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

The Pastor-Theologian

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Recently I joined the Third Fellowship of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and I’m preparing for and looking forward to my first symposium with CPT this August. To get an idea of what CPT is all about, Justin Taylor posted four brief video clips of Kevin Vanhoozer—Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and the co-author of a forthcoming book—The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision—speaking to CPT about the concept:

Why Are Pastor-Theologians Necessary?

What’s the Harm if Pastors are Not Theologians?

What Led to the Separation of Pastors and Theologians?

What Might Happen If the Church Had More Pastor Theologians?

Written by Josh Philpot

June 24, 2015 at 12:06 pm

Kevin Vanhoozer, Drama King

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Over at Christian Today, Wesley Hill has a fascinating bio of theologian Kevin Vanhoozer that is worth your time: 

Formerly a senior lecturer at Edinburgh University, now a longtime research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, Vanhoozer is one of the biggest names in academic theology. The author of six books and the editor of at least a dozen more, his sessions at the annual American Academy of Religion and Evangelical Theological Society meetings are always overflowing.

But in and through all the groundbreaking research and years of teaching, Vanhoozer views himself principally as one who practices the “care of words.”

“Theology is a bridging exercise,” he says. “We’re always trying to reach people.” The way Vanhoozer does it is by looking for the playful, visionary, creative angle from which to speak and write.

Read the rest here: Kevin Vanhoozer, Drama King | Christianity Today

Written by Josh Philpot

May 28, 2015 at 6:08 pm

Martin Luther on the Value of Reading the Old Testament

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I recently came across this great quote from Martin Luther on the value of reading the Old Testament: 

There are some who have little regard for the Old Testament. They think of it as a book that was given to the Jewish people only and is now out of date, containing only stories of past times. . . . But Christ says in John 5, “Search the Scriptures, for it is they that bear witness to me.” . . . [T]he Scriptures of the Old Testament are not to be despised but diligently read. . . . Therefore dismiss your own opinions and feelings and think of the Scriptures as the loftiest and noblest of holy things, as the richest of mines which can never be sufficiently explored, in order that you may find that divine wisdom which God here lays before you in such simple guise as to quench all pride. Here you will find the swaddling cloths and the manger in which Christ lies. . . . Simple and lowly are these swaddling cloths, but dear is the treasure, Christ, who lies in them. 

Martin Luther, “Preface to the Old Testament,” in Luther’s Works, vol. 35 (ed. E. Theodore Bachmann; Philadelphia: Muhlenberg, 1960), 235-26. 

Written by Josh Philpot

December 10, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Posted in Books, Old Testament

Using Commentaries in Digital vs. Print Format

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Brian Tabb recently reviewed the Anchor Yale Bible Commentary series in digital format (from Accordance Bible Software) for Themelios. In the review he posts some comments about the advantages of using digital commentaries instead of in print format: 

There are several advantages to owning the Anchor Yale Bible commentary series digitally on Accordance (see further the review of Accordance 10 Ultimate Collection in Themelios 38.3 [2013]: 453–55). First, on Accordance, the 87-volume set costs roughly one third of what it does in print—$1,499 versus $4,458. The Accordance version also retails for nearly $500 less than the same commentaries on Logos (reviewed in Themelios 34 [2009]: 226–27). Second, the Accordance set is compact and portable, unlike its print counterpart. The print volumes take up approximately eleven feet of shelf space, and it is challenging to fit more than one or two in a backpack or briefcase. In contrast, Accordance users may access this massive collection anywhere on Mac, Windows, iPad, and iPhone. Third, Accordance digital commentaries offer enhanced usability over print commentaries. Users may type in a Scripture reference to instantly navigate to the relevant translation and commentary. Additional search options include title (key words in a book title or section heading); English content; Scripture (references anywhere in the commentary body); Greek/Hebrew content; transliteration; translation; manuscripts; bibliography; authors; captions (for maps, illustrations, and tables); and page numbers. For example, a search for the translation “rectify” yields sixteen instances where J. L. Martyn distinctively renders δικαιόω and related terms in his Galatians commentary. A bibliography search indicates that eighteen of the twenty-six NT volumes cite Joseph Fitzmyer, while only one (Romans) refers to G. K. Beale. Caption searches for Palestine or Jerusalem lead users to relevant maps (Mark 1–8, ix; Acts, 190) that would be difficult to find going volume by volume with the print edition. Users may also create a custom group of commentaries to enable a single search within that group for a particular Scripture or keyword. This allows the pastor preparing a sermon or the student working on an exegesis paper to locate the most relevant pages in his favorite commentaries with one simple yet powerful search.

Read the rest for the full review: Themelios | Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries: Old Testament, Apocrypha, and New Testament

Written by Josh Philpot

December 8, 2014 at 4:21 pm

Posted in Books, Mac, Technology

Jonathan Swift on “Wisdom”

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Keen insights from Jonathan Swift as described by the hack narrator in A Tale of a Tub

[W]isdom is a fox, who after long hunting, will at last cost you the pains to dig out. It is a cheese which, by how much the richer, has the thicker, the homelier, and the coarser coat, and whereof to a judicious palate the maggots are the best. It is a sack-posset, wherein the deeper you go you will find it the sweeter. Wisdom is a hen whose cackling we must value and consider, because it is attended with an egg. But then, lastly, it is a nut, which, unless you choose with judgment, may cost you a tooth, and pay you with nothing but a worm.

Written by Josh Philpot

August 14, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Posted in Books, Culture, Wisdom

Reverberations of Exodus

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Peter Leithart offers the following critique of a new book, Reverberations of Exodus, which I bought recently but haven’t started:

What [the authors] miss is the cumulative inter-textuality of the Bible. If Joshua and Ezekiel are new Moseses who enact, somehow, new exoduses, then the New Testament allusions and echoes to exodus should reverberate across the whole [instead of in isolated texts]. When Jesus leads an exodus, he should be understood not just as new Moses but as new Moses-Joshua-Ezra-Ezekiel. By the time we get to the New Testament, exodus doesn’t strike a single note or an octave but a chord that reverberates, sometimes discordantly, throughout the Scriptures from the end to the beginning.

(Via Peter J. Leithart)

Written by Josh Philpot

July 15, 2014 at 12:39 pm