Friday, November 10, 2017

NIV Comfort Print

I recently received the NIV Thinline Bible from Zondervan for review. There are already plenty of good reviews out available from scholars, pastors, and others in ministry on the NIV translation itself. Here I'm focusing on a few unique features of this edition (ISBN 978-0-310-44877-8).

Words of Jesus in red
This feature doesn't impress me, and I'm glad fewer Bibles have it. Setting Jesus' words apart by using a different color creates an artificial distinction between the black ink and the red, as though one were more important than the other. "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16).

Two satin ribbon markers
Most Bibles have one ribbon marker. Having two allows you to follow a reading plan with simultaneous readings in the Old and New Testaments.

NIV Comfort Print® typeface
Zondervan commissioned a new font for the NIV. My initial reaction was discomfort. Although the font itself is very professional looking, its creators opted to not connect the lines in all the letters. Lowercase a, b, d, e, and more leave a tiny gap where the letter normally would close the loop. It looks distracting, but I didn't notice any problems when I sat down to read with it.

It's nice to have a good quality Bible for private reading and use at church. It's leather, indexed, and easy to read, all things considered.

Irenaeus: A biography for children

Simonetta Carr's Christian Biographies for Young Readers series sheds light on important figures from church history for children. Her newest title, Irenaeus of Lyon, introduces a man who defended the Christian faith against the heresy of gnosticism with his clear and insightful writing. Irenaeus grew up under the teaching of on of the Apostle John's disciples, and he later moved to France where his ministry and writings earned him a place of honor in Christian history.

Irenaeus of Lyon, like other books in this series, provides rich details both on the man and his times. Despite not having specific information about Irenaeus' childhood, Simonetta Carr painted a picture of what life was like for children in 2nd century Roman society. She also highlights Irenaeus' concern for the well-being of both orthodox Christians and those who were trying to introduce the false teachings of gnosticism to the churches. He loved them "better than they seemed to love themselves."

The illustrations and photographs combine with a rich prose to make the book beautiful in its own right and a treasure for what it communicates. This is the kind of book I want my children to read because they learn about why Irenaeus made a significant contribution to history as well as how his faith motivated him to live and act the way he did.

In light of recent events including mass murder of Christians while they gather for worship, I found one section in the book particularly relevant for talking about this tragedy with my children. Forty-eight Christians were murdered in Lyon by official government sanction. "In that difficult moment, Irenaeus had the responsibility of strengthening and encouraging the Christians who were alive and comforting those who had lost their loved ones" (p. 30). He emphasized God's plan of salvation and the future promise of an end to sin and suffering. It encouraged me to know this man was at ground zero of a horrible persecution and this was his focus in comforting others.

I highly recommend Irenaeus of Lyon and the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The NIV in 4 volumes

A few years ago a Kickstarter project raised over a million dollars to produce a multi-volume Bible with high-quality design and no chapter or verse numbers—a true reader's Bible. Since then, the major Bible publishers have been in a rush to produce similar Bibles in both single-volume and multi-volume sets. I recently got the NIV Reader's Bible, a beautiful all-in-one Bible, and I was impressed. Then I got the four-volume NIV Sola Scriptura Bible and was blown away.

The NIV Sola Scriptura Bible (henceforth NSSB) is the highest-quality Bible I've ever owned. It's cloth over board, but the covers are more solid than other cloth-over-board Bibles I own  (NIV Reader's Bible, the ESV Reader's Bible, and the Bibliotheca New Testament). Each of the four volumes has a brief introduction explaining both the NSSB and the volume itself: why the books are arranged the way they are, and what the significance of those books is.

Only Volume I: The Torah and Former Prophets (Genesis–Kings), follows the book order of our modern Bibles. The three Old Testament volumes follow the Hebrew major divisions (Law, Prophets, Writings), but the individual books follow a different, though understandable order. The New Testament has the most novel arrangement. It is divided into four sections headed by each of the gospels and followed by other books associated with each gospel either by relation (Paul to Luke, Peter to Mark, the writings of John), or theme (Matthew, Hebrews, and James are more distinctively Jewish). Because the NSSB is focused on enhancing the reading experience by removing distractions, there's no need to follow the traditional order of books. Reading a more chronological or thematic order may help produce insights you might otherwise miss if reading through in the traditional order.

The NSSB's best qualities are the strong, durable design and thick, white paper providing a strong contract between the page and the black ink of the biblical text. Other reader's Bibles may have larger margins (Bibliotheca), slightly larger spacing between lines (Bibliotheca and NIV Reader's Bible), or a marginally larger font (10.3 compared to 10.5 in the NIV Reader's Bible), but the overall quality of the NSSB is hard to beat. I've yet to get my hands on the 6-volume ESV Reader's Bible, but for anyone looking for a multi-volume, easy-to-read Bible, the NSSB is a great set to bring home.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Good Night Tales

My children love Good Night Tales almost as much as I do. The book contains 12 fairy tale stories meant for reading aloud. C.S. Fritz has managed to capture the feeling of a good fairy tale well told that I've not experienced since my own childhood. He writes for the ear and illustrates for the eye, creating a book I'm already convinced I will have to preserve for my grandkids someday.

Each story is inspired by a passage of Scripture, yet the telling is straight out of a collection of Aesop's Fables or Grimm's fairy tales. At the conclusion of the book are a number of questions for guided discussions that make the link to Scripture that much clearer.

Each story is set in the same world, though each character is unique. My favorite story is probably the first I read to my son, about a buttonbush troll who parts with everything in order to obtain what he finds most precious. The most developed story is probably the first, with allusions to most of biblical history. You and your child will find your own favorite stories you want to hear again and again. Highly recommended.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher in order to provide my review.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The NIV Reader's Bible is a sight for sore eyes!

Reader's Bibles have been all the rage after a Kickstarter project proposing to produce a high-quality Bible without chapter or verse numbers made over a million dollars. A five volume set may look nice, but it's not as portable as a one-volume edition like the recent NIV Reader's Bible published by Zondervan.

I own the ESV Reader's Bible, which has been out now for a few years, so it made sense to compare the two. The ESV has certain advantages over the NIV. First, it has a rounded spine with ridges, giving it a professional and high-quality look. The ESV also comes with a slipcase and has two marker ribbons, allowing you to follow a reading plan with readings in the Old and New Testaments.

But the NIV Reader's Bible is the better Bible. It has about the same measurements as the ESV, but it's almost one inch taller and just a little bit thicker, and this makes all the difference on the inside. The NIV is eminently more readable. It has a 10.5-point font size, whereas the ESV is only 9 pt, and there lines are slightly more spaced out. The NIV also retains its textual notes as endnotes at the end of each book of the Bible. I honestly would have preferred the notes to remain as footnotes rather than endnotes, but their choice makes the reading experience smoother. The ESV dropped its notes entirely, which is a little frustrating because it's sometimes nice to know that a person's name has special meaning, like when Sarah names her son Isaac because she laughed (his name means "he laughs").

I am encouraged by new reader's editions coming out in more widely-read translations. My ESV Reader's Bible has helped me read through the Bible a couple times already at a relatively quick pace, giving me a better grasp of the narrative flow of the Bible. I anticipate this NIV will help me even more so, both because the translation is a little smoother in English and because the font and spacing choices make it easier on the eyes as well.

Disclosure of material connection: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of providing this review.

Alexander Hamilton and his turbulent times.

Alexander Hamilton is the face we all recognize on the $10 bill. Some of us may know that he was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr. But beyond that, most of us know next to nothing about him. Alexander Hamilton: The Graphic History of an American Founding Father is a "graphic history," a well-researched biography presented in a comic book format.

I expected the book to take a lot of liberties, but the amount of historical analysis and insight into the significance of events astounded me. The amount of political turmoil in the early years of the United States, especially during Washington's presidency surprised me. Hamilton's scandalous affair that tanked his political career could have been pulled from today's headlines. Talks of secession from the state of New York, infighting between cabinet members, and a hotly contested presidential election leaving a controversial figure in the oval office reminded me just how much we need to knowledge of the past to give perspective to the present.

Hamilton lived during the formative years of our nation. His influence as an officer during the American Revolution, a politician, and the Secretary of the Treasury during Washington's administration had long-term effects that can be felt even today. I highly recommend this book.

Disclosure of material connection: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of providing this review.

Friday, September 22, 2017

How to read and understand the biblical prophets

Some years ago I had the privilege of walking the halls of the campus of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. A student who must have realized I was new, walked up to me, raised his finger, and pointed down the hallway at a bearded man stepping out of an office and turning around the corner. "That man is a genius," he said, and walked off. That genius turned out to be Dr. Peter J. Gentry, Professor of Old Testament Interpretation.

Dr. Gentry's newest book, How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets is a testament to that genius. I read the first chapter, "Calling the People Back to the Covenant," and told my wife, "That chapter alone was worth the cost of the book." The next six chapters and appendix on the literary structure of Revelation were equally valuable. Gentry believes that "having the larger picture right will help to get the details right." Commentaries tend to focus on the details of the text, but run the risk of missing the forest for the trees. Gentry's approach stems from years of research and hard work to learn the intricacies of ancient Hebrew and Middle Eastern literary styles. As a result, he's able to move from 10,000 feet to ground level and back again with relative ease.

In this work he provides great insight on the Biblical prophets, especially the books of Isaiah and Daniel. I'm very excited about returning to these sections of the Old Testament again, and I plan to consult Dr. Gentry's book during my reading. Rarely does a book strike me like this one has.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, and I give it my highest praise.