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.

Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out by Alvin Reid

book shar jesus

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

map israel tour

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.

The Lord Is Good by Christopher R. J. Holmes

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This book by Christopher R. J. Holmes challenged me. For sure I enjoyed it, and I learned great things, but this is no lazy summer afternoon reading. You can decide for yourself, but I need books like this. I need to be pushed past the fluff that prevails in Christianity today. I can’t say I agreed with every single word he said or every conclusion he drew, but I felt a connection with Mr. Holmes because I felt on every page that he sincerely believed that the Lord is good!

Don’t let the subtitle “seeking the God of the Psalter” lead you to believe that this is some sort of commentary on the Book of Psalms. Truth be told, had the printer accidentally left off the subtitle, I would probably have only thought that he quoted Psalms more than other books of the Bible. This observation is no criticism, however, because this is a profound theological work. Still, you will likely see a few verses in the Psalms far differently after reading this book.

As I read this book, I thought at times that the author could easily go to the field of philosophy and succeed. Still, his biblical observations were rich. At other times, I thought he had something of a love affair with Thomas Aquinas and was at least a member of the fan club of Augustine and Barth. For me, what he drew from each of them and put together was closer to what I would think than any one of the three individually. Mr. Holmes deserves credit because it would be a gross misrepresentation to say that he merely regurgitated what others had said. These three theologians have put such a strong stamp on what Christianity believes on the subject of the goodness of God that it would be impossible not to greatly interact with them in a book like this one.

There are nine chapters in this book that cover the subjects of simplicity, you are good (that doesn’t mean what you first think), goodness and the Trinity, you do good, the good Creator, goodness and evil, teach me your statutes, goodness and Jesus Christ, and perfection. I could only read one chapter, or sometimes only half a chapter, at a time. There was too much to take in! Every chapter was great, but my personal favorite was the one on goodness and evil. That one really helped some light bulbs come on for me.

I’ve learned that this book is part of IVP’s series entitled Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture. Though this is by far the most interesting subject to me of those released, if this series can turn out more works like this one it will be a dandy.

We all have our systematic theologies on our shelves, but this is the type of theological work that needs to find its place beside them. The Lord’s attribute of being good is brought alive here and I’m a richer person for 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.

Leviticus (OTL) by Gerstenberger

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Erhard Gerstenberger replaces Noth in the Old Testament Library (OTL) series with this volume. It strikes me differently than many other volumes in this series. Whereas many volumes in the series make a greater theological contribution than an exegetical one, this one gives us little theology around its exegesis. The whole series is known as a critical one yet in this volume it seems more pronounced to me. Known as a form critic, the author talks much about sources. Those discussions seem nebulous and unprovable to my mind and give the text a devastating uncertainty. How deeply you fall into the critical viewpoint will determine how high you rate this volume. If you’re more conservative like me, you may not find the theological compensations that some others in the series provide.

The Introduction begins by describing difficulties in reading the Bible. The aforementioned subject of sources arises immediately. He describes the audience as “a colorless someone” and does not demonstrate a passion for the book of the Bible that he commentates on that is found in the best commentaries. He discusses authorship, subsequent influence of cultic law, and structure. He takes the critical line across the board.

In the commentary proper, he does provide a lot of exegesis (the best trait of the book) and a lot of detail about the ceremonial things that are foreign to our thinking. He would bring up things like feminist concerns that put him at odds with the text.

In a nutshell, critical scholars will likely rate this book highly, those doing exegesis will appreciate some details, and more conservative readers will likely not enjoy this book as much as several others in the series. In fairness, it could be that the Book of Leviticus doesn’t lend itself to the same kind of theological treatment several others in this series provide.

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.

Becoming a Welcoming Church by Thom Rainer

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Thom Rainer has become the guru of all things local church. This book, another of the small, attractive, hardback volumes published by B&H Publishing that he has turned out over the last few years, teaches us how to become a welcoming church. It’s not so much a book of suggestions as one of necessity because all of its recommendations are drawn from real data from church visitors.

Rainer explains that visitors often don’t rate our friendliness, facilities, or services in the way we do. Our friendliness is often in “holy huddles” that excludes visitors, our facilities are laid out nicely only because we’ve had years to get used to it, and our services are not as geared to visitors as we have allowed ourselves to believe.

Chapter 1 chips away our determined belief that we are welcoming and asks us to be willing to do a true evaluation. He warns us that we may be in for quite a shock. In this chapter, he explains what consistently bothers visitors (hint: it has nothing to do with doctrine or gospel faithfulness) and what makes for happy visitors. As I read over these lists, I marveled that there was no spiritual element, just practical things that we could work on. Chapter 2 goes on and give us what he calls a confidential report where he digs deeper into how our churches are viewed by visitors. Chapter 3 looks at the practical items of signage, parking, and websites. Chapter 4 describes how visitors expect a safe and clean church and what is most important on that list. Chapter 5 explains greeters and welcome centers while Chapter 6 is a concluding chapter. There is an appendix with a church facility audit and secret guest survey.

If you are familiar with Rainer’s work, this book is classic Rainer. I happen to be blessed to be a pastor of a friendly church yet see several things on these pages that we need to shore up. This book is a practical, top-notch work 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.