Today I’m doing something I’ve never done before; a guest post. Ciarán is a friend of mine and a fellow man in ministry in Scotland. Here he touches on some great books, some of which I’ve read and some that I haven’t.
My name is Ciarán Kelleher. I am a Pastor-in-Training at St Andrews Free Church. Like Alistair, I am an unashamed bibliophile. These are five books I have read this year that have impacted and shaped me in different ways. This list might come in a little late for Christmas presents but I do not think books are only for Christmas (to my wife’s chagrin).
Who Shall Ascend to the Mountain of the Lord? by L. Michael Morales
When it comes to Leviticus, I think many of us are lost at sea. On our journey through the Bible, our reading plans have been scuppered in a smorgasbord of intestines and priests. L. Michael Morales has waded into our chaos and done the church a huge service. For where this book truly stands out is not that it helps us comprehend the myriad of sacrifices but that it aids us in seeing how important Leviticus is to the theology of the Bible.
The first section of the book places Leviticus within the grand sweep of the Pentateuch, persuasively arguing that it is central, literally and thematically for the theology of the book of Moses. In the second section, he shows his ability as a close exegete of the text, demonstrating that the Day of the Atonement is the crux of the book. The final section illustrated how Levitical imagery and theology rolls out in the rest of the Bible. While the first two sections were stimulating, this part, especially the New Testament, was heart stirring.
This is the best Christian book I have read in years.
Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels by Richard Hays
I am convinced that someone coming to any of the accounts of Jesus Christ can be persuaded of the claims of Jesus without any prior knowledge of the Bible. But I am convinced when you comprehend Old Testament (OT) allusions or quotations, the Gospel is flooded with more colour.
This is where Richard Hays proves to be more than a capable guide. His book is in four parts, looking at each Gospel writer’s unique manner of utilising the OT in presenting Jesus to the reader. His writing is crisp and imaginative (and makes me envious). He shows how each author has particular idiosyncrasies that once we grasp opens up a doorway to a richer reading of the Bible.
For example, in Matthew, he writes how OT Scripture both predicts and prefigures Jesus. This second part helped me see the opening four chapters in a new way and made me savour Jesus as my King and the greater Moses/Israel all the more. What more can we ask for in a book?
On the Meaning of Sex by J. Budziszewski
This book is the hardest to review but, in some respects, might be one of the more important books.
There are some books that you appreciate deeply but are aware that you have not even come close to mining their riches. This sits in that category. Sex and sexuality are hotly contested ground in contemporary culture and Budziszewski takes a side entrance into the fray. This is not an explicitly Christian book, Budziszewski is attempting to reach a wider audience. But he is explicit in that he is writing from within a framework of Christian faith and is unembarrassed about doing so.
His writing is light and dense, delightful and subversive and it regularly reminded me of C.S. Lewis with his clever use of analogy. This book would be an excellent tool for pastors seeking to articulate and persuade others of a Christian view of sex and marriage.
Shepherds After My Own Heart by Timothy Laniak
This book is a Biblical Theology of the theme of Shepherding in the Scriptures. It has a narrow scope and sticks closely to its task, tracking the theme through the whole Bible, with light contemporary application. Yet it is deeply practical but Laniak leaves the applying in the hands of the reader having himself done a stellar job showing what it means that God shepherds his people.
The Shepherd in the Bible is one who guides, provides for and protects his flock. This imagery is principally applied to the Kings and rulers of the nations, including Israel. Laniak brilliantly demonstrates how the Shepherd pictures established in the early books are picked up on and expanded in the Prophets, which then finds it final fulfilment in the Jesus and those who follow in his path as leaders of his church.
I read this twice this year. First on my own and then with a ministry trainee I was supervising. It did not lose anything on the second time through and proved to be beneficial for a young man exploring what a lifetime of ministry might look like. This an excellent book and I would encourage all pastors to read it, so that they might place their self-understanding within God’s bigger picture.
Also, Laniak’s description of the task of Biblical Theology in the opening chapter is gold dust.
Persistently Preaching Christ
My wife and I were babysitting for friends one evening. Whenever we do so, I normally sit in his office, which has an extensive library for a theology and book nerd like myself. I picked up this book and could not put it down. I took it home with me, read some more before I went to bed and when I woke up, I picked it up again and finished it that morning. My heart was lifted and I was spurred on to go into another day of ministry.
The book details the history of St Andrew the Great Church of England in Cambridge. It is a church that has had a profound impact on evangelicalism in the UK over the last half century. This book’s seeks to detail its rich heritage since the time of Mark Ruston through to the beginning of Alasdair Paine’s ministry, from the Round Church to StAG. Decades of faithful evangelical ministry are recorded by those who were involved at different junctures. One of Mark Ashton’s core convictions was ‘The word of God does the work of God by the Spirit of God in the people of God.’ It is one we can say a hearty amen to and this book tells the story of what that looks like in real life ministry.
It is a short book but packs much in. If you want to read about persevering gospel ministry over several generations, I strongly recommend this book.