister to slaves, the comparison Bobb makes is lamentable.  It seriously flawed an interesting account of Douglass’ life.

I add, because I am supposed to, that I received a copy of Humility as a free review book from Thomas Nelson Publishers.  I am not under obligation to favorably review the book, but I can say that it has a message worth considering.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year…And Day

The title above, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year…And Day,” refers to the days, like today, that follow Christmas.  The thing most wanted during the holiday rush, from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day, is a time of rest and reflection.  There are moments and hints of rest and reflection along the way, but they are usually just that, moments.  We have Christmas concerts and programs to prepare for and attend, Advent sermons and worship services, gift buying, decorating, and many other things to rush about taking care of.  All that would be fine if the rest of life could come to a halt, but December is also the time for semester tests.  So the pace accelerates, with only occasional slow-ups.  To a large degree, at least for a school teacher, the whole frantic pace comes to a sudden stop on the evening of Christmas day.  Evenings and mornings on the days ahead will be, I hope, a time of slow, quiet, unrushed enjoyment.

Last night, I enjoyed watching “The Homecoming.”  It is a  yearly event for me.  I not only watch the movie, but I read the book.  (This was the subject of my last post on my former blog, and it can be read here.)

This morning, I resumed reading two books, complemented with coffee.  As I have often said and blogged, I need a book that is primarily prying into my soul and another that works the mind.  In the best of books, each pattern occurs.  I am given information and knowledge, but am also stirred and convicted.

Here are the two current reads:

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene Peterson was originally written in 1980.  I recently picked up a copy of the 20th Anniversary Edition, which came out 20 years and a hundred thousand copies later.  This book is a series of studies, probably originally sermons, on the Psalms of Ascent.  This means Psalms 120-134.  They were usually recited by pilgrims on their way up, hence ascent, to Jerusalem.  These Psalms are short, memorizable, varied as to content, and immensely connected to all the joys, troubles, travails, encouragements, and steps along the way of faith.  We are all on spiritual journeys.  Hopefully, we are all on journeys of ascent.  These Psalms are much needed by the church and are needed by individual Christians for praying, meditating, and applying.  This book is what I use to start my morning reading.

Preaching: A Biblical Theology is by Jason C. Meyer and is published by Crossway Books. I should certainly hope Pastor Meyer has a Biblical theology of preaching because he is occupying the pulpit of Bethlehem Baptist Church which was formerly held by John Piper.  Piper wrote the foreword to this book, so he approves the man.  This is a serious and weighty study of preaching.  The man needing some easy numbered steps to facilitate sermon prep will find little here to help.  Meyer devotes a large portion of the book to a survey of the role of God’s servants and ministers of the Word in the Bible.  Meyer makes, repeats, and applies three points throughout the book.  He states, “My thesis is that the ministry of the word in Scripture is stewarding and heralding God’s word in such a way that people encounter God through his word.”  Note the three points:  Stewardship, Heralding, and Encountering.  This book is both mind-provoking and heart-convicting.  I will be reviewing it in more detail later, but for now, I will have to be content with reeling in conviction.  I should also point out that a large section of the book focuses upon expository preaching.

Any Christian could profit from reading Eugene Peterson’s book.  Meyer’s book is directed toward preachers in the pulpit and in training (and those of the former category should also be in the latter.  The strong coffee that accelerates the mental processes is your choice.

Western Christmas Corral–Roundup 2



[WHEN Scrooge awoke, it was so dark, that, looking out of bed, he could scarcely see anything in the room. Off in the distance, he could hear coyotes howling. Looking at his watch, he tried to make out the time. It was just after midnight.
Light flashed up in the room upon the instant, and Scrooge saw what looked like a cowhand standing thee in the room. Scrooge waren’t sure whether it was a young feller or an old timer. It was some strange lookin’ cowhand or night rider. Or what Jake Marley had called a Ghost Rider. Strangest of all, there was light shining on his hat.                                                                                                                                                                    Lookin’ closer, Scrooge noticed that he was not even a feller. It was a woman, a cowgirl maybe.]

Spirit: “Howdy!”
ES:  ”Are you that Spirit, that Jake tole me was headin’ this way?”
SPIRIT: ”Yep, shore am!”
ES:  “Who and what are you?”
SPIRIT:  ”I am the Ghost Rider of Christmas Past.”
ES:  “Long past?”
SPIRIT:  “Nope. Your past. I am goin’ to show you some things, but they’s only shadows of the things that have been. You‘ll see them, but they won‘t know you‘re there.”
ES:  “What you doin’ here. Ain’t there you somewhere else you need to be?”
SPIRIT:”I came to help you out, Ebenezer. Git up, get yore boots on, and let’s go for a ride!”
[ES rises and follows the Spirit.]

[Eb and the Spirit passed through the wall, mounted on a couple of spirit horses and rode off far into the west, faster and farther than Eb thought it possible to ride. They came to a small ranch and tied up their horses and began walking around.]

SPIRIT:   “Do you know this ranch?”
ES:  ”Know it! I was a greenhorn when I first came here. This is where I earned my first spurs back when I left home and set out on my own.”

They walk around and see an old cowboy with a happy look on his face.

ES: “Why, it’s old Fezziwig! Sure nough, it’s Tom Fezziwig. Bless his heart, old Fezzi, alive again.”

FEZZIWIG: “Hey, Eb, come here. Eb, where are you, boy.”
[Young Ebenezer enters.]
FEZZIWIG: “Eb, my boy, there’s no more work tonight. It’s Christmas eve, Ebenezer! The horses have been fed and the cows are over in the north pasture, so let’s enjoy ourselves for a spell. Let’s clear out some space here in the barn. I want to have lots of room for a dance.”
ES:  “Don’t you think I ought to ride out and check on the herd one more time?”
Fezziwig: “Boy, you fret too much. Them cows are just fine. This is the time for a young feller to be thinking of gals and maybe finding’ one to take up with for life. Ranchin’ life can be awful lonely if you don’t have a good woman at your side.
Let’s get this barn ready for dancin’.”

[Room prepared for dancing. Mrs. Fezziwig and others enter.] [In came a fiddler and a guitar player. ]

In came Mrs. Fezziwig, a smiling’ just like Ole Tom, and along with her came the whole passal of Fezziwig gals. And after that, all the young guys in the territory who were sweet on the Fezziwig gals. Folks brought in all kinds of good food, including cakes and pies that the women folk had been cooking all day.
There were more dances, and more dances, and there was cake, and there was drink.
The highlight of the evening was when the fiddler struck up a tune and Old Tom Fezziwig and his Missus led the way on dancing’ a Virginia Reel they had learned back when they were young.
It was late in the night before the party broke up and the cowhands went back to the bunkhouse.
Before they left, Old Tom and is Missus’ shook the hands of everyone and wished ’em all a Merry Christmas.

SPIRIT: “Ain’t that something’. All those folks dancin’ around acting silly. And them so polite to old Tom and his Missus. He must have spent a whole pocketfull of silver and gold, paying the fiddler and buyin’ all that extra grub. You reckon he deserves all that carryin’ on by those folks?”
SCROOGE: “Well, Spirit, it seems to me that Ole Tom had the power to make folks happy. He made work on his spread a pleasure. All us cowhands in the bunkhouse liked him. Why we were all happy workin’ for that man. He was a good boss.”
SPIRIT:  ”What’s eatin’ at you, Ebenezer?”
ES:  “Nothin. Ain‘t nothing‘.”
SPIRIT: “Somp-in’s botherin you, I reckon?”
ES:  “No, no. I just got to thinking I that I need to tell the ranch foreman a word or two. That’s all.”

SPIRIT”I ain’t got much time left. Let’s go see another time”

[Young Scrooge sitting beside a girl, in whose eyes there were tears. ]

Young Eb Scrooge tries to tell Miss Belle that he hasn’t changed.

GIRL: “It don’t matter, Eb. To you, it don’t matter at all.  You found another that you love more than me. There’s no reason for me to act like nothing is wrong. I would have made you a good wife. But I hope you find comfort in what you have found.
ES:  “What are you talkin’ about? There ain’t no other woman, Belle, besides you..”
GIRL”Nope it’s not another woman. It’s that ranch you and Jake bought. That’s what you love. It’s all about makin’ money off that spread. It’s all about land and more land. You don’t really want the things we used to talk about. A nice home, with kids running around, and a good life on a small spread. You want something different and I am not part of your dream”
YOUNG ES:  “Belle, don’t you see what me and Jake doin’? Why, we can git the whole valley. The biggest ranch, the most cattle anyone ever had. I ain’t changed. I always told you that I wanted my own spread. I now know how to make a real livin’ and I will be able to buy you anything you want, lots of store bought stuff, given enough time.”
BELLE:  “It wasn’t money or land or cattle that I wanted. And it wasn’t store bought stuff I dreamed of.  God owns the cattle on a thousand hills.”
YOUNG ES:  “I can own even more. I ain’t changed. We’re set to marry, ain’t we? That ain’t changed.”
GIRL:  ”You never exactly said it had changed. Never.”
YOUNG ES:  “What’s changed then?”
GIRL: “You. The way you talk, the way you act, the things you want. What you live for. Eb, if you were free to-day, to-morrow, yesterday, can even I believe that you would choose a girl like me? A girl with no money, from a family with no land, no dowry from my Papa.”
YOUNG ES:  “No money, no land, now dowery…I reckon they’s still things to be said in your favor, Belle.”
GIRL: “Eb, I release you. With a full heart, for the love of him you once were. I will be leavin’ the valley soon. May you be happy in the live you have chosen.”

[Song: Red River Valley]

Old Eb and Young Eb lament what they have lost—“the cowgirl who loved you so true.”

ES:  “Spirit! Git me out of here.”
SPIRIT: “I told you these were shadows of the things that have been . That they are what they are. You cain‘t blame me for that.”
ES: “Git me out of here. I don’t’ want to see any more of this. Git me back to my ranch. Haunt me no longer!”

[Eb Scrooge realizes he is back in his room.]

A Western Christmas Corral–in 4 Roundups

BY  Ben House

Originally performed by the Veritas Academy Humanities Class.

With apologies to Mr. Charles Dickens, in hope that the heirs to his works do not find out about this literary rustling.                                              And with thanks to John R. Cash for helping out with his singing of “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”



 MARLEY was dead, to begin with. There ain’t no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the sheriff, the judge, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. That was Old Eb Scrooge. Yep, he signed it. Old Eb Scrooge signed a lot of papers. Seemed he always got somethin’ out the deal, like more land, more cattle, more money.

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail and had been pushin’ up daisies for seven years.
Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Eb Scrooge and Jake Marley had been partners, running the same ranch ever since they left workin’ at Old Fezziwig’s outfit, for I don’t know how many years. Partners up til the day that Marley was kilt in a fight over more land.
Marley died and got his six feet of ground and Old Eb got the lands belongin’ to the folks what killed Marley.
Now with Marley bein’ in Boot Hill, Scrooge was now the owner of the whole spread, the whole herd of longhorn cattle, the barns and corrals, the horses, saddles, the bunkhouse, the ranchhouse and the outhouse.

What a fine cattle ranch it was. Big gate out front with a sign hangin’ down. Scrooge and Marly Cattle Ranch.
Scrooge never painted out old Marley’s name off the sign, however. There it yet stood, years afterwards, right out front of the ranch– Scrooge and Marley Cattle Ranch. Yes, Sir, the ranch was known as Scrooge and Marley. Sometimes a feller that was new to the parts would call Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes he called him Marley. Old Eb Scrooge answered to both names. It was all the same to him.

Oh, but Eb Scrooge was one tough man, as rugged, rough, tanned and ridged as those wide open plains of west Texas. He was tight-fisted. Maybe it came from all those years of running cattle during scorching summers and hard winters.

But he was more than rough and rugged. He was just plain ornery, as mean as a mad dog, as rangy and unpredictable as a herd of buffalo.
And tight fisted. Why ole Eb Scrooge was a squeezing, wrenching grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old coot! The blazing sun of a hot Texas summer and the blizzards of winter had little influence on him.
No camp fire could warm him, no sleet and drizzle could chill him.
No blue northern wind that howled across the plains was more bitter than Eb Scrooge; no falling snow was more cold.
No pelting rain less could make him more neighborly. No foul weather on the outside could match his foul temper on the inside.
The heaviest rain and snow and hail and sleet could they often drew folks together and brought out the best in a man, but nothing could soften the tough rawhide exterior of Eb Scrooge.

Everybody in town called him Mr. Scrooge, but no one stopped to jaw with him. Ever one was afeared of him.

None of the other ranchers would have said, “Hey, Eb, how you doin’? Come by my place and share some grub with me.”

He never had a kind word or even the time of day for anyone.

A boy: “Hello, Mr. Scrooge….Can, can, can I…I…tie up your horse for you, sir?” (Frightened look and then the child runs away.)

Not any wider woman, not even the preacher, would ask Eb Scrooge for help.
No man or woman ever once in all his life asked for directions to such and such a place, of Scrooge.
Even if a friendly dog saw him coming, he would tuck his tail and hide.
But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked.
Yes, sir, enjoyed bein’ mean and contrary. Hard hearted, cold, rough, unfriendly, unneighborly.
He only smiled if he bested somebody in a deal, a land deal, cattle buyin’, horse tradin’.

Cattleman: “Eb Scrooge heped me out once. Took my cattle with his herd on the trail drive. Paid me near $4 a head after sellin’ em up in Kansas. Course, then he charged $5 a head for his troubles. But then he offered to buy me out since I was broke, gave nearly half what I paid for my ranch.”

General Store Manager: “I run the general store. Least, I ust to. Eb Scrooge paid the legislature to put the railroad five miles from my store. He started his own general store there. I work for him now. Work longer hours, make less money, but it was the only job I could get.”

Sheriff: “Don’t talk bad about Mr. Scrooge. Course, I got elected sheriff only cause he let me. The way I see it, he is the law round these parts. I’m the sheriff, you see, and I sometimes have to evict folks who owe him money, but leastways, I have a job.”

You see what kind of feller he was.
He wuz, that’s the key ideer.  If you don’t understand all that about Ole Eb, you won’t be able to understand what is so amazing about the rest of this story.

Some years back, of all the good days in the year, it was Christmas eve. Old Scrooge had been out herding cattle with his men all day long. He was always fearful that somebody might rustle a cow or two away from his heard.
It was a cold and hard day and he was just getting back to the ranch with his foreman Bob Crachit. And, as usual, Old Eb warn’t in a good mood a’tall.

Like you said, It was mighty cold outside. A bleak biting, hard wind from the north had blown in, bringing ice and snow. And although it was just past the middle of the afternoon, it was quite dark already.

[Scrooge and Crachit walk in, carrying horse tact. ]
Scrooge: “SHUT THE GATE!”   (Mutters to himself.)

Two Cowboys rush in with a hurt cowboy between them.

SCROOGE: “What’s wrong?”
1st Cowboy: “It’s Lief, sir. I think he’s broke his leg. We got to take to Doc’s right away.”
2nd Cowboy: “His horse stumbled into a prairie dog hole and fell on Lief. That poor horse’s leg was broke for sure. We had to shoot him. Lief here is mighty bad hurt.”
SCROOGE: “I lost a horse?”
1st Cowboy: “We’re takin’ Lief on in.”
[They leave.]
Scrooge to two other cowboys: “Go get Lief’s stuff all together and out of the bunkhouse.”
Scrooge to Bob: “Crachit, figure up how much he’s owed for 24 days of the month. Take out $20, ah, make that $25 for the horse.”
One of the cowboys: “What we gettin’ all his stuff together for.”
SCROOGE: “I ain’t givin’ food and board to a man that cain’t work. Get on with what I told you unless you want to cash out too.”

BOB: “Mr. Scrooge, it’s Mr. Swift, the banker.”
MR. SWIFT: “Merry Christmas Bob. Mighty cold out there. Eb, I got the papers you wanted.”
SCROOGE: “Well, let’s ‘em signed. I ain’t got to waste waitin’ on this. I need that piece of land.”

Cowboy comes in to interrupt: “Mr. Scrooge, looks like the Wider Jones’ cattle have strayed on your place again. Do I need to run ‘em out?”

SCROOGE: “Naw, just let ‘em graze.”

Cowboy to Bob: “I hope I heard Mr. Scrooge right.  He usually gets riled over the wider’s cows gettin’ in his pasture.  I reckon Mr. Scrooge must have the Christmas spirit today.”

Mr. Swift:  “Christmas spirit?  Ha. Eb is just about to sign the papers that will turn her land and holdings, including those cattle, over to him.”

SCROOGE: “I need them Jones people off that property by tomorrow. It just ain’t right for them to be taking up land and space that ain’t theirs.  Take these papers to her right now. Swift, you do like your name says and tell that woman and her young uns to be packed and movin’ and gone by noon tomorrow.”

Mr. Swift: “Take the papers out there on Christmas eve?”

SCROOGE: “You can put a fancy bow on the papers if you want. I just want to see them gone soon. They ain’t got no business bein’ on my property. It just ain’t right.”

(They hear the sounds outside of a horse approaching. Then, in walks Fred.)

FRED: ”Howdy Uncle Ebenezer. A merry Christmas, Uncle! God bless you!”
SCROOGE: “Christmas! Bah! Humbug!”
FRED:”Christmas a humbug? Uncle Eb, You ain’t sayin’ Christmas is a humbug, are ye?”
SCROOGE:”Sure, I do. What cause have you got to be merry? You’re poor enough.”
FRED: “What right have you got to be contrary? You’re rich enough. So, Merry Christmas.”
SCROOGE: Bah. I spit on the whole idear of Merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for having to feed cattle through a long hard winter, a time of realizing you ain’t got money for paying bills; you look in a mirror and find yourself a year older, and not even two bits richer; you look over your herd and find that you got less than you did the year before.
If’n I had my way, every idiot who goes about sayin’ ‘Merry Christmas’ would be boiled with his own stew, and buried with a stake of cactus through his heart. Yep, he would!”
FRED: “Uncle Eb!”
SCROOGE:”Nephew, keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”
FRED: “Keep it! But you don’t keep it.”
SCROOGE: “Let me leave it alone, then. It ain’t doin’ you no good. It ain’t never done you no good.”
FRED:”There are many things in this world that have done me good, but I didn’t make a profit from them. I reckon Christmas is that way.. But I always thought of Christmas time, when it comes round, — along with it being the time we remember the birth of Jesus — as a good time; a kind, forgiving time, a time for helpin’ folks, a time for kin folks and friends to git together.
And so, Uncle Eb, even though Christmas ain’t added any gold or silver in my pocket, or added to my cattle herd, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
MR. CRACHIT: (applauds)
SCROOGE: (To Bob)”Let me hear another sound from you, and you’ll keep your Christmas by finding yourself cut loose from the herd and turned out alone on the prairie! …. (To Fred)…You’re quite a powerful speaker, sir. I wonder you don’t run county judge.”

FRED: “Don’t be angry, Uncle Eb. Come over to my ranch tomorrow and enjoy Christmas supper with me and my wife!”
FRED: “But why? Why you carryin’ on like that? Why?”
SCROOGE: “Why did you get married?”
FRED: “Because I met a wonderful girl and fell head over heels in love.”
SCROOGE: “Because you fell in love! Hadn’t you got any fences needin’ mendin’. Say your good byes and hit the trail.”
FRED: “Uncle Eb, you never came to see me before I got married. Why are you givin’ that as a reason for not coming now?”
SCROOGE: “How about this reason: Adios, amigos.”
FRED”Uncle, I don’t want nothing that’s yours. I don’t ask nothing of you. I worked and got my own land. Still, you’re my next of kin, my own uncle, my Maw‘s favorite brother. Why can’t we just be friends?”
SCROOGE: “Hit the trail, nephew. Ride on off to that ranch, as you call that scrub land of yours, and leave me alone.”
FRED: “I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you so hard headed. We ain’t never had any quarrel or fight. But I came over to invite you to share Christmas with me and my Missus. I ain’t gonna let you ruin my Christmas spirit. So A Merry Christmas, uncle!”
SCROOGE: “”Ahh.!”
FRED:”And A Happy New-Year!”
SCROOGE: Bah. Humbug.
[Fred leaves, two other follows from town enter.]
1st GENTLEMAN: “This Scrooge and Marley’s spread, I believe. Do you happen to be Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Marley?”
SCROOGE: “Jake Marley kicked the bucket seven years ago. He died seven years ago, got killed right there where you are standing.”
(Both gentlemen jump backwards.)
2nd GENTLEMAN: Our condolon…condolen… con…con…We are right sorry to hear that, Mr. Scrooge.
SCROOGE: It was the last straw in a land war against Mayfields. Marley and I got the whole of the valley down by the river out of that fight. Well, least ways, I got it. Marley got six foot of ground out of it.”
2nd GENTLEMAN: “Still, it’s a shame to hear of such a thing happening right on the eve of such a festive time of year.”
1ST GENTLEMAN: “Yes, this is a festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge, so some of us at the church have thought that we ought to do something for the poor and suffering folks around us. With the drought last summer and the hard winter on us now, there are some people out here who don’t hardly have any common necessaries, much less anything special for comfort. A few folks around here don’t hardly have a place to bed down at night.”
SCROOGE: “Is the jail house all filled up?”
1ST GENTLEMAN: “There’s room in the jail, but a jail cell ain’t no place to spend Christian. So some of us have decided to gather up some money to buy some meat and drink, and maybe some warm clothes for some of the widow women and their kids and some of the fellers who have lost their crops and cattle to the weather. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when folks really feel their hunger pains. And those winter winds can be mighty cold. What shall I put you down for?”
SCROOGE: “Nothing!”
SECOND GENTLEMAN: “That’s right kind. You don’t want anyone to know that you are helpin’ ‘em. You wish to be ananymous?”
SCROOGE: “I wish to be left alone. Since you ask me what I wish, fellers, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas, and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I pay taxes to provide a jail for lazy folks and there are railroads to take all those other folks away from these parts. Let ‘em go to jail or leave.”
SECOND GENT: “Poor folks don’t belong in jail. Many of ‘em have worked hard and would rather die than give up their lands.”
ES: “If they would rather die, they had better do it. A few less lazy farmers and sorry ranchers out here would open up more grazing land for the rest of us.”
[The gentlemen left and Scrooge continued to shuffle through some papers. It was getting on to the end of the day. With an ill-will Scrooge, got up from his chair and walked over to his foreman, who was finishing up his work. ]
ES:”We got a lot of fences that need mendin’ over in the south pasture. But I reckon You’ll want all day to-morrow off?”
BOB: “If it ain’t too much trouble, Mr. Scrooge, sir.”
ES: “It is a lot of trouble, and it ain’t right. If I cut out a dollar from your monthly pay, you would think I was doing you wrong, now wouldn’t you?”
BOB “Yes, sir.”
ES”And yet you don’t think there ain’t nothin’ wrong with me paying out a day’s wages for no work?”
BOB”It’s only once a year, sir.”
ES”A poor excuse for stealing out of a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December! But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here before daylight the next morning.”
[The foreman promised that he would; and Scrooge walked out with a growl. ]
Scrooge lived in a small part of the ranchhouse which had once belonged to his deceased partner. The building was old now and dreary enough; for nobody lived in it but Scrooge, the other rooms being all closed up.

Old Scrooge bundled up and headed over to the ranch house, but all the while, he kept hearing strange sounds in the whistling wind.

[ “Ghost Riders in the Sky” theme song.]
ES: Bah. Humbug.

Being a rancher, a cowboy, a man who had spent many a long hard day and night out on the trail, Scrooge was not a man to be frightened by echoes. He went into his house, lit a candle, fastened the door, and went into his room, carrying his candle as he went.
The house was dark, ‘cept for the candle he carried. Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it. He also liked being alone, but on this night, he walked through his rooms to see that all was right. Something about that sound out in the wind had worked up a skeer in him. But just as he figured, there was nobody in the house with in. Nobody under the table, nobody near his chair; just a small fire in the fireplace and a bowl of stew in a small saucepan. Ole Scrooge ate his food and cussed the cook for putting too many spices in the grub.

[Then, he checked the door to see if’n it was locked, and that wasn’t his usual custom. Pulling his boots off, he settled down to sleep in his chair. A day in the saddle had left him quite sore, but for some reason, he felt like he ought to sit up in the chair to sleep tonight. And yes, he made sure he had a gun nearby. More than once in his life, he had been awaken by some varmit–some four legged, some two legged–that needed shootin’. Eb Scrooge wasn’t a man you wanted to disturb when he was sleepin’. ]
At first he couldn’t sleep. Then he got to thinking’ of ways he had forced the Widow Jones off her ranch right in the middle of the winter: land, barns, and cattle all. He had gotten the whole spread for a steal–mainly by paying back taxes, and he could make back his money with the spring cattle drive. And he wouldn’t have to worry about her botherin’ him anymore over use of the creek or about her settin’ her bonnet on marryin’ him. With that pleasant thought, he drifted off to sleep. And, with sounds loud enough to frighten off a whole of Indians, he began to snore.

What a good sleep, until Eb heard some noises.

[Out the door there were clanking and stumbling and all manner of sounds that get louder and louder.]

[Into Eb’s room walked Jake Marley. Old Marley, dressed in jeans and cowboy clothes same as in life, but his body was transparent; so that Scrooge, looking at him could see right through him. ]

Eb: “Who is it? Who‘s out there? You better git. What do you want?”
ES: “Who are you?”
M: “Ask me who I was.”
ES: “Who was you then?”
M”In life I ran this ranch you. We was partners, I am Jake Marley.”
ES: “Jake? Is it really you? Can you — can you sit down?”
M:  “I can.”
ES: “Take a load off your feet.”
[Ghost sits down.]
M:  “You don’t believe in me.”
ES:  ”I don’t.”
M:  “What makes you think I ain’t real?”
ES:  “I don’t know. I reckon because I seen you die seven years ago tonight. I dug the hole you‘re buried in. ”
M:  “Why ain’t you believing’ what you see’in’?”
ES:  ”Because strange things can happen to a man’s eyes at night. You think you see a Indian moving in the bush that ain’t there. You see a stick and think it’s a rattlesnake. Maybe a little too much hooch messes up your seein’. Or maybe it is something you ate. That stew tonight that ole Jack fixed. I think it messed my stomach up. A little bit of raw beef, some potaters that ain’t cooked right, a little too much hot stuff in the stew. Why, Jake I figure there’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”
[Marley takes off the bandage round his head.]
ES:  ”Oh my goodness. Oh man, mercy. You are a awful looking creature. Dreadful haint, why you troubling’ me. I never knew such spirits walked the earth, and why are you comin’ to me?”
M:  “It is required of every feller, that the spirit within him should walk alongside all his fellow men and that we all should go many a mile helpin’ other folks.; and if a man doesn’t have that spirit during the days when he’s livin’ amongst folks, why then he is condemned after he dies to go back to those he did not help in life.. …Eb, my spirit never walked or rode beyond this ranch you and I staked out — listen, Eb! — in life my spirit never shared a canteen, a campfire, a side of beef with anyone who was thirsty, cold, or hungry. Now I got to ride back over many ranges where I never lent a helping’ hand to anyone else .”
ES:  “You helped me, Jake. Look at this cattle ranch we built. I knew the all about herdin’ cattle and you knew how to turn those herds into money. We were the best cattle ranchers in all these parts, maybe in all of Texas. And you were a good man of business, Jacob,”.
M: “Cattle! Business! Mankind was my business. Neighbors, poor farmers, widows, orphans, folks trying to build schools, preachers telling’ people the Gospel. That was our business.
Fence mending, round-ups, cattle drives, horse tradin’, selling the herd in Kansas City and getting paid in gold. All that waren’t even a drop of water in the Red River compared to what the real business was!”
E: But Jake. Look at how many acres we got. The two of us, workin’ together. We settled, took over, and bought out nearly the whole valley. I fixin’ to jump the claims on a few more ranches and farms, and then I’ll, I mean, we’ll have it all. A cattle on a thousand hills…and more. I’ll be doin it in your memory, you know.”
M:  “Eb, hush all that talk. I want you to hear me! I ain’t got much time. I gotta go.”
ES:  “Okay. Don’t be so angry, Jake. It ain’t like you. ”
M:  “I am here to-night to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping what I been through, Ebenezer Scrooge.”
E: Don’t call me Ebenezer. My mamma called me that. Came from the Bible.”
M: “My full name, Jacob, came from the Bible too. That’s about all the two of us got from the Bible, but you got a chance to mend some fences in your soul. I’m goin’ tell you something’ you need to hear.”
ES: “You were always a good friend to me. ”
M:  ”You will be haunted by Three Spirits. Three Ghost Riders.”
ES: “Three spirits? Ghost Riders? Is this what you call a chance and a hope, Jake? Seein’ you here lookin’ worse than a coyote after a bad winter is quite enough. I — I think I’d rather not see or drink any spirits.”
M:  ”Either these 3 spirits come to see you, or you’re gonna turn out worse than me. They comin’, like it or not.
E: But Jake, a man needs his night’s rest. And it’s Christmas eve. A time for celebratin’.”
M: You ain’t expectin’ ole Santy Claus to come see you, are you, Eb? You can git on back to sleep when I head out, and I figure that sometime after midnight, the first Ghost Rider will come ridin’ up. The next ’un ’ll ride up ride some where’s in the night after that. The third one is quite a odd fellow. He ain’t like regular folks. He’ll come when he’s ready, and leave when he’s finished with ye. Eb, I won’t see you no more. Don’t fergit what I tole you.”
[MARLEY disappears.]

[Scrooge checked the door where the Ghost had entered. It was double-locked, as he had locked it with his own hands, and the bolts were undisturbed. He checked his gun also to make double sure it was loaded.]
Scrooge: “Humbug!” (And wore out from the encounter, he sat back down in the chair and fell asleep on the instant.)

The Gospel Transformation Bible

The standard argument against study Bibles replete with notes and commentary is that the notes attain equal footing with the text.  I have had a half dozen or more different study Bibles through the years, and I don’t think I have ever even remotely equated a study note with the text.  I am sure that problem has occurred, but study Bibles are no different than other man-made and added tools for Bible study.

Bible commentaries influence our understanding of Bible texts and doctrines.  That is why they are written.  Preaching has the same effect.  Our sermons mold and shape the way we understand certain verses, whole books, and the totality of the Bible itself.  In earlier centuries, someone had the remarkable idea of putting chapter numbers and verse numbers into our Bibles.  Think about it:  From the received text as such, there is no such thing as John 3:16.  The chapter divisions and verse divisions are study devices.  Usually, they are incredibly helpful.  Sometimes they distract us from the larger context and lead to misunderstandings.  (Some number divisions are badly placed.)

The Bible being translated into languages was also a study tool.  In the older confessions, this is referred to as translating the Bible into “vulgar languages.”  One of the bigger objections to the King James Bible in 1611 was its common everyday language.  Plain speaking English people wondered if it were proper to put God’s Word in the very same language that playwright named William Shakespeare (or that other guy who wrote the plays) was using for stage plays.

God gave us an inspired and infallible text, but in His good Providence, He then commissions uninspired (and sometimes uninspiring) and fallible people to communicate the text.  As an apostle, Paul had certain credentials and credibility in instructing people in God’s Word.  He tells Timothy to take what he has heard from him (Paul), and then to conduct seminary classes with faithful men who will then teach Sunday school classes and home Bible studies.  (I refer to 1 Timothy 2:2 and acknowledge being a bit loose or expansive in my use of the verse.)

The Bible is a big book with many different parts.  It covers a wide range of years and extends over several major culture groups, many cultural and religious traditions, and many different times and circumstances.  The Bible contains poetry, history, dramatic narratives, sermons, legal codes, biographies, and letters.  With little explanation, it nudges in along side the ancient cultures of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Babylon, Assyria, Greece, and Rome.  Although the  Alexandrian Hellenistic culture rose and fell and seeped into the contours of thought during the time between the Old and New Testaments, there is much about that culture that is backdrop and assumption in the Bible.

While The Iliad and The Odyssey reveal bits and pieces of the Greek legacies, mythologies, and mores, the Bible reveals even more patterns and ideals of the Hebrew people.  While Livy’s History of Rome gives lots of details about the earlier stages of Roman history, the Bible includes even more in-depth studies of the history of the Twelve Tribes from the Exodus through the Exile.

If the Bible had been given to us in modern electronic form on the Internet with links, it would be filled with such.  In short, both the extra-Biblical material that can enhance Bible study and the applications of Bible study are more than any one man or church can possess.  For that reason, since the earliest days of the Faith, pastors and others have written letters and commentaries on the Bible.  Each age or era of history opens the doors to new insights and understandings.

Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens the countenance of a friend.”  There are two vital reasons for sharpening iron.  One is for defensive purposes.  A sword needs sharpening.  The process can mean life or death.  The other reason is for agricultural reasons, for building a culture of survival.  Dull tools and implements limit the ability of the farmer or the craftsman to do his work.  The friend who is the “iron sharpening iron” is any one who spurs our minds, directs our thoughts, and disciplines our understanding.

None of us are adequate to understand and apply the Bible.  By the way, the Bible was not given to any one of us.  The Bible is given to the community of God’s people.  Most often that community is congregated as a church.  The concept of the covenant community or the church can be seen in both the local church, usually known by a mailing address, and the larger body of God’s people.

A strong case can be made, and this blog often makes it, that Christians need to read and be instructed.  The range and number of books is almost unlimited.  Pastors and teachers in the church will need the more specialized and labor-intensive study tools, but all Christians will need some works that provide instruction, exhortation, and direction.  Hence the need for bookshelves, perhaps lots of them.

But the case can be made for the compact, easily transportable, self-contained library consisting of a Bible–with study notes.

In this case, I am recommending the new Gospel Transformation Biblerecently released by Crossway Books.  This study Bible was udner the general direction and editorship of Bryan Chapell.  The list of contributors includes many well-known Bible scholars and writers.

This study Bible has two main goals in its textual additions.  The first is to emphasize the unity of the message of the Bible.  As Dr. Chapell says in the Introduction, “Christ’s grace does not wait until the last chapters of Matthew to make its first appearance, but rather is the dawning light increasing throughout Scripture toward the day the Savior came.”  He later refers to the “creation-fall-redemptionpconsumation perspective” as the map or tool to help unfold, unify, and explain the Bible.

I remember struggling for years with a vital disconnection between Old and New Testaments, prophets and apostles, Jesus’ sayings and those of the apostles.  If the Gospel Transformation Bible had been in my hands in 1972 instead of The Living Bible and Good News for Modern Man, I could have been fast-tracked toward a much better understanding of the Bible.  Although God providentially used weak versions of the Word to awaken me to the Word, the case can be made for using the sharper iron.

The unity issue and Christ-centered nature of Scripture is life-changing and exciting.  Pastors should not only preach Christ from all the Scriptures, but the congregation should read Christ in all the Scriptures.

The second goal of the Gospel Transformation Bible is for readers to apply Gospel truths to their everyday lives.  Without application, there is not Christianity.  Often application tells us to do something different, but more important, it tells us to think something different.  Bible application redirects our perspective.  Just asking the question, “What does this verse or this chapter mean for me?” is life-changing.  The Bible doesn’t merely contain some interesting details and some speculative thoughts.  It tells us how to think and live.

Like most new Bibles, the Gospel Transformation Bible comes in a variety of styles and formats.  What benefits you the most can only be decided by looking at the various options on-line or in a bookstore.  I think this Bible would be especially good for new Christians and new students to Bible study.  Being a believer now for about 42 years and comparing that with eternity, I put myself in that category as both a new Christian and new student to Bible study.

Southern Theologians–A Reunion

Reading Our Southern Zion: Old Columbia Seminary (1828-1927) by David B. Calhoun was like a good reunion of family and friends.  Part of the connection is the fact that this book is published by Banner of Truth, which has been a favorite publisher of Reformed books for decades in my life and more decades before I was aware of Reformed Theology.

For quite a few years, I had recurring awakenings to the various aspects of Southern heritage.  The first such awakening was an interest in the War Between the States.  Soon after that, I became interested in Reformed theology (to my total surprise) and the history of Calvinism.  Calvinism and the Old South have lots of connections.  The best connecting piece between the two is Robert L. Dabney’s book The Life and Campaigns of Lieutenant General  T. J. (Stonewall) Jackson.

In the years that followed, both interest in the War and the religion of the South continued to interest…rather, consume…me.  For quite a few years, I was very much locked into studies of the literature of the South.  Other aspects of Southern life, such as music and folkways, was also intriguing.

Reading Our Southern Zion was then a pleasant regathering of thoughts and reminder of the great Southern theologians.  Of course, therein lies the rub to this whole matter.  The lives of theologians rarely makes for exciting or adventurous reading.  After all, a theologian spends most of his time in the study, the classroom, and the pulpit.  Then there is the Southerness of this book’s subjects.  The South carries a weight and burden of its past that still gives it discredit in many circles.  We grant that the Southern Church, in nearly all branches, failed in its mission and message at many points.  All churches in all areas have had their areas of failure, their failure of vision, and their misapplication of doctrine and life.  Reading history is never for the point of recreating.  History should humble and instruct us, but never provide the exact blueprints for our own times.  Therefore, reading about Southern Christianity is both a challenge and a rebuke.

Since I referred to this book as a reunion, I want to recount the titles of favored books I encountered here again.

1.  Our Southern Zion: A History of Calvinism in the South Carolina Low Country, 1690-1990 by Erskine Clarke.  Lengthy study of the various Calvinists in the history of South Carolina.

2.  Preachers With Power: Four Stalwarts of the South by Douglas Kelly.  A very inspiring study of Daniel Baker, James Henley Thornwell, Benjamin Palmer, and John Girardeau.

3. Consuming Fire: The Fall of the Confederacy in the Mind of the White Christian South by Eugene Genovese. A fascinating look at Southern Christians by a historian who went from Marxism to Christianity.

4.  The Southern Tradition: The Achievement and Limitations of An American Conservatism by Eugene Genovese.  Southern conservatism has its own vision.

5.  Southern Presbyterian Leaders 1683-1911 by Henry Alexander Whyte.  A very exciting and moving study of Southern Christianity.

6.  Revival and Revivalism by Iain Murray.  Murray is a wonderful Christian historian.

7.  Presbyterians in the South, 3 volumes, by Ernest Trice Thompson.  A lengthy study by a Texarkana native.  It took me years to acquire the entire set.

8.  B. B. Warfield: Essays on His Life and Thought by Bradley J. Gundlach.  Warfield was a Kentuckian with Southern roots.

9.  The Gentlemen Theologians: American Theology in Southern Culture, 1795-1865 by E. Brooks Holifield.  The intellectual depths of Southern theologians have often been overlooked.

10.  The Children of Pride: A True Story of Georgia and the Civil War, edited by Robert M. Myers.  The moving letters of a Christian family during the War Between the States.

11.  A Georgian at Princeton, edited by Robert M. Myers.  The same family as above, the Jones family, had two sons who attended Princeton College.

12.  Heroes by Iain Murray.  Murray devoted a chapter to Charles Colcock Jones, missionary to African-American slaves.

13.  The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell.  4 volumes.  A great source of theology and Southern culture.

14.  The Life and Letters of James Henley Thornwell by Benjamin Morgan Palmer.  I read this book back in the 1980s and loved it.

15.  Writings of Thomas E. Peck.  3 volumes.  I got this set a couple of years ago.  Peck was another Southern preacher.

16.  Life and Letters of Benjamin Morgan Palmer by Thomas Cary Johnson.  A great study of a great preacher.

17.  Memoirs of James P. Boyce by John A. Broadus.  Boyce and Broadus were Baptists.  The story of Calvinistic Baptists from the South is another chapter of Southern Christian history.

18.  The Metaphysical Confederacy: James Henley Thornwell and the Synthesis of Southern Values by James Oscar Farmer, Jr.  I read this interesting study of Thornwell long, long ago.

19.  The Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney by Thomas Cary Johnson.  A great biography of Dabney.

20.  Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life by Sean Michael Lucas.  A recent biography of Dabney.

21.  Discussions of R. L. Dabney.  Dabney’s writings and opinions on all kinds of matters, theological, political, cultural, and social.  Banner of Truth published the theological discussions and Sprinkle Press published the wider range of Dabney’s thought.

22.  John L. Girardeau’s Lifework and Sermons.  Sprinkle Publications reprinted several works by and about Girdardeau, who is best remembered for pastoring an African-American church.

23.  Calvinism and Evangelical Arminianism by John L. Girardeau.

24.  The Theology of Infant Salvation by Robert A. Webb.

25.  Studies in Southern Presbyterian Theology by Morton Smith.  Morton Smith wrote this as a doctoral dissertation.  He is an heir to the Southern theological tradition.

26.  Studies in Preaching, volume 3, The Homiletical Innovations of Andrew W. Blackwood by Jay E. Adams.  Andrew Blackwood was one of the later professors at Columbia.

27.  J. Gresham Machen: A Biographial Memoir by Ned Stonehouse.  Machen was invited to take a position at Columbia, and it appealed to his Southern heritage, but he opted to stay at Princeton.

28.  Princeton Seminary: Faith and Learning, 1812-1868 and The Majestic Testimony, 1869-1929 by David Calhoun.  These are Calhoun’s previous volumes on Columbia’s better known sister seminary.  They are reviewed here.

Wow!  What a gathering.  And there were quite a few bibliographical guests that I had not met and do not own.  Just for the record, numbers 2, 5, 6, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 19, 21, 27, and 28 are all published by Banner of Truth, which is located in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Banner of Truth is, therefore, one of the best sources for books on the Calvinistic theological heritage of the south.

A history of a theological seminary is, by design, a history of the many different teachers whose spent time in the halls of learning.  This book recounts some amazing aspects of Southern history.  First, the South produced some of the most brilliant theologians of the 19th century.  The Columbia greats, such as Thornwell, Girardeau, and Palmer, wrote some works that have continued to instruct serious theology students.  Second, the great theologians were quite often quite powerful pulpiteers.  The accounts given of the preaching of these same 3 (Thornwell, Girardeau, and Palmer) indicates that these men were not primarily academics.  Their theoology translated into practical, hard-hitting, soul stirring sermons.  They would have agreed with Karl Barth on this point (without agreeing with him on other matters):  Theology is nothing other than sermon preparation.

Third, many of the Southern Presbyterians had great hearts for and devoted great attention to African-Americans.  Their views were not always perfect and their paternalistic views have been rightly criticized.  But Southern Presbyterians of the 1800s had hearts for carrying the Gospel to their slaves.  Had their vision and emphases been more applied in the South, racial problems in the years following the War Between the States would have been lessened.

Fourth,  the Southern Presbyterian Church and Columbia Seminary were strongly rooted and grounded in historic Calvinism.  There were no frayed edges to orthodoxy in their doctrines.  But, it should be noted that this Calvinistic rigor did not preclude Southern Presbyterians from having great relations with Christians of other traditions.  Along with that, these Calvinists were strongly evangelistic.  

Our Southern Zion will probably have limited appeal. But there are those like me who rejoice in seeing the works of God in a Presbyterian seminary in days past.  It gives a hint of what kind of blessings God still has in store for us.

Weightlifting for Theologians–Christmas Suggestions

In the great tradition of Augustine’s City of God, Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, and Puritan William Gurnall’s Christian in Complete Armor, theologians continue to combine weghtlifting and reading into one activity.  We can all be thankful for the short treatises (some merely 400 pages), for handily carried paperback books of a hundred pages or so, and for the many thin volumes that load our shelves and fill our minds.  Some short books, like J. I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, carry weight beyond their few pages.

But there is something daunting about a 1000 plus page work on a single subject.  Of course, the single subject might be something like systematic theology, so it calls for an abundance of print.  I like the look, the feel, the heft of a huge theological tome.  It looks good on the shelf and is tantalizing when wrapped and placed under the tree.

How does a person read such books?  I must confess to not successfully making my way through many of the theological hefties from cover to cover.  I have actually come to the view that such books are best read, by me at least, in portions.  In some cases, I may read a particular portion many times.  A thousand page book can be viewed as 10 hundred page studies, or as four 250 pagers,  or a thousand one page devotions.  Most such lengthy theological studies do not demand a complete reading.  Note well that what is true of a theological study is not the case for a novel.  Histories vary:  Some can be profitably read in portions, while others call for completion.  For those who successfully swallow the whole huge books, more power to you.  I will have to settle for enjoying reading the big books in portions and will have to wait until heaven to finish my reading.

This post, like several recent ones, is a Christmas suggestion list.  I hope all the theologians, theologian-want-to-be’s, and those like me who are dependent on theologians for guidance will find some big, weighty, lenthy, in-depth books will find one or two of these books under their trees or ripping through their stockings.

Weighing in at 1060 pages, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life is edited by Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones.   The Puritans were masters of theology both as doctrine and as practice.  The Puritans were academically trained, theologically astute, and classically well read, but they wrote and preached for the man in the pews.  They had a firm conviction that Christianity was to be life consuming and heart changing.  Since at least the 1970s, there has been a surge of Puritan reprints.  Some of the reprints were facsimiles that were incredibly hard to read, but many were retype cast and sometimes even modified in language, spelling, and grammar for modern readers.  Some of the best works regarding Puritanism, in my opinion, have come from authors who themselves gleaned the Puritan works and wove the quotes and ideas into modern books.  A Puritan Theology consists of long discussions and explanations of Puritan views on doctrine and life followed by selections by the Puritan authors.  Any chapter or portion can be read as a stand-alone study.  I would be quick to grab any book that Joel Beeke has written or contributed to.

Here is another 1000 plus page book:  The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way by Michael Horton, a professor of theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California.  This book and the one below was published by Zondervan.  This past summer, I read through the first chapter of this book–twice.  It was an excellent study of theological and philosophic currents of the past several centuries.  This is a weighty book by a prolific theologian.  Because this is more a book for the theology student and the serious pastor/reader, Dr. Horton produced a smaller, but not small, and simpler, but not simplistic, book titled Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples.  I read through a chapter or two of that book back last spring and liked it as well.

 Sad to admit, Calvinists have lots of disputes.  We must grant that men with deep convictions and exacting approaches to Scripture, doctrine, and life must inevitably find areas of disputation and argument.  The knowledge of the Church and the advance of the Faith and the purity of the Truth is dependent upon these confrontations.  Dr. Michael Horton, along with some of the other professors at WTS–Escondido, have had some serious theological differences between their school of thought and other Reformed theologians, thinkers, and writers.  We must note right up front that no one in these disputes is questioning whether Jesus is God, the Bible is God’s Word, or Jesus rose from the dead.

John Frame is one theologian who has had serious differences of viewpoints with Michael Horton.  You are reading this on the web, so you can easily Google the names of the authors and the web-sites and the reviews and issues.  I have read on some of these matters, and I tend to favor John Frame in these matters.  But I largely am avoiding the conflicts.  I just want the books.  I just want to know a little bit of what these men know.  In my personal Christian walk (and crawl) and my pastoral duties, I need to be aware of the issues, but I am not a partisan, a co-belligerent, or a combatant.  I will freely glean from both sides, and in this case, from both Michael Horton’s and John Frame’s systematic theologies.

Only one problem:  I don’t have John Frame’s new systematic theology yet.  But I will, God willing, and I can recommend it based on the man and my previous encounters with him and his work.  This book is yet another heavy.  It is 1280 pages. In the past years, John Frame published his three volume Lordship series, a profitable set, which are all sizeable books.  Then P & R Publishers produced a massive Festschrift for Dr. Frame from his many admirers, fellow students, and colleagues, titled Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John Frame.

Speaking the Truth is Love is a great collection of essays on a wide range of topics.  Since Dr. Frame’s theological interests and vision has been broad, so is that of his followers.  I read quite extensively from this book a few years back and would profit from another visit.

It is amazing that the Reformation was so centered on the doctrine of Scripture and yet the heirs of the Reformation have so often attempted to water down, deny, or radically re-interpret the centrality of Scripture.  It was Loraine Boettner’s chapter on the inspiration and authority of Scripture that first sent me tumbling down from self sufficiency to a reliance upon Scripture.  It was the old stalwarts of the Reformed faith, such as Benjamin Warfield, Charles Hodge, J. Gresham Machen, and John Murray who convinced me of the authority and centrality of Scripture.  But the battle for the Bible never ends.  This new and very large book is a powerful new addition to the corpus of books on the Bible.  I have yet to start gleaning from this work, but I prize it none the less.  Thy Word is Truth contains 1392 pages.

The hardest part of Calvinism has been long disguised in language and misunderstanding.  The doctrine was called Limited Atonement.  The best example of the way it was viewed was from Mark Twain’s account of the sermon in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  There, the narrator says of the preacher that he presented “an argument that dealt in limitless fire and brimstone and thinned the predestined elect down to a company so small as to be hardly worth the saving.”  Along with that is the notion of the “Chosen Few” or the warped notion that God drags the elect into heaven kicking and screaming at being forced into heaven.

That day of caricature, misunderstanding, and poor labeling is hopefully ending.  Calvinism has been undergoing a surge of reawakening and popularity for several decades now.  From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, edited by David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson, includes lots of the newer and younger theological minds as contributors.  As I indicated in a sermon a few weeks back, “this is not your father’s Calvinism.”  (The original ad from GM was about the Oldsmobile.)  This book opens the door for a new generation grasping the incredible beauty and efficacy of God’s saving work.  How appropriate that the Foreword to this book should be written by the inimitable J. I. Packer, whose essay titled “An Introduction to the Death of Death in the Death of Christ” was a short and pivotal work that helped spark the Calvinistic revolution of our time.  This great book, published by Crossway, is a mere 768 pages.

This list could go on and on, for I have not yet talked of Herman Bavinck, Jonathan Edwards, the two volumes of Christian  Apologetics: Past and Present, the Complete Works of Hans Rookmaaker and of Francis Schaeffer, or Martin Lloyd-Jones’ sermons on Romans.  But I will close with a book that I have found quite delightful.  It is another Crossway title and is titled The Theology of Benjamin Warfield by Fred G. Zaspel.  At several points in my life, Benjamin Warfield has stepped out of the past and ministered to me.  This book was a help in reviving my interest in theology and Warfield himself several years back.  It is easy to read from and use for reference.  I wish I had a dozen of them to give away.

Christmas Suggestions for Pastors, Theologians, and Divines

A pastor’s workplace. Wouldn’t mind the shelves and the chairs.

There are some really great benefits to pastoral ministry.  A pastor simply must read.  A pastor must read some really good books.  A pastor must read a lot.  Maybe, he will get plenty of opportunities to talk about his reading as well.  And, he sometimes gets books for Christmas.  This is my second blog post regarding Christmas book suggestions.  I must emphasize that this is not my list; rather, it is books I have become familiar with and would recommend to others.

I recently finished reading Charles H. Spurgeon’s classic work Lectures to My Students.  If I had a vote in the matter, I would fire myself for not having read it completely before.  I had read portions of it in prior years.  The most attractive edition is the one published by Banner of Truth.  Almost anything by Banner of Truth would be a good pastor gift.  Spurgeon gave this lectures to students in his preachers’ college on Friday afternoons.  He reckoned that they had enjoyed or endured a full week of heavy studies and now needed something light and refreshing.  Beware:  This is not fluff, but it is fun.  Spurgeon is hilarious, but he is also convicting, persuasive, and incredibly moving.  Any orator or teacher would profit from this book.  It took me months to slowly taste my way through it.  The second reading won’t be far off.

I suspect that any and every book by Charles Haddon Spurgeon would be profitable.  I wish I had his sermons, and I wish I could read more and more of his writings.  This is a new and lengthy biography of the great preacher.  In years past, I read several good biographies of him and would readily recommend those by Iain Murray and Arnold Dallimore.  This book’s focus is not only on the life, but as the subtitle indicates, the pastoral theology of CHS.  So far, I have only just begun this book.

Pastors in the Classics is a fun book for reference and recommendations.  Leland Ryken is a recently retired literature teacher at Wheaton College.  I attended two of his classes vicariously through my son Nicholas.  Phillip Graham Ryken has been a pastor and is now the president of Wheaton College.  This book highlights the roles, some negative, some positive, of pastors in classic books. The first part of the book consists of in-depth essays of pastors in some classic works, while the last half is shorter synopses of novels with clergy in key roles.  From Graham Greene to Nathaniel Hawthorne, from Dostoevsky to Jan Karon, the great authors included pastors who are both inspirations and warnings.

I confess to really needing to reread Preaching and Preachers by Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  I credit Lloyd-Jones, Iain Murray,  and a sinus cold to my being in the ministry.  It was Murray’s biography of Lloyd-Jones that pushed me into this role.  That two volume biography is now out in a one volume edition.  Lloyd-Jones’ books like Spiritual Depression and The Sermon on the Mount have been mind-and-heart changers.  I recently blogged about the man and his works, so for now, I will simply recommend this book on preaching.

When I found myself back in a major role as a pastor about two years ago, I pulled my older edition of Between Two Worlds by John Stott off the shelf and re-read it.  This book is in my top ranking for books for preachers.

The Kind of Preaching God Blesses by Steven J. Lawson is a really short work.  But sometimes, we need to read short books.  It was an easy read and an encouraging work by a pastor who has been writing some fine exhortations on ministry.  Lawson’s books on Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin are great guides for pastors.  I just acquired his book on Martin Luther and suspect it will be good as well.

I am currently reading Preaching: A Biblical Theology by Jason Meyer.  So far, so good.  I have sensed a need to read lots more on all aspects of pastoral ministry.  I have been at this for over twenty years, but in the past, I was able to yield most of the duties to other faithful pastors and elders in the church.  On other occasions, I was doing lots of preaching, but didn’t seem to be able to engage myself into the mission as I should.  For whatever time I will serve in this capacity, I now have a desire to learn and improve, so I am hopeful about this book. A fuller review will be forthcoming.

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul David Tripp is one of the best books I have ever read, and it is also one of the scariest.  Every pastor needs this book, but maybe it is not the best choice for a Christmas present.  “Here, Pastor.  We thought you needed this” would be true, but troubling to a pastor.  This book is a mirror and a spotlight.  It is painful, but sanctifying.

I have two problems with Center Church:  Doing Balanced Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City by Tim Keller.  First, the print in much of the book is too small.  The book has double columns and the endnotes are on brown pages with a font that must be about size 8.  The book is about four hundred pages, but should be about 600 for those of us who struggle to read the fine print.  Second and greater problem:  The first six or so chapters that deal with Gospel Renewal are SO GOOD that I cannot get past them.  I read those chapters and realized that I need to truly get the message, so I read them again.  Now I feel like I need to read chapters 5 and 6 a third time.  I will never finish this book–I hope.

Eugene Peterson’s books and writings sometimes make me wince.  He is a bit Barthian, but that can be weighed in and evaluated as it appears.  He also likes to address pastors as he or she, which is a problem for us old ultra-conservatives.  But his writing style and literary gifts are outstanding.  I have several of his books.  A friend and church member, Jeff Bruce, first gave me a Eugene Peterson book that consisted of several of his titles bound together.  Along with that, both George Grant and my sister-in-law Toni Lemley have recommended him on occasion.  In The Pastor: A Memoir, Peterson tells about his life experiences in the ministry.  This book was a joy and was instructive.

A similar type of book was Calvin Miller’s Life is Mostly Edges: A Memoir.  Miller died this past year, and that news caused me to start reading and collecting some of his works.  In spite of his first name, I don’t find a lot of theological connection with Miller, but I do recognize a good writer and a man who loved Christ and the church.  Some of Miller’s pastoral and ministry experiences were quite revealing of the kinds of challeges pastors face.  I also recently picked up Miller’s book titled Preaching, but I have yet to get into that book.

I would be a bit concerned about any pastor who never read fiction, and I have known some.  I think pastors need to read lots more fiction and poetry.  I think we need lots of instruction on how to read both as well.  I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven is a beautiful short novel about a preacher who learns to love his congregation.  He was a Canadian of English descent and his parish was a poor tribe of Indians living on the coast.  Their village was confronted by changes and he was facing a terminal illness.  There was a clash of cultures at points, but primarily, the young priest was having to learn how to understand and minister to his congregation.  This is a lovely novel.