Dennis E. Johnson’s book, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, has a lot of important and relevant things to teach us. Here are a few highlights from the introduction…
1. Revelation Is Given to Reveal.
2. Revelation Is a Book to Be Seen.
“One of the key themes of the book is that things are not what they seem. The church in Smyrna appears poor but is rich… What appear to the naked eye, on the plane of human history, to be weak, helpless, hunted, poor, defeated congregations of Jesus’ faithful servants prove to be the true overcomers who participate in the triumph of the Lion who conquered as a slain Lamb. What appear to be the invincible forces controlling history—the military-political-religious-economic complex that is Rome and its less lustrous successors—is a system sown with the seeds of its self-destruction” (p. 9).
3. Revelation Makes Sense Only in Light of the Old Testament.
“The ancient serpent whose murderous lie seduced the woman and plunged the world into floods of misery (Gen. 3:1) is seen again, waging war against the woman, her son, and her other children—but this time his doom is sure and his time is short (Rev. 12; 20)” (p, 13).
4. Numbers Count in Revelation.
For example, “The number seven symbolizes the Spirit’s fullness and completeness” (p. 15).
5. Revelation Is for a Church under Attack.
“Our interpretation of Revelation must be driven by the difference God intends it to make in the life of his people. If we could explain every phrase, identify every allusion to Old Testament Scripture or Greco-Roman society, trace every interconnection, and illumine every mystery in this book and yet were silenced by the intimidation of public opinion, terrorized by the prospect of suffering, enticed by affluent Western culture’s promise of ‘security, comfort, and pleasure,’ then we would not have begun to understand the Book of Revelation as God wants us to… Always, in every age and place, the church is under attack. Our only safety lies in seeing the ugly hostility of the enemy clearly and clinging fast to our Champion and King, Jesus” (19).
6. Revelation Concerns “What Must Soon Take Place.”
7. The Victory Belongs to God and to His Christ.
“Revelation is pervaded with worship songs and scenes because its pervasive theme—despite its gruesome portrait of evil’s powers—is the triumph of God through the Lamb. We read this book to hear the King’s call to courage and to fall down in adoring worship before him” (p. 23).
Here are twenty of my favorite books that I read in 2019. I think I only read three fiction books this year. I need to fix that. I plan to read quite a bit more fiction next year. Anyhow, here’s some of my favorites… (in no particular order)
- Why Suffering?: Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn’t Make Sense
by Ravi Zacharias
- Safely Home by Randy Alcorn
- Apologetics at the Cross: An Introduction to Christian Witness by Josh Chatraw and Mark D. Allen
- Them: Why We Hate Each Other–and How To Heal by Ben Sasse
- How Long O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil by D.A. Carson
- Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow
- Alienated American: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse
by Timothy P. Carney
- Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story by Christopher Yuan
- Remember Death: The Surprising Path to Living Hope by Matthew McCullough
- The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr by Clayborne Carson
- Today Matters: 12 Daily Practices to Guarantee Tomorrow’s Success by John C. Maxwell
- Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
- Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller
- Preaching as Reminding: Stirring Memory in an Age of Forgetfulness by Jeffrey D. Arthurs
- An Unhurried Leader: The Lasting Fruit of Daily Influence by Alan Fadling
- Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
- Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, wife of Charles H. Spurgeon by Ray Rhodes Jr.
- To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson
- Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
- Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
Out of all the books I read last year, Remember Death by Matthew McCullough, is the one I would suggest you read over all the rest.
Here is a list (in no particular order) of some of the most significant theological books I have read.*
- God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment By James Hamilton
- From Eden to the New Jerusalem and The Servant King by T. D. Alexander
- The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis
- The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
- The Doctrine of God and The Doctrine of the Word of God by John Frame
- Knowing God by J. I. Packer
- Money, Possessions, and Eternity by Randy Alcorn
- Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
- Desiring God, Don’t Waste Your Life, God is the Gospel, Future Grace and Let the Nations be Glad by John Piper
- The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer
- New Testament Theology and The King in His Beauty by Thomas R. Schreiner
- Foundations of Soul Care by Eric Johnson
- The Cross of Christ by John Stott
- Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
- Death by Love by Mark Drisscol
- The Universe Next Door by James Sire
- Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp
- The Resurrection of Jesus by Michael Licona
- Desiring the Kingdom by James K. A. Smith
- Radical by David Platt
- Center Church by Timothy Keller
*This is a personal list of books that helped me in a particular way at a particular time. This is not a list on the best and most significant theological books; that list would look different.
“Even if your life plays out in precisely the way you imagine for yourself in your wildest dreams, death will steal away everything you have and destroy everything you accomplish. As long as we’re consumed by the quest for more out of this life, Jesus’s promise will always seem otherworldly to us. He doesn’t offer more of what death will only steal from us in the end. He offers us righteousness, adoption, God honoring purpose, eternal life—things that taste sweet to us only when death is a regular companion” (Matthew McCullough, Remember Death, p. 25)
“If we want to live with resilient joy—a joy that’s tethered not to shifting circumstances but to the rock-solid accomplishments of Jesus—we must look honestly at the problem of death. That may be ironic, but it’s biblical, and it’s true” (McCullough, Remember Death, p. 27).
“If death tells us we’re not too important to die, the gospel tells us we’re so important that Christ died for us” (p. 28).
McCullough quotes Ernest Becker from his book The Denial of Death: “Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever.” McCullough goes on to say, “There is a massive disconnect between what we feel about ourselves and what death implies about who we are” (p. 68).
“Death says your less important than you’ve ever allowed yourself to believe. The gospel says you’re more loved than you’ve ever imagined” (p. 74).
“Wisdom never pretends things are better than they are. Never shrinks back from acknowledging the harsh realities of life” (p. 87).
“Death has an unmatched ability to expose the flimsiness of the things we believe give substance to our lives” (p. 99).
“Death exposes our idols for what they are: false gods with no power to save” (p. 107).
“It is Resurrection or vanity” (p. 110).
“The God who made us has come to us, entered the darkness we have chosen for ourselves, absorbed the just punishment for our sin in his death, and made new life possible in his resurrection” (p. 113).
“Loss is universal, not exceptional. It’s guaranteed, not unexpected. Every relationship is lost to time. So is every penny of everyone’s wealth, and ultimately so is every life. Loss isn’t surprising. It is basic to the course of every life” (p. 122).
“Life works like a savings account in reverse. Zoomed out to the span of an entire life cycle, you see that no one is actually stockpiling anything… Everything you have—your healthy body, your marketable skills, your sharp mind, your treasured possessions, your loving relationships—will one day be everything you’ve lost” (p. 122-23).
“It’s useful to practice paying careful attention to the experiences of people who have lived before you” (p. 123).
“We need to recognize that our problem is far worse that we’ve admitted so that we can recognize that Jesus is a far greater Savior than we’ve known… Honesty about death is the only sure path to living hope—hope that can weather the problems of life under the sun, that doesn’t depend on lies for credibility” (p. 150).
“The Bible never asks us to pretend life isn’t hard… The Bible never asks us to lighten up about the problems of life” (p. 153).
“Death-awareness resets my baseline expectation about life in the world” (p. 160).
“The brokenness I experience—the frustration, disappointments, dissatisfaction, pain—is not a sign of God’s absence. It is the reason for his presence in Christ” (p. 160).
- “An emaciated gospel leads to emaciated worship. It lowers our eyes from God to self and cheapens what God has accomplished for us in Christ. The biblical gospel, by contrast, is like fuel in the furnace of worship. The more you understand about it, believe it, and rely on it, the more you adore God both for who he is and for what he has done for us in Christ” (Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel, p. 21).
- “That I have rebelled against the holy and judging God who made me is not a happy thought. But it is an important one, because it paves the way for the good news” (30).
- “Nobody wants a God who declines to deal with evil. They just want a God who declines to deal with their evil” (44).
- “Since the very beginning of time, people have been trying to save themselves in ways that make sense to them, rather than listening and submitting to God” (102).
- “If we say merely that God is redeeming a people and remaking the world, but do not say how he is doing so (through the death and resurrection of Jesus) and how a person can be included in that redemption (through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus), then we have not proclaimed the good news. We have simply told the narrative of the Bible in broad outline” (107).
- “The message of the cross is going to sound like nonsense to the people around us. It’s going to make us Christians sound like fools, and it most certainly is going to undermine our attempts to ‘relate’ to non-Christians and prove to them that we’re just as cool and harmless as the next guy. Christians can always get the world to think they are cool—right up to the moment they start talking about being saved by a crucified man. And that’s where coolness evaporates, no matter how carefully you’ve cultivated it” (110).
- “Sins don’t shock us much. We know they are there, we see them in ourselves and others every day, and we’ve gotten pretty used to them. What is shocking to us is when God shows us the sin that runs to the very depths of our hearts, the deep-running deposits of filth and corruption that we never knew existed in us and that we ourselves could never expunge. That’s how the Bible talks about the depth and darkness of our sin—it is in us and of us, not just on us” (54).
- “It is only when we realize that our very nature is sinful—that we are indeed ‘dead in our trespasses and sins,’ as Paul says (Eph. 2:1, 5)—that we see just how good the news is that there is a way to be saved” (55).
- “Faith and repentance. That is what marks out those who are Christ’s people, or ‘Christians.’ In other words, a Christian is one who turns away from his sin and trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ—and nothing else—to save him from sin and the coming judgment” (73).
- “If you are a Christian, then the cross of Jesus stands like a mountain of granite across your life, immovably testifying to God’s love for you and his determination to bring you safely into his presence” (117).
1. “Our search for approval is over. In Christ, we already have all the approval we need” (Dave Harvey, Rescuing Ambition, p. 56).
2. “My search for approval is over. In Christ I already have all the approval I need.
Because Christ’s righteousness has been transferred to me, all the time and energy I once squandered trying to be liked or praised or to achieve something to validate my existence can now be re-directed toward doing things for God’s glory. I no longer live for approval; I live from approval” (Harvey, Rescuing Ambition, p. 56).
3. “God loves good ambition. It brings him glory as he works through our desires to fulfill his purpose. God doesn’t need us, but amazingly he uses us. But to position us for fruitfulness, he’s continually working in our lives, turning our desires toward his ends and developing our ambitions and accordance with his will” (p. 74-75).
I really enjoyed reading Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret. You should read it. Here are some observations from my reading…
Summary of the book: Trust. Trust and unreserved commitment to the Lord is how I would summarize Hudson Taylor and this book. Before he went to China he said: “‘I shall have no claim on anyone for anything. My only claim will be on God. How important to learn, before leaving England, to move man, through God, by prayer alone'” (33). And that’s what we see happen. He learned to trust God alone. He trusted God even with his children. He said, “‘I find it impossible to think that our heavenly Father is less tender and mindful of His children than I, a poor earthly father, am of mine. No, He will not forget us!'” (125). And in dark days, God enabled Taylor to say: “The battle is the Lord’s, and He will conquer. We may fail—do fail continually—but He never fails” (p. 154).
Insights from the book:
- The impact that one person can have is tremendous when they trust the Lord and have an unreserved commitment to do His will (cite the number of believers in China now, p. 12).
- “We want, we need, we may have, Hudson Taylor’s secret and his success, for we have Hudson Taylor’s Bible and his God” (p. 16). That is such a good reminder. The same God that brought Israel out of Egypt, rose Jesus from the dead, and provided for Hudson Taylor is the same God who is Lord of all now.
- Hudson Taylor wore Chinese clothes even though this was unprecedented and looked down upon by some (cf. e.g. p. 65). This is an important reminder that God and His Word must govern us, not the expectations of others.
- Hudson Taylor had “the Lord’s own yearning of heart over the lost and perishing” (19 cf. p. 32, 112). “We may have more wealth in these days, better education, greater comfort in traveling and in our surroundings even as missionaries, but have we the spirit of urgency, the deep, inward convictions that moved those that went before us; have we the same passion of love, personal love for the Lord Christ? If these are lacking, it is a loss for which nothing can compensate” (p. 127). This reminds me that I need (God help me!) to develop at heart for the lost and love and passion for the Lord Jesus Christ who is their only hope.
- “It was not easy to keep first things first and make time for prayer. Yet without this there cannot but be failure and unrest” (p. 22). Prayer and delighting myself in God is vital.
- “The One Great Circumstance of Life, and of all lesser, external circumstances as necessarily the kindest, wisest, best, because either ordered or permitted by Him” (p. 79). I need to have a bigger view of God. This is vital in part because “The secret of faith that is ready for emergencies is the quiet, practical dependence upon God day by day which makes Him real to the believing heart” (p. 100).
- “’My father sought the Truth,’ he continued sadly, ‘and died without finding it. Oh, why did you not come sooner?’” (p. 95). This quote reminds me of the absolute importance of heralds going to share the good news of Jesus.
- “In these days of easy-going Christianity, is it not well to remind ourselves that it really does cost to be a man or woman whom God can use? One cannot obtain a Christlike work save at great price” (p. 27). This quote—and Hudson Taylor’s life—reminds me and reinvigorates me to seek hard after the Lord.
- “How then to have our faith increased? Only by thinking of all that Jesus is and all He is for us: His life, His death, His work, He Himself as revealed to us in the Word, to be the subject of our constant thoughts. Not a striving to have faith… but a looking off to the Faithful One seems all we need; a resting in the Loved One entirely, for time and for eternity” (p. 158). This quote answers a very important question. How to have more faith? Meditate on Jesus!
- “If God should place me in a serious perplexity, must He not give me much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength? No fear that His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me” (p. 165). This is a good reminder that whatever I face, God will be there with me as my ever-present, every-ready, and all-powerful help.
- I need to trust the God who is simultaneously the Lord of the universe and my Father.
- I need to faithfully pray in reliance and desperation to the One who is Lord and Father.
- I need to renew my commitment to spend and be spent for the Lord. I need to renew my commitment to discipline myself for the sake of godliness.
- I need to meditate more on Jesus (His person and work).
- I need to trust that God can use one poor and needy sinner such as I to accomplish great things for His glory.
- I need to develop more of a heart for those who are without hope and without God in the world.
- I need to keep first things first and seek God above all things—even good, healthy, and productive things.
- I need to remember that whatever challenges are in front of me God’s grace is sufficient. God is all-powerful and He is with me. He is my Father!
 Taylor says, “I was enabled by His grace to trust in Him, He has always appeared for my help” (p. 153).
I’m being facetious in the title. But here are my favorite books that I read in 2017. They are in no particular order. That would be too difficult. If I could make you read just one book, however, it would be The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch.
- John M. Perkins, Let Justice Roll Down
- William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith
- Ben Sasse, The Vanishing American Adult
- Andy Crouch, The Tech-Wise Family
- Andrew T. Walker, God and the Transgender Debate
- Ishmael Beah, A Long Way Gone
- Tim Challies, Do More Better
- Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus
- Frank Turek, Stealing from God
- John S. Dickerson, The Great Evangelical Recession
A treatise on vanity. That is basically the book of Ecclesiastes. What a depressing book. How is a book like that ever to be read and enjoyed, especially with our modern sensibilities? We need stuff that will make us feel good even if it is not the truth, right? Isn’t that what we need? That, at any rate, is what much of society would have us believe.
At first glance, it seems that the book of Ecclesiastes is a book that would throw you into nihilistic depression just short of suicidal. So what use has it in Scripture? Or, what, at least, use do we have for it today?
Well, it does no good to build upon a shoddy and cracked foundation. We can build all we want but all we do is for naught if the building will never truly stand. If we are to truly build something that is worth anything we must start anew. We must strip it down to the bedrock. To say that all is vanity is to say that all is cracked, you cannot build upon it. That is not to say that these things are inherently bad, they are not. But for us to understand these things, whatever they may be for you, we must first know they are desperately cracked. They can never hold anything of substance. They can truly never be built upon. They can’t hold the weight. Thus, if we experience discomfort from Ecclesiastes it is the doctor’s scalpel. It is the necessary pain for the healing of our life.