Micah (OTL) by Smith-Christopher

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This commentary on the Book of Micah is one of the latest entries in the Old Testament Library (OTL) series. A reviewer that I respect said he found this book to be “rich”, so I was anxious to dig into it. Daniel L. Smith-Christopher has produced this provocative commentary from the critical side of scholarship and “rich” is a fair assessment. Though I found many points at which I would disagree with the author, it’s the quality of writing that makes me rank this volume highly.

Mr. Smith-Christopher provides an introduction that is longer than some of those I have found this series. After a substantial bibliography, he dives into the introduction saying that he proposes “reading the book of Micah as an ancient Israelite ‘critical populist’, whose attitudes were fueled partially by his location as a ‘lowlander’”. Though at times he stretches the politics too far and reads too much of a modern take on Micah’s day, he does discuss issues that could have been in play in Micah’s day that other scholars overlook. His own background with Quakers and Mennonites, and their corresponding hatred of war, contribute to his outlook. Still, he pulls out insights that we can use in developing our own thoughts.

A strength of this commentary is how well he paints the picture of the historical context of Micah’s day. Those were turbulent times, and he captures how events help guide the struggle. He does well in viewing history internationally, regionally, and locally. His political take is best described as populism. Again, though that is overdone, some elements of what we call populism may have been in play then. These discussions take up the majority of the introduction. He does end with a discussion of the literary observations of the book of Micah including versions of the text, organization of the book including Micah’s coherence, and guiding principles in reading Micah. He summarizes what several other scholars say on those subjects. The last page of the introduction is his warning to remember how trauma affected the people of Micah’s day.

The commentary proper is in the OTL style. That includes a translation with plenty of technical discussion and commentary verse by verse. The textual help is first rate. The commentary soars and lags depending on where you are. In Micah 5:2 he never even mentions the possibility of it being a prophecy of Jesus Christ! In other places like the famous Micah 6:8 he was much more helpful. There are also eight excursuses of unexpected subjects along the way.

I consider this one of the best commentaries to own from the critical camp on the book of Micah. Even where you don’t agree, you will be challenged. I recommend this 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.

Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough (Presidential Bio. Series)

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Though this book could not be classified as a regular biography, as the story of Teddy Roosevelt ended in this volume before the famous parts even began, it was still a joy to read. David McCullough is easily one of my favorite authors. I’ve read over half of the books he’s written, and he always writes in a style that appeals to me. He often makes his nonfiction works read with the energy of great fiction. Though I would not label this volume my favorite of his books that I’ve read, I still enjoyed it. He painted a vivid portrait of all the foundational elements of Teddy Roosevelt’s life.

Teddy Roosevelt was not really cut from the same cloth as other men who held the office before him. His family was filthy rich. The hardships of the average citizen he could only see vaguely from a distance. I almost find it surprising that he became the rugged man he was with a high society background in New York City as he had.

A few things stand out from this early period of his life. His family adored him. For some reason, everyone in the family decided he was the most important person in their family from a young age. He faced horrific asthmatic attacks, and there was doubt on many occasions that he would even live to adulthood. That desire to live “the strenuous life” flamed up early, even before he had the health to really carry it out. He was able to see much of the world including Europe and the holy land, which was unknown to most Americans in those days.

He revered his father, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. His father was a kind family man. He really didn’t have to work in the family business as he inherited his fortune, but he was often involved in major philanthropic efforts. He invested time in his family. Teddy Roosevelt’s deep respect of his father at times stressed him as he sought to live out the highest expectations that would please his father. While Teddy was at Harvard, his father died. He suffered greatly with stomach cancer and Teddy was grief stricken that he could not do more to help his father. Still, his father was a moral man and stressed morals to Teddy. To a great degree, Teddy held to those morals. His father also exposed him to Christianity, took him to church, and taught him the Bible. I could not tell from reading this book if Teddy had a personal faith in Jesus Christ, but it certainly impacted the man that he was.

Teddy met and married a beautiful young lady. While he served in the New York State house, his wife became sick in what was expected to be a routine delivery of their first baby. At the same time, his mother became sick. They were all in the same house while Teddy was away. Teddy rushed back, but both died just a couple days apart. As is often the case, tragedy molds a person and makes them more fit for greatness.

I look forward to reading a full biography of Teddy Roosevelt somewhere down the line, but this book is still a worthy read for either presidential biography lovers or McCullough fans. The book ended after Teddy put his life back together after some ranching in North Dakota and married his second wife. I finished the book thinking why didn’t McCullough just finish it. Had he done so, the book would’ve likely have been as great as “John Adams” or “Truman”. All in all, it is still an outstanding volume.

To read other articles in this series, click here.

A Minister’s Obstacles–An Awesome Reprint

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I’m excited to see this superb book reprinted. I found an old copy of this book early in my ministry and it made quite an impact on me. It’s crazy that it went out of print. It’s truly one of the great titles on the ministry that has been written. In fact, when I started a series a few years ago on the best books for ministry, I recommended this book. (Read me earlier review here).

The story behind this reprint is touching. Marty Moon fell in love with this book and was saddened to realize that preachers today did not have it available to glean from. He also wanted to give a gift to his pastor, Bill Lytell of Gospel Baptist Church, on the occasion of his 25th anniversary as pastor. On March 5, 2017 Pastor Lytell was presented with a copy of this book reprinted in his honor. Clearly, Mr. Moon saw in Pastor Lytell the great traits exemplified in this book.

Your pastor would likely be blessed by a copy too.

Click here to find on Amazon.

The Acts of The Apostles by Osvaldo Padilla

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Mr. Padilla provides an extensive introduction to the Book of Acts. It doesn’t cover all issues traditional to an introduction, such as structure or canonicity, but focuses specifically on interpretation, history, and theology. The book is geared toward a more advanced audience that is deeply concerned about scholarly issues. The author explains that he is attempting to update Howard Marshall’s Luke: Historian and Theologian for our generation.  I would not be surprised if this book is as widely quoted in the future as Marshall’s title has been in the past.

The first chapter is about who wrote the book of Acts. He arrives at the traditional conclusion of Luke after he deals with all the other views and criticisms of the traditional view. When he writes on the genre of acts, he concludes that it is a Hellenistic historical monograph the Jewish tradition. Along the way, he surveys a lot of scholarly nonsense that has been believed. On the subject of how Luke writes history, he deals with a lot of negative scholarship that has concluded bizarre things. Still, he concludes that Luke is a trustworthy historian.

The next two chapters on the speeches in Acts were the best in the entire book. He is known as a specialist in the speeches and it shows. His working through each of the speeches provided many amazing insights. A great deal of theology is also revealed. The final chapter on the justification of truth-claims in Acts is merely answering postliberalism’s attack on Acts that has been relentless.

This book will delight scholars. Some parts of it will be less interesting to pastors, but it is clear in what it discusses and will be considered a very important contribution in the study of the book of Acts.

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.

Hearing the Message of Daniel by Christopher Wright

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Christopher J. H. Wright has turned out some terrific commentaries on Old Testament books in the past, and now provides us with a little jewel on the Book of Daniel. This time out he does not provide us a commentary, but a book of expository preaching. As he explains in his preface, he does not get into critical questions, but intends the book to be “an encouragement to God’s people in the midst of hostile and threatening cultures, and to affirm God’s sovereign control of all that happens….” In my estimation, he fulfills his intention.

His introduction is brief, but encourages us to view Daniel from so long ago in a proper way for our day. He scolds what he calls the “end- times prediction industry” with criticism that is warranted. I say that as a premillennialist who would differ with Mr. Wright on several points involving prophecy. Books on Daniel tend to be judged on the prophetic views of the author rather than what he or she actually says about Daniel. It’s what Mr. Wright has to say about Daniel and his times that I find so compelling.

The historical background provided is superb. To my mind, he is at his best when the text is historical narrative. His theological observations are astute and helpful. Leaving out the issue of prophetic interpretation, this is what preaching should look like.

This book is one of those volumes that attempts to hit two targets at once – pastors and devotional readers. Most books in this category can’t quite pull off that feat, but Mr. Wright did with the best such effort that I’ve seen in a while.

The book reads well and yet is never superficial. I’m glad to have it on my shelves now and I predict you won’t be disappointed.

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.

Hebrews (NIGTC) by Paul Ellingworth

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Eerdmans has breathed new life into this reputable commentary by this new release in a more economical paperback edition. Now pastors and students can afford to have this major exegetical commentary on their shelves where it belongs.

This work is massive. Encyclopedic comes to mind when you consider all it offers in its over 750 pages. Scholars will pour over every line while pastors will likely focus on the paragraphs that aid in exegeting the passage.

Its 88-page Introduction covers well all the issues you would expect in a major commentary on a book of the Bible. He carefully goes through all the options for authorship and cautiously supposes that Apollos is the best guess. He examines carefully the first readers, destination, and date of this book. He briefly and carefully lays out the canonization of Hebrews and highlights the obvious use of the Old Testament throughout the book. When he discusses literary structure, he covers in detailed fashion what has been thought before. He discusses theology, purpose and occasion, and ends His Introduction with a few pages for the specialist on the text of Hebrews.

In the commentary proper he gives incredible detail. This commentary’s greatest strength (detail) might also be its greatest weakness as sometimes the trees get more prominence than the forest. Still, if you were building a major exegetical library, how could you possibly be without it? Further, it can give you the detail you will need to make your own decisions.

You may find places as I did where you could not agree with Mr. Ellingworth, but you will find it a serious resource. I 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.

William Henry Harrison by Gail Collins (Presidential Bio Series)

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William Henry Harrison is the president who never had a chance to building a legacy as he died one month into office. We at best can guess what he might have done. Believe it or not, he is still part of only four families (Adams, Roosevelt, and Bush being the others) to have two occupants in the White House as his grandson Benjamin would later be president.

His real claim to fame was the Battle of Tippencanoe and the War of 1812. In fact, he was an older man whose career seemed over when the presidency came calling. He seemed a devoted family man and was father to many children.

Gail Collins outlined the bare facts of his life, and was a fine writer, but she was totally out of sympathy with him. As with most in his generation, he walked a tightrope on the issue of slavery and that was enough for Collins to completely write him off. Her boorish portrait was not substantiated by facts.

I have looked deeply to trace out the religion of each president on my journey to read a biography on each president. She never once mentioned his religion and I checked the index when I finished just in case I missed something–nothing!

Though this book is part of the reputable American Presidents Series, I wish I had chosen a different volume. While he may not have been one of our outstanding presidents, I feel he was far more a decent man than presented here.

Dictionary of Daily Life–A Great 4-Volume Set

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Finally, this wonderful set is complete in four volumes. It took years to put together and the volumes have been released over the course of a couple years or so, but now this fun resource edited by the outstanding scholars Edwin Yamauchi and Marvin Wilson is available to us.

Why secure this set compared to so many others on the market? It’s really two things: 1) the unique approach, and 2) the valuable, scholarly, and well-written entries.

This dictionary did not limit itself to Bible words only, but to subjects as they occur to us. The value there is making accessible Bible times in a way that overcomes our cultural biases. Think of something that you would really like to know and I suspect you will find an entry on it.

You may read a line that you disagree with, but there’s enough depth to really wrestle with the subject. Bibliographies will chart you a course for further study, though I doubt you will need it.

This set isn’t designed as a visual resource as is the current rage, but the text here will teach what you are really looking for.

This set is in paperback (it can hold its own with its big hardback competitors too) and so its retail price is much more in line with what an individual student might pay. Those other sets only end up in libraries.

I guarantee you will enjoy and learn from this set!

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.

Since I individually reviewed every volume except volume 3, here’s a review of it:

Volume 3 upholds the high standards we have found in the previous releases. The design is exactly the same, and fortunately so are the fine results.

Highlights in this volume include marriage,  libraries and books, laws and crimes, medicine and physicians and even unique subjects like nursing and wet nurses.

This book, just as the whole set, is a treat and an amazing resource!

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.

Inductive Bible Study by Fuhr and Kostenberger

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This book is ideal for pastors, teachers, or students to get a grasp of studying the Bible either for personal study or sermon preparation. Though it covers some of the classroom jargon, it is written on an accessible level to help any of us. The well-respected authors rightfully admit there is both science and art at play in digging out the real meaning of Scripture. Then they proceed to help us learn the science side while confessing what the science side cannot provide. To my mind, they are highly successful in what they set out to do.

Inductive Bible study is simply hermeneutics with an evidence-based approach rather than a deductive, or assumption-based, approach. With so many bad habits out there, this is critically needed information. If you grab a handful of these type books, you’ll see that the authors often create their own design and, at times, terminology to present the rules of Bible interpretation. Some use a spiral, etc., but the author’s approach here is one of the best I’ve seen to practically understand the concepts.

They present the inductive approach as observation, interpretation, and application. The chart on page 45 shows the 5 steps of observation and each step gets a chapter. All are well done and the one on “determining literary units” provided a special and often-overlooked balance. Interpretation has 5 steps as well and application has three.  The chapter on determining word meanings should be read by everyone. Be sure to read to the end as I really appreciated how they concluded the subject. The charts throughout the book were outstanding as well.

This book is likely the best one out there for pastors and students today.

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.

Trump, Clinton, and the Race to the Bottom

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Politics has always had a dirty side. There has always been politicians that were crooked and left you with skeptical feelings. For generations we have felt that some government officials and candidates played with a stacked deck and we were the fleeced victims. But nothing matches where we find ourselves today. I heard a pundit say no one would have believed one year ago that we would be where we are today. One year? Can you believe it?  Did we fall through a time portal?

Trump and Clinton are racing to the bottom. The last week or so we have reached warp speed. Everyone is following the polls, but I will report an actual result to you–they have both won.  Both have shined in the narcissistic, immoral, unclassy, and disgusting category. My wife and I watched the two debates and agreed before the political analysis was given that Clinton won the first debate and Trump won the second one by a mile. Still, if you win a fight in a septic tank, was it really a victory?

Here’s a question for you: how do you think Ronald Reagan would have reacted in such a debate? He likely would have walked out thinking the whole thing below the dignity of the office sought. For those happy that Trump is the Republican nominee, do you really think he can carry the mantle of Ronald Reagan? If so, that mantle must have spent years putrifying in that same septic tank.

Don’t suppose I feel better about Hillary Clinton and her antics (including the likely holding of a damaging video by NBC to strategically being used as an October Surprise). The only difference for her is that she plants flowers on the septic tank to hide it while Trump lifts the lid and invites you to look in. 

Here’s the truth about these two. I wouldn’t turn my back to either of them. I wouldn’t trust my wife or daughters being alone with Trump or Clinton’s husband. I would hate to make Trump mad as he would lie and trash my character nationwide. I would hate to make Clinton mad because I might find myself in a shallow grave. The Bible characters they most remind me of are Herod for Trump and Jezebel for Clinton.

I still am uncertain about what I will do in the voting booth in a few short weeks. I still plead with my fellow Christians not to turn on each other. Let’s respect each other in what is really an impossible choice. 

But let’s agree on one thing and not be naive. America loses with either Trump or Clinton and there is no viable third choice. If Clinton wins Christianity will be attacked further and we will go so far into socialism we likely can’t come back. And, yes, she’ll ruin an already diseased Surpreme Court. If Trump wins he will likely give rise to conflict or even war. He will trivialize Christianity (because some Christians have so positively pushed him) and destroy the Republican Party and the future possibility of a conservative Renaissance. Maybe Congress will hold either of them in check, but does their track record during the Obama Administration give you any realistic hope on that account?

Some might accuse me of forgetting about my Lord as they read this article. I have not forgotten Him at all, but am thinking about what He is saying. I love America, but to assume the Lord is pro-United States no matter what is an unreasonable theological conclusion.

The truth is that our Mighty God has spoken. The fact that it will be Trump or Clinton reveals that His Word to us is one of chastening. I can almost close my eyes and hear Isaiah or Jeremiah or Obadiah saying it. We foolishly act like our counterparts in Old Testament Israel when we ignore the plain facts and say God wouldn’t do that to the USA. They said that in Jerusalem too…right up until it fell.

I write not of dispair, but of sensible strategy. My goal is to stay close to my All-powerful Lord as Trump and Clinton cross the finish line at the bottom. I relish that Christ remains at the top.