Category Archives: Book reviews

Top 12 Books of 2012

Today on the DG blog I published my list of favorite books published in 2012. See the full list here.

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2011 Books of the Year

Because I try to stay on top of new theology book releases from Christian publishers, when I choose my books of the year, they are mostly from the field of Christian books. I do read many other books published by “secular” presses throughout the year, but I rarely read them in the same year they are published. This year, for example, I finally got around to reading Laura Hillenbrand’s incredible book Unbroken, although it was a 2010 release. And I do plan to read Walter Isaacson’s 2011 release Steve Jobs, but probably not for another year or so. So when I choose my favorite books for 2011 they are Christian books.

Choosing my top two favorites published in 2011 was no challenge. Here they are:

First, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New by G. K. Beale. The theme of “inaugurated eschatology” is not a new one in theology, but there doesn’t seem to have been many attempts to center a full theology of the Bible around the theme. Enter Beale. Beale’s work is a massive and excellent contribution, arguing that eschatology is not something relegated merely to the future. For Beale, the end-time new creation has already begun, a fact that permeates our Bibles. And he’s spot on.

Second, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards by Michael J. McClymond and Gerald R. McDermott. In the last few years Yale has completed their online archive of the writings of Jonathan Edwards, so it was only a matter of time before we saw attempts to bring theological synthesis to his writings. This is the first major attempt. I’m certain more will follow in the future, but this one is a gem — readable, enjoyable, and a comprehensive look at the many God-centered facets of Edwards’ thinking. “One might interpret the whole of Edwards’s theology as the gradual, complex outworking of a vision of God’s beauty.” Bingo! In this sense McClymond and McDermott “get” Edwards’s theology.

And here is my full top-ten list:

  1. Greg Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Baker)
  2. McClymond and McDermott, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Oxford)
  3. Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God (Dutton)
  4. Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Zondervan)
  5. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Abridged in One Volume (Baker)
  6. John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (P&R), technically released at the end of 2010.
  7. Jared Wilson, Gospel-Wakefulness (Crossway)
  8. Tim Keller, King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (Dutton)
  9. Russell Moore, Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ (Crossway)
  10. DeYoung and Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission (Crossway)

On a related note, you can also find my books of the year for 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010.

IVP Reference Bundles for Logos

In my research I am often most helped by solid Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias, so I keep a good number of them at hand. While the breadth of information packed into a tightly-edited 5-pound dictionary is impressive, trying to manage all the information is a daunting task—unless that information is electronic and searchable. Thankfully electronic reference books are becoming more common thanks to advanced Bible software programs like Logos.

For the past few months I have benefited from two IVP reference bundles in particular:

The Essential IVP Reference Collection Version 3 ($190.00). Works include:

  • New Dictionary of Biblical Theology
  • New Dictionary of Theology
  • The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery
  • New Bible Commentary
  • Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels
  • Dictionary of Paul and His Letters
  • Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments
  • Dictionary of New Testament Background
  • IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament
  • IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament
  • New Bible Dictionary
  • … and other smaller volumes

IVP Dictionary of the Old Testament Bundle ($109.95). Works include:

  • Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch
  • Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books

Anyone familiar with IVP reference works knows these are not ordinary volumes but the fruit of top-tier biblical scholars like D. A. Carson, Desmond Alexander, Graeme Goldsworthy, Sinclair Ferguson, J. I. Packer, Leland Ryken, Tremper Longman, and others. IVP is to be commended for upholding such high standards on their line of reference books.

The books in these two bundles represent 14,000 pages of printed material and cover a broad range of topics: biblical theology, systematic theology, biblical imagery, Jesus and the gospels, Paul, the latter NT letters, important Biblical history and background studies, plus excellent volumes on the Old Testament [note: to date the newest volume the OT series, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings (2008), is not yet available electronically]. The bundle also includes my favorite single-volume commentary on the Bible, The New Bible Commentary.

Adding these volumes in my Logos library allows me the freedom to search all the volumes in seconds and easily find cited biblical references (huge benefit!), keywords, and keyword phrases. Rather than surrounding myself with bulky dictionaries, I can take my laptop to the coffee shop and search them exhaustively with nothing more than a few keystrokes.

There are a number of good arguments for the value of electronic Bible software platforms but few are more compelling than the efficiency of sweeping across 14,000 pages of thick reference materials in a few seconds to locate a precious needle of insight in a large encyclopedic haystack. And that is exactly what these additions to my e-library make possible. If you can afford it, the IVP reference bundles are a key addition to any Logos library.

Review: Logos Bible Software 4

In the past decade electronic Bible software has advanced radically. From the day in 2002 when I first installed BibleWorks 5.0 on my PC, I’ve watched Bible software develop at an impressive rate.

For nearly a year I’ve been running Logos/Libronix software and about two weeks ago I made the upgrade to Logos 4 Platinum on my MacBook Pro (currently in Alpha stage development). As a researcher I need a software program that is quick, intuitive, flexible, and well stocked with top-quality resources. And the new Logos 4 delivers on all these fronts.

I have logged over 30 hours so far on Logos 4, and I see four benefits that make it stand out: (1) the stock of high quality resources, (2) the flexible guides and searches, (3) resource ranking and clustering, and (4) improved access to my print library. Let me unpack each of these four benefits.

Benefit 1: Stock of high quality resources

Logos is unique when it comes to the breadth of resources available. You can see the full list of resources that come with the Platinum software package here. For me, these are just a few of the most helpful resources:

English Bibles
• English Standard Version
• Holman Christian Standard Bible
• New International Version

Interlinear Bibles
• ESV English–Greek Reverse Interlinear of the New Testament
• ESV English–Hebrew Reverse Interlinear of the Old Testament

Bible Commentaries
• Pillar New Testament Commentary (10 Vols.)
• The New International Greek Testament Commentary (13 Vols.)
• Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (8 Vols.)
• Baker New Testament Commentary (12 Vols.)
• New American Commentary (37 Vols.)
• Bible Exposition Commentary (23 Vols.)
• Bible Knowledge Commentary
• Charles Simeon’s Horae Homileticae Commentary (21 Vols.)
• Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament (14 Vols.)
• Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament (10 Vols.)
• The United Bible Societies’ New Testament Handbook Series (20 Vols.)
• The United Bible Societies’ Old Testament Handbook Series (21 Vols.)

Bible Reference
• Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (4 Vols.)
• Eerdmans Bible Dictionary
• Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible
• Encyclopedia of Christianity (Vols. 1–4)
• The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, rev. ed.
• Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Theology
• Studies in Dogmatics by Berkouwer (14 Vols.)
• God, Revelation and Authority by Carl F. H. Henry (6 Vols.)
• Great Doctrines of the Bible by Martyn Lloyd-Jones (3 Vols.)
• Oxford Movement Historical Theology Collection (10 Vols.)
• Systematic Theology by Charles Hodge
• Systematic Theology by Augustus Strong (3 Vols.)

Church History
• Early Church Fathers (37 Vols.)

Original Language Lexicons
• Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew Lexicon
• Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (3 Vols.)
• A Greek–English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed.
• Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (10 Vols.)

And 25 ancient texts and morphology resources are built-in (including NA27, LSGNT, and BHS). The amount of works, and the quality of those works, in the Platinum edition of Logos 4 is very impressive. In regards to NT commentaries, Logos 4 Platinum is unrivaled.

The list of available resources grows daily, allowing users to tailor Logos 4 to their specific needs and interests. Logos offers books they’re considering digitizing on their pre-publication program to gauge user interest. It’s one of the many ways in which user preferences are pulled into development.

Benefit 2: Flexible guides and searches

The search power of Logos 4 is impressive due to the creative use of eight distinct guides and search formats. The user can choose a specific mechanism based upon what will work best in a particular search.

The guides arrange the library’s data into four categories:

1. Passage Guide (great for accessing commentaries)
2. Exegetical Guide (great for digging deeper into a single passage and original language work)
3. Bible Word Study Guide (great for digging into lexicons on a particular word)
4. Custom Guides (great for mixing features from 1–3)

The searches are similar to the guides, the difference being that they don’t organize data in groups. The search options include:

1. Basic Search (library-wide searching or searching of particular portions of your library)
2. Bible Search (searching one, or more, or all, of your Bibles)
3. Morph Search (searching for particular Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek words or morphological categories)
4. Syntax Search (searching for particular syntactical patterns in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek Bibles)

The different guide and search mechanisms allow the Logos software to reconfigure based upon wide variety of user intent.

To illustrate I’ll show you how I access my collection of commentaries through the “passage guide” (click the following image for a larger view). I’ve typed “John 3:16” in the search bar and all the available commentaries are listed in the top left box (A). My favored commentaries will rank highest, a feature I’ll explain later. I’ve selected three commentaries which all open to the exact spot I need. They include the Baker Exegetical Commentary by Andreas Köstenberger (B), the New American Commentary by Gerald Borchert (C), and of course Don Carson’s commentary in the Pillar series (D). Notice on Carson’s commentary I have opened up the drop-down outline of the book, making it easy to see where I’m at in the overall book. For this photo-op I’ve opened two other handy utility windows, an ESV Bible (F) and a handy little information window that automatically looks up whatever my cursor hovers over (D). In this case my cursor was hovering over a reference to Ex 34:6–7. Click on the picture for a larger view:

And by using this 6-window format, and due to the well-designed tab system, I can comfortably keep 20–40 books open on my desktop at the same time.

So that was in the “passage guide” function. Studying and comparing commentaries could not be easier. In the “basic search” I was surprised at how easy it was to re-find particular paragraphs within my library. Imagine walking into a library, removing a book off the shelf and reading a paragraph, placing the book back on the shelf, leaving and returning to the library in a week and attempting to find that same paragraph again. How easy would it be to find that page? Nearly impossible. Yet I’ve been constantly surprised how easily I can search the entire library to re-find paragraphs (even footnotes!) that I only remotely remember seeing previously. The access to information and the speed at which that information is available is very impressive.

This leads me to the third benefit.

Benefit 3: Resource ranking and clustering

Hosting over 2,000 books on my MacBook Pro is really handy (1,200+ in Logos). But it can also become a befuddled mess. The sheer quantity of information returned in search results can be overwhelmingly unhelpful. Let’s face it, not all books are equally useful on every topic.

To counter this problem, Logos 4 allows users to rank Bibles, commentaries, reference materials—really all the books—based upon user preference. Users can assign a star rating from between 0–5 on each resource. And search queries can be restricted to certain star levels. And this factor is why certain commentaries ranked higher than others in the screenshot I showed you earlier.

Also, users can also create customized collections of texts through tags. For example, all of my resources authored by D.A. Carson are tagged “DAC.” In the search query I can very quickly select this tag and limit my results only to the books in this collection.

These two options—ranking and clustering—bring a great deal of speed and focus to custom, library-wide, searches.

Benefit 4: Improved access to my print library

Still about half of my total library is comprised of printed books lined on shelves and I don’t intend to get rid of these books any time soon. One of the surprising benefits of Logos 4 was the amount of footnotes and references I noticed in my electronic research that pointed me back into my print library. Because of this, and because of the amount of relatively new reference works in Logos 4, I benefit more from my print library than ever before. Like I said, this was a surprising fruit of Logos 4.

Conclusion

This review on Logos 4 Platinum could continue on for a few more pages but I’ll stop now. There are dozens of other little features and functions that make Logos 4 a breeze to use. DV, I will take a closer look at these features and functions when work on the Mac version of Logos 4 is completed in the fall.

The bottom line: Logos 4 has taken a big stride forward in making premium Bible scholarship accessible to students of the Bible. And in the hands of discerning readers and wise pastors it will bless the Church in a big way.

Christmas Gift Book Idears

A book makes a natural and meaningful Christmas gift, but finding the right one is not always an easy task. Here are a few suggestions, a list of a few of my favorite wee books. These books are each short, affordable, and likely to appeal to a broad audience. Listed in no particular order:

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller. A wonderful book that articulates the free grace of God and exposes legalism in the sinner’s heart. $11.57 each or 24 for $239.40 (WTSB).

The Loveliness of Christ by Samuel Rutherford. Christ’s beauty displayed in this collection of choice descriptions of Christ taken from the writings of the noted Puritan. $8.40 (WTSB).

Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy
by Paul Tripp. One of my favorite books on grace. Tripp uses diverse writing styles to communicate the many features of God’s forgiving grace. $9 (WTSB).

Heaven: A World of Love by Jonathan Edwards. A glimpse of heaven so large you will be amazed it fits into a book you can slide into your pocket. $4.20 (WTSB).

Living Faith by Samuel Ward. Another book that you can carry in your pocket. For about 2 months I carried this little book on my travels and read it over and over. Few books have more built my faith. $4.20 (WTSB).

The Cross Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney. Perhaps the best of all my boss’s books. Transforming look at how the cross alters the way we live. $7 (WTSB).

Caleb’s Lamb by Helen Santos. A family favorite book. The fictional book centers on a little boy, his spotless lamb, and the news that God is coming to deliver him and his family from the bondage of Egypt. A wonderful cross-centered book for family reading time. It’s available only from the publisher for $7.50 (RHB).

Children of the Living God by Sinclair Ferguson. On the doctrine of our spiritual adoption into God’s family, this little book is one of the best. $5 (WTSB).

The Heidelberg Catechism. Perhaps the warmest and most devotional of all the catechisms. This little version is my favorite. $5.50 (Amazon).

Chequebook of the Bank of Faith: Daily Readings by C.H. Spurgeon. A wonderful collection of faith-building promises from God expounded by the prince of preachers. Take these divine promises to the bank! $14 (WTSB).

Morning by Morning and Evening by Evening (two volumes) by C.H. Spurgeon. Spurgeon’s classic devotional [Morning and Evening] updated into more contemporary language and divided into two volumes. One of the richest devotionals available. $26 for the set (WTSB).

The Cross: The Pulpit of God’s Love by Iain Murray. A brief meditation on the centrality and importance of the work of Christ. $2.80 (WTSB).

Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace (3rd Edition), by Joseph Williams. Figured I would throw one book into the list for the writer in your life. One of the most helpful little guides for those who seek to improve the clarity of their writing. $16 (Amazon).

Need a specific recommendation? Leave a comment and let us know what you are looking for. Our team of book lovers will jump in with recommendations.

Review: Complete Works of Thomas Manton

For each of the past several years, we’ve been blessed with at least one monumental publishing achievement that further exposes contemporary readers to the exegetical and theological gems of the Puritan literary legacy. In 2006, Reformation Heritage Books reprinted the 12-volume Works of Thomas Goodwin. And over the last two years Justin Taylor and Kelly Kapic have blessed us with carefully edited and re-typeset versions of John Owen classics—Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Crossway, 2006) and Communion with the Triune God (Crossway, 2007).

But 2008 will be known for its own monumental achievement, in the reprinting of what I consider to be one of the leading collections of Puritan sermons. Solid Ground Christian Books has printed and is now shipping a new photolithographed, cloth-covered, sewn-bound, edition of the 22-volume, 10,500 page, Complete Works of Thomas Manton. And today I want to tell you about it.

Thomas Who?

Two years ago I compiled a list of most helpful Puritan resources for expositional, theological, and pastoral research. That list placed at #5 a man named Thomas Manton. Some of you were perplexed that I ranked this more obscure Puritan above those of more repute—John Owen, John Flavel, Richard Sibbes, Jeremiah Burroughs, Thomas Brooks, Thomas Goodwin, and Edward Reynolds. Each of these men represent exceptional gifting in the Puritan period; and if you disagree that Manton deserves to be above them, I think we can agree Rev. Manton belongs among them.

Compared to other favorite Puritans, Manton’s bibliography lacks pizzazz. Apart from two commentaries on James and Jude (both of which are excellent), he chose not to write books. Which explains why 20 of 22 volumes are stuffed full of expositions of Scripture. To the core of his life and ministry, Manton was a preacher of God’s Word, an able expositor who walked slowly through large sections of scripture in a very thorough and deliberate fashion. Dr. Joel Beeke writes, “Manton presents us with the best that English Puritans had to offer in careful, solid, warmhearted exposition of the Scriptures.”

The value of Manton’s works is discovered in the value of Manton the expositor.

So what type of preacher is Manton? Where does he rank among the other Puritan preachers? In assessing the value of Manton’s sermons, I find the careful thoughts of 19th century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon especially insightful. Spurgeon, in his commentary on Psalm 119, speaks fondly about a season of focused reading in Manton’s Works. Here is Spurgeon’s experience:

While commenting upon the one hundred and nineteenth Psalm, I was brought into most intimate communion with Thomas Manton, who has discoursed upon that marvelous portion of Scripture with great fullness and power. I have come to know him so well that I could pick him out from among a thousand divines if he were again to put on his portly form, and display among modern men that countenance wherein was ‘a great mixture of majesty and meekness.’ His works occupy twenty-two volumes in the modern reprint—a mighty mountain of sound theology. They mostly consist of sermons; but what sermons! They are not so sparkling as those of Henry Smith, nor so profound as those of Owen, nor so rhetorical, is those of Howe, nor so pithy as those of Watson, nor so fascinating as those of Brooks; and yet they are second to none of these. For solid, sensible instruction, forcibly delivered, they cannot be surpassed. Manton is not brilliant, but he is always clear; he is not oratorical, but he is powerful; he is not striking, but he is deep. There is not a poor discourse in the whole collection—they are evenly good, constantly excellent. Ministers who do not know Manton need not wonder if they are themselves unknown.

Don’t you love the way Spurgeon slaps ministers around who are unfamiliar with the Puritans? Spurgeon has a great respect for the Puritan preachers, and an appreciation for their consistent value for the Church. Manton is not the most brilliant of the Puritans, but he certainly is one of the most readable—and thereby one of the most valuable—of all the Puritan authors. Manton’s sermons are marked by clarity, doctrinal precision, and simplicity. And that places Manton right along with the very best of them.

Spurgeon understood that Manton was a preacher concerned to connect the deep truths of scripture to common audiences. His preaching was not glamorous in the day, and thereby unstained with the contemporary oratorical decorations and superfluous adornments that would have surely dated his language. Spurgeon loved to recount one story that showcases Manton’s care to preach in a manner suitable to the common Christian.

While Dr. Manton was minister at Covent Garden he was invited to preach before the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen, and the Companies of the City, upon a public occasion, at St. Paul’s. The doctor chose a very difficult subject, in which he had an opportunity of displaying his judgment and learning, and appearing to the best advantage. He was heard with the admiration and applause of the more intelligent part of the audience; and was invited to dine with my Lord Mayor, and received public thanks for his performance.

But upon his return in the evening to Covent Garden, a poor man following him, gently plucked him by the sleeve of his gown, and asked him if he were the gentleman who had preached that day before the Lord Mayor. He replied, he was.

“Sir,” says he, “I came with an earnest desire after the word of God, and in hope of getting some good to my soul, but I was greatly disappointed, for I could not understand a great deal of what you said: you were quite above me.”

The doctor replied, with tears in his eyes, “Friend, if I did not give you a sermon, you have given me one; and, by the grace of God, I will never play the fool by preaching before my Lord Mayor in such a manner again.”

Well Manton did not play the fool and his volumes of sermons testify to Manton’s desire to communicate to and edify the common Christian audience of his day. There is sweet consistency throughout his many sermons, or as Spurgeon puts it, “There is not a poor discourse in the whole collection they are evenly good, constantly excellent.”

But these sermons are slightly different than other collections of sermons I have purchased and read over the years. Unlike Spurgeon’s sermons, Manton is much less wordy, making me think these printed sermons are more likely his sermon manuscripts than edited transcripts (as in the case of Spurgeon). This means Manton’s sermons, by comparison, have a sweet concentration about them. And each sermon is very carefully outlined with use of clear points and subpoints, which make his sermons very easy to follow. Take Manton’s concentrated sermon form and well-outlined structure, multiply this by several sermons per volume, multiply that by 20 volumes, and you get a lifetime of sermon gems to feast the soul.

22-Volume Works

Recently Solid Ground Christian Books has served the Church by reprinting and shipping the entire 22-volume Complete Works of Thomas Manton. Currently the set is available through Reformation Heritage Books for $320.00 (plus a free copy of Meet the Puritans on each set). After some time reading and getting familiar with this new set, I offer my thoughts.

The new Manton set bears an obvious resemblance to the Banner’s edition of John Owen’s Works. Each volume is identical in height and depth, and has the same paper thickness, sewn binding, and photolithographed 19th century typeset. They are also nearly twins in beautiful genuine green cloth covers (Manton being slightly darker). There are two differences. The Manton volumes are not clothed in dust jackets. But on the other hand, the pages in Manton are bleach white, making them clearer and easier to read than the yellow paper of the Owen set.

Here are two detail photos of the set, one a close-up picture of the binding, cover, and paper color and another of the photolithographic text and paper color (click pictures for larger).

And this leads me to my favorite feature of the Manton set.

What determines the usefulness of a prolific Puritan writer? For busy pastors under the time crunch of sermon preparation, or for the common Christian reader looking to be fed devotionally on a specific topic or passage, the answer often boils down to one feature—indexing. Has the Puritan set been carefully indexed for ease-of-use? And there are, in my opinion and experience, no Puritans that have been more exhaustively or carefully indexed than this set of Manton works! The whopping 306 pages(!) of topical and scriptural indices take up most of the final volume in the Manton set, putting at your fingertips all 10,500+ pages of theological, expositional, and pastoral wealth.

There may be no better way to catch a glimpse into the priorities and usefulness of Manton than to peruse this massive index for yourself. So for your convenience I have converted these 306 pages into a single PDF, which you can download by clicking here (30.8MB file). I think by perusing the index you will gain a vision for the topics covered and the usefulness of Manton.

Conclusion

In late October of 1870, J.C. Ryle wrote a foreword to commemorate the first modern printing of Manton’s Works. In it Ryle wrote:

In days like these, I am thankful that the publishers of Manton’s Works have boldly come forward to offer some real literary gold to the reading public. I earnestly trust that they will meet with the success which they deserve. If any recommendation of mine can help them in bringing out the writings of this admirable Puritan in a new form, I give it cheerfully and with all my heart.

Today, I simply echo the recommendations of Spurgeon, Ryle, and Beeke. There are few, if any, Puritan sets that will provide you a more consistent and bountiful source of spiritual food for your soul than The Complete Works of Thomas Manton. And that is why I am so grateful for the Puritan preacher and so indebted to Solid Ground Christian Books for investing the time and money to offer this literary gold once again to the reading public.

——————

Title: The Complete Works of Thomas Manton
Author: Thomas Manton
Boards: hardcover; green cloth and silver gilding
Pages: 10,500
Volumes: 22
Dust jackets: no
Binding: sewn
Topical index: yes (extensive!; 224 pages)
Scriptural index: yes (extensive!; 80 pages)
Text: Photolithograph of 1870 James Nisbet & Co. edition
Publisher: Solid Ground Christian Books
Year: 2008
Price USD: $1,000.00 / $320.00 at RHB
ISBN: 978-1-59925-159-2

on Evaluating Books

I recently completed The Road by Cormac McCarthy. What do I think of the book? Well, the dust has yet to settle.

I’ve learned to take a day or a month to step back from a book, go about normal business, and let “the dust settle.” This patient wait for clarity is a lesson I learned in college from the writings of Virginia Woolf (1882–1941).

I’m no fan of Virginia Woolf, but her understanding of how the mind evaluates books—especially novels and poetry—has taught me patience when I find myself surrounded by the blizzard of details to wait until all has settled on the floor of my mind. Resisting the impulse of immediate critique allows a critical brain-simmer between the period a book is competed and when the book’s value becomes clear. This wait allows for a constructive subconscious process where fragmented thoughts are reshaped into a unified whole.

And Woolf encourages us to critique slowly because this process provides the necessary continuity to evaluate new books to the very best old books. Such is logical. Why would we ever read new books without reference to the superior books of the past?

Enough of me. Here’s how Woolf articulates these ideas:

The first process, to receive impressions with the utmost understanding, is only half the process of reading; it must be completed, if we are to get the whole pleasure from a book, by another. We must pass judgment upon these multitudinous impressions; we must make of these fleeting shapes one that is hard and lasting. But not directly. Wait for the dust of reading to settle; for the conflict and the questioning to die down; walk, talk, pull the dead petals from a rose, or fall asleep. Then suddenly without our willing it, for it is thus that Nature undertakes these transitions, the book will return, but differently. It will float to the top of the mind as a whole. And the book as a whole is different from the book received currently in separate phrases. Details now fit themselves into their places. We see the shape from start to finish; it is a barn, a pigsty, or a cathedral. Now then we can compare book with book as we compare building with building.

But this act of comparison means that our attitude has changed; we are no longer the friends of the writer, but his judges; and just as we cannot be too sympathetic as friends, so as judges we cannot be too severe. Are they not criminals, books that have wasted our time and sympathy; are they not the most insidious enemies of society, corrupters, defilers, the writers of false books, faked books, books that fill the air with decay and disease? Let us then be severe in our judgments; let us compare each book with the greatest of its kind. There they hang in the mind the shapes of the books we have read solidified by the judgments we have passed on them— Robinson Crusoe, Emma, The Return of the Native. Compare the novels with these—even the latest and least of novels has a right to be judged with the best.

And so with poetry—when the intoxication of rhythm has died down and the splendour of words has faded, a visionary shape will return to us and this must be compared with Lear, with Phèdre, with The Prelude; or if not with these, with whatever is the best or seems to us to be the best in its own kind. And we may be sure that the newness of new poetry and fiction is its most superficial quality and that we have only to alter slightly, not to recast, the standards by which we have judged the old.

-Virginia Woolf, “How Should One Read a Book?”

Machen Bio: Retro + Improved

Publishers frequently catch me by surprise. Sometimes (though thankfully not frequently) I’m surprised by my disappointment. But often publishers surprise me in a good way and that was the case very recently when a friend showed me his reprinted copy of Ned Stonehouse’s classic biography J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir (Willow Grove, PA: Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2004).

I was immediately struck by the similarities it had to my original 1954 Eerdmans edition. Most obvious (and as you can see from the following photos) is the OPC’s attention to fashioning an updated, but similar, dust jacket to the original. That’s a nice touch. And I was surprised by the improvements, too. The text was retypeset and given a new subject index in the back. The most noteworthy upgrade is to see the bio published in a genuine cloth cover–a nice improvement over the Eerdmans faux cloth/paper cover that’s frayed on the bottom from shelfware. So let’s hear it for the new-ish OPC edition of Stonehouse–a classic work with a retro feel and nice upgrades well suited to carry the legacy of Machen for another 50 years.


Cloth or Paper? Bavinck RD Cover Concerns

[The definition of a bibliophile is “one who loves books, but especially for qualities of format.” I admit to being one. This post is intended for my fellow bibliophiles.]

Cloth-covered books are durable, resilient, and protect valuable books for decades of use, so I appreciate publishers who print books in cloth and find it easy to pay extra few bucks for these volumes.

However, not everything that looks like “cloth” is genuine cloth. Publishers have become advanced with using faux cloth covers, which amount to pressed and texturized paper used as an inexpensive way to add grain to a hardcover book without the added cost of real cloth. But those volumes are typically not sold as “cloth.”

Which brings me to yesterday when I received my long-awaited copy of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, Volume Four (Baker Academic, 2008). J.I. Packer says this work “remains after a century the supreme achievement of its kind.” Now completely translated from Dutch, it stands as one of the great reformed systematic theologies in the English language, and sports a hefty list price ($180.00)—a small price for a set I intend to use the rest of my life and one day pass to my children.

The first three of my volumes—all recently purchased—were genuine cloth covered (as advertised). Or so I assumed. But my curiosity was raised yesterday when my fourth and final volume arrived. I removed the dust jacket and noticed the cover on the final volume lacked the same depth of texture as the first three volumes. And it didn’t have the same laminated matte finish over the cloth but the feel of, well, paper. That’s when I decided to tug on the spine. [For those of you longtime TSS readers you will not be surprised at my biblio-destructive tendencies]. I pinched the cover over the spine, and with little effort, the cover tore like a piece of newspaper. Cloth doesn’t rip (at least not diagonally).

As you can see from the pics, the cover on my volume is nothing more than pressed paper—a cloth-like feel, a cloth-like appearance, but without any cloth.


My tinge of guilt for tearing Bavinck (gasp!) was overcome by the feeling of adrenaline a muscle man must experience tearing phone books. So I decided to test my three other Bavinck volumes. I discovered two volumes were genuinely cloth (absolutely would not rip even under intense pressure), and a second volume that was paper. Here’s what I found:

Volume 1 – May 2007 printing – cloth
Volume 2 – August 2006 printing – paper
Volume 3 – July 2007 printing – cloth
Volume 4 – 2008 printing – paper

As you can see from the table of contents page in volume 4, Baker claims all four volumes were printed in cloth.

I’ve contacted Baker Academic and will pass along updates as I receive them, especially if I can find a way to replace the paper editions with cloth editions.

Some questions for TSS readers:

(1) Do you own copies of Baker’s printings of Reformed Dogmatics? Which volumes? What are the print dates?

(2) Does the copyright page claim the volume is cloth?

(3) If so—and if you dare—pinch the top of the cover over the spine and try ripping it (ever so slightly) to see if you, too, have a “paperback”. And let me know in the comments. [No need for any more examples.]

Perhaps—and let’s hope—my two copies are aberrations.

Young, Restless, and Reformed

youngrestlessreformedcollinhansen.jpgRecently I had the honor of reading Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, and Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey With the New Calvinists (Crossway). Hansen is an editor at Christianity Today. From my perspective, the book reads like the reader is riding shotgun as Collin travels around the country in search of discovering the far reaches of the emerging Calvinism so obvious among large groups of young Christian men and women.

The book does not set out to answer the question: “Where’d all the Calvinists come from?” But it does document the rise in a fascinating and engaging way and looks closely at the major figures and movements and how they shape the theology of the next generation of Calvinists.

Read it for the details. Read it to discover the influences among young folks. Read it it to hear stories of how individuals have been transformed by the doctrines of grace. Read it for the descriptive perception of the author. If you watch for new and excellent books, this one by Collin Hansen is a must-read coming your way in 2008. Due out April 30th from Crossway.

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