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Special thanks to Adam of Baker Publishing Group for a review copy of this book.

By now readers of this site should not need an introduction to D. A. Carson.  He’s about as prolific an author as there is in the world of biblical studies, as well as a high-demand speaker.  In fact, this book, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story, stems from a series of talks he gave at Bethlehem Baptist Church in February 2009 (The Gospel Coalition has generously posted the audio for free, as well as short video clips from each talk). 

I’m at a loss for how to categorize this book.  It is a work of theology, in that it’s subject is the God of the Bible.  It is a bit of a Bible introduction, for it is written with someone who has little-to-no knowledge of the Bible in mind.  It is evangelistic in nature, in that one of the target audiences of the book is the non-Christian (who ought to know, in Carson’s words, about the God in whom they disbelieve) and they are encouraged to find their place in God’s story (as the subtitle indicates).

The book itself is divided into 14 chapters weighing in at about 225 pages.  The chapter titles (e.g., The God Who Made Everything, The God Who Dies- And Lives Again) give the reader a clue about the content of each chapter.  Coming as no surprise to anyone who has read him, Carson handles each chapter with great care and clarity.  He anticipates questions and objections well and answers them, even if briefly.

This book is, as I said, a theology book, specifically theology proper (about God Himself).  But it is unlike many other theology books out there, or at least systematic theology.  First of all, Carson follows the basic story line of the Bible itself as his approach to teaching about the God of Scripture.  Thus, it is no surprise that his first chapter is on God as Creator and so on.  Carson does deal in terms of categories (Creator, Judge, etc) and characteristics (wrath, love, etc) like systematic theologies, but they rarely seek to follow the Bible metanarrative.  I, for one, much prefer Carson’s method.

Second, unlike most systematic theology, Carson’s work is text- and context-driven.  Each chapter focuses on a specific text, sometime multiple biblical chapters, and its context rather than prooftexting his way through a given topic.  That is not to say he never refers to other places in the Bible in a given chapter, but he only does so to make clear how it fits into the story of the Bible.

Overall, I think Carson does an admirable job explaining how God is portrayed in the Bible.  I appreciate that he did not shy away from the more difficult images of God used in the Bible, as many are prone to do, in order to make Him more palatable to our culture.  God is who He is, and Carson is content to let the Bible speak for itself.  He does attempt to answer some objections and common questions along the way, and occasionally suggests further reading (and more, I’m told, shows up in the Leader’s Guide- if I would have known there was one I would have asked for a review copy of that, too).

The God Who Is There is also, in some sense, an introduction to the Bible.  He explains very basic points (how many books are there, the original languages, etc) and when he refers, for instance, to Romans he explains it is the 6th book of the New Testament, coming after the Gospels and Acts.  I wouldn’t say this book should be used as an introduction to the Bible, as it is uneven.  For instance, it gives some quick guidance to reading certain books (such as the Wisdom books), but not most others.  This isn’t a knock on the book, since Carson’s goal was more to introduce the God of the Bible rather than the Bible.

Carson is a master expositor, and his skills shine throughout the book.  He seeks to explain the text, not just the original meaning but the implications for the reader.  He explains difficult concepts, draws out important points and shows how they fit in the Bible and what they reveal about God.  For a book written with a biblically illiterate audience in mind, Carson doesn’t mind digging to make his point.  I was humbled on more than one occasion by not noticing something in Scripture that I had read over many times before (like the echoes of Exodus 32-34 in John’s Prologue).

My only real complaint is that Carson is a bit weak on the prophets.  Given that Isaiah through Malachi makes up a dominant portion of Scripture, I would have liked to have seen more said about them.  I made this same critique of an otherwise wonderful OT introduction, so I’m starting to wonder if scholars just aren’t sure what to say about the prophetical books in their lay-level writings.

Like I said above, Carson’s book is partially evangelistic.  It is not, as you can probably guess by now, evangelistic in the same way the 4 Spiritual Laws are evangelistic, or even the “Romans Road.”  It is evangelistic in that it seeks to tell the reader, who may not be a Christian at all, about God.  Carson tries, as much as is humanly possible, to capture the essence of the God who created and sustained all things and who has revealed Himself throughout history, especially in the pages of the Bible.

But more importantly, Carson seeks to show how the revelation of God is most supremely seen in the person of Jesus.  It is Jesus, God incarnate, who died on a Roman cross and rose again 3 days later, who is the centerpiece of the faith.  The gospel is not a cool story for children’s book, or a doctrinal point to check off.  It is the message of Jesus- His life, His work and His return- that the reader is encouraged on these pages to meet. 

I should note that this is probably one of the more intellectually engaging attempts at evangelism out there (aside from the debate circuit).  Whoever gives this book to an interested friend, or leads a small group based on this book, ought to expect many questions along the way.  But if you have friends who are genuinely interested in knowing more about the Bible, and even more so about the God of the Bible, then Carson is probably the best pick around.  And the truth is, plenty of Christians desperately need to read this book as well, and learn more about the God we worship.

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Special thanks again to Caitlin of Baker Books for a review copy of the DVD and Study Guide.  See my previous post for my review of the 3rd Edition of the book.

Along with publishing a 3rd edition of John Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad, Baker has released, a helpful complement in the DVD and DVD Study Guide.  I for one applaud the attempt at a multimedia approach, as different media reach different people.  While some may be put off by long chapters (see my review) and extended footnotes, Piper’s passionate preaching and pleading (which is often what he does) with his listeners to pursue and support missions may speak to them.  The content of the actual sermons is largely the same as the book itself, so I won’t spend as much time reviewing that as I will the quality and character of the sermons on the DVD and the helpfulness of the accompanying Study Guide.

The DVDs are divided into 6 talks of approximately 30 minutes.  I think they were originally 2 talks when they were given (I read somewhere they were given in NC).  I’m not entirely sure, but it seems they were given to a group of pastors, presumably under the label of “missional,” since Piper consistently makes the point (especially in the first sermon) “you are not biblically missional unless you pursue missions.”  In the third sermon he also does a Mark Driscoll impersonation, so I’d imagine he was involved in the conference at which these messages were originally given.

The titles of the 6 talks are:

  • Defining Missions and Defining Peoples
  • The Urgency of Missions: The Reality of Hell and the Work of Christ
  • The Urgency of Missions: Preaching, Hearing, and Believing
  • The Goal and Fuel of Missions
  • Prayer: the Power of Missions
  • Suffering: The Cost of Missions

Interestingly, while the content is mostly the same as the book, the order is slightly different.  I say this because after hearing the second sermon, specifically the section on the urgency of missions because of the reality of the eternal nature of hell, I thought, “he really needs to balance this with chapter 1 from his book.”  This came in the fourth sermon (which is why I need to learn to look ahead!).  Without going into all the details (and the book lays out the exegesis for his conclusions), I agree with Piper that the glory due the name of Jesus is the primary motivation for missions, not the fear of hell or anything else.  God is the center of our missiology, not people. 

Piper’s preaching is passionate and powerful.  If I had to pick one sermon for anyone to listen to, I’d probably pick sermon four, “The Goal and Fuel of Missions.”  I think this lays out the basis of missions in a way that anyone interested in the subject can learn and be blessed by.  But none of these sermons stand out as much lower in quality.  In fact, the listener/viewer will find themselves challenged by any and all of these.

The Study Guide contains 8 Lessons for 8 weeks geared toward a small group, with the sermons coming in weeks 2-7 (though it has suggestions for how to do this in a 6 week time frame).  There are questions for people to read 5 days in the week prior to watching the DVD.  They also ask people to read sermons available for free on desiringgod.org, so it isn’t simply watching the DVD and answering some questions.  The advantage to this is that it gets the small group members thinking about God’s plan for the nations of the world throughout the week rather than succumbing to the “once a week” bare minimum that so many groups are built on. 

The questions, by and large, do a good job getting to the heart of each week’s focus.  In my opinion, the success of small groups comes less from the quality of the study guide and more from the discussion leader’s ability to facilitate the discussion.  It seems the folks at Desiring God know this as well and offer simple advice for small group leaders at the end of the Study Guide, a wonderful feature I hope doesn’t slip by because of its location.

I really only have two caveats to make in my praise of the DVD and Study Guide.  First, if you are leading a group of people who are already convinced of the necessity and value of cross-cultural missions to unreached people groups, you will find yourself nodding in agreement more than feeling the conviction of what Piper says.  It seems to me that he is trying to convince those who are not convinced.  So, if you’re group falls into the “already convinced and active” camp, then use the book and DVD as refreshers and support.  The Study Guide will be less helpful for this group, though I suggest using it as a basic guide for asking good questions.  But if you are a pastor and/or a small group leader and you are looking for a way to introduce missions to your church or group, this will be a wonderful tool to do this.

The second caveat is this: it is very John Piper heavy.  This will naturally be the case with a Study Guide based on a DVD of John Piper sermons, which are based on a book by John Piper.  But each week’s discussion also has you read a sermon or article also written by John Piper on desiringgod.org.  I understand the logic behind this: all the items on this website are free for download and reading, and they can control the permanence of this material unlike those which appear on other sites. 

However, John Piper is not the only one who has written on missions.  There are many helpful writings online from missiologists and missionaries that could be used in a small group setting.  Again, I understand why the Study Guide is set up the way it is.  My suggestion for group leaders is that they research and add some supplementary material as they see fit.

Other than those caveats, and they are admittedly small, I highly recommend these materials, especially for those who are on the fence regarding world missions.  Piper’s biblical and passionate preaching stirred my heart and confirmed what God has speaking to me over the years.  I pray that we heed the call to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom to those who have never heard and see the Lord worshipped as He alone is worthy to be worshipped.

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Special thanks to Caitlin of Baker Books for a review copy of this book.

John Piper’s book, Let the Nations Be Glad (hereafter LTNBG) has been a hit since it’s first edition came out back in 1993.  Our discipleship and missions training school has been using the 2nd edition since it came out in 2003, and for good reason.  But not only is there a new edition, which I’m reviewing here, but there’s also a DVD with 6 Piper sermons on the topic of missions and a Study Guide.  The DVD and Study Guide will be reviewed separately, but for now I’ll say that I applaud Piper and Baker for trying out a multi-media approach to this excellent and needed guide to the biblical theology of missions.

To organize my thoughts, I’m breaking this review down into 3 sections: the Good, the Bad and the Piper

The Good

1.  Piper openly admits that this book focuses on “biblical reflection rather than methodological application” of missions (p9), a decision I appreciate.  It’s not the only book you should use in training missionaries, but it gives an excellent theological basis for why we should do missions in the first place.

2.  The main difference between the 3rd edition and the previous one is found in the introduction.  Piper not only surveys the changing face of global Christianity (with insights from Philip Jenkins and Mark Noll), but extends a plea to preachers of the so-called ‘prosperity gospel.’  At first my thought was ‘this seems out of place in a missions book,’ but Piper argues (and he is largely correct) that the prosperity gospel teaching of some American preachers has infiltrated parts of the “Global South” and is doing damage to the church there, particularly in Africa.

3. Chapter 1 is worth the price of the book alone.  In fact, I rarely read past the first page of the first chapter without stopping and thinking more deeply.  The central thesis: “worship is the fuel and goal of missions.”  I won’t go into detail (get the book!), but I appreciate that Piper makes God the center of missions rather than anything else.

4. From the perspective of a teacher, I really appreciate Chapter 4, where Piper tackles three heavy issues: the eternality of hell, the necessity of Christ’s work, and the necessity of conscious faith in Christ.  These are difficult waters to navigate, and I have found it helpful to have everyone read this chapter and come ready to discuss in class.  Piper makes a strong, biblical case for his answers, and I’ve told students over the years that if they plan on disagreeing with him, they better come prepared to argue their case biblically just as he does.

5. Piper offers a number of great thoughts on suffering and prayer, as well as laying out the Bible’s teaching on people groups.

6. Piper draws from a fairly wide range of writers, preachers, etc., in this book.  You get theologians like Jonathan Edwards, missiologists like Ralph Winter and pastors like John Dawson.  In other words, he reaches outside of his camp (Reformed Baptist) and pulls from a broad spectrum.

There is more I could say about what is good in this book, but suffice to say the good far outweights the bad.

The Bad

1. My biggest complaint about this book, and the primary complaint I get every year from students, is that it is longer than it needs to be.  Piper has a habit of taking twice as long as he needs to in making a point.  Sometimes this is because of his rampant use of proof-texting.  Other times Piper seems so intent on making his point that he marshalls every bit of evidence he can, rather than simply selecting the best to support his case.  Either way, this book could probably be 33% shorter and not miss a thing.

2. I’ll put this here, but I’m not sure I’d call it ‘bad,’ but John Piper can come across very strong for some.  I don’t mind this, but some are put off by it.  So even if someone may agree with Piper’s reasoning, he communicates- even in writing- in a way that some (again, not me) find a bit short and condescending.  I only mention this because there are some churchgoers who are not accustomed to reading books where someone seeks to make a strong case for something.  If that sounds like people in your church, you may need to address this issue up front if you use this book.

The Piper

John Piper has some idiosyncracies that show up in most of his writings, and LTNBG is no exception.  They don’t bother me, though some may not like it (but mostly if you’re already prone to dislike some of his writings).  Anyway, I get a kick out of them, so here are a few:

1. Over-hyphenization:

  •  “My passion is to see people, churches, mission agencies, and social ministries become God-centered, Christ-exalting, Spirit-powered, soul-satisfied, Bible-saturated, missions-mobilizing, soul-winning, and justice-pursuing”
  • “Where do such God-centered, Christ-exalting, missions-driven people come from?”
  • “There is a God-enthralled, Christ-treasuring, all-enduring love…”
  • “There is a distinct God-magnifying, Christ-exalting mindset”
  • “It cannot make peace with God-ignoring, God-neglecting…”

And those are just from the 4-page preface.

2. Jonathan Edwards.  Piper is known for his love of Jonathan Edwards, and apparently couldn’t resist having an entire chapter dedicated to him.  I appreciate it because Piper breaks down walls that are dangerously erected, in this case theology and missiology.  But a chapter on Jonathan Edwards in a missions book is definitely something that only John Piper would do.

3. For those who are in no way convinced of John Piper’s belief that God’s glory is the central concern of His own heart, and should be ours, you may struggle a bit with this book.  In my opinion, he doesn’t hit it as hard here as he does elsewhere (and I think he may overstate his case anyway, see Cousin Jeremy’s post here and here).  I don’t think anyone from my training school has ever said anything about it, but I throw it out there.

Conclusion

This is one of the best biblical-theological books on missions I’ve read (which is why we use it in our school).  Piper deals with heavy issues in a pastorally sensitive way, making it appropriate for audiences ranging from laypeople to seminary classes.  He does not cover the entire Bible’s teachings on missions, but summarizes and clarifies the main themes and issues at hand.  I have used the 2nd edition with great success over the years, and look forward to the 3rd edition being just as big a blessing.

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I figured I’d continue my “5 Scholars” gimmick series with some thoughts on scholars who I wish would write more for a non-academic audience.  This is a follow-up to my “Must Read” and “Good Read” lists.  Some of these guys have already written some things for a non-academic audience, but would benefit many by writing even more.  In my opinion, it takes a certain skill to write for laypeople, a skill not all Bible scholars (or scholars of any stripe) are blessed with.  These five, however, have what it takes to make it work, and I hope they do so in the future.  Anyway, without further ado, here we go.

(1) Craig Blomberg.  Blomberg is a favorite of mine.  He’s a solid Bible scholar; writes nothing flashy or earth-shattering, but consistently churns out quality books.  I’ve previously reviewed his Jesus & the Gospels and Neither Poverty Nor Riches here at BBG.  Both of these books can be read by lay people (especially the one on the Gospels), yet are bulky and detailed enough that I’m not sure many would be drawn to them.  The same goes for his The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.  Perhaps I’m wrong, but I feel like his books could be read by laypeople, but don’t target them. 

Books I’d like to see

  • Blomberg is excellent on parables, perhaps a scaled down version (i.e., not 300+ pages) of what he’s previously written
  • A lay introduction to Jesus, focusing less on scholarship and more on the Gospel accounts (maybe condense sections 3-5 of his Jesus & the Gospels)
  • Of all the scholars I read, Blomberg could pull off a Jesus/Gospels Q & A better than anyone.  I could see him sitting down in a room with 20 laypeople, answering questions in a way that would be informing and transforming.  I’d love to see him do something like this, addressing questions of interpretation, historicity, etc.  This may be something better done on his blog, but either way, I think it’d be great. 

(2) Douglas Moo.  For my money, Moo is one of the finest NT scholars out there.  I place his Romans commentary as my personal favorite, his James commentary is up there with the best, and I’d bet his Colossians/Philemon commentary is just as good.  Granted, he has written lay level commentaries on Romans and James, but I’m learning that commentaries are not as popular amongst laypeople as perhaps they once were. 

Books I’d like to see

  • An Intro to Paul, something along the lines of what Michael Bird accomplished and Anthony Thiselton tried to
  • Some of D A Carson’s best stuff are his expositions on sections of Scripture (Sermon on the Mount, for example).  I could see Moo doing something like this on a section like Romans 5-8, or maybe the intersection of faith & works.
  • I’ve heard Moo is writing a book on creation and the environment.  Again, if anyone could write a book like this detailing what the Bible teaches about God’s creation to a lay audience, I think Moo could do it.
  • A book on Bible translation.  As the chairman of the committee responsible for the upcoming NIV2011, Moo could do everyone in the church a service by writing about how translations are done, what sorts of issues are involved, why it’s more complicated than it looks, etc.

(3) Bruce Waltke.  Waltke is a gifted communicator with a passion for the church.  He openly admits that he writes for the church more so than the academy.  The only problem is that his books tend to be huge and detailed, something that makes them far less accessible to laypeople (you know, the ones who actually comprise most of the church) than to scholars &/or trained pastors.  His OT Theology weighs in at 1000+ pages (and took me forever to review), and his Proverbs commentary might be the best around, but is 2 Volumes totalling 1300+ pages.

Books I’d like to see

  • A condensed version of his OT Theology
  • A book on biblical wisdom, not so much an intro to wisdom literature, but a look at what it means to live wisely in a biblical sense in the 21st century
  • A similar book on the Psalms, what can the Psalms teach us about how we live, worship, etc.

(4) Gordon Wenham.  I feel like Wenham is often overlooked when discussing the best OT scholars out there, but if I were to list some of the best Pentateuch commentaries, he’d be near the top for Genesis, Leviticus and Numbers (the latter being one that could reach a lay audience).  He has written Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Pentateuch, which could hit a lay audience if it weren’t so textbookish. 

Books I’d like to see

  • His Leviticus commentary is quite good, I wonder if he could write a book on the theme of sacrifice in the Bible, culminating in Jesus (and I’d love to hear his thoughts on Hebrews)
  • I’d love for someone to write a book taking a few major themes of the Pentateuch (3-5) and showing how they set the stage for what comes in the rest of the Bible.  I’m thinking of themes like: creation, blessing, sacrifice (see above), covenant.  Wenham would be a great scholar to write such a book, and could probably do it in a non-scholarly fashion.

(5) Peter O’Brien.  O’Brien has written some of the best Pauline commentaries out there.  His commentaries on Philippians, Colossians and Ephesians are either the best for those individual books are darn close.  It is clear he has a desire to explain the text for pastors and teachers in a way that is biblically faithful and responsible.  Yet, he’s written almost nothing for the lay person to read. 

Books I’d like to see written

  • Philippians and Ephesians both have a lot to say about the church, since O’Brien has written excellent commentaries on both, I bet he could do something along these lines
  • Moore Theological College has posted 100+ O’Brien sermons/lectures online.  Could any of these be turned into smaller books of expositions?  I’ve listened to his series on Romans 8 and I think so.
  • Like Douglas Moo above, I think he could write an excellent lay level Intro to Paul.

Is there anyone I’m missing?  Any other book ideas (which, by the way, is another post I’d like to write)?

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A few days ago I wrote a post called “5 Must Read Scholars (for the non-academic),” and this is intended as a quick follow-up (that’s taken me 3 days to write).  You can call this the “honorable mention” list, the “B-Team,” the “JV Squad,” etc.  I’d like to follow this up with a list of scholars I wish would write for a non-academic audience, but that probably won’t happen for a few weeks as I’ll be off the radar for a while.  Anywho, see my previous post if you want to know my angle on this.  Without further ado…

(1) Craig Keener.  Of the 5 on this list, Keener was the hardest for me to leave off the original.  Part of this is because he’s a great scholar.  His knowledge of ancient backgrounds is simply astounding (though he can overdo this and include much that is less relevant, such as in his large Matthew commentary).  But what I appreciate about him the most is his humility.  Keener sees himself primarily as a servant of the church.  I was hooked just reading the dedication page of his Bible Background Commentary on the New Testament, which is dedicated to those working on the “frontlines” of ministry and do not have the time to research historical and cultural backgrounds to the Bible.  Keener isn’t simply amassing knowledge to write books; he’s dispensing it for the benefit of the church.  (I should also mention, he fits firmly in the Pentecostal/Charismatic camp and, thus, I have a soft spot for him.)

If you want a feel for his humility, check out these two interviews: with Matt at Broadcast Depth and with Nijay Gupta (Part I and Part II).

Layperson reading suggestions:

Academic reading suggestions:

(2) Douglas Stuart.  I need to give a shout-out to one of my former profs.  Stuart is an excellent combination of scholarly rigor and pastoral sensitivity, and I’m privileged to say I’ve learned from him firsthand.  One top of the “How to Read the Bible…” books he’s coauthored with Gordon Fee, Stuart has written a couple commentaries for both pastors and scholars (and the mix, of course), as well as an excellent book on OT exegesis.  While I’m here, I might as well plug (once again) his OT Survey course, available for free at Bible Training. 

Layperson reading suggestions:

Academic reading suggestions:

(3) Darrell Bock.  In my last post, Nick mentioned Bock as another option, and I heartily agree.  His massive 2-volume Luke commentary is outstanding, and has written 2 shorter ones that would be great for laypeople.  One main reason he didn’t make my first list is that I haven’t read a ton of his stuff, so I can’t speak first hand about everything (maybe Nick can chime in if he reads this).  Nonetheless, the stuff he has written on the popular level, specifically dealing with the trustworthiness of the biblical Gospels, would benefit anyone who reads them.

Layperson reading suggestions:

Academic reading suggestions:

(4) Tremper Longman III.  Longman is an excellent OT scholar and widely respected.  Some of his more popular level stuff I haven’t read, though IVP sent me How to Read Exodus a while back and it looks helpful.  Again, I think I appreciate his desire to communicate effectively with non-scholars, so I’m including him on this list.

Layperson reading suggestions:

Academic reading suggestions:

(5) George Eldon Ladd.  Ladd may seem like an odd choice here, and not just because he’s the only deceased scholar on either list, but his inclusion is definitely deliberate.  Given all the confusion regarding eschatology in the church, I think it is important to read solid biblical scholarship on the issue (part of why I recommended N T Wright on my first post).  Greg Beale is also good here, but I think Ladd’s influence is greater than many realize.  I see bits of his work on eschatology and the kingdom in many different places, from scholars like Gordon Fee & Craig Blomberg to men like John Wimber.  Someday, when I have a year with nothing to do (read: never), I’d love to do a side-by-side reading of George Ladd and N T Wright.  Between the two of them, I think you can end up with a pretty solid view of God’s ultimate plan of redemption.

Layperson reading suggestions:

Academic reading suggestions:

Is there anyone else I’m missing?

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A conversation over at Marcus’ blog reminded me of a post I’ve been meaning to write for some time.  I’ve wanted to do a list of must-read scholars for a while, but have never been sure how to approach it.  Do I do a list of the best?  Most influential?  Most interesting?  Do I restrict it to OT scholars?  NT scholars?  Theologians?  Do I go completely subjective and list my favorites, or do I include those with whom I’m less enamored?  Will anyone even care about my stupid list?  These are the questions in my mind…

I’ve opted to consider my main audience for this blog: the average churchgoer.  I know people from my church read this blog who are not academically trained but are still interested in learning from Bible scholars.  They may not know Greek and Hebrew, but they desire to glean from the insights of those who do.  So I’ve decided to tailor this list to this (somewhat imaginary) group.  Because of this, I will leave off scholars who have made a major impact on scholarship but are less helpful to the layperson (the Rudolf Bultmann types).  I’m also sticking to my area of “expertise” (if I may be permitted a moment of hubris), which mostly NT & OT scholarship (so no systematic theologians).  The list is presented in no particular order.

Allow me to make a couple other notes:

  • I’m weighing more heavily toward the NT side of things.  This is for 2 main reasons: 1) I know NT scholarship better than I do OT scholarship, and 2) most of my favorite OT scholars have written little for the layperson in mind (I’m thinking of Gordon Wenham and guys like that). 
  • I’ll give a couple reading recommendations for each scholar, in case my reader(s) want(s) to dig deeper.
  • The scholars on this list are invited to mention their inclusion on their resume or CV.  You’re welcome. 
  • If you think this is just an excuse to talk about scholars and books, you know me very well.  =)

(1) Gordon Fee.  Come on, if you’ve been reading this blog for more than 5 seconds you knew Fee was making the cut.  In fact, I’d have to turn in my charismatic membership card if I didn’t include him.  I appreciate any man who writes the book on exegesis, but insists that exegesis is merely the first step in applying the Bible to the life of the church.  I also appreciate any scholar whose lectures are more like sermons.  I heard a line from his daughter, theologian Cherith Fee Nordling, about Fee that sums up what I appreciate about him (paraphrase): my father loves the Lord and loves the Bible, but never in reverse order. 

Layperson reading suggestions:

Academic reading suggestions:

(2) Christopher J H Wright.  It’s funny, 6 months ago I may not have included Wright.  But the more I read his stuff, the more I want to give him a high-five (see my previous post for an indication).  In some ways, he’s an interesting bird- how many OT scholars are also missiologists?  A Cambridge PhD who trained church planters in India and now heads up John Stott’s ministry organization?  This is my kind of guy. 

Layperson reading suggestions:

Academic reading suggestions

(3) Richard Bauckham.  Bauckham has actually written less for the layperson than the rest of the scholars on this list, but I wanted to include him anyway because he’s one of the few scholars refered to as “groundbreaking” that may actually deserve the title.  Mind you, no one is really groundbreaking.  When I mentioned in a class at my church that Bauckham had written a book defending the eyewitness connection to the Gospels, I was met with “no duh” stares.  It’s not his conclusion that is groundbreaking, it’s the manner in which he makes his case that sets him apart from so many others.  Bauckham is the toughest read on this list, but may well be worth the trouble.

Reading suggestions

(4) D A Carson.  This is not Carson’s first appearance on this blog.  There are few scholars who have made so much of their work accessible to the church, as you can see here on his resource page at The Gospel Coaltion website.  This son of a church planter in French Canada has planted churches, travels around the world every year speaking in churches and conferences, teaches and advises students, yet still finds time to write somewhere around a million books a year.  He cranks out a book faster than I write a blog post.  If I had to pick one scholar on this list for the average layperson to read I think Carson would be it, not because he’s the best scholar but because he does the best job of communicating to the audience I’m aiming for.  Note: this list of books is highly selective, there are many more I could include.

Layperson reading suggestions

Academic reading suggestions

(5) N T Wright.  I’ll confess, I’ve been debating whether or not I should include Wright on this list.  If we’re talking about most interesting, he’d easily make the list.  Everything he writes is worth reading, even if he’s dead wrong (note, over 1100 people went to a conference at Wheaton centering on Wright’s scholarship).  Wright is brilliant- sometimes brilliantly right, and sometimes brilliantly wrong.  I’ve put it this way: Wright is a classic pendulum swinger.  He’ll notice an over-emphasis on something, then in attempt to correct this problem he’ll go too far in his emphasis.  If you know that going in, you’ll do well in reading him.  Anyway, I love reading his stuff, but you must always read with discernment.

Layperson reading suggestions

Academic reading suggestions

So there’s my list; maybe on another post I can give my “near miss” category (I’m at 1300+ words already though).  I’d love to hear thoughts from others out there, either about the people on this list or others you think should be included.

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Being Conformed to Christ in Community: A Study of Maturity, Maturation and the Local Church in the Undisputed Pauline Epistles, by James Samra.  This book is the published version of Jim Samra’s Oxford dissertation in the Library of New Testament Studies series.  Full disclosure: Samra is the senior pastor of a church in Michigan, where my wife’s uncle also pastors.  He (my uncle-in-law) is the one who gave me this book because he thought I’d be interested, and he was right.  It is a rare dissertation that makes me say, “this would make a great teaching in the church.”  In fact, I think some of this work might show up in his upcoming release, The Gift of the Church Being Conformed to Christ in Community is a bit dissertationy, which keeps it from being ideal for church goers, but the fruit of Samra’s labor begs to be distilled in a more popular format.  For Samra, the process of maturation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ, and this process is intended to be lived out and aided by life in the local church (note the emphasis on ‘process’).  To give a taste, Samra sees 5 components to the process of maturity: 1) identifying with Christ; 2) enduring suffering; 3) experiencing the presence of God; 4) receiving and living out wisdom from God; and 5) imitating a godly example (p168).  While this book showcases Samra’s skills as a New Testament scholar, I was more blessed by his obviously pastoral concern for the church.  I look forward to his next book.

Jesus in a New Age, Dalai Lama World: Defending and Sharing Christ with Buddhists, by M. Tsering.  I remember hearing an Asian pastor once say “it is 10 times harder for a Buddhist to come to Christ than a Muslim.”  The opinion was obviously observational, and perhaps hyperbolic, but gets at a major issue in sharing Christ with a Buddhist: the Buddhist worldview is far removed from a Christian one.  This book deals specifically with Tibetan Buddhism, which is, in many ways, quite removed from the earliest (some might say ‘purist’) forms of Buddhism.  Tsering gives an overview of the religious history of Tibet, showing the movement from early shamanism to modern Tibetan Buddhism, which is essentially a combination of Buddhism and shamanism.  He surveys the worldview of Tibetan Buddhists and the struggles of reaching them with the gospel (both historically and strategically).  There are wonderfully helpful tidbits throughout the book.  Anyone interested in the intersection between Buddhism and Christianity, or even in cross-cultural missions more broadly, would benefit from reading this book.

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