Spiritual Warfare in the Storyline of Scripture by Cook & Lawless

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I’ve never seen a book that approaches spiritual warfare in a better, more grounded way. William Cook and Chuck Lawless team to provide a work that avoids the excesses of most volumes on the subject of spiritual warfare.

It’s almost like they provide us two books in one. The first half of the book approaches the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and traces spiritual warfare as the subject is biblically developed. Really, what could be a better approach to grasping a biblical subject? Further, this half of the book could almost be used as a reference book as well as reading it straight through to develop the concept of spiritual warfare.

The second half of the book approaches the subject from a practical standpoint. Here its balance was even more dramatic. They followed the good advice they gave in telling us to study God rather than studying Satan to understand spiritual warfare. In fact, the usual suspects of such a book are refreshingly absent. No spooky stuff about demons, but rather practical discussion of how Satan works in our lives. What this volume lacks in shock it more than makes up in spiritual value. Five chapters are included in this second section of practical application and covers spiritual warfare in the local church, evangelism, missions, the family, and in leaders. It was so at once convicting and helpful. I’m convinced that this is exactly the sort of thing the Lord intended we dwell on as we process the concept of spiritual warfare.

The authors highlight so effectively the danger of looking into ourselves or our own strength as the open door to Satan entering and establishing a foothold. I needed what I read 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.

A Challenging Book for Aggrevating Times!

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We live in a time of aggravation. No matter what you think of the current Corona Virus pandemic and the approach our government has chosen to deal with it, you likely are not exactly enjoying sheltering in place. Many things that most people enjoy doing are not available at this point in time. I’ve had the privilege of reading a book during these peculiar times entitled “Endurance” by Alfred Lansing that describes polar explorer Ernest Shackleton attempted exploration of Antarctica. “Adversity” is far too weak a word to describe the astonishing hardships for Shackleton and his group of men. Their story is one of bearing up under the load and plunging forward no matter the insurmountable odds. Some individual days of their odyssey contained more aggravation and disappointment than we will likely face over the whole course of our quarantine over Covid 19.

In addition to the challenge to face hardship and persevere, this book also contains one of the best adventure stories I’ve ever known. High sounding adjectives are always attached to adventure stories, but I’d submit that this one will earn them all. It strikes me as gripping as, say, “The Johnstown Flood” by David McCullough or some of the better missionary adventure stories.

I would do you a terrible disservice to even hint at any spoilers. You need to take this book as it comes. But the several episodes that are covered in this story could each make its own incredible story. There’s the part about the ship, there’s the part about being on the iceberg, there’s the part about getting from the iceberg to the small boats, there’s the journey and landing of the small boats, there’s the group of men who stayed on the first island while Shackleton and a few others went on for help, there’s the journey by boat to the final island, and then there’s the thrilling across land journey before help could finally be reached. I’m not going to fill in any more blanks. Read this book for one of the greatest stories of adventure and perseverance that has ever been written.

Rutherford B. Hayes by Trefousse (Presidential Bio. Series)

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Rutherford B. Hayes is not a widely remembered president. Perhaps he is too soon after Lincoln and Grant. In my quest to read at least one biography on each president, this short volume by Hans Trefousse proved to be the ideal biography for me to read on Hayes. Trefousse seemed to have at least a genuine respect for Hayes even if he wasn’t exactly overly impressed with him. In that sense, it is superior to several volumes I’ve seen in the American Presidents series because some of the authors appear almost hostile to their subjects. In fact, the only oddity of this volume is that it was written shortly after George W. Bush defeated Al Gore in 2000 and all the drama that surrounded that election, particularly in Florida. The author seemed obsessed with the fact that Hayes had also lost the popular vote yet still won the electoral college vote and it happened with some degree of disputed results. Still, the book reads really well and is truly interesting. I’d label it the perfect length for the subject.

Hayes had an interesting background including serving successfully in the Civil War. He seemed to be a man of genuine character. Though many of us highly respect President Ulysses S. Grant, it’s true that there were scandals that happened on his watch even if he were not implicated in any of them. Hayes made a point of cleaning up a lot of that corruption. He also took on the Senate and their patronage system. It was a gallant going against the grain for sure. Though there were not any major crises during his term, Hayes did seem to have a successful presidency.

A few things about his character jump out. He seemed to fight corruption because he genuinely hated it. He adored his wife and family. Unlike several other volumes in this series, this book doesn’t dodge religious background either. Hayes clearly professed to be a Christian and showed good Christian values on several occasions. Though he wasn’t a member of a church, he was highly involved with a Methodist Church that his wife was a part of. He was vice president of a Bible Society and he was even a teetotaler!

I’ve read that there are some other longer biographies out there that are more complete on his life, but if you are satisfied with an overview of the lesser-known presidents, this volume will be perfect for you.

Other Presidential biographies here.

Why Church? by Scott Sunquist

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It’s good to see a book championing the church. There has been a radical shift in how the world views local churches both culturally and in terms of impact. Scott Sunquist tackles this important subject both historically and biblically and with an eye to the future. He has written it in such a way that it’s not specific to a certain denomination, but looks rather at the core function of the local church.

He comes back to basics in chapter 1 and explains that the two purposes of the church are worship and mission. Chapter 2 is a fine survey of church history from the time of Jesus to the current environment of Post-Chrisendom. We may not be happy about the trends, but he lays them out for us to ponder.

The next five chapters make up his main premise by using five words to describe what a church is supposed to be doing. These words are come, stand, kneel, sit, and go. When he speaks of coming to the church, he is speaking of coming to Jesus in conversion, coming to the body of Christ for community, and finding our identity in the worship of Jesus Christ. His discussion of standing is a call to praise God. He may be less concerned about worship styles than you are, but I do think you will likely agree with his emphasis on the necessity of praise. As you probably guessed, the chapter on kneeling is about worship. He doesn’t approach worship as some touchy-feely, nebulous experience, but rather coming before God in confession and repentance. It’s a good approach I think. The chapter on sitting describes the great importance of sitting still to receive the Word of God. I found it to be quite helpful despite a few possible rabbit trails. The final chapter on going is about taking the church outside of its building and carrying out the mission of Jesus Christ.

There is a later chapter that he calls “healthy body movement”. Here he wrestles with the implementation of all he has discussed with a balancing of his five key elements. Don’t read that as if he has all the answers, but read it as taking suggestion on what you ought to consider as you work through that same dilemma. The epilogue mentions a few things that he did not write about in the book, but should be considered.

I just happened to be doing this review while churches around the world are quiet in the buildings with most services held online during the Covid-19 crisis. It strikes me that perhaps we haven’t given thought to how incredibly powerful and wonderful the local church is in our lives. Maybe this book can help us reflect and plunge forward.

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 Gospel of the Son of God by David Bauer

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David Bauer is the right person to write this academic introduction to the Gospel of Matthew. I’ve known for years that Mr. Bauer has followed in the footsteps of Jack Dean Kingsbury. Kingsbury’s writings on Matthew first fascinated me well over a decade ago. In fact, this volume divides the book of Matthew in the same three places that Kingsbury first did. I find that division to be quite helpful and accurate. Bauer takes the best of Kingsbury and expands it to all that we have learned since and offering his own additional conclusions.

Part one called an orientation covers form and genre, approach and method, circumstances of composition, and shape of composition in four chapters. I got the least out of this section especially as the theories of composition don’t do much for me. Academic tops will still likely work through it.

Part two is where the book starts to shine offering an interpretation in three chapters along the lines of the aforementioned division of Matthew’s gospel. There is brilliant insight to be found here.

Part three entitled reflection gives us 5 chapters looking at the Christological titles of Jesus, additional aspects of christology, God, salvation history and eschatology, and discipleship. You will find outstanding nuggets along the way even if there are occasional statements that you find totally subversive to your thinking. Take the book as one requiring a little digging to remove its treasure with a little junk to move out of the way and the gospel of Matthew will come alive to you in a whole new way.

I see this book as the pinnacle of a key interpretive arc of Matthew’s gospel. In that sense, it will be an indispensable volume.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation

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If you happened to have the Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels, You will be glad to see this wonderful volume that finishes the New Testament from Acts through Revelation. The quality and depth of geographic information and how it plays into the story on the page remains just as high. Maybe you are like me and you are not as up to speed on the geography outside of Israel as you are that of Israel itself. If that be true for you as it is for me, then perhaps this volume will be even more important than the first one.

The quality of writing by a group of top-notch scholars, the appropriateness of pictures and illustrations, and the usefulness of maps make this an incredible resource. Mark this down as one of the greatest Bible study needs you have that you weren’t even aware of. My only small complaint is that the size of the font and particularly of maps is smaller than ideal. My guess is that the smaller font became necessary because of the incredible amount of information they are giving us. It would have been much more expensive but I wonder if this might have been better as two volumes than one. In any event, it is an extraordinary resource that could be a blessing to anyone at any level from Bible student to scholar. I give this attractive hardback volume the highest possible recommendation.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Impeached by David Stewart (Presidential Bio. Series)

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Though this is not a cradle to grave biography of President Andrew Johnson, I’m glad that I chose this volume as my biography of Johnson. Though President Johnson’s home is the closest to where I grew up of any president, he is really not a likable person from what I have read. He consistently came down on the wrong side of history in my opinion, and even if he happened to be on your side, he seemed to be a man so full of pride that it colored everything that he did.

Still, this book by David O. Stewart is outstanding. It is incredibly well written and even riveting at points. As a matter of pure coincidence, I finished reading this book the same day that the Senate failed to convict President Trump after his impeachment. There were some similarities between the two situations. To be transparent, I believe that President Trump was a victim in his impeachment and has generally been on the right side of what I feel would be best for the country. On the other hand, President Trump says many things that rub some people the wrong way. How offended you are by such statements often directly correlates to how much you agree with him. President Johnson, in my opinion, did not really commit any high crimes or misdemeanors either. He was, however, dismantling Lincoln’s accomplishments as much as he could just as Trump has been successfully dismantling many of Obama’s objectives. I’m glad that both impeachments failed to remove a president. The biggest difference, however, is that President Johnson was politically neutered after his trial while it appears that President Trump still has his same standing with both strong supporters and dedicated enemies. The irony of happening to be reading about Johnson’s impeachment while Trump’s impeachment was in process is quite strong as well as enlightening.

Back to President Johnson. It’s hard to believe that Lincoln could have had a worse vice president to take his place than Andrew Johnson. Had Lincoln finished his term, I don’t think there’s any chance that Johnson could have been elected outright. Johnson is from East Tennessee which stayed true to the Union even though the other two-thirds of the state were a majority that led to Tennessee’s secession from the Union. It is, then, bizarre to me that Johnson was so aligned with the South in many ways during his term. As it turns out, in my opinion, he did the South no favors. He contributed to the ugly history of Reconstruction. Had Lincoln lived with his big heart the South would have had a profoundly better Reconstruction than she ended up having with Johnson.

Another thing that Stewart’s book brings out is the never-changing bickering that is American politics. Politics has always been cutthroat in our country. Maybe that is because we have so much going for ourselves that it is well worth fighting for.

I always try to notice where each president falls religiously as I read through these biographies. Johnson seemed to quote the Bible when it was convenient but he did not strike me from what I read here as a man of faith. There’s always a chance that authors dodge this subject, but there were several irreligious comments recorded by him. I’ve never come across information from other sources that make him stand out as one with strong Christian beliefs.

It turns out that this book is not as well known as it deserves to be. It reads like the better presidential biographies for sure.

To read about other presidential biographies, click here.

Team of Rivals by Kearns (Presidential Bio. Series)

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

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

For more presidential biographies, click here.

Doing Theology with the Reformers by Gerald Bray

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

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

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

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

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The Covenanters–A Beautiful New 2-Volume Release!

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

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

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

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

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

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.