Summer Reading Reviews

Over this past summer I tried my very best to be an avid reader due to the fact that my reading slows down to a crawl during the school year because I have so many other “assigned” readings to do. Therefore I make it a point during my breaks to read as much as possible. I would like to have read more this past summer, but I often found myself sidetracked by other things… such as the NBA playoffs and my study of the charismatic gifts in Scripture. Based on this summer reading I decided to briefly review each book *provided below* (nothing too in depth) – hopefully providing all five of you who actually read this with an idea of whether you would benefit from reading each book.

The Death of Death in the Death of Christ – John Owen – Grade B

Considering this was written 400 years ago, the language is at times quite archaic and hard to understand, so multiple readings will be required. I felt that Owen would make brilliant points throughout but would then run himself in a circle, saying the same thing five different times. The book could easily have been cut in half and still had the same amount of arguments. But at the end of the day, there is a reason that this book has gone unopposed and unupdated throughout the years… because no one has been able to refute his arguments with anything substantial. (P.S. Yes, I know I started this before summer break… but I finished it during break, so I am including it in my summer reading)

Journey Into God’s Word – Duvall and Hays – Grade B

This book would be an excellent addition to any new Christians arsenal or any Christian that is unfamiliar with interpreting the Bible correctly. It is very small and concise. It doesn’t waste time explaining things that would be necessary for the average Joe. If nothing else it would be a solid refresher. It was not overly stimulating but for the size, it was pretty easy to go through. If you have a good amount of education in this area, I would not recommend it unless you are planning to use it as study tool for people at your church. If you were wondering, this is the condensed version of “Grasping God’s Word,” the 400+ page textbook. Overall, the book accomplishes its purpose, which is to create a small manual for the average working Christian who has never had the benefit of formal theological training.

Counterfeit Gospels – Trevin Wax – Grade B+

I really enjoyed the first half of this book more than the second half. I think some of his examples were excellent but some toward the end seemed vague and unnecessary. He basically tried to explain the gospel in three parts: Story, Announcement, and Community. I think he did a pretty good job and explaining what it is and what it creates. With each of those points of the gospel he described two different counterfeits. Ultimately this book led me to see where I allow certain “counterfeits” into my own life – mostly related to works based sanctification (i.e. growth in Christ). I would recommend this book to nearly any Christian as Trevin’s writing style is fluid and easy to follow.

Gospel-Centered Discipleship – Jonathan Dodson – Grade B-

Starting with the good… His chapter on actually listening to the Holy Spirit was excellent and challenged me more than any singular chapter from any book has in quite some time. His writing style was often very enjoyable as was his transparency throughout the book that made things connect on a deeper level. I believe he did a good job of defining what a disciple should look like and grow in (rational, relational, missional). I enjoyed his explanation of how he constructs discipleship within his church and the practical tips he gave. The problem with this book is that he drags it on for quite some time explaining the same things over and over again. He also seems to try and attack accountability groups but then his structure of what he calls “Fight Clubs” seem to be eerily similar to what he described as being bad in accountability groups! I understand the difference he would point to is that in Fight Clubs you point to Christ and trust him to change you while in accountability groups you simply try harder. I will say though, by the end of the book, I did want to start my own “Fight Club…” but I still am unclear on how exactly I am supposed to multiply the group. He was very vague regarding that and how exactly it is supposed to be “missional.” I also found his introduction to be slow and slightly boring; I believe he could have cut it in half and still brought out the same point.

Give Them Grace – Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica – Grade B-

The concept was excellent. The length was unnecessary. I think they could have accomplished the same thing in half the number of pages. There were some good one sentence gems in each chapter, so it is worth reading the entire thing. I think they explained a much needed concept that does not get much air time in this moralistic church culture that we are immersed in. I do think they were careless with addressing sin in one of the chapters, dealing with a very deep theological issue and not taking the time to explain what they were trying to say. To their credit, they do footnote their belief, but it is only a brief paragraph. Overall, I felt like many of the examples were unrealistic and cheesy. But the concept can and should be implemented. I really enjoyed that they shot down the “list” approach to parenting and made it clear that it is much more biblical to be led by and lean on the Spirit. I also appreciated their approach to the Scriptures on parenting. They noted well that there are only two New Testament passages on parenting, and dealt with each excellently, giving a good paradigm to remember. I agreed with their treatment of the Proverbs being, as they call them “general maxism’s,” meaning that the Proverbs are a literary style that denotes things that should happen generally but not across the board. I think their overall idea that Christian parenting should be different from Jewish parenting or Mormon parenting… and that difference is the Gospel of God’s grace was brilliant and something we have lost.

The Art of Biblical Narrative – Robert Alter – Grade B

This book takes no punches, hitting the ground running. From page one you are automatically initiated into the argument that he tries to construct without any warning. On one hand I appreciate the fast start, feeling tired of the five chapter introduction that I have heard over-and-over before the real argument starts, yet it did seem abnormally abrupt. The language throughout can be a challenge to grasp if you are unfamiliar with many biblical concepts, Hebrew terminology (I am lost there myself), or literary structure. But this is overshadowed by the fantastic incites he makes, throughout the book, into biblical narrative. Early on he mentioned many other scholars and methods of interpretation that I was completely unfamiliar with (I am not very educated in the Old Testament… thats partly why I read this book!) so at times I felt at the mercy of the author for deciding what was legitimate or not. It was sad to find out that he considers nearly every portion of the Old Testament to be works of complete fiction. He continually, nearly to the point of annoyance, takes every opportunity to advance his ideal that each section of the Old Testament is *clearly* fiction, or at best semi-historical with much fictional embellishment (akin to what a Protestant would say about the Apocrypha). There are often points throughout the book that are quite dry and challenging to push through, but right before you choose to give up he offers an excellent illustration and incite to keep you motivated to keep plowing on. This book may be short, but it packs a heavy punch.

Redemption – Mike Wilkerson – A-

I originally intended to read this book as another resource in serving others while being able to glean some insights for myself… but after reading it, I was truly impacted myself to a much higher degree than I anticipated. There are many books that I have to push through because of the poor writing style, this is much different. I found myself continually being drawn into the book as if it were one big story. Mike does an excellent job of weaving stories that grab the mind throughout the book to keep the reader engaged. He takes different stories of peoples lives and weaves them into his unpacking of the redemption of the Israelites in Exodus. His treatment of the redemption in Exodus is not only thorough but highly relate-able and applicable. He does an excellent job of bringing out the emotions and feelings of the passages. I am by no means an expert or well read within this circle of book-styles, but I felt Mike did an excellent job reminding the “victims” that they are not alone and that they are not merely victims but also transgressors themselves. On a negative note, the vast majority of personal stories he includes will be beyond what most people have encountered or will encounter, but one must remember the target audience for this book is not the average Christian but the one struggling with major addictions (although everyone can relate to having deep sin idols, whether they are *big* sins or not). Mike did a very good job reminding the reader that pain and suffering still continue after one has been redeemed. Likened to the Israelites situation, being redeemed from Egypt but still struggling through the wilderness, the Christian too is free from sin yet not fully glorified, living in the “already-not-yet.” This was not a self-help book on breaking free from addiction but a Christ-centered book on desiring and enjoying God. He understood clearly that the end goal is not to break free from life’s addictions (i.e. our idols) but rather to enjoy God. To have an end goal of change is idolatry of self. Overall, I thoroughly appreciated Mike’s ability to continually point the reader back to Christ and his cross. One more slight note on the negative side, I did feel that at times he forgot that the Israelites were not indwelt with the Holy Spirit, so even though he tried to make them a prime example, that fails because they were not New Covenant Christians with the available help of the Holy Spirit – but this only happened occasionally.

Exegetical Fallacies – D.A. Carson – Grade A+

This is my third time through this book, so clearly, I do believe it is well deserving of a high grade. Carson is an excellent writer and does a superb job of explaining many deep and challenging subjects with great clarity. He understands the great temptation that accompanies sustained negativism and how it can easily lead to pride and does well to warn against it and avoid it. Carson does not just identify the fallacy in the book either, he also corrects it and shows the process necessary to avoid such mistakes in the future. Nearly every fallacy he describes in this book I had heard at some point or another in my life. This is a must read for all pastors and would be highly beneficial to the lay-christian as well.

Organic Leadership – Neal Cole – C-
 
Neil is a gifted writer and communicator but I found this book to be more troubling than helpful the vast majority of the time. I continually noticed myself writing in the margins of this book disagreeing with the superficial conclusions he would come to. I found him over-dramatizing nearly every movement that was different than his. He proclaimed proudly at the beginning of the book that he desired to tear the church from its traditions and back to Scripture… but there was nearly no Scripture to be found in this book. His main support came from movie clips more than the Word of God. This book thoroughly frustrated me at many points. He would make statements and not only ignore the Bible but also would almost never cite any information. When he would actually use the Bible, he generally would take it out of context and stretch the meaning beyond what the author would have ever intended. When attacking what he calls the “institutional church” he often chased straw men, making very bitter comments toward the church… that I am not sure any church would disagree with. The book did have some redeeming qualities in a few of the chapters… but I could not recommend this book as a whole… just certain chapters. At the end of the day, I am glad I read it. I benefited from it greatly in a few of the chapters, but overall it just gave me a headache and more reason to be annoyed with the whole “organic church” movement.
 
Community – Brad House – Grade B
 
This book, like the Death of Death, I started last semester but had to put on hold until I had more time to finish it (so technically I didnt read the whole thing this summer). Overall I enjoyed the book and gleaned a good amount from it. I really liked the structure of the book – He begins with the Biblical basis for small groups before actually explaining how they do their groups. I found his understanding of the biblical passages to be pretty solid for the most part. At times I felt that he would stretch a passage beyond its intended point, but it wasnt anything too bad. He had some excellent points of simple application about groups. I really enjoyed his understanding of the outworkings of community within the church and giving practical applications of it. I found his tone at times to be very arrogant – not because he was honest and up front – but because I think he was looking through a clouded lense and proclaimed as if he knew the clear way of following Jesus while everyone else missed the mark. There were other times where I was left wondering what he really intended to say. I often got the feeling that he was overly interested in numbers and that numbers often constitute success. I also often found a strange idolization of Mark Driscoll in the book at times.
Practicing Affirmation – Sam Crabtree – A-
If there is one book you can afford to buy… make this the one. It is an excellent work in most every aspect. His writing flows well and is able to carry you along. His theology is strong. His points and principles are God honoring. His applications are simple, specific, and potentially life changing. He doesnt ramble on – the book is only 160 pages! My advice? Go buy this book and read it! There are small portions of this book (particularly chapter 6 “Questions and Answers”) that I felt he repeated himself and began to lose me… but overall the book was well written and something that I know I personally need a lot of work on!
Church Discipline – Jonathan Leeman – B+
I really liked this little volume on the practice of church discipline. He never wasted time in this book – there never seemed to be much in the way of annoying repetition or added fluff. It was very lacking on making the biblical case for church discipline and what it is, but he did note that at the beginning and referred the reader to one of his larger works. I liked that he placed discipline within the larger context of the gospel. I also appreciated his ending section on different scenarios of church discipline, in order to show how it fleshed out in real life.

Also… I have been reading commentaries on 1 Timothy… Notice that all four of these commentaries are on ALL of the pastoral epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) but I have only read the introduction and the section on 1 Timothy in each of them, so this is not a complete review.

Pastoral Epistles – Word Biblical Commentary – William Mounce – Grade – B+

This series, known for rigorous exegesis, and annoying format (by my thoughts), critical scholarship, and normally liberal sidings (although this volume is an exception), delivers a gem. His introduction to the history and background of the situation is by far the most in depth and thorough of any commentary. If you can get past the frustrating set up of the commentary, it will prove to be invaluable. As with most commentaries that boast of their criticalness, it would leave me hanging on many more serious matters of greek sytnax… but that seems to be the case with nearly every commentary these days.

The Pastoral Epistles – The New International Greek Testament Commentary – George W. Knight III – Grade B+

This commentary was probably my favorite, in a close competition with Mounce’s due to its succinctness, although Mounce’s was a better resource overall. It had a good introduction on the background of the situation, eliminating the fluff and directing the reader to the necessary resources for further study. I did find it troubling at points that he skipped over dealing with portions of the Greek in detail (after boasting of being a commentary based on the Greek text). He would ignore dealing with what type of participle was at hand or how a certain prepositional phrase functioned. But, then again, that would not be a terribly debilitating flaw if you were not interested in the grammatical syntax, but I am, therefore it frustrated me often. One large negative by my scale is his use of in-text citations (I dont know what the name of the format is that he uses). Instead of using the footnote (which Religion books use with near universality) he chose to have every citation included in a parenthesis within the text making reading the commentary very hard and choppy.

1, 2 Timothy & Titus – The New American Commentary -Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin Jr. – Grade – C

Overall, this commentary is very accessible to the average lay-Christian. It doesnt go into much of any depth but offers an excellent outline of the books and has some small commentary on each passage.

1&2 Timothy and Titus – R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell – Grade – B

Two of my favorite authors and pastors. Excellent outline of the text for homiletical purposes. The major problem I found with this commentary is that they would randomly not explain portions of the text, completely ignoring it as if it werenonexistent. For example, in the section on 1 Timothy 1:3-7, it does not explain verse 6 or 7 at all. But this comes with the territory of not being a “critical” commentary, so based on the genre of the series, it makes some sense to be more brief in dealing with the text and more thorough in giving presentable material to others. This commentary was far and away the most practical and convicting of the four commentaries that I studied from.

Whats up next on my reading list??? Well… I am currently in the middle of “Disciplines of a godly man” by R Kent Hughes, “The Institutes” by John Calvin, “Progressive Dispensationalism” by Craig Blaising and Darrell Bock, and all my text books for school (stuff on the Psalms, Isaiah, OT poetry, and Hebrew). I plan on starting “Kingdom through Covenant” by Gentry and Wellum soon, along with “The Christ of the Covenants” by O. Palmer Robertson… among many other books.

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One thought on “Summer Reading Reviews

  1. […] Well… knowing my own propensity to affirm myself and never affirm others I recently purchased Practicing Affirmation (after John Piper endlessly recommended the book – now I know why). I will not spend the time to review it here (just look a few posts back where it is reviewed). […]

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