My 2013 List of 10 Favorite Books

End-of-year lists are as expected as holiday leftovers, so I’m entering the fray with one too. Below are books in my Top 10 this year, though they weren’t necessarily published in 2013, nor are they in a particular order. If you click on the book’s title, you’ll be taken to its Amazon page.

(1) Jesus On Every Page by David Murray. We should read the Old Testament in light of the Person and Work of Jesus, and Murray is a helpful guide in this task. He unpacks ten ways to see Jesus in the Old Testament. I loved this book and reviewed it here.

(2) What Is Biblical Theology? by James M. Hamilton. This is an introduction to a crucial subject, and Hamilton compellingly and clearly provides the answer to the title. Bible-readers should aim to understand (and, yes, imitate) the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors. I reviewed his book here.

(3) Preaching: A Biblical Theology by Jason Meyer. If I taught a class on preaching, this would be required reading. It is packed full of biblical insight, and in half of the book Meyer traces the stewardship of the word through the Old and New Testaments in a riveting way. Pastors, in particular, should get it for their 2014 reading.

(4) Conviction to Lead by Albert Mohler. When I read this book back in January, I knew immediately it would be on my end-of-year list. Concise, powerful, and memorable, Mohler’s book on leadership is my number one recommendation on the subject. I reviewed it here.

(5) Father Hunger by Doug Wilson. As a dad, I find books on fatherhood to be a helpful and necessary addition to an annual reading regimen. Because of what I’ve read before from Wilson, I had high expectations for this book and was not disappointed. His substance and style is tremendous, refreshing, and a word for our times. Fathers, take up and read.

(6) Kingdom Come by Samuel Storms. For many years now I’ve loved reading books on eschatology, and I looked forward to the release of this one. As with any book on end-times issues, I don’t agree with every conclusion therein, but I enjoyed the journey through the subjects he evokes.

(7) The Pastor’s Justification by Jared Wilson. In this important book for pastors, Jared Wilson (a pastor himself) talks about ministry in light of the Gospel. In a meaningful and carefully crafted exposition of 1 Peter 5 and the Five Solas of the Reformation, Wilson shows that the Good News is for ministers.

(8) Death By Living by N. D. Wilson. Like others who enjoyed Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, I wondered if I’d enjoy Wilson’s newest non-fiction book even more. And I did. His writing is a delight to read. It’s the kind of prose you swim in and climb out revived.

(9) When Shall These Things Be? edited by Keith Mathison. This book is a critique of an eschatological view called Hyper-Preterism. The line-up of authors consists of Doug Wilson, Ken Gentry, Keith Mathison, Charles Hill, Richard Pratt, Simon Kistemaker, and Robert Strimple. Again, I don’t affirm every sentence they write, but the book is a thoughtful and fascinating read (and, I hasten to add, a devastating and successful critique) of a very problematic eschatological perspective.

(10) Finally Free by Heath Lambert. Jesus promised that the pure in heart shall see God, and Lambert is honest with his readers that purity is warfare. Many snares await disciples, hoping to seize them and enslave them with images and habits that deaden their love for God and neighbor. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful, and it’s the only power that can set the captive free. Lambert’s book is full of Gospel-saturated wisdom and strength.

Observations about this list: There are (1) two books on reading the Bible, (2) three books by guys with the last name Wilson, (3) two books on end-times stuff, (4) three authors associated with The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, (5) two books especially helpful to pastors, and (6) two books whose titles ask a question.

Have you read any of these books? Would they make your end-of-year list?

Advertisements

John Owen on “Heavens and Earth” in 2 Peter 3

I like John Owen, I really do. His books like The Mortification of Sin and The Death of Death in the Death of Christ are wonderful and time-tested treatments that should be read more than once.

Recently, though, while preaching through 2 Peter at Kosmosdale Baptist Church, I was studying the verses in chapter 3 where Peter speaks of the “heavens and earth,” and disagreement with Owen arose when I read one of his sermons.

In a sermon called “Providential Changes, An Argument for Universal Holiness,” he takes 2 Peter 3:11 as his main text but also addresses the larger context as he sees it. Owen’s statements about the “heavens and earth” in 2 Peter 3:7 and 3:10 are not the traditional take on the phrase.

First, the verses under consideration:

But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly….But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the [elements] will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed (2 Peter 3:7, 10).

Next, Owen’s interpretation of the phrase “heavens and earth”:

“…the heavens and earth here intended in this prophecy of Peter, the coming of the Lord, and day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, mentioned in the destruction of that heaven and earth, do all of them relate, not to the last and final judgment of the world, but to that utter desolation and destruction that was to be made of the Judaical church and state…” 

And later in the same sermon, “[Jesus] will come, he will not tarry; and then the heavens and earth that God himself planted,–the sun, moon, and stars of the Judaical polity and church,–the whole old world of worship and worshippers, that stand out in their obstinacy against the Lord Christ,–shall be sensibly dissolved and destroyed.”

Essentially he is arguing:
(1) “heavens and earth” (in 3:7 and 3:10) refer to the Old Covenant with Israel, not to creation
(2) the coming of Jesus on the “day of judgment” (3:7) and “day of the Lord” (3:10) is not his Second Coming but his judgment on the Jerusalem temple in AD 70
(3) the fiery judgment foretold in 3:7 and described in 3:10 refers not to a final judgment of the ungodly but to the end of the Old Covenant at the AD 70 temple destruction
(4) this means the “new heavens and a new earth” in 3:13 refer not to a future new physical creation but to the New Covenant fully established

I’m not convinced Owen is right. In his sermon he provides other arguments and texts to bolster his reading, but I think there are better arguments and interpretations of those same texts that point away from Owen’s interpretation.

What do you think of the quotes above? Does his interpretation seem like the natural reading of “heavens and earth” in 2 Peter 3? I say no.

 

Death By Exile

There’s a scene in The Dark Knight Rises where Jim Gordon, Gotham City’s police commissioner, is being sentenced before a judge who happens to be a recently-freed felon.  The ultimatum is presented to Gordon: would he rather choose death or exile?

The question is made complex because winter has descended upon Gotham, freezing the bodies of water surrounding the city.  The exiled are forced to venture onto thin ice, and they will inevitably fall through.  Gordon knows this, so he tells the judge, “Death.”  He wants no part of an icy grave, no false hope.

The gavel smacks the desk, and the judge pronounces the sentence: “Death” but then adds “by exile.”  The viewer knows what this means: Gordon will be forced out onto the ice, and his exile means his death.

The phrase “death by exile” was applied to Jim Gordon in that movie, but sometimes cinematic phrases can ring true to the way the world works. “Death by exile” is the story of mankind after the events of Genesis 3.

In the true story of the world, God told Adam that eating the forbidden fruit would mean death (Gen 2:17).  Haven’t you noticed, though, that when Adam and Eve ate the fruit they didn’t die?  Instead, they had a very awkward conversation with God.  Adam blamed his wife, she blamed the serpent, and nothing seemed to resolve the problem.  Everything had been good and blessed, but now things went wrong and curses were pronounced.

How does the story in the garden end?  With exile. “[T]herefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.  He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen 3:23-24).

If we understand the important biblical motif of “death by exile,” we’re able to see that Adam and Eve did die, though not physically that day.  They experienced death by exile.  Physical death was part of the curse God pronounced–from dust man came and to dust he would return (Gen 3:19)–but for now they had to leave the garden sanctuary.

Their spiritual exile/death became a major motif that winds throughout the subsequent stories of Scripture.  No one is born in the garden.  Everyone after Genesis 3 comes into the world already exiled from Eden.  We all open our eyes for the first time in a state of spiritual death.

“Death by exile” is the story of Israel.  After the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC, Israelites were exiled to a land not their own.  But prophets like Ezekiel intimated that this exile, this national death, would be reversed.  God would speak to Israel as if looking into a valley of dry bones, and he would cause those bones to live again (Ezek 37:5-10).

We learn that the bones were “the whole house of Israel” (Ezek 37:11), which means that the restoration of the nation would be a resurrection from the dead. “Death by exile” preceded a “resurrection by return.”  And, sure enough, when Israelites returned to Jerusalem under the decree of Cyrus the Persian, it was like life from the dead.

The story continues unfolding as Jesus steps onto the scene.  He came to bear the whole gamut of our exile.  The Word Made Flesh would be rejected by his people, die bearing our reproach outside the camp, and be forsaken by his Father as holy wrath came down on an old rugged cross.

In short, Jesus’ mission was death by exile, spiritually and physically, that the way to the Tree of Life might be opened again for those who trust in him.  Jesus conquered death by his resurrection, and death will be the last enemy defeated at his return (1 Cor 15:26).

Death will not even hold our bodies in its grasp forever.  Because of Christ’s death by exile and return by resurrection, we have the hope that dust will not be the final resting place of our bodies.  The curse of death was reversed by Christ and one day will be reversed for all believers.

When our bodies die it is but a sowing.  The reaping will come at the sound of a trumpet, and once-perishable-bodies will be raised imperishable (1 Cor 15:42, 52).  There will be no more death, no more exile, only resurrection glory in the likeness of the Son of Man.