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.

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