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.
We see through James P. Boyce’s and Charles Spurgeon’s life that they were entrusted with great gifts but we also see through a survey of their biographies that they also suffered great grief. We have much to glean from them. We will see that we are all called to be faithful stewards of what God has entrusted to us. Though it will be difficult to various degrees we can endure what God has called us to by the grace that He grants us.
Hear Spurgeon’s words:
I know you will tell me that the gold must be thrust into the fire, that believers must pass through much tribulation. I answer, Truly it must be so, but when the gold knows why and wherefore it is in the fire, when it understands who placed it there, who watches it while amid the coals, who is sworn to bring it out unhurt, and in what matchless purity it will soon appear, the gold, if it be gold indeed, will thank the Refiner for putting it into the crucible, and will find a sweet satisfaction even in the flames.
Thus, even as we face difficulties we must entrust ourselves to a God, as Spurgeon did. Even in the midst of Spurgeon’s great suffering he “never doubted that his exquisite pain, frequent sicknesses, and even despondency were given him by God for his sanctification in a wise and holy purpose.”
A Great Work At A Great Cost
Spurgeon and Boyce both had great life works but they both suffered great loss in their lives as a result. Boyce, who founded the seminary I went to, said that the seminary may die but that he would die first. He would worked rain or shine for the prosperity of the school. He said that he did not own the seminary but rather it owned him. Boyce kept the seminary alive and fed it with almost his own heart’s blood. Thus we see that Boyce clearly realized that he would have to imitate his Lord’s long-suffering. There was “mammoth energy and sacrifice involved” for Boyce “in setting the seminary securely during the trials of decades.” “Boyce endured the press of ‘anxieties, trials, and labors” during days when the seminary’s future appeared bleak and exerted ‘herculean toils’ to surmount these seemingly invincible difficulties.”
Similarly, Spurgeon was not a martyr, but he chose to die every day. He suffered with gout; he gave his money, his time, and himself completely to the Lord. God used Spurgeon greatly. He wrote over 140 books, penned around 500 letters a week, spoke to thousands of people each week, started an orphanage, started a pastor’s college, and led countless people to Christ, among other things. That was all possible because he gave himself entirely to the Lord. One of Spurgeon’s biographers, Arnold Dallimore, said, “Early in life he had lost all consideration of his own self, and his prayer that he might be hidden behind the cross, that Christ alone might be seen, had expressed his heart’s chief purpose.”
Spurgeon said, “It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus.” Boyce, similarly, had an “entire devotion.” Likewise, Paul was greatly used by God because he gave himself unreservedly to Him; even to the point of much affliction. If we are going to be used by God, for His glory, we must unreservedly sacrifice all and He must get all, Christianity is all-encompassing. May our chief boast be Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (Gal. 6:14).
Jesus held the weight of the world on His shoulders, even the sin of the whole world. Yet, Spurgeon and Boyce surely often felt as if the weight of the world was on their shoulders. However, they also felt that their burden was easy (cf. Matt. 11:30), and they knew that through Jesus Christ their reward would be great (2 Cor. 4:17). Both Spurgeon and Boyce knew that the cross came before the crown, trials before the triumphant Kingdom. So, Spurgeon said, for instance, “Good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others.”
I would do well to remember the price that godly men and women have paid throughout the centuries when I become discouraged in my work. The writer to the Hebrews wrote about various faithful men and women to encourage the recipients of the letter to endure in the face of persecution (see Heb. 11). I need to remember “the great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1), including Spurgeon and Boyce, and run on with endurance (cf. v. 1).
Martin Luther talked about the theology of the cross. I think both Spurgeon and Boyce had a clear understanding of this theology. In fact, I think Spurgeon could have written his own tome on it. Both Spurgeon and Boyce lived a life of strenuous endeavor, to borrow Theodore Roosevelt’s words. Yet, they did not box as one beating the air (1 Cor. 9:26). Rather, they knew for what they labored, they labored for the Lord, and thus knew their labor was not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). Spurgeon, as he loved Bunyan’s great work and read it around one hundred times, certainly would have agreed with Lloyd-Jones’s observation: “The great truth in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is not that Christian endured great hardships on his way to the eternal city, but that Christian thought it to be worth his while to endure those hardships.”
Spurgeon and Boyce ironically suffered with some of the same physical bodily afflictions. They both suffered with bouts of gout, for instance. Gout is typically the worst when body temperature is lower. Gout very often targets the big toe but can also cause joint pain in wrists and fingers as well as fatigue. Symptoms from gout can actually be so intense that the weight of a sheet can be unbearable. However, the physical pain was multiplied for these great men when you consider all that they were incapable of doing when they were laid up because of their pain. Though they sought to make the best of this time, surely they often felt anxiety and perhaps guilt over what they were unable to accomplish during these bouts.
Yet, their great enemy, to borrow the words of Spurgeon, was also a great teacher. We see in Spurgeon’s biography that his great suffering enabled him to better relate to people (cf. 2 Cor. 1:4). Suffering taught both Spurgeon and Boyce humble reliance on the Lord. This brings to mind Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7). Even as Boyce and Spurgeon were writhing in pain I am sure they thought (1) that God was sufficient to use frail jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7), (2) that God is sovereign and when they weep He still reigns and cares for His Church, and (3) that though they were indeed experiencing great suffering it was nothing compared to the eternal wrath that the suffering of the Son of God had averted for them. Thus, though these great men knew great suffering, they both grew instead of grumbling. Their gout was a rod that dished out sanctification.
I would do well to look at these men’s example and hear again, “Good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others.” I may or may not deal with the physical pain that they dealt with but I can certainly learn from their patience in the midst of it. I must also remember “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master” (Matt. 10:24). If Jesus my Master suffered then I can expect nothing less.
During one of Spurgeon’s bouts with depression he said, “I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for.” Not only did Spurgeon have a natural disposition to depression but the weight of his position and responsibilities also was heavy upon him. He said,
Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment… The kingdom comes not as we would, the reverend name is not hallowed as we desire, and for this we must weep… How often, on Lord’s-day evening, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us!
Thus we see that Spurgeon, “the prince of preacher,” was sometimes even depressed about his sermon on Monday or even as he walked down from the pulpit on Sunday. He said these words to a group of ministers, “We come out of the pulpit, at times, feeling that we are less fit than ever for the holy work. Our last sermon we judge to be our worst.” “We experience dreary intervals of fruitless toil, and then it is no wonder that a man’s spirit faints within him.”
Here are my 18 favorite* books I read in 2018 (in no particular order**):
- Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
- John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life
- Nancy Pearcey, Love Thy Body
- Zach Eswine, The Imperfect Pastor
- Darren Hardy, The Compound Effect
- Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
- Tony Dungy, The Mentor Leader
- D.A. Carson, Worship by the Book
- Brandon Sanderson, The Final Empire
- Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics
- Jackie Hill Perry, Gay Girl, Good God
- James D. Bradley, Flags of our Fathers
- Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals
- Brandon Sanderson, The Well of Ascension
- Jeff Christopherson, Kingdom First
- Debby Irving, Waking Up White
- Jonathan Grant, Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age
- Soong-Chan Rah, The Next Evangelicalism
And here are a few runner-ups…
If we have the New Testament why do we need the Old Testament?
- All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable (2 Tim. 3:16), not just the texts we like to read.
- All the promises of God find their answer in Jesus so it is important that we understand what the promises are (2 Cor. 1:20).
- When Paul preached to the Ephesian church he preached the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) and the whole counsel of God points us to Jesus (Lk. 24:27).
- When Stephen preached in Acts chapter seven he preached the Old Testament (see also the other sermons recorded in the New Testament) which demonstrates the vital importance of the Old Testament.
- The things in the Old Testament serve to instruct us and set an example for us (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11).
- When Paul ministered to churches one of his ministries was proving that Jesus was the Promised One, the Christ (Acts 9:22). Paul demonstrated the amazing truth that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah by teaching the Old Testament. We see this all through Acts (Acts 9:22; 13:16ff; 16:13; 17:3, 17; 18:4-5, 19; 19:8ff; 24:25; 26:6, 22-26; 28:23, 31 cf. 18:28). We too must understand what it means that Jesus is the Messiah and that will require learning from the Old Testament.
- Much of the New Testament assumes knowledge of the Old Testament.
- Scripture is so good we need as much of it as we can get, Old Testament or New. Scripture is perfect (Ps. 19:7), true (Ps. 19:9), pure (Ps. 19:8), a light (Ps. 119:105,130), a sword (Eph. 6:17), a hammer (Jer. 23:29). It is better than gold (Ps. 19:10; 119:72) and we need it to live (Ps. 119:144). Scripture gives joy (Ps. 119:111; Jer. 15:16), makes wise (Ps. 19:7), guards (Ps. 119:9), guides (Ps. 73:24; 119:105), sanctifies (Ps. 119:9, 11).
Read and study the Old Testament along with the New. 🙂
I use to do construction and I remember my boss telling me that if you get something plumb, straight up and down, then it would go all the way up to the moon forever. But if you get it wrong by just a little bit than you are going to be off by a lot in the end. What you do in the beginning has a big impact on where you end up. It is the same with the Bible. The book of Genesis is very foundational. Without a good grasp of Genesis the rest of our theology will likely crumble to the ground and be worth nothing. So much is built on it. If we are off here, we are going to be way off down the road of the Bible.
There are many “plot conflicts” in the book of Genesis. They will serve as our compass to find our way through the huge book that is Genesis. Leland Ryken has wisely said “Stories are always built around plot conflicts. These conflicts progress toward some type of resolution… Noting plot conflicts is one of the best ways to organize a story, either in the actual process of reading or when talking about the story” (How to Read the Bible as Literature, 41). So, there are three things I want to pay careful attention to and note their expansion in the rest of Scripture and their fulfillment through or in Jesus the Christ.
Here are a few of the themes that are the building blocks of the theology of Genesis (NDBT, 140) and in many ways the whole Bible: (1) The promise of seed, i.e. offspring, (2) the promise of land, and (3) the promise of being a blessing to the nations (see esp. 12:1-3). All of these themes are in embryonic form in Genesis chapter three and expand through the rest of the book. They continue to expand through the Old Testament but don’t find their true fulfillment until the New Testament and the coming of the Promised One. Truly, even then, in the New Testament, there is still an element of the “not yet” until in Revelation all things are made new.