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My Year with Books (2017)


When I finish a book, I add it to my list of books read. At the end of this post are the books I completed in 2017.

The year was marked by celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Although I’ve used it as a reference and resource for lectures on the English Reformation, until now, I had never made time to read from cover to cover Diarmaid MacCulloch’s The Reformation: A History. Perhaps there’s a more comprehensive single-volume work on the Reformation, but I’m not aware of it.

Over the past several decades, a number of young and intelligent Reformed folk have left Protestantism for Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Their concern is the shallowness of Protestant worship and its lack of connection to the ancient patterns of Christian worship and doctrine. Ken Stewart’s In Search of Ancient Roots: The Christian Past and the Evangelical Identity Crisis demonstrates that Protestantism’s roots in Christian antiquity are deep. Evangelical Christians should take up and read.

I turned 60 this year. Sometimes I feel as young as ever; a distance runner, my stopwatch tells me otherwise. So, I’ve been paying much more attention to self-care, and, therefore am indebted to David Murray for his wise, theologically informed, and immensely practical Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture. Particularly helpful is his counsel on rest, recreation, and sleep. This book is now on the required reading list of my pastoral leadership course.

In 2017, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum opened. I have written elsewhere that it “is a must-see: expertly laid out, informative, visually unforgettable, and a testimony to the many brave heroes of our state who sacrificed and laid down their lives for freedom and justice.” This year my studies of civil rights history were enriched by reading Taylor Branch’s At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68 – the third and final volume of his magisterial history of the civil rights movement  – and Timothy B. Tyson, The Blood of Emmett Till, a compelling account of the 1955 lynching, one of the hundreds of racially-motivated lynchings that that have taken place in Mississippi since the Civil War, and as much as any single event, propelled civil rights to the forefront of our national consciousness.

Ron Klein is among the finest Christian educators I know. For those interested in the governance of Christian schools, I highly recommend his Journey to Excellence: What Boards and Heads of Christian Schools Need to Know to Get There. In my blurb for his book I wrote:  “The average Christian school board consists of volunteers who care deeply about the spiritual and educational needs of children. Unfortunately, they often lack clear understanding of their primary purpose – to hire and hold accountable heads of school to meet board established goals. I had the privilege of watching Ron Klein lead a financially struggling Christian school to stability and a renewed commitment to academic distinction. His book charts a path forward for Christian school boards seeking the wisdom of a proven leader.”

All Christians, but especially parents will find eye-opening Mary Aiken’s The Cyber Effect and Jean M. Twenge’s iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood – and What That Means for the Rest of Us.

In The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis–and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance, Senator Ben Sasse offers practical advice to parents on work, reading, and study habits that will contribute to a child’s maturity.

Some books need to be read over and over again. And so I returned to J.C. Ryle’s Matthew, Sophocles’ Antigone, George Herbert’s The Temple, and Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. 

Books finished in 2017:

  1. Ian W. Toll, Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942
  2. Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity
  3. Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship
  4. Timothy B. Tyson, The Blood of Emmett Till
  5. Heath Lambert, Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace
  6. Paul Gallico, The Snow Goose
  7. Allan Harman, Preparation for Ministry
  8. Kyle McClellan, Mea Culpa: Learning from Mistakes in the Ministry
  9. David Murray, Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture
  10. William H. McRaven, Make Your Bed
  11. Tim Challies, Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity
  12. Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing
  13. Mary Aiken, The Cyber Effect: A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online
  14. Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
  15. Eugene Robinson, Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America
  16. James Early Massey, The Burdensome Joy of Preaching
  17. Donald Macleod, Priorities for the Church: Rediscovering Leadership and Vision in the Church
  18. Ron Klein, Journey to Excellence: What Boards and Heads of Christian Schools Need to Know to Get There
  19. Ben Sasse, The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis–and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance
  20. Taylor Branch, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68
  21. Guy de Maupassant, Like Death
  22. Thomas Devonshire Hawkes, Pious Pastors: Calvin’s Theology of Sanctification and the Genevan Academy
  23. Sinclair B. Ferguson, Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification
  24. Jane Harper, The Dry
  25. Justin Jones-Fosu, Why Matters Now
  26. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ
  27. Richard Baxter and W. Stuart Owen, The Ministry We Need
  28. John Owen, The Nature and Causes of Apostasy
  29. John D. Inazu, Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference.
  30. Frances DeBra Brown, An Army in Skirts: The World War II Letters of Frances DeBra
  31. David Wenham, Did St Paul Get Jesus Right?
  32. Dale Ralph Davis, True Word for Tough Times
  33. Doug Serven (general editor), Heal Us, Emmanuel: A Call for Racial Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity in the Church 
  34. Mark Jones, Knowing Christ
  35. Jason L. Riley, False Black Power?
  36. James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain
  37. Amy L. Wax, Race, Wrongs, and Remedies: Group Justice in the 21st Century
  38. John B. Boles, Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty
  39. Gerard Helferich, Theodore Roosevelt and the Assassin: Madness, Vengeance, and the Campaign of 1912
  40. Ian D. Campbell, Opening Up Matthew’s Gospel
  41. Mark E. Ross, Let’s Study Matthew
  42. J.C. Ryle, Matthew
  43. R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew
  44. Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew
  45. Matthew Henry, An Exposition with Practical Observations of the Gospel According to St. Matthew
  46. Kathryn Stockett, The Help
  47. Shona and David Murray, Refresh
  48. Ranulph Fiennes, Fear: Our Ultimate Challenge
  49. Kenneth J. Stewart, In Search of Ancient Roots: The Christian Past and the Evangelical Identity Crisis
  50. J. Cameron Fraser, Learning from Lord Mackay: Life and Work in Two Kingdoms
  51. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
  52. John Owen, Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
  53. Joel R. Beeke, Puritan Evangelism: A Biblical Approach
  54. Alec Motyer, A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Loving the Old Testament
  55. Lily Koppel, The Astronaut Wives Club
  56. The Bible
  57. George Herbert, The Temple
  58. Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation: A History
  59. Jean M. Twenge, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood – and What That Means for the Rest of Us 
  60. Seamus Heaney (translator): The Burial at Thebes: A Version of Sophocles’ Antigone
  61. Wilbur Ellsworth, The Power of Speaking God’s Word: How to Preach Memorable Sermons
  62. Andrew Purves, Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition

Lynne Goes Back to School


For the next nine weeks, Lynne teaches again one of her favorite books, The Iliad, this time at Manchester Academy. I enjoy the new purchases that crop up around our home.

I owe my love of The Iliad to one man, Dr. John Reishman, one of the outstanding literature professors at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. Until his class, I don’t  recall reading a work of ancient Greek literature, and, had I made the attempt, the ability to navigate the text would have been sorely lacking. I needed a teacher, and found one in Dr. Reishman.

Since then, I have read The Iliad several times in the translations of Fitzgerald, Lattimore, and Fagles, and a very small portion in Greek class at Vanderbilt. Time and again I return to moving scenes, and especially to those of Hector: his return from battle to his wife Andromache and their infant son, his brutal death and the savage abuse of his corpse below Troy’s walls, and his father Priam’s pleading with Achilles for the return of his body.

Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver’s Teaching Company lectures are a treat.  Although an abridgment, Derek Jacobi’s reading of the Fagles’ translation is most enjoyable.

Years from now, I trust that a Manchester Academy student will trace his love for ancient literature to Lynne’s teaching.

Taylor Branch’s America in the King Years


My father established a nightly routine for me that continues to shape my life today. After supper from 1963 to 1969, we sat side-by-side on the couch and watched the evening news, either the Huntley-Brinkley Report or Walter Cronkite.

During those years, I was exposed to people and events that would remain life-long interests: the space program (I loved watching the Mercury and Gemini launches), the war in Vietnam (with its tragic tallies of killed, wounded, and missing), political races (the first I remember is the 1966 Callaway/Maddox Georgia gubernatorial contest), and the civil rights movement.

I was sitting next to my father when I learned of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in April 1968.  The Atlanta church we attended hosted mourners for his funeral, and later that year, dedicated a plaque in his memory.

My serious reading in civil rights history began in the late 1980s after viewing the powerful documentary Eyes on the Prize. At RTS Jackson I teach a course that includes a session on American Christianity and race. My students are required to watch one of the series’ episodes.

Many years ago I purchased what became the first volume in Taylor Branch’s magisterial civil rights history of the King years. I began, but never finished reading it. So, when I moved to Mississippi in 2014 and found myself within driving distance to so many of the movement’s historic sites, I determined to read all three volumes.

This summer I completed my goal, reading one book during each of the last three summers. At 2,300 pages (excluding indexes), it took time; I am a very slow reader. But Branch’s style and command of his materials meant that my interest never wavered.

Seminary students ministering in the Deep South should think deeply about our region’s race history. Therefore, I am grateful that Taylor Branch has given us an invaluable resource for navigating and understanding the critical years of 1954-1968.


Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988.

Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.

At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965-1968. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.

Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942



My interest in America’s Pacific War (1941-1945) began in elementary school. One of our readers included the story of Jimmy Doolittle’s Tokyo Raid. I was captivated by the stunning story of 16 Army B-25 Mitchells that were outfitted for this unique objective and flown by specially trained crews. Launched from an American aircraft carrier that had slipped to within several hundred miles of Japan’s coast, the odds of survival were slim.

Theirs was a no-return mission. After dropping their bombs, the crews headed for destinations in China and Russia, harrowing escape attempts that led to freedom for some, and prison, torture, and death for others.

Doolittle’s Raid came less than six months after Pearl Harbor. The enemy was caught off guard and given a foretaste of the nightmare to come. American morale, which was at a low point, soared.


One of the captured flyers, Jacob DeShazer, obtained a Bible while in prison and through his reading was converted to the Christian faith. At the war’s end, he was released and came back to America, only to return to Japan to serve as a missionary for three decades. Mitsuo Fuchida, the flight leader who led the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was converted to Christianity under DeShazer’s ministry.

Ian W. Toll’s Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 is a compelling account of the story of Dolittle’s Raiders and the many other momentous events of the war’s opening months. He sifts through the personal experiences of President Roosevelt and his top military advisors, as well as the sailors, airman, soldiers and Marines who defended our nation and who fought desperately just to stay alive. Thoughtful consideration is given to the war as experienced by Japan’s leaders and people.

This first of three volumes covers the war from Pearl Harbor to Midway.

About the Battle of Midway – fought June 4-6, 1942 – and America’s sinking of four Japanese aircraft carriers, a military setback from which Japan never recovered, Toll observes:

In the American view, Midway eliminated the risk of a Japanese attack on Hawaii or the west coast of North America. As important, it relieved political pressure on FDR to transfer a greater share of forces to the Pacific, freeing him to emphasize his great priority, which was to keep the Soviet Union in the war against Germany. In that sense, the Battle of Midway ratified and confirmed the vital ‘Europe-first’ strategy. For that reason, it ranks as one of the most essential events of the Second World War, bearing not only on the conflict in Pacific but on the fate of Nazi Germany. (479)



My Year with Books (2016)


The books I completed during 2016:

  1. Jason Roberts, A Sense of the World:  How a Blind Man Became the World’s Greatest Traveler
  2. J.I. Packer, Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J.C. Ryle (including the full text of the first edition of Ryle’s, Holiness)
  3. C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold
  4. Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism
  5. Sarah L. Delaney and A. Elizabeth Delaney with Amy Hill Hearth, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters First 100 Years
  6. John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress (part 1)
  7.  Thabiti M. Anyabwile, The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors
  8.  Warren and David Wiersbe, Ministering to the Mourning: A Practical Guide for Pastors, Church Leaders, and Other Caregivers
  9.  Vaughan Roberts, True Friendship: Walking Shoulder to Shoulder
  10.  Joseph Epstein, Envy
  11. Michael Emerson & Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America
  12. Devery S. Anderson, Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement
  13. Don and Petie Kladstrup, Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure
  14. Shelby Steele,  Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country
  15. Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
  16. Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters
  17. Thomas Watson, A Treatise on Meditation
  18.  Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman
  19.  Gene Dattel, Cotton and Race in the Making of America: The Human Costs of Economic Power
  20.  Tom Wolfe, Radical Chic & Mau-mauing the Flak Catchers
  21. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
  22.  Timothy & Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage
  23. J.C. Ryle, Thoughts for Young Men
  24. Bram Stoker, Dracula
  25. Dale Ralph Davis, Slogging Along the Paths of Righteousness: Psalms 13-24
  26. J.D.Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
  27. William J. Stuntz, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice
  28. Daniel Silva, The Black Widow
  29. Jane Dawson, John Knox
  30. Alexander Whyte, Bunyan Characters (volume one)
  31. Sally Palmer Thomason with Jean Carter Fisher, Delta Rainbow: The Irrepressible Betty Bobo Pearson
  32. Stuart Stevens, The Last Season: A Father, a Son, and a Lifetime of College Football
  33. Yuval Levin, The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism
  34. William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
  35. Seamus Heaney, The Burial at Thebes: A Version of Sophocles’ Antigone
  36. Heather MacDonald, The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe
  37. Iain H. Murray, J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone
  38. Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
  39. Ian Caldwell, The Fifth Gospel
  40. Christopher Ash, Zeal without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice
  41. Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures
  42. Kate Grosmaire, Forgiving My Daughter’s Killer: A True Story of Loss, Faith, and Unexpected Grace
  43. Thomas Fleming, A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War
  44. Jonty Rhodes, Covenants Made Simple: Understanding God’s Unfolding Promises to His People
  45. Ron Rash, One Foot in Eden
  46. Sean Michael Lucas, For a Continuing Church: The Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America
  47. Thomas Murphy, Duties of the Church Member to the Church
  48.  Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-1965
  49.  Cornell West, Race Matters: With a New Preface
  50.  John E. Ellzey, Yazoo
  51. The Bible

I enjoy reading. Some books I read because I must. After all, I am a pastor and professor; sermons and lectures must be prepared. But most of the time I read not because I have to but because I want to.

Several books on my list I’ve read before. Every year or two The Pilgrim’s Progress shows up on my list, as do Shakespearean plays. Early in my ministry, I read J.C. Ryle’s Holiness, which profoundly shaped the way I think about this critically important Biblical doctrine, and I have revisited it many times since. In fact, Ryle has influenced me as much as any other evangelical writer. So, this year I eagerly read Ian Murray’s biography of Ryle.

My favorite 2016 read was Jane Dawson’s John Knox. In my opinion, she does for Knox what Bruce Gordon ‘s biography did for Calvin: both authors’ deft use of historical materials and elegant writing present the lives of men who shaped the Reformed and Presbyterian world.

Among books on American culture, three stand out.

Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic demonstrates that much of  the polarization of 21st century American political and cultural life has its roots in America’s emergence from the Second World War as the world’s economic powerhouse. Unlike many places in Europe and Asia, our cities were not reduced to rubble. Our manufacturing and industrial products helped to rebuild a war-ravaged world, and led to a period of economic ascendancy that has shaped the aspirations of our nation’s two principal political parties. One longs to return to the postwar conditions that witnessed the rapid expansion of organized labor, social reform legislation, and welfare benefits; the other seeks sustained economic growth that can only be achieved when America dominates global markets. Neither aspiration is possible. Levin argues for the renewal of America’s mediating institutions, those which stand between the individual and government –  family, religious institutions, schools, and civic organizations.

During the past few years I’ve done some reading on issues relating to race, policing, and mass incarceration.  William Stuntz’s  The Collapse of American Criminal Justice has helped me put contemporary issues in their historical, political, constitutional, and legal context. Ghettoside by Jill Leovy – a book I read last year – recounts the tragic murder of a policeman’s son in South Central LA and its aftermath. These two books provide a compelling introduction to very agonizing issues.

Hillbilly Elegy is J.D. Vance’s personal recollection of growing up in a poor white family that joined the Appalachian migration into the American midwest.  At places the book is searingly painful to read; at others uproariously funny.  This often forgotten culture became a a major part in the successful presidential campaign of Donald Trump. In closely contested midwestern states affected by the migration, Mr. Trump significantly outperformed recent Republican presidential candidates.

Joseph Epstein is my favorite contemporary essayist, and his insightful observations in Envy will serve pastors and counselors well.

I enjoy the occasional snack book; spy and mystery novels are my favorites. Since the death of Tom Clancy, my espionage novelist of choice has been Daniel Silva. I hope at some point to finish all the mysteries of P.D. James.

I serve as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Yazoo City, Mississippi. I spend a good deal of time in commentaries. Here are my series this year and the commentaries that I have found most helpful: Book I of the Psalms (William Plumer), Matthew (technical, R.T. France/non-technical, Mark Ross), John’s prologue (J.B. Lightfoot), the case laws of Exodus (John Mackay), and Ecclesiastes (Charles Bridges). I also taught an eight-week course on biblical covenants, and found Covenants Made Simple by Jonty Rhodes an accessible introduction that I heartily recommend.

I still get almost all of my news from printed material: The Economist, the Wall Street Journal, National Review, Jackson’s Clarion-Ledger, and The Yazoo Herald. Lynne regularly points me to articles in The New York Times. 



“Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom”

Last night I spent a memorable evening listening to photographer and author Alysia Burton Steele, who traveled 6,000 miles throughout the Mississippi Delta to interview 54 African-American women who grew up, married, and raised children during the Jim Crow era. Her Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom shares their stories.
One of the grandmothers is Mrs. Velma T. Moore of Benoit. Married for 49 years when widowed, 15 children, 145 grandchildren, 33 great-grands, 26 great-great grands, and 14 great-great-great grands. Her testimony: “I always said, “Lord, I want one husband. I want all of my childen to be by that one man.’ And God fixed it so . . . I’m still Mrs. Moore. I be Mrs. Moore until I’m dead and gone.”
We were reminded of the adage, “When an elderly person dies, a library burns to the ground.” We are indebted to those who, like Ms. Steele, keep treasured stories alive for coming generations.
If RTS students would like to read some of the stories, Delta Jewels is on the table in my office. Stop by and enjoy.
The event was sponsored by The COFO Civil Rights Education Center, Margaret Walker Alexander National Research Center, and Delta Center for Culture and Learning.

Testimonies of Faith and Fortitude


1843 was a momentous year in Presbyterian history. The founders of the Free Church of Scotland abandoned homes, incomes, and church buildings to uphold the spiritual independence of Christ’s church. Their courage captured the attention of the evangelical world, and bequeathed stirring testimonies of faith and fortitude to subsequent generations of Bible-believing Presbyterians.

Author Sandy Finlayson skillfully sketches the lives of ten of these leaders in Unity & Diversity: The Founders of the Free Church of Scotland. Bound together by love of the gospel, a high view of the authority of God’s word, confessional fidelity, and missionary outreach, these men nevertheless held a variety of opinions on controversial issues of the day: church union with other Presbyterian denominations, Roman Catholic emancipation, the evangelistic campaigns of Dwight L. Moody, and educational and social reforms in Scotland.

Conservative American Presbyterians should note the vigor with which several leader tackled widespread poverty, lack of educational opportunity, alcoholism, and other salient social ills. Their lives were spent among the people and for the people.

The author also recounts the personal foibles, bouts of pride, conflicts, and strained friendships – all helpful in reminding readers that there are no golden ages in church history when men were untouched by the frailties common to all. Until our Lord returns, learning to get along will prove hard work.

I enthusiastically recommend Unity and Diversity.