The Book Briefs will likely be less frequent and less full for some time to come. My PhD program officially starts this month (and so do my tuition payments). So for the foreseeable future I need to limit my extracurricular reading almost exclusively to books and articles that will find their way into my dissertation. I told myself this is the last week to finish some books I’ve been meaning get through; after this a number of great books will have to sit on the sidelines.
Thankfully, the four books below–all published this year–are quite good. Presuming you are not in a doctoral program, you would do well to pick up any or all of them.
Sam Allberry, Is God Anti-Gay? (The Good Book Company, 2013). I can’t figure out why we haven’t had a book like this before, but it’s just what we need. Allberry, a pastor in the UK who himself struggles with same-sex attraction, has written the perfect book to hand to skeptics and wobbly believers. The tone is irenic, the content firm, and the length manageable (less than 100 pages). Allberry covers the necessary texts and answers–in an intelligent, yet brief and winsome way–the most common questions and objections. I will be recommending this book often in the years ahead.
K. Scott Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith (Crossway, 2013). Oliphint, an apologetics professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, has written an excellent book which passes down (and translates) Van Tilian presuppositionalism for a new generation. The argumentation is dense at times, but that is owing to the subject matter not to Oliphint’s clarity or lucidity. As much as possible, Oliphint steers clear of professional jargon and academic rabbit trails.
Without a doubt, the book’s strength is the careful attention Oliphint pays to the text of Scripture. This is an exegetical work, not abstract philosophizing. In particular, I found the discussion on Acts 17 illuminating. Covenatal Apologetics makes a valuable contribution to ongoing epistemological discussions and makes a practical contribution to the day in and day out defense of the faith. I hope Oliphint’s new terminology sticks and many will slowly digest this important work.
Thomas Fleming, A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War (De Capo Press, 2013). In this fascinating book, Thomas Fleming, a well respect historian and author of more than fifty books, argues that the Civil War was fought because of “a disease in the public mind” (a phrase used by President James Buchanan in 1859). The “disease” refers broadly to the tendency toward extremism and implacable winner-take-all attitudes on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. In particular, Fleming locates the “disease” in the North in abolitionism and, in the South, in the fear of slave insurrections. It might be going too far to say Fleming sympathizes with the South, but it would be accurate to say he criticizes Northern radicals for lacking any understanding or empathy for the fears that were fomenting in the South. Fleming presents slavery in all its deplorable harshness, but he also takes to task men like William Lloyd Garrison and John Quincy Adams for needlessly insulting the South and refusing to entertain compromise solutions to the brewing conflict. By contrast, Fleming sees in Lincoln that political savvy, charitable opponent of slavery the country needed–but, alas, it got him too late and his life was cut short before he might have been able to oversee a more profitable peace.
Books on the Civial War and slavery provoke strong feelings, so not everyone will be convinced with Fleming’s thesis (I wasn’t in every respect). But he writes well and tells the tragic story of slavery in America with a strong voice and knack for connecting the dots across the decades.
Scott M. Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (Oxford University Press, 2013). This is one of the finest examples I’ve come across of first class scholarship which also serves the church. Calvin scholars, Reformation scholars, and social historians will not be able to ignore Manetsch’s excellent contribution to the field. At the same time, I can’t imagine pastors not being edified as they read about the Venerable Company’s hard work, pastoral faithfulness, endurance, and normal human failings. The sections on pastoral calling, church discipline, and preaching were especially good. The book has a clear structure and a useful summary chapter. On top of all this, Manetsch is a skillful writer and, by all accounts, a wonderful teacher and Christian. Pastors should get this book.