Understanding the New Testament: An Introductory Atlas

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Over the last few years, Carta has developed an outstanding set of introductory atlases. This title is one of the earliest releases. While I feel that later titles continue to get better, this earlier entry is a thorough success and one that I would recommend you study first if you choose to work through these atlases. A careful study of these titles would be the equivalent of an awesome college class though these titles are accessible enough for any Bible student. This title gives a broad sweep of important background material for the New Testament in the beautiful Carta style.

After an initial physical map of Israel, you have the succinct and pithy overview of all the books of the New Testament. Next, you have a breakdown of the different areas in Israel where the varying climate impacts its history. From there, you spread out to the larger New Testament world including the areas that Paul carried the gospel to throughout the Roman Empire. There’s an overview of the Intertestmental Period including some great charts on the early Caesars and Herods of that time. There’s also a chronological discussion of the Gospels from a geographic standpoint followed by one for the early church.

The maps are of the sterling quality you’ve come to expect from Carta products. Some of the maps are those you may have seen in some of their larger, beloved Bible atlases. Once you’ve studied this title you can also find others on the Old Testament along with others on archaeology, history, and geography. There’s not a dud in the bunch and I highly recommend them all including this fine title on the New Testament.

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.

Understanding the Geography of the Bible: An Introductory Atlas by Wright and Har-El

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This title in 40 large, attractive pages really pulls off a fine presentation of the geography of the Bible for students at any level. If you will take the time to study this introductory atlas, you will quickly understand how the geography in Bible lands dramatically impacts events. This title goes well with other introductory atlases in this series that give an overview for the Old Testament, the New Testament, kingdoms in and around Israel, and biblical archaeology. These two authors have contributed several of these outstanding titles and Carta has perfected the art of presentation.

Carta never fails us with its maps and pictures. Their titles are always a visual smorgasbord. Don’t miss the charts and maps that show annual precipitation, mean temperatures, climatic regions, principal geological features, and major routes.

The text is highly instructive as well. You will gain a working knowledge of the climate and geography of the entire Middle East where the discussion is especially thorough on prominent areas of the Bible. The range of climate and geography being so small an area is incredibly pronounced and has a distinct impact on those living in the particular areas. In my view, this knowledge is critical background information for any sort of Bible study.

At this point, I’ve seen all of these introductory atlases, and this one is one of my personal favorites. Don’t miss 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.

The Morals of the Story by David and Marybeth Baggett

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How powerful are moral arguments to prove the existence of God? They have always struck me as overwhelmingly persuasive, yet this book is still my first foray into really digging out that concept. I have more of a theological background while this presentation tilts more toward the philosophical side. That’s not to say there isn’t some wonderful theology along the way. There’s plenty of theology as well as deep scholarship as you might imagine from this husband-and-wife scholar team. The scholarship is such that this might not work for beginners yet they do a good job of making it all accessible. As a bonus, they exhibit a pleasant sense of humor throughout. The authors strike me as teachers who would be enjoyable to hear lecture. Some of the historical explanations of where philosophers have moved over the years might bog you down some, but you will end this book with a firmer belief that the moral argument bolsters the affirmation of God’s existence.

The book is divided into three acts. The first one sets the stage in four chapters. Preceding the first act you have a description of the players, the playbill, and the spotlight on Socrates and Paul in Athens. The first two chapters succeed in orienting you in this discussion while chapters 3 and 4 slow down some with a great deal of historical background and scholarly review.

Act two has five chapters that break down moral goodness, moral obligations, moral knowledge, moral transformation, and moral providence. To my mind, the chapter on moral transformation packed the most punch. If you can grasp this section, you will have a working knowledge of all the facets of the moral argument.

Act three is called “enacting the comedy” and is really a concluding chapter that together with the “encore” shows how this material can lead us to some powerful apologetics.

This is an important book that succeeds in what it sets out to do. Its target audience will love it, and we can all glean from it. Our hearts know that if there is no God there are no morals and that cannot be possible!

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. 

John Tyler by Gary May (Presidential Bio. Series)

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This well-written book was just what I was looking for in a biography on Pres. John Tyler. 150 pages are about all I wanted to take the time to read on him. Tyler consistently rates near the bottom of the list of our presidents. The American Presidents Series is where I love to turn for the less popular and more obscure presidents. Some of the titles in the series are a little skewed to the left and are overly unsympathetic to their subject, but this one by Mr. May was totally fair. He presented Tyler and let me decide – that’s exactly what I want from this type of book.

Tyler had distinct flaws. His views on slavery as well as his practice of slavery, his flip-flop on what he had always presented as his core principles once he became president, and his betrayal of the United States when the Civil War broke out are prime examples. I totally respect the people of both the Union and the Confederacy but would expect a former president of the United States to show some loyalty.

Tyler had some positive traits as well. He seemed to be a caring family man (15 children from two wives!). After the death of his first wife, he came across as strange in his pursuit of a young lady 30 years his junior. On the other hand, after he married her they seemed to have a very loving relationship. He would not allow himself to be the pawn of any political power broker like Henry Clay and others. Though he was unable to get much of any agenda through during his time in office because his views caused his party to abandon him, he did make the best of a bad situation. He wasn’t afraid to cast some unexpected vetoes that surprised many. His crowning achievement was the admittance of Texas to the Union. He was relentless in that pursuit and barely got it done before he left office.

Whatever the failures of Tyler, this biography succeeded splendidly. It brought Tyler to life. I felt like I knew him and even understood him to some degree. My opinion of him rose a few tics, but he’s still at the bottom level. At least I would rank a few presidents below him now. My only complaint of this biography is that I really couldn’t come to terms with where he stood religiously. In fairness to the author, perhaps that was because Tyler didn’t hold religion as all that important. In any event, this author did the best that could be done with his subject.

For other titles in the presidential biography series, check out My Quest on Presidential Biographies.

Judges (OTL) by Niditch

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This new volume in the Old Testament Library (OTL) series replaces the old volume by J. Alberto Soggin. Niditch has improved on that older entry. I always turn to this series to grasp the critical viewpoint and to get some theology that you just don’t get in other places. This volume generally falls within the expectations of the series yet would not necessarily be my favorite. In the plus column, the book is well-written and it’s easy to follow the author’s train of thought, but on the negative side it pushes the envelope too far in some places and is too brief in others.

There’s a lengthy bibliography provided at the beginning of the book. The commentary section is substandard and only lists seven titles. On the other hand, the rest of the bibliography is quite thorough.

The Introduction begins by describing the Book of Judges as epic-style literature. There’s a discussion of the office of a judge that is quite interesting. Folklorist insights calling them epic heroes, social bandits, etc., are a little much for me. There’s discussion of the war and fighting in the Book of Judges, the history of the Book of Judges (the author at least sees the material as “meaningful” to the time of the Kings). I had trouble accepting the redaction history that was given as well as some of the discussion about genre. The discussion of the voice of the theologian and the humanist gave some food for thought. The section called texture provided some helpful structural insights. There seemed to be, however, an over-emphasis on the oral nature of the material in the text-critical section.

Where the commentary wasn’t too brief, there were some interesting observations in the commentary proper. At times there’s too much of a feminist angle, but at other times you will find some real help. The exegetical work is sufficient within the framework of the author’s outlook.

Critical scholarship is usually never too kind to the book of Judges. In any event, this book is probably as good as any in understanding a critical approach to the book. While not the equal of some in the series, it does have value.

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.

Life in Biblical Israel by King and Stager

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I love this type of book. Though this book has been around for a while and often receives glowing recommendations, somehow I had overlooked it. I’m glad that’s no longer the case. I don’t subscribe to the authors’ chronology or critical assumptions, but there’s much treasure to be found in what they’ve put together here.

The authors provide a fine introduction that explains the importance of everyday life, what must be worked with to arrive at an understanding of that everyday life, and an overview of archaeology and other things. The next extensive chapter covers an Israelite house and household. Homes, family members, meals, and medical information are all addressed. The next chapter looks at farming, climate, vegetation, water sources, arts and crafts, travel, transport, and trade. From there, there’s a chapter that looks at the city, water systems, and warfare and armies. There’s a helpful chapter on culture that looks at dress and adornments, music, literacy, and education. The last chapter covers religious institutions including temples, shrines, objects associated with these places, religious practices, death, burial, and the afterlife.

The maps section is a little weak, but the bibliography, the indices, and the photography and illustration throughout the work are superb. This is a fine resource where you will find many opportunities in your studies to consult. Warmly recommended.

 

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.

II Corinthians (NTL) by Matera

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Frank Matera, a well-known New Testament scholar, contributes this volume on II Corinthians in the New Testament Library (NTL) series. Though this volume would be labeled critical in its approach, he took a surprising number of positions that you might find in a less critical work. For that reason, I thought this volume one of the better in this series. You will still be made aware of some of the critical outlook that this series usually provides, yet you might appreciate his opinion on the unity of the letter and his exegetical work too.

After a bibliography, the author begins the introduction by addressing ministry and conflict in the letter. He labels II Corinthians as “perhaps the most personal and revealing of Paul’s letters”. He sees it as “an intensely personal writing it which the apostle speaks more extensively and intimately than in any of his other letters”.

Next, he dives into the argument and structure of the letter. He divides the letter into three parts and explains his reasoning for the division as well as for the subdivisions. He summarizes his position in a list of four things that Paul is defending. His reasoning and the subsequent outline give good food for thought. From there, he tackles the theology of the letter. He sees the theology as rich and it would be hard to disagree with the importance of the six things he lists as the key theology of the letter.

In the next section, when he considers the time between I and II Corinthians, he wades into the morass that often entangles the scholarly world. The next few sections of the introduction continue to look at this subject from various angles. Along the way, you get a good overview of where the scholarly world has twisted and turned on this issue. Pleasantly, he argues for the unity of the letter.

In the commentary proper, I thought the exegetical work to be some of the best I’ve seen in this series. There are many good insights to be found.  This book could profitably be added to the list of those you consult when studying II Corinthians.

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.

Everlasting Dominion by Eugene Merrill

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I’ve used the works of Eugene Merrill throughout my entire ministry. He’s known for quality conservative academic work. Somehow I had overlooked this work for a long time. I’ve used several of his commentaries to great advantage, so my curiosity was piqued when I saw this volume described as his “magnum opus”. At least we can say that a major work of biblical theology requires more interdisciplinary mastery than most other theological work. Mr. Merrill’s humility is such that he almost sheepishly approaches this work in the preface. To my mind, however, he has the skills to tackle this task.

In chapter 1 he overviews what Old Testament theology is. That chapter includes a look at the winding path scholarship has taken on Old Testament theology. Much of it has been so absurd that we welcome this conservative effort. In chapter 2 he discusses the Old Testament as the autobiography of God and covers a wide range of theological concepts that you might find in a systematic theological approach. Chapter 3 upholds that the Old Testament is the revelation of God. Chapter 4 looks at what the works of God are as found in the Old Testament. Chapter 5 concludes part one with a discussion of the purposes of God.

Part two backs up and approaches the Old Testament from the perspective of mankind, who is made in the image of God. That will include chapters on the fall, redemption, and the creation of Israel.

Chapter 3 discusses the kingdom of God and in this section, we began seeing work on the individual books of the Old Testament. You may find his order of approaching Old Testament books a little unusual, but all are covered beautifully. We reach the wisdom literature of the Old Testament in chapters 18 and 19 before we find one concluding chapter that returns us to the big picture and anticipates the New Testament.

I don’t see how you could do serious work on Old Testament theology and not consult this book. It’s clearly one of the top volumes on the subject and I highly recommended 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.

Understanding Biblical Archaeology by Wright

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At this point, Carta has several introductory atlases that could serve as a personal class on some important topics of Bible study. Paul Wright has contributed several of these outstanding introductory atlases covering the New Testament, geography, biblical kingdoms, important people groups mentioned in the Bible, as well as writing a well-received major Bible Atlas. This title gives an excellent overview of biblical archaeology. When you finish this book, you will have a working knowledge of what biblical archaeology is and what has been discovered in Israel from various archaeological periods.

Other works may probe more deeply the broader assumptions of archaeological work while this one focuses more on what we have found. These findings are presented through clear text, gorgeous pictures, and effectively chosen Bible maps. This book could have a secondary use as a guide to what archaeological sites might be worth visiting on your next trip to the holy land too. For example, on a trip, I did I enjoyed immensely visiting biblical Shechem of which there’s a fine picture on page 15.

The diagram on page 9 is worth pages of text in describing how we have such levels of archaeological finds available at many sites in Israel. We also find there an overview of archaeological periods.

The balance of the book takes us from the Early Bronze Age through the Early Roman or Herodian Era. Fortunately, there have been many wonderful archaeological finds in every major era between those two and none are given short shrift here.

This book is worth your time and I highly 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.

The God Who Gives by Kelly Kapic

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The more I read by Kelly Kapic the more I like him. I had earlier read Embodied Hope and found it an inspiring overview of the doctrine of suffering. This work takes a much wider theological swath. The subtitle proclaims that this book explains how the Trinity shapes the Christian story. As I read this book, I often thought that Mr. Kapic took his theme of the God who gives on a walk across the entire landscape of systematic theology. It’s hard to grasp the terrain he covered in only 260 pages, yet this book is nothing of a superficial overview. Every doctrine traipsed over finds vibrant interaction.

This book is a revised edition of an earlier work entitled God So Loved, He Gave. Somehow I had missed that work, and so can’t speak to the extent of the revision. I can say, however, that this is a theological work not to be missed.

The first few chapters make such a brilliant contribution to the doctrine of God that I think I’ll file this book in that section of my library near other works on the Trinity. His initial premise that we belong to God is persuasively portrayed and gives at once a foundation for this book and an explanation for our lives. The discussion of creation and how it springs out of the Triune love of God tells us much about the purposes of God. Immediately we are told that God owns by giving as well as by creation.

The book continues to describe the calamity of sin, the evil of our world, creation’s bondage, and how all these things cry for our need of God. We learn how Jesus filled that role in his coming as our King to round out part one of this work.

Part two containing chapters 5-10 outlines how God reclaims all by giving all. In the chapter on the gift of the Son, don’t miss the discussion on pages 100-101. There’s further excellent discussion on belief, faith, and their differences. The gift is also traced to the Holy Spirit. There’s further discussion on how we receive the gift, what the gift of the kingdom is, and how to live within that gift.

Part three takes us through the cross, the resurrection, and the church itself to fully grasp the depths to which God gives to us.

This is one of the best theological works that I’ve come across. It provided me with several lightbulb moments. It’s accessible despite its depth. I’d recommend that any Christian give it a try. Whatever you glean can only enrich you. Mark this one down firmly in the “highly recommended” category.

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.