One of the books that resonated with me the most this year was Cyprian of Carthage: His Life and Impact (Christian Focus, 2017) by Brian Arnold. I had very little knowledge about this early church father and his contribution, but this introductory book fueled my appetite to know and read more about Cyprian. At least two parts of Cyprian’s life and ministry stood out: his pastoral care and leadership during a deadly pandemic and his view on the church.
Cyprian was the Bishop of Carthage from 248 to 258. He died a martyr’s death, refusing to sacrifice to false gods. Many of Cyprian’s followers asked to die alongside him, though their requests were refused. During his short time as Bishop of Carthage, he shepherded his people through some of the most difficult times in history. Not long after becoming bishop, the church in Carthage endured persecution for eighteen months. Following the persecution, a devastating pandemic broke out that many believe was smallpox. At the height of the pandemic, five thousand people died daily in Rome. The church did not retreat to self-preservation but rushed to the frontlines to care for the sick and the dying. Many Christians put their lives at risk and others contracted the disease and died. The pandemic did not hinder the ministry or growth of the church. In fact, the church grew exponentially during this time. It wasn’t just the hope of eternal life in the gospel that fueled the growth, it was mostly because of the Christ-like love the church extended to the sick and dying, giving no thought for their health or life.
One of Cyprian’s greatest contributions was his writings on the church. For Cyprian, the Christian could not exist without the church. He believed connection to the church was vital for salvation. It was Cyprian who famously said, “No one can have God as his Father who does not have the church as his mother.” It would have been beyond comprehension to Cyprian for a person to claim to be a Christian, yet not be connected to the church. He even went as far as saying, “There is no salvation outside of the church.” Cyprian believed that union to Christ means union with the church. The wisdom in considering Cyprian’s view on the church is a much-needed corrective for the modern Christian who understands their relationship with Jesus as merely personal, instead of in community with other believers. While we would never want to make salvation contingent on church membership, there is a great reason to be concerned about a professing Christian who thinks the local church is optional, or even worse, unnecessary.
The second book is Beginning with New Testament Greek: An Introductory Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the New Testament [BGNT] [B&H Academic, 2020) by Benjamin L. Merkle and Robert L. Plummer. Over the years I have attempted to keep up with the advances in New Testament Greek, while also reviewing introductory grammar textbooks to keep me adept with the original languages. This is not typically the kind of book I would add to a list such as this, but since working through BGNT, this has become my new go-to introductory Greek grammar. Merkle and Plummer have done the church a great service by writing this up-to-date, user-friendly Greek grammar.
One of the most important features of this book is that it drives the reader constantly to the text. Each chapter begins by looking at a specific text in the Greek New Testament to show why the grammar in that chapter is important. Though not unique to BGNT, all the exercises in the book come from the Greek New Testament. Within four chapters, you are beginning to read the Bible as it was originally written.
As opposed to many Greek grammars, BGNT focuses on recognition instead of memorization. It is extremely difficult to memorize necessary noun and verb paradigms and even harder to remember them as the years go by. Merkle and Plummer do an excellent job connecting the various patterns of noun and verb forms, highlighting which forms are unnecessary to focus on due to rare usage, and providing creative mnemonic devices to help recognize the noun and verb forms and rules of grammar. There are also five helpful sections in the book related to textual criticism, building lexical resources, introductions to commentaries, how to do a word study, and text diagramming.
The user-friendly aspect of BGNT is especially noted by the fact that one of the authors, Plummer, has free online lectures on every chapter in the book. He provides the link in the footnote at the beginning of each chapter. This can also be accessed at dailydoseofgreek.com. This feature makes it an ideal textbook for professors and students, pastors who need to revive their Greek, or even those self-starters who have the discipline to learn Greek without a traditional classroom setting.
Simply Trinity: The Unmanipulated Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by Matthew Barrett
What Happens When We Worship by Jonathan Landry Cruse
Between Wittenburg and Geneva: Lutheran and Reformed Theology in Conversation by Robert Kolb and Carl Trueman
John Adams by David McCullough