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

Albert Mohler on Childlessness and Contraception

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Today, World Mag posted an interview with Albert Mohler about his tenure as president at Southern Seminary. It is a very interesting article. One of the questions concerns his view of childlessness and contraception. I appreciate his response: 

In the Bible, childlessness is always discussed as something that is grievous and a cause for sorrow rather than a cause for joy. There are purposes for which people were childless in the Bible, but that’s much like what Paul argued in I Corinthians 7 about someone who was unmarried. You’re unmarried for a purpose that is tied to the gospel. The idea that healthy married people, a man or woman who are married together would choose childlessness just as a lifestyle is alien from the Scripture. If that’s controversial, just try to find any hole in that argument from the Bible. I don’t think you’re going to find it. In fact, I’m confident you won’t.

Contraception is not as easy of a question to answer as you might think or people might want. The Roman Catholic Church has an easy answer, and that is no to any kind of artificial contraception. Quite frankly, their definition of natural stretches the imagination of what natural means. What we do need to recognize is that evangelicals just joined the contraceptive bandwagon unthinkingly, unreflectively, and, I think, unfaithfully, and just thought that any pill had to be a good pill. It has unleashed far more sorrow than joy in this world and has led to an understanding that babies are now simply an elective accessory and has made every pregnancy a tentative pregnancy. You have to put that alongside the availability of legal abortion. By the time you put together the triumvirate of no fault divorce, the availability of contraception, and the availability of abortion on demand, what you have is a situation that has just completely transformed the value of life as recognized by this society.

Read the whole article here

Written by Josh Philpot

March 26, 2015 at 1:27 pm

Posted in Culture, Family, Seminary

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

The Mass Delusion of Transgenderism

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Time

Kevin Williamson:

Regardless of the question of whether he has had his genitals amputated, Cox is not a woman, but an effigy of a woman. Sex is a biological reality, and it is not subordinate to subjective impressions, no matter how intense those impressions are, how sincerely they are held, or how painful they make facing the biological facts of life. No hormone injection or surgical mutilation is sufficient to change that.

Genital amputation and mutilation is the extreme expression of the phenomenon, but it is hardly outside the mainstream of contemporary medical practice. The trans self-conception, if the autobiographical literature is any guide, is partly a feeling that one should be living one’s life as a member of the opposite sex and partly a delusion that one is in fact a member of the opposite sex at some level of reality that transcends the biological facts in question. There are many possible therapeutic responses to that condition, but the offer to amputate healthy organs in the service of a delusional tendency is the moral equivalent of meeting a man who believes he is Jesus and inquiring as to whether his insurance plan covers crucifixion.

This seems to me a very different sort of phenomenon from simple homosexuality (though, for the record, I believe that our neat little categories of sexual orientation are yet another substitution of the conceptual for the actual, human sexual behavior being more complex and varied than the rhetoric of sexual orientation can accommodate). The question of the status of gay people interacts with politics to the extent that it in some cases challenges existing family law, but homosexual acts as such seem to me a matter that is obviously, and almost by definition, private. The mass delusion that we are inculcating on the question of transgendered people is a different sort of matter, to the extent that it would impose on society at large an obligation — possibly a legal obligation under civil-rights law, one that already is emerging — to treat delusion as fact, or at the very least to agree to make subjective impressions superordinate to biological fact in matters both public and private.

As a matter of government, I have little or no desire to police how Cox or any other man or woman conducts his or her personal life. But having a culture organized around the elevation of unreality over reality in the service of Eros, who is a sometimes savage god, is not only irrational but antirational. Cox’s situation gave him an intensely unhappy childhood and led to an eventual suicide attempt, and his story demands our sympathy; times being what they are, we might even offer our indulgence. But neither of those should be allowed to overwhelm the facts, which are not subject to our feelings, however sincere or well intended.

You can read the whole thing here.

(Via Justin Taylor)

Written by Josh Philpot

June 3, 2014 at 1:37 am

Posted in Culture

Selfie-Deception

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Over at the Gospel Coalition Worship blog I have a post on “selfie-deception.” I try to point out that selfies (the Instagram kind) can be a form of self-worship, and that a way forward would be to focus on texts that emphasize the “face” of God, like Exodus 34 and Numbers 6. Here is an excerpt:

These are only a few of the many verses in the Bible that speak about the glory of God’s face and its impact on his people. But this should be what we desire. It should be our earnest hope for our congregations as we lead them, when we pray for them, and when we care for them. And it should shatter our self-interest and our selfie-deception.

Indeed, it’s the natural result of focusing on God. Considering his work, his power, his sovereign will, and his grace to us in Christ naturally leads to rejecting the sort of self- expression that so sinfully pervades our culture, because in doing so we reject one glory (the glory of our faces) in favor of a far greater glory (the glory of God).

So with these texts in mind, is it too much to ask that we refocus ourselves and our selfies, to rethink how we think about our faces? Instead of dispersing our faces among so many selfie-factories, perhaps we should focus on a single point, or rather, a single person—the face of Jesus Christ. Selfies say, “I’m here! I’m important! I matter!” God says that he is what matters, and the only image that should concern us is the one in whom rests the image of the invisible God. God says that we should dwell on the light of his face, which, as Paul states, is so clearly seen “in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). We want glory. We desire it. We want the light on our faces. But in Christ alone is the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God.” (#nofilter)

Read the whole thing here.

Written by Josh Philpot

February 21, 2014 at 8:05 pm

Switchfoot and Christian Music

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There is a very interesting interview with Jon Foreman posted over at the CTK Blog. Jon is the lead singer/writer of the band Switchfoot, which is sort of a quasi-Christian band that emerged in the late 90’s. The irony in that statement is that the term “Christian band” is exactly what the interview is about, and Jon offers a thoughtful critique of the entire notion of labeling his music “Christian” (or any other music from someone who is a “Christian” artist, like J.S. Bach).

I won’t quote the interview here. The key for me is contextualization. I have no problem with a bunch of Christians having a band that writes songs that aren’t explicitly “Christian,” whatever that means (it means various things to various groups; does he mean evangelical? would he define it in a gospel-centered way, as I would?). I would ask, initially, what is the purpose of Switchfoot? To communicate truth? Or, beauty? These things are inherently good because, in a sense, all truth is God’s truth (a la Philippians 4). But does Jon have to be singing about the “gospel” explicitly in order to be a “Christian” band? I don’t think so. A good poet doesn’t just come out and say what is true in explicit terms; he creates beautiful language, and in turn causes his reader to think hard about what he is saying. Switchfoot’s songs communicate something true about God, and in that sense, it is for his glory. Even if Jon’s songs don’t mention “Christ,” the songs still “reedemed,” I would say.

But is Switchfoot trying to communicate the gospel in their songs? I don’t think that they are, at least in the songs that I’m familiar with. If singing the gospel is their intent, then I would argue that they should be more explicit, or at least state this intent at their concerts and in their albums. Using someone like J.S. Bach as an example (as Jon does in the interview) isn’t exactly helpful to what Jon is saying. No one doubted the real intent behind Bach’s music because he put “S.D.G.” (soli deo gloria — to God alone be glory) at the end of every piece he wrote! Lewis and Tolkein—to whom Jon also points as examples of “Christian” authors who don’t mention “Christ” in any of their stories—serves as another example. Even so, does anyone really doubt the biblical allusions to Christ and redemption in those stories? What Jon is doing is different. When Jon sings, “We were meant to live for so much more,” what does he mean? Does he mean, “live for Christ,” or, “live to do something good in the world?” And, does it help his audience at all if they don’t know what he really means? I remember hearing that song on an ESPN highlight reel, and I doubt that the editors of Sports Center were thinking “live for Christ.” So in the secular context those words mean one thing. In the “Christian” music scene, they mean something else.

Lastly, I would say as one commenter does at the bottom of that post that that this entire question is not an either/or proposition—to be an explicitly Christian band or not. Switchfoot is trying to make a living too, and if they want to be in the non-Christian market to make more money, fine by me. I don’t understand why so many Christians have a problem with this, as if being a Christian requires you to write only explicit Christ-on-the-cross lyrics. In a way, Switchfoot is more free to be a positive Christian influence by not adopting that label as part of the music scene. Thus, I generally agree with most of what Jon is saying. I would not, however, use their songs in a worship service. I conclude with a particularly poignant quote from Jon that I found refreshing:

“None of these songs has been born again, and to that end there is no such thing as Christian music. No. Christ didn’t come and die for my songs, he came for me. Yes. My songs are a part of my life. But judging from scripture I can only conclude that our God is much more interested in how I treat the poor and the broken and the hungry than the personal pronouns I use when I sing. I am a believer. Many of these songs talk about this belief. An obligation to say this or do that does not sound like the glorious freedom that Christ died to afford me. I do have an obligation, however, a debt that cannot be settled by my lyrical decisions. My life will be judged by my obedience, not my ability to confine my lyrics to this box or that.”

Written by Josh Philpot

December 7, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Posted in Culture, Music