A Burning in My Bones: Trueman, McCaulley, Piper, and April Books
Updated: May 10, 2021
The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self - Carl Trueman, Crossway
This is - and I’m not exaggerating - one of the most important books of the decade. I say that because I don’t know of any other book that has summed up and explained our cultural moment as well as this one. Starting in conversation with modern philosophers Charles Taylor, Philip Rieff, and Alasdair McIntyre, Trueman moves through Nietzche, Marx, and Freud, the Romantic Poets, Reich, Marcuse, and other critical theorists, up through the current debates on sexuality and transgenderism. It’s not an easy read, but it is a profound work of scholarship and cultural commentary.
His analysis lays bare the philosophical movements, assumptions, and cultural pathologies that run underneath our culture. By the end, he has constructed a lattice of our world and it has a stunning amount of explanatory power. How can a woman say, I am a man? Or, I am a man trapped in a woman’s body? How can someone say that if you think their sexuality is sinful that you are invalidating their existence? At the center of Trueman’s book is the postmodern construction of the self. We don’t just live in a sexualized world, we live in a society that believes sexual expression is an essential component of identity.
I’ll have more to say in the future, but I wanted to recommend it in this month’s books. A few years ago I blogged through Haidt and Lukianoff’s The Coddling of the American Mind, and I think this book is every bit as important, or more.
Reading While Black - Esau McCaulley, IVP
This book may not be what you think it is. The title and the introduction might sound familiarly provocative, but that’s not at all the tone of the book. Riffing on “Driving While Black” McCaulley has written a book bringing the Bible into conversation with black culture and concerns. Does the Bible have anything to say about policing, politics and the church, racial justice, black identity, anger, and slavery? It absolutely does.
Reading While Black is an interesting project. McCaulley is writing for the black church to affirm and critique the way the Bible has been used in African American culture. I’d imagine he’s gotten some pushback on every available side, but this comes with the territory if you're trying to do constructive theology and call the church to the Scriptures. McCaulley is attempting to justify the traditional paradigms of the Black Church and at the same time to do the textual work to explore current social issues. For this reason, I’d recommend this book before Tisby’s The Color of Compromise or Mason’s Woke Church. I’m not sure I see some of the connections he makes, particularly on the topic of black identity. But in these places where I might disagree with his exegesis, I grew to love his intentions the more I read. I came away really thinking about what he says, and it has been on my mind since I finished the book, which is one of the highest compliments you can give an author.
A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene Peterson - Winn Collier, Waterbrook
Eugene Peterson has been one of my heroes in ministry since my dad assigned his book The Contemplative Pastor during my internship at Crossings Community Church, and he always will be. Working the Angles, Under the Unpredictable Plant, Run with the Horses, Eat This Book, and others have become some of my go-to’s. Though Peterson is best known for The Message, an incredible achievement, I wish more people knew about his pastoral theology.
Even as he became world-famous, Peterson pastored a church that he intentionally kept small enough to ensure that he knew everyone’s names. He resisted the ever-present pressures of growing the church, catering to the people, and building a brand by praying, studying the Scriptures, and practicing the old pastoral art of spiritual direction. He believed the most important thing a pastor can do is teach his people to pray.
Collier set himself an audacious task: it’s nearly impossible to write a great biography of a great writer. Given that Peterson wrote his own fantastic memoir, The Pastor, the project is that much more prohibitive. Up against Peterson’s enthralling style, Collier risked looking like a Vegas Elvis. It’s a real testament to Winn Collier that he didn’t.
There are a few passages that feel constrictive, like Collier wants to tell a story and can’t quite get Eugene to fit. But that’s one of the beautiful things about Eugene Peterson; he doesn’t fit the mold. From his charismatic upbringing to his awkward and misleading final interview with Jonathan Merritt, simplistic categories always leave something out.
With that one critique, this is a great read. I couldn’t put it down. I’ve gone back and re-read passages from The Pastor in the weeks since I finished. I think that’s an insight into Eugene, and the way Collier captured him. It’s easy to see why he was such a great pastor: I never knew him, but this book really makes me miss him.
Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? - L. Michael Morales, IVP
It’s hard to find good books on Leviticus, but this one is fantastic. Most people, myself included, try to spend as little time there as possible. The yearly flyover in my Bible reading plan used to be all I saw of those twenty-seven chapters. A few years ago that started to change. Somehow I got ahold of some of Peter Leithart’s lectures on Leviticus, which I really hope he publishes at some point. That led me to Gordon Wenham’s commentary in the NICOT series and Andrew Bonar’s in the Banner of Truth Geneva Series. There’s a lot in Leviticus, and even more in the way it sets the framework for the rest of the Bible.
Morales is doing biblical theology, tracing a theme chronologically through the Bible, and he’s examining the theme: “life with God in the house of God.” Morales argues (convincingly, I think) that this is the theme of all of Scripture. Leviticus reveals the reopening of God’s presence through the tabernacle. Adam and Eve were expelled from the presence of God and the priests were invited back into the Holy of Holies through the sacrifices and the Day of Atonement. If you’re looking to tie your OT knowledge together and up for a slightly scholarly (but very readable) book, put this one on your list.
Expository Exultation - John Piper, Crossway
I’ve always loved Piper’s preaching and when I stepped into the Senior Pastor role at Carlton Landing, I went back to re-read Expository Exultation. One thing that is so evident in everything Piper does is his love for the Bible. This is not a book on communication, how to prepare your outline, or build rapport with this audience. This is a book about preaching the Word of God, all of it, with passion, clarity, and joy. It’s just the book I’d love for every person who preaches or teaches to read.
There’s a running debate in preaching circles over how to preach the Bible in view of Christ. Should every sermon end with a gospel presentation? Do you have to mention Christ in every sermon? Is it ok to preach moral lessons from the OT or is that legalism? Piper takes an interesting position: preaching should show the listeners the realities the texts are communicating. Preach the text, but as you do, help your congregation see the reality the Bible is describing. This simultaneously avoids missing the forest for the trees and the trees for the forest. This paradigm is different than Abraham Kuruvilla’s in Privilege the Text or A Manual for Preaching, which I’ve found to be the best guide on going from the text to the sermon, or even Jason Meyer’s Preaching, Piper’s successor at Bethlehem, but I think they’re after the same thing. Preach the text, paying attention to the textual and congregational contexts, and invite the congregation to see the reality of the world as it really is, the way God says it is - and the way God says they are.
Faultlines - Voddie Baucham, Salem
Watch for our podcast coming out on this book in the next couple of weeks. Voddie Baucham will shoot you straight. He rejects critical race theory, critical social justice, Black Lives Matter, and most of the prevailing narratives surrounding racial strife in America today - and especially the ways in which they’ve found a home in the church. You may disagree with Voddie, but he’s done the research. If you’re interested in these topics, you’ll like this book and our podcast episode on it.
Doom - Niall Ferguson
Blood and Treasure - Bob Drury and Tom Clavin
Deacons - Matt Smethurst
Devoured by Cannabis - Doug Wilson
Cole Feix is the founder and president of So We Speak and the Senior Pastor of Carlton Landing Community Church in Oklahoma.