The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures–An Important New Book

book authority

Likely the most important book of its kind for this generation, this massive volume covers the doctrine of Scripture from every conceivable vantage point. Edited by the redoubtable D. A. Carson, this book maintains a consistently high level of scholarship. Though I did not read every page (I wanted to provide somewhat of a timely review),  I read much and was impressed throughout.

The volume begins with a spectacular introductory essay by Carson that was fascinating. He at once laid bare the lines of debate and an outline of the history. Starting a trend that carried through the book, he named names. He was never ugly, but he put people with positions and then evaluated positions in this successful romp through the issues.

Next comes nine chapters on historical topics. There might be more information than you feel the need to know, but in any future historical questions you will likely find your answers here.

The heart of the book was chapters 11-24 on biblical and theological topics. These articles were excellent even if certain parts were somewhat esoteric. Still, the great subjects were fully addressed. The next section on philosophical and epistemological topics carried the theological discussion forward. The section on comparative religion topics was much less interesting to me, but that is likely a matter of taste. The book ends with Daniel Doriani encouraging us to think holistically and then some FAQ by Carson.

This book is a major publishing event. Pastors will find some that is helpful clarification, but some that is needless complication. We must remember, though, that the book is dedicated to scholarly concerns in addition to what is helpful to us. There were statements that I could not agree with in these pages, but this book is a presentation of the conservative position. To that end, it was just what was needed in our complicated days.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Bush by Jean Edward Smith (Presidential Bio Series)

bush

Here’s the first stab at a definitive biography of George W. Bush by a major biographer. I don’t think it will hold that title long if another famous biographer tries his hand, but it is first in that sense. It’s hard for me to classify this biography. On the one hand, the skilled hand of Mr. Smith is ever present, yet he makes blunders as well. I could hardly put the book down, yet I disagreed often and picked up on clear bias.

There is plenty of research, no character discussed is ever wooden, and you learn much about Mr. Bush’s personality. Still, Smith paints in broad strokes. He equates Bush’s distinct Christianity with a lack of sophistication, his penchant for “deciding” as reckless and brash, and his outlook, particularly on Iraq, a general naivety that continually led him astray.

Smith failed to see that perhaps that Christianity gave him a moral grounding that is often tragically missing in Washington. Right or wrong, he really meant well. His “deciding” was surely better than indecisiveness in horrific events. ( 911, Katrina, the Great Recession–Bush wasn’t a lucky man).When Smith outlined what Bush should have done, he at times looked like the naive one when he seemed to feel that his ideas would have flawlessly followed the script. No matter the plan, the players in Iraq and surrounding areas were the equivalent to having a tiger by the tail. We all learned that together.

When he suggests that Bush overreacted to 911, he doesn’t connect the dots to what he told us in this book–we all wanted to go fight somebody! The Democrats were ready too. A few started disagreeing when Iraq was brought up, but very few at the beginning.Even in this harsh assessment too, there is no doubt that Bush believed there were weapons of mass destruction. If you sincerely believed that to be true, what else could you have done? He writes as if 20/20 hindsight was at Bush’s disposal beforehand.

There’s criticism of his managing of his staff. What president didn’t have staff issues, or been guilty of listening too much to the most agreeable staff members. That’s the human element that always complicates management.

Bush had some failures for sure. Like most of us, often our greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses come from the same component of our personality. It was likely true for Bush too. Amazingly, he quotes Bush admitting, to some degree, many of the very things Smith perhaps overemphasizes. I actually grew to appreciate Bush in places I had not before, especially in things like his handling of the mortgage crisis. We teetered on the edge of a crisis to rival the Great Depression and it called for measures that we might most of the time strongly disagree with. It’s almost 8 years later and Bush clearly got that one right.

As for the book, Smith tells us he thinks Bush is a horrible disaster in the first paragraph. (Was the editor asleep?) Forget building a case and convincing the audience over the course of the book. That crazy method put him on trial as much as Bush page by page.

So is this a great book? I closed it at the end more confident that Bush was a genuinely good man who gave it his all. I was further convinced that Bush would be a guy quite enjoyable to spend a day with. He’d defend his overall approach as it was a matter of principle to him, yet he would readily admit his mistakes, and he’d be a gracious host whether you agreed with him or not. I found that refreshing here in July 2016 as this book hits the shelves and we are in more danger than in Bush’s days and miss his magnanimous ways.

So I reached those conclusions and grew in appreciation of Bush while this book I couldn’t put down tried to convince me that he was a failure. Does that make it a five-star wonder or a one-star dud? I have no idea. I’ll be gracious like George W. Bush and give it 4 stars.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The World and the Word–An Introduction to OT

book world

This volume is a substantial, in-depth introduction to the Old Testament by respected scholars Eugene Merrill, Mark Rooker, and Michael Grisanti. You can tell it aims beyond basic, beginning study as it has a less flashy look (there’s a place for those too) and much text to digest.

Three chapters lay out in a helpful fashion the world of the Old Testament. Historical and cultural aspects presented here moor the Old Testament days for us.

Chapters 5-9 cover the text of the OT and how it has been studied. In the process, you get quite a history of trends and the various critical methods that the OT has been subjected to. While some of us would find little value in that subject, it was written with purpose–to show how much OT study has run off the track with dubious critical approaches. So many available OT Introductions are infected with those methods and this serves as a powerful corrective.

Chapters 10-44 cover the books of the Old Testament. Some of the issues addressed above are discussed again in regards the individual book. Further the contents and theology are effectively presented. Though charts and maps are few, those presented are excellent.

To my mind, this is a fine asset to have and I plan to consult it in individual book study in the days to come.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Josephus–Carta’s Illustrated The Jewish War

book carta

Carta Jerusalem keeps finding ways to put their treasured maps into the hands of Bible students. This book is especially creative in that regard. Most of us are very familiar with Josephus and here we have the popular translation by William Whiston of Josephus’ The Jewish War.  What makes this classic new and vibrant is the Carta maps profusely interspersed at appropriate places in the text. 

An added jewel in an introduction by noted New Testament scholar R. Steven Notley that really helps us get hold of the life, writings, and importance of Josephus.

Pictures of places add even more as does a users’ guide for The Carta Bible Atlas and The Sacred Bridge, which are the best in the field and are loved by many of us.

This is a publishing event and a real asset to have!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Prophets

book prophets

Here is a highly-respected reprint in paperback of a title by Gordon McConville on the Old Testament prophets. Covering both the Major and Minor Prophets, this book gives the extra coverage needed for an in-depth study of these special books of the Old Testament.

His brief Introduction establishes the issues involved in beginning study of the prophets and their place in the Bible. Then he launches into a chapter for each prophetic book of the Old Testament. Chapter length corresponds well to length of book.

He begins each study with a discussion of date and destination. Then he will delve into a critical interpretation of the book that will discuss several topics of the book at hand and provide something of a history of interpretation. Next he jumps into structure and outline and covers the contents of the book. He works around to theological themes and concluding topics. He gives a handy list for further reading too.

The book is helpful. He seems to have a little too much fascination with things like form criticism that many Bible students find of little value, but otherwise you will find help. It’s not one the flashy introductions aimed more at beginning students as it aims at someone with some theological training under his or her belt. I consider it a handy volume to add to my shelves.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The Truth About Being Always Positive

a smile

We’re told to always be positive. We’re to take it so far that we should never say anything negative. Some not only say it’s the right thing to do, but also the Christian thing to do. But we must ask: is that true?

If your options are: 1) be joyful and look for the positive, or 2) be grumpy and find the bad in every good, then your choice is clear. No one likes the person who sees the dark cloud beyond every rainbow, or the person who finds pain in every pleasure, or the person compelled to never suffer alone yet who seems to always suffers much. Still, does that mean nothing negative should ever be thought or said? Is there a better point of balance on this subject?

An article entitled “The Harm of Swarm” by Christine Rosen got me thinking. She was writing about “smarm.” That word (either as a noun or a verb) has to do with “behaving in an ingratiating way in order to gain favor.” Swarm was never a familiar word to me as in my childhood we preferred the phrase “laying it on thick.” Still, we’ve all seen it. Likely, some salesperson we’ve met along the way first comes to mind.

In our day it extends far beyond sales. Some websites have said only positive things can be shared, and even some review sites now only accept positive reviews. Social media naturally lends itself to this approach too. I’m glad my wife only shares on Facebook some nice thing I’ve done instead of those days she is convinced I’m a moron who needs to take a long walk off a short plank. Of course, no good could ever come from hurting those we love and live in close proximity to and a positive Facebook presence makes complete sense.

You might be surprised at the research the article I referenced shared about people reading their Facebook news feed. Studies have shown that many people are discouraged or even depressed by reading their mostly positive Facebook news feed ( they may even “hide” the few negative friends on their list). Why does that flow of positive not have a positive emotional impact on many people?

Because it’s not real! (I believe you could enjoy Facebook if you kept your head on straight here). You see all those perfect pictures and posts, those lovely couple posts, or those awesome children pictures, and you compare that to your own imperfect life and somehow you feel worse.

That article goes on to show how it corrupts us politically and filters through society, but I was thinking of how it affects our Christian lives.

We are fragile people for sure. Too much negativity aimed straight at us will soon put us over the edge. I know that I won’t find you helpful or caring no matter your intentions if you bombard me with all that’s wrong with me. I assume I’m not too unique in that regard. On the other hand, even the Bible suggests that their are times for “the wounds of a friend.” Thoughtful prayer, careful word choices, and checked motives are essential to pull this off for good. Many of us well understand the balance in this instance.

The danger of allowing yourself only to live in a world of positive spin, however, is that you more and more leave reality. Then those efforts to rid yourself of unpleasant fear backfires because there is nothing quite as scary as the unknown. It’s just in this case that it’s an unknown of your own creation.

For example, we have had much horrible news in regards to the morals of our land recently and any thinking Christian knows what that means before the Lord. Some even limit what they allow themselves to hear about it because the prospect of persecution or God’s judgment is just too horrifying to contemplate. But is that the best way to manage the fear?

Think of these two options and decide which is really best: 1) Don’t read articles or watch stories of these latest cultural disasters at all to avoid thinking about it–it’s bad, you know, so I don’t want to think about it, or 2) gather information of what happened including the long-term spiritual ramifications and then from the perspective of reality (not excessive pessimism but true present realities) seek out the positive realities–God still reigns and Christianity often thrives in horrid times– and form a spiritual plan for yourself and your loved ones. Is this question not the ultimate no-brainer for a Christian?

This is not to deny that there might be an occasional day that I don’t need to think about the bad news. Maybe I just need to listen to birds sing and watch the children play for a day or two to bring the necessary balance back to my heart and mind. That approach, though, does not have me hiding in non-reality to fix a fear that will only grow in an environment of an unreal world. Truth is always your best choice.

Again, we are not talking about the negative person who spins events until there’s a goblin behind every bush and a conspiracy in every news item. We are talking about an honest look. We are talking about being real. You not only need to be a real person, but you need to face a real world. Perhaps our timing isn’t great in our country as we are clearly at that unpleasant moment of our history that is a jolt downward.

Still, this honest look will not hurt me. It will prepare me. The cost of carelessness with my Lord just got much greater. With that knowledge I can find the comfort that His grace is always the superior of the darkest times. And that is far better comfort than the cult of always being positive.

 

 

 

 

Help For Writers by Payne

book payne

This book is for those beginning  to write a first Christian non-fiction title. It gives hints particularly for self-publishing. The author has published several titles at this point and shares what he has learned.

The greatest value of this book is encouragement. He encourages through the trials of writing and even the disappointments that may arise after your book is published. He focuses on the true goal of writing Christian non-fiction–helping people. He counsels that we think of those we have helped rather than the number of copies sold.

He gives other practical advise as well. Things like making sure the book is edited well, praying for God’s help, using choice personal stories, how to get inspiration, and much more is covered here.

This book is a help to writers for sure.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The Fourth of July and the Church

Fourth July

A subject that I had not giving a lot of thought to is the appropriateness of celebrating America’s Independence in a worship service of the local church. Perhaps it is so common I had never had occasion to consider it, but a thoughtful article by Thomas Kidd on The Gospel Coalition (article here) gave me pause to consider it.

He carefully traced the history of the churches of Early America having a celebration on the Fourth of July unless it fell on Sunday, but not in the regular worship services until later years. Kidd felt it blurred some important lines and made suggestions on how to handle the situation. You can read the article yourself to form your own opinions.

After some thought, I believe the issue is what it actually means to you. Do you love America right or wrong? By love I mean that she retains superiority no matter what? Is God indebted to our nation? Do you love your God far more than your nation? When conflict arises, who is to blame–the Lord or the good old USA?

When I spoke of America to our congregation and when sang the patriotic hymns, I specifically meant:

1. I love the country the Lord allowed me to be born in.

I suspect people from other countries would feel the same way about their homeland. I’m not claiming superiority, just that the land of your nativity naturally will always be a warm spot in your heart– a spot that a Christian will be thankful for.

2. I love the Christian heritage of my country.

I love it so much that I praise my God for it and the blessings that we still derive from it to this day. We were once a truly Christian nation and the precious possession of freedom sprang directly from it. As we lose these freedoms and run from our Godly heritage, I, of course, lament the losses, but I praise the Lord even more. I feel like the hearts of our congregation was united on that point. I have to believe the Lord would be pleased that our thanksgiving on that matter would be directed back to Him.

On the other hand, our love of country and patriotism does not blind our eyes to its sins. To balance our perspective, we further believe:

1I hate the sin that is destroying my country.

Without hesitation, we proclaim where our country is fighting God and heading to judgment. When an issue comes up, we never cover it for our nation. The Lord is right and our nation is wrong. Period.

2. I feel compelled to pray for my country.

God is just and our country has no free pass on its wickedness. That means we prayed for our country–Lord forgive our sins, Lord turn our nation back, Lord send revival. As I prayed, I believe the people had the appropriate attitude of heart. At other points of the service, I noticed men leading in prayer returning to that same theme.

We are blessed too that our patriotic hymns turn us back to the Lord acknowledging His help and mercy in our lives. I see no conflict in singing those songs to the glory of my God.

We had a patriotic element in our service, but the last song we sang was wholly about worshiping the Lord. Our sermon was totally about yielding to God in our personal lives because He and His Word are the ultimate authority.

All in all, I am in favor of an appropriate patriotic element in our July 4th services as long as everything is in its place–our Lord is supreme and our nation is not. God bless America!

 

 

 

 

 

Knowing God by Packer–A Timeless Classic

book knowing god

Using the idea of knowing God, Packer has struck the perfect balance between theology and Christian living. That has worked well because doctrine in its purest form intersects best at the point of real life. Add to that timely material a simple yet profound writing style, and you have the substance of a masterpiece. It can be cliché to throw around words like “classic”, but if you read this book, you will discover that it is true.

Here IVP gives us the classic in a deluxe edition worthy of its value and a new study guide. Both will serve to extend the value of a book that has lost nothing in the passage of time. It’s found on almost every list of greatest Christian books that I have ever seen. I read it slowly and found it impacting.

Of course you may find a sentence or a paragraph that you disagree with, as I did, but you will be challenged and feel you “know” God a little better as you read. I first thought that I would tell about my favorite chapter(s) in this review, but I underlined too much in every chapter to narrow them to favorites.

I would recommend that every Christian interact at some point with this extraordinary volume.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

A Matter of Life and Death by Bill Goldsborough

daeth life

Written primarily for Fundamental Baptists, this volume seeks to address a glaring misunderstanding among many. The subtitle “thoughts for thinking fundamentalists” makes me think that Bill Goldsborough would like to move more fundamentalists over to the “thinking” category.

In chapter one we are told that “identity is determined by birth, not by behavior,” and from that basis he seeks to get us thinking. That basis for identity should give peace and an entirely different approach to the Christian life than the one so many are living. Many Christians have something far short of peace and strive for what could never be earned, though it is freely given. It’s a tragedy he hopes to Scripturally help us get past.

He focuses much on old man verses new man and what he believes the Bible teaches on that subject. He also explains carefully what it means to “reckon” Christ in your life. That can be quite revolutionary for a believer.

He marshals an incredible amount of Scripture to make his case, and unlike some works I’ve seen, those references actually discuss his subject. It also kind of had the feel of old Keswick writings as you go through this book.

He writes with an encouraging and helpful spirit. You might disagree on the interpretation of a particular passage he references, but you will appreciate the warmth of this book. If we see our relationship with Christ more along the lines he describes, we will definitely be blessed.