The books I completed during 2016:
- Jason Roberts, A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became the World’s Greatest Traveler
- J.I. Packer, Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J.C. Ryle (including the full text of the first edition of Ryle’s, Holiness)
- C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold
- Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism
- Sarah L. Delaney and A. Elizabeth Delaney with Amy Hill Hearth, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters First 100 Years
- John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress (part 1)
- Thabiti M. Anyabwile, The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors
- Warren and David Wiersbe, Ministering to the Mourning: A Practical Guide for Pastors, Church Leaders, and Other Caregivers
- Vaughan Roberts, True Friendship: Walking Shoulder to Shoulder
- Joseph Epstein, Envy
- Michael Emerson & Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America
- Devery S. Anderson, Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement
- Don and Petie Kladstrup, Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure
- Shelby Steele, Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country
Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
- Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters
- Thomas Watson, A Treatise on Meditation
- Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman
- Gene Dattel, Cotton and Race in the Making of America: The Human Costs of Economic Power
- Tom Wolfe, Radical Chic & Mau-mauing the Flak Catchers
- Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
- Timothy & Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage
- J.C. Ryle, Thoughts for Young Men
- Bram Stoker, Dracula
- Dale Ralph Davis, Slogging Along the Paths of Righteousness: Psalms 13-24
- J.D.Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
- William J. Stuntz, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice
- Daniel Silva, The Black Widow
- Jane Dawson, John Knox
- Alexander Whyte, Bunyan Characters (volume one)
- Sally Palmer Thomason with Jean Carter Fisher, Delta Rainbow: The Irrepressible Betty Bobo Pearson
- Stuart Stevens, The Last Season: A Father, a Son, and a Lifetime of College Football
- Yuval Levin, The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism
- William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
- Seamus Heaney, The Burial at Thebes: A Version of Sophocles’ Antigone
- Heather MacDonald, The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe
- Iain H. Murray, J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone
- Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
- Ian Caldwell, The Fifth Gospel
- Christopher Ash, Zeal without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice
- Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures
- Kate Grosmaire, Forgiving My Daughter’s Killer: A True Story of Loss, Faith, and Unexpected Grace
- Thomas Fleming, A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War
- Jonty Rhodes, Covenants Made Simple: Understanding God’s Unfolding Promises to His People
- Ron Rash, One Foot in Eden
- Sean Michael Lucas, For a Continuing Church: The Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America
- Thomas Murphy, Duties of the Church Member to the Church
- Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-1965
- Cornell West, Race Matters: With a New Preface
- John E. Ellzey, Yazoo
- 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.
Bear with me . . . This post is going somewhere.
Manokin Presbyterian Church in Princess Anne, Maryland, was organized in 1683. The structure pictured here was erected in 1765, although the Bell Tower did not go up until 1888.
The establishment of Manokin Presbyterian Church was the fruit of God’s grace through the work of Francis Makemie (1658-1708), who is deservedly known as “The Father of American Presbyterianism.” Makemie planted the first Presbyterian church in Snow Hill, Maryland, and four other churches on the Delmarva Peninsula. But you can’t have Presbyterianism without a Presbytery, and under Makemie’s leadership, the first American Presbytery, the Presbytery of Philadelphia, was organized in 1706, and he was elected its first moderator.
My admiration for Makemie is great, but it pales in comparison to the esteem with which I hold another major figure in American Presbyterianism, the talented, witty, and beautiful, Mrs. Lynne Wingard. Lynne and I were united in Christian marriage at Manokin Presbyterian Church, which was the happiest day of my life. (Thank you, Pastor Makemie, for providing the venue.) The Lord gave me my best friend and the most splendid partner in life and ministry imaginable.
Happy Anniversary, Lynne!
My RTS Jackson colleague Dr. Guy Waters responds to the question, “Is Paedocommunion Biblical?”
Seventy-five years ago today Japanese forces attacked American military installations in Hawaii. A day later President Franklin Roosevelt requested Congress for a declaration of war with Japan.
Listen his speech here. It concludes:
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces- with the unbounding determination of our people- we will gain the inevitable triumph- so help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.
Each year I mark the anniversary of the Halifax Explosion and its heroic aftermath.
Ninety-nine years ago today the largest man-made explosion prior to World War II devastated Halifax, Nova Scotia. Two ships collided in the harbor, one carrying 2,300 tons of wet and dry picric acid, 200 tons of TNT, 10 tons of gun cotton and 35 tons of benzol. The subsequent blast killed 1,900 people, and left 10% of the city’s population injured.
Holiday visitors to Boston enjoy the beautiful Christmas tree at the Prudential Center, an annual gift from a Halifax citizenry grateful to the many Bostonians who fought their way through a raging blizzard to come to their city’s aid.
I first learned of the disaster from an obituary in a Boston area paper. The deceased lost her sight as a young child on that terrible winter day. Her face pressed against a window, she watched the ships burn. Then the explosion; a shock wave shattered thousands of windows. Shards of glass tore into her eyes. Others suffered a similar fate.
The Halifax disaster and Boston’s relief mobilization should not be forgotten.
[Sources: This summary and the CBC photos below were obtained from a link of the Nova Scotia Museum that is no longer active. Additional information about the tragedy can be found on the museum’s website and here.]
Winston Churchill was born November 30, 1874. He tops most lists of the twentieth century’s greatest leaders, the consummate man of word and action. From May 1940 to America’s December 1941 entry into World War II, Churchill’s leadership rallied Britain against Nazi domination. Of all the countries of northern Europe, only Britain stood between Hitler and freedom.
It’s hard to imagine England resisting Germany’s onslaught without Churchill. British resistance was not a given. Other options were available, and many favored a negotiated peace. For readers wanting to become familiar with Churchill’s life but unable to invest the time it takes to read a lengthy biography, I recommend Winston Churchill: A Life by the late military historian John Keegan. This brief biography comes in at under 200 pages, but is full of insights into Churchill’s life and character. His was a life that combined physical and moral courage with leadership and oratorical gifts that persuaded a nation to fight.
“Ed Murrow [an American broadcast journalist] reflected that one of Churchill’s greatest achievements as wartime prime minister was to have ‘mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.’ . . .
“Churchill’s words did not only touch his people’s hearts and move the emotions of their future American allies; they also set the moral climate of the war. Hitler, a mob orator, spoke little after 1939. When he did so, it was to utter threats and insults, glorifying aggression, deriding his enemies. Churchill, by contrast, avoided threats, condemned few (though Mussolini, for some reason always provoked him to contempt). Instead he appealed to a commonality and nobility of sentiment that took liberty as its ideal and humanity as its spirit. He always spoke, moreover, as if the ideal of liberty, though particularly incarnate in wartime Britain, was shared by all who did not actively oppose it, in this way reaching out to embrace as allies, actual or potential, all those not on Hitler’s side. Thus, in a broadcast on June 12, 1941, he sent out a
‘message . . . to all the States or nations bound or free, to all the men in all the lands who care for freedom’s cause, to our allies and well-wishers in Europe to our American friends and helpers drawing ever closer in their might across the ocean: this is the message – Lift up your hearts. All will come right. Out of the depths of sorrow and sacrifice will be born again the glory of mankind.’
“Churchill’s message triumphed. It was perhaps the greatest of all his achievements. In 1940 his words captured the hearts of his people. In 1941, and in the years that followed, his words drowned out the drumbeat of totalitarianism that had dominated the airwaves of the dictator years, revived belief in democracy among the downtrodden, inspired a new patriotism in the defeated, created a new confidence, and transmitted a promise of victory that was believed. Morally, Churchill set the agenda of the Second World War.” (144-145)
Click here to listen to Churchill’s speeches. His poise, confidence, realism, and hope, along with an unsurpassed facility with the English language, make these audio recording one of history’s valuable treasures.
I want my ministry students at RTS Jackson to become skilled in pastoral visitation, which includes visiting people in their homes.
In the late 19th century, Bishop J.C. Ryle was troubled by “a growing disposition throughout the land, among the clergy, to devote an exaggerated amount of attention to what I must call the public work of ministry, and to give comparatively too little attention to pastoral visitation and personal dealing with individual souls.”
In his excellent biography of Ryle, Iain Murray comments:
“However eloquent or apparently knowledgeable a preacher may be, there will be something seriously lacking in the man who is not to be found in the homes of his people. Sermons which come only from the study are not likely to be messages which bind speaker and hearers together in a common bond of affection and sympathy. A preacher must be a visitor and be ready to preach everywhere. Few circumstances can justify the omission. If the excuse be offered that there is too much public work to do, to give time to the private, then the priorities are wrong.”
Facebook, blogs, and other public forums, because of the number of people supposedly reached, may tempt a minister to abandon more traditional, boots-on-the-ground ministry. This is wrong. Social media may assist a minister in his work, but it is no substitute for the work of gathering with people in their homes to pray, instruct, counsel, evangelize, and encourage.
Source: Iain H. Murray, J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2016), 141.