William Howard Taft by Rosen (Pres. Bio. Series)

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Here’s another quality short biography of a president in the American President Series. I was introduced to Taft in Kearn’s “The Bully Pulpit”, but as was true to real life it seemed that Teddy Roosevelt dominated that book in my opinion. This helpful book make sure that one’s considers Taft on his own terms outside of Roosevelt’s shadow.

Taft was unique among the presidents. So far, he is the only president that I’m aware of who had no interest at all in the presidency. He was a judge and loved the judicial system to the core. Had not his wife so adamantly wanted the presidency, and had not a few fortuitous (at least to his wife’s point of view) events happened, he would not have been a president. Likly he would have been on the Supreme Court years before he ended up being.

He gave his best efforts to the presidency, but if the author here is correct, he often blundered politically because he always made decisions as a judge rather than a politician. Stranger still, it appears he never quite figured out how he blundered. In a more positive vein, he may have loved the Constitution as much as any president. Further, he bowed to it just as should be done better than most in our government ever have. In that way, I totally admired Taft. His love of the law seemed genuine as well and was praiseworthy. History records him quite accurately as a far better Chief Justice of the Supreme Court than a president of the United States.

This book makes Taft’s religious position clear. He was a Unitarian. He held to some Christian beliefs, but denied the divinity of Christ and the miraculous. In his personal life, he seemed to be quite honest.

The book itself here was well written. The author seemed to admire Taft as well. Even went so far as to mitigate the usual criticism of Taft’s girth. As you may know, Taft was by far the heaviest president we ever had.

Add Taft to that list of presidents who is mostly unknown and yet was sincere and mostly an all-around good guy. If we were considering Chief Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, he would likely be top-five, though he is nowhere near that as a president.  And here is the perfect biography to get to know him outside of Teddy Roosevelt’s shadow.

Canon, Covenant and Christology (NSBT) by Matthew Barrett

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At this point, with the multiple titles available in the New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT) series, you know you’re going to get something that is at once interesting and theologically weighty. I’m sure the editorship of D. A. Carson contributes to that ongoing quality. In any event, this latest title by Matthew Barrett is as outstanding as any in the series. It’s strong stance on the divine inspiration of Scripture makes it run against the grain of most modern literature, but also makes it of even more value.

To be sure, looking at the Scriptures from a Christological perspective was a brilliant idea. This book reaches the heights that the whole idea suggests to those who love the Bible.

Though this work focuses mostly on Jesus in the Gospels and what we see there about Scripture, it’s impact is even greater. The first chapter reminds us of both the overall importance and perfect credibility of divine inspiration. I particularly enjoyed the comments about Sensus Plenior. The next chapter weaves together critical ideas like progressive revelation, word – act-word revelation, and the covenant. You will not have to agree with every idea about the covenant to be profoundly blessed by this chapter.

Next, the book dives more into the details found in the gospels. There’s a chapter on the Matthean witness, one as a case study on the Word made flesh, one about the idea of living by every word from the mouth of God as found in each of these books, one on the Johannine witness, and a final concluding chapter that takes these issues and discusses their importance to the future of doctrinal studies.

I can’t think of a dud in this series, at least among those that I have looked at, but mark this one down as one of the best!

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.

Benjamin Harrison by Charles Calhoun (Presidential Bio. Series)

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Besides the fact that Benjamin Harrison is the grandson of an earlier President Harrison and that he lived in Indiana, I knew so little about the man. It was a joy to get to know him in this work by Charles Calhoun. It’s a shorter biography of a lesser-known president who was a fine man but lived in good times when no major crisis was in play. Don’t expect a riveting read, but the president and his times are what they are and that is at least given here. For what it’s worth, this is my favorite biography of the few I have read in the American President’s Series edited by Arthur Schlesinger.

Like a few other presidents in this stretch of history, Harrison was a Christian, even a true believer you might say. Sometimes he came across as stiff or even austere, but it’s also fair to say he was molded by his Presbyterian upbringing and he faithfully followed it. He was sincere, loved his family, was a man of principle, possessed some ambition like every person to hold the office of president, was a great public speaker, and was real. His life story wouldn’t make a good movie, but it was a consistent story. It’s hard to say for sure because some biographers might conceal a president’s Christianity, but Benjamin Harrison may be one of the most distinctly Christian presidents we have had.

It’s bewildering that Grover Cleveland was returned to office rather than Benjamin Harrison receiving a second term. Nothing against Cleveland, but Harrison seemed like a good president who was generally liked. There were a few issues in that day that mean little to us now that people were highly divided over. Perhaps Harrison’s desire to deal with a few problems crossed a few too many people. He got some elements of his agenda through, though some were overturned later. I don’t think I would go too far out on the limb to say that Harrison took several positions that I could see Lincoln taking. The times were not as desperate and there will never be another Lincoln so I’m only referring to positions, not impact.

Though I appreciate Benjamin Harrison as a president and a person, this short biography of less than 200 pages is enough for me. It helped that Calhoun respected his subject. Some biographies go too far in making their subjects larger than life, but if the subject garnered the respect of the biographer overall it usually makes the book a little better for me (unless it is someone I want to dislike!).

Harrison’s life story was not that dramatic, though his wife died shortly before the election he lost for a second term. It’s hard to imagine how devastating that must have been to him as a man. He did later marry his wife’s niece, though there was nothing scandalous in it. It was sad to see his family divided as his children did not accept his new wife. Let’s just call that a footnote on a good life.

This whole stretch of presidents makes me wonder if a key ingredient to a “great” president is the environment of momentous times to shine in, especially if they don’t naturally have a larger-than-life personality. In its absence, only cut-throat politics remain and there’s little occasion to rise to greatness in that putrid habitat. There are a few presidents between Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt that might have been a “great” president had they a crisis to carry the nation through to prove it. Somehow I think Benjamin Harrison might fall in that category.

James (KEL) by Spencer

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This latest entry in the Kregel Exegetical Library by Aida Besancon Spencer is another solid entry in the series. I had heard before the book came across my desk that perhaps the theme presented would be focusing on the poor. That seemed like a stretch for sure, but when you actually dig into the book something much more helpful emerges. The author finds four themes in the book of James: how to deal with trials, how to be wise or have wisdom, how to view riches, and what she calls “a fourth unifying thing – becoming doers of the word and not hears only”. She is sensitive to the poor throughout, but that was a simplistic synopsis of this work. The book of James is clearly much about the four themes that she outlines and that sheds light as we read.

The introduction wastes no time getting to the heart of the matter. On authorship she holds the conservative position that this James is the Lord’s brother. She develops grammatical points and word choices that help explain the overall message. She examines early church traditions about the letter James. She goes through the history in a sufficient manner. One of her best contributions is how she takes scholarly criticism against James as the Lord’s brother and knocks them down one by one in vivid fashion. In the section on structure, she explains those themes I mentioned above and how they lead to an understanding of James.

The commentary section is truly helpful. Words are carefully described. There is no doubt that one of this scholar’s strengths is grammatical explanation. The exposition is solid and homiletical hints are given. A word I might use to describe this book is “fresh”. Of course it addresses what other commentaries look at in James, but it gets beyond the tired repeating that is starting to show up in some works. When a scholar seems to be in love with the book they write about, the commentary is always better. That is the case here.

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.

It’s Not Supposed To Be That Way by Lysa Terkeurst

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It came as an anonymous gift. I’d heard people speak of this book by Lysa Terkeurst but always assumed it was a book written specifically for women. To be sure, the author is extremely popular among Christian women, and while the book might be written in a style that would appeal to that market, it has something to say to any of us.

The value of the book might be commensurate to your own level of current tragedy. As it turns out, I’m in some of the darker days of my own life and could relate to the author on so many levels. She shares her story, but her message is not pigeonholed to her exact circumstances. All it takes to find value in what she says is to be at a place where life seems completely turned upside down and the view forward is unclear.

Had I read this book, say, a year ago I might have thought it was a little over the top. Perhaps she was a little too raw and let us into her turbulent, almost ugly emotions as they zigged and zagged and rose and crashed even lower repeatedly. Then, I walked that treacherous road myself and wondered if she had been spying on me. Being a guy I held it a little more together in front of everyone else than her, but my emotions on the inside were as messy and even shocking to me as hers were to her.

I will take her at her word that she was completely the victim of what had happened to her, though if she even had any blame somewhere I don’t think it would have changed the message of the book any. I could still relate to her book though my story was different. I was at once a perpetrator and a victim. I had the additional wrestling of trying to figure out before the Lord where the line between the two was. The book still spoke clearly to my heart.

Still, I could feel inside my own heart some of the same feelings she so vividly exposed in her own. The shock. The shame. The exasperation. The uncertainty. The unclear trek ahead. She had had a writing and public speaking ministry that was probably most popular to married Christian ladies and now her own marriage had fallen apart. I was a pastor who loved the ministry beyond description and the walls came tumbling down. Then there are all the other ripples and currents that go to so many other areas of life.

Sometimes I got the feeling she was writing to herself and we were just eavesdropping. Maybe that’s why the book works so well. It’s more about principles that a Christian must wrestle with when life gets completely topsy-turvy. It’s like things you know, but you need the strongest reminder. It’s like things you would have told people in the past, and now you have to tell yourself every moment. I appreciate that she never presented herself as this perfectly packaged Christian who had it all together and was just facing each blow with perfect faith and fortitude. No, it was almost touch-and-go, but a constant bottom-line Christianity that knew there was nowhere to go but to the Lord. She got past worrying about how to understand Him or what He was doing, but just to continue going to Him. And, yes, a faith that realized that the Lord loved her and though she was going a road she despised traveling, somehow, though maybe not in this life, Christ would only take her closer to Himself. There comes a time in life when platitudes won’t do. Those words that could roll so easily off the tongue in a sermon or a discussion without a moment of thought are exposed for all the uncaring that is behind them.

Instead of that tripe that fills the thousands of pages of regurgitated Christian self-help books, she reminded us that the Christian life is a battle, that we are dust, that we are broken, and that a bunch of horrible things really could work together for good in the Lord’s hands.

She made no promises she couldn’t keep. Neither to herself, nor to we who read her book. She still didn’t know how things would turn out and neither do we. There simply is no help until we can figure that out. There are things we can’t control and there are outcomes we can’t produce.

She also refuted the lie that if we can just survive this round of trouble all will be well. On the heel of her family tragedy came the dark blow of cancer. Weakened by the first onslaught she had nothing left to face the second one. Our problems may not go away. The next problem, itself large and scary, may come before we’ve had a chance to heal and strengthen from the first one. Perhaps we’ve overlooked that aspect of Job’s story in Scripture.

So what was the good thing that she had to say besides the spiritual nuggets mentioned above that may be more dreadful to realize than to never have thought about them? Well, it certainly wasn’t a three-, five-, or ten-step program to cancel our tragedy. That would have been too simple anyway, wouldn’t it have been? You may not like the answer. She may not like how I will summarize it. But it is the only answer there is. Trust. Live closely nestled up to Jesus. Expect more possibly. And when it comes, trust. Live closely nestled up to Jesus. It may be as hard to do tomorrow as it was today. Still, trust. Live closely nestled up to Jesus. This is all there is. This is all we need. Trust because we will someday see how He worked it all out. Live closely nestled up to Jesus because that’s the only way to survive the journey until then. It is what we were always meant for anyway.

THANK YOU to whoever sent me this book! I’m sincerely grateful.

Brownlow North: His Life and Word by K. Moody Stuart

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Besides hearing of a sermon or two that he had written, Brownlow North was unknown to me. That didn’t scare me away from this biography, however, because Banner of Truth has a knack for printing biographies of people lesser known but incredibly inspiring and instructive to come to know people. You can count on them as well to print an attractive hardback volume, and this one continues that commendable trend. The biographer, K. Moody Stuart, a minister himself, was clearly enamored with North and wrote as if he were in awe of him.

Mr. North was an unusual personality. I can’t think of another biography I’ve read with his precise set of traits. He was an incredibly humble man. As I read through the biography, I kept feeling that Mr. North thought less of himself than we did. He was a gentle, reflective man who fully gave his life to Christ.

Later in the biography you will see that he worked with and appreciated D. L. Moody in an place where some failed to appreciate Moody’s work. By the time you get that far in the biography, that’s exactly what you would expect of Mr. North. It is so clear that he was consumed with a love for souls. His sermons would never have had the polish of some of his more famous contemporaries, but he clearly had the Holy Spirit upon him when he preached the gospel. He may have been unique, but you will probably think as I did how wonderful it would be to have a bunch more like him today.

The biography is written in an older style but is still easy to read. There might be a place where too many of his letters were reprinted, but the author felt that was required to draw a fuller portrait of the man. This biography might not be at the caliber of one of Iain Murray’s biographies by the same publisher, but it is a wonderful work that I highly recommend.

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.

Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ (2nd Ed.) by Thomas Schreiner

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To label a book “important” or “influential” is probably too often done, but it would be hard to deny that this book has held that reputation for 20 years. Now, Thomas Schreiner takes the time to update his work in this second edition. When we are discussing Paul’s theology, no one book holds the field. In fact, I can’t think of a scholarly subject that has more pages written about it, particularly over the last 30 years or so. In that light, holding an important place in that crowd is quite an accomplishment.

Another reason that some of us might like this book is that several of the other most popular books on the subject are not nearly as conservative or orthodox. Many are mesmerized by the so-called “New Perspective on Paul”. To be clear, this book is not just a book against that perspective, but it will sufficiently address it for a thinking person and put it out to pasture as it belongs. Another feature to help you ascertain its value, is that it follows more of a reformed position in many cases and, perhaps, is most influenced by John Piper whom he mentions in the preface. If you like me are not as reformed as him, as many are not, you will still find incredible value in this book.

He says he does not want to make the book so boring as to interact with every scholar out there. While he may be selective, he is effective. I think it’s fair to say that he does not dodge any relevant issue in Paul’s theology.

Permit me to oversimplify his approach. He takes the position that Paul’s is championing God’s glory in Christ. In other words, Paul is the writer in scripture who most addresses the doctrine of salvation. In that light, he takes what Paul teaches us on a round-robin circuit of systematic theology. Again, he really doesn’t hide from any issue whether it is controversial or not. Some things he addresses are missed by others as well. Don’t miss his chapter on suffering. Still, he holds as the organizing principle that Paul is upholding God’s glory in Christ.

The value of this book is not it’s final conclusions, but it’s help for you to reach yours. In that way, let’s keep those labels of “important” and “influential”.

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 Holy Spirit by Gregg Allison and Andreas Kostenberger

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This inaugural volume in a series entitled “Theology for the People of God” is so ideal that it makes one excited for the whole series. At the same time, this book sets the bar high for those who will write the following titles. Scholars Gregg Allison and Andreas Kostenberger, prolific scholars to be sure, took the time to produce a book we need. As you can guess, the work has a conservative and baptistic bent, but is fair in all the issues and one that everyone should use.

This work is divided into two parts: biblical theology on the Holy Spirit working its way chronologically through scripture followed by systematic theology that digs deep into the doctrine itself and places it in the context of all doctrinal thinking. I found the second half more interesting, but that is not to disparage the first half. It was more a matter of taste and enjoyment of subject. To be sure, it is critically important to explore how doctrines are developed throughout scripture.

The second half on systematic theology began with an outstanding look at the Holy Spirit as part of the Trinity. The chapter on the deity and personhood of the Holy Spirit was just as exceptional. In all, four chapters explore the Holy Spirit both as an Individual and Collective Member of the Trinity. From there, the Holy Spirit’s role in Creation and Providence, the role in scripture, relation to angelic beings, relation to human beings, relation to Jesus Christ, the role in salvation, relation to the church, and the future. As you can see, nothing was left out in systematic theology and all the content presented was level headed, interesting, and enlightening.

As with any work that touches on systematic theology, of course, you will disagree on some points. I did, but none of the major points. My only criticism of the work, and it is a slight one, is I felt that the development of being filled with the Spirit, or being full of the Spirit, and distinguishing it from the baptism of the Spirit, perhaps, fell a little short.

This is an outstanding book that every Bible student and pastor ought to have. I have at least 20 pages in this book especially notated for something I want to remember. For me, that’s a sign of a great book. I say, bring on the rest of those volumes in this series soon!

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.

1, 2, and 3 John (Revised) [WBC] by Stephen Smalley

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This commentary was originally published in 1983 and was overdue for updating. It appears that revision took place in 2008 and yet we have another new edition coming out at this time with a superior binding. Years ago the WBC series printed nice hardbacks with dust jackets and a few years ago changed to a more case-bound style with some of the earlier reprinted volumes having what would best could be called a shabby cover that simply would not last. I’m happy to see this binding that appears will hold up much better.

At this point, most Bible students are familiar with the WBC format. You either love it or you hate it and it falls on the more scholarly end of the spectrum. It is known, additionally, for its depth of exegesis. That is clearly true in this volume. The most scholarly comments that might not be interesting to pastors or students is in a note section. A section on form, structure, and setting has some interesting help, but the actual commentary is the best section in the book. There is some Greek, but the English is nearby and with just a little effort any serious student can use this book.

The introduction has real depth, though I can’t really follow his description of the Johannine Community. That was something of a fad for a few years and he probably explains it as well as anyone if you would like to understand it. Nevertheless, he digs in on many issues making this an important contribution.

This commentary falls more on the critical side of the scale. For example, this publisher, Zondervan, has a book in its ZECNT series that is much more conservative. On the other hand, Smalley has more evangelical beliefs than many of his fellow critical counterparts. This commentary is by no means the most critical commentary in this series. I would go so far to say that this would be the commentary I would recommend if you preferred conservative commentaries and yet wanted to have one quality more critical commentary just to cover your bases. Smalley reads well even if your own sensibilities run another direction.

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 Letters of John (Pillar)[Second Ed.] by Colin Kruse

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Without a doubt, Colin Kruse’s work on the Letters of John in the Pillar (PNTC) series has been one of the most highly regarded since it was first published 20 years ago. In fact, the whole Pillar series maintains a sterling reputation. In the intervening years, a few series have contributed serious rivals like the BECNT, and just recently the EEC, to Kruse’s work. In any event, it was a wise decision to allow this volume to be updated for a second edition. I judge it a success that will likely extend its usage another 20 years.

From what I can tell this edition is more of a tweaking or a finessing than a serious rewriting. It seems the author has not swayed in his approach to these letters, but does take the opportunity to interact with more recent scholarship. The commentaries listed in his bibliography include almost as many titles released since his original volume as before.

The introduction is solid and arrives at consistently conservative conclusions. His description of the Johannine community makes much more sense than some of the bizarre descriptions in more radical works. He doesn’t just state that John is the author of these letters, but lays out an excellent case surveying both internal and external evidence. His section on structure is overly brief, but most scholars have issues figuring out the structure of these letters anyway. I have read previous criticism of the brevity of his discussion of 2 & 3 John, and it does not appear to be too much longer. I do think, however, it will satisfy most students. His theological approach is fully in line with what users of this series expect. I don’t agree with every conclusion he makes, but see this volume as important and an asset to any student’s library.

This volume is more directed at pastors and serious students, but is scholarly perceptive while not getting stuck in the morass of more scholarly esoteric subjects. If I were going to get two or three important modern commentaries on these letters, I would for sure choose this book as one of them!

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.