Monday, April 16, 2018

The Cross and Christian Ministry

Some years ago my pastor told me to stock my library with anything by D. A. Carson. Baker Books recently issued a reprint of his 1980 classic The Cross and Christian Ministry, and graciously offered me a copy for review. Now having read it, I'd recommend it as the first book of Carson's to pick up and read. I enjoyed it so much, I bought a digital copy as well.

The book is based on a series of lectures Carson gave on 1 Corinthians 1-4 and 9, which gives the book its subtitle: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians. Carson taps into a core truth about Paul's letter to the Corinthians and the foundation of his entire ministry: Christ and him crucified. The gospel, the good news, is the center. Carson shows how Paul's grasp of the gospel dictated his entire approach to ministry, from identifying the root cause of the world's hostility to our message, to correcting self-righteous attitudes and factionalism, to laying down our rights in service to others, to learning what it really means to become all things to all people.

I am one of those people who brings a pencil and a straight-edged bookmark to my books. I found myself underlining, starring, and writing things like "Excellent point!" and "Amen" throughout the book. Carson manages to capture the essential point of the passages he's dealing with time and time again. The book itself is worth reading time and time again. I suspect that mine will be a well-worn copy before too long, and that's not a bad thing.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

NKJV Deluxe Reader's Bible

More reader's Bibles are becoming available in various translations. Not to be outdone, Thomas Nelson has released the NKJV Deluxe Reader's Bible. The black imitation leather cover has what I can only describe as brown leather wingtips on the front two corners. Kinda stylish.

The text inside the Bible is beautifully presented with a custom font based on a Scotch Roman typeface used by Thomas Nelson publishers in 1844. The verses and chapter divisions have been removed from the text of Scripture, as have all footnotes and headings. In their place, headings marking major divisions in the books have been added in red ink. Chapters in red ink appear in the margin, and every fifth verse is marked in the margin, something I've not seen in any other reader's Bible. I have to admit, I like it. They don't distract from the reading experience, and it makes it easier to find my place.

I am encouraged by new reader's editions coming out in more widely-read translations. A 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 NKJV will help others do so as well.

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

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Lord's Prayer: A Manifesto for Revolution

Many people can recite the Lord's Prayer from memory: "Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name..." Familiarity, as is so often the case, breeds contempt. Being able to repeat memorized words is not the same as understanding and living out those words. If I were to say that prayer "turns the world upside down" or that it is "a manifesto for revolution," you might think that an overstatement. That's why The Prayer that Turns the World Upside Down is a great read. It helps you see why Jesus told his disciples this is the way they should pray. As Mohler says, "Christians need to regularly revisit the rich theology of the Lord's Prayer."

Albert Mohler writes for a general audience that makes for a quick read. Each chapter provides a thorough and intelligent analysis of each phrase in the Lord's Prayer. Along the way Mohler provides profound reflections on prayer, stories, and anecdotes to bring the message home. He writes with such clarity and conviction that you can't help but be carried forward and seeing things you may not have seen before in the Lord's Prayer. This book will help you identify and root out bad prayer habits more fitting of Jesus' Pharisaical opponents and enter into a more God-glorifying pattern of prayer.

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

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Buy anything from Carson: A book review

D. A. Carson is one of the best New Testament scholars of our day. He's been writing books for years that have stood the test of time. Baker Books recently re-released his The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Evangelical Exposition of John 14 -17. What amazes me about this book is Carson's ability to clearly work verse by verse through the text of Scripture in a way that is engaging from the first page.

His prologue narrates the events of John 13, where Jesus washes his disciples' feet and Judas leaves the meal to betray him. This narrative captivated me and made me think through those events in ways I hadn't considered before. The awkwardness and confusion his disciples were likely feeling as Jesus washed their feet and revealed that one of them was a traitor became palpable to me. And this was only the prologue!

Carson has written commentaries and academic works on the Gospel of John. Having that same wit at a level that most people can understand is fantastic. He gets to the heart of these verses to show both their meaning as well as their continued relevance to believers today. Jesus' words carried instruction for how believers are to get on in the church age.

I recommend following the advice I received from my pastor many years ago: "Get anything written by D. A. Carson." You won't regret it.

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

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Vindicating some so-called "vixens" in the Bible

The title Vindicating the Vixens may have an alliterative flair, but it somewhat distorts the point of the book unless the meaning of "vixen" is stretched beyond its normal use. The subtitle, Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible, gives a clearer picture of what to expect. Both the preface and introduction give an apologetic for the work. "This is not some book written by theologically liberal, wannabe scholars attempting to be politically correct or manipulating the text in order to be culturally relevant" (22).

While I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the authors, I found some arguments almost as much of a stretch as applying the term "vixen" to Mary, the mother of Jesus and dedicating a whole chapter to her. For example, the chapter on Eve argues that her act of giving the forbidden fruit to Adam was apparently not an attempt to encourage him to disobey God's command not to eat of it.

The chapters with the best arguments (that is, those that make their case primarily from Scripture, church history, and common sense) were the following:

Tamar: The Righteous Prostitute
Bathsheba: Vixen or Victim?
Deborah: Only When a Good Man is Hard to Find?
Mary Magdalene: Repainting Her Portrait of Misconceptions

I certainly learned from reading this book, but the arguments in some chapters were not as compelling as I had expected them to be. Many authors stray from their subjects to provide extended commentary on matters that, though related, seemed outside the scope of the book.

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

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Faithful sermons in 8 hours or less

How long should it take to prepare to preach a sermon? If you're not a pastor, you might be surprised to hear that a study from LifeWay Research found that almost 70% of pastors spent 8 hours or more each week in sermon prep. Over 20% said they spent more than 15 hours on it. That seems like a lot of time to invest in something that only takes 30-60 minutes to deliver. This is especially so for bi-vocational and pro bono pastors. These guys put in 40+ hours at their regular job, take care of home and family needs, serve in other capacities at the church, and prepare and deliver a sermon on top of all that. How do we cut down on prep time without sacrificing the quality of our message?

I was pleased to find Moody Publishers willing to send me a review copy of 8 Hours or Less: Writing Faithful Sermons Faster by Ryan Huguley. I set aside my normal scepticism over such a title because it was endorsed by James MacDonald, who I know from experience to preach solid, biblically-grounded sermons week after week. I also noticed that the book wasn't very large—a good sign. A book about writing faithful sermons in 8 hours or less shouldn't take 8 hours to read.

Huguley shares how he was exhausting himself week after week agonizing over his sermon preparation until he developed a method revolving around three basic principles: divided work, daily milestones, and determined deadlines. After spending a chapter defining what a faithful sermon is, he lays out his framework for putting in a total of about 8 hours, Monday through Friday, to craft his sermon. He also describes his typical Sunday morning leading up to the moment of delivery. The final three chapters are appendices about sermon notes, preaching labs for developing new preachers, and recommended resources for a first-time preacher.

I found the entire book helpful. I don't preach all the time, but the weeks I'm called upon to preach tend to be hectic. Huguley's words: "[M]ost of us simply don't have the time to read twenty commentaries on every passage we preach," shone the spotlight on one of my weaknesses. I was spending too much time reading everything I could get my hands on about the passage I was preaching. When you have the time, that's great. Most weeks I don't. Huguley quotes one of my all-time favorite preachers, Charles Spurgeon, and he recognizes the role of the Holy Spirit during prep time, not just delivery.

Because this book is a quick read, I can get a refresher without having to invest a lot of time. Most of the chapters use headers, numbered lists, bold font, and italics to give it structure. In the blank space opposite one chapter I wrote out a brief outline of the chapter. It makes the book that much more usable (and teachable to others).

It's amazing how good time management and division of labor can turn a challenging process into something much more manageable. While I won't necessarily follow the exact order Huguley recommends for Monday through Friday, his process is very adaptable. Fortunately, I had already begun to implement some of these time-saving strategies before I read the book, so my adjustment period won't be that long.

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.