Barrett’s Book Notes: Neo-Evangelicals, Luther, Aquinas, and more
If you want to understand Evangelicalism today then it is essential to know something about the neo-evangelical movement of the early twentieth-century and its key representatives. Doing so will only help the evangelical today identify that which sets him or her apart from fundamentalists on the one hand and liberals on the other hand. Owen Strachan’s new book is just the resource we need to get in touch with our evangelical roots. I especially appreciate Strachan’s attention to Harold Ockenga, a key leader in his day, setting a vision for the future of Christian intellectualism. Carl Henry, Kenneth Kantzer, George Eldon Ladd, John Gerstner, and others also receive attention. Here is a book every evangelical should read, absorb, and learn from. It certainly will clarify our evangelical heritage, one we seem to be increasingly losing our grip on.
Here is an interview with Strachan:
My Final Word: Holding Tight to the Issues that Matter Most, by Charles Colson with Anne Morse
Charles Colson has proved to be one of the most prophetic voices of our time. The former presidential aide to Richard Nixon spoke with boldness, unafraid to address the controversial issues of our day, encouraging Christians not to compromise their evangelical values and convictions. With his recent death, this book allows readers one last chance to hear Colson confront issues like Islam, same-sex marriage, crime and punishment, natural law, and the persecution of Christians. Though gone, his voice can still be heard.
Martin Luther’s 95 Theses: With Introduction, Commentary, and Study Guide, by Timothy J. Wengert
Fortress Press, 2015
In light of the upcoming anniversary of the Reformation, the publishing world is bursting at the seams once again with books on Martin Luther. So far Wengert’s Martin Luther’s 95 Theses is one of my favorites. Wengert focuses his attention on what factors led Luther to write his famous theses, which many historians have pointed to as a starting point for the sixteenth-century Protestant reform movement (though Luther could not have known it at the time). The reason I like Wengert’s book so much is because he very clearly explains medieval Catholicism and why Luther reacted against it. This is hard to do because medieval soteriology is so complex. Yet Wengert is a tour guide that will explain the year 1517 with ease. Short, accessible, and exciting, put Wengert’s book on your shelf this Reformation season.
Reading the Word of God in the Presence of God: A Handbook for Biblical Interpretation, by Vern S. Poythress
Vern Poythress is one of those authors to keep up with (if you can). He writes on a wide variety of topics, bringing insight to each. But one of his specialty areas is hermeneutics. In his new introduction to hermeneutics, Poythress teaches the Christian how to read the Bible. His approach, however, is practical and pastoral, reminding the Christian that every time he reads his Bible he does so in the presence of God. This is not just a book for academics or students, but one that every pastor should dig through as it will guide him in how to interpret the Bible as he prepares to preach God’s Word.
Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story, by Michael Horton
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016
If you find theology books hard to read, but nonetheless desire to learn and understand the core doctrine of the Christian faith, then this is the book for you. Horton will walk you through the basic beliefs of Christianity, demonstrating that they are biblically rooted and extremely important for life as a Christian. Along the way he will also introduce you to important historical figures, good and bad, providing historical insight to the discussion. I think this would be a fantastic book for church small groups to work through…and pray through!
C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: A Biography, by George M. Marsden
Princeton University Press, 2016
In my experience, if there is a book almost every Christian (and sometimes non-Christian) has read it is Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. Fitting nicely within the Lives of Great Religious Books series, George Marsden’s biography is a window into one of Christianity’s great classics. Marsden, one of the top historians of our day, takes us on a tour, starting with Lewis’s conversion as an atheist only to transition into the story of how Mere Christianity evolved. Marsden also moves past Lewis to explore how Mere Christianity changed the lives of figures like Charles Colson. If Mere Christianity played a significant role in your conversion, you will be intrigued to learn how God has used this classic to convert countless others.
John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion: A Biography, by Bruce Gordon
Princeton University Press, 2016
This is not your typical book on Calvin. Gordon makes clear from the start that it is not a theology of Calvin, nor is it a history of Calvinism. Instead, says Gordon, he intends to “take the reader on a journey from the desk of the young John Calvin in Basel in 1536 to our world of social media religion by following the lives of one of the great books of the European Reformation, the Institutes of the Christian Religion.” And that Gordon does very well. The book is a fascinating one. Regardless of whether you agree with all of Gordon’s conclusions, Gordon takes you down expected and unexpected paths as he traces the influence of Calvin’s Institutes. This one-of-a-kind biography is just another reminder of how effectively the Lord has used the theology of the Institutes across the globe and through the ages.
Thomas Aquinas’s Summa theologiae: A Biography, by Bernard McGinn
Princeton University Press, 2014
Unfortunately, Thomas Aquinas is not a historical figure many Christians today are familiar with and this is due in part because Christians are generally unacquainted with the medieval period. It is also due to the inaccessibility and difficulty of Aquinas’s writings. I hope McGinn’s new biography of Aquinas’s magnum opus, the Summa theologiae, will remedy this disease. McGinn highlights the contribution Aquinas has made to theology, but he also traces the reception of Aquinas up to the present day in a variety of circles. For novices, this book is not the easiest reading, but don’t let that keep you from getting to know this colossal theologian.
Here is a video where McGinn gives a lecture on Aquinas:
Matthew Barrett is Tutor of Systematic Theology and Church History at Oak Hill Theological College in London, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. He is the author of several books, including Salvation by Grace, Owen on the Christian Life, God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture, and Reformation Theology. Currently he is the series editor of The 5 Solas Series with Zondervan. You can read more about Barrett at matthewmbarrett.com.