The Books on My Bookshelf 2019

favorite books of 2019Had you told 13 year-old Peter Witkowski that he would be reading thousands of pages every year, his eyes would have rolled upward and his mouth would have broken into a sarcastic laugh.  Despite my youthful misgivings and limited prophetic abilities, I have come to love books. I count them as some of my truest friends. They have guided, encouraged, and challenged my heart and mind.

Given my academic studies and profession, my tastes unapologetically bend towards history and theology. Though I read a good deal of academic literature, I have found such literature to possess an engaging sense of readability. Below are the three books that most prominently snuck into my conversations with April Witkowski and a few others in 2019. Though all are not academic in nature, I found all of them to be enjoyable reads.

George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father

Thomas Kidd

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“With apologies to the Beatles, George Whitefield was the first “British sensation.” The missionary to Georgia quickly outgrew the confines of his Savannah assignment and metamorphosed into the first great American preacher. He profoundly shaped the America Christianity as he preached to overflowing churches, challenged other pastors to preach the doctrines of grace, denounced the faculties of Harvard and Yale for their lack of spiritual vigor, and employed the technology of the printing press with unprecedented skill. Since his death, historians have either stomped upon the preacher’s grave in frustration or have desecrated his memory by pulling out one or two choice biblical lessons that ignore the scope of his life and ministry. Kidd attempts to avoid both extremes. He explores and defends Whitefield’s robust faith, giving credence to the preacher’s spiritual believes and experiences. But Kidd also wrestles with Whitefield’s faults, chronicling his odd (and at times comical) interactions with women, his self-awarded sense of grandeur, and his promotion of slavery. Kidd provides readers with a sympathetic and honest presentation of the first “British sensation”

Whitefield may have adopted modern marketing and communication methods, then, but his message was traditional and Calvinist. Instead of softening his view on the depravity of man in response to humanitarian critics, he emphasized original sin more. Whitefield spoke regularly of how people in their lost state became “sunk into the nature of the beast and the devil.

America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation

Grant Wacker

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Readers who engage Grant Wacker’s book will discover a wealth of insights into the depth of breath of Billy Graham’s influence over America. Wacker looks at how southern culture, the civil rights, the economy, and many other factors shaped Graham and were shaped by him. While Wacker paints an endearing picture of Graham’s heart for reaching the lost, the author also deals with the pragmatic realities of Graham’s life and ministry, discussing how Graham worked with Mormons, interacted with racists, and formed an almost monolithic support base middle-class, white evangelicals. Those seeking to understand the many and varied ways Billy Graham’s life has shaped their culture will find Wacker’s book to be a fascinating and beneficial read.

To say that Graham possessed an uncanny ability to adopt trends in the wider culture and then use them for his evangelistic and moral-reform ability purposes is another way of saying he possessed an uncanny ability to speak both for and to the times. Speaking for required him to communicate in a registrar his listeners could hear. He legitimated their social location by guaranteeing that their values would count…Yet…he spoke to them as well. He helped shape their consciousness…Speaking to Americans mean that he challenged them to live up to their self-professed values of biblical equality, moral integrity, and social compassion.

Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat

Giles Milton

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Prior to World War 2, to be British was to be one who championed “decency and fair play.” But as the Nazi military machine filled Europe with death, Winston Churchill decided to liberate the British army from her people’s high sense of morality. The Prime Minister empowered Cecil Clarke, Colin Gubbins and others to research and deploy the dirtiest tools of warfare. The stories that follow appear more fanciful than the tale of Beau Geste. Yet these stories arise not from Milton’s imagination but from the British National Archives. Readers cannot help but be drawn into the tales of misfiring rockets that became for the first anti-tank weapons, daring assignation attempts that snuffed out hated Nazi leaders, and commandos raids that resulted in ships disappearing into the night. As author P.C. Wren noted in 1926, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” Milton has rediscovered this maxim afresh, providing his readers with a fantastic read. In addition to chronicling the spies’ bravado, Milton found ways to discuss the humanity of his subjects, weaving details into his book about how their sixteen hour days and long alcohol filled nights strained marriages, enhanced their grief, and resulted in a tank being driven to church. Milton has put together a compelling string of stories that reveal both the strategic benefits and the human cost of Churchhill’s ungentlemanly warfare.

A Ministry of Ungentlemanly warfare. If its name was amusing, its role was anything but. It was to subvert the conventions of war – punch below the belt…Any German target, however soft, was to be considered fair game, and no weapon was to be considered off limits. “This from of activity was of the very highest importance.’ Said Churchill.

Review: The Doctrine of Repentance

51159BRX7QL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_The topic of Repentance demands the Christians full attention. If we hope to walk with our Lord in Savior in paradise, we must know, understand, and practice repentance. As Thomas Watson said, “Repentance is a continuous act. The issue of sorrow must not be quite stopped till death.” If we get repentance wrong, we will undoubtedly get the whole Christian faith wrong.

The Puritan pastor Thomas Watson dived into the conversation about repentance in 1628 when he published his short book, The Doctrine of Repentance. In the space of a 112 small pages, Watson thoroughly wrestles with the doctrine of repentance revealing both what it is and what it is not. After showing that repentance is the conjoined twin of faith, Watson spends the next three chapters discussing the difference between counterfeit and true repentance. He then looks at the motives and reasons for repentance, encouraging his readers to endure the difficulties that often follow true repentance and to remove all hindrances to true repentance.

Both the well-seasoned reader and the new-believer will find Watson’s book helpful. He wields the knife of scriptural interpretation with the care of a skillful pastor, quickly and succinctly applying the Scriptures to the lives of his readers. He clearly reveals what the Bible has to say about repentance. And he says it well. He paints powerful word pictures that bring the truths of Scripture to life. He writes, “Never do the flowers if grace grow more than after a shower of repentant tears.”  And then, he says, “A hard heart is the anvil on which the hammer of God’s justice will be striking to all eternity.” Most every page contains 1 to 3 insightful statements worthy of a quick tweet or of a Sunday morning mention. My own heart and preaching has benefited greatly from Watson’s convicting and loving words.

Sunday school teachers, pastors, men and women looking for devotionals, and those who love deepening their knowledge of God will find this little book immensely beneficial. I encourage you to grab a copy today!

Peter’s Favorite Books (2018)

I have been with the opportunity to interact with a several backpacks worth of books every year as I study of PhD. seminars, prepare for sermons, and enjoy the occasional relaxing read  Below, I listed short summaries three books I found that profoundly benefited my soul in 2018. If you are in the market for a new book I encourage you to read one or more of the following titles:

 

The Gospel Blimp: And Other Parables

–  Joe Bayley

gospel blimpHave you ever wondered the church is such a mess; why missions projects fail, and why some pastors have the backbone of milk-soaked piece of toast? Joe Bayly takes on these questions with a series of short-stories that strike the reader with parabolic power. If you are open to an easy read that tackles the uneasy problems of the modern church with page-turning humor and heart wrenching conviction, I encourage you to read The Gospel Blimp. This collection of short stories was written in the 1960s; it relevance has seemingly only increased with the passage of time.

Quick Peak:

“What repercussions there would be if he coupled these verses for tomorrow’s sermon! The fire would be kindled at eleven thirty a.m. and spread from church through the whole town shortly after noon.

‘‘A sermon against lynching! Why doesn’t he stick to the gospel?” – p.115

 

Don’t Fire Your Church Members: The Case For Congregationalism

–  Jonathan Leeman

dont-fire-yoruWe all love the church. But few of us have spent time reflecting on how creating a working definition of the church and thinking about how the church should be managed. Leeman’s book on church polity provides insightful looks into both these topics. He defines the local church and then lays out the doctrinal case of elder lead congregational polity. Though written at the popular level, Leeman’s short 200 page book contains many dense sections. But if you have a heart to know more about Christ’s bride and a heart to see your church become more like the churches of the NT, you will find Leeman’s book rewarding. I did. Leeman’s profoundly shaped my understanding of the local church. I trust you too will benefit from this book! If you want the cliff notes version, I encourage you to grab Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman.

Quick Peak:

Congregationalism, in other words, is not about voting on the color of the pew cushions or photocopier purchases. It is not a democracy in which members ask leaders to represent their views. It is, instead, the trust that Jesus has given to every Christian to take ownership of the gospel witness wherever they live. He authorizes them to do this through gathered assemblies. – p. 117

 

Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestantism Christianity

– Kevin J.  Vanhoozer.

bible-authorityThe reformation begun in 1517 by Martin Luther has dramatically reshaped Christianity. But change is not always good. Many scholars claim Luther and his fellow reformers undermined the pillars of the Christian faith, preparing the world for secularism and atheism. Kevin J. Vanhoozer devotes his book to answering this charge. He systematically discusses each of the Five Solas – Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Scripture Alone, Christ Alone, and Glory Alone – explaining how the five interrelated doctrines capture the heart of New Testament Christianity. If you desire to know more about the reformation, more about why the doctrines of grace remain essential, or more about why protestants no longer follow the leadership of Rome, grab a copy of Biblical Authority After Babel.

Quick Peak:

Grace is the gift of God’s beneficent presence and activity – that is, the communication of God’s own light, life, and love to those who have neither the right to them or claim on God. Grace is God giving what is not owed. Grace is God in communicative action ad extra. Grace is the economic Trinity, the means by which God extends himself towards others, first in creation and later in redemption. Put simply, grace is the Triune God – God sharing his Fatherly love for creation in the Son through the Spirit. – p.53.