My 5 Favorite Books of 2017​

It’s become a somewhat annual tradition for me and many others to write a post like this. But people love books lists as they consider last-second Christmas gifts or are looking for ways to spend their Amazon gift cards.

There are a few reasons why I’ve compiled this list. First, I love reading and I love to share what I’m reading. Second, I’m also always encouraged by others’ thoughts and their lists often help me pick out a few last books for my Christmas wish list. Third, I get a lot of books from publishers, and while I don’t review or share books I don’t end up liking, I’m always willing to recommend a good book if it is, in fact, good.

In no particular order, here are my five favorite books that I read in 2017. Check out my 2015 list and 2016 list at my old Patheos blog.

Hengel Son of GodThe Son of God by Martin Hengel

Published in 1975, this book was one of many in which Hengel dismantled and reconstructed Christological debates in the mid-20th century, arguing that Christians believed in the divinity of Christ very early on. In this book, Hengel explains the role the title “Son of God” played in that early development of divine Christology. Only coming in at around 100 pages, Hengel still does some significant Christological heavy lifting.

Way of the Dragon StrobelThe Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel

Of all the books I read this year, this one was the most impactful on me personally. It proved to be the final straw that broke my social media camel’s back. I deleted all my social media accounts soon after finishing it.

Through biblical exegesis, personal reflections, and interviews with men like J. I. Packer and Eugene Peterson, Goggin and Strobel lay out the case for a view of ministry and leadership (and indeed, life) that resembles the way of the Lamb—generosity, self-sacrifice, wisdom in speaking truth, love, etc. Too often, we fall into the way of the dragon (Satan himself)—selfishness, pride, vitriol, hate, etc. And where I saw myself falling into the way of the dragon the most was on social media and the struggle of “platform.”

On God and Christ NazianzusOn God and Christ by St. Gregory of Nazianzus

I’ve read this book several times, and reading it again in 2017 reminded me of its beauty. Simply put, it is one of the most important books (originally a set of sermons) in the history of the Christian church due to its formative impact on Trinitarian theology and Christology. If the Trinity debate made you scratch your head or piqued your interest in the subject, this is a must-read. We’d all do well, actually, to read the Fathers on the Trinity before we get too far down the Trinitarian road.

Sojourners and Strangers AllisonSojourners and Strangers by Gregg Allison

Over the past year, I’ve been in the eldership process at my local church. Since it’s been nearly two years since I served in a church staff position and about five years since I was a pastor, I decided to read this book over the summer to brush up on my ecclesiology and to solidify (or challenge) some of my core beliefs. I was not disappointed. Allison masterfully deals with every topic in ecclesiology—from how theology proper trickles down, to the qualifications of elders and deacons, to the sacraments/ordinances, and much more—without avoiding thorny issues or over-simplifying complex matters. And though it is an ecclesiological tour de force, it’s written accessibly and from a pastoral heart.

Tyndale House Greek NTThe Greek New Testament, Produced at Tyndale House

I received a copy of this only a few weeks ago, but I love it more than I thought I would. Obviously, I’ve not read the entire NT in Greek in the past few weeks, but I’ve found this edition to be my go-to for casual reading or reference since the day I cracked it open.

It’s simplified—almost like a Greek “reader’s Bible”—but still contains basic textual notes. It’s not something I’m using in my doctoral work (it’s not built for that level of analysis), but it’s a perfect on-the-go Greek NT for someone like me, who needs as many practice reps in Greek as he can get!

 

 

Brian LePort’s Short Review of Runge’s Greek Discourse Grammar

Brian LePort recently posted a positive short review of Steve Runge’s Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Hendrickson 2010). My linguistic journey began when I was introduced to using linguistics as tool for exegesis when I took a Biblical Hebrew Syntax course at Southeastern Seminary. Then while at Edinburgh I purchased Runge’s DGGNT and ultimately utilised the concepts from the chapter on Information Structure (Word Order Analysis) for my MTh dissertation on fronting in Amos 3-6.

Three things confirmed for me on the reasonableness of the concepts advocated in DGGNT: First, it was a cross-linguistic approach. The principles found in the grammar have been utilised by linguists and fieldworkers working in numerous types of languages. Thus, the principles are reasonable because they derive from how language works and is processed.  Second, while at Edinburgh I worked with a lecturer in the linguistics faculty and she found the framework linguistically responsible. Here was a linguistics scholar, not a Greek scholar, validating the linguistic framework. The last reason is the explanatory power I found while writing my dissertation. I found that I could explain particular phenomena in Amos that either scholars just make intuitively, but with no exegetical basis, or simply could not answer because they felt the evidence was ambiguous.

A great quote from Brian’s original post that sums my own feelings:

I confess that prior to reading this book I overlooked most (or read without being very conscious) of the devices used by authors to do things as simple as emphasizing the main theme over against an athematic point, or when the author seems to be commenting/explaining the text within the text, or when the author wants to introduce a change in time or place. In fact, many of these chapters introduced ideas that were completely new to me. If not completely new, then paradigm shifting and mind expanding. I found that my reading of the text seemed to go from 2-D to 3-D in the process.

Read the entire review here.

Some Advice for Seminarians

After spending the first two years of teaching at Cal Baptist preparing lectures, getting to know my school and administration, immersing myself and my family in our local church, and trying to do my best to not mess it all up, I now have a bit of time each week to work on some things I’d laid aside. Namely, I now have a bit more time to read, write, and work in the original languages.

The last of these is the easiest for a busy seminarian or graduate to drop from their regular schedule. This is true for the graduate no matter if they’ve moved on to pastoring, teaching, church planting, the mission field, or some parachurch ministry. Starting a new work, or having more time to devote at a current ministry after graduation, always makes for a busier schedule. For me, at least, the easiest thing to drop out of that schedule was the languages. Likewise, in seminary, with many students working part or full time along with having a family while taking 4-5 classes, it is very easy to stop working with Greek and Hebrew (not to mention German, French, and Latin).

I remember my first semester at SEBTS vividly; I had always looked forward to attending seminary so I could learn Greek and Hebrew (yes, we all know I’m a nerd). Dr. Black took us through Greek I and II with a potent blend of a complete mastery of the language and an engaging teaching style. When we finished Greek II in the J-term, he challenged us to join the 5 minute Greek club. The club, as he told us, has no dues and no meetings. We just all agreed to read Greek for 5 minutes a day. At first this was something I knew I could do – I was taking Greek III that summer, and so I had to keep up with it.

But then, as I entered my second year of seminary, I took Hebrew I and II during the latter part of the summer and Hebrew III that fall, and so turned my attention away from Greek. At that time I was also preparing for the PhD entrance exam, and we were expecting our first daughter in January. I started part time at the seminary that October and was full time within a year. I was working in the Field Ministry Office trying to help Dr. Wade start a new program that partnered with churches for theological education, and so the excitement of entrepreneurial work took up my time as well. On top of that I was an adjunct for an online program, a part time staff member at our church, and a teaching assistant. And then I started the PhD program, took one Greek seminar, and that was that. I wasn’t a member of the 5 minute Greek club anymore, and I gave up my membership in the Hebrew version after we got to weak verbs.

None of the above is an excuse. I mention it only to say what all of my language professors told me, but what I never let sink in – it is very easy to let the languages go, and often they go with a whimper. Busy-ness kills continued language proficiency. I’m working on building mine back up, and at times it’s easier than at others. But if I had listened to Dr. Black, if I had kept my membership in the 5 minute Greek club, it wouldn’t be an issue at all.

So my advice is simple – don’t let the languages go. They are vital to understanding God’s Word to us, and that means that pastors and professors alike ought to know them and know them well. It’s better to keep on knowing them than to have known them once and left them.

Scots Translation of the New Testament

Here was an interesting (and short) blog post from the New College Librarian on the 30th Anniversary of the translation of the New Testament into Scots. The New Testament is currently on display at the library at New College.

This post provoked a couple of thoughts: firstly, I was surprised that it wasn’t until 1983 that there was a translation of the New Testament into Scots (I have to admit my ignorance when it comes to the Celtic languages and this may not be a big deal because of the English translation of the New Testament). Secondly, the great need for good translations of both testaments for the many people groups with never seeing the Bible in their own tongue. Below is a 10-minute video of a people group receiving a translation of the New Testament into their own heart language.

Audio Tanak

David Reimer (New College, University of Edinburgh) sent me a link to a website with the entire Tanak read in audio to help prepare for my MTh in Biblical Studies.

I have found this website helpful for my pronunciation and to quickly work through large chunks of text. I added the link to the Resource page on the blog for quick access.

You can access the audio Tanak by clicking here.

A language tool worth investing in…

I was recently invited to write a testimony for the biblical language software, Paradigm Master Pro. I first became aware of this program when I was taking Greek with Maurice Robinson, Guardian of the Byzantine Text. After testing the software through the available free online quizzes (you do not even have to sign up to try out the quizzes) I was hooked. It has been the best investment to improve my grasp of the biblical languages. “What was the cost of my investment?” you ask–$30.

My problem with the languages was that I could not recall forms: nouns, verbs, you name it, as fast as I needed to when I was reading through different texts. I felt what I lacked was the drilling of forms. I needed to drill these forms into my mind until parsing became a reflex! I think this is the beauty of the software, the program is made of hundreds of different quizzes in both Hebrew and Greek and those quizzes are comprised from thousands of different forms found in both languages. I think a helpful analogy is to consider PMP like a trainer in the gym that constantly pushes you physically by using different workouts and different exercises ensuring that your body is fit and ready for anything. Like a trainer that observes your form in each exercise, the program keeps track of what you get correct and what you miss giving you immediate feedback on how well you know your different forms.

Another benefit of the program is that it can be integrated with whatever grammar book you may be using. The way I have used the program is to read through a chapter and then find the corresponding quiz to whatever I’m learning. And because there are hundreds of quizzes you know there will be a quiz for whatever you just read.

If you want to get serious about learning the biblical languages I encourage you to try the free quizzes I linked to above and then after you see how beneficial this will be to learning Hebrew and Greek then purchase the full program to get all the quizzes available.

Online Hebrew/Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Akkadian, and Arabic Lexicon

Many of you may be aware of the following resource from Tyndale House but I thought I would go ahead and link it to the blog. The lexicon is set up for you to select your choice of language and then click on the first two letters of the word you are looking up. You can access the lexicon by clicking here.

I have also added the lexicon to the Resources section of the blog for quick access.