Master Robert Bruce–A Nice New Biography!

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A Banner of Truth biography simply stands out in our day. In one way, you can wonder how they are so popular? They publish as many on people you’ve never heard of as they do on those you have. Let me give you a hint that I’ve picked up on: make a special effort to grab these beautiful biographies of those you don’t know as quickly as those abounding with fame. Take for instance this book on Master Robert Bruce. I’ll confess upfront that I had never heard of this Scottish preacher of yesteryear. I’ll also confess this: a book about an unheard-of pastor like this can sometimes encourage me more than those of the well-known heroes. In the back of my mind, I often think of those heroes as far beyond my league, but in biographies like this one, we get to watch a pastor with all the ups and downs of a ministry be faithful to Christ. That’s a bona fide challenge for me!

Even though this book was first published several years ago, the author, D. C. Macnicol, writes well. His style is not exactly that of modern biographers, but that may be to advantage in this case. The book seems to transport you back to those days. That is not to say the book is hard to read, however, because the writing still flows beautifully.

I love the rawness of the book. There are a few instances in his life that you might wonder if he exactly made the right decision. But that is life and ministry, isn’t it? Events don’t unfold with perfect dimensions and easy answers. Even if you wonder if he could have chosen a different solution at some point, you will never doubt his faithfulness as you read. If he was slightly emotional at times, you will never doubt his fidelity to our Savior. Why the book is so challenging is that we know we will not get through the ministry with perfection, but can our lives be evaluated as faithful?

Let’s not forget the quality binding and beautiful dust jacket that will look so attractive on the shelf that now adorns all modern printings of hardbacks by Banner of Truth. You will enjoy this biography and so would your pastor!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The Care of Souls by Senkbeil (Books on Ministry #26)

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This book surprised me. The advertisements for it looked intriguing, but we are blessed to have many wonderful volumes about the work of a pastor. The author, Harold L. Senkbeil, is a long-time Lutheran pastor. Since I am not a Lutheran, I wondered if I might diverge from him on many points. To be sure, he would sometimes talk about the sacraments or baptism in a way that is totally foreign to my thinking, but I loved his book nonetheless. I could easily roll over those sacramental comments because what he had to say about God, His Word, and the ministry struck me directly in the heart. He wrote in so many ways about the pastor I want to be and showed me the way to get there.

He had a knack for working in his life experiences without ever making it about him. He would mention what he learned growing up on a farm many times but I assure you it was never trite nor meaningless. In fact, every facet of farming that he ties to the ministry will be so clear that you will wonder why you hadn’t thought of it before. He gives a wonderful description of what a pastor even is. He will explain both the care and the cure of souls and define a pastoral “habitus” along the way. Even if you’ve never heard the term before, you will be glad to make its acquaintance. There’s an extraordinary chapter on how the word of God is our source for ministry. His description of part of pastoring being the work of diagnosis and a work on the soul covers more in one chapter than some such books do in their entirety. His chapter on treatment of what is diagnosed makes it all practical. Other chapters that tie everything to Christ are extraordinary. He relates theologically how to talk about sin and justification and what shame and guilt are in a way that will minister to your soul as he’s trying to tell you how to help others! Be sure to check out his sexual case study, which again is written for you to help others, in a chapter that is as good as I’ve ever read on that subject.

I have underlined many sentences in my copy. In addition to the wonderful material, the author is an extraordinary, captivating writer. I was unable to read this book fast. In fact, I could never read more than one chapter at a sitting because it would give me so much to dwell on. That means it may take you a few days to read it, but they will be days well spent. This publisher has had a legacy year in writing about pastoring as they’ve already released one of the best volumes on preaching (The Heart of the Preacher) that I have seen in a long time. This book is worthy of the highest possible recommendation!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The Heart of the Preacher (Books on Ministry #25)

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This book for the preacher is one of the best I’ve seen come along in a long time. Rick Reed from his own preaching experience and that of teaching homiletics knows precisely the path to the heart of the preacher as well as the deadends away from it. His mantra of the preacher preparing his soul is no hyperbole. This isn’t self-help pointers but vital issues that throb the preacher’s heart. Mr. Reed does something for preachers today that Ralph Turnbull did for others in previous generations in his A Minister’s Obstacles. Some of those obstacles are exactly the same while others are peculiar to our day and Mr. Reed knows the difference.

The book is divided into two parts, which he defines as the testing and the strengthening of the preacher’s heart, that could just as easily be called the negative and positive heart issues preacher’s face. After Brian Chapell’s foreword that is itself worth reading, Mr. Reed gives a clear introduction to what he is attempting to do. Some of the chapters include key subjects like ambition, comparison, insignificance, laziness (one of the best and not at all what you expect), fear, criticism, failure, and pain (another jewel). Part two continues at the high level he began by explaining personal soul care, championing expository preaching, developing internal security, doing the work of an evangelist, and in a timely chapter on taking care of yourself that he creatively calls “don’t kill the horse”. There wasn’t a dud in any of these 25 chapters and everything he discussed made you want to re-dedicate your efforts to the work of preaching for the glory of Jesus Christ.

Mr. Reed wrote with the humbleness that pushed his material deeper into your heart. He was never afraid to say that he struggled in some of these areas. You felt like you were listening to a brother in arms! The book is easy-to-read but never shallow. Every preacher ought to read it. I’m glad I did.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir by Ned Stonehouse

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Banner of Truth bolsters their impressive array of Christian biographies with this reprint of Ned Stonehouse’s biography of J. Gresham Machen. While I was aware of Machen’s reputation as a stalwart defender of conservative Christianity, I really didn’t know much about his life. Perhaps my not being a Presbyterian had me more out of the loop on Machen’s impressive career, though I had read some of his works with profit before. Don’t worry if your beliefs don’t exactly line up with that of a reformed Presbyterian, because his contribution to the faith extends to all who hold unwaveringly to the veracity of the Bible and a vibrant personal relationship with Christ.

Stonehouse was a colleague of Machen over the last years of Machen’s life when they served together at Westminster Theological Seminary. Without a doubt, Stonehouse is as sympathetic a biographer as you could have and clearly reveres his subject. I realize that can derail some biographies, but I felt I knew Machen so well by the time I finished this volume and Stonehouse proved to be an excellent biographer. If you find the first few chapters on the Gresham and Machen families a little slow, just hang on because I promise the life of Machen proves enjoyable reading.

I’d be tempted to describe Machen as a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but there was enough spirituality, particularly in his mother, to have greatly strengthened Machen for his extensive ministry. There was enough money in the family, however, for him to get whatever level of education he wanted and he made the most of it. His time in Germany and the wrestling of his faith was extremely interesting as all the learned names of Germany in that generation popped up in the story. When his faith became more settled, he had as much struggle determining his career path. In both these cases, the sympathetic biographer did an outstanding job opening up these facets of Machen’s life. Since many people wrestle with similar issues, this was powerful spiritual reading.

After he got on his feet at Princeton and was ordained to the ministry, World War I came up. That part of his life story though he was neither a soldier nor an actual chaplain was absolutely riveting. It was so unusual and yet it really helped the reader to understand Machen’s character. As a side note, after proving so adept with both the German and the biblical languages, I was amazed to see that he gave some theological lectures in French before he left France!

His ongoing career and his book writing showed an upward career path with outstanding literary accomplishment. The demise of Princeton’s allegiance to orthodoxy could almost serve as a parable of religious corruption. This same battle has played itself out in so many cases and places. You might find this portion of his life as a blueprint for how to stand when everyone around you wants to run away from God and his word. The ultimate step of creating Westminster showed the thoroughness of his dedication. He wisely saw that orthodoxy in missions was as important as orthodoxy at the academy and he fought valiantly on that front as well. His early death in an unexpected place and way was sad history but interesting biography.

This book holds attention throughout. Perhaps all it lacked was an appendix of all his literary works, but it was thorough without ever falling victim to being boring. The book itself is another of those exquisitely produced hardback editions that we so appreciate from Banner. This book was insightful on how to deal with corruption, spiritual on how one man so well lived the Christian life, and interesting as a biography. I must say that I really enjoyed this book!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The Pastor of Kilsyth by Islay Burns–A Nice Biography

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So you’re never heard of W. H. Burns? Neither had I. Before I began reading this lovely biography, I noticed that the publishers put out an advertising blurb about this being a great biography for our celebrity-driven age. It’s clear what they meant. I can be challenged by a biography of a Christian celebrity to some degree, but not in the sense that I can ever do what they have done or will be what they have been. This biography is of a simple believer who was a pastor whose faithful life though unknown to the world gave off a glory that redounds unto the Lord Jesus Christ. That you and I can do. And that is why this biography is of the stripe that is especially needed today.

W. H. Burns was a pastor from the heralded Scottish orbit of outstanding preachers. That Iain Murray called this one of the best Scottish ministerial biographies we have carries much weight as his own biographies that are so often unassuming still have more impact than so many modern biographies.

Not only will you trace faithful ministry, but this volume can also be placed in your revival literature. God blessed Kilsyth with revival. I don’t know about you, but I always am blessed by that type of reading. Later chapters even give insight on what is needed for revival, though the perspective that revivals come from God is never denied. There are descriptions of how the revivals were carried out as well that can be insightful. The book even ends with four sermons that are imbibed with a revival atmosphere.

Banner of Truth is one of the modern Christian publishers that most takes publishing books seriously. Their hardbacks are of a quality that has surpassed most others and their dust jackets are always attractive. They still produce books that your grandchildren can own. I’m glad not everyone has caved to the idea that digital will own the future. I believe there still is a market and a future for books like this one. This book is a great biography for pastors and Christian families!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Hearers & Doers by Kevin Vanhoozer

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Kevin Vanhoozer is one of our sharpest theological minds today. He so often breaks into territory that no one else tackles. He may wrestle with a multitude of heavy theological works, but he is the guy to bring it to the rest of us. Since his latest subject here is that of making disciples, particularly from a pastor’s point of view, and since there’s a glut in the market on discipleship, he shows the league apart that he works in amongst a world of works that all say the same thing. Make room among all the dime-a-dozen discipleship titles on your shelves for this provocative volume to have a prominent place. This book is one for a pastor to lay as a foundation for our work. The subtitle accurately lets you know what you are getting yourself into: A pastor’s guide to making disciples through Scripture and doctrine.

After a clear introduction, Part One that is made up of four chapters explains why discipleship matters. He champions the importance of theology in making disciples. Chapter 2 is so profound that it could be pulled out of this book and presented as commentary on our age, at least involving fitness and body image which has taken on its own religious pretensions. I shared that chapter with some in my family as making clear things that I was ashamed I had never thought of. The next chapters explain the importance of taking disciples from hearing to doing and in building up the body of Christ.

Part Two in four more chapters digs into working out discipleship. Pastors should be challenged by his analogy of our being the eye doctor and general practitioner of the church. Next, he looks at the disciple as a member of the church, which is sadly so de-emphasized in our day. I found myself not fully agreeing with all he said in the chapter on the communion of saints, but there are some fair correctives there that may keep us from running off into the other ditch. The final chapter, wisely, looks at us as children of God who are disciples as “fitting image of Jesus Christ”.

You can often judge how much I find value in a book by how much I underline and notate throughout. My volume of this book is marked all over with usually something on every page. This book is for those who want to think, so pick it up and read slowly and you will be in for a treat.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Preaching As Reminding by Jeffrey Arthurs (Books on Ministry #24)

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We’ve been blessed with many fine books on preaching. There are classics from previous centuries as well as winners from our day. I should know as I’ve been blessed by many of them. On the other hand, because it’s such a popular subject the inundation of titles has led to a few dull books that say nothing new at all. Fortunately, Jeffrey Arthurs stepped into a niche that I don’t feel other authors have properly addressed and has given us something beautiful to help us as we preach God’s word. Since we live in an age of rampant forgetfulness, his work is extremely timely as well.

The help he gives has been meticulously studied out and thoughtfully presented. He makes a powerful case for his premise that preaching is an act of helping people remember before he jumps into practical guidance for preaching itself. He traces both remembering and forgetting through Scripture and proves its prominence. He even handles the science behind memory adeptly though I imagine that is not his normal field of work as a professor of preaching and communication. You will likely so agree with his reasoning that you will find him a trusted guide by the time he gets around to telling you how to improve your preaching.

There is no letdown at all when he transitions to practical help in preaching. Beginning in chapter 4 when he discusses style as a tool for stirring memory, he explains how style is a tool of persuasion and how each preacher needs his own style as well as to improve that style. He gives wonderful suggestions to that end. Next, he reminds us that story or narrative is especially effective in helping people remember. His chapter on delivery is a great reminder for us all as he digs into the details including the important nonverbal signals that we send.

If I were assembling a list of the key books on preaching, I would have to include this perceptive volume. I’m thoroughly impressed with what Mr. Arthurs had to say between these covers.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

A Pastoral Rule for Today by Burgess, Andrews, and Small

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This book is designed to bring pastors back to our core work. A trio of authors, John Burgess, Jerry Andrews, and Joseph Small, take seven historical characters to remind us of what ministry is supposed to look like. This work was an initiative by the Presbyterian Church (USA) and certainly has the flavor of that body throughout the book. Since I’m not a Presbyterian, I found myself at odds with the authors on some of their conclusions. On a more important note, however, I did pause to reflect on some areas of my own ministry that I feel was truly profitable for me. The biographical section on the historical theological figures was enjoyable as were several of the ultimate admonitions for those in ministry. Sometimes the path by which they reached those admonitions was something not particularly scriptural to my mind. Further, the authors seem to have an overblown reverence for the monastic lifestyle. While taking the time to truly meditate on God’s word and remove yourself from the hustle of life is of the utmost value, monastic life has not led to a superior spirituality in many documented cases. It is, then, with a caveat that I recommend this book.

The historical figures used to illustrate what the authors call pastoral “rule” were Augustine, Benedict, Gregory the Great, John Calvin (no surprise), John Wesley (a little bit of a surprise), John Henry Newman (a questionable choice for some of us), and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (one of the best chapters in the book). The introductory chapter on why pastors need a “rule” was intriguing. Augustine was used to describe that monastic life while Benedict was used to illustrate obedience “in the context of community”. That obedience as well as what was shown in the life of John Calvin turned out to be the most overtly Presbyterian chapters in the book as it pushed a church hierarchy that fits well with their system. As I read it, I couldn’t help but think of its lack of scriptural support. Gregory the Great was mined to show the importance of disciplined prayer. The chapter on John Wesley was extremely timely for our generation as it showed the importance of choosing your words carefully. While I’m not a big fan of John Henry Newman, the principal shared about the need for serious study of the Scripture was well taken. The chapter on Bonhoeffer, who wrote Life Together, had the best insights on community in the book. The concluding chapter on making a contemporary pastoral rule had many helpful insights.

As I said above, this book did get me to thinking about some things that needed addressing in my own life and ministry. You can add a star if you are Presbyterian or hold to the author’s overall views about ministry. Worth pondering!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

A Legacy of Preaching–A Great Two-Volume Set!

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Every preacher will want this set! Occasionally, a book about the history of preaching will come along and serve as a mighty motivating force for preachers. Dedication, zeal, power—all put on display in the lives of the best preachers of days gone by. It’s been at least 20 years since a book that blends biography and preaching counsel in a way that makes you want to grab a biblical text and get going has come along. This set, edited by Benjamin K. Forrest, Kevin L. King, Bill Curtis, and Dwayne Milioni, has filled that lacuna for our generation.

Improving on the works of previous decades, this book employs a winning design. First, specialists on the subject were secured to pen each entry. Second, each writer had to follow the same format: historical background (biography), theology of preaching, methodology for preaching, and contributions to preaching. There’s even a helpful bibliography for each entry. This format was particularly helpful. You got to know the preacher and his preaching. You could say that the approach maximized the impact you could glean from each one.

Volume One covered the Apostles to the Revivalists. You got to think of Paul and Peter as preachers before heading into some of the Church Fathers. Next, Medieval times were covered including Bernard of Clairvaux, John Huss, and Girolamo Savonarola. The Reformers including Luther, Tyndale, and Calvin as preachers were given a look next. Puritan greats Perkins, Baxter, Owen, Bunyan, and Henry were great selections in that group of preachers. Only four revivalists were covered including Edwards, Wesley, and Whitefield, but they were preaching giants.

Volume Two that covered the Enlightenment through modern times was even better. I love Nineteenth-Century British preaching and so was Part One here was my favorite in either volume. Alexander Maclaren and Charles Spurgeon are two of my favorite preaching heroes and real insights could be gained from their entries. I’ve read much on both of them, but I learned more here. The story of Gipsy Smith surprised me too.

Many more outstanding entries finished out the book. You might quibble over a few selections or omissions, (Where was G. Campbell Morgan?), but these volumes are pure gold. Mark them off as must-have books for the preacher! I’ll be consulting my set many times in the coming years I’m sure.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Scrappy Church by Thom Rainer

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Scrappy Church continues a series of wildly popular small hardbacks on church issues by Thom Rainer. This one strikes me as different than some of the earlier ones. It’s less practical this time, yet much more a plea. He seems to be asking us to take what he has been saying over several of his previous books and have the courage to just do it. It reads something like a don’t-give-up entreaty or maybe a start-now appeal. There could be, then, a little less information in this title, but more persuasion.

Rainer is in his wheelhouse in his declaration that God isn’t done with churches yet. He sees the issues and is well aware of the difficulties, but there’s no doubt he believes what he’s saying. There’s no sugarcoating in these pages, but no excuses either. Being a megachurch may not be in a church’s future, but distinct progress is possible to his mind.

The approach that’s given beyond the appeal is wrapped up in a turnaround cycle of outward deluge, welcome readiness, and backdoor closure. After you read this book you will likely agree that these three are the outline of the work that’s needed. I know I got some ideas out of this book and some challenge too. Another winner!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.