Ecclesiastes & The Song of Songs (Apollos OT Commentary)

ecc apollos

This volume is the joint production of Daniel C. Fredericks on Ecclesiastes and Daniel J. Estes on the Song of Solomon in the excellent Apollos commentary series. The task of the commentator is a challenging one on these two books of the Bible and this book holds up well among the competition of other major commentaries.

Fredericks writes in a different vein than most because he sees “vanity” (“hebel”) as “transience.” I must admit that affects every conclusion he makes. Some who hold that “hebel” means “emptiness” criticize this volume. I still hold to the idea of vanity personally, but see a wide meaning that includes both emptiness and transience. For that reason, the commentary was enlightening to me. I would recommend owning another commentary  to explain the emptiness angle, but you will enjoy Fredericks.

He is conservative on other introductory matters and writes well. I rank it highly.

Estes sees the Song as almost every modern commentator does–as holding a natural meaning rather than a spiritual or typological meaning. To me, that comes out a little strange on a few passages particularly and makes its very inclusion in the Bible hard to explain, but again, that is true in every modern commentary.

Still, among those modern commentaries this volume is in the upper echelon out there. Like the Ecclesiastes portion, it is conservative and well written. It is also not as graphic as some.

I highly recommend this volume for a modern, exegetical commentary that gives you a two-for-one deal on these two fascinating books of the Bible.

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.

Food For Thought On Donald Trump

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Donald Trump is a phenomenon that no one saw coming. The best political pundits are aghast on what has happened over the last several months. We were well into the primary season for the 2016 presidential race before anyone figured it out. They missed it so badly that we can’t even take any prediction they make about November seriously.

Still, we all can see it now–people are angry. I see the point of that anger. We’ve been lied to, stabbed in the back, and used. Bernie Sanders is somewhat of the same explanation on the far other side.

Forgive the pastor in me for coming out, but on this subject of anger I have a question. Over the course of your life, how have all the decisions you have made while really mad worked out for you? Well….that’s what I thought. Me too.

As I said, I am a pastor, yet I speak as a private citizen today. All those I pastor can exercise their own personal discernment and do as they please. I love them no matter what and still believe the spiritual far outranks the political. I thank God that we all can still pull the lever for whom we choose even if others near us pull it for somebody else. As a pastor, I would admonish all Christians to run their voting selection by the Lord because at the end of the day, you don’t answer to your pastor or anyone else besides the Lord. Yet in a country that still has free speech for the moment, I will throw in my two cents as a private citizen.

He talks a John Wayne kind of talk (and I love a John Wayne movie) yet his life in no way backs it up. He runs as this great businessman, but he inherited a fortune and has gone bankrupt several times. He won’t release his tax returns, has several failed ventures, and we have no idea where his business acumen has really gotten him, or what it might suggest about him leading our economic decisions.

While Americans, as they say, are notorious for voting their pocketbooks, the economy and jobs are not the biggest issues here. We have a Congress that could kill the best economic proposals anyone could suggest. Congress, whether Mr. Trump admits it or not, will have a say on the Wall and immigration as well. I want a President who will offer the best proposals, but with our Congress it is a roll of the dice at best.

So what is the biggest issue involving Mr. Trump? His character. He brags about his martial infidelities and multiple marriages and is vulgar. I know some other Presidents were both unfaithful and vulgar, but at least they respected me enough to keep it out of my face. Even President Bill Clinton tried to keep Monica Lewinsky a secret. Keeping it a secret was at least a weak attempt to agree that it was sinful behavior. To brag on it is like presidential approval and a giant leap in our downward spiral.

The Bible warns us too that “a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways”. How could his position flipflops, sometimes from one day to the next, not give pause to even his most ardent followers? He said he is flexible, and so let’s admit it– we have no real idea of what a President Trump might do.

Finally, there is his narcissistic behavior that shows up in prideful arrogance, pettiness, and vindictiveness. Am I the only one who is especially alarmed by his wanting to expand lawsuit possibilities for those who criticize him, or his attacking journalists who ask hard questions,  or how he talks about his opponents, or even his penchant for revenge? The references to Hitler might not be as far fetched as some assume. I think someone who criticizes him may have more to fear than either an illegal alien jumping a wall or a member of ISIS. This hubris is his most dangerous trait by far.

Let me share a great article from National Review by Mona Cheran that well describes Mr. Trump’s character.

Donald Trump’s Character

My wife, Alicia,  shared another one, this time from a fully Christian perspective:

Donald Trump: Do Character, Morality and Kindness Still Matter?

 

It likely is too late to stop Donald Trump from securing the Republican nomination, so maybe this is an exercise in too-little-too-late, but I felt I had to say it.

There is the train wreck scenario that we are heading to–a general election of Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton. Some of us Christians are going to be in a real catch-22 there. Alicia told me that maybe her conscience wouldn’t allow her to vote for either, even if some complain that failing to vote for Mr. Trump is voting for Mrs. Clinton, but she just wasn’t sure. I hope she figures it out so maybe she can tell me.

 

 

 

Biblical Counseling And The Church by Kellemen, Editor

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This attractive book is likely all you will ever need on the subject of counseling and the Church. Notice I didn’t say on counseling, as this volume zeros in on how churches might carry out counseling ministry. It will not replace volumes on how to actually do counseling itself, though it evens offers many insights in that area too.

Part 1 was my personal favorite, and outstanding in every way. Chapter one looked at how churches, pastor and people, should see counseling as part of what we do. The superb chapter 2 called on pastors to see that their role to shepherd required that they counsel in addition to preaching.  Drawing that conclusion from passages like I Peter 5:1-4, Ezekiel 34, and John 10 made that conclusion unanswerable. The next chapter tied in culture’s impact. We had a chapter on uniting the public and private aspects of giving the Word among others. The section on church discipline was well done too.

The balance of the book talked about how to implement counseling into the ministry of the church. Though I finished some chapters thinking that wouldn’t work in our church, the book strove to speak to churches of all sizes. It think it did a fine job in that regard.

The book was well written, had a high view of Scripture, was passionate about its subject, and clear in its suggestions. I recommend it.

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.

Two New Titles From Hendrickson

cross giving

Hendrickson has picked up two fine titles from the Lausanne Library.

The Grace of Giving by John Stott and Chris Wright

This short volume is actually two books in one: The Grace of Giving by John Stott written in 2004 and The Gift of Accountability by Chris Wright written in 2013. An easy, but provocative read, these two titles combine well.

Stott deduces ten principles for Christian giving from an exposition of II Corinthians 8 & 9–the kind of exposition where he always found his writing material. The beauty of it is how flawlessly his conclusions sprang from the text. It’s hard to believe that something so condensed could be so powerful, yet that is clearly the case here. Preachers might find it a seed plot for preaching on giving too.

Wright, a colleague and something of a keeper of the flame for the late Stott, did not duplicate Stott but looked at the same passage and found clear principles for accountability. It was a helpful addition to Stott and was particularly potent for our reckless generation.

Small enough for a wider distribution, this volume is a winner.

The Glory Of The Cross by James Philip

Subtitled ” Exploring the Meaning of the Death of Christ”, this volume in a manageable 60 pages well overviews its subject. Its size might make it a particular blessing for those who panic in the presence of larger theological tomes.

Still, don’t label it lightweight as it works to make a theological impact, and succeeds without surrendering accessibility. Tracing Christ from the Last Supper, to the Garden of Gethsemane, and on to the Cross, this book stays in His final 24 hours. No wonder Philip ends with Hallelujah! What a Saviour! before he gives a reminder of Jesus’ Return and the need to share the story of the death of Christ.

Small enough for a wider distribution, this book that could be read quickly might best be read slowly. I recommend it.

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.

Redeeming Sex by Debra Hirsch

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Well, Hirsch is certainly tackling the hot issue of our day. While she addresses the big perspective of sex in all our lives, she ultimately writes to confront how Christians and churches interact with the LGBT community. Having been deeply involved in the LGBT lifestyle herself, she writes as a believer now. While some of her insights were profound, I felt she often gave away the farm in an effort to plant the seeds of reaching them.

She did well when she explained that in many such things we are attempting in a flawed way to reach the God we desperately need. When she talked of the brokenness in many lives before and during their LGBT days, she was spot on. When she explained that we have been failing as Christians to reach that group, she often pegged our failures clearly.

The problem with the book is the solutions she presents. I felt that being a celibate gay was enough for her. I don’t know how that position could be maintained biblically, and she made little attempts to do so. She pointed out that we view a man leaving his wife for another woman differently than for another man as if to prove we are unfair. What she fails to see is that there is a possible holy relationship between a man and a woman that could never be true of a man and a man. Suggesting that cultural factors might weaken the force of what she admits are all negative biblical passages is a poor argument too.

She at least seemed sincere and caring as she wrote, but she did not, in my view, strike the right balance between holding to truth and not being overly judgmental. Some will love it, but I cannot give a high recommendation to it.

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.

Martin Van Buren by Ted Widmer (Presidential Bio Series)

van buren

It seems to me that our eighth President is several notches below the first seven. While Ted Widmer’s volume satisfies me that I have a handle on the man, reading this biography did not change my mind. This volume is part of The American Presidents Series edited by Arthur Schlesinger.

Van Buren followed the wildly popular Andrew Jackson and probably never had a chance. He ascended the presidency by deft political moves instead of passionate principles. He was incredibly unfortunate as well. The Panic of 1837 happened so soon in his presidency that it could not legitimately be laid at his feet. In any event, he was caught up in a vortex from the beginning and never recovered. It doomed him to a one-term presidency too. His political moves after his presidency really failed.

You won’t get far into the volume before you clearly see Widmer’s personal politics. The best biographers don’t usually let that happen. As a Democrat, Widmer really likes Van Buren because he feels like Van Buren shaped the Democratic Party into what it became. Perhaps there is some truth to that. Widmer also came across as one made cynical in the trenches of politics, yet he clearly admired Van Buren.

This volume tells us nothing of his religious views other than he sometimes went to church. Widmer seemed obsessed with Van Buren’s penchant to socialize and hit the party circuit. I see no evidence in this volume of him being a Christian, but Widmer came across as one who would downplay it in any case.

Despite my criticisms of this volume, I still recommend it. It’s the right length for me on Van Buren. Widmer can turn a phrase even if he offers more commentary than a first-class biography usually does. Breezy rather than scholarly, this book will likely satisfy those reading through presidential biographies.

More Presidential Biographies

Disaster Ministry Handbook by Aten and Boan

disaster

Have you ever wondered how to respond to crisis or disaster as a church? The volume will provide all the detail you could ever need on the subject. The Introduction tells the interesting way the authors developed their passion for this ministry and explains why few have ever thought more deeply about the subject than they have.

I felt chapter two on disaster basics was enlightening. Especially things like disaster phases gave insight into what needs really are present over time, even beyond the initial crisis.

Chapter three was the weakest as it used trendy terms to discuss Christian obligation. I believe a better theological presentation could have been given. The rest of the book is the nuts and bolts of disaster ministry including excellent forms to carry out their recommendations. That could hardly be better.

Few might read it through as it has more of a manual feel, but I doubt any one attempting to implement a large disaster ministry, or write about it, will be able to ignore this volume going forward. My only criticism is that I don’t see how smaller churches could implement it. Still, I recommend it for all those interested in disaster ministry.

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.

Strong and Weak by Andy Crouch

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We all want to successfully live a life of purpose and fear failing. According to Crouch we make a false choice between strength and weakness.In fact, we could fail with either much strength or much weakness.

He divides our lives along where we are in authority and vulnerability. Then he gives us a fine graph of where we end up– one of four quadrants. High authority and low vulnerability makes you exploiting. If you’re low in both, you are withdrawing. If you’re highly vulnerable with little authority, you are likely suffering. That leaves the place you want to be–flourishing. The only way to get there is to earn authority while exposing yourself to vulnerability.

That graph and its careful explanation is the book. It reads well and is not overly long at less than 200 pages. The strength of this volume is its ability to illustrate situations that we can see ourselves in. That helps us see if we are really flourishing or not. Better yet, it will, by its thoughtful discussion, give us guidance in transitioning to a flourishing life. I think you will appreciate this book.

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.

Andrew Jackson by Jon Meacham (Presidential Bio Series)

andrew

“American Lion” could hardly be more accurate. Jackson had personality and to spare. He strikes me as the first populist President, and was far more loved by the people than his colleagues in Washington. Meacham brought him to life in this Pulitzer-winning volume, making me feel I know Jackson so much better.

Perhaps Jackson is the quintessential enigma. A man who could be tender at one moment and a raging torrent the next, Jackson is hard to fully explain. He was involved in much violence in his life. He was happy to duel no matter how small the disagreement, yet he was an accomplished general. He was bitter over what people said of his Rachel, yet he appears not to be innocent of adultery in the matter. He fought hard over issues he believed in, yet got totally sidetracked in his first term over the Eaton mess.

This dichotomy shows up in the big picture of his presidency too. He accomplished many of the things he sought to do, yet it included his horrible treatment of Indians. He could be shamefully petty, yet marvelously bold. He weathered nullification and held the Union together against some strong opponents in the South, yet he had slaves.

The most fascinating thing about him was his Christianity. He had the questionable marriage, an outrageous temper, and a penchant for violence, yet he said some of the strongest Christian statements I’ve seen from a President. He had a better record of church attendance than most too. Note the statement recorded on page 343 by Meacham about Jesus his Savior “who died upon the cross for me”.

Meacham succeeds in presenting Jackson. Critics point out that his focus on Jackson’s presidential days left the other parts of his life too bare. He got a little carried away on the Eatons to the point that he may have exaggerated their importance in Jackson’s first term. Still, he gave us Jackson the man, and I for one, was glad to read it.

 

Other Presidential biographies

The New Testament: Its Background and Message (2nd ed) by Lea and Black

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Are you looking for a fine, conservative New Testament background for your studies? This volume appears to me to be aimed more at pastors and Bible students than scholars, though you will be made familiar with more important scholarly questions.

Part One was exceptional in the big picture background of the NT. The history from the end of the OT to the beginning of the NT well sets the stage. Daily life and the unique religious background of the times are carefully explained. The chapter on the text illumined canonicity in a small compass.

Part Two combines a study of the background of Jesus’ ministry and of the Gospels themselves. The four chapters on Jesus’s ministry and its changing geographical emphasis are essential to properly understanding the New Testament.

The balance of the book covers Paul and the Epistles. It ends with a chapter on Revelation where various viewpoints are covered. Each NT book has its contents, unique features, themes, and an outline given.

There are helpful charts interspersed throughout the text. One of the best traits of this volume that is often missing in such volumes is that it reads well. I recommend it.

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.