John Bunyan’s famous allegory Pilgrim’s Progress is filled with men and women who happened along the path of Christian as he has started his journey toward the Celestial City. We have spent a little time with Ignorance who wanted to talk Christian into trying to make the journey on his own works. Evangelist is another character who was very instrumental in the conversion and later the discipleship of Christian. He is representative of a faithful godly pastor who spends time and effort working with the travelers as they labor through the journey. We now come to another impediment, another character, who will serve as an agent of Satan to hinder the pilgrim’s progress. Mr. Worldly Wiseman is a convoluted but very brilliant soul. His brilliance rivals that of Ignorance who was just as polished and shameful except Mr. Worldly Wiseman is an older gentleman who has been around the world for a while and knows the general thoughts and doubts of the travelers.
It has been a long while since I have written anything about John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I can still remember 15 years ago, or more that Brother John Harrell, long-time pastor of Bridge City UPC, recommended that I read dig into that allegory. He told me that it was loaded with sermon thoughts and illustrations and profitable spiritual motivation. I have written in the past about Brother Harrell and the uniqueness by which he would weave the Pilgrim’s Progress into his sermons. As I started reading Bunyan, it led me to another allegory he wrote, The Holy War, which had some excellent contributions to make as well about convictional preaching. I have explored some themes from that book as well in the past on this blog (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part4, Part 5).
November 13, 2015 around dusk here in Dothan, I had just gotten in my car around 6 PM for a drive of a little over an hour to a sectional rally when the top of the hour newscast began describing the terrorist attacks in Paris. These attacks fell into a different category because they had been coordinated to hit several different places in Paris at the same time. Only 10 months earlier in January, terrorists had attacked Charlie Hebdo and two days later a Jewish grocery store had been attacked as well all leaving a small number of casualties but not a large amount of injuries. On the way home from the sectional rally, the talk radio outlets, which I hadn’t listened to for several years lured me back in, because they were blazing with opinions and reports. I cannot remember where or how I ran across a New York Times journalist but Rukmini Callimachi entered my world that evening when I got home and started reading on the internet the accounts of the Paris attacks. She had a Twitter feed that she was using very well and tagging a variety of articles that she had written in the past on terrorism. I started following her on Twitter although admittedly she is very liberal in much of her ideations, I began to learn much more about terrorism and its origins. I then contacted her via email and surprisingly she replied to me several times with book suggestions and various journal articles, some that were hers and some that were written by others. She suggested a book that I am putting in the eighth slot of best books that I read in 2016. The book she wrote that everyone should start with is by Lawrence Wright.
In the ninth spot for the best books that I read in 2016 is a follow-up book to Thomas Bergler’s The Juvenilization of American Christianity. This book , From Here to Maturity was written in 2014 after the initial volume was written in 2012 dealing with the immaturity of American churches. Bergler noted that he wrote the second book as a response to the heavy load of correspondence that he received from his readers. They understood what he was stating but they wanted to know what the remedy was to move Christians toward a higher level of spiritual maturity. Chapter 1 is sort of rehash of the first book so that if you have not read the first one, Bergler does his best to give you the first book in a capsule form in 25 pages. While this book is not written to apostolic Pentecostals, I do very strongly feel that there are some components that need to be taken with the seriousness of which Bergler writes. One thing that struck me was that spiritual adolescents are drawn to religious experiences that produce emotional highs and sometimes assume that experiencing strong feelings is the same thing as spiritual authenticity. While emotion is a part of Pentecostal worship, we dare not reduce it simply to that! We are called to self-denial and to bearing crosses in this life!
Reading has long been a vice of mine although it is one of those necessary vices that is important. I looked at the books that I read this past year and found that my reading preferences have changed significantly in the last several years and that will be reflected in the books that I will countdown this month. The book slotting in at number ten is by Thomas E. Bergler. He is an associate professor of ministry and missions at a university in Indiana. I heard the title of this book mentioned by a preacher whose podcast I frequently listen to and purchased it.
This book, The Juvenilizationof American Christianity, is not just a book that deals with religious issues and practice but it deals with sociological issues that are facing the church as well. He also deals with the history of youth movements both political and religious in a way that teaches through an observation of history. While Bergler is not Pentecostal in his moorings, he makes some observations that fits the variety of every church in America, some of which I see invading Pentecostal churches as well.
Several months ago, I reviewed some study Bibles (Holman, NIV, ESV, Dugan, Hebrew-Greek Keyword) that I found to be helpful for expositors. The Bibles that I reviewed were primarily those that fell into a category of general readership and those that were commonly found at large in big box Christian bookstores. There are several Bibles that I am going to write reviews of in the next few days that fall into a variety of subsets of Christian doctrines and views. While some of these Bibles can be purchased in big box stores, there are a few that you may have to track down through on-line sources.
It is obvious from the flurry of writing that I am doing on the Barnabas Blog that you can tell it is the end of the year. I generally try to put out a “Top Ten” list of books that I have read the previous year. This year is a little different because I have read so many good books, helpful books, and changing-my-thinking books that it is hard to say which one was the best one. I probably read too many books about preaching during the year but since it is what I do, I read in an effort to sharpen both mind and efforts in that category. I mentioned to the church recently that when they get to heaven one of the jewels they will get in their crown will be from having to endure my preaching. I hope it is not an endurance factor for them but one that encourages their spiritual growth.
This book, Engaging Exposition, by Daniel Akin, Bill Curtis, and Stephen Rummage will be very difficult to unseat as one of the best I have read and interacted with this year. It was given to me by one of our lay ministers, Charlie Joyner, a couple of months ago. It has an incredible range about it. It speaks to the rigorous academic side that preaching should be subjected to—areas like hermeneutics, the inspiration of Scripture, the different genres of Scripture, and how to identify the main idea of a passage of Scripture. It also has a section that deals with the nuts and bolts of building a sermon. Even though I have been preaching for almost 25 years, this kind of practical advice is always good for me. The last section of the book speaks to the actual delivery of the sermon itself.