5 Helpful Books on Jesus’ Parables

Jesus is the greatest teacher to walk the earth.  He taught through many means, but one of His favorites was storytelling.  These were not tales meant simply to entertain, but extended analogies (παραβολή “parable”) meant to reveal, to teach, to persuade, and to provoke change.  Ultimately, He spoke in parables to reveal the kingdom to those who would have Him and conceal the kingdom from those who would not (Matthew 13).  There are many resources that help the student of Scripture better grasp and study Jesus’ parables.  In Fall 2016 my wife and I took a “Parables of Christ” class at DTS and we each used several books for our studies.  Here is a list of a few I found to be very helpful.

Stories with Intent by Klyne Snodgrass

51Oww+C3KjL._AC_US218_ The best book I have come across on Christ’s parables also happens to be the most comprehensive (600 pages). Snodgrass’ Stories with Intent is a must buy for anyone studying the parables.  The introduction to parables is relatively short compared to other works (only 50 pages), but that only means the bulk of the book is dedicated to the study of the actual parables.  Each parable is studied meticulously in the following format: a brief intro the parable, parable type (similitude, interrogative, narrative, etc.), issues requiring attention (a list of questions that must be answered to understand the parable), helpful primary source material (Biblical text, early Jewish writings, Greco-Roman writings, etc.), textual features worthy of attention, cultural information, explanation of the parable, decisions on the issues, and adapting the parable.  He also includes a “for further reading” section at the end of each parable.  If you are looking for one book on Jesus’ parables, buy this one.

Interpreting the Parables by Craig Blomberg

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This is another must buy for those interested in studying the parables.  Blomberg’s book is not as comprehensive as Snodgrass’ on the actual parables themselves, but he is much more comprehensive in introducing the study of parables.  Blomberg spends nearly 200 pages (!) introducing parables and the different hermeneutical issues that one runs into when interpreting the parables.  The book is 450 pages, so he still spends approx. 250 pages discussing the individual parables, giving superb insight.  Blomberg excels at explaining the interpretive framework he uses when studying Jesus’ parables.  He teaches that for the most part, “each parable makes one main point per main character–usually two or three in each case–and these main characters are the most likely elements within the parable to stand for something other than themselves, thus giving the parable its allegorical nature.”1  Between Snodgrass and Blomberg, Christ’s parables are covered in detail.

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey

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This is a must buy (Do you see a pattern here?)!  This isn’t a must buy solely for the study of Jesus’ parables, but because of the comprehensive study of Jesus Himself.  This book isn’t a book on the parables, but a book on Jesus.  For the purpose of this page, I’ll focus on the “parable” section of the book (but know that there’s much more).  Bailey has long been known as a skilled interpreter of parables because of his other books on them, specifically on the Prodigal Son.  However, in this book, Bailey discusses 13 different parables (the Prodigal Son not being one of them) in great detail.  Bailey’s focus is geared more toward understanding the ancient cultural context of the parable and the actions of characters in the story within the cultural context the story is set.  He says this eloquently, “Simply stated, our task is to stand at the back of the audience around Jesus and listen to what he is saying to them. Only through that discipline can we discover what he is saying to any age, including our own. Authentic simplicity can be found the other side of complexity. The theological and ethical House of the Parables of Jesus awaits.  May all enter with great expectations!”2 Buy this book and enjoy it.

The Parables of Jesus by J. Dwight Pentecost

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This book, by a longtime professor at DTS, is short and very useful.  Pentecost gives a brief 10-page introduction to parables and their interpretation and then moves on to discussing each parable.  Every parable is discussed in a tripartite way (a) The Setting (b) The Problem (c) The Solution.  This format is great for showing the broad sense of each parable.  I would recommend this book for the laymen or student of the Scriptures who is not wanting a detailed study of the parables, but an overview interpretation of each parable Christ told.

The Prodigal God by Tim Keller

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This book is not on the “parables” but on a “parable”: the Prodigal Son.  Keller would be quick to correct me and say that the parable should rather be called “The Two Lost Sons” (the title of Chapter Two).  This book was one of the first I’ve read by Keller, and it’s outstanding (like pretty much everything Keller writes).  The whole book is an exposition of Luke 15:11-32 and it is such an engaging, easy read that you might finish in one sitting (it’s only 133 pages and small pages at that). Keller shows that Jesus’ most famous parable stars the elder brother just as much as the younger brother and he brings out the implications of this throughout the book.  I recommend this book to any and every Christian.  Buy it, read it, and delight in Christ.

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12 Quotes of Christmas and God Incarnate

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So then He united man with God, and established a community of union between God and man; since we could not in any other way participate in incorruption, save by His coming among us…So the Word was made flesh, that, through that very flesh which sin had ruled and dominated, it should lose its force and be no longer in us. And therefore our Lord took that same original formation as (His) entry into flesh, so that He might draw near and contend on behalf of the fathers, and conquer by Adam that which by Adam had stricken us down. – St. Irenaeus of Lyons

[God’s] temporal plan ennobled each sex, both male and female. By possessing a male nature and being born of a woman He further showed by this plan that God has concern not only for the sex He represented but also for the one through which he took upon himself our nature. – Augustine

It was his to swallow up death: who but Life could do so? It was his to conquer sin: who could do so save Righteousness itself? It was his to put to flight the powers of the air and the world: who could do so but the mighty power superior to both? But who possesses life and righteousness, and the dominion and government of heaven, but God alone? Therefore, God, in his infinite mercy, having determined to redeem us, became himself our Redeemer in the person of his only begotten Son. – John Calvin

No human mind can ever grasp the significance of the occurrence and consequence of the incarnation. That a Person of the Godhead should become one of the human family–the sphere of His own creation–with a view to remaining in that form, though glorified, and throughout eternity must continue an insoluble mystery to the creatures of this world. – Lewis Sperry Chafer

We see Him among the thousands of Galilee, anointed of God with the Holy Ghost and power, going about doing good: with no pride of birth, though He was a king; with no pride of intellect, though omniscience dwelt within Him; with no pride of power, though all power in heaven and earth was in His hands; or of station, though the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in Him bodily; or of superior goodness or holiness: but in lowliness of mind esteeming every one better than Himself, healing the sick, casting out devils, feeding the hungry, and everywhere breaking to men the bread of life. We see Him everywhere offering to men His life for the salvation of their souls: and when, at last, the forces of evil gathered thick around Him, walking, alike without display and without dismay, the path of suffering appointed for Him, and giving His life at Calvary that through His death the world might live. – B.B. Warfield

So that is the outline of the official story – the tale of the time when God was the underdog and got beaten, when he submitted to the conditions he had laid down and became a man like the men he had made, and the men he had made broke him and killed him. This is the dogma we find so dull – this terrifying drama of which God is the victim and hero… now may call that doctrine exhilarating, or we may call it devastating; we may call it revelation, or we may call it rubbish; but if we call it dull, then words have no meaning at all. That God should play the tyrant over man is the usual dreary record of human futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God and find Him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed. Any journalist, hearing of it for the first time, would recognize it as news; those who did it for the first time actually called it news, and good news at that; though we are likely to forget that the word Gospel ever meant anything so sensational. – Dorothy Sayers

The great exhibition of the enduring covenant love of God in the OT took place at Sinai, the same setting where the Tabernacle became the dwelling for God’s glory.  So now the supreme exhibition of God’s love is the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, the new Tabernacle of divine glory. – Raymond Brown

Therefore even when we begin with his incarnation, and with his birth at Bethlehem, we are beginning right away with the atonement, for his birth, as the beginning of his incarnate person, is one end of the atoning work, with the resurrection and ascension as the other end. – T.F. Torrance

The all-glorious Creator-Covenant Lord assumed a full and sinless human nature, such that the eternal Son became a man in order to restore humanity to its vice-regent glory and to inaugurate the new creation, over which the new humanity will rule in righteousness in the age to come.  In this way and by these glorious means, our Lord Jesus Christ becomes our great prophet, priest, and king, the head of the new creation, the Lord of glory, who is worthy of all our worship, adoration, and praise. – Stephen Wellum

The worship of Jesus by the Maji [in Matt. 2] and the quotation from Micah 5:2 (Matt. 2:5-6) reinforce the view that here is a king who transcends the merely human.  Jesus is fully human but not merely human.  – Graham Cole

The Messiah came, not to a purified and enlightened world spiritually prepared for his arrival, but rather to a humanity no nearer to its original goodness than on the day Cain murdered his brother Abel.  Indeed, the barbarity of crucifixion reveals precisely that diagnosis.  From beginning to end, the Holy Scriptures testify that the predicament of fallen humanity is so serious, so grave, so irremediable from within, that nothing short of divine intervention can rectify it. – Fleming Rutledge

The meaning of Christmas is that God is invading the territory held by the Prince of Darkness.  The definitive closure of this cosmic invasion, the V-Day to its D-Day, will be the final Day of God. – Fleming Rutledge

 

 

 

6 Books that Will Change the Way You Read the Bible (for the better)

I used to read the Bible like God was tweeting @ me.  A random verse here, a verse there. I had a couple favorite passages (usually pulled out of context) I would go to over and over when I was feeling down as if I was reading a therapeutic book written by some psychologist.  If I ever did read a chunk of text like the story of Abraham or Joseph or one of Jesus’ miracles I would immediately jump to some individualistic-applicational interpretation of the text that had nothing to do with the actual story I was reading.  I’m not sure where you are on the spectrum of reading the Bible.  Maybe you’re still on twitter with God, maybe you’re reading large portions of the Bible but lost as to how it all fits together?  I’m here to tell you that it fits together.  From Genesis to Revelation the Biblical story, God’s story, fits.  These books will help you see the Biblical narrative for what it is: One Story, not thousands of random verses.  Read and enjoy God’s Word afresh!

6. The Servant King by T. Desmond Alexander

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This is a tremendously helpful book by a distinguished biblical scholar.  The Servant King is only 168 pages, but Alexander covers the whole Bible, scanning for the “Portrait of the Messiah” (the book’s subtitle).  It is a quick and easy read, full of helpful information.  You will grow in your understanding of Christ and and grow in your love for Christ as you see Him throughout the Biblical Story.  Alexander provides his own bird’s eye view of the book, “The purpose of this study has been to trace the development of the portrait of the Messiah through the Bible. While the specific designation Messiah is not used at the start, we noted how Genesis focuses attention on the coming of a divinely promised monarch. Beginning with the Lord God’s promise to Eve concerning the defeat of the ‘seed of the serpent’, the Genesis narrative highlights a unique line of ‘seed’ which is traced firstly through Seth to Noah and then from Noah to Abraham. Against the background of humanity’s existence under God’s judgment, Abraham receives the promise that through this ‘seed’ all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”1  And we’re off!  Following this “seed” through the rest of the Biblical Story.  I highly recommend this short, but fantastic overview of the Anointed One.

5. How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels by N.T. Wright

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The four Gospels are about Jesus.  Often times though, we read our own modern problems into the narrative.  We select what parts of the Gospels we read haphazardly, choosing this story or that story because it seems to communicate advice to our present life circumstance while ignoring the bulk of the other stuff.  I’m not saying that we can’t glean practical advice from the Gospels, what I am saying is that they are not self-help books.  This is not why they were written, therefore, that’s not how we should read them.  All of the Gospels are stories, so we need to read them as stories.  Prolific author and renowned biblical scholar, N.T. Wright, helps us mightily in this regard.  To properly read and understand the four Gospels, Wright makes use of a handy analogy.  He says to imagine buying a new quadrophonic surround sound speaker system.  There are four speakers, one in each corner of the room, but the sound is uneven and distorted, so now you have to adjust the volume of each speaker to make sure the sound comes through beautifully clear and organized.  Likewise, Wright argues that there are four strands or “speakers” that must all be simultaneously turned up and tuned together to be able to hear the beautifully clear and organized story of the Gospels.  The four “speakers” he discusses are: (1) The Story of Israel, (2) The Story of Jesus as the Story of Israel’s God, (3) The Launching of God’s Renewed People, and (4) The Clash of the Kingdoms.  Unfortunately, many of us read with only one speaker blaring and the rest are completely turned off (or maybe all of them are completely turned off).  By turning all of the speakers on and adjusting the volume to bring them into unison, Wright believes the four Gospels sing this major tune: “The story of how God became king–in and through Jesus both in his public career and in his death.”2  We can always be nit-picky here, but I think he’s generally right (HA!).  I highly recommend this book to anybody interested in the Gospels and what they say about Jesus.  Christians, non-Christians, and skeptics alike will better understand the story of the Gospels and hopefully enjoy the music they produce.

4. From Paradise to the Promise Land by T. Desmond Alexander

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T. Desmond Alexander (a favorite scholar/writer of mine if you can’t tell) has written a superb introduction to the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).  Do you struggle reading through parts of Genesis (maybe), or Exodus (maybe), or Leviticus (definitely), or Numbers (yes & insert Christian pick-up line), or Deuteronomy (Idk even know how to spell that, let alone read it)?  Then this book is for you (so basically it’s for everyone).  Part 1 of the book deals exclusively with textual criticism of the Pentateuch, especially form and source criticism.  Don’t be turned off by the first part of the book if you have no interest in textual criticism (most don’t), it’s only ~100 pages so simply skip over it and move onto the bulk of the book: Part 2 “The Main Themes of the Pentateuch”.  Although I should mention, the last chapter of Part 1 is worth reading for anybody, whether interested in textual criticism or not.  Part 2 is exactly like it sounds.  Alexander makes his way though the main themes of the Pentateuch.  These themes include: Royal lineage in Genesis, the blessing of the nations, paradise lost, who is the Lord?, covenant,  passover, tabernacle, clean and unclean foods, holiness, and much more.  Alexander overviews the Pentateuch in the first chapter of Part 2, concluding the chapter with this statement, “Although the Pentateuch is a very distinctive history of the world from its creation to the arrival of the Israelites on the borders of Canaan, it is much more than a history of what has taken place. The divine promises of blessing and nationhood, which are so important to the development of the plot, remain unfulfilled by the end of Deuteronomy.  As a result, the Pentateuch is oriented towards the future.  What will become of these promises?  To answer this we must look beyond the concluding chapters of Deuteronomy.  As it stands, the Pentateuch is an unfinished story.”3  The Pentateuch is the story that begins THE STORY, and reading this book will help you see both.  Delight in finally coming to enjoy the Pentateuch and not cringing over hearing the word “Leviticus” or knowing more about Numbers than that cheesy (but funny) pick-up line.  Read this book!

3.  God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom by Graham Cole

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What a title, right?  Graham Cole says this of the title, “[The title] attempts to capture this important biblical perspective on what God intends for His broken creation.”4  Cole, a respected theologian, sets out to write a Biblical theology on atonement (quite the task), and he hits a biblical-theological-doxological home run.  The first three chapters tell the story of the world’s problem, while the next three chapters tell the story of God’s solution.  These six chapters are an outstanding and edifying overview of the Biblical storyline.  Chapter 7 “explores how the peace/shalom that comes through the cross works itself out at the personal, corporate and cosmic levels.”5  Chapter 8 deals with how we are to live in light of what God’s done in Christ and chapter 9 discusses the purpose for it all: God’s glory.  Cole concludes with this grand statement, “The triune God’s reconciling project will see God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule living God’s way enjoying shalom in God’s holy and loving presence to God’s glory.”6  This is one of my favorite books because I came away having learned A LOT (about the Biblical narrative and about atonement), but also having worshiped God A LOT.  Cole communicates deep biblical-theological truths in ways that produce doxological(worshipful) hearts.  I pray that reading this book will help you understand what God has done in Christ, but also that this understanding will lead to worship.

2. Dominion and Dynasty by Stephen Dempster

41awPvFXR6L._AC_US218_.jpgRarely do I find a book that I know I will reread and continue to reread for the rest of my life, Dominion and Dynasty is one of those books.  The subtitle of the book describes the book well, “A theology of the Hebrew Bible.”  Dempster sees the Old Testament, specifically the Tanak (the Hebrew Bible is called the ‘Tanak’ because it is made up of three parts: Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim) as one unified Story.  The Tanak is structured differently than our Old Testament.  They both contain the same books, but they are in a different order.  Dempster argues that following the order of the Tanak: Torah, Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings) shows purposeful structure, composition, and narrative plot.  By the way, Jesus seems to affirm the Tanak order as the Scripture He used in Luke 11:51-52 and Luke 24:44-47.  Dempster begins the book with a short discussion on hermeneutics (fancy word for interpreting a text) and argues for what he calls a “literary” approach to reading the Tanak (the introductory chapters 1 and 2 should not be overlooked).  Then, Dempster works through the Story from Genesis to Chronicles (the last book in the Hebrew Bible) and shows how the unified themes of “Dominion and Dynasty” develop throughout the Narrative.  The following quote will give you a taste of the entire book: “This represents the story of the Tanakh, a story that leaves Israel still in a type of exile, waiting for someone from David’s house to come and build a house to bring about the restoration of all things. To be sure, it consists of many texts, but these find their part in a larger Text. The many stories together constitute a single Story.  And this Story is about the reclamation of a lost human dominion over the world through a Davidic Dynasty. In short, it is about the coming of the kingdom of God, and it is unfinished.”7 Overall, this book is fantastic and will revolutionize how you read the Old Testament.  I highly recommend this book to anyone, but especially Pastors and Teachers of the Word.  This will inform and transform your reading of the Hebrew Bible.  Read and see the Story about Dominion and Dynasty, Geography and Genealogy, God’s Kingdom and God’s King.

1. From Eden to the New Jerusalem by T. Desmond Alexander

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If you purchase one book on Biblical Theology, this is the one.  If you purchase one book on this list, this is the one.  I’ll go so far as to say that the next book you purchase that has anything do with the Bible should be this one.  It’s that good.  T. Desmond Alexander is a great scholar and an excellent author, and his book From Eden to the New Jerusalem will absolutely transform how you see and read the Bible.  Essentially, Alexander traces several themes throughout the Biblical Narrative, drawing these themes from Revelation 21-22.  These themes include: God’s dwelling place (tracing the “temple” from Eden to the New Jerusalem), God’s throne (dealing with the reign of God and the reign of Satan), evil and its (his) destruction, the slaughter of the Lamb (following redemption through the Biblical Story), the tree of life, and living as the people of God.  A quote from the conclusion of the book previews its material, “The coming of Jesus Christ is vital for the ultimate restoration of the earth as God’s abode. Bringing to fulfillment a series of interlocking expectations that link to the royal line of David, Jesus Christ, as the perfect man, overcomes Satan through his death, resurrection and ascension. As a result of his sacrificial death upon the cross, Christ brings about a new exodus that delivers people from Satan’s control, and bestows on them a holy and royal status. By repenting of their sin and acknowledging Christ’s kingship, human beings are enabled by the Holy Spirit to become citizens of the kingdom of God.”8  All I can say is that you need to find this book, buy this book, read this book, and grow in your love for The Book.

 

Your Netflix Binge-Watching Skills Can Help Your Bible-Reading Skills

Let’s face it.  We all binge-watch shows on Netflix.  There’s much to say about the topic of binge-watching, but this isn’t the blog for that.  I just want to make one observation about binge-watching shows: the binge-watcher is able to follow the storyline of the show very closely.  That makes sense right?  If you’re binge-watching a crime show, you’re able to closely follow the plot, the developments, pick up on clues, put together evidence, and make better conclusions about who did the crime because you just watched a whole season of the show in one day.

Let’s bring this even closer to home for myself and others who love the show The Office.  Let’s say that instead of binge-watching this show (which is so easy to do because the episodes are only 20 min., it’s awesome, and hilarious, and Jim and Pam)…so instead of binge-watching you just watch random episodes.  **Spoiler Alert!!**  So, if you randomly start watching The Office at say Season 3 Episode 25 which is “The Job” and happens to be the episode where Jim finally asks out Pam and Pam finally says yes…you have no background for their relationship.  You have missed out on arguably the most important plot development of the show.  Next, let’s say after watching this one episode you skip ahead to Season 6 Episode 5 when Jim and Pam get married.  Again, you’re completely missing out on the development of their relationship, their first kiss, their struggles, the proposal, etc. (not to mention all of the other character development and storylines).  You have basically ruined a fantastic T.V. show.  Now, to all of you reading this blog (and myself writing it), this is ridiculous!  No one does that. No one watches random episodes with hopes to understand the plot of the story. That’s just not how you watch a show.  So…why do we read the Bible that way?  Even more particular, why do we read the Gospels that way or Paul’s letters that way?

Now don’t take my metaphor as sacrilege.  Obviously, the Bible, God’s inspired Word, is different than The Office.  BUT, they both tell a story.  I’m not saying that we must only read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation (though it would be extremely beneficial), but we do need to realize (1) the Bible is a story (2) large chunks of the Bible are narrative and (3) as a reader you have to know what part of the story you’re in.  So, instead of reading a verse here or a verse there set aside some time to binge-read the Bible!  You’ll be amazed at what you’ll begin to see and what you’ll piece together when you do this.

Maybe start with the Gospel of Mark (it’s short) or one of Paul’s shorter letters.  You can start out slow! Don’t even read all of it in one sitting; read half one day and half the next.  The connections you’ll make will astound you.  The Gospel writers each wrote a story about Jesus, so it’s meant to be read that way!  The writers of Epistles (fancy word for letters) wrote them from beginning to end, so it’s meant to be read that way! Look, the Spirit can absolutely encourage and teach you when you are reading random verses (happens to me all the time)…but, that’s not how the Spirit inspired the Biblical authors to write.  The Biblical authors wrote songs, stories, letters, laments, and prophetic books that are meant to be read from beginning to end.  Just like a T.V. show.  So my challenge to you is try it out!  Binge-read the Bible a couple of times and see how the Spirit teaches you.  I pray you will be greatly encouraged and that Christ will be exalted!

Jesus: The Cosmic Carpenter

I would imagine that most of the population (whether Christian or not) when asked about Jesus’ occupation would answer that he was a carpenter (thanks Indiana Jones).  This is not wrong, but is in need of some nuance.  Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, is called a τέκτων (pronounced “tech-tone”) in Matthew 13:551 and Jesus is called a τέκτων himself in Mark 6:3, “‘Is not this the carpenter (τέκτων), the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sistershere with us?’ And they tookoffense at Him.”  It was normal for sons to follow their fathers in trade/occupation in this cultural context, so it makes sense that both Joseph and Jesus are referred to as a τέκτων.  The nuance needed here is that “carpenter” is probably too specific of a designation for the work of a τέκτων.  A τέκτων would have undoubtedly been able to work with wood, but also with stone and even metal.  Therefore, a τέκτων is “one who constructs” or succinctly, a “builder”.2

Jesus worked as a “builder” on earth about two-thousand years ago.  He probably built tools, furniture, homes, and other buildings.  So yes, Jesus was a builder during His earthly ministry, but what about before?  And what about after?  It’s remarkable (and awesomely ironic) that Jesus was a τέκτων, because the Son of God was building long before his career in Nazareth: “All things came into being through Him[Christ]” 3 and “For by Him[Christ] all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.” 4  Jesus is the τέκτων of the universe.

Jesus built stuff in Nazareth, Jesus built (and maintains) the universe, and Jesus also takes part in building His Church: “I [Jesus] alsosay to you that you are Peter, and upon thisrock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”5 and “In whom[Christ] the wholebuilding, being fittedtogether, is growing into a holytemple in the Lord, in whom you also are being builttogether into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”6  If you have faith in Christ, then you are built into the ever-growing home of God.  Jesus is the τέκτων of the Church.

So we return to the question posed by the villagers in Mark 6:3 who are offended by Jesus’ actions and words, “Is not this the carpenter?”  The answer is yes.  Actually…more than you even know.  He’s the Cosmic Carpenter.

(The idea for this blog was sparked by S.M. Baugh’s comment on Ephesians 2:14-15 in his brilliant commentary.  Baugh, S. M. Ephesians: Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. Ed. Wayne H. House, Hall W. Harris III, and Andrew W. Pitts. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015. Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. 191.)

10 Books I’ve Read in Seminary That All Christians Should Read

You read a lot of books in seminary.  Like, a lot.  There have been many books that I’ve read, enjoyed, and been edified by (and some that have been like crawling through a swamp).  I’ve tried to compile a list of books I’ve read while in seminary that were beneficial to me and that I believe would be beneficial to any Christian that reads them.  I also include what class or classes I read the books in.  Hopefully, people reading this list will buy some of these books and read them.  I pray that your faith in Christ will be strengthened by reading them.  I know my faith was!

10. Basic Bible Interpretation by Roy Zuck

Class: Bible Study Methods and Hermeneutics

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As a Christian, being able to read and understand the Bible is slightly important, but often we haven’t been taught how to do this well. Dr. Zuck was a long time professor at DTS and has written a very helpful and foundational book on how to read and interpret the Bible. The subtitle calls the book “A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth” which encapsulates the purpose of the book well.  Zuck introduces the many difficulties of the interpretive task, including: the cultural gap, the grammatical gap, the literary gap, figures of speech, allegory, parables, types, symbols, prophecy, and finally how to move from interpretation to application. As you can see, a lot is covered in this book, but it’s all very digestible. To aid comprehension, many chapters have exercises that help readers engage in Biblical interpretation themselves (answers are supplied in the back of the book). I am confident that this book will teach you about how to read the Bible and even make you eager to do so. Ultimately, however, the goal of reading Scripture isn’t simply to know the Bible, but to know Christ. Zuck says it like this, “Heart appropriation, not merely head apprehension, is the true goal of Bible study.”1 I pray this book helps that happen.

9. The Reason For God by Timothy Keller

Class: Evangelism

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Pastor and prolific writer Timothy Keller has written an outstanding invitation to examine the Christian faith.  This book is written for both skeptics and believers alike.  Keller says this in the introduction, “I commend two processes to my readers.  I urge skeptics to wrestle with the unexamined ‘blind faith’ on which skepticism is based, and to see how hard it is to justify those beliefs to those who do not share them.  I also urge believers to wrestle with their personal and culture’s objections to the faith.  At the end of each process, even if you remain the skeptic or believer you have been, you will hold your own position with both greater clarity and greater humility.”2  Keller dedicates the first half of the book to the seven biggest problems or doubts people in the post-modern West have with Christianity.  These chapters include: There Can’t Be Just One True Religion, How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?, Christianity is a Straightjacket, The Church is responsible for So Much Injustice, How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?, Science Has Disproved Christianity, and You Can’t Take the Bible Literally.  Keller deals with every issue at its foundation, i.e. “What are you, at the most basic level, believing about reality when you believe one of these problems to doubt Christianity?” The second part of the book is on “Reasons for Faith”.  Chapters include: The Clues of God, The Knowledge of God, The Problem of Sin, Religion and the Gospel, The (True) Story of the Cross, The Reality of the Resurrection, and The Dance of God.  Ultimately, it comes down to Christ.  He is both cornerstone and stumbling block: “In the Christian view however, the ultimate evidence of God is Jesus Christ himself.  If there is a God, we characters in his play have to hope that he put some information about himself in the play.  But Christians believe he did more than give us information.  He wrote himself into the play as the main character in history.” 3  I pray this book challenges you to think deeply about your faith and helps you come away knowing the truth of the Gospel more clearly.

8. Exploring Christian Theology edited by Nathan D. Holsteen & Michael J. Svigel

Classes: All Systematic Theology classes

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This three volume work written and edited by Theology Professors at Dallas Theological Seminary covers the basic doctrines of the Christian faith: “Creation, Scripture, and the Triune God” (Volume One), “Creation, Fall, and Salvation” (Volume Two), and “The Church, Spiritual Growth, and the End Times” (Volume Three).  The introduction to the series states the purpose of the books, “Exploring Christian Theology will offer introductions, overviews, and reviews of key Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical tenets without belaboring details or broiling up debates. The three ECT volumes, compact but substantial, provide accessible and convenient summaries of major themes; they’re intended as guidebooks for a church that, overall, is starving for the very doctrine and it has to long avoided.”4  I’m not sure I need to say much more, that pretty much covers it (but because I want to talk this book up I’ll continue).  The authors avoid picking sides when there are interpretive/theological options within the boundaries of Orthodoxy, making these books tremendously valuable across denominational lines.  These books are relatively short (around 250 pages each), are theologically rich, and yet very accessible to any reader.  The books are also set up in an easy-to-use fashion.  Each doctrinal tenet is introduced (dubbed the “High Altitude Survey”), the readers are given “Passages to Master” (Bible verses) that pertain to the doctrine at hand, next is the history and development of the doctrine (“[doctrine] in Retrospect”), then a short list of “Facts to Never Forget” about the doctrine, followed by a short list of the most important “Dangers to Avoid”, rounded out by “Principles to Put into Practice” and quotations from other theologians on the doctrine  (“Voices from the Past and Present”).  Additionally, every section ends with a detailed list of recommended books for further study.  As you can see, a lot is covered in a short space.  Yet, the authors/editors have done a great job of covering a vast amount of material without making the reader feel overwhelmed.  The series is really quite an enjoyable read!  I am definitely biased (I have studied under several of the authors and some of them have made huge impacts on my life for Christ), but I think every Christian would find great benefit, learning, and encouragement from these books.  I’ll end with one more quote from the introduction that frames the rest of the series, “Most people seeking to grow in their faith want practical principles, not theoretical concepts. They want to know God, not just know about Him. Yet the fact is that we can’t experience real spiritual growth without solid spiritual truth. We can’t know the true God without knowing God truly.”5

7. The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard

Class: Spiritual Life

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A deep read.  A convicting read.  Dallas Willard was a philosopher, a professor of Philosophy at USC (for almost 50 years), and a pastor.  He has written several great books, but The Spirit of the Disciplines may be his best.  Willard says the book was written “to aid you in understanding the absolute necessity of the spiritual disciplines for our faith, and the revolutionary result of practicing these disciplines intelligently and enthusiastically through a full, grace-filled, Christlike life.”6  These disciplines include what Willard calls “disciplines of abstinence” and “disciplines of engagement”.  The former includes (but is not limited to) solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, and chastity and the latter includes (but is not limited to) study, worship, prayer, fellowship, and confession. One of the main idols that the western church worships (and that I often worship) is comfort.  This may be, in part, the reason for the downfall of the spiritual disciplines in the Church.  Engaging in these disciplines is not legalism, but a Biblical way to keep our normally compartmentalized lives de-compartmentalized and united in devotion to Christ.  Read this book and follow in the footsteps of Christ himself, the Apostles (especially Paul), and many other brothers and sisters in Christ who engaged in these spiritual disciplines often, giving their whole-selves to God.

6. The Mission of God’s People by Christopher J. H. Wright

Class: Introduction to World Missions

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The Mission of God’s People is written as “A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission” (the subtitle of the book) by a renowned Old Testament Scholar, Christopher Wright. Wait, the book is about the Church’s mission, but it’s written by an Old Testament scholar?  Yep!  And that’s what makes this book so spectacular: Wright focuses a lot of attention on explaining how the Old Testament impacts the church’s understanding of its own mission.  He puts it this way: “We need to think carefully about what the Bible as a whole has to say about who exactly are ‘God’s people’, and in what sense they are (and always have been) a people with a mission. That is why I make no apology for including so much exposition of Old Testament texts in the chapters that follow. After all, the New Testament church did not actually have a New Testament when they set out on the task of world mission. It was the Scriptures of the Old Testament that provided the motivation and justification for their missional practice, as well as the underlying theological assumptions.” 7  So, what is the Church’s mission?  It is taking part in God’s mission, which is “the story of how God in his sovereign love has purposed to bring the sinful world of his fallen creation to the redeemed world of his new creation.”8  How does the Church take part in that?  Wright answers this question in each chapter of his book by sweeping the grand narrative of Scripture and focusing on the characteristics of God’s people.  The church’s mission is accomplished, God’s mission is accomplished, when His people are: a people who know the story they are a part of, a people who care for creation, a people who are a blessing to the nations, a people who walk in God’s way, a people who are redeemed for redemptive living, a people who represent God to the world, a people who attract others to God, a people who know the one living God and Savior, a people who bear witness to the living God, a people who proclaim the Gospel of Christ, a people who send and are sent, a people who live and work in the public square, and a people who praise and pray.  This book will galvanize you to live for God, to live for His mission; that’s why we’re here anyways!

5. The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson

Class: Soteriology

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D.A. Carson is a leading Biblical scholar and president/co-founder of The Gospel Coalition.  This book is short (only 75 pages), but man is it dense.  The book, as you may have guessed, is about the love of God.  Of all the complex or philosophical doctrines of Christianity, God’s love seems relatively uncomplicated.  However, all too often, God’s love is grossly misunderstood, both by Christians and non-Christians alike.  Carson argues that there are “five distinguishable ways that the Bible talks about God’s love”.9  These include: (1) The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father. (2) God’s providential love over all that he has made. (3) God’s salvific stance towards his fallen world. (4) God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect. (5) God’s love is sometimes said to be directed toward his own people in a provisional or conditional way — conditioned, that is, on obedience.10  Carson argues that if any of these are “absolutized” or made “the controlling grid” (which often happens) by which we understand God’s love then disaster will ensue.  Instead, “we must hold these truths together and learn to integrate them in biblical proportion and balance.11  The rest of the book dives into a discussion as to how to do that, covering big themes such as “God’s Love and God’s Sovereignty” (chapter 3) and “God’s Love and God’s Wrath” (chapter 4).  I believe this book (and the topic it covers) is pertinent for today’s church and I pray that it will help you reach a better understanding of God’s love, but also result in the worship of our God for His love, shown especially in His Son.

4. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey

Class: The Parables of Christ

51A09pvH56L._AC_US218_Though I read this book for a class on Jesus’ parables, it isn’t a must-read solely for the study of Jesus’ parables, but also because of the comprehensive study of Jesus Himself.  Bailey has long been known as a skilled interpreter of parables and the cultural context of Jesus’ life and ministry.  In this book, Bailey discusses the birth of Jesus, the beatitudes, the Lord’s prayer, the dramatic actions of Jesus, Jesus and women, and the parables of Jesus.  Bailey’s focus in discussing these items is geared toward understanding the ancient cultural context and how that then sheds light on understanding Jesus’ actions and words.  Bailey takes the reader through hugely popular stories about Jesus, that Christians and non-Christians alike will be familiar with, and then turns those stories on their heads.  By looking closely at the cultural context of these stories, their true meanings begin to jump off the page.  He says this about interpreting parables, “Simply stated, our task is to stand at the back of the audience around Jesus and listen to what he is saying to them. Only through that discipline can we discover what he is saying to any age, including our own. Authentic simplicity can be found the other side of complexity. The theological and ethical House of the Parables of Jesus awaits.  May all enter with great expectations!”12 You will never read Jesus’ actions and words the same again.  Buy this book and enjoy it.

3. On the Apostolic Preaching (or known as The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching) by St. Irenaeus of Lyons

Class: Historical Theology

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Some of you are probably wondering, “Who the heck is Irenaeus of Lyons?” It’s ok, I was in the same boat. Irenaeus was the bishop of the church in Lyons, France (Gaul at the time) in the 2nd century. Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of…John the Apostle. In this work, Irenaeus sets out to write a concise summary of the Christian faith. This summary of the faith is essentially a biblical/systematic theology. Do you see how crazy this is?! A guy who was taught by a disciple of John (who was taught by Jesus in case you forgot) is writing a concise summary of the Christian faith in the second century! Whoa. We should probably read this. It’s only about 60 pages, but man does this book pack a punch. Irenaeus begins with a brief introduction to the faith and specifically the doctrine of God. He says, “Without the Spirit it is not possible to see the Word of God, and without the Son one is not able to approach the Father; for the knowledge of the Father is the Son, and knowledge of the Son of God is through the Holy Spirit.” 13Next, he begins in Genesis and moves through the Old Testament, showing how Christ’s person and work is foreshadowed.  Then, he moves through the New Testament showing how Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.  A brief example, “So, by means of the obedience by which He obeyed unto death, hanging upon the tree, He undid the old disobedience occasioned by the tree.” 14 Reading this book will not only inform you historically as to what Christians have believed since the beginning, but will also inform your understanding of how the whole Bible points to Christ.

2. On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius

Class: Trinitarianism

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A classic work on a central belief of Christianity, the incarnation of the Son of God.  St. Athanasius, the African theologian, scholar, and pastor was Bishop of Alexandria in the early 4th century and a stalwart of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.  In this book, Athanasius sets out to explain and defend that Jesus is both God and man.  It is beautifully written, deeply theological, and yet very accessible.  C.S Lewis introduces the book in this edition, “When I first opened his De Incarnatione I soon discovered by a very simple test that I was reading a masterpiece…only a master mind could, in the fourth century, have written so deeply on such a subject with such classical simplicity.” 15  Quite a statement from quite the thinker.  The book itself is only 70 pages, but they are dense and packed with theological gems; be sure to take your time as you read this fantastic work.  I remember the first time I read this, I read the second paragraph about 10 times because it was so deep and so worshipful.  A snippet of this paragraph shows what I mean, “We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the one Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.”16  Whoa…read that a few times and reflect on it.  Reading this book, will lead you to be amazed at what Christ has done for you, for the world.  I’ll let Athanasius say the last word: “From the Scriptures you will learn also of his second manifestation to us, glorious and divine indeed, when he shall come not in lowliliness but in His proper glory, no longer in humiliation but in majesty, no longer to suffer but to bestow on us all the fruit of His cross–the resurrection and incorruptibility. No longer will He then be judged, but rather will Himself be Judge.17  Amen!

1. Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves

Class: Trinitarianism

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This is the book, other than the Bible, that has most deeply impacted my life.  Michael Reeves has written an amazing “Introduction to the Christian Faith” (subtitle) that will absolutely transform your understanding of, and love for, the Triune God.  The introduction to the book ends with this invitation: “The irony could not be thicker: what we assume would be a dull or peculiar irrelevance [the Trinity] turns out to be the source of all that is good in Christianity. Neither a problem nor technicality, the triune being of God is the vital oxygen of Christian life and joy. And so it is my hope and prayer that as you read this book, the knowledge of Father, Son and Spirit will breathe fresh life into you.”18  Reeves begins with “What Was God Doing Before Creation?” (chapter 1) and he dives into deep theological reflection, starting with John 17:24.19  From there, the chapter titles overview the book well.  Creation: The Father’s Love Overflows (chapter 2), Salvation: The Son Shares What is His (chapter 3), The Christian Life: The Spirit Beautifies (chapter 4), and Who Among the Gods is Like You, O Lord? (chapter 5).  Reeves continually expresses that as Christians, whether we know it or not (hopefully the book helps this), we are thoroughly Trinitarian.  “When you start with the Jesus of the Bible, it is a triune God that you get.  The Trinity, then, is not the product of abstract speculation: when you proclaim Jesus, the Spirit-anointed Son of the Father, you proclaim the Triune God.”20  Why is God love?  Why can we be saved? How are we able to live the Christian life?21  The answer: because God is triune.  I pray this book leads to the discovery and worship of our awesome God: Father, Son, and Spirit.