Team of Rivals by Kearns (Presidential Bio. Series)

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This book easily qualifies as one of the most popular presidential biographies in print. To my mind, it doesn’t rank up there with the Chernow or McCullough, but I can see why it ranks highly. Doris Kearns Goodwin has now written two of these biographies that apparently tackle more than one person (The Bully Pulpit is the other). Though she also writes of William Seward, Salmon Chase, Edward Bates, and Edwin Stanton, this is an Abraham Lincoln biography. Since Lincoln has had more written about him than probably any president we have, her angle about his genius showing up in his magnanimously collecting his rivals into his cabinet because he could see their talents is a fresh and well-conceived approach. Lincoln comes out as one of the giants of American history in this book, but that has more to do with who he was than any excessive building up on the author’s part. As for the rivals, they were a mixture of ego and talent.
Then the book is of substantial length, I think she gave sufficient coverage to most aspects of Lincoln’s life. I felt she was fair describing the turbulent Mary Todd Lincoln as well. The Lincolns had plenty of pain and tragedy in their lives while Mary additionally had to endure Lincoln’s untimely death. As you read, you will see Lincoln’s brilliance every step of the way as well as his never-failing graciousness while realizing that his fame rose and fell according to that day’s war reports. Fair or not, Lincoln would not have one of the most impressive monuments on the Mall in Washington D.C. had the war not ended favorably days before his death. On the other hand, Reconstruction would have gone so much smoother had he lived. One thing you might not realize is that the South mourned his death because they too had figured out his heart lacked the guile of the other victors. His extraordinary character keeps his ambitious rivals in line more than once when they were chomping to leave the corral for their own selfish gains too. He was an amazing man.
Kearns highlights Lincoln’s anti-religious statements from his younger days. He didn’t even believe in an afterlife in those days. What Kearns missed is the clear evidence that Lincoln turned to the Lord at least in his presidential days. Fortunately, she gives us many of his statements, even if she doubts he meant them or thought him superstitious, that show a deepening faith. I’m convinced whether Kearns is or not.
Kearns is a good writer. The book is a winner even if The Bully Pulpit is better (the book, not the subjects). Abraham Lincoln, though, strikes me as throwing a softball to biographers. It would take enormous effort to make him dull.

Bonus Review: Though I have read several books on Lincoln in my younger days, one stands out: Great Captain by Honroe Morrow. I think it might be historical fiction but I had read a regular biography just before it and it followed the story right down the line. What a thrilling page-turner. I can’t believe I’d recommend this book when I’m trying to cover major biographies, but you would love for this to be your one exception I believe too.

For more presidential biographies, click here.

Doing Theology with the Reformers by Gerald Bray

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This book by Gerald L. Bray, a known Reformation expert, isn’t exactly what I expected—it’s better. For some reason, I imagined something of a brief systematic theology cast in the History of the Reformation. There is some of that, to be sure, but much more. It wasn’t until the mid-point of chapter 3 (nearly 100 pages in) before the book really mentioned some of those subjects. My favorite part was those first 100 pages! Mr. Bray writes history with verve. I found the pages turned quite easily. I got more out of it than some far lengthier books for sure.

Whether he talked about Bible interpretation, the Covenants, reformed theology, he always infused it with clear historical context. That he could write so thoroughly and yet so winningly suggests his profound knowledge of his subject. To me, he could sift through reams of data and clearly distinguish what was most significant.

The look of this book might tip you off that it is a companion to the larger Reformation Commentary on Scripture (RCS) series before you even read that it is. There is that distinctive green. More importantly, there is that same labor of love behind its careful scholarship.

You don’t have to follow reformed theology to benefit from this book. It will lead you to clear historical context of a pivotal moment of church history.

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 Covenanters–A Beautiful New 2-Volume Release!

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If you are familiar with Church history, then you are likely aware of the spectacular period of Scottish church history beginning at the Reformation and extending throughout the 1600s. Besides some incredible believers and servants of Christ that we can be challenged by, there are all the thrills that any historical reader craves. Religion, palace intrigue, bloodshed, and rousing courage combined to make those costly days to follow Christ.

Banner of Truth dominates the market for this kind of history. They do it right as well. These two volumes by J.K. Hewison would catch your eye on any shelf among other books. The artwork on each volume is the best of any book I’ve seen this year. The binding is durable to last for years to come too. The word “heirloom” comes to mind. (Would make an exceptionally nice gift).

What is between the covers is captivating as well. It would be hard to fail as a writer with that kind of material to work with, but Hewison totally succeeded. He struck the right balance between a truly scholarly work and an enjoyable read. He was fair and didn’t sugarcoat the lives of believers either. Occasionally pictures are even provided.

This book can be used either as a reference to study persons or events or as a fine read with equal parts history and devotion. You will likely have your own favorite episodes as you read. For some reason, Mary, Queen of Scots, grabbed my attention.

If I were forced to only have one title on those magnificent Scottish Christians, this two-volume set would be my choice hands down!

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 Lord’s Prayer by Wesley Hill

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This short volume on the Lord’s Prayer by Wesley Hill is designed to shake off the dust and routine that many on us have covering that model prayer Christ shared. The subtitle “a guide to praying to our Father” is wisely kept prominent throughout. Hill leads us on a thoughtful journey through every phrase of that prayer.

To be sure, there were times I didn’t line up theologically with Hill, nor would I agree with every capitulation to modern times I felt he made, but this book led me deeper into the Lord’s Prayer. It replaced staleness with vibrancy on several occasions. He gives clear evidence of unrushed thinking and the results often gratify.

Lexham Press has started a series of “Christian Essentials” which includes this title. If this is what we can expect, I predict the series might be quite popular.

This book draws you back to the Lord’s Prayer as if it were a neglected friend. What better measure of success could this little book 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.

God’s Relational Presence by Duvall and Hays

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There are getting to be quite a few large volumes on biblical theology available to Christian readers today. Many of them are scholarly and well done. They may focus the work along different lines – redemption, love, forgiveness, or the kingdom – but don’t dare think of this volume by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays as an anomaly. This focus on God’s relational presence as the cohesive center of biblical theology makes perfect sense. It will not replace those others described above but it will complement them well. Our God is about relationship and as the authors scan Genesis to Revelation they will prove to you how prevalent it is. Mark me down as at first surprised and then convinced!

This author combination has already proven to work well before in the well-received title Grasping God’s Word and several other projects. Duvall is the New Testament scholar who balances out Hays the Old Testament scholar. Together they have learned how to communicate across the Canon.

I saw no signs of haste. The theme is well carried out while the detail is well fleshed out. In every part of Scripture, they find evidence of this controlling theme or overarching storyline of Scripture and show it to you. Don’t miss the introduction where in the very first paragraph they lay out their basic thesis and explain what they are trying to do to perfection. It well makes you know what to expect across the thorough volume.

Unlike many such books they didn’t just ask us to believe them, they showed us. So many biblical texts are pulled in while the expansive bibliography shows the breadth of scholarship as well. There’s even an occasional chart or graph that is quite instructive.

I found this book more successful in its presentation than some others of its kind and give it the highest recommendation!

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 Church (Contours of Christian Theology) by Edmund Clowney

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By this point, I have used almost every volume in the Contours of Christian Theology series. All these volumes have run between good and great. They all are books to ponder after you’ve already consulted your systematic theologies. None of them are for shallow readers but are for those who are interested in really digging in the theology. This volume on the church by Edmund P. Clowney is one of those that fall on the “great” end of the scale. He has such probing, interesting things to say about the church and handles beautifully where ecclesiology touches on any of the other main doctrines.

There are 18 chapters that cover the church from every conceivable angle and address every theological issue I can imagine on ecclesiology. While I might not agree with a few statements here and there, this volume definitely leans to the conservative point of view. Just check his references and endnotes and see who he quotes. That will make it clear where his perspective comes from.

The beauty of the book was how he took very familiar concepts, exactly those concepts you would imagine you’d find in a book about the church, and said them in new ways that stretched your thinking. He wrote a book of scholarly depth and theological precision without sacrificing clear, persuasive writing. Concepts within ecclesiology are highly debated and rigidly held so there’s little hope that he will fall exactly where every reader does but don’t let that keep you at bay. You will work through all these issues in a much more thorough fashion with far more satisfying results if this book is one you carefully use. A well-done 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.

Check Out The New “Best of Christianity Today” Series!

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Two out of the three new releases in the Best of Christianity Today (CT) series published by Lexham Press have come across my desk:

Christ the Cornerstone: Collected Essays of John Stott

John Stott is a writer who always says something I find worth listening to. It doesn’t matter if I even agree with him on the point in question or not, as he speaks to me deeply with any words he has ever penned. To be honest, I wasn’t even aware that he had written a series of penetrating articles for Christianity Today between 1977 and 1981. This lovely hardback volume with its attractive dust jacket includes a short introduction that explains these essays and the type of writing Stott does in them. Though he wrote the articles randomly to speak to readers then, this volume collects them in six categories: Scripture and theology, the Christian disciple, the mission of the church, the church around the world, church challenges, and social concerns.

While some of these articles are more theologically probing than others, they teach us many things. Some of the articles are specific to a specific condition of those years that might not be exactly the same in our day but the value of the essays is in how to biblically think about the world and what’s going on. To be sure, there may be places where you might completely disagree with some political observation he makes. Ignore that as you read because the real issue is what spiritual concerns are involved. One of the reasons Stott is so helpful is that he makes you a better thinker. He never seems in-your-face but rather a gentle, kind man with a keen mind who would love to talk to you about issues with the Bible open. He strikes me as the man who would have no problem with you disagreeing with him on some issue as long as spiritual concerns were kept front and center.

This book is a gem!

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.

Architect of Evangelicalism: Essential Essays of Carl F. H. Henry

To go along with the new volume of John Stott’s essays is this equally attractive collection of Christianity Today articles by Carl F. H. Henry. Henry writes with a stronger tone than Stott and his articles cover a larger swath of years, but he also had something powerful to say to readers in those days that can be gleaned by us today. In some ways, issues only present themselves again in different garb but they are the same issues. Maybe Stott could write a little better to the common person, but Henry knew how to get his point across as well.

This volume also contains a little introduction to explain how the articles came about and the type of writing that Henry does. Once again, the essays are categorized for us this time as: defining evangelicalism, evangelicals and modern theology, evangelicals and education, and evangelicals and society. The words that come to mind when I see his essays are fearless and theological. Again, you will like some of these articles better than others, but you will find them all together making a captivating collection.

We need some of the things said in this volume trumpeted throughout the land again!

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.



Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, Philemon (RCS), edited by Gatiss and Green

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This latest entry in the Reformation Commentary on Scripture (RCS) series covers six small Pauline epistles (1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon). Though these letters of Paul are not quite as pivotal as recent releases in the series on Romans in understanding the Reformation, they still give great insight into both Paul and key Reformation thinking. Two scholars, Lee Gatiss and Bradley G. Green, combine forces to provide us this helpful volume in a series that makes a unique contribution to our studies.

There is the usual general introduction that adorns every volume in this series which lays out how this series is put together and what it hopes to accomplish before we receive an introduction to the six letters. This introduction begins by stating how the Reformation seized on Paul in laser-like fashion. I was almost surprised at how often the authors acknowledge the New Perspective on Paul. It almost seems that they assume it might be guiding reader’s opinions and must be often taken into account. To my mind, the NPP didn’t exist in the Reformation and doesn’t have the credence in many of our minds that some may think today and so might not need much discussion in a commentary like this one. Still, I don’t think these acknowledgments really detract from the commentary overall. More to the point, they did a great job of addressing how each of these letters was received in the Reformation. In another capitulation to modern times, they cited the few writings that were positive about women in the ministry. Whatever your view on that subject, there is no denying how few believed in that possibility prior to the last century.

I found the same strengths and weaknesses as with other volumes in the series. To be fair, the weaknesses can’t be helped as citations in the commentary are of necessity arbitrary. Someone must make the call for which writings to use in the commentary from the plethora of primary sources to choose from. The strengths are from the same area in that the authors have chosen well and given wonderful food for thought. They are wonderfully fair to a variety of teaching within and near the Reformation as well.

This series is far enough along to have earned a high rating and this volume clearly upholds the standard we have come to expect.

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.

Master Robert Bruce–A Nice New Biography!

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A Banner of Truth biography simply stands out in our day. In one way, you can wonder how they are so popular? They publish as many on people you’ve never heard of as they do on those you have. Let me give you a hint that I’ve picked up on: make a special effort to grab these beautiful biographies of those you don’t know as quickly as those abounding with fame. Take for instance this book on Master Robert Bruce. I’ll confess upfront that I had never heard of this Scottish preacher of yesteryear. I’ll also confess this: a book about an unheard-of pastor like this can sometimes encourage me more than those of the well-known heroes. In the back of my mind, I often think of those heroes as far beyond my league, but in biographies like this one, we get to watch a pastor with all the ups and downs of a ministry be faithful to Christ. That’s a bona fide challenge for me!

Even though this book was first published several years ago, the author, D. C. Macnicol, writes well. His style is not exactly that of modern biographers, but that may be to advantage in this case. The book seems to transport you back to those days. That is not to say the book is hard to read, however, because the writing still flows beautifully.

I love the rawness of the book. There are a few instances in his life that you might wonder if he exactly made the right decision. But that is life and ministry, isn’t it? Events don’t unfold with perfect dimensions and easy answers. Even if you wonder if he could have chosen a different solution at some point, you will never doubt his faithfulness as you read. If he was slightly emotional at times, you will never doubt his fidelity to our Savior. Why the book is so challenging is that we know we will not get through the ministry with perfection, but can our lives be evaluated as faithful?

Let’s not forget the quality binding and beautiful dust jacket that will look so attractive on the shelf that now adorns all modern printings of hardbacks by Banner of Truth. You will enjoy this biography and so would your pastor!

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.

Amos, Jonah & Micah (EEC) by Hoyt

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Every new release of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (EEC) series that I come across reinforces my thoughts that this series has something special brewing. It’s almost like when this series releases a new volume it immediately becomes the go-to exegetical commentary, especially for pastors who want a truly scholarly work. This latest volume covering Amos, Jonah, and Micah by Joanna Hoyt lives up to the lofty standards this series has already established. This volume is easily one of the best on either of these three prophets and you are blessed to have all three of them covered in this large (800+ pages) impressive volume.

For this review, I gave the most attention to Jonah because so many scholars today seemingly fall off the cliff when they get to Jonah. Delightfully, I found a commentary here that is not ashamed of Jonah, does not laugh off his historicity, or roll its proverbial eye at his grand message. Pastors will get solid help here. Scholars, though so many of them run left of the line found here, will find this an incredibly detailed scholarly look at the prophet. It seems no stone is unturned. In fact, the weakest area of contribution would be on structure, but the volume is still too wonderfully thorough to criticize.

I’m not saying that I agree with every sentence the author writes in this volume, only that everything is so well explained and in such depth that I have a thorough grasp of the issues involved to make my own decision. That is always what I’m looking for in an exegetical commentary.

To be sure, Amos and Micah are as well handled as Jonah in this book. The introductions to each are ideal and the things that scholars need beyond what pastors are looking for can all be found as well. Every passage bears traces of painstaking care and work. There are no signs of haste. From what I’ve read, Hoyt is a young scholar who strikes me as making quite a splash here. I’ll be using this book for years 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.