Ten Books for ’22

Ten Books for ’22

Every year in December, Christian blogger Tim Challies posts his annual “Reading Challenge,” with the goal of helping his followers set reading goals for the coming year. The 2022 Reading Challenge is now available and offers plans for readers of varying degrees of voraciousness.

While I don’t plan to follow Challies’ reading program this year, I wanted to share a list of 10 books I’ve chosen to read in 2022 and offer some reasons for each selection. I hope to read more books than these in the coming year (in addition to commentaries and other reading related to sermon preparation), but these are the books I’ve resolved, by the grace of God, to put at the top of my reading list for 2022. Perhaps you’ll join me in reading one (or a few!) of them. If so, I’d love to discuss what we’ve been reading together.

My Ten Books for 2022

1. Dewey Roberts, Samuel Davies: Apostle to Virginia. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said of Samuel Davies (1723-1761), “You Americans do not know one of your greatest preachers.” One of the reasons for this is that, at least until now, there was no full-length biography of the life of this remarkable colonial Presbyterian minister who succeeded Jonathan Edwards as president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). Davies planted churches throughout Virginia and North Carolina during the Great Awakening. He ministered to slaves and to the Cherokee Indians. He was also an influence on Patrick Henry, who grew up listening to Davies and rehearsing his sermons nearly verbatim on the Henry family’s carriage rides home from church. My own interest in Davies began in my Presbyterian History classes in seminary, but until now, there has not been much available on his life and ministry. I look forward to reading this new biography.

 

 

 

2. Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. Carl Trueman is an OPC minister and a former professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. He is an astute observer of modern culture who is able to analyze with the mind and heart of a theologian. In this book, Trueman seeks not only to dissect the cultural trends related to sexuality and identity, but to explain how we got to where we are. He demonstrates the need for this kind of historical perspective in the Introduction, where he writes, “The origins of this book lie in my curiosity about how and why a particular statement has come to be regarded as coherent and meaningful: ‘I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.'” Such words would not even have made sense to our grandparents’ generation. Trueman seeks to demonstrate that the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s was not merely an isolated cultural phenomenon, but that it has grown organically from the seeds that were sown in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, beginning with Romanticism and moving through the philosophies of Nietzsche, Marx, Darwin, and Freud. The foundations of what Trueman calls the “Modern Self” were laid slowly, but surely, as Western philosophy began to detach psychology from biology, mind from body. His argument is that the “Modern Self” is a result of viewing human nature in a manner fundamentally foreign to the biblical teaching of man as body and soul. This book promises to help us do more than simply bemoan and bewail the current cultural landscape–it promises to help us understand it. Until we truly understand the philosophical foundations of the spirit of the age, we cannot hope to effectively offer a biblical alternative and apologetic to it.

3. Joel Beeke & Paul M. Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology Vol. 3: Spirit and Salvation. This is the third volume in a magnificent new systematic theology set based on Dr. Beeke’s lectures at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (PRTS). I was asked to write a review of this volume for the OPC’s denominational magazine, New Horizons, so that gave me a great excuse to add it to this year’s reading list! So far, I have only had time to skim through the contents, but it promises to be a stimulating and devotionally rewarding read. The book is divided into three sections, (1) The Holy Spirit and the History of Salvation, (2) The Holy Spirit and the Order of Salvation, and (3) The Holy Spirit and the Experience of Salvation. In the first section, there are chapters on how the Holy Spirit worked in creation, and in the Old Covenant, as well as at the Incarnation, Pentecost, and in the early church. There is also a preview of the Spirit’s work in the new creation. In the second section, the doctrine of union with Christ has its rightful prominence as the foundation of the order salutis, the order of salvation. A biblical presentation of the logical order of salvation is presented from general calling to effectual calling, regeneration, conversion (including faith and repentance), justification, adoption, sanctification, and the doctrine of preservation/perseverance of the saints. The third section covers the important doctrine of assurance, and considers marks of grace, obedience to the law (with an overview of Christian ethics based on the Ten Commandments), and concluding with sections on the fear of the Lord and prayer. While this is a substantial and substantive volume, its real value is in its deep experiential emphasis, in keeping with Dr. Beeke’s Puritan sense that “doctrine is for living.”

4. Curt Daniel, The History & Theology of Calvinism. This book has forewords by Joel Beeke and John MacArthur. If that is not enough, it comes highly recommended by Ian Hamilton. What the author seeks to do is set forth the Reformed Faith in its historical context, arguing that Calvinism is biblical, while simultaneously rejecting the notion that to be Christian you must be a Calvinist. As the author writes in his introduction, “Contrary to what many Hyper-Calvinists believe, one does not have to be a Calvinist to be a Christian. The five points do not constitute the non-negotiable essentials of the gospel. There are many godly evangelical Arminians (such as A. W. Tozer), Lutherans (such as Luther), and others. Calvin once wryly commented that some people jokingly said that ‘the path to paradise passes through Geneva.’ Some Lutherans would say Wittenberg. The real path passes through Calvary.” This book offers a clear and concise reference, without being overly academic, on the history and doctrine of what has come to be known as Calvinism.

 

 

5. Faculty and Friends of “Old” Princeton, The Pastor: His Call, Character, and Work. Every year, I try to read at least one new volume in the category of pastoral theology. This compilation of essays combines selections from a much larger work, the two volume set, Princeton and the Work of the Christian Ministry, compiled by James Garrettson, and also published by The Banner of Truth Trust. While I have the larger set on my bookshelf and hope to get to it some day, this seemed a bit more accessible. The book contains essays by some of the most familiar names in Presbyterian history: William Plumer, J. W. Alexander, Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, and Samuel Miller. The common bond between these men was the institution known as Princeton Seminary, which for over 100 years was a faithful school for the training of ministers and missionaries and which was used by the Lord for the proclamation of the Gospel throughout the world. As Sinclair Ferguson says in his Introduction, “Few seminaries in the history of the church have witnessed what was once witnessed in its faculty and graduates.” The subject matter in this collection range from the doctrine of the call to ministry, to the development of piety and godliness, the duties of the pastoral office, and the ministry of preaching. It also includes brief biographical sketches of all the authors.

6. Owen Strachan, Christianity and Wokeness: How the Social Justice Movement is Hijacking the Gospel–and the Way to Stop It. The title of this book is suggestive of its thesis. One of the founding ministers of the OPC, J. Gresham Machen, wrote Christianity and Liberalism, in which he argued that theological liberalism was not simply another interpretation of Christianity, but rather that it was an entirely different religion, utterly opposed to orthodox, biblical Christianity. This is Owen Strachan’s contention with regard to Critical Race Theory (which is more colloquially known as “Wokeness”). The CRT movement, though ostensibly nothing more than a “set of analytical tools” designed to help identify racism and its effects on society and its institutions, in reality has all the hallmarks of a new (and dangerous) religion. Strachan documents how this religion has crept into all the major institutions of society (academic, political, and even corporate!), but even more importantly, how it is entering the church and being accepted. Strachan states his purpose in writing the book as follows, “I have written…in short, to bring Christians…up to speed on wokeness and then to give an answer to this system.” He goes on to say that what we must not do is dismiss “wokeness” as if it is not even worth discussing. This is crucial because, “Though I critique the system strongly…Wokeness, Critical Race Theory…and intersectionality are complex ideologies that require careful handling and studied contemplation.” Strachan’s conclusion is that the only proper answer to these powerful ideological, and even religious forces sweeping through the culture and the church is the answer of the Gospel. The book contains some helpful appendices, including a reading list and a glossary for becoming more fluent in the literature and terminology of the false religion of “Wokeness.”

7. John Flavel, Preparations for Sufferings. Anyone familiar with John Flavel will need no further reason to read a book written by this godly Puritan author. This book has as its purpose the preparation of the believer’s heart for seasons of trial and affliction, which while we try to avoid them, must come because of the fallenness of the world in which we live. The back cover of the book explains the contemporary need for an old book on the subject of preparing for suffering: “For first-century Christians suffering for Christ was an inevitable accompaniment to a life of serious discipleship. In many parts of the world little has changed since those early days. But in the West, Christians have long enjoyed a period of unusual rest from such troubles. However, there are ominous signs that change is on the way. Suffering ‘for righteousness’ sake’ may once again mark the lives of faithful Christians in the West.” The time to prepare spiritually to suffer is not when you are in the furnace of affliction. The time to prepare is when you are NOT suffering. This book contains many practical suggestions on how to do that. It also offers counsel on how to discern the “signs of the times” and to know when a nation may be under the judgment of God. Consider, for example, what Flavel says on p. 22 of the Banner edition: “When the same sins are found in one nation, which have brought down the wrath of God upon another nation, it is an evident sign of judgment at the door; for God is unchangeable, just, and holy, and will not favor that in one people which He hath punished in another, nor bless that in one age which He hath cursed in another.” Ultimately, all of us need to be prepared to suffer, whether individually, as families, as churches, or as a nation. This book will help us to do so in the hope of the Gospel.

8. David Strain, Expository Preaching. This is a book on preaching for non-preachers. While that might seem strange at first, our theology of preaching helps us to see how important it is for hearers of sermons to be good and reflective hearers of the preached Word. It is with this goal in mind that David Strain has written this short volume (142 pp.). As Strain writes in his Introduction, “This book…[is] designed to establish the biblical foundations for expositional preaching in a Reformed church, to highlight some historical examples, and to answer questions, fears, and objections people often have about preaching. This book is offered in the conviction that while we do need to equip pastors to preach the Word with faithfulness and urgency, we also need to equip those who hear the Word to profit from it. There are countless useful volumes for preachers about preaching. There are very few about preaching for those who listen to it. This is an attempt to fill that gap.” My hope in reading this book is that it will be a useful resource I can pass along to church members who would like to grow in their ability to, in the words of the Shorter Catechism, “hide [the Word] in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives” (WSC Q. 160).

 

9. James W. Bruce, From Grief to Glory. There is perhaps no more difficult task for a pastor than to sit with a grieving family in the days and weeks after the loss of a child. In my own experience, this has been mainly due to the loss of unborn covenant children through miscarriage, which is a unique kind of grief that is often not fully appreciated by those who have never suffered in that way. While I often give this book to parents who are mourning a miscarriage, I have yet to read it fully from cover to cover. It contains chapter after chapter of lessons learned by parents who struggle through all the emotions, fears, and doubts that come with having to say with Job, “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” The author documents his own loss and that of many others from church history, including Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, and John Bunyan. My own favorite chapter is the one entitled, “Lessons in Sorrow,” which is also the title of a book by Benjamin Morgan Palmer, who suffered the loss of five of six children, and his wife, as a result of yellow fever. I remember reading Palmer’s book when my niece Natalie Ellen was dying at the age of 13, and found it to be of great comfort to my soul because it pointed me to the great Comforter of my soul. This book attempts to do the same for those who grieve in the Lord.

 

10. T. C. Johnson, The Life and Letters of Benjamin Morgan Palmer. This biographical memoir was originally published in 1906. It details the life of one of the great Presbyterian ministers of the 19th-century, a man not without his complexities and inconsistencies, but nevertheless a servant of God who was known and loved by the whole city of New Orleans when he died after being run over by a street car in 1902. Palmer was a powerful preacher of the Word, but he had a pastor’s heart. He was known for spotting the yellow quarantine ribbons that would hang out of windows during outbreaks of yellow fever and paying a pastoral visit to the family inside, without fear for his own safety, but rather seeing the great need of those who were approaching their appointment with the Lord. I will be reading this book in preparation for a writing project later this year on Palmer’s life and ministry.

 

That concludes my list. I hope you’ll find something here worth reading, and that you’ll grow in Christ in the coming year as you find all your satisfaction and hope in Him.

 

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