Great Thinkers Series

Series Introduction

Amid the rise and fall of nations and civilizations, the influence of a few great minds has been profound. Some of these remain relatively obscure, even as their thought shapes our world; others have become household names. As we engage our cultural and social contexts as ambassadors and witnesses for Christ, we must identify and test against the Word those thinkers who have so singularly formed the present age.

Each author was invited to meet a threefold goal, so that each Great Thinkers volume is, first, academically informed. The brevity of Great Thinkers volumes sets a premium on each author’s command of the subject matter and on the secondary discussions that have shaped each thinker’s influence. Our authors identify the most influential features of their thinkers’ work and address them with precision and insight. Second, the series maintains a high standard of biblical and theological faithfulness. Each volume stands on an epistemic commitment to “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), and is thereby equipped for fruitful critical engagement. Finally, Great Thinkers texts are accessible, not burdened with jargon or unnecessarily difficult vocabulary. The goal is to inform and equip the reader as effectively as possible through clear writing, relevant analysis, and incisive, constructive critique. My hope is that this series will distinguish itself by striking with biblical faithfulness and the riches of the Reformed tradition at the central nerves of culture, cultural history, and intellectual heritage.

Nathan D. Shannon, Series Editor

Praise for the Great Thinkers Series

“After a long eclipse, intellectual history is back. We are becoming aware, once again, that ideas have consequences. The importance of P&R Publishing’s leadership in this trend cannot be overstated. The series Great Thinkers: Critical Studies of Minds That Shape Us is a tool that I wish I had possessed when I was in college and early in my ministry. The scholars examined in this well-chosen group have shaped our minds and habits more than we know. Though succinct, each volume is rich, and displays a balance between what Christians ought to value and what they ought to reject. This is one of the happiest publishing events in a long time.”

—William Edgar, Professor of Apologetics, Westminster Theological Seminary

“When I was beginning my studies of theology and philosophy during the 1950s and ’60s, I profited enormously from P&R’s Modern Thinkers Series. Here were relatively short books on important philosophers and theologians such as Nietzsche, Dewey, Van Til, Barth, and Bultmann, by scholars of Reformed conviction such as Clark, Van Riessen, Ridderbos, Polman, and Zuidema. These books did not merely summarize the work of these thinkers; they were serious critical interactions. Today, P&R is resuming and updating the series, now called Great Thinkers. The new books, on people such as Aquinas, Hume, Nietzsche, Derrida, and Foucault, are written by scholars who are experts on these writers. As before, these books are short—around 100 pages. They set forth accurately the views of the thinkers under consideration, and they enter into constructive dialogue, governed by biblical and Reformed convictions. I look forward to the release of all the books being planned and to the good influence they will have on the next generation of philosophers and theologians.”

—John M. Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy Emeritus, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando

Available in the Great Thinkers Series


  • Francis Bacon, by David C. Innes
  • Karl Barth, by Lane G. Tipton
  • David Hume, by James N. Anderson
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, by Carl R. Trueman
  • Karl Rahner, by Camden M. Bucey
  • Adam Smith, by Jan van Vliet


Author Highlight — David Powlison

David Powlison (MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary; MA, PhD, University of Pennsylvania) is executive director of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation in Glenside, Pennsylvania, and the editor of the Journal of Biblical Counseling. He teaches at Westminster Theological Seminary and is a board member and fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.

Seeing With New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture

288 pages | $14.99 | Resources for Changing Lives

Does God have a take on counseling? Does his gaze have anything to say about the myriad issues counseling deals with? Has he communicated the way he thinks?

David Powlison helps us to see God in the counseling context, training us to see what God sees, hear what he says, and do what he does. As we look through this Scriptural lens, we will become more thoughtful in understanding people and more skillful in curing souls.

All counseling models—whether secular or religious—are essentially differing systems of “pastoral care and cure.” When you include God in the picture, it changes the way we think about “problem,” “diagnosis,” “strategy,” “solution,” “helpful,” “cure,” “insight,” and “counselor.” Learn how the Bible’s truth competes head-to-head with other counseling models and changes what we live for and how we live.

He is also the author of 7 RCL booklets


Anger. We all experience it, some more than others. When is it righteous, and when is it not? How can we control our anger and not get caught in a maze of rage when things don’t go our way?

“God’s unconditional love.” Sounds nice, but is it enough? Is there more to God’s love?

“Is it really possible to slay the dragon of pornography and fantasy once it has gained control of your life?” asks Powlison. The answer is yes, as you will see from an actual interview with a man who experienced Christ’s deliverance in this part of his life.

How do you know if you’re ready to marry? What are the signs that a man and a woman are heading in the same direction and are right for each other?

Are you overwhelmed by stress? On edge? Pressured to achieve? Spinning into free fall? What is the “noise” going on inside you? Or are you quiet inside?

Do I have any real friends? Will I ever find a spouse? If I do find one, will he or she be faithful? Will we be able to have kids? What about my health? There’s always something to worry about.

“Why is this happening to me? Where is God in my time of anguish?”


Excerpt taken from Beyond the Ninety-Five Theses: Martin Luther’s Life, Thought, and Lasting Legacy by Stephen J. Nichols

Here is an excerpt taken from the Preface of Beyond the Ninety-Five Theses: Martin Luther’s Life, Thought, and Lasting Legacy by Stephen J. Nichols.


Martin Luther stepped out of the Black Cloister in Wittenberg. In this building he and his fellow Augustinian monks, university scholars, and students taught and learned, ate and drank, prayed and slept. Here Martin Luther lived. Here, too, he wrote. He passed through the gate and headed west, guided by the bell tower and steeple of the Schlosskirche, or Castle Church, that rose over the town of Wittenberg. Luther likely could make the trip in his sleep. One kilometer later he arrived at his destination.

Martin Luther had been troubled in the months of 1517. In fact, Martin Luther had been troubled for the past dozen years and, sadly, more years still. In 1505 he had found himself caught in a violent thunderstorm, which he had taken to be nothing less than God’s judgment over his soul and God’s way of snuffing out his life. Having no alternative, Luther had cut a deal. He would enter the monastery, devoting his life to the quest for piety and peace with God—if only God spared his life from the crashing thunder and streaking lightning.

In the years leading up to 1517, Luther’s troubles increased. Peace seemed ever more to elude him. He had high hopes for the church—and at the time there was only one, the Roman Catholic Church—yet he experienced wave upon wave of disillusionment. His trip to Rome, the Holy See, left him utterly deflated.

Then Luther started to hear stories that made his skin crawl and his stomach churn. In the neighboring regions, an indulgence sale was occurring. The Peter Indulgence, as it was called, resulted from a deal struck by Albert, Archbishop of Mainz, and Pope Leo X. Unprecedented, the indulgence offered purchasers a free pass to paradise, no need to stop in purgatory. It also offered release from purgatory for one’s relatives, one’s suffering relatives. All one had to do was throw a coin into the coffer.

That summer, Luther managed to get a copy of “The Summary Instruction.” This document, prepared by Albert and his theologians, gave explicit instructions to the indulgence sale preachers—Luther called them “hawkers.” The document was troubling enough, as it made a mockery of church law. What made the matter far worse was that Luther’s own parishioners from Wittenberg were traveling to Albert’s region, purchasing indulgences, and spiraling downward in their lives. What incentive did they have to do otherwise? They had their indulgence. They had their Get Out of Jail Free card.

Luther poignantly felt the strain. The indulgence had the Pope’s seal of approval, yet it was patently without warrant. Luther’s inward tensions mounted as he could not help but see the damage being done.

As fall came to Wittenberg, the air grew crisper, and the leaves changed their colors, Luther could be silent no more. He was a Doctor of Sacred Theology. He was a priest. He had training, and he held a position that obligated him to serve the church, even if that meant calling the church out. So he filled his inkwell, sat at his desk, and set to work. 

By the time he finished writing, he had ninety-five separate arguments and observations on the indulgence sale. He readied himself for a debate. He wrote a letter to Albert, Archbishop of Mainz, that same day. Luther planned to post the letter along with a copy of his theses where his fellow Wittenberg scholars could engage the debate. He took his copy and a mallet and headed west out the gate to the Castle Church doors.

Five hundred years later, we celebrate this moment in history—for it made history. What Luther did on that last day of October in 1517 started the Protestant Reformation, impacting both church and culture for five full centuries and counting. It was truly a remarkable event, executed by one of history’s most colorful figures. 

The posting of the Ninety-Five Theses to the church door stands as the epochal moment in Luther’s life. But it does not stand alone. Other defining moments would come after October 31, 1517. Much more would flow from Luther’s quill and inkwells than the Ninety-Five Theses. 

This book offers a guided tour of Martin Luther’s life, writings, and thought. It is offered not in the hope that we merely enshrine Luther and his legacy but that in the hope that we too might find the same confidence in God, the Mighty Fortress; in God’s sure and certain Word; and in Christ and his finished work on the cross—alone. May we look back and be filled with gratitude for Luther’s life and legacy. 

May we also look ahead. If Christ delays his return and the church sees the year 2517, will there be cause to celebrate our acts and our legacy? 

Our celebration of the past reminds us of our obligation in the present and our commitment to the future. Looking ahead seems to be the best way to celebrate the five-hundredth anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of the Ninety-Five Theses. 

Excerpt taken from the Preface of Beyond the Ninety-Five Theses: Martin Luther’s Life, Thought, and Lasting Legacy by Stephen J. Nichols.

Daily Excerpt taken from Come to the Waters

October 30

Victory through Christ

1 corinthians 15:51–58

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. 1 Corinthians 15:51

When Paul talks about the new body we are going to receive, he begins to think of our bodies’ transformation, and it occurs to him that transformation is to be seen not merely in the resurrection of those whose bodies have died, but also in those who will still be living when the Lord comes. Paul calls this a “mystery” because it was not known beforehand. One can imagine his saying, “But now it is known: Jesus is going to return, and when he returns he is going to usher in the consummation of all things. Some will be dead; their bodies will be transformed and raised to meet the Lord in the air. Some will be living; their bodies will be changed, apart from death, so that their status will be exactly the same as those who have died. When that happens, death will be swallowed up in victory, and sin will be defeated.”

Paul is not thinking of the kind of victory over death that we talk about when we talk only of Jesus’s resurrection. We say that because Jesus was raised from the dead, death was therefore defeated where he was concerned. He will not die again. That is true, but that is not what Paul is saying. He is saying, “True and glorious as that may be, when we talk about the saints being transformed at the final resurrection, there is an even greater truth, because at that time, death will be abolished forever. It will no longer exist.”

The conclusion is this: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (v. 58). If there is no resurrection, our labor in the Lord is in vain. There is no point to it. There is no point in serving a dead Lord, and there is no point in serving other people. But if there is a resurrection, then it makes sense to do what Paul concludes.

Stand firm; you stand upon the rock of God’s truth. Let nothing move you; there are things that will try. Give yourself fully to the work of the Lord; your labor is not in vain. So long as I know that—that my labor in the Lord is not in vain—then I will keep at it no matter what the difficulty, no matter what the persecution, no matter what the ridicule. I am going to keep at it no matter what the obstacles may be. The victory does not lie with the world; it lies with Jesus and the kingdom of God.

Excerpt taken from Come to the Waters: Daily Bible Devotions for Spiritual Refreshment by James Montgomery Boice.

Author Interview with Michael Gembola

This week’s author interview is with Michael Gembola. He is the author of After an Affair: Pursuing Restoration in our 31-Day Devotionals for Life series.


  • Question #1 — Tell us a little bit about yourself: where you’re from, family, job, personal interests, unique hobbies, what you do in your spare time, etc.

I grew up in South Carolina, lived in Philadelphia for a decade or so, and then made it partway home by landing in Virginia. My time outside of work largely goes to my family – Kelly and I have two little boys who keep our house loud and fun. We try to get outside, see the mountains nearby, take walks, and drop into coffee shops and farmer’s markets, but more often we’re around the house playing basketball or sitting by the firepit.


  • Question #2 — When did you first want to write a book?

In high school I started writing a book of poetry, but I look back and cringe at all of it. In college I was an English major and went to a journalism school briefly after college, so writing has always been a part of the picture. Becoming a counselor led me to write in order to figure out how to understand new ideas for myself, but the only books I have the motivation to write are ones that I hope will fill a gap for people I’m caring for.


  • Question #3 — Which writers inspire you?

Some ancient and modern favorites who consistently inspire me are George Herbert, Augustine, Gregory the Great, John Perkins, David Powlison, and Diane Langberg.


  • Question #4 — What inspired you to write this book, about this topic?

I got advice early on as a professional counselor that I should find my focus area and build expertise. I certainly never planned for that to be adultery. But in those early years I found myself frustrated in trying to offer help. I didn’t feel that I was communicating well to people on this issue, and there were so many people wanting to be restored after affairs. I had an idea of what needed to happen to help put a marriage back together, but I was sobered by the challenge of how the person being restored can make the necessary transitions, from hiding and resentment to openness and care.

This challenge was further complicated by the fact that the people I met with frequently felt misunderstood by their spouses, and perhaps also by me. I hadn’t lived their experience. And though I figured I could get inside their perspective reasonably well, I knew that their perspective had to change in key ways if they were to going to speak healing words to their spouses. There had to be some kind of educational piece, and I became aware that it wasn’t likely to happen on its own.

So I wrote a short, informal workbook that I never intended to publish, just to print and let people use. P&R invited me to revise the material in the context of a devotional, which was exciting to me, since it made the material decidedly more oriented to the person’s relationship with God. It took my workbook and shifted the focus to spiritual growth, though not necessarily away from personal and marital growth.This shift was a perfect fit for what the people I counsel are looking for. The believers I’ve met with after adultery who want to restore their marriages are eager to reconnect with God. Sometimes they say they feel clueless as to what needs to change in their perspective or in their manner of engaging their spouses. But they have known they want to come back to God. My hope is that a topical devotional can meet them where they are and invite them to places they aren’t yet aware they need to go.

How can readers discover more about you and your work?