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What I Read on my Recent Study Leave

I had a profitable study leave the past two weeks. In spite of needing to take a day and a half to try to map out a future series on the church, I was able to read Life in the Body of Christ, by Curtis Thomas; What’s Best Next, by Matt Perman; Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, by Sidney Greidanus; Rescuing Ambition, by Dave Harvey; A Peculiar Glory, by John Piper; J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life, by Leland Ryken; A Christian’s Pocket Guide to the Papacy, by Leonardo De Chirico; The Pastor as Scholar & the Scholar as Pastor, by John Piper & D. A. Carson; and, Your Days are Numbered, by John Perritt.

If you only read this far, at least you know that I wasn’t taking a leisurely vacation on my study leave! I appreciate the church’s giving me these two weeks and I try to be a good steward of my time. If you want to know more about my thoughts on some of these books, you can keep reading.

Curtis Thomas’ Life in the Body of Christ is a collection of numerous short comments on just about every aspect of church life you can imagine: the responsibilities of members and leaders, as well as dealing with some common problems. There wasn’t much new there for me, but many good reminders.

What’s Best Next, by Matt Perman, is a rather lengthy treatment of personal planning and goal setting from a distinctly biblical perspective. The subtitle is, “How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done.” Perman was the senior director of strategy at Desiring God Ministries. He incorporates many of the same principles as Stephen Covey & Roger & Rebecca Merrill’s First Things First, but with a Christian focus. While I found a lot of it kind of complicated and overwhelming (which is my usual reaction to management books), he has many helpful principles on life goals, personal planning, and time management that every Christian could benefit from. He has a website, https://www.whatsbestnext.com/, with a lot of helpful free material, if you want to get a flavor for his approach.

I read Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, by Sidney Greidanus, because to be honest, preaching the Old Testament is difficult and intimidating for me. While his book has a lot of helpful pointers, I found myself disagreeing with him on enough points that I came away a bit frustrated. His aim is to motivate and help pastors preach more from the OT, but I came away with even more anxieties about doing that! He argues that every sermon from the OT must be centered on Christ. He believes that biographical sermons do not reflect the intent of the original author, and thus are invalid. His principles for interpreting OT types is complicated and somewhat subjective, in my humble opinion. So while I will refer to this book when I next launch an OT series, I won’t follow him to a T.

Rescuing Ambition, by Dave Harvey, is a helpful book for all of the Type A workaholics who wrestle with mixing up promoting themselves versus working for Christ’s kingdom and glory. I didn’t relate to much of it, in that I’m not that type of hard-driving, spiritual entrepreneur. I can’t relate to guys who build and manage huge ministries. I’m doing all I can do just to shepherd God’s flock and preach His word, let alone do all that the ambitious types Harvey writes about try to do. But he does have a lot of helpful insights on working hard for God’s kingdom and glory while maintaining humility.

A Peculiar Glory, by John Piper, is a good treatment of the canon and trustworthiness of the Bible. He shows how we can know that the 66 books of the Bible are true and how the Bible is confirmed by the peculiar glory of God in Christ. While not easy reading, if you have questions about or struggle with whether the Bible is trustworthy, it’s a very helpful book.

J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life, by Leland Ryken, is a friendly biography of the well-known theologian and writer, now in his 90th year. If you haven’t read Packer’s most well-known book, Knowing God, you definitely should put it on your list. I’ve read his A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life four times now. While I greatly appreciate Dr. Packer, I must say that I was extremely troubled when he signed the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” statement in the 1990’s. I think by doing so, he compromised the truth of the gospel. Ryken has a closing chapter on that and some other controversies that Packer has been involved with. But Packer’s ecumenical leaning is a humbling reminder that even the giants of the faith have their flaws. It makes me look to myself and pray that I will finish well. We can learn a lot from the giants, but ultimately we must look to Jesus alone.

A Christian’s Pocket Guide to the Papacy, by Leonardo De Chirico, is a short treatment of what Roman Catholics believe by an Italian evangelical pastor and scholar. He gives a brief history of the papacy, with special attention to the recent popes, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. Reading it only reinforces my criticism of Packer’s alignment with the Evangelicals and Catholics Together paper. De Chirico makes it clear that there is an unbridegable gulf between evangelicals and Catholics because of the vast differences on essential truths.

The Pastor as Scholar & the Scholar as Pastor, by John Piper & D. A. Carson, is a short book that gives some interesting autobiographical info on these two contemporary scholars. For instance, Piper was so deathly afraid of speaking in public as a young man that he could not imagine ever being a pastor. Also, surprisingly, he has always been a slow reader! Dr. Carson said that he occasionally wonders if he made the right decision to continue as a seminary professor, rather than being a pastor. Both men emphasize the need for pastors to be biblical scholars and for scholars to be pastoral towards their students.

Finally, Your Days are Numbered, by John Perritt, is a short treatment of our stewardship of time in light of the fact that life is a vapor (James 4:14). This is a much quicker and easier treatment than Matt Perman’s. I think every Christian would benefit by reading it. But be forewarned, you will be convicted (guys, especially, with his comments on wasting a lot of time watching sports or playing computer games)! He impresses you with the brevity of life and the need for every Christian to use his or her gifts in light of eternity. His thoughts on using Sunday as the Lord’s Day, not as a regular day to do whatever you please, are thought-provoking and helpful. While I don’t agree with every point he makes, there is enough practical help here to enable you to use your time better for God’s glory and kingdom no matter who you are or what you do for a living. And, while getting specific on many issues, he avoids legalism and is gracious to give room for different opinions.

Anyway, I hope that you pick a few good books to grow in your faith in this New Year! And, thanks, FCF, for giving me a couple of weeks off each year to recharge my batteries!

Pastor Steve Cole