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.

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.

Colossians (NTL) by Sumney

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Jerry Sumney, a scholar who has written widely on various Pauline Epistles, gives us this commentary on Colossians in the New Testament Library (NTL) series. I had heard from some well-known reviewers that this volume was “thorough” in its presentation while its outlook was “moderately critical”. Now that I have this book in my hand, I find those designations perfectly accurate.

The author provides a shorter introduction to Colossians, but one that fits with several others I’ve seen in this series. The bibliography, though, was longer than some others. In the Introduction, he jumps first into authorship and date. He reviews many factors to be found in Colossians, such as Colossians being the first New Testament letter that discusses the household code. He thinks that Colossian’s theology is different than the New Testament letters that he feels are undisputed to have Paul as the author. He feels that the Holy Spirit is little mentioned while the approach to Christology goes farther than any other letter. He says that is the key to understanding the book. No doubt, he is right as Colossians teaches us about the preeminence of Christ. The author falls on the side of pseudonymity regarding Colossians but says that authorship has no determination on a New Testament letter being authoritative. Surprisingly, he dates the letter rather early.

Next, he discusses destination, followed by the false teaching present in Colossae, though that is briefer than I would have thought. He covers all he has to say on the textual history in two paragraphs. From there, he dives into theological themes including soteriology, Christology, eschatology, and spirituality.

The conclusions presented in the Introduction helps you to anticipate the direction he will go in the commentary itself. He introduces each text, prints the text, gives copious exegetical notes, and then provides detailed commentary on each verse. Again, whether you agree with every conclusion or not his work is quite thorough and written clearly.

I really can’t think of a better commentary on Colossians from the critical side. It’s up-to-date, not as extreme as some, and you can leave its pages with a clear understanding of how critical scholarship approaches Colossians today. This volume totally lives up to what we have come to expect from the NTL series.

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

Grant by Chernow (Presidential Bio. Series)

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Ron Chernow has struck gold again. After writing his earlier Washington, a book that many of us feel is the best presidential biography ever written, you had to wonder if that earlier success was the biggest competition for this volume. While I would rank Grant a notch below Washington, this biography stands triumphantly beside the author’s earlier work. This book even accomplished one thing the earlier book did not: I knew Washington was great, but Chernow convinced me that Grant was far greater than I ever knew.

There were even a few astonishing similarities between Washington and Grant that may be easily overlooked because of their broad dissimilarities. Both had an annoying parent, both had financial difficulties both before and after their presidencies, both persevered at times with health difficulties, both were loved as a general even more than as a president, and both were revered at their death on a scale that few others could duplicate in American history.

In this work on Grant, Chernow makes Grant so alive that by book’s end, you feel you know him so well that you could anticipate what it would be like if he walked in the room, sat down, and begin talking to you. Though Grant was notoriously one to keep his emotions to himself, he was unable to hide them from Chernow. The portrait is so exquisitely drawn that we have the timbre of Grant’s voice, even if we lack the pitch of one who lived before the days of recordings.

Chernow doesn’t hide Grants faults. His fine trait of seeing people without guile sunk him to naïveté and made him the sucker for countless hucksters. His amazing powers of concentration were at times counterbalanced by his lack of counsel. His drinking blackened his eyes at times throughout his career even if he inwardly hated it and appeared to conquer it several years before he died.

Chernow is not as explicit with Grant’s faith as he was with Washington, but the fault was likely Grant’s. Grant’s life-long trait of holding so much inside robs us of knowing how sincere his Christianity was. We do learn in this book that he was raised in a Methodist home, and though his dad was unscrupulous in the extreme, his mother had a true piety. Grant was never known to use foul language, nor to have any substantiated trouble with women. In fact, he was a gentlemen’s gentleman in that regard. We do know he was a faithful churchgoer, attended revival meetings with D. L. Moody, and had a pastor often around him in his final days. Chernow shares the disputed stories of how sincerely Grant wanted the baptism he received in his final days. Some say he loved the idea while others say he did it to please his wife.

Chernow draws a good picture of Julia Grant as well. She was a homely Southern Belle, more ambitious than her husband, held grudges, got caught up in the glory of the White House, and seemed to have little of the Methodist piety that her husband grew up with. Still, she loved her husband and he loved her. She believed in him when it even didn’t make sense.

This book never lags. With 959 pages of text, it is quite long, but I can’t imagine what could be left out. Grant’s life of struggle before the Civil War had as much drama as a novel and made for great reading. As you would’ve guessed, the portion of the book that covered the Civil War was enthralling – both the writing and the subject were thrilling in this section. The misnomer of Grant the butcher is thoroughly laid to rest. He was an accomplished general, wrongly overshadowed by Robert E. Lee, and was both relentless and fearless in battle. Along the way, you will have a good overview of the Civil War without ever sinking into the dryness that afflicts some historical writing.

When you pick this book up, you are preconditioned to think that Grant’s life after the Civil War is boring, but I still couldn’t put the book down and found it all fascinating. His presidency was far more than the caricature of scandal that has been wrongly attached to it, even if the scandals were real. He wanted to preserve the gains of the Civil War and was sincere. It wasn’t until after his presidency that I soured somewhat on his character as one who was becoming too egocentric and one too easily piqued toward others. But then his determination to care for his wife and write his memoirs brought him back to the Grant I had grown to love.

This book is a tour de force! It could serve as a virtual clinic on how to write historical biography. Chernow, though perhaps not as well-known as the beloved David McCullough (though a play called Hamilton may have changed that observation), must in no way defer to him with this masterpiece. I’m confident that this will be THE biography on Ulysses S. Grant for my lifetime.

This book is so wonderful that it makes you ask: what’s next, Mr. Chernow? If the trend of jumping to the next century and finding the general who lead its most important war and later became president, it must be Eisenhower. Whoever it ends up being, I’ll be in line to get and read it!

 

President McKinley by Robert Merry (Presidential Bio. Series)

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In the world of presidential biography, how would you grade the biography of one of our lesser – known presidents? Without doubt, it requires more of the author. The two main characteristics of such a presidential biography must revolve around: a) skilled writing that draws you into the life of one you never realized was interesting, and b) enough depth to make you feel that you really know this person. Granted, the life of the president that headlines the biography is what it is, and the author will be greatly aided if that individual happens to be compelling, even if the accumulating years pushes him into obscurity.

In this work by Robert W. Merry on Pres. McKinley, all these factors aligned beautifully to create an outstanding biography. It’s a joy to read and it moved me firmly into the category of counting McKinley as one of our better presidents. In fact, Merry is so successful here that I’m still scratching my head how that I, as one who enjoys presidential biographies, thought so little of McKinley before. The subtitle “Architect of the American Century” is in no way an overstatement. Probably the only reason that McKinley has suffered such obscurity is the unfortunate circumstance of being followed by the flamboyant Teddy Roosevelt. I found Roosevelt larger than life myself, and in reading his biographies found McKinley pushed exactly where Roosevelt wanted: in the shadows.

McKinley is easily one of the more upstanding men to hold the office. Merry is extremely fair, and worthy of praise even, in his presentation of the religion of McKinley. In other words, he reports the facts, and doesn’t pass judgment on those views, nor does he attack the sincerity of those views. McKinley was raised in a dedicated Christian family. He was a gentleman, he did not use swear words, yet was not overly judgmental of others. As a young person, he came forward at a camp meeting to profess salvation at a mourner’s bench, and in my view, stayed true to his roots in a much greater way than most presidents.

The author seems amazed, and I agree, that McKinley was extraordinary in managing and getting his way, yet without running over others. Though he took great pride in his military career in the Civil War, he was not horribly vain. He seemed to always rank getting the job done more than getting personal glory.

Whether it be with the gold – versus – silver issue, the Spanish-American War, a foreign policy that predicated itself upon America’s greatness without features of colonialism, the Panama Canal, and even economic policy, McKinley moved us from post – Civil War times to the 20th century. I’m glad Merry pushed Teddy Roosevelt enough to the side that we could see this great president.

As presidential biographies go, this one is a winner. I enjoyed it, and suspect you will to.

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 Spurgeon Journal–The Perfect Gift!

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You’ve surely heard of one of the publishing feats of recent years in the publication of the lost sermons of Charles Spurgeon. Available in both a hardback and deluxe collector’s edition, this set when complete will be a treasure for Spurgeon fans or those who love preaching in general. Many are building their set one volume at a time as they are released. B & H Publishers has also created this exquisite ruled journal in a matching style to the set. Journaling is the rage these days, and I’ve hardly seen one that looks nicer than this one. It’s a leather-bound beauty!

This 5” x 8.25” Journal grabs your attention at first sight. You will notice Spurgeon’s signature embossed on the lower right-hand of the cover. When you open the book, you’ll see a place to put your name with another faint rendition of Spurgeon’s signature below. The next page gives a blurb about the 12 volumes of the Lost Sermons set. That’s followed by an open table of contents where you can approach the 140 sermons in the order you prefer. What’s labeled as page 1 has a place for you to put the date in the top right-hand corner with the ruled lines for your reflections filling the rest of the page. Some pages have profound quotes by Spurgeon at the bottom, with the following page giving the title and sermon number of the Spurgeon sermon that the quote was pulled from.

This journal on acid-free paper is the perfect size and feel. If you like journals, you will love this one. My guess is that any pastor would find it the perfect gift. In my view, no corners were cut in producing a journal worthy of the monumental set of the lost sermons of Spurgeon.

I received this journal 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 Letter to Philemon (NICNT) by Scot McKnight

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Here’s an interesting commentary. Philemon, something like the forgotten little brother of the New Testament, gets its own standalone volume in the venerated New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT) series. Scot McKnight, a respected New Testament scholar, pens the ideal commentary on Philemon, coming in at 127 pages. In a few months, McKnight will also have a commentary on Colossians come in print in the same series. This replaces, or at least will replace when Ephesians is redone, the long-standing work by F. F. Bruce.

After a fine bibliography, McKnight turns in an Introduction of a little over 40 pages. A section on slavery in the Roman Empire makes up two thirds of the Introduction. While McKnight admits at times that slavery may not be the main theme of Philemon, he goes somewhat awry in writing at length as if it were. Still, it is a fascinating read on slavery. He brings in some modern information that strikes me as having little to do with Philemon, yet you will enjoy reading it. It seems to me that the theme of Philemon may have more to do with the world that a Christian finds him- or herself living in rather than a polemic against slavery. In fairness, you couldn’t really write a major academic work on Philemon without addressing the slavery issue as it has dominated the discussion for the last few decades.

The rest of the Introduction is in a more typical mode. He spends only a paragraph on authorship and date as the traditional conclusions are comparatively rarely disputed. In the next section, he discusses the relationship between Onesimus, Philemon, and Paul and feels that the traditional view that Onesimus was a runaway slave is most likely the case. In a section on the events at work in the Letter to Philemon, McKnight attempts to untangle the issues we will encounter. Though it’s a short section, McKnight is quite effective in explaining structure, rhetoric, and clarity of Philemon.

The commentary proper begins on page 49 and is well done. He provides the text, a few textual notes, an overview of the passage, and then quality verse by verse commentary. Scholars will love the copious footnotes on each page while pastors would do well to at least scan them as they contain some great information. The commentary is top-notch.

Most commentators like to lump Philemon with Colossians. In the preface, McKnight explains why that might not be a good idea. In any event, very few commentary series give Philemon its own volume. In my opinion, this volume outshines its two main competitors: Philemon by Joseph Fitzmyer in the Anchor Bible series and Philemon in the EEC series by Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke. Simply put, McKnight is newer, respects the text more, and makes better judgments. This is the standalone volume on Philemon that every pastor will want.

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.