Tuesday, January 02, 2024

Personal Reflections: A Dozen Interesting Reads in 2023


“…when thou comest, bring with thee… the books….” (2 Timothy 4:13). Both ministry and scholarship require constant reading. Here are a few notes on a dozen interesting books, of various stripes, read in 2023 (listed in no particular order). I posted similar articles on reading in 2021 and 2022.

One: Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences, Expanded Edition (University of Chicago, 1948, 2013): 203 pp.

This is the best-known work of Weaver (1910-1963), the Southern philosopher, historian, and literary critic, with roots in Asheville, North Carolina, who taught at the University of Chicago. Weaver critiques the “hysterical optimism” of modern post-WW2 American society, including the “Great Stereopticon” and the “Spoiled-Child Psychology” of modern life.

Two: Eusebius Pamphilus, The Life of the Blessed Emperor Constantine (original 337; Aeterna Press, 1845, 2014): 243 pp.

The “father of church history” wrote this glowing account of the Roman Emperor who brought an end to the Diocletian persecution of Christianity and became a patron and protector of the fledgling Christian movement.

Three: Robert P. Ericksen, Theologians Under Hitler (Yale University Press, 1885, 1986): 245 pp.

This book offers a compelling survey and analysis of the life and writings of three German theologians whose reputations were tarnished by their association with National Socialism: Gerhard Kittel (editor of the famed multi-volume Bible dictionary); Paul Althaus; and Emmanuel Hirsch.

Four: Robert C. Gregg, Trans. and Introduction, Athanasius: The Life of Anthony and the Letter to Marcellinus (Paulist Press, 1980): 166 pp.

This book presents a translation of two works by Athanasius, the fierce defender of the Trinitarian orthodoxy. The work on Anthony offers a glimpse into the ascetic piety of the famed desert father and his influence on monasticism.

Five: B. H. Streeter, The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins (MacMillan, 1925): 622 pp.

This groundbreaking work by the English New Testament scholar Streeter famously expanded upon the “two source” hypothesis solution to the so-called Synoptic Problem by suggesting four sources (Mark, Q, M, and L). The “assured results” of source criticism have since (rightly) fallen on hard times, but this work still offers an interesting look into what was “cutting edge” scholarship in the early twentieth century. 2024 will mark the 100th anniversary of this book.

Six: Francis Watson, The Fourfold Gospel: A Theological Reading of the New Testament Portraits of Jesus (Baker Academic, 2016): 207 pp.

Watson offers a “theological reading” of the four Gospels. Of special interest are his references to how the Eusebian canons represent an early effort to provide a harmonious understanding of the fourfold Gospel.

Seven: Geoffrey Thomas, In the Shadow of the Rock (Reformation Heritage Books, 2022): 325 pp.

I read this biography of the Welsh Calvinistic Baptist preacher anticipating his speaking at the 2023 Keach Conference. An interesting memoir of 50 years in pastoral ministry in one church, but also offering insight into Westminster Seminary (where Thomas studied) in its “glory days” and anecdotes on various key figures in evangelicalism, including D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Albert Martin, and others. I’ve written a review of the book that I hope will be published in 2024.

Eight: C. H. Spurgeon, Commentary on Matthew: The Gospel of the Kingdom (Banner of Truth, 1893, 2019): 442 pp.

I read this work, the only complete commentary on a NT book penned by Spurgeon, section by section as I preached expositionally through Matthew and finished it last year when I completed the sermon series. It offers a treasure trove of homiletical insights and pithy aphorisms for the preacher. Very useful for those preaching through the First Gospel.

Nine: Iain R. K. Paisley, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans: Prepared in a Prison Cell (Marshall, Morgan, and Scott, 1968): 191 pp.

I got this book after returning home from a trip this year to Northern Ireland and stopping by the Martyrs Memorial Presbyterian Church in Belfast where this controversial Ulster politician and Free Presbyterian minister served. It is a “prison epistle” written while the author was jailed for his political activity in 1966. Like Spurgeon’s Matthew commentary, loaded with quotable quotes. A book written by a gifted orator. For a list of quotes, see this blog article.

Ten: Alister E. McGrath, A Life of John Calvin (Baker Academic, 1990, 1991, 1995): 332 pp.

I got this before going to the Calvin Congress in Grand Rapids and finished reading it shortly afterwards. Though I did not agree with every area of analysis, one of the best biographies of Calvin and overview of his writings I have read.

Eleven: John P. Thackway, Ed., Valiant for Truth: The Collected Writings of Bishop D. A. Thompson (Bible League Quarterly, 2020): 352 pp.

I worked my way slowly through this book last year. D. A. Thompson was a former bishop in the Free Church of England and editor of the Bible League Quarterly from 1961-1970. These are a collection of his devotional and scholarly articles from his days as BLQ editor. Thompson was a pious, erudite, winsome and capable defender of the “Reformation Text.” I’ve written a review of the book that I hope will be published in 2024.

Twelve: Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons (original 1862; Oxford World Classics, 2008): 296 pp.

I heard a mention of this book while listening to a podcast and was intrigued enough to give it a listen on LibriVox. Then I had to get a hard copy. It is a short, very readable novel. The central figure is Bazarov, a “nihilist” who comes home from university to challenge the views of his elders. It rejects the notion that overthrowing tradition is warranted in the name of “progress” and is especially poignant given what would happen in Russia just a few decades later.


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