With all the down time the last week or so with both ETS and Thanksgiving, I got to read some books unrelated to my studies. I enjoyed all of them and thought I would pass on a comment on them in case it would intersect any of your interests. All of these are books I got at ETS.
The first thing I read (naturally) was a book I found on Jonathan Edwards, specifically on his understanding of revival, by Michael Haykin, who recently moved from Toronto to teach at Southern Seminary in Louisville: Jonathan Edwards: The Holy Spirit in Revival. It was all right. Haykin goes through the most pertinent works Edwards did concerning revival, with chapters on Religious Affections, Thoughts Concerning the Revival, Distinguishing Marks, and Surprising Narrative, and shows how JE navigated the waters between James Davenport and the Enthusiasts on the one hand and Charles Chauncey and the rationalists on the other. Haykin was certainly interested in pointing out the link between JE and later Calvinistic Baptists, as he brought this up at several different junctures. Nothing particularly groundbreaking, just a good solid review of Edwards' revival writings. I would have enjoyed it if he had connected Edwards' work more explicitly with today's needs for authentic, God-sent revival (as for example this work and this one does more generally). Granted, it was a historical study, but I was longing for more bridge-building into today's church.
The next thing I read was Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. I've been trying to understand the Emerging Church lately and this book swims in that pond, so I thought I'd give it a read. I confess that though I was skeptical when I started it, I ended up loving it. Miller lives in Portland and goes to Rick McKinley's church there. It is a rambling autobiography that is well-written and addresses lots of aspects of Christian living. At times I squirmed a little bit (e.g. statement that belief is about what you do not what you say--a false dichotomy that is reacting to a true problem but does it by overreacting). But overall I think this book will do and has done lots of good. The depiction of sin was right and true, which is often not true of Emerging writers. And the thoughts on how to reach unbelievers, by loving rather than condemning, was of course good. I'm still digesting the book.
Then I read two small books by Steve Nichols that Crossway has published in the last two years. The first is The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World. I loved this book because Nichols effectively brings history to life. I now have a book I can enthusiastically put in the hands of people who want to understand the Reformation but are not avid readers or who find history generally boring. The second book was Heaven on Earth: Capturing Jonathan Edwards' Vision of Living in Between. I appreciated this one very much too because, as I wished Haykin had done, Nichols explicates an aspect of Edwards' thought and then transplants it into our world today, painting a picture of what it looks like, with Edwards as our teacher, to live on earth in light of eternity in heaven. This book is also one small contribution toward putting to death what we were all taught in high school lit, that Edwards was an angry, misanthropic fire-and-brimstone preacher and nothing else.
John Piper's The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright was next, which I got for free because at the ETS Crossway lecture in San Diego Crossway handed out 900 free copies. This was much shorter than I expected, which is good because it will be less formidable to everyday believers who have benefitted from Wright yet don't know how much to swallow and how much to spit out. It was fair and helpful and I think it did the job it intended to do. The clarification that Paul's Gospel is essentially "Christ died for our sins" and not "Jesus is Lord," and that the latter is only good news in light of the former, was especially helpful.
Lastly I read the recent work on penal substitution by three men assosiated with Oak Hill Theological College in England: Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution. It was originally published by IVP in Britain but Crossway just put it out for American readers. I am very grateful for this book. It is thorough and unique--unique because the last third of the book, 125 pages, is devoted to answering critiques of penal substitution. Dozens of objections are addressed, quoting those who have voiced them so as to leave no confusion and to avoid knocking down straw men. The book is divided into exegetical defense, theological coinherence, pastoral implications, historical corroboration, and the objections answered. I found the theological defense to at times spend time filling out unnecessary theological points, I thought the historical section had some glaring omissions (Luther, Edwards, Wesley), and I found the pastoral section a bit thin, but the exegesis focused on a good selection of passages from both OT and NT, and the objections answered makes the book worth reading if nothing else does. The book explicitly says it is meant to be something between scholarly writing and popular writing, which I appreciated and at which the authors succeeded. And it clarified many things that were a bit fuzzy in my own mind and I find myself more sure than ever that Jesus died as my substitute to pay a penalty I deserved, satisfying God's righteous wrath. The authors rely heavily throughout on D. A. Carson and John Stott, as well as several old-timers such as Owen and Calvin. The idea that penal substitution is the answer as to how the evil powers are overcome, and that we ought not to elevate the latter over the former as many are today, was especially illumining.
Now back to dissertation reading! Next up is Paul Rainbow's The Way of Salvation, which just arrived in the mail from Amazon and argues for a more critical place of works in justification than the Reformers allowed, done through exegesis of Paul and James.