Polk by Walter Borneman (Presidential Bio. Series)

book polk

James Polk was perhaps the finest president in the field of mediocrity that the American presidency traveled through between Andy Jackson and Abe Lincoln. I don’t know if that insignificance had to do more with the men (most likely) or the commonplaceness of the times (less likely), or some combination of the two, but Polk, as Walter Borneman’s subtitle suggests, had an impact on both the presidency and the nation. Polk both expanded presidential power and the size of our nation itself.

This biography gives us enough of the pre-story of Polk’s life to really know the man by the time he assumed the presidency. He was ambitious (a common theme in every presidential biography), knew how to play politics, could be politically pragmatic as well as loyal where politically expedient, yet seemed to truly have a set of core principles. He was a protégé of Jackson, also a Tennessean, yet much more refined than his mentor. Their relationship seemed genuine. As is true of at least a few of our presidents, he had a wife who loved and supported him which he reciprocated with love and adoration. This biography fully fleshed out his personality that could be described as more introverted than some and detail oriented.

While the times played into his successes he seized the opportunities that came his way. He has the unusual distinction of accomplishing all his main campaign promises in one four-year term. Further, he kept his promise of only serving one term. Along the way, he was a successful war president of a war that was so victorious that the debate over fighting it is mostly now forgotten. The vast acreage that has been part of America since his day means it probably always will be remembered as something great for our nation. Though he was proslavery, it seems history has been kinder to him than several other presidents in that territory. He really did nothing to stem the tide that would ultimately embroil our nation in Civil War either. Strangely, he even lost all his last elections in Tennessee including two for governor and the one for president out of which he came victorious. I was surprised that the nation was not so perfectly divided by North and South this close to the Civil War, yet geography seemed to have little to do with which states he won.

Perhaps the saddest thing in his biography is how quickly he sickened and died after his presidency ended. He became sick on a victory tour through the states after his term expired and never really had the chance to enjoy his retirement in Tennessee.

As for the biography itself, Borneman was mostly satisfactory. As I read through presidential biographies, I’ve been making a special note of the role religion played in each president’s life. I feel this biography totally failed me in that regard since it’s known from other sources that Mrs. Polk and her Methodism had an impact on her husband. This shortcoming makes me wonder if I should have read the volume by Robert Merry instead (his biography of William McKinley was excellent). On the other hand, Borneman succeeded in making me feel like I both knew and understood James K. Polk. For that reason, I must recommend this biography.

Other Presidential Biographies

John Tyler by Gary May (Presidential Bio. Series)

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This well-written book was just what I was looking for in a biography on Pres. John Tyler. 150 pages are about all I wanted to take the time to read on him. Tyler consistently rates near the bottom of the list of our presidents. The American Presidents Series is where I love to turn for the less popular and more obscure presidents. Some of the titles in the series are a little skewed to the left and are overly unsympathetic to their subject, but this one by Mr. May was totally fair. He presented Tyler and let me decide – that’s exactly what I want from this type of book.

Tyler had distinct flaws. His views on slavery as well as his practice of slavery, his flip-flop on what he had always presented as his core principles once he became president, and his betrayal of the United States when the Civil War broke out are prime examples. I totally respect the people of both the Union and the Confederacy but would expect a former president of the United States to show some loyalty.

Tyler had some positive traits as well. He seemed to be a caring family man (15 children from two wives!). After the death of his first wife, he came across as strange in his pursuit of a young lady 30 years his junior. On the other hand, after he married her they seemed to have a very loving relationship. He would not allow himself to be the pawn of any political power broker like Henry Clay and others. Though he was unable to get much of any agenda through during his time in office because his views caused his party to abandon him, he did make the best of a bad situation. He wasn’t afraid to cast some unexpected vetoes that surprised many. His crowning achievement was the admittance of Texas to the Union. He was relentless in that pursuit and barely got it done before he left office.

Whatever the failures of Tyler, this biography succeeded splendidly. It brought Tyler to life. I felt like I knew him and even understood him to some degree. My opinion of him rose a few tics, but he’s still at the bottom level. At least I would rank a few presidents below him now. My only complaint of this biography is that I really couldn’t come to terms with where he stood religiously. In fairness to the author, perhaps that was because Tyler didn’t hold religion as all that important. In any event, this author did the best that could be done with his subject.

For other titles in the presidential biography series, check out My Quest on Presidential Biographies.

The God Who Gives by Kelly Kapic

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The more I read by Kelly Kapic the more I like him. I had earlier read Embodied Hope and found it an inspiring overview of the doctrine of suffering. This work takes a much wider theological swath. The subtitle proclaims that this book explains how the Trinity shapes the Christian story. As I read this book, I often thought that Mr. Kapic took his theme of the God who gives on a walk across the entire landscape of systematic theology. It’s hard to grasp the terrain he covered in only 260 pages, yet this book is nothing of a superficial overview. Every doctrine traipsed over finds vibrant interaction.

This book is a revised edition of an earlier work entitled God So Loved, He Gave. Somehow I had missed that work, and so can’t speak to the extent of the revision. I can say, however, that this is a theological work not to be missed.

The first few chapters make such a brilliant contribution to the doctrine of God that I think I’ll file this book in that section of my library near other works on the Trinity. His initial premise that we belong to God is persuasively portrayed and gives at once a foundation for this book and an explanation for our lives. The discussion of creation and how it springs out of the Triune love of God tells us much about the purposes of God. Immediately we are told that God owns by giving as well as by creation.

The book continues to describe the calamity of sin, the evil of our world, creation’s bondage, and how all these things cry for our need of God. We learn how Jesus filled that role in his coming as our King to round out part one of this work.

Part two containing chapters 5-10 outlines how God reclaims all by giving all. In the chapter on the gift of the Son, don’t miss the discussion on pages 100-101. There’s further excellent discussion on belief, faith, and their differences. The gift is also traced to the Holy Spirit. There’s further discussion on how we receive the gift, what the gift of the kingdom is, and how to live within that gift.

Part three takes us through the cross, the resurrection, and the church itself to fully grasp the depths to which God gives to us.

This is one of the best theological works that I’ve come across. It provided me with several lightbulb moments. It’s accessible despite its depth. I’d recommend that any Christian give it a try. Whatever you glean can only enrich you. Mark this one down firmly in the “highly recommended” category.

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 Lost Sermons of Spurgeon: Volume 3 -Collector’s Edition

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Do you love beautiful books? This collector’s edition has a gorgeous custom marbled cover and genuine leather binding and corners. This edition contains all the content in the standard volume. For that reason, all I would say in reviewing that standard volume would apply here as well:

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!

Besides the stunning beauty of this collector’s edition, it also gives you many photos not found in the standard edition. Either edition is an awesome addition to your library. If you are either a Spurgeon lover or a book lover, I’d recommend springing for the few extra dollars and getting this collector’s edition. I know of nothing more beautiful being produced in the book market 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.

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

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.

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.