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The Book That… (8)

Author
Category Articles
Date January 12, 2018

David Ellis, Mark Johnston, and Dewey Roberts agree to answer questions on the books that have impacted their life and faith.

* *

David Ellis is a retired missionary and pastor who recently moved to Stradbroke, Suffolk.

Mark Johnston is the pastor of a Presbyterian church in Cardiff.

Dewey Roberts is the minister of a PCA congregation in Destin, Florida.

* * *

The book that I am currently reading…

D.E: For study: Roots by J. Alec Motyer. For devotion: His Love Endures Forever by Gary Williams.

M.J: I was recently given a copy of Cornerstones of Salvation, by Lee Gatiss, subtitled Foundations and Debates in the Reformed Tradition. The book is a collation of papers and articles by Dr Gatiss that he has either delivered or published over the past 17 years. It piqued my interest in part because I was present at the 2008 St Antholin’s Lecture at which he considered John Owen’s theology of baptism and had found it most stimulating. But also, given my Anglican roots, I have found it very helpful to read his treatments of the Reformation and key aspects of its theology as it has developed through the ages from his own Reformed Episcopal perspective.

D.R: The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell, Volume 2: Theological and Ethical. I purchased the four-volume set in 1974 as a seminary student at Reformed Theological Seminary and read them almost from cover to cover at that time. But a book worth reading once is worth reading again. I never fail to be enlightened, instructed, and encouraged by Thornwell.

The book that changed my life…

D.E: Knowing God by J. I. Packer, especially on adoption.

M.J: There are many books that could be placed in that category either at major junctures in my own spiritual pilgrimage or in relation to key areas of my understanding. But one stands out, perhaps because when I read it I began to realize that theology is not just a set of beliefs; but the backbone of the Christian life. It was Sinclair Ferguson’s book, Add to Your Faith (published in the USA under the title Taking the Christian Life Seriously). It brought home to me the wonder of what Paul says when he speaks of how the gospel transforms our lives through the renewing of our minds as we understand and apply it. For the first time, I began to appreciate that doctrine is not some arid formulation pf the Bible’s teachings; but the stuff of new life in Christ.

D.R: One of the first books that I purchased when I first came to Christ was Arnold Dallimore’s George Whitefield, Volume 1. At the time, I was in a liberal Methodist congregation and it was helpful in moving me in a different direction. I still consider that book to be one of the best books ever written.

The book that I wish I had written…

D.E: Puritan influences in Ireland and the influence of the friends there.

M.J: For almost five years I have had a partly finished manuscript on worship filed away in my computer. It’s a theme that has long weighed on my heart because it is something the church has struggled with, not just in recent times, but throughout its history. Too often the debates surrounding public worship have either focused on issues of style at the expense of substance, or else the other way around. So, having lived through the ‘worship wars’ that have affected so many churches in different ways, I very much wanted to write something that provided a fresh and wider perspective on issues that have too often polarized Christians and churches unnecessarily. Work on the project was interrupted by circumstances beyond my control, but the fire that sparked it in the first place still burns with the desire to see it through to completion…some day!

D.R: Holiness by J. C. Ryle. It is a classic on a subject that is so important for every Christian.

The book that helped me in my preaching…

D.E: Preaching and Preachers by D. M. Lloyd-Jones.

M.J: The homiletics section of my library is one of the largest in my entire collection of books. I look at many of them and say a quiet ‘Thank You!’ to their authors – many now dead, but some still living – for helping me understand this task more fully and perform it more effectively. Preaching is my primary calling and yet it is my never-ending struggle. It never gets easier. Indeed, if anything, it seems to get harder. So, when Tim Keller’s recent book, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Scepticism, was published, I began to read it but was somewhat sceptical about what I might learn from it. It turned out to be one of the best books on preaching I have ever read. The reason for that, I think, is the way he manages to draw together aspects of what is bound up with proclaiming the Word that are often – consciously or otherwise – compartmentalized. He draws together not only the ‘technical’ aspects of preparation and crafting a sermon; but also many other vital components, notably the role of Holy Spirit, what it means to ‘preach Christ’, preaching ‘into’ as opposed to ‘at’ our hearers and, as his title indicates, the challenge of preaching in age of scepticism.

D.R: D. Martyn Lloyd Jones’ Preaching and Preachers and Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry. Both were extremely helpful to me as a young minister and I still find them so today.

The book that I think is most underrated…

D.E: None comes to mind.

M.J: Professor T. J. Crawford’s significant book, The Mysteries of Christianity, was widely welcomed when it was recently republished by Banner of Truth; but his work, The Fatherhood of God, seems largely to have been forgotten. I came across it many years ago when asked to write on the doctrine of adoption and found it very helpful. Dr Crawford approaches the subject with particular reference to how the Fatherhood of God relates to the atonement and he explores it against the backdrop of the debates surrounding the divine Fatherhood that were current in the 19th Century. Originally delivered as part of a lecture series, his material in book form still has a great deal to teach on this vital subject.

D.R: Robert Traill’s Works, especially his sermons on ‘The Throne of Grace’ and ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. Traill has penetrating insights in both of those series of sermons and his words are like apples of gold.

The book that made me say amen as I read…

D.E: Several, including Human Nature in its Fourfold State  by Thomas Boston. More recently, Devoted to God by Sinclair Ferguson.

M.J: Keller’s book on preaching.

D.R: Sermons on Important Subjects by Samuel Davies. I purchased a 3-volume set from a used book seller in 1976 and began reading the sermons of America’s greatest ever preacher. I had never read nor heard sermons like those before.

The last book that made me weep…

D.E: Long ago reading the life of one of the five American martyrs in Ecuador, Nate Saint’s story, entitled Jungle Pilot sowed the seeds of a missionary call in my heart.

M.J: I may be a Celt, but I’m not overly prone to displays of emotion! But, that said, and perhaps surprisingly, I have found myself being deeply moved repeatedly as I have worked my way through Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics. That may sound odd, given that Bavinck is pretty heavy going at times, but the way in which he opens up the great truths revealed in Scripture has often struck a chord within that makes me want to burst into praise.

D.R: Andrew A. Bonar’s Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne. There are parts of that great biography that have made me weep for more than 40 years whenever I re-read it. I felt the same way when I visited St. Peter’s Church in Dundee, Scotland where M’Cheyne preached.

The book that I am most ashamed not to have read…

D.E: Bondage of the Will by Luther!! (And the books of my friend Geoff Thomas.)

M.J: Perhaps not so much a book as a particular author: like many ministers, my library has a section of ‘sets’ and collected writings – most of which I have used to a greater or lesser extent. But one author who I have explored in small measure, but not as much as I feel I ought is Thomas Goodwin. Given the far-reaching impact he has had on so many and the way he has blessed some of my closest friends, I know I ought to spend more time with him.

D.R: For a long time, it was Augustine’s Anti-Pelagian Writings, but I have resolved that problem. Even though I have read small portions of Phillip Schaff’s 8-volume set History of the Christian Church, I regret that I have not read it all.

The book that I most often give to new church members and young Christians…

D.E: One of Peter Jeffery’s books, or Derek Rime’s.

M.J: It’s varied over the years and depended very much on where a person is at and what I think would help them most. But, in recent years I have found myself passing on Derek Thomas’ How the Gospel Gets us all the Way Home and Ian Hamilton’s The Faith-Shaped Life more and more.

D.R: Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon, along with the Bible reading plan of M’Cheyne. I encourage new Christians to read John, the other Gospels, Acts, the rest of the New Testament (except Revelation). Psalms and Proverbs, before tackling the other books of the Bible.

The book that I give to people thinking of becoming a Christian…

D.E: Right With God by John Blanchard.

M.J: Tom Wells’ little book, Come Home Forever, is a delightfully fresh presentation of the gospel. Given that we live in a generation that is increasingly ignorant of the Bible’s teaching and, more than that, is suspicious of what they think it teaches, this book taps into the deepest longing of the human heart and God’s glorious answer to it in Christ – the yearning for ‘home’. The curse of Cain, that he should be ‘a restless wanderer on the face of the earth’ lies at the heart of the deepest angst that troubles the human soul. Christ came to bring people back into the spiritual ‘home’ for which we were made – to God and into his family.

D.R: Either John Blanchard’s Right with God or John Stott’s Basic Christianity. My wife was converted through reading Right with God which I had given to her. It is simple, faithful, and unique.

The book that I wish I were able to write and wish someone would write…

D.E:  [That works both ways, but it would be a very tiny booklet — G.T.]

M.J: In the all-too-brief time I served a church in Philadelphia, my then Associate Minister, Dr David Garner, and I used to go across to Westminster Seminary to offer informal sessions on ‘Things that seminary will never teach you’. We never ceased to be surprised by how many students turned up for these rather impromptu sessions and by the response they generated. Men making the transition from Theological College into full-time ministry are often ill-prepared because there is so much a seminary can never provide; but if there was a book that might help them…?

D.R: The completion of James B. Ramsey’s commentary on Revelation. Ramsey only completed the first 11 chapters, but he never gets sidetracked by prophetic dates and places. The strength of this commentary, as Iain Murray once told me, is that you cannot nail down his eschatological position. I wish Ramsey had finished it or that someone else could do so in Ramsey’s style of writing.

The best book for children…

D.E: Leading Little Ones to God.

M.J: There are all kinds of Christian books that are great for children – children’s Story Bibles, biographies and more besides – but given the endless stream of questions children seem to generate from their earliest years, there is one that I have found particularly useful. It is Sinclair Ferguson’s Big Book of Questions and Answers. It uses the age-old approach of catechizing, but in a fresh and visual way. Indeed, I’ve often heard parents who have used it say that they have learned as much, if not more than their kids as they have worked through it!

D.R: I struggle with this one. Too often books for children water down the gospel and make it moralism. Leading Little Ones to God by Marian Schoolland is probably the best one available.

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