Thursday, October 30, 2014

FREE Reformation Day Resources

A lot of websites are going to have deals and sales for Reformation Day. Reformation Day is not a substitute holiday for Halloween even though it’s on October 31st. It’s a commemoration of the anniversary of Martin Luther’s pinning the 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral, sparking a debate that resulted in the Protestant Reformation.

These deals and sales tend to be focused on the Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin, Protestant and Roman Catholic theology, and the like. Since Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, and virtually all other non-Catholic Christian groups owe their existence to the Protestant Reformation, it’s worth learning about.

When it comes to sales, nothing is better than free. That’s what I’m writing to tell you about. For a limited time only, Ligonier Ministries has some digital resources available for download that you MUST take advantage of. They have:
  • The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (ebook)
  • The Expository Genius of John Calvin (ebook)
  • John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology (ebook)
  • Reformation Profiles (audio and video teaching series)
  • Luther and the Reformation (audio and video teaching series)
  • Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (audiobook)

I have read or viewed most of these resources, and being able to own them all for free is truly amazing. Get them all. Now.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Some thoughts on Halloween, or All Hallows' Eve

Halloween is coming up on October 31. The name comes from an All Hallows’ Eve, the night before All Hallows’ Day. If you’ve ever read the Lord’s Prayer in the King James Bible, you might remember the line, “Our Father who art in heave, hallowed be your name.” The word “hallow” is just an archaic way of saying “holy,” as in “may your name be considered or esteemed as holy—revered and honored.” Thus, All Hallows’ Day (and the night before) are referring to All Saints’ Day, which is more or less a celebration of Christians from times past who have been recognized as Saints (e.g. Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome, Saint Anthony, etc.).

It’s not a coincidence that the holiday falls around the same time as Samhain, a Celtic pagan harvest holiday. As Christianity spread to new areas, Christians often appropriated special days from other religious groups in order to give them new meaning. Thus, the customs and traditions surrounding Halloween are a mix of both pagan and Christian elements, most of which have lost their original meaning entirely. When you see little children running around in costumes with their parents close behind, you know they aren’t trying to ward off evil spirits (pagan) or mock the devil (Christian). They’re playing make-believe and trying to get candy.

Regardless of whether your allow your kids to participate in Halloween festivities, or if you, like Christians in the past, see something unholy in the holiday and attempt to make an alternative like “Trunk or Treat” or a “Harvest Festival,” there’s much benefit to thinking about the saints[1] throughout history who did and sacrificed much for the Kingdom of God. We ought not forget that we exist today because of their faithfulness long ago, and Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve, is as good a time as any to think on such things.

[1] The small “s” is on purpose. In Roman Catholic theology there is a major distinction between the Saints and the average Christian who dies; the former are in heaven, whereas the latter have to suffer in Purgatory for a considerable amount of time before gaining admittance. I, along with virtually all other Protestants, reject the doctrine of Purgatory, finding no Scriptural basis for it. Therefore, we consider all believers, past and present, to be saints.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Messianic-Jewish Commentary on James is a Mixed Bag

Newly minted from Messianic Jewish Publishers is the book James the Just Presents Applications of Torah: A Messianic Commentary by Dr. David Friedman with B.D. Friedman. The preface states that the books in this series “are not meant to be a verse-by-verse exegetical commentary,” so someone looking for a verse-by-verse exposition of James from a Messianic Jewish point of view will have to look elsewhere. What we have here instead is a series of chapters that correspond more to introductory materials from a full-blown commentary.


Before addressing the content of the book, something should be said about the way that the book is written. For the most part, except when quoting other authors, the author uses a transliteration of the Hebrew equivalent to many common words and names we know from the Bible. The New Testament is B’rit Hadasha, Jesus is Yeshua, James is Ya’akov, and Paul is Sha’ul. At best it is a helpful reminder of the Hebrew roots of our faith. However, since this is not done merely for effect, but is apparently common within Messianic Judaism, I’m afraid it creates an unnecessary us/them division between Jew and Gentile, between those who are inside and those who are outside the movement. The author also tends to present first century Judaism in nothing but a positive light, yet if the activities of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Herodians, and the harassers of Paul on his missionary journeys are any indication, there were a sizeable number of Jews with erroneous views of the law (Torah), obeying the commandments, and how to be right with God.


Regarding content, the author begins with a copy of an anonymous chat room post alleging that the traditional translation of the Greek “Iakobou” as “James” rather than “Jacob” is an attempt to remove the Jewishness of the New Testament from our English Bibles. “This is just another instance where man has intervened to change the truth. This situation is minor, but where else has man changed the truth of the bible [sic]?” The argument is unsupported apart from the anonymous author’s own faulty logic, and I found it a rather unprofessional way to begin a book that is being passed off as an academic work. By the way, for those interested in the reason why it is translated differently, New Testament scholar Robert Mounce has a good article about it at his website.


The rest of the book is much more beneficial. His portrayal of James as “a chief rabbi, a Torah scholar, a Bible commentator, and akin to a high court judge” was helpful, although the way churches were structured and governed in the New Testament didn’t fully correspond to the organization of a synagogue or the Sanhedrin. The most innovative idea was that the book of James was a summary of James’s teaching on Leviticus 19-22—essentially a New Testament exposition of the Old Testament. The link between the two sections of Scripture is clear, and the allegation holds quite a bit of merit. The author’s further supposition that the book corresponds to a Scripture reading plan used by Jews during the first century is worth looking into, but he admitted that he didn’t have any substantial evidence showing this to be the case.


The last section on faith-versus-works argued that Paul and James were not at odds with each other (agreed), but it didn’t really address the question that undergirds the faith-versus-works issue, namely, What is the basis of our salvation?


Ultimately the book offers an interesting and somewhat helpful look at the book of James through culturally Jewish eyes. It also offers some unsupported assertions and unwarranted allegations of intentional efforts to distort the Jewishness of the Bible. Modern commentators are very good at addressing the historical and cultural contexts of the books they are writing about, including the Jewish and/or Gentile background to these books and their authors. For verse-by-verse exposition, those are the books I would recommend consulting first.


Disclosure of material connection: I received this book from the publisher for the purposes of review.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

NIV Essentials Study Bible

It seems like there are too many choices for the American consumer when it comes to Bibles. Suppose you have a friend who's done the legwork of settling upon a specific translation, such as the New International Version (NIV), but who can't decide whether to get their Study Bible, Quest Study Bible, Archaeological Study Bible, Student Bible, or The Great Rescue Bible. Rather than say, "Just make a decision already," or "Less is more; buy a thinline," like I would do, the good folks at Zondervan have given your friend another solution: the NIV Essentials Study Bible.

Zondervan believes that no one should have to be forced to choose between their impressive catalog of specialty Bibles, so they have created one more specialty Bible that takes the best from those other Bibles and put them all between its covers, plus book introductions from The Essential Bible Companion. Don't despair if you've already shelled out the cash to stock your shelves with those other volumes. I'm sure the parts this Bible left out were important too. Just not important enough to be included.

I saw that Apple's new iPad Air 2 comes with 18% more air at 6.1 millimeters thick and only 0.96 pounds. At 1.8 inches thick, this Bible also comes with 18% more air compared to the 2.2 inch thick NIV Study Bible. Plus, there's no danger of this baby bending, in part, I'm sure, because it doesn't have volume controls. And at only 3 pounds, the NIV Essentials Study Bible will feel a lot lighter than its 4.2 pound predecessor.

If this were a phone, you'd have the next big thing. And you'd probably hurt your wrist holding it to your head. As a Bible, it's mostly just a big thing.

(This post is mostly satire. If you're looking for a study Bible, this one has a lot of nice features.)

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for purposes of review.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

So much more than "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"

A review of Simonetta Carr's Jonathan Edwards in her Christian Biographies for Young Readers series.

My first introduction to Jonathan Edwards was his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” My high school literature textbook did not really present him in the most positive light. Because of this, I was a little hesitant to read the copy of Edwards’ Resolutions that I received as a graduation present a couple years later. The book sat on my shelf for a year or so before I finally opened it up and discovered someone who was not the stodgy, self-righteous preacher my English class made him out to be. Now that I’ve read a little more about him, and have been through his excellent book The Religious Affections, I realize just how much I could have benefitted from Simonetta Carr’s latest entry in her Christian Biographies for Young Readers series when I was in middle school.

Edwards was a fascinating and highly intelligent person. He operated out of conviction and proved himself both as a churchman and as an educator. His years of service as a missionary among the Mohawk and Mohican tribes tells of his desire to see all people come to saving faith in Christ.

Simonetta Carr has a rare ability to tell an interesting story. Edwards is particularly interesting, yes, but she first gives her readers a picture of his childhood, of his exploits as a nine-year-old, a picture that draws in younger readers and tells them, “Hey, you would have liked to play with this guy when he was a kid. Keep reading to see what he did because you could have a story like his someday.”

These books can be read in one sitting, or parents can set aside a time each day or each week to go over a chapter with their kids and make it a shared experience. My three-year-old daughter likes to look at the pictures of these books and I get to summarize the story for her. The drawings and pictures are so attention-grabbing that it can draw in someone like my daughter who isn’t even old enough to listen to Daddy read it to her. Older kids will be equally drawn in.

I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of review. The opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Reflections from Abby's first birthday (two years later)

I sometimes write things down and choose not to share them publicly. Then, sometime later, I find these writings and decide that it's okay to share them now. Since Abby just celebrated her third birthday, I thought I'd turn back the clock and look at my reflections on her first birthday. This was shortly after Hannah and I found out that we were pregnant with Lukas, but before we knew he would be a boy and before we shared the news with our families.

October 3, 2012

Abigail turned 1 on September 30, and that makes me think back on my first year of parenting. I’m still very new to this.

I remember when Abby was born that I was in the middle of my Biblical Interpretation class. I held her in one of the hospital’s cozy chairs while I finished up a chapter. Schooling hasn’t been the same since. I suppose part of growing up is the addition of more and more responsibilities. When I was in school I found the pressures of homework, sports, and chores to be overwhelming. Now I look back and shake my head at all the time I wasted while complaining about how much I had to do.

Perhaps it was Abigail’s early exposure to books that has turned her into a little book worm over these past 12 months. The six-hour car ride up to Michigan was fairly pleasant in part because she was able to entertain herself for upwards of fifteen minutes at a time paging back and forth through her books. Hannah and I like to read to her even if the content is a little repetitive for us. We hope that our love for reading will transfer to her and someday we’ll be able to take her through The Chronicles of Narnia, Fig Pudding, Mystery of the Pirate’s Ghost, and other stories we enjoyed as kids. Given that she will pull her books out and page through them herself without any prompting from us, I’m sure we’ll enjoy those books and who knows, maybe even travel to Middle Earth together.

On Monday, October 1, just a day after her birthday, Abigail was playing in my parent’s living room and managed to close a folding chair on her hand. Both she and the chair fell over before anyone could grab her and we could see that her ring finger on her left hand was bleeding. I got a cold wet washcloth and put it over her hand. Her fingernail had ripped off.

There’s a lot of panic squeezed into the moment you find out your child is hurt. Until the extent of the damage is known your heart is gripped by fear and uncertainty. In the long scheme of things a torn off fingernail is not the end of the world. But it still hurts in real time, and it’s difficult to describe how that hurt is transferred to a parent’s heart as they cradle a crying, hurting child in their arms. It’s similar to the physical sensation you get riding a roller coaster just before the big drop. You feel something rise in your chest, only it doesn’t drop until the crying stops and the Band-Aid is applied and mommy tells her little girl that everything is going to be okay.

I still feel reverberations of that roller coaster feeling just thinking about what happened. It’s scary. Abigail has pretty much forgotten it. The next morning when she saw the folding chair she got all excited, smiled really big, and stretched out her hand toward it. She was shaking, she was so excited. I’m glad that she’s okay. There are going to be a lot of hurts in life and Hannah and I won’t always be there to hold her until the pain subsides. But God will. And I’m thankful to have a heavenly Father who is always there for me, even when I don’t realize how He’s working. My prayer for Abigail is that she will get to experience that same comfort from God as well.

A love story I'd give up my man card to read

I first became interested in the story of Ian and Larissa Murphy when I saw them in a promotional video for John Piper’s book This Momentary Marriage. Their story of faith and commitment, shown in only a few minutes, was powerful. Now that they’ve put together a book describing the story of their relationship, I’m completely amazed.
When it comes to reading, romance books, relationship books, and marriage books are not high on my list, probably much to the chagrin of my wife. At first glance, Eight Twenty Eight looks like it could be one of those books, but it’s not. It’s a story, a true story, told in Larissa’s voice about how she and Ian met, dated, and eventually married. The unique part of their story is the fact that Ian was involved in a car accident resulting in a traumatic brain injury and serious physical impairments, all before they got married.
This is a story about love. Not the love you see in a sappy rom-com or chick-flick your wife convinces you to watch with her on a Friday night, but the kind of love that “endures all things” as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13. It’s about how Ian and Larissa’s commitment to each other, grounded in their relationship with God, overcame a car crash, a brain injury, physical impairments, and the expectations of some that Larissa and Ian should each “move on with their lives” apart from each other. If The Notebook was a compelling story as fiction, Eight Twenty Eight is even more compelling as truth. I highly recommend it, and I will be suggesting it to family and friends because the book is just that good. This was clearly one of the best books I’ll enjoy this year, likely even longer than that.
I received a copy of this book from christianaudio for the purpose of review.