One blessing about pastoral ministry is the need to read. We asked each regular contributor two questions: “What are you currently reading?” and “What is the best book you’ve read so far in 2016?” Please feel free to pass on what you’re reading and make recommendations to us.
Dr. Dennis M. Swanson
I recently finished what I think will be a standard work on the subject of the Bible for many years. The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures (Eerdmans 2016) edited by D. A. Carson is one of those “once in a decade” works. A comprehensive examination of Scripture from evangelical scholars, a project about 10 years in the making. Carson’s introductory chapter would be worth the price of the book. I don’t want to write a whole review here, but the one chapter on the Catholic Church’s view on inspiration, inerrancy, and authority is a must read. I’m currently reading Andrew Roberts excellent biography on Napoleon (Viking Press, 2014; anything written by Roberts is worth reading) and Huizinga’s biography of Erasmus and the Reformation (Benediction Books, 2009). I am also reading the new Progressive Covenantalism edited by Wellum and Parker (B&H, 2016), a throughly disappointing book. I really get weary of these “middle roads” supposedly between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism which are little more than driving on the shoulder of the Covenantal Highway. I’m beginning to put together my reading list for my paper I’m presenting at the annual meetings at the Evangelical Theological Society meetings in November. I’m examining the doctrine of the Trinity as the spark which ignited the Downgrade Controversy between Charles Spurgeon and the Baptist Union in the 1880’s.
Currently I’m reading, Global Church Planting by Craig Ott and Gene Wilson. I actually have not read many church planting books. Most the ones I peruse disengage me from wanting to read their work. As a church planter, I continue to find the Bible the most valuable book for church planting. Now, I do not mean to take anything away from Ott and Wilson with this statement. So far I’ve found their work beneficial and insightful. The best book I’ve read this year is a tough answer for me considering I’ve read some classics this year (Knowing God by JI Packer and Praying with Paul by DA Carson). Both of those are must reads, however, I’m going to throw another book out as my answer (and I don’t think it’s actually better than those two books). Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism by Stanley Porter and Andrew Pitts. This is a great introduction book to textual criticism for two reasons. First, if you want to know how to do textual criticism, this book will start you in the right direction. Second, this book opens the door to further research needed if you really want to do (and you should want to do) textual criticism.
What I am currently reading feels like a bit of a trick question, like most pastors I usually am reading several things at once (the photo to the right is the “currently reading” shelf in my study). If I were to single one book out to recommend it would be Preaching Illustrations from Church History by Ron Prosise. The book is exactly what the title implies, a book full of potential sermon illustrations taken from church history, but to me that is not its true value. This book is full of pithy statements from and short vignettes about titans, some well known and some obscure, of the faith, and reading one or two of these a day is enriching and encouraging whether you preach or not.
As for the best book I have read so far this year, it has to be Letters of John Newton with biographical sketches and notes by Josiah Bull, republished by Banner of Truth in 2007. You may well know of the former slave trader and the hymn writer of Amazing Grace, but I would encourage you to get to know the compassionate evangelist and tenderhearted pastor too, and there is no better way than through this collection of letters.