1 and 2 Samuel (TOTC) by V. Philips Long

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Can you imagine the task that you would have before you if you were charged to write a commentary on a portion of scripture the length of both books of Samuel and stick to the typical parameters of the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (TOTC) series? To make it worse, you would have to allow within those constraints that your task was to delve into some of the most beloved stories of scripture. Did V. Phillips Long get the job done? Yes. How did he do it? Pithiness.

The trick would be to make every sentence count. There would be no room for fluff and every paragraph would have to carry quite a load. All of that you will find here. To make it even better, theological accuracy is not sacrificed and getting out such a myriad of details.

You will see the author’s pithiness in the introduction. To be honest, I found it ideal. Unlike many introductions, it sticks to the type of information that will actually do a Bible student much good. I noticed an honesty as well. For example, Long was willing to admit that there is no clear structure to the books of Samuel other than telling the story as it happened. The Lord, of course, develops the appropriate theology in the text. But this story is a history, a history that the Lord carried out in the persons of Samuel, Saul, and David. These stories need no help in being thrilling, only that we not miss the point of those stories.

I read some passages in this commentary that I thought are some of the more challenging to commentate on. Again the value of saying more with less was clear. I found myself nodding in agreement with the theological implications of the text brought out as well. The things in the story that needed explaining were well explained. The goal to illuminate more than the obvious was accomplished.

This is a fine commentary. Bible student, Sunday school teacher, or pastor we’ll find this a treat. That it is more economical than most helpful commentaries cements its value. You will enjoy this one.

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.

Grover Cleveland by Henry Graff (Presidential Bio. Series)

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This biography on President Grover Cleveland in the American President series is typical for that series, but this volume is a little better than some others because of the author’s appreciation of the subject. Some I’ve read in this series have disdain for the president they write about and it colors the biography in a needlessly negative direction. Perhaps part of the this work is positive was the author’s determination to make Cleveland the progressive of a mostly Republican era. That is a stretch to be sure, but he was at least the only Democrat. In a few places, I thought the author really overworked that dubious connection. Still, I feel I know Cleveland from reading this book. It’s short length was perfect in my opinion for this lesser-known president.

Cleveland was a simple, fairly unassuming president. He was straight-laced, committed to work, had far more diligence than passion, and appears to be a generally likable person. To me, that almost seems to be a trend among a stretch of presidents in this time period. He was clearly a man of principle, though not necessarily one of vision. He was true to his word and possessed distinct integrity. He was a weak communicator, an average public speaker, and has no particular claim to fame other than the fact that he is the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. Still, his demeanor and service matched the times in which he served. He had no scandal, unless you count marrying a much younger woman while president. What I read here, makes it sound harmless enough. I personally feel that Cleveland is a man that you would be comfortable to sit down and talk to.

In these reviews of the presidents, I’ve been taking the additional task of particularly noting the religious beliefs of the president. Cleveland was raised in a pastor’s home and carried that influence throughout his life. The author of this biography did not find it interesting enough to tell us Cleveland’s personal convictions about Christ, but I read between the lines and suspect Cleveland was a believer.

Again, Cleveland was in that stretch of presidents between Grant and Teddy Roosevelt that are mostly unknown to us, but he seemed the caliber of most of them and better than a few of them. Garfield had great potential and McKinley was possibly the best of the bunch, but Cleveland was a fine man who made a competent but perhaps average president.

Romans (KEL) by John Harvey

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I’ll be honest. When I first thumbed through this book, I wasn’t impressed at all. It looked too brief for an exegetical commentary. Then I started digging into it and I became more and more impressed. First, we need not forget that some commentaries are written for pastors or serious Bible students rather than scholars. That is the case here. Come to think of it, there isn’t exactly a shortage of those voluminous exegetical works on Romans! Second, there’s much to be said for writing succinctly with clarity. That is clearly present in this work. At times he says as many meaningful things in a paragraph that some of those larger commentaries would need 10 pages to say.

The Introduction was actually enjoyable to read. He made historical background actually interesting to read. When he delved into deeper, more scholarly issues, he gave a number of particularly helpful charts to synthesize his presentation. I give him kudos for all of them.

The commentary was a solid work. There were a few instances where Romans has become controversial that he did not say as much as many other writers. He usually outlined the various viewpoints, but didn’t seem to want to bog down in making that what his work was known for. He never lost his focus on pastors and Bible students. In some ways, the commentary reminded me of one of the better NAC volumes. In any event, this is a commentary worth having.

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.

Joshua, Judges, Ruth (RCS), edited by N. Scott Amos

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This latest volume of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture equals its predecessors in laying bear the contributions of the Reformation Era to the respective area of scripture. Somehow, at least in my opinion, this volume was a little more fun. Perhaps it is because the books of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth are at once unique and even controversial. What you will soon see is that passages that invite all sorts of wrestling among students had the same grappling with a text in the days of the Reformation. Particularly, some of those wild stories in the latter part of the Book of Judges prove for interpreters to run circles in trying to form an interpretation. From what I can see, we have not improved upon their commentating despite our decades of exegetical work.

Mr. Amos did a good job in the Introduction in describing his research. You will likely find answers to questions you will later have, like say, why are there fewer Anabaptist citations in this work compared to other RCS volumes. It’s simple if Mr. Amos is accurate. Very few Anabaptist authors tackled these books of the Bible. He lays out clearly what the Reformation had to offer in these three books from each strand of Reformation thinking.

The layout of this volume is identical to the others and Mr. Amos seems right at home in that setup. There are always many decisions to be made in what to put in and what to leave out, but I found many interesting contributions in what we find here. I enjoyed how he pointed out that whatever comments different Reformation personalities had about who wrote each of these books, that they had an overwhelming sense that the Holy Spirit was the ultimate author. I’m glad he didn’t scold these giants of biblical interpretation with modern gibberish.

This is a fine series that makes a distinct contribution and I find this one of the best books it has given us so far.

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.

Including the Stranger (NSBT) by David Firth

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This book has two things in his favor. It’s another of these unique entries in the New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT) series, edited by D. A. Carson, that are theologically astute and make a distinct contribution to both scholarship and biblical studies.The other plus is that renowned scholar David Firth contributes this volume in his area of expertise, the Former Prophets which include Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. In fact, Firth has already delivered an outstanding commentary on the books of Samuel. His deft hand shows throughout this volume.

His premise is that a unifying theme of these Former Prophets Is the treatment of strangers or foreigners. It is a theory that he very well may convince you on because (It made sense to me). Even if it isn’t the overarching theme of these books, it is at least in play in a key way.

To my mind even if you don’t agree with his premise, you have something of a fine introduction to each of these historical books of the Old Testament. In fact, I could not imagine studying these books without consulting this work going forward. To me, it almost does what Barry Webb’s “Five Festal Garments” does for the Five Scrolls. Count this another winner in an outstanding series.

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 Resources To Study Theology!

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This book that describes Christian theology is a real treat. I say that knowing full well that there are a plethora of such works ranging from overviews of theology all the way to massive, full systematic theologies. To me, it will find an audience among those who need something with real depth yet aren’t quite ready to spend the time that one of those 10-pound systematic theologies requires.

Most everyone has to wrestle with what order to study the great doctrines of theology and the one used here is as good as any. They come in this order: knowing God, God’s Revelation, God the Trinity, God’s attributes and works, humanity and sin, Jesus, Jesus’s saving work, salvation, the Holy Spirit, the Church, the future, and the Christian life.

I felt the beauty of this book is in its understandability. It takes subjects that may be opaque for many and makes them clear. Making the difficult plain is always the factor that ultimately decides the value of a work of this type. It is good theologically, biblically with many scriptures brought to bear, and historically. Knowing what church history says about these subjects is not as important as what is said biblically, but it is important. This work gives these viewpoints in proper proportion. There are also a list of key terms and resources for further study in every chapter. Those key terms will lead you to their other resource released at this time as well called “A Concise Dictionary of Theological Terms.”

There’s probably no work of this type where any reader will agree with every point made, but that is not the issue anyway. What is needed is being introduced to the subject, why it is important, and ultimately what is at stake. This work checks all the appropriate boxes and would be a worthy addition to any student’s library.

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.

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Released as a companion volume to the fine work entitled “Christian Theology: The Biblical Story of Our Faith”, this work puts a lot of important information at one’s fingertips. In a day when most people will merely Google these terms, a book like this is really needed. You are aware, I hope, that Google doesn’t always give you the right answer or even a good answer. That can be most detrimental with theological subjects. Further, this work explains the term in only a paragraph or two. Fortunately, that brevity does not sacrifice clarity and understanding. Google can’t match that! I recommend this book and its companion volume to any Bible student or pastor. It’s a perfect place to begin for a deeper study of important theological concepts of scripture.

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 Book of the Twelve by Michael Shepherd (Kregel Exegetical Commentary)

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This commentary will serve as a handy help to pastors and Bible students. Since there is only a little over 500 pages of actual commentary covering all 12 of the Minor Prophets, it is obvious that Mr. Shepherd has not attempted to produce the typical prolix commentary of our day. What he has provided, however, is direct help on grasping both the meaning and overarching theme of these prophets. His stated niche,that to my mind he has accomplished, is presenting these 12 prophets as a unified composition. In other words, instead of 12 random prophecies that so lacked cohesiveness that they were not even fully integrated within themselves, he paints a portrait of the Lord designing them as so unified that they should never be completely thought of by themselves. You can’t deny that that is a refreshing approach after years of commentators trying to decide if each passage within each of these prophecies is even legitimate!

It will be extra important to read the introduction to this work as he makes his case for the cohesiveness and unity of these prophecies. I personally thought this introduction read well and made a lot of sense.

The commentary proper lacks the thoroughness of some other works, but what he shares is good all around. Perhaps it shows the forest better than the trees, but that is no problem. There are plenty of other commentaries to analyze those trees!

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.

Revelation (ZECNT) by Buist Fanning

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This latest release of the ZECNT Is a fine exegetical commentary on the highly-debatable Book of Revelation. Personally, I always give commentators a little slack because this book manages to trip them coming out of the gate in almost every instance. In other words, the reader is going to approach both the book and the commentary with his or her own theological system. For that reason, no matter what the perspective of the commentator happens to be, he or she is going to start out with a much higher group of detractors than if, say, they had written on the Gospels or one of the Epistles. Fanning has done the best that could be done. He has tried to write a commentary that would be helpful to the widest number of readers without rigidly lobbing off whole swaths of them. He does, however, lean toward positions that would be labeled futurist as opposed to historist. Still, he is fair to all. More importantly, the exegesis and examination of structure are both rock solid. No, I don’t agree with every interpretive point he makes, but what commentator on Revelation could hope for that from any of us? The point that must not be lost is that this commentary can help you as you wrestle with this challenging book of the Bible.

I thought the introduction was exceptional. Throughout, he both lays out varying opinions and respectfully submits his own. He begins by talking about authorship and really does not land on one outlook himself in this case since he doesn’t find it critical to the overall interpretation of the book. He discusses date and setting, genre with an emphasis on prophecy, imagery and symbols, all before he addresses the thorny subject of hermeneutical approaches. He explains both the importance and the specifics of the use of the Old Testament in this book and how to view prophecy and typology. I thought his discussion of topology was particularly apropos. He discusses text, language and style, before he dives into structure and outline which is an emphasis of this series. He gives a lot of outstanding insights before he provides his own outline. There is a select bibliography given as well.

The commentary proper follows the typical style of this series and is quite helpful. There were just a few places I wish he had said a little more. Still, when you talk about what you really need to learn in an exegetical commentary you will find it all here in spades. The end of the book gives a nice summary of the theology of Revelation too.

He probably does for a futurist position what Beale does for the modern fad of an eclectic position. You’ll need both. Therefore, you should probably put this in the must-get 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.

Joel (ZECOT) by Joel Barker

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I have really enjoyed these early volumes in the ZECOT series and this new title is no exception. Joel Barker provides another competent exegetical commentary with an emphasis on discourse analysis this time on the Book of Joel. Unlike other mostly unprofitable types of criticism, discourse analysis renders real insights into the text. If you are looking for a standalone commentary on the Book of Joel, this volume will definitely meet your needs.

After he offers his own translation of Joel he jumps into an effective introduction to the Book of Joel. By the first few paragraphs, you can tell that the author enjoys Joel. To be sure, that always makes a commentary better. He offers six theories for the historical context of Joel. He lays them out clearly and makes it easy for one to evaluate. I might not agree with his final conclusion, but I appreciate his defining the issues. He makes a wonderful case for the literary integrity of Joel. I tend to find that with every book of the Bible, but I appreciate his compelling case that should answer any critic. He looks at Joel’s place among the Minor Prophets as well as describing Joel from the perspective of rhetorical discourse. He proves here that he is up to speed on those issues as you would expect for this series. I really appreciated his thoughts about the structure of Joel as well.

The commentary proper follows the usual ZECOT pattern. He does an outstanding job here. My only caveat to that statement is his discussion of 2:28-32. I know we have to first place these scriptures in the context of the prophet’s time, but I just felt he was a little brief on the importance of this passage in the New Testament. Still, this is first-rate commentary on a book of the Bible where you’re likely to need it. I’d rank this commentary a winner!

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.

Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard (Presidential Bio. Series)

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What a book! Since James Garfield is likely in everyone’s category of lesser known presidents, this book is an unexpected experience. It’s not a typical cradle-to-grave biography, but I felt I knew President Garfield better than some other presidents where I read a full biography. As you may recall, Garfield was shot by an assassin early in his presidency. He really didn’t have any time to take significant action as president, but he was such a fine, genuine man that you will ask the what-if questions. I suspect he would have been one of the better presidents between the legendary Lincoln and the famous Teddy Roosevelt had he had the opportunity to serve out his term.

This book with its subtitle “a tale of madness, medicine, and the murder of a president” focuses on the peculiar aspects of his death. Kudos to Millard for seeing the potential in this fascinating story. Though she has written only a few titles, she is one of the better writers of our day. She can tell a story! She is so good with words and sentences that even the more mundane moments of the story still read easily. To my mind, and why I could easily recommend this as the perfect biography of James A. Garfield, she gives such an exquisite portrait of the man that I could imagine what it would be like if he walked in the room and sat down and started talking. That is the quintessential skill needed to be a biographer.

I don’t know how she did it, but in 300 pages she also brought to life Garfield’s bizarre assassin, Charles Guiteau. The term used for him in his day was “monomaniac”, and yet whatever you might label him today, Millard creates a full-orbed postmortem of his unique pathology. She also exposed Garfield’s failed, egotistical physician, Dr. Bliss. Unfortunately, Dr Bliss denied the scientifically sound teachings of Joseph Lister and denied the idea of germs! And yes, Dr Bliss, ultimately killed President Garfield by incompetence. People of that day could not resist saying, “ignorance is Bliss”. The famous inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, also took a large part in the story. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I assure you there is a captivating story here. The story doesn’t have the raw adventure of Millard’s The River of Doubt about Teddy Roosevelt’s trip in the Amazon, but don’t suppose for a moment this work is any less gripping.

Back to Garfield, I think he had the potential to have been an echo of Lincoln. He was born into incredible hardship and poverty as his dad died when he was a young man. His remarkable mother held the family together, invested in young Garfield’s life, and imbibed her Christianity and its ethics into the fabric of his life. The adult Garfield was a man who loved his wife and children, was one who lived above politics in a way few politicians have ever succeeded in doing, was a man who practiced forgiveness, and was one who possessed a personal faith in God. Along the way, he was a Civil War hero and a well-read, educated man despite his background. The story of him being upset by his nomination at the Republican convention for president is the perfect example of the man he was. He was there to nominate another guy and he was truly upset that he would hurt him to the extent that he took no joy at all in his unexpected, dramatic nomination! How many politicians do you know like that? In character and genuineness, Garfield was one of our best presidents. It is truly sad that our country missed the opportunity that lie in a man of his caliber in the White House. It seemed that Americans of that day realized what they had and what they lost. They knew that later generations would probably forget him as has happened, but they also knew that he was one of the better men to have held the office.