Including the Stranger (NSBT) by David Firth

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This book has two things in his favor. It’s another of these unique entries in the New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT) series, edited by D. A. Carson, that are theologically astute and make a distinct contribution to both scholarship and biblical studies.The other plus is that renowned scholar David Firth contributes this volume in his area of expertise, the Former Prophets which include Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. In fact, Firth has already delivered an outstanding commentary on the books of Samuel. His deft hand shows throughout this volume.

His premise is that a unifying theme of these Former Prophets Is the treatment of strangers or foreigners. It is a theory that he very well may convince you on because (It made sense to me). Even if it isn’t the overarching theme of these books, it is at least in play in a key way.

To my mind even if you don’t agree with his premise, you have something of a fine introduction to each of these historical books of the Old Testament. In fact, I could not imagine studying these books without consulting this work going forward. To me, it almost does what Barry Webb’s “Five Festal Garments” does for the Five Scrolls. Count this another winner in an outstanding 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.

Two New Resources To Study Theology!

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This book that describes Christian theology is a real treat. I say that knowing full well that there are a plethora of such works ranging from overviews of theology all the way to massive, full systematic theologies. To me, it will find an audience among those who need something with real depth yet aren’t quite ready to spend the time that one of those 10-pound systematic theologies requires.

Most everyone has to wrestle with what order to study the great doctrines of theology and the one used here is as good as any. They come in this order: knowing God, God’s Revelation, God the Trinity, God’s attributes and works, humanity and sin, Jesus, Jesus’s saving work, salvation, the Holy Spirit, the Church, the future, and the Christian life.

I felt the beauty of this book is in its understandability. It takes subjects that may be opaque for many and makes them clear. Making the difficult plain is always the factor that ultimately decides the value of a work of this type. It is good theologically, biblically with many scriptures brought to bear, and historically. Knowing what church history says about these subjects is not as important as what is said biblically, but it is important. This work gives these viewpoints in proper proportion. There are also a list of key terms and resources for further study in every chapter. Those key terms will lead you to their other resource released at this time as well called “A Concise Dictionary of Theological Terms.”

There’s probably no work of this type where any reader will agree with every point made, but that is not the issue anyway. What is needed is being introduced to the subject, why it is important, and ultimately what is at stake. This work checks all the appropriate boxes and would be a worthy addition to any student’s library.

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.

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Released as a companion volume to the fine work entitled “Christian Theology: The Biblical Story of Our Faith”, this work puts a lot of important information at one’s fingertips. In a day when most people will merely Google these terms, a book like this is really needed. You are aware, I hope, that Google doesn’t always give you the right answer or even a good answer. That can be most detrimental with theological subjects. Further, this work explains the term in only a paragraph or two. Fortunately, that brevity does not sacrifice clarity and understanding. Google can’t match that! I recommend this book and its companion volume to any Bible student or pastor. It’s a perfect place to begin for a deeper study of important theological concepts of scripture.

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 Book of the Twelve by Michael Shepherd (Kregel Exegetical Commentary)

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This commentary will serve as a handy help to pastors and Bible students. Since there is only a little over 500 pages of actual commentary covering all 12 of the Minor Prophets, it is obvious that Mr. Shepherd has not attempted to produce the typical prolix commentary of our day. What he has provided, however, is direct help on grasping both the meaning and overarching theme of these prophets. His stated niche,that to my mind he has accomplished, is presenting these 12 prophets as a unified composition. In other words, instead of 12 random prophecies that so lacked cohesiveness that they were not even fully integrated within themselves, he paints a portrait of the Lord designing them as so unified that they should never be completely thought of by themselves. You can’t deny that that is a refreshing approach after years of commentators trying to decide if each passage within each of these prophecies is even legitimate!

It will be extra important to read the introduction to this work as he makes his case for the cohesiveness and unity of these prophecies. I personally thought this introduction read well and made a lot of sense.

The commentary proper lacks the thoroughness of some other works, but what he shares is good all around. Perhaps it shows the forest better than the trees, but that is no problem. There are plenty of other commentaries to analyze those trees!

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.

Revelation (ZECNT) by Buist Fanning

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This latest release of the ZECNT Is a fine exegetical commentary on the highly-debatable Book of Revelation. Personally, I always give commentators a little slack because this book manages to trip them coming out of the gate in almost every instance. In other words, the reader is going to approach both the book and the commentary with his or her own theological system. For that reason, no matter what the perspective of the commentator happens to be, he or she is going to start out with a much higher group of detractors than if, say, they had written on the Gospels or one of the Epistles. Fanning has done the best that could be done. He has tried to write a commentary that would be helpful to the widest number of readers without rigidly lobbing off whole swaths of them. He does, however, lean toward positions that would be labeled futurist as opposed to historist. Still, he is fair to all. More importantly, the exegesis and examination of structure are both rock solid. No, I don’t agree with every interpretive point he makes, but what commentator on Revelation could hope for that from any of us? The point that must not be lost is that this commentary can help you as you wrestle with this challenging book of the Bible.

I thought the introduction was exceptional. Throughout, he both lays out varying opinions and respectfully submits his own. He begins by talking about authorship and really does not land on one outlook himself in this case since he doesn’t find it critical to the overall interpretation of the book. He discusses date and setting, genre with an emphasis on prophecy, imagery and symbols, all before he addresses the thorny subject of hermeneutical approaches. He explains both the importance and the specifics of the use of the Old Testament in this book and how to view prophecy and typology. I thought his discussion of topology was particularly apropos. He discusses text, language and style, before he dives into structure and outline which is an emphasis of this series. He gives a lot of outstanding insights before he provides his own outline. There is a select bibliography given as well.

The commentary proper follows the typical style of this series and is quite helpful. There were just a few places I wish he had said a little more. Still, when you talk about what you really need to learn in an exegetical commentary you will find it all here in spades. The end of the book gives a nice summary of the theology of Revelation too.

He probably does for a futurist position what Beale does for the modern fad of an eclectic position. You’ll need both. Therefore, you should probably put this in the must-get 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.

Joel (ZECOT) by Joel Barker

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I have really enjoyed these early volumes in the ZECOT series and this new title is no exception. Joel Barker provides another competent exegetical commentary with an emphasis on discourse analysis this time on the Book of Joel. Unlike other mostly unprofitable types of criticism, discourse analysis renders real insights into the text. If you are looking for a standalone commentary on the Book of Joel, this volume will definitely meet your needs.

After he offers his own translation of Joel he jumps into an effective introduction to the Book of Joel. By the first few paragraphs, you can tell that the author enjoys Joel. To be sure, that always makes a commentary better. He offers six theories for the historical context of Joel. He lays them out clearly and makes it easy for one to evaluate. I might not agree with his final conclusion, but I appreciate his defining the issues. He makes a wonderful case for the literary integrity of Joel. I tend to find that with every book of the Bible, but I appreciate his compelling case that should answer any critic. He looks at Joel’s place among the Minor Prophets as well as describing Joel from the perspective of rhetorical discourse. He proves here that he is up to speed on those issues as you would expect for this series. I really appreciated his thoughts about the structure of Joel as well.

The commentary proper follows the usual ZECOT pattern. He does an outstanding job here. My only caveat to that statement is his discussion of 2:28-32. I know we have to first place these scriptures in the context of the prophet’s time, but I just felt he was a little brief on the importance of this passage in the New Testament. Still, this is first-rate commentary on a book of the Bible where you’re likely to need it. I’d rank this commentary 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.

Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard (Presidential Bio. Series)

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What a book! Since James Garfield is likely in everyone’s category of lesser known presidents, this book is an unexpected experience. It’s not a typical cradle-to-grave biography, but I felt I knew President Garfield better than some other presidents where I read a full biography. As you may recall, Garfield was shot by an assassin early in his presidency. He really didn’t have any time to take significant action as president, but he was such a fine, genuine man that you will ask the what-if questions. I suspect he would have been one of the better presidents between the legendary Lincoln and the famous Teddy Roosevelt had he had the opportunity to serve out his term.

This book with its subtitle “a tale of madness, medicine, and the murder of a president” focuses on the peculiar aspects of his death. Kudos to Millard for seeing the potential in this fascinating story. Though she has written only a few titles, she is one of the better writers of our day. She can tell a story! She is so good with words and sentences that even the more mundane moments of the story still read easily. To my mind, and why I could easily recommend this as the perfect biography of James A. Garfield, she gives such an exquisite portrait of the man that I could imagine what it would be like if he walked in the room and sat down and started talking. That is the quintessential skill needed to be a biographer.

I don’t know how she did it, but in 300 pages she also brought to life Garfield’s bizarre assassin, Charles Guiteau. The term used for him in his day was “monomaniac”, and yet whatever you might label him today, Millard creates a full-orbed postmortem of his unique pathology. She also exposed Garfield’s failed, egotistical physician, Dr. Bliss. Unfortunately, Dr Bliss denied the scientifically sound teachings of Joseph Lister and denied the idea of germs! And yes, Dr Bliss, ultimately killed President Garfield by incompetence. People of that day could not resist saying, “ignorance is Bliss”. The famous inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, also took a large part in the story. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I assure you there is a captivating story here. The story doesn’t have the raw adventure of Millard’s The River of Doubt about Teddy Roosevelt’s trip in the Amazon, but don’t suppose for a moment this work is any less gripping.

Back to Garfield, I think he had the potential to have been an echo of Lincoln. He was born into incredible hardship and poverty as his dad died when he was a young man. His remarkable mother held the family together, invested in young Garfield’s life, and imbibed her Christianity and its ethics into the fabric of his life. The adult Garfield was a man who loved his wife and children, was one who lived above politics in a way few politicians have ever succeeded in doing, was a man who practiced forgiveness, and was one who possessed a personal faith in God. Along the way, he was a Civil War hero and a well-read, educated man despite his background. The story of him being upset by his nomination at the Republican convention for president is the perfect example of the man he was. He was there to nominate another guy and he was truly upset that he would hurt him to the extent that he took no joy at all in his unexpected, dramatic nomination! How many politicians do you know like that? In character and genuineness, Garfield was one of our best presidents. It is truly sad that our country missed the opportunity that lie in a man of his caliber in the White House. It seemed that Americans of that day realized what they had and what they lost. They knew that later generations would probably forget him as has happened, but they also knew that he was one of the better men to have held the office.

Spiritual Warfare in the Storyline of Scripture by Cook & Lawless

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I’ve never seen a book that approaches spiritual warfare in a better, more grounded way. William Cook and Chuck Lawless team to provide a work that avoids the excesses of most volumes on the subject of spiritual warfare.

It’s almost like they provide us two books in one. The first half of the book approaches the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and traces spiritual warfare as the subject is biblically developed. Really, what could be a better approach to grasping a biblical subject? Further, this half of the book could almost be used as a reference book as well as reading it straight through to develop the concept of spiritual warfare.

The second half of the book approaches the subject from a practical standpoint. Here its balance was even more dramatic. They followed the good advice they gave in telling us to study God rather than studying Satan to understand spiritual warfare. In fact, the usual suspects of such a book are refreshingly absent. No spooky stuff about demons, but rather practical discussion of how Satan works in our lives. What this volume lacks in shock it more than makes up in spiritual value. Five chapters are included in this second section of practical application and covers spiritual warfare in the local church, evangelism, missions, the family, and in leaders. It was so at once convicting and helpful. I’m convinced that this is exactly the sort of thing the Lord intended we dwell on as we process the concept of spiritual warfare.

The authors highlight so effectively the danger of looking into ourselves or our own strength as the open door to Satan entering and establishing a foothold. I needed what I read here!

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.

A Challenging Book for Aggrevating Times!

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We live in a time of aggravation. No matter what you think of the current Corona Virus pandemic and the approach our government has chosen to deal with it, you likely are not exactly enjoying sheltering in place. Many things that most people enjoy doing are not available at this point in time. I’ve had the privilege of reading a book during these peculiar times entitled “Endurance” by Alfred Lansing that describes polar explorer Ernest Shackleton attempted exploration of Antarctica. “Adversity” is far too weak a word to describe the astonishing hardships for Shackleton and his group of men. Their story is one of bearing up under the load and plunging forward no matter the insurmountable odds. Some individual days of their odyssey contained more aggravation and disappointment than we will likely face over the whole course of our quarantine over Covid 19.

In addition to the challenge to face hardship and persevere, this book also contains one of the best adventure stories I’ve ever known. High sounding adjectives are always attached to adventure stories, but I’d submit that this one will earn them all. It strikes me as gripping as, say, “The Johnstown Flood” by David McCullough or some of the better missionary adventure stories.

I would do you a terrible disservice to even hint at any spoilers. You need to take this book as it comes. But the several episodes that are covered in this story could each make its own incredible story. There’s the part about the ship, there’s the part about being on the iceberg, there’s the part about getting from the iceberg to the small boats, there’s the journey and landing of the small boats, there’s the group of men who stayed on the first island while Shackleton and a few others went on for help, there’s the journey by boat to the final island, and then there’s the thrilling across land journey before help could finally be reached. I’m not going to fill in any more blanks. Read this book for one of the greatest stories of adventure and perseverance that has ever been written.

Rutherford B. Hayes by Trefousse (Presidential Bio. Series)

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Rutherford B. Hayes is not a widely remembered president. Perhaps he is too soon after Lincoln and Grant. In my quest to read at least one biography on each president, this short volume by Hans Trefousse proved to be the ideal biography for me to read on Hayes. Trefousse seemed to have at least a genuine respect for Hayes even if he wasn’t exactly overly impressed with him. In that sense, it is superior to several volumes I’ve seen in the American Presidents series because some of the authors appear almost hostile to their subjects. In fact, the only oddity of this volume is that it was written shortly after George W. Bush defeated Al Gore in 2000 and all the drama that surrounded that election, particularly in Florida. The author seemed obsessed with the fact that Hayes had also lost the popular vote yet still won the electoral college vote and it happened with some degree of disputed results. Still, the book reads really well and is truly interesting. I’d label it the perfect length for the subject.

Hayes had an interesting background including serving successfully in the Civil War. He seemed to be a man of genuine character. Though many of us highly respect President Ulysses S. Grant, it’s true that there were scandals that happened on his watch even if he were not implicated in any of them. Hayes made a point of cleaning up a lot of that corruption. He also took on the Senate and their patronage system. It was a gallant going against the grain for sure. Though there were not any major crises during his term, Hayes did seem to have a successful presidency.

A few things about his character jump out. He seemed to fight corruption because he genuinely hated it. He adored his wife and family. Unlike several other volumes in this series, this book doesn’t dodge religious background either. Hayes clearly professed to be a Christian and showed good Christian values on several occasions. Though he wasn’t a member of a church, he was highly involved with a Methodist Church that his wife was a part of. He was vice president of a Bible Society and he was even a teetotaler!

I’ve read that there are some other longer biographies out there that are more complete on his life, but if you are satisfied with an overview of the lesser-known presidents, this volume will be perfect for you.

Other Presidential biographies here.

Why Church? by Scott Sunquist

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It’s good to see a book championing the church. There has been a radical shift in how the world views local churches both culturally and in terms of impact. Scott Sunquist tackles this important subject both historically and biblically and with an eye to the future. He has written it in such a way that it’s not specific to a certain denomination, but looks rather at the core function of the local church.

He comes back to basics in chapter 1 and explains that the two purposes of the church are worship and mission. Chapter 2 is a fine survey of church history from the time of Jesus to the current environment of Post-Chrisendom. We may not be happy about the trends, but he lays them out for us to ponder.

The next five chapters make up his main premise by using five words to describe what a church is supposed to be doing. These words are come, stand, kneel, sit, and go. When he speaks of coming to the church, he is speaking of coming to Jesus in conversion, coming to the body of Christ for community, and finding our identity in the worship of Jesus Christ. His discussion of standing is a call to praise God. He may be less concerned about worship styles than you are, but I do think you will likely agree with his emphasis on the necessity of praise. As you probably guessed, the chapter on kneeling is about worship. He doesn’t approach worship as some touchy-feely, nebulous experience, but rather coming before God in confession and repentance. It’s a good approach I think. The chapter on sitting describes the great importance of sitting still to receive the Word of God. I found it to be quite helpful despite a few possible rabbit trails. The final chapter on going is about taking the church outside of its building and carrying out the mission of Jesus Christ.

There is a later chapter that he calls “healthy body movement”. Here he wrestles with the implementation of all he has discussed with a balancing of his five key elements. Don’t read that as if he has all the answers, but read it as taking suggestion on what you ought to consider as you work through that same dilemma. The epilogue mentions a few things that he did not write about in the book, but should be considered.

I just happened to be doing this review while churches around the world are quiet in the buildings with most services held online during the Covid-19 crisis. It strikes me that perhaps we haven’t given thought to how incredibly powerful and wonderful the local church is in our lives. Maybe this book can help us reflect and plunge forward.

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.