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.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Finally, a Zondervan Kids' Study Bible I can recommend

The Zondervan NIV Kids’ Visual Study Bible boasts over 700 images. They range from pictures of historical places, objects, and animals; drawings; infographics; timelines; etcetera. Even as an adult it is neat to see what the Biblical places really look like, and the summary graphics like “Big Ideas in [book]” and “Key Words in [book]” help readers of all ages get a better grasp of what they’re reading. There were a few Wordle-like graphics such as Titles of Christ, which includes both the titles and the verse references. There was also a neat cartoon depiction of grafting a wild olive shoot onto a domesticated olive tree in Romans 11.

The study notes average about two or three per page. That seems appropriate for young children and preteens. My five-year-old enjoyed reading a few of the introductory notes to Mark, and I anticipate having her use this Bible more and more as they start using the Bible more in Sunday school.

The last time I reviewed a Zondervan children’s study Bible I was terribly disappointed over the undercutting of traditional Christian teachings about the age and origin of Scripture, promotion of egalitarianism, and a strong stance against Calvinism. This Bible offers no qualifications when it says Luke wrote the book of Acts and Paul wrote the Pastorals. In Romans 9 the notes read “God chooses people. Paul said that God has the right to grant mercy to whomever he chooses,” and, “The example of a potter making pottery. This was aa way of showing that God, like a potter, is in control of his creation and makes choices about the world and people.” The notes do leave it open on the question of whether women can teach and exercise authority over men, but it is only one note that I can find.

Overall I would recommend the Bible for children between the ages of 5 and 12.

I received this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

MacArthur on Paul's Gospel

One of the things I have come to appreciate from John MacArthur's preaching and teaching ministry is his commitment to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. He can sometimes seem like a cranky grandparents when he goes on the attack, but when he talks about the gospel he is right on point. I have enjoyed many of his books, but none that I have read has been so focused on explaining the basic gospel message as much as his recent book, The Gospel According to Paul.

In it MacArthur zeros in on the historical event of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. He takes a look at Romans to establish that we are all sinners, and explains that we can only be saved by faith in Christ. Looking at Ephesians he shares what it means to be “in Christ” and the role of good works in the life of a believer. In addition to his expository treatment of key New Testament passages, he offers a lengthy defense of the substitutionary atonement in the appendices and some sermons by both himself and the great gospel preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

MacArthur has proven himself to be a capable Bible expositor. Those who find themselves agreeing with much is the elegy will enjoy this return to the basics. Those who find themselves at odds with him on occasion will have less of a reason to do so in this volume if they hold to the one gospel all Christians are called to proclaim.

I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of providing this review.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Reformation Women

I like books about history, especially ones related to the Protestant Reformation. I've read plenty of books about Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other reformers, so I was very excited to pick up a copy of Reformation Women. Rebecca VanDoodewaard brings us a glimpse into the lives of 12 women who are not well-known today, but who each lived out their newly-discovered faith at a time when conceptions of the church, the gospel, and what it means to be a woman were all being reassessed. During that time of confusion, "they were reading, writing, and ruling. They were teaching children, sheltering refugees, and balancing husbands. They directed armies, confronted kings, and rebuked heretics."

I read this book with my wife and we both enjoyed learning about these unique women and their contribution to the Protestant Reformation. They truly were amazing women, and they serve as proof that extraordinary faithfulness to God is a better legacy than a recognizable name. I'm thankful that Rebecca VanDoodewaard could reintroduce these women to modern audiences. They are truly exceptional, and both my wife and I were encouraged by their faith. I highly recommend this book.

I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of review.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Pray About Everything

Pray About Everything is a short book on prayer that grew out of Paul Tautges' experience holding prayer meetings on Wednesday nights at his church and on other special occasions throughout the year. He writes to encourage believers, particularly church leaders, to pray, especially as a church body. He says, "The old-fashioned Wednesday night prayer meeting has virtually disappeared. And though there is nothing sacred about Wednesday night as a prayer meeting time, there certainly is something sacred about the corporate prayer of believers." Prayer is a demonstration of our dependence on God, and a commitment to prayer—praying about everything— will help us develop what he calls "God-dependency."

Each chapter of the book contains a short meditation on a passage of Scripture related to prayer, such as what it means to pray "in Jesus' name" or praying for unbelievers and government leaders. Tautness keeps it personal for the reader, especially in his chapters on praying for a forgiving heart and how our marital relationship affects our prayer life. As a husband and father of three, looking closely at 1 Peter 3:7 in chapter 8 was a timely reminder of how the way I treat my wife affects my relationship with God and prayers to him.

Because most of the chapters can be read in about ten minutes' time, this book is great for personal devotions or Bible study groups because it leave you enough time to put into practice what you're talking about. He includes a number of short appendices as well, including information on holding special prayer meetings and praying through Scripture. It packs a punch in only 128 pages—perfect for those of us who struggle to make time to pray.

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

Monday, June 5, 2017

A Bible Seek-and-Find Book

My 4-year-old son just loves seek-and-find books, which can be challenging because ones like Where's Waldo are too hard for me, much less him (everyone is wearing red and white). Bible Sleuth: New Testament was just right for him. The pages are a foot tall, there are tons of unique characters in all sorts of poses of doing all kinds of things, and my son can usualy find each person in less than a minute. With 8 people or objects for each of the 14 pictures spread out across 2 pages, it means quite a bit of entertainment for my son.

Each of the pictures illustrates an event from the New Testament along with a paragraph describing what is going on. I doubt most children will pay attention to the description because seek-and-find books are like gamesthe pictures are primary, the story is only secondary. A Bible-themed seek-and-find book is just as much fun as a pirate- or U.S. history-themed one. Because these books are more like games than anything else, it's a good thing such a somber and significant event like the crucifixion is not pictured.

My only real criticism of the book is that a number of the hidden objects are placed in the center margin between the two pages. I can't blame the artist for that since the publisher probably decided on the final format of the book. I still recommend it.

I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of providing this review.

Monday, May 29, 2017

David Murray's book on living a "grace-paced" life

I have come to appreciate David Murray and his ministry through the written word. When I saw he had written Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture, I thought, Yeah, I should probably read that. I am glad I did. Murray writes for men, with a planned follow up for women called Refresh being co-written with his wife, Shona.

Some years ago Murray’s life was upturned by health crisis he never saw coming—potentially fatal blood clots in his lungs. He had been going at a pace that was unsustainable and unhealthy. He was forced to stop everything he was doing and reconsider his priorities. Reset was born out of that experience, as well as his time spent guiding others through the reset process. Murray’s fondness for alliteration comes out in the "repair bays" he walks readers through to reset their lives:

Reality Check

For each of these "repair bays" Murray shares Scripture, examples from his own life and his experiences counseling other men, as well as research (like how much sleep we need and how the food we eat affects our health). Everyone should take a break to evaluate what pace they are living their life at. I found I needed more of these "repair bays" than I wanted to admit. I recommend it to men, especially those in ministry or who are married with kids. Our lives and ministries are too important to not give ourselves an inspection every once in awhile to make sure we’re going at a sustainable pace.

I should add one note about the audiobook version. David Murray narrates the book himself. He does speak with a Scottish accent, but I find that foreign quality all the more enjoyable.

I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of providing this review.