First and Second Samuel: Interpretation Bible Commentary

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I’ve thought for some time that the value of the Interpretation Bible Commentary series is in its theological reflection. It’s a critical series, but I often find the theology valuable enough to check out even though I don’t agree with the criticism nor the methodology that’s used. Walter Brueggemann is perhaps the best writer in the series for pulling out these theological gems that no one else thinks of. People all across the theological spectrum are impressed by his creative writing.

The introduction given is hardly an introduction for the books of Samuel at all. In only a few words, he describes the period of the books of Samuel as one of major social change. Going from a tribal system to a monarchy would indeed be quite a transition. He sees three factors in that social change that we can easily agree with. From there, in a few more pages, he provides more introduction to his approach than to the overall books of Samuel themselves. This is not a standard academic introduction.

While he may have had little interest in the introduction, he poured all his efforts into the commentary itself. Again, there are critical perspectives you may not agree with, but there are nuggets all around for those who are looking. Every passage will likely have them. These nuggets will be both theologically profound and exquisitely stated. This commentary is worth looking up.

I received this map 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 Bible Unfiltered by Michael Heiser

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This book is unique. There are 60 short chapters that cover many topics. What makes the book stand out on the shelves is that the topics it covers are often those you won’t find many other places. His title suggests his point – we place too many filters on our Bible before we even open it to study. The subtitle “approaching Scripture on its own terms” is a call to fresh study with real attempts to remove those filters.

The 60 chapters are divided into three parts. Part one addresses the broad issues involved in interpreting the Bible responsibly. It’s in this section that he attempts to prove to you that you do, in fact, have unhelpful filters on your Bible. Parts two and three cover the Old and New Testaments respectively. These two sections are different than the first one in that they are not really looking at broad hermeneutical mistakes made in either Testament, but rather specific points where we drop the ball.

If I had a criticism of this book, it would spring from the same place where its celebrated uniqueness comes from. At times, it seems Mr. Heiser interprets on the edges. Too much time on the edges is dangerous for some Bible students because they lose the big picture. To get around this criticism, you must accept this book for what it is: a provocative attempt to force you to see if you are reading from the Scriptures rather than into them.

Several of the topics covered were fascinating. A few I simply could not agree with based on the scriptural evidence. A case in point would be chapter 12 where he claims that all our Genesis commentaries are eight-track tapes. I’m sorry, but what one scholar wrote about in 2010 does not instantly become the gold standard for all Christians, even on an obscure topic like the one in that chapter.

You have got to appreciate what this book is trying to do. We often neither search the Scriptures diligently enough nor think deeply enough. This book will push us to do better and that’s its value. Along the way, you will likely gain some new insights on scriptural subjects you have thought about in some time.

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.

Introducing the Old Testament by Hubbard and Dearman

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This new release by respected scholars Robert L. Hubbard Jr. and J. Andrew Dearman will likely become one of the most used Old Testament introductions for seminary students. In fact, before I opened the book I saw it called “student-friendly”. I’ve seen many cases over the years where such book’s contents couldn’t match that hype. After reviewing this title, I would say that “student-friendly” is the proper designation. For that matter, its design could almost be a prototype for such works.

While this book would not be the most conservative available, it is far more conservative than many out there. If you’re as conservative as I am, you might frown in a few places over something mentioned about authorship or sources, but overall you will be pleased by many of the conclusions.

It’s the effective presentation of these introductory matters that make this book so valuable. Many of the charts are exquisite and display a great deal of needed information. For the record, I thought the balance struck between visuals and text was the best I had seen in a long time. So many current books go all out for one at the expense of the other. Either the visuals seem random or the text seems throwaway, but this book managed to pull off providing well-chosen graphics for visual learners and quality, accessible scholarly writing for readers.

The book is divided into six parts: part one gives an overall introduction and puts Old Testament history in context, part two covers the Torah, part three looks at the historical books, part four reviews the prophets, part five explains the books of poetry, and part six gives a one-chapter conclusion that ties in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament regarding issues of canon and text.

Coming in at a little over 500 pages, this book is the perfect length for what it sets out to do. While there’s no doubt that this book will find wide usage as a textbook, I recommended that it find its way to the shelves of pastors and Bible students as well.

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 Pastoral Handbook of Mental Illness by Bloem

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Now this is one amazing, handy resource! Perhaps it had something to do with this being one of my weakest areas as a pastor, but this book is an outstanding overview and a tool that enables us to shepherd more effectively. Steve Bloem, who is a certified counselor who has also personally battled depression in his life, is a former pastor who can well balance the Bible and current medical understanding. While this book doesn’t completely take away the mystery of where sin ends and illness begins, it certainly guides us away from glib answers and hollow advice.

The book begins with a section explaining why a book of this type needed to be written. He describes mental illness as “a full-body disease” and introduces us to the medical aspect while also reminding us of the need for an effective pastoral theology. He often hammers against “one-size-fits-all” in ministering to people. He further reminds us of the essential shepherding nature of pastoring. Later in the section, he comforts by explaining that God is not mad at us. The point being, of course, that we should not be ashamed to admit or seek help for these type issues.

There’s a short list of characters in a mental health crisis, a listing of psychiatric terms, another of spiritual terms, and a short section on research and treatment. The balance of the book describes the major mental illnesses. The information is well presented and might even suggest the possibilities for determining someone’s problem sitting before you. Without a doubt, this book will not enable you to make a perfect diagnosis, but help you steer someone to the right help. Clearly, that’s what a pastor should do. Further, a pastor must remember that he will need the help of professional counselors in helping many people. Each listing gives a thorough definition of the illness, tells you the median age of onset, lists the risk factors, mentions general considerations, gives some extremely helpful tips for the pastor, and concludes with referral protocol.

The book ends with some common questions about mental illness, and several helpful appendices including diagnostic differentials, overview of medications (highly enlightening) and the Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale. That last appendix provides a scale that assigns a numeric value to life events and gives the scale at which the score makes you a high risk for illness. Again, it is amazing information.

I’ve always needed a book just like this, and I’m glad to have this successful volume to fill the void I had. It is 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.

Best Bible Books by Glynn & Burer

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As someone who has used John Glynn’s earlier work that this book replaces, I was really curious to see how the late author’s work would be updated. His work is one of those available for commentary and other resource recommendations that had real value, but his design was unique. He listed what he thought were the major works in each category, but rather than giving analysis on each work he usually gave a corresponding footnote that mentioned his overall recommendation. Amazingly, he would even factor and forthcoming volumes and grade them based on the author’s other works. When I first picked up this new volume that has been edited by Michael Burer with contributions by Darrell Bock, Joseph Fantin and J. William Johnston, I first thought that it was quite different than the earlier work that I enjoyed. As I continued going through it, however, I came to see that the new design kept a flavor of Glynn’s style with the improvement of more comment on each commentary and more rating for each book. It took a lot to win me over, but I can say that it was accomplished in this new book that covers New Testament resources.

As with any book that gives ratings of commentaries, you will sometimes totally disagree with what falls in their best, better, and good categories. Only in a few cases would the word “unbelievable” come to mind. On the other hand, there’s no way you couldn’t disagree in places with a work like this, and perhaps that’s part of its charm.

In the commentary section, you have explained the approach, format, and usability of each commentary. The special studies for each New Testament book are not annotated and are not majorly changed from the earlier edition. No favoritism is shown to any particular commentary series. In other words, just because a commentary from a series ranks highly for one New Testament book is no sign it will be rated that way in another here. That shows that works were thoroughly reviewed.

As with the earlier edition, there is also a listing on New Testament introduction, Jesus and the Gospels, New Testament background, Jewish background, popular references, general references, Greek resources, and exegesis works.

This is the type of book that you will likely wear out in the years ahead as you return to it again and again to make wise book purchases. I look forward to future volumes that will cover Old Testament and theological resources. While, again, I would agree with ever rating given, there’s no doubt that you would build an outstanding library if you followed this book’s recommendations. Count this book as one of the best of its type.

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.

Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out by Alvin Reid

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Alvin Reed writes to any who freak out about witnessing no matter where you are in your Christian journey. The book is accessible enough that either the new Christian or the Christian who has served the Lord for a long time can find help with witnessing. Mr. Reed has already written the more formal and comprehensive Evangelism Handbook, available from the same publisher, but the two books make separate, distinct contributions. There’s no salesmanship, nor prepackaged presentation here. Ultimately, this book wants to make us more thoughtful conversationalists. We just need Jesus to be part of all of our conversations.

There’s a brief introduction that even talks about how to read this book. Chapter 1 makes the initial case that we are to spread the Word but we need not overcomplicate it as so much of our training has led to. He disdains the idea of “Marvel superhero version of soul winning” and confesses that many of us feel awkward in approaching people and talking. His goal is to make witnessing easier and more natural. In the next chapter, he chips away at the idea that God is mad at all of us for our witnessing efforts. No doubt, we are to witness, but He is not holding us responsible for results as we have been told, nor does He miss the fact that He made us with different talents and abilities.

Chapter 3 advances the idea that we think in terms of conversations and not presentations. Chapter 4 reminds us that we have an important part, but that the power is the Lord’s. Chapter 5 is a practical look at conversation starters and signposts in conversations. Chapter 6 reminds us to care, listen, and even expect people to be open to the gospel. Chapter 7 explains that we are to talk but we are to remember the level of acquaintance dictates the level of concern that must be evident. Chapter 8 reminds us that it’s more important to make friends that we can talk to than scheduling official visits. You will notice as you go through all of these chapters that the author has made eight simple principles to help us with witnessing. They are stated throughout the chapters and then they are listed together at the end of the book.

There’s an added eight-week challenge at the end of the book that makes it possible for groups to work through this material.

This book isn’t earth-shattering but could be quite helpful to us in our witnessing if we would just calm down and think about what this author is telling us about a caring, conversational manner of witnessing. This book is worth checking out!

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 Holy Temple of the Old Testament

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Leen Ritmeyer is my favorite modern writer on the Tabernacle in Israel’s earlier history and the Temple from Solomon’s Temple all the way to Herod’s Temple. His earlier major work, The Quest, is the gold standard on the Temple from either a historical or an archaeological perspective. Now Carta gives us one of their fine introductory atlases (They have a whole series of these helpful books) on the Holy Temple of the Old Testament. For this colorful, attractive work Mr. Ritmeyer is joined by his capable wife, Kathleen, to produce this helpful book that you will find incredibly enlightening.

The book begins with an introduction that reminds us that holiness is a key element in thinking about the Tabernacle. That’s followed by a section called the Genesis Sanctuary as the authors describe what they call the Proto-Tabernacle. That’s an interesting perspective that I hadn’t thought of. Next, we have some information on Melchizedek and Abraham, followed by great information on the Tabernacle. Every major component is explained and profusely illustrated. There’s even a section on the journeys of the Tabernacle and how that was done.

Solomon’s Temple is carefully explained, as well as the differences we find in its description between Kings and Chronicles. There are some great explanations of the rock at the top of Mount Moriah and its relation to the current Dome of the Rock. They will explain Hezekiah’s Temple as well as Ezekiel’s Temple and the Temple Scroll. Next, we will learn about the Post-exilic Temple, the Hellenistic Temple Mount, and the Hasmonean Temple Mount.

This book is the perfect way to learn a clear overview of the Tabernacle and Temple in 48 large pages. The word that comes to my mind for this book is “ideal”. You will want to look up its companion volume, Understanding the Holy Temple Jesus Knew, which is also an outstanding asset.

As with any Carta resource, there are outstanding pictures and maps. What stands out especially in this book is the diagrams of the Temple as well as pictures of reconstructed models. This book is well done!

I received this map 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.

Israel Super Touring: A Carta Map

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It’s a no-brainer that Carta, the preeminent maker of Bible atlases, would bring its considerable mapmaking skills to roadmaps for Israel. This map is called it’s super touring map (Scale 1:265,000). I wish I would’ve had this map during my solo tour of Israel a few years ago. It has the perfect amount of necessary information. Roads, cities and communities, some archaeological and historical sites, beaches, airports, rivers, and border crossings. Even if you use GPS, this map will provide a perfect overview, a helpful orientation, and a guide to planning each day’s touring. Area A and B of Palestinian autonomous areas are also helpfully shaded so care can be used in your traveling.

The reverse side of the map gives a helpful map of the center of both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In addition, there is a detailed index provided. There’s even a listing of diplomatic missions and embassies.

If I might make a suggestion, you should secure Carta’s similarly designed Israel Biblical Archaeology: a Carta Map. (They have one on Jerusalem’s archaeology as well). Putting these two maps side by side could provide powerful planning opportunities.

This map is well constructed and durable and should easily hold up on any trip. It can also be easily bought in the United States and other countries so some of your preparation can be done before you even hit the ground in Israel. This is a top-notch map!

I received this map 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 Lost Sermons of Spurgeon: Volume 3

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I love these lost sermons of Spurgeon more as every new volume is released. Here we are blessed to receive volume 3 of what will be an incredible 10-volume set for both Spurgeon fans and any who love gospel preaching. The design and setup match the previous two volumes, but I notice the sermon notes are becoming fuller as Spurgeon must’ve started keeping more careful notes.

With this volume, I became even more impressed with the editor, Christian T. George. It’s almost as if he went through these notebooks with a magnifying glass and nothing escaped his eye. He made sure we had everything he observed. Be sure to glance through the notes that follow each sermon. I even noticed that he traced down some of the sermon illustrations to volumes in Spurgeon’s library! I guess our beloved Metropolitan Tabernacle sermons will seem somewhat inferior after this set is finished. I, for one, appreciate the attention to detail that Mr. George brings to this project. B & H gave this production worthy packaging to make something truly beautiful.

Another observation: Spurgeon started hitting his stride in producing sermons that we would expect from him in this volume. As was his custom throughout his ministry, he is all over the Bible. It would be hard to argue that anyone was Spurgeon’s equal when it comes to textual preaching. The man could wring the Gospel out of almost any text! This book needs no recommendation from me – obviously its pure gold!

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 Maccabean Revolt: An Introductory Atlas

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If you are like me, the silent years between the Old and New Testaments is a place of weakness as a Bible student. There were turbulent events that changed many things about the political world situation that ended the Old Testament to the Roman control firmly in place when the New Testament began. Part of that important transition had to do with the Maccabean revolt. This beautiful introductory atlas by Carta that matches the style of several attractive introductory atlases now in print by them is the perfect place to correct the deficiency of your biblical knowledge.

The work of three highly-respected scholars was effectively molded together to give us a vivid overview. Michael Avi-Yonah who has prolifically written on Bible history and archaeology is the original contributor. Two other scholars from Israel, Shmuel Safrai and Ze’ev Safrai, combined to finish and update this useful work.

In this book, you will learn about the Seleucid Empire, the factors that led to the Maccabean revolt, key battles over the century of the Maccabean revolt, key players, and the effects on Jerusalem. The text reads well. The pictures are beautiful and effectively illustrate the material. In fact, you will find yourself staring at them and feeling you are there.

And as always with these Carta titles, there are the wonderful maps. The preeminent mapmaker of our day really outdid themselves in this work. The number of maps in a work of 40 oversized pages is incredible. It’s as if there’s a map to introduce every movement the text tells you about. The scale and amount of information on every map are perfect. The visual representation of battles was especially effective. I’ve seen whole Bible atlases that had less quality maps to cover all biblical history than this one has for only one century of Israel’s history. I’ve reviewed almost every Bible Atlas on the market today, and nobody comes close to touching what Carta provides on the Maccabean revolt. I’ve loved all the introductory atlases by Carta but be sure not to think that this is the one you can pass by because it’s too obscure. No, you will never regret having this introductory Atlas at your disposal to explain a vital component of Israel’s 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.