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Of the books I extremely highly would encourage pastors and laity to read in 2011 in order to help one understand the Scriptures, and in order to read and obey them more faithfully, here are my top two recommendations for you, your pastor, members of your small group or Sunday School class, or your deacons:

The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition and Interpretation

Publisher’s Description: The Pentateuch is the foundation for understanding the Old Testament and the Bible as a whole. Yet through the centuries it has been probed and dissected, weighed and examined, its text peeled back for its underlying history, its discourse analyzed and its words weighed. Could there be any stone in Sinai yet unturned?

Surprisingly, there is. From a career of study, John Sailhamer sums up his perspective on the Pentateuch by first settling the hermeneutical question of where we should set our attention. Rather than focus on the history behind the text, Sailhamer is convinced that it is the text itself that should be our primary focus. Along the way he demonstrates that this was in fact the focus of many interpreters in the precritical era.

Persuaded of the singular vision of the Pentateuch, Sailhamer searches out clues left by the author and the later editor of the Pentateuch that will disclose the meaning of this great work. By paying particular attention to the poetic seams in the text, he rediscovers a message that surprisingly brings us to the threshold of the New Testament gospel.

God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology

Publisher’s Description: Moves through the Bible book by book to demonstrate that there is a theological center: God’s glory in salvation through judgment.

In Exodus 34 Moses asks to see God’s glory, and God reveals himself as a God who is merciful and just. James Hamilton Jr. contends that from this passage comes a biblical theology that unites the meta-narrative of Scripture under one central theme: God’s glory in salvation through judgment.

Hamilton begins in the Old Testament by showing that Israel was saved through God’s judgment on the Egyptians and the Caananites. God was glorified through both his judgment and mercy, accorded in salvation to Israel. The New Testament unfolds the ultimate display of God’s glory in justice and mercy, as it was God’s righteous judgment shown on the cross that brought us salvation. God’s glory in salvation through judgment will be shown at the end of time, when Christ returns to judge his enemies and save all who have called on his name.

Hamilton moves through the Bible book by book, showing that there is one theological center to the whole Bible. The volume’s systematic method and scope make it a unique resource for pastors, professors, and students.

NOTE: Go get the books! They do not require you to be able to read as a scholar; they simply require you to read prayerfully, faithfully, with your Scriptures open before you, and for you to obey what the Lord reveals from Scripture. Why not challenge your men’s or women’s group to deepen themselves in their understanding of Scripture rather than simply read the latest popular-level material made for Sunday school or written by your favorite motivational conference speaker? Pastors, why not challenge your leadership – yea, your whole church! – to read deeper? You have all to gain and nothing to lose (except a lesser understanding of Scripture and Christ, and maybe a few people who stubbornly resist change and/or growth).

UPDATE: See Jim Hamilton’s – author of the second work (above) – review of John Sailhamer’s The Meaning of the Pentateuch.