Josh Philpot

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A Long List of Favorite Books from 2017

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IMG 2142I do not keep track of how many books I read each year, but I estimate it to be around 60, give or take. I’m always working through two or three at the same time, coupled with audiobooks for driving and exercise.

Most of these books were not published in 2017, but ones that I read or finished this year. I work at a church full-time, which means I have plenty of space to read and write daily. I also teach Old Testament at Houston Baptist University adjunctly, and since my area of study is the Old Testament, I read and re-read many books on that topic.

Tolle lege!

Top Ten Biblical Studies Books of 2017

1. Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus (Michael Morales) I saw several friends post this as a favorite in 2016, but judging from the reviews, I couldn’t actually tell if they had read the full book or just skimmed the pages. I read it this year. It’s in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series edited by D.A. Carson, and I wrote a review for the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies. It’s a great book. We should be chided for our neglect of mastering a Pentateuchal book like Leviticus, not least of all reading it. Overstatements aside, one would be wrong to understate the potential of Morales’ book in reinvigorating scholars and pastors to examine its content closely. Morales’ fresh approach to Leviticus is welcome, and I cannot think of a better book on the theology of Leviticus that this one. I highly recommend it.

2. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical (Tim Keller) This is sort of like a prequel to Keller’s The Reason for God. It’s a stirring read. Keller is a master at making difficult concepts easier to grasp, and also at getting non-believers and skeptics to think through their underlying assumptions before dismissing the claims of the Bible altogether. His rhetorical skill coupled with beautiful storytelling often caused me to stop and re-read entire chapters.

3. God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ (Stephen Wellum) Wellum is my go-to scholar for thinking through Christology. I was glad to see this book arrive last year, and it doesn’t disappoint.

4. Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum) I skimmed this book when it was released a few years ago because I had Gentry and Wellum several times during my M.Div. and was familiar with the argument in the book. But I decided to read it during the summer. They argue that the biblical covenants are the theological framework of the Bible and summarize its message progressively through time. This point has huge implications for biblical theology, and it’s worth consideration.

5. The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus: Luke’s Account of God’s Unfolding Plan (Alan J. Thompson) Like Morales’ book, this one is another in the NSBT series, and a pleasant surprise. Thompson argues that scholars and commentators are too general in saying that the work of the Holy Spirit is the driving force in the book of Acts. Rather, the acts of the risen Lord Jesus is the main thrust of the apostles’ message. In other words, Jesus’ acts continue after his ascension in the growth of the church by the Spirit. Excellent book!

6. Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible (Stephen Dempster) Another re-read for me, now for the third time. I know many do not agree, but I consider this book the best Old Testament theology today. Certainly another may surpass it down the road, but for now, nothing is better in my opinion. Out of all the books on this list, I would recommend reading this one first.

7. How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament (Jason DeRouchie) and New Testament (Andy Naselli) I skimmed these two textbooks, which are great for hermeneutics and exegesis. DeRouchie is more wordy than Naselli, but both authors have provided excellent resources for pastors and students. For me, these books have replaced Old Testament Exegesis (Stuart) and New Testament Exegesis (Fee).

8. Exodus (T. Desmond Alexander) I wrote my dissertation on Exodus, and so I try to keep up with new resources on Exodus as they are published. Alexander is a strong evangelical scholar in Old Testament studies (see his excellent, From Paradise to Promised Land), and this volume does not disappoint in an otherwise disappointing commentary series (Apollos Old Testament Commentary—I have not enjoyed other volumes I’ve reviewed in this series). I’ve been slowly making my way through it. It’s not technical but still exegetical. Source are in-line with the text instead of footnotes, and there are transliterations instead of Hebrew/Greek. I don’t prefer these details in a commentary, but at 764 pages, I’m glad to see another major evangelical book on Exodus with a strong view on the veracity of the events depicted therein.

9. The Heartbeat of Old Testament Theology: Three Creedal Expressions (Mark Boda) I wrote a review of this book for TGC. It’s short, and a helpful way forward in thinking through key expressions that give shape to the theological message of the Old Testament.

10. The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story (Craig Bartholomew) Last year, HBU changed the format of the class I teach, and so a new textbook was needed that would give the students a whole Bible overview. Thus, I had to read this book in prep, and now all of my students have to read it as well. I like how Bartholomew pictures the story of the Bible in six “acts”, like a modern drama with a beginning, plot, setting, rising tension, climax, and resolution.

Here are a few other academic titles that I also enjoyed reading this year:

11. The Old Testament: A Historical, Theological, and Critical Introduction (Richard Hess)

12. Isaiah Old and New: Exegesis, Intertextuality, and Hermeneutics (Ben Witherington III)

13. The King As Exemplar: The Function of Deuteronomy’s Kingship Law in the Shaping of the Book of Psalms (Jamie Grant)

14. Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation (G.K. Beale)

Top Ten Non-Fiction and Fiction Books of 2017

1. The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Robert Caro, 4 vols) A couple of years ago, I was at a dinner where Albert Mohler and Jason Allen were talking biographies. I mentioned how much I liked William Manchester’s Churchill biography, and they both commented that the only other biography that compares is Robert Caro’s books on Lyndon Johnson. Having very little knowledge of Johnson but now living in Johnson’s home state, I decided to pick up these four volumes and read them over the summer. They are a fascinating study on power (political or otherwise) and the choices/compromises a person is willing to make in order to achieve their ambition. Johnson grew up dirt poor in central TX, and yet rose to be President of the United States. That alone is a tale worth telling. Caro is a master at telling it.

2. American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur: 1880–1964 (William Manchester) The book is a biography of General Douglas MacArthur, a true “caesar” in his own context in the Pacific theater during and after WWII. This is also another great story of WWI and WWII, if that is of interest, and told by Manchester, who wrote perhaps my favorite biography on Winston Churchill.

3. The Russian Revolution: A New History (Sean McMeekin) I have always been interested in the fall of Tsar Nicholas II and the rise of Lenin and Bolsheviks. When I was a classical pianist, I used to play a lot of Russian composers like Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, and I still enjoy listening to these works in my office. This new history was on Albert Mohler’s summer reading list, and so I devoured it in a few short days. The seeds behind the American-Russian divide are traced to this period of revolution in the early 20th century, and many of the ramifications of these events are still being felt today. I’ve already recommended this book to several people.

4. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (Cal Newport) In sum, the hypothesis behind Deep Work is that the ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive. This is an easy read and really fascinating.

5. The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance (Ben Sasse) A very non-political book by the estimable senator from Nebraska. I felt like I was reading a parenting manual, and with two kids in the second grade, I found Sasses advice very helpful. This is a really diagnosis with what is wrong with a lot of our cultural habits, and a good remedy for how to move forward. I took copious notes while reading this book.

6. The Malazan Book of the Fallen (Steven Erikson, 10 vols) My brother is a sci-fi and fantasy book geek, and he recommended this to me some time ago. It’s very long—10 volumes!—and took me almost six months to finish (along with other reading). But it’s a great fantasy tale. Fair warning: the book is tough to begin because the backstory comes gradually instead of chronologically. Even so, I couldn’t put it down, and I’m now reading through it again.

7. The Dark Tower Series (Stephen King, 7 vols) Before this year, I had never read a novel by Stephen King, although I did read this memoir On Writing several years ago (Which is also excellent, by the way. Here is a collection of good quotes from that book.) I have two friends who kept telling me to read the Dark Tower series, so I started and finished it this summer. It’s a long tale loosely based on the poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came by Robert Browning. King is not for everyone, and I can understand why, and also understand why my parents were wise to keep his books out of my hands during my adolescence. Reading the books now, I found them a riveting tale of human nature and quest for truth in the world. I enjoy King’s storytelling and writing style, even if the sometimes graphic content is not to my taste. I often think that a novel’s real merit is in how real or unreal the dialogue is between characters. King’s contribution is that he a master at writing dialogue.

8. The Stand (Stephen King) Having read The Dark Tower, I decided to go through a few other Stephen King books. The Stand is perhaps King’s most popular novel that is not a major motion picture like The Shining or Carrie or IT. The Stand is a dystopian novel about humans trying to band together in the wake of an apocalypse, and the book is simply that—a tale about survival. But like the Dark Tower, King is a masterful storyteller. It’s very long, but worth reading, and not nearly as graphic as The Dark Tower.

9. Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life (Steve Martin) Get the audiobook. Steve Martin narrates his bio as a standup comedian trying to make a living, and he tells his jokes (and songs!) with the same voices he did when it was his profession, which he quit at the height of his success. Really fun read.

10. Oathbringer (Brandon Sanderson) This is the third book in The Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson. I read the other two books in 2016. Oathbringer is fantasy novel where an off-world society is based on the prejudice of light eyes vs. dark eyes, and where knights and warriors have ancient swords called shard blades and armor called shard plate. The characters are real enough to keep me interested in how the tale is unfolding, although the dialogue feels stilted at times. Even still, I think the story is a lot of fun, and Sanderson always builds up to a major climax at the end, one that’s usually worth the wait.

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Written by Josh Philpot

December 5, 2017 at 3:29 pm

Trueman on Andy Stanley and People With Hard Lives

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I reviewed that dreadful book by Charles Stanley’s son recently, Andy Stanley. You know: people want to be happy, so just make them happy from the pulpit. Well Andy Stanley pastors a church of 100,000 people or something ridiculous, where presumably he’s well-insulated from people who are unhappy. But I’ve got people in my congregation who have hard lives. And I would be lying to them on a Sunday if I was to say to them, “You know, trust God, and your life’s going to get better, and you’re going to get happy.”

I can’t say to the person who is eighty, and they’re chopping bits of him away, slowly but surely, because he’s got gangrene in his foot, “Just believe, and you’ll be fine. Your foot will grow back.” No! I can’t do that for a person. What can I give him? I can give him the theology of the cross. I can say, “You know, the logic of the cross is that we enter paradise, ultimately, through suffering. In order to reach paradise you’ve got to die and be resurrected, and that’s horrible and painful, but it faces us all at some point.”

The logic of the cross is this: Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom. The second thief was the one guy that day who didn’t say, “Come down off the cross, and prove you’re the King of the Jews.” He effectively said, “Lord, I know you’re going to die, and through that you’re going to come into your kingdom. And when you get there, remember me.”

Being a theologian of the cross gives you something to say to real people who are suffering. To that person who is poor, and they don’t have many qualifications, and they’re living in bad housing, and they’re never going to live in anything but bad housing, what hope do you give that person? You give them the hope of the resurrection. Andy Stanley has nothing to say to those people. I don’t care if he pastors a church of a million people: he’s got nothing to say to them.

Via Andrew Wilson at Think Theology. The review he’s referring to can be found here.

Written by Josh Philpot

May 4, 2015 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Book Reviews, Culture

Westerholm on Justification

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I recently read Stephen Westerholm’s new book, “Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking a Pauline Theme.” It is only 100 pages and easy to digest. Westerholm assesses all of the data in the New Testament on justification/righteousness and settles on the traditional view of justification by faith (as articulated by Augustine, Luther, Calvin, et al.), even in spite of recent challenges from N. T. Wright and James D. G. Dunn. In fact, I came away from the book with the thought that Westerholm is simply arguing for the plain sense of the relevant passages about the doctrine of justification. There is no need for revisionist interpretations. His final paragraph is very helpful: 

“[The traditional view of justification by faith] cannot be dismissed by the claim that the ancients were not concerned to find a gracious God (how could they not be, in the face of pending divine judgment?); or that it wrongly casts first-century Jews as legalists (its target is rather the sinfulness of all human beings); or that non-Christian Jews, too, depended on divine grace (of course they did, but without Paul’s need to distinguish grace from works); or that ‘righteousness’ means ‘membership in the covenant’ (never did, never will) and the expression ‘works of the law’ refers to the boundary markers of the Jewish people (it refers to all the ‘righteous’ deeds required by the law as its path to righteousness). Modern scholars are correct in noting that Paul first focused on language of justification in response to the question whether Gentile believers in Christ should be circumcised. They are right to emphasize the social implications of Paul’s doctrine of justification (what it meant ‘on the ground’) in his own day, and are free to draw out its social implications for our own. But the doctrine of justification means that God declares sinners righteous, apart from righteous deeds, when they believe in Jesus Christ. Those so made righteous represent the new humanity, the people of God’s new creation (rom 5:17-19).”

Written by Josh Philpot

May 19, 2014 at 9:28 pm

Tom Schreiner on the Differences between Biblical and Systematic Theology

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In the new issue of Themelios, Tom Schreiner writes a response to Gerald Bray’s critique of his biblical theology, “The King in His Beauty.” In the first few paragraphs he offers a clear and helpful overview for how biblical and systematic theology differ but complement one another. He also lambasts Bray for totally misunderstanding his book. I was at the panel discussion at ETS last November where Bray’s review was presented, so I’m glad to see Schreiner’s rejoinder here. Many of the attendees at that presentation were likewise confused with Bray’s response. In Schreiner’s own words, 

The fundamental problem with Bray’s review is that he misunderstands both my book and biblical theology. He seems to think that I am trying to write a systematic theology, for he emphasizes that biblical theology is only a prolegomenon to a systematic theology. Here’s the rub: I agree! Systematic theology is a culminating discipline that includes exegesis, biblical theology, historical theology, and philosophy. Bray critiques me as if I were attempting to write a culminating work, a systematic theology, and by doing so he veers off course from the outset of his review. I agree with Bray that Christian theology reaches its apex in systematics. I didn’t think anyone would read my book as if I were trying to compose an alternative to a systematic theology.

Nor is it evident that Bray understands what biblical theology is in distinction from systematics, or perhaps he believes there isn’t any place for biblical theology, because he doesn’t commend it in his review. We need both systematic and biblical theology, for in the latter the story of scripture is rehearsed, the narrative of scripture is unfolded for the reader. Such attention to the historical outworking of God’s plan (the establishment of his kingdom!) ensures that we are reading the scriptures contextually and canonically. For instance, Bray doesn’t devote much attention to the historical unfolding of God’s revelation in his book. But it is clear in reading the NT that the Mosaic covenant was an interim covenant, that it was meant to be in force for a limited period of time. We learn from this that it is imperative to read scripture epochally. We don’t offer sacrifices or wear clothes with only one kind of fabric since such regulations are part of the Sinai covenant, and we aren’t under that covenant since the new covenant has arrived in Jesus Christ.

To put it another way, systematic theologians need biblical theology, for otherwise they may make claims that violate the intention and purpose of the texts cited. Biblical theology as a mediating discipline supports systematics. Systematics may stray from the scriptures in constructing doctrines, and biblical theology serves systematics by tying us to the biblical text and by ensuring that we interpret the scriptures in its epochal framework. The structures and themes unpacked in biblical theology undergird (or should undergird) the work of systematic theologians. Biblical theology, like systematics, plays a vital role in our understanding of the scriptures. Let’s take one example of what concerns Bray. He complains that I don’t unpack the Trinity, but he misconstrues my book and biblical theology. The Trinity is central to Christian theology, and any systematic theology that doesn’t make the Trinity prominent is woefully deficient. But I didn’t write a systematic theology, nor am I claiming that the work of biblical theology is a culminating discipline. Still, biblical theology provides the raw materials for the doctrine of the Trinity by showing that the Father, Son, and Spirit are all divine, while also emphasizing that the scriptures teach that there is only one God.

You can read Schreiner’s review of Bray’s “God is Love” here. The contrast between the two reviews is startling.

Written by Josh Philpot

April 22, 2014 at 1:47 pm

The “Voice” of Moses in Deuteronomy

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In his new collection of essays, The Gospel according to Moses: Theological and Ethical Reflections on the Book of Deuteronomy (Cascade, 2012), Dan Block has a helpful chart delineating the “voices” in Deuteronomy, which I’m providing below. The content comes from a previously published article, “Recovering the Voice of Moses: The Genesis of Deuteronomy,” JETS 44 (2001): 385-408. Based on internal and external evidence, Block argues that three particular voices are clear: (1) Yahweh’s voice, (2) Moses’ voice, and (3) the narrator’s voice.

  1. Yahweh’s Voice in Deuteronomy—31:14b, 16b-21, 23b; 32:49-52; 34:4b
  2. Moses’ Voice in Deuteronomy
    1. Moses’ Lone Voice—1:6-4:40; 4:44-26:19; 28:1-69 [Eng 29:1]; 27:11-26; 29:1 [Eng 2]-30:20; 32:1-43, 46b-47; 33:2-29
    2. Moses’ Accompanied Voice—27:1-8, 9-10
  3. The Narrator’s Voice in Deuteronomy—1:1-5; 2:10-12, 20-23; 3:9, 11, 13b-14; 4:41-43, 44-5:1a; 10:6-9; 27:1a, 9a, 11; 28:68 [Eng 29:1]; 29:1 [Eng 29:2]; 31:1-2a, 7a, 9-10a, 14a, 14c-16a, 22-23a, 24-25, 30; 32:44-46a, 48; 33:1-2a; 34:5-12

Block holds the traditional view that Moses is the author/speaker (the main “voice”) of the majority of the book of Deuteronomy, and I think his article is convincing on this point and helpful, especially as I read through the biblical book. Block has also published a companion volume prior to this one, How I Love Your Torah, O Lord!: Studies in the Book of Deuteronomy (Cascade, 2011). Both volumes are great to have in my personal library, and I look forward to his forthcoming commentary on Deuteronomy in the NIVAC series, which is slated to be released in August 2012.

Written by Josh Philpot

June 22, 2012 at 11:15 pm

Counterfeit Gospels—Trevin Wax

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A couple of months ago I put my name into this site, and then I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this short review. I was please to see that the book I received was by Trevin Wax, Counterfeit Gospels (Moody, 2011). I’ve always enjoyed Trevin’s blog, and I’ve had the opportunity to speak with him a couple of times. He’s a great guy and I’m thankful for the work he is doing for the church at Lifeway.

I was skeptical about Counterfeit Gospels at first, mainly because so many books on the gospel have been printed recently and I didn’t think that we needed another. But I really enjoyed this one in particular. Trevin’s writing style is engaging and personal. Many of his stories and illustrations I can relate to, which kept me reading. The book is broken up into three parts: (1) Story, (2) Announcement, and (3) Community. These three parts form the backbone of the biblical gospel. There is a story that culminates in Jesus (his life, death, and resurrection), an announcement that all people should repent and believe, and a community that gospel believers should be a part of—the church. Trevin frequently refers to this as a three-legged stool: the gospel story provides the context for the gospel announcement, which then births the gospel community. The best way to do evangelism, Trevin says, is to emphasize all three.

Within each part Trevin highlights two “counterfeits” that subvert the gospel. For part 1 there is the therapeutic and judgmentless gospels, each offering a counterfeit story/announcement/community. In part 2 Trevin mentions the moralistic and quietistic gospel counterfeits, and in part 3 the activist and churchless counterfeits. I won’t explain them here, but Trevin provides a helpful chart on pg. 210. All of the counterfeits are false gospels that ensnare the church. Thus the purpose of the book is to articulate the true gospel and to show how attempts to change it ultimately fall flat.

The implications of the gospel are far-reaching, so the church must get it right. Every generation will need to understand the biblical gospel and apply it to appropriate contexts. Trevin Wax has given us a great little aid for doing that in this generation, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to read Counterfeit Gospels and recommend it to others.

Written by Josh Philpot

June 19, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Gospel

Unbroken—Laura Hillendbrand

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This is a fantastic book about Louie Zamperini, a WWII vet who survived a plane crash, 47 days adrift at sea in a life raft, and then nearly three years of hard labor and torture at the hands of the Japanese. He’s eventually rescued after the atom bomb ends the war. The story takes so many unexpected turns it’s almost unbelievable. And the best part is that after the war Zamperini comes to grips with his own sinfulness and despair and somehow finds his way to a Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles. There he puts his faith in Christ and is forever changed.

When this book was released I kept avoiding it because I knew I would get sucked in and be distracted from seminary reading. But I’m glad that I finally read it. I would encourage anyone interested in WWII history to pick it up.

Written by Josh Philpot

June 15, 2012 at 3:27 am

Posted in Book Reviews, Books