The past few months have witnessed a flood of new book releases, many of which are deserving of our attention. I hope to provide a more extensive review of several of these listed, but for now a brief notice will have to suffice.
The following list is a mix of everything from scholarly treatise to popular biography. They aren’t listed in any particular order of preference, although I do begin with several works on eschatology, given that this is my current focus of study and writing. Happy reading!
(1) The Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth about the Antichrist, by Kim Riddlebarger (Baker Books), 236 pp. Riddlebarger, an amillennialist, is the Senior Pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, California and visiting professor of systematic theology at Westminster Seminary, California. He believes “that the church has faced a series of antichrists from the time of the apostles and that this series of antichrists will culminate in the appearance of the Antichrist immediately before the return of Jesus Christ at the end of the age” (13). In other words, unlike some amillennialists, he argues that “the Antichrist is (or will be) a figure of history . . . . He will have a name and a face” (14).
As the end of history approaches, Riddlebarger contends that the “Antichrist will be the supreme persecutor of Christ’s church and will exercise his reign of terror through state-sponsored heresy [in particular, the heresy that denies Jesus Christ is God in human flesh]” (168). As for 2 Thessalonians2:3-10, “when Paul refers to the Man of Sin sitting in the temple, he’s referring to the church on earth when the apostasy occurs and when the Man of Lawlessness is revealed – not to the Jerusalem temple in either AD 70 (contra preterism) nor to a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem at the time of the end (contra futurists – including the church fathers, dispensationalists, and historic premillenarians)” (171).
(2) God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology, by Michael Horton (Baker Books), 204. Horton is the well-known professor of apologetics and theology at Westminster Seminary, California, as well as editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine.
I haven’t read this yet, but it looks inviting. Horton contends that “it’s not just that we were created and then given a covenant. We were created as covenant creatures – partners not in deity but in the drama about to unfold throughout history” (dust jacket). J. I. Packer wrote this blurb: “Thought is packed tightly in this masterful survey of the covenantal frame of God’s self-disclosure in Scripture, and for serious students it is a winner.”
(3) The Coming of the Son of Man: New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church, by Andrew Perriman (Paternoster Press), 272 pp. I reviewed one book edited by Perriman (Faith, Health and Prosperity) and found it to be a superb treatment. I’m half way through this volume and thus far find it quite helpful, even if not entirely convincing. Perriman relies heavily on the eschatology N. T. Wright.
Don’t be misled by the sub-title. Whereas it is true that Brian McLaren writes a glowing endorsement of the book, I see no reason why the eschatology it reflects is uniquely suited to the “Emerging Church” rather than to the broader body of Christ.
(4) Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement, by Brant Pitre (Baker Academic), 586 pp. There’s no way to summarize this massive and superb treatment of the notion of “tribulation” and the life and death of Jesus. I reveled in reading this book, and those of you who enjoy digging deeply into Scripture will do so as well (it is quite technical).
Here is Pitre’s brief summary of his thesis: “As we will see, on the basis of the evidence surveyed herein, the basic thesis of this study is that Jesus did in fact speak and act on the basis of the Jewish expectation of the eschatological tribulation. Moreover, his understanding of the tribulation was inextricably tied to the ancient Jewish hope for the End of the Exile: i.e., the ingathering of the twelve tribes of Israel from among the nations. In short, Jesus taught that the tribulation had in some way begun with the death of John the Baptist as ‘Elijah’ and that it was Jesus’ own mission to set in motion the ‘Great Tribulation’ that would precede the coming of the Messiah and the restoration of Israel. In fact, he even taught that he would die in this tribulation, and that his death would function as an act of atonement that would bring about the End of the Exile, the return of the dispersed tribes from among the nations, and the coming of the kingdom of God” (4).
Pitre clearly builds upon the work of N. T. Wright, especially in the latter’s book, Jesus and the Victory of God, but he also brings correction and improvement to Wright’s thesis in a way that I find convincing.
(5) Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology, by John M. Frame (Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing), 382 pp. Frame is professor of systematic theology and philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. This book is a treat! William Edgar wrote on the cover: “It is at once vigorously orthodox and sweetly pastoral.” I couldn’t agree more.
The material for this book came from a series of lectures Frame delivered for the Institute for Theological Studies in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The book, writes Frame, is directed “to beginners in theology, people who are seeking a basic introduction” (x). But don’t let that mislead you. It’s still a substantive and most helpful work. At Wheaton College I regularly taught a survey course (entitled “Christian Thought”) to students who were not majoring in theology. If this volume had been available then, I probably would have used it as the basic text.
(6) Believers: A Journey into Evangelical America, by Jeffrey L. Sheler (Viking), 324 pp. Sheler worked for U. S. News and World Report for twenty-four years, fifteen as the religion editor. This is an easy-to-read introduction to the varieties of evangelicalism in America. It’s not intended as a scholarly work and can be read in a short period of time.
Sheler was himself raised and converted in what he calls a “fundamentalist Baptist church” in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After briefly recounting his own spiritual journey, he takes the reader on a tour of evangelical America. Aside from Chapter Two, in which he provides a brief overview of the history and development of evangelicalism, beginning with the First Great Awakening (pp. 37-66), his focus is on churches, ministries, and selected leaders. These include (1) Rock Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia, a Pentecostal congregation pastored by John and Anne Giminez; (2) James Dobson’s Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colorado; (3) Hoops of Hope, a ministry to young people that uses basketball to connect with them (also in Colorado Springs); (4) the Navigators (Colorado Springs); (5) the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys (again, in Colorado Springs); (6) Rick Warren’s Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, California; and (7) Wheaton College (which he calls “a journey to the epicenter of evangelical higher education and its mission of confronting and transforming culture” ).
Sheler also accompanied a group of average businessmen on a short term missions trip to Guatemala City, Guatemala. They were from the First Wesleyan Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Perhaps his strangest encounter came on his visit to Creation 2005 in Mt. Union, Pennsylvania, “an outdoor rock music festival that each summer draws tens of thousands of evangelical young people and their chaperones . . . for what is often described as a Christian version of Woodstock” (196).
The author also spent time in Washington, D.C., with Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, in order to gain information on the political and social activities of evangelicals in our nation’s capital. In the final chapter, Sheler shares his experience while attending Billy Graham’s 417th crusade in New York City. He also interviewed at length both Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California (the contrasts are striking!).
In the Epilogue Sheler recounts his return visit to the church in Grand Rapids where he had been raised. As he sums up his experience in this multi-faceted journey through evangelical America, he observes “that there had been few real surprises along the way” (297). That fairly well sums up the book as a whole: few surprises. As for the evangelicals themselves, “for the most part . . . [they] were just extraordinarily normal” (297). There is “nothing alien or weird about evangelical Christianity. It is a faith well rooted in the cultural and theological traditions of the West” (298).
As for evangelicalism’s most appealing asset, Sheler contends it isn’t its leaders but “its message. The gospel proclamation is what millions are drawn to when they take up the evangelical banner” (298).
I can readily recommend this book for its ease of reading and its fair-minded handling of the evangelical landscape. There’s nothing particular new or scintillating in its pages, but I actually found that a bit refreshing.
(7) Londonistan, by Melanie Phillips (Encounter Books), 213 pp. This is a stunning book by Phillips, award winning columnist for London’s Daily Mail. In it she documents how it came to pass “that for more than a decade, London had been the epicenter of Islamic militancy in Europe. Under the noses of successive British governments, Britain’s capital had turned into ‘Londonistan’ – a mocking play on the names of such state sponsors of terrorism as Afghanistan – and become the major European center for the promotion, recruitment and financing of Islamic terror and extremism” (x-xi).
I couldn’t put this book down. Phillips chronicles in disturbing detail how a combination of multiculturalism, liberal tolerance, a warped view of human rights, and a fear of being labeled “Islamophobic” all contributed to an atmosphere in which terrorists flourished under the protection of British law. Aside from her misunderstanding of so-called “Replacement” theology (on which she also places considerable blame), this is an insightful and disturbing book.
(8) What Jesus Demands from the World, by John Piper (Crossway Books), 400 pp. I’ve only just started reading this latest work by Piper, and it may well prove to be one of his best. This is one of two books (the other is on justification) John wrote during his five month stay in Cambridge, England, this year.
Piper’s aim “has been to probe the meaning and the motivation of Jesus’ commands in connection with his person and work. What emerges again and again is that what he is commanding is a life that displays the worth of his person and the effect of his work” (19). If you are bothered by the title, especially the word “demands,” don’t be, “for if we rightly understand Jesus’ demands, and if are willing to find in him our supreme joy, his demands will not feel severe but sweet” (24).
(9) Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? by Wayne Grudem (Crossway Books), 272 pp. I only received this book last week, but it looks to be another excellent contribution by Wayne to the on-going dialogue between complementarians and egalitarians. If you are looking for an in-depth biblical and theological answer to the questions being raised by egalitarians, this isn’t the book. For that you need to get Wayne’s massive Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth: An Analysis of More Than 100 Disputed Questions (Multnomah).
This book “is rather an expression of deep concern about a widespread undermining of the authority of Scripture in the arguments that are frequently used to support evangelical feminism. And it is also a way of posing a question: can a movement that espouses this many ways of undermining the authority of Scripture possibly be right?” (11-12).
(10) Reinventing Jesus: What the Da Vinci Code and other Novel Speculations Don’t Tell You, by J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace (Kregel Publications), 347 pp. This is a superb refutation of such books as The Da Vinci Code and Misquoting Jesus (Bart Ehrman), as it explains the nature of New Testament textual criticism and demonstrates the accuracy and historicity of the biblical documents.
(11) Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, by N. T. Wright (Harper Collins), 240 pp. I’m only about half way through Wright’s latest book and I’m enjoying it. Some have likened Simply Christian to C. S. Lewis’s classic Mere Christianity. There are certainly similarities, but I doubt if Wright’s book will have nearly the impact that we have seen from Lewis.
(12) Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey (Zondervan), 351 pp. Yancey is an engaging and captivating author, always genuine and down-to-earth in his approach to the mysteries of the faith. In the past he has been known to pay more than passing tribute to open theism. I’ve heard from others that it appears yet again in this volume. If so, that will be a tragedy.
(13) Praying: Finding Our Way Through Duty to Delight, by J. I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom (IVP), 319 pp. This may well prove to be the classic of our time on prayer. I hope to provide a more extensive review of it when I’m done.
(14) The Truth Comes Out, by Nancy Heche (Regal), 197 pp. In 1998 my wife and I were having lunch with Nancy Heche and her daughter Abigail on the 95th floor of the John Hancock tower in downtown Chicago when I raised the subject of a book on her life. Initially, our plans were for me to write it, but I soon realized that I was not the sort of author who would excel in the genre of biography. Nancy has done a marvelous job of chronicling her journey in God through some of the worst tragedies imaginable.
For those of you unaware of Nancy, here is a brief synopsis of a remarkable life: she lost one daughter at the age of two months; her husband was revealed as living a double life and died of AIDS in 1983; her eighteen-year-old son Nathan was killed in a car crash only weeks after his father’s death; her youngest daughter, the actress Anne Heche, got involved with Ellen DeGeneres in the most famous lesbian relationship of our day; and in January of 2006, Susan, Nancy’s oldest daughter, died of a brain tumor. And that isn’t all, but it’s enough to give you a sense for what Nancy has endured. Amazingly, in the midst of it all, she was able to earn her doctorate in ministry and counseling at the age of . . . well, she might not want me to say, but trust me, it’s remarkable to observe her perseverance.
Here is the blurb I wrote for the book: “Many will read Nancy’s incredible life story and say, ‘How tragic!’ I read it and say, ‘How faithful!’ This is all about God’s faithfulness to a broken lady and her faithfulness, by God’s grace, in the midst of unthinkable suffering, to Him. Few people have affected my life as profoundly as Nancy Heche. Read this remarkable book and learn much from a remarkable woman and an even more remarkable God.”
(15) How Much Does God Foreknow? A Comprehensive Biblical Study, by Steven C. Roy (IVP), 312 pp. Roy is associate professor of pastoral theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.
This book had its genesis in his Ph.D. dissertation written under the supervision of Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem. It is the most comprehensive analysis of what Scripture says on the subject of divine foreknowledge that I’ve seen. Needless to say, it is also a thorough-going refutation of Open Theism. This may well become the classic treatment of this topic. I highly recommend it to those who want a deep and careful study of this crucial truth concerning our great and glorious God.