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Top Five Books of 2003 from OBJ Reading List

Comments on the top five books in my 2003 reading list, at the request of a colleague. Also included is a comment on a sixth title, about which my correspondent wanted to know more.

The list is not ranked among the five I have chosen.  I have listed them alphabetically.

Top Five

1.  Barthel, Manfred; Mark Howson, translator and adaptor.  What the Bible Really Says:  Casting New Light on the Book of Books.  NY:  Bell Publishing Co., 1984.  388p.  (Bible backgrounds, cultural updates from archeology and other sciences.)  Bought 1985.  Begun September 2003, finished October 2003.

Barthel provided some very stimulating discussions on various findings in archaeology that throws light on names and laces and events in the Bible. Anything in history and archaeology related to the Middle East and the Bible interests me.  He goes through the Bible books in sequence and gives information from various sciences that help explain, clarify or verify each. There is more on the Old Testament, but also some related to the New Testament and a good section about the Essenes that gives some helpful insights.

This was interesting and helpful because it brought to life the contemporary situation in these biblical events.  I always like to study the Old Testament, particularly, to understand the stories, not just as history, but as real-life experiences of humans like me, in another culture and place. I try to get a personal sense of their encounters with the Divine in the events of their lives.  It is a challenge further to try to understand the worldview they lived in and see how that helps clarify their understanding of the events reflected in what we now have recorded.  Barthel did that.

See my more extensive review of this book on this site.
See Barthel's Book and Read My Review on Amazon.Com.

2.  Brother Lawrence.  The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims.  Grand Rapids:  Spire Books (Baker Book House), 1958, 2003.  112p. Bought November 2003, read December 2003.

It was insightful, in a way similar to what I described above, to see how a pious man in medieval France yearned to know and love God more and more.  It was helpful as well as inspiring to see the practical ways Brother Lawrence turned every practical deed into service for God.  He performed service to any who needed it as service to God.  He taught others to work as to the Lord and love the Lord through loving those around us.  The first part of the book was a testimonial introduction by another servant of the church who knew him.  The admiration came through as another perspective on the life of Brother Lawrence.  It was interesting to consider that this person who dedicated his life to knowing and loving God in every moment was a French Roman Catholic, who lived about a century after the Protestant Reformation. It was interesting and encouraging to see how he came to some of the same concepts and approaches in the Middle Ages I have tried to practice now.

See my more extensive review of Brother Lawrence on this site.
See The Practice of the Presence on

3.  Gruenler, Royce Gordon.  New Approaches to Jesus and the Gospels:  A Phenomenological and Exegetical Study of Synoptic Christianity.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House, 1982.  251p.  Bought 1984.  Begun April 2003, finished November 2003.

This was fascinating and rewarding as a very technical study of the gospels in detail, from the philosophical perspective of Phenomenology of Person, which involves psychology as well as linguistics and literary form criticism.  This was an extremely tight, sound logical presentation of this phenomenologist's analysis of the person of Jesus form his statements about himself in the gospels.  He defends the integrity of the gospel record as a starting point for the study, dealing with concepts of community and culture that would have been confirming and correcting influences if anyone had tried to just make up stuff that Jesus said.  He applies the Historical-Critical tools and procedures fiercely and comes up with strong defenses against the radicals who would discount much of Jesus' self-concept as Messiah and Saviour.  A stimulating devotional study as well as a rewarding intellectual exercise!

See my more extensive review of Gruenler's book on this site.
See Gruenler's book on Amazon.Com.

4.  Noth, Martin.  The Deuteronomistic History (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Series 15).  Sheffield, England:  JSOT Press, 1991.  145p. Bought 1997.  Begun November 2003, finished December 25, 2003.

This selection was again a thrilling,, though somewhat pedantic, contribution to my Old Testament studies.  Noth is considered a pre-eminent scholar on the Deuteronomist sections of the Torah.  I was not very familiar with him, and that is one reason I had picked up this book, though dated somewhat.  When I finally got around to reading it, I was rewarded with his deep devotional commitment to the message and spirit of the Torah.  He also drew upon historical contexts form culture and I could relate to his references to Oral literature and oral cultures, which I have worked with most of my life.  One great limitation to the Western literate culture is that they have lost contact with the concept of oral transmission.

During the last century, literacy so took over the perspective that all of history, including religion, faith and culture, are seen in terms of a literate culture.  It is hard to understand the format and content of much of the Old Testament, even some of the New Testament, because the culture context was so different, but also because styles are so different in Oral Literature and Literate Literature (note how even the technical terms are skewed to or derived from the Literate perspective).  It was good to see a warm-hearted scholar tenderly, lovingly handle and probe the holy texts for their cultural life and human impact in that context, drawing out threads and gems that brought to life the setting and life-events that led to and are represented in the texts of Deuteronomy and the related sections of the Torah.

See my more extensive review of this book on this site.
See information on Noth's book on Amazon.Com (currently out of print).

5.  Warren, Rick.  The Purpose Driven Life.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002.  319p.  Received June 2003. Started August 2003, finished September 2003.  Reread October-November 2003.

Reading this book, then rereading it, was a surprisingly fulfilling experience.  Warren is profound in his simplicity, brining to life old truths we all know, or ought to know, but in a new bright, direct way to challenge me to repentance and focus.  I was only vaguely familiar with Saddleback, and the Purpose Driven books, but was very in tune with what I found there.  I did not agree with all Rick presented, which gives me some comfort.  I always like to see where I disagree with an author, as well as where I agree and what he contributes to me.

I found that the themes seemed sound and consistent with what I have gleaned so far from the scriptures and my experiences of grace in Africa.  The book helped me become more aware of America, serving as a good contribution to my cultural orientation to this foreign country.  I have gained some perspectives with which to approach ministry outreach in the US, giving me some confidence in the value of my contribution in this country.

See my more extensive review of this book on this site.
See The Purpose Driven Life and my review on

Comments on

Toon, Peter.  The End of Liberal Theology.  Wheaton, IL:  Crossway Books, 1995.  217p.  Bought 1999.  About half read in 2001.  Finished November 2003.

Toon provides a historical summary outlining cultural, historical and intellectual streams leading to and running in the theological trends that came to be called Liberalism, especially reflected in the German literary and form criticism schools.  Toon's analysis is fairly technical, though well-presented in understandable terms.  He shows how perspectives that led to and guided Liberalism suffered in the mid-20th century, due to the great world upsets, especially WWII.

Along with secularization, cultural forces that contributed to the decreasing influence of Liberalism were a retreat into simpler forms of Christian faith (tiring of the growing academic and clerical styles, whether liberal or conservative, both arising out of the classical concept of theological education and development).  This was a rejection of Classicism, in favor of a more populist approach to personal religion, accompanied by a growing disenchantment with traditional denominational doctrines and institutions, accelerating as the century progressed. This is one factor accounting for the decreasing population of the "mainline" churches in America, maybe Europe also, though Europe has other cultural factors in action.

Another force was the conscious attempts to renew a more literal view of biblical revelation.  This also found support in growing ranks of scholars. The more radical forms, like KJV only and other populist views are a part of the reaction against classicism of whatever stripe, and formalism has suffered even in conservative churches.

Toon concludes with a focus on the growing unity in perspective in the missions movement and world ecumenical perspectives and cooperation among evangelical and conservatives, which has never occurred before, complementing the decreasing influence of the World Council of Churches.

I am broadly summarizing Toon's scenario, and likely injecting my own concepts into my portrayal.

This review is also formally posted on this site.
See this Book and Read My Review on Amazon.Com.

First Posted 22 June 2004
Last edited 28 December 2006

Orville Boyd Jenkins, Ed.D., Ph.D.

Copyright © 2004 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.
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