Saturday, December 5, 2015

Polycarp: A destroyer of our gods - by Rick Lambert

Polycarp: a destroyer of our gods is a novel about the life of Polycarp, known as one of the early church ‘fathers’. Beginning with Polycarp as a young boy, the narrative follows him into adulthood, old age and finally, his death. There are only a few details known about the actual Polycarp, one of which is that he was purported to have been taught by the Apostle John (who features as one of Polycarp’s mentors in this book). Because so much about Polycarp is unknown, the author is able to take liberties and present the life of Polycarp in this way.

It is written from the perspective of Polycarp, who begins his account starting from his life as a young boy born into slavery who is experiencing drastic changes, having to come to grips with his parents’ death, and shortly after, being sold at the slave market where he is bought and freed by a Christian lady who adopts him as her own. He begins attending church assemblies with his adopted family and eventually meets the Apostle John. After several years of being amongst Christians and hearing the Word of God, he has a heartfelt conversation with John about his apprehensions of God being angry with him. John discusses the situation with him and is able to be an instrument in Polycarp’s conversion. Polycarp, having become a Christian, aspires to be a pastor and becomes apprenticed to John. He goes through many spiritual trials, learns many spiritual
lessons, and is enabled to teach others as he grows in the faith.  
Because of the style of this book, the events that take place in Polycarp’s life allow for a large range of topics to be addressed, ranging from basic theology, like justification and sanctification, to the practical application of the Bible’s truths, such as what friends you should have and how one should deal with false teachers.   Other things are addressed in passing, but are still significant, such as a subtle reference to Christians following the precepts of 1 Corinthians 6 when a secular official comments that Christians are rarely seen in court because they take care of their issues amongst themselves instead of taking each other to court. 
One of the parts I liked in particular is where Polycarp has made some questionable friends and defends his choice leading to an exchange with Polycarp’s uncle and the Apostle John, a few excerpts of which I give here:
“I recall Decimus instructing me while at work that wrong friends will make my heart yearn for sin more than it usually does.  Compromises will be easier and wisdom will be replaced with folly.  I just figured that they didn’t know him, and therefore were judging him.  Plus, I told them that Erebus …was interested in becoming a Christian, and that was the basis of our friendship.  My biggest mistake was when I told John that Jesus spent time with sinners far worse than Erebus.  ‘Oh foolishness, you forget I was with Jesus when he was in the homes and company of sinners,’ John chided.  ‘Jesus did not come to make friends, but to call sinners to repent.  Do that long enough and let’s see how many friends you pick up…His visits were hardly a social call…He did not save any lost soul by living like that lost soul…until Erebus sees Christ in you, you are guilty of leading him astray as I’m afraid he is leading you astray...As I see it, friendships are grown when you are all going in the same direction, and can help, encourage and protect all involved.  Friendships are not to be reckless, but constructive and purposeful where you are building each other up and improving each other’s character.  If this isn’t that inner, guiding principle of all the friends you hold, then in what direction is it actually going, and what good will be derived from it?  If friends are not making each other better, then they’re fulfilling the role of our spiritual enemy by tearing down what is good and ruining what had potential……”
The book is full of thought provoking statements like the following, “Remember, Paul was not one who had reached the goal, but anyone could clearly see he was in the race…” and “The old nature is not capable of producing the faith required to destroy itself. Polycarp’s thought as he contemplates his potentially ‘awful’ death: “I was actually encouraged to see how His grace would sustain me through the dreadful pain of it all.”
Also, the translations/paraphrases of Scripture are the author’s own, and I thought they were very well done; I give a sampling here: 
“No man contending for victory allows himself to be distracted by anything not associated with victory, so that his ambition is perfectly aligned with the ambition of his superior.”(2 Tim 2:4)
“Didn’t Solomon exhort us in his Proverbs that our trust in the Lord didn’t need the support of our own understanding?”

I like these because having the Scriread in the same style as the rest of the book helps with the idea that, at the time period of this story, the NT had only recently been given, so the people reading the letters and books of the New Testament would have been reading them in their common vernacular and these paraphrases/translations really helps give that impression.  The book also pushes for verse-by-verse, expositional preaching and encourages “expositional listening”.
It has its funny moments. For instance, one that I found humorous, in an odd way, is where the apostle John exhibits embarrassment as he reminisces about the time when his mother asked the Lord if her sons could sit on the Lord’s right and left hand in the Kingdom.    And it has its sad moments as well; I teared up many times while reading, not just because of the ‘sadness’ of the events, but because of the stirring response of Polycarp and others to these events.  As an example, when a close friend dies Polycarp, instead of giving in to bitterness or despair, acknowledges the fact that this believer is in Heaven, and is enabled to exhort others who have lost loved ones to keep their perspective, and to submit to God’s will. 
At one point Polycarp, in counseling a person struggling with sin, exhorts him to keep focused on what God’s word says about the victory we already have by Christ over sin, and then ultimately makes the statement: I’m not struggling against sin, but struggling to advance in godly obedience.”  I think that statement is a great summary of the Christian characters in this book. They are excellent illustrations of people who are struggling to obey and submit to God’s will, not merely being those who are focused solely on the ‘remnants of their old self’, but focused on discovering who God says they are in Christ, and so looking to become who they really are. It really encourages you to look at everything from God’s perspective, not merely our human perspective. 

Most novels are entertaining, carrying you along by the emotions and imagination and, although they are certainly enjoyable to read, it is a bit discouraging that, when one is done with them, one is left with the feeling of having catered to oneself rather than having grown in any way. This book is an edifying novel, wherein you learn along with the main character rather than merely being an observer of him and the different events in his life. You are carried along by a desire to learn, not merely a desire to be entertained. While most novels inspire you to read more novels, this one inspires you to read God’s word. Instead of making you want to live in a different time, a different place, have a romance, an adventure, become an admired hero, this book inspires you to get out into the fray of your own battles and discover the lessons promoting spiritual growth that God has for you in your own life. I highly recommend it as, not just a good read, but an inspiring one. It gives an illustration of the life of a Christian living out the reality of victory over sin and death that Christ has provided for him. 
 
This book may be purchased at Amazon.com 
For more purchasing options see the book's website:  http://www.polycarpthenovel.com/

Friday, December 4, 2015

ICB translation: The Frost Bible

I must admit, I liked the cover of this Bible (the 'Frost Bible') decorated with snow and sparkles and that was one of the reasons I requested this book in order to review it.  I am not an advocate of choosing a Bible because of its cover, and am generally uncomfortable with Bibles that are aimed towards a specific gender (mainly because of their study notes that may run into danger of eisegesis by trying to direct the thinking into a more egotistical interpretation of Scripture) , but this one, other than its being appealing to girls by its cover (as I am proof of) is otherwise a fairly basic Bible.   

My motives in requesting this Bible were not wholly material in nature, I had never heard of the International Children's Translation before and was very curious about it.   It seems to be a rather literal translation overall.  They explain in the preface about some liberties they took in translation, such as clarifying ancient customs, changing Rhetorical questions to statements, "showing the implied meaning, as in this example:  'No one is equal to our God,' instead of 'Who is equal to our God?'", editing figures of speech, idiomatic expressions ('he rested with his fathers' is changed to, 'he died')…etc.   Some of the writing style reminds me of the Dick and Jane books, short sentences with a lot of periods for punctuation. But it still reads quite well.  Here's a sample from Genesis 42: 1-4:  "Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt.  So he said to his sons, 'Why are you just sitting here looking at one another?  I have heard that there is grain in Egypt.  Go down there and buy grain for us to eat.  Then we will live and not die.'  So ten of Joseph's brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt.  But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph's brother, with them.  Jacob was afraid that something terrible might happen to Benjamin."

The translation appears to be quite good to me, and very understandable for kids.  One of the passages I always go to in Bibles to help give me an idea of the general literalness of the translation is Romans 9:13, and this translation doesn't try to soften it which is a good sign:  "As the Scripture says, "I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau." 

Here are some other excerpts to help give you more of an idea of how this translation reads: 

Rom 8:28, 30. "We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him.  They are the people God called, because that was his plan…God planned for them to be like his Son.  And those he planned to be like his Son, he also called.  And those he called, he also made right with him.  And those he made right, he also glorified." 

2 Tim. 3: 14-17:  "But you should continue following the teachings that you learned.  You know that these teachings are true.  And you know you can trust those who taught you.  You have known the Holy Scriptures since you were a child.  The Scriptures are able to make you wise.  And that wisdom leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching and for showing people what is wrong in their lives.  It is useful for correcting faults and teaching how to live right.  Using the Scriptures, the person who serves God will be ready and will have everything he needs to do every good work."  

The Bible has some fancy pages (with snowflakes of course) scattered throughout with little tidbits on topics like, "How Do I Pray?" , "How Do I know Jesus Better?" and "Knowing Jesus Better".  For the most part those sections seem okay, though I might have an issue with some of the memory verses they suggest like Jeremiah 29:11 which is usually taken out of context and applied specifically to Christians when in actuality it was a promise to the physical descendants of Jacob, not necessarily to present day Gentile Christians.  I just had to mention that. 

Overall, I thought this translation was pretty good. 

 
The FTC guidelines require me to state that I received this Bible for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review (my review did not have to be favorable).  Many thanks to the BookLook blogger program.

Amongst other places, this book may be purchased at Amazon

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Dinosaurs: Marvels of God's Design - The Science of the Biblical Account

I wasn't sure about reading this book until I saw that Ken Ham had endorsed it and then I knew that it would be what I wanted:  a book that is biased towards the literal account that God's Word gives of creation.  The author of this book believes in a literal six-day Creation and in a literal global flood, and thus studies the dinosaurs with that viewpoint.  I was especially intrigued upon opening the first pages of the book to see 1 Timothy 6:20-21 and 2 Peter 3:5-6, two verses warning about those who turn away from what God's Word says.

Dinosaurs Marvels of God's Design by Dr. Tim  Clarey is a very fascinating book on Dinosaurs. Filled with many photographs of dinosaur fossils, and many artist renditions of dinosaurs, it is interesting even to little kids as I found when my little brothers all gathered around me while I was reading this book this past week, asking about the dinosaurs and being intrigued with the pictures. Where the Bible is silent on Dinosaurs, the author is very speculative and admits that it he is speculative.  That probably seems odd, but what I mean by that is that, where the Bible does not expound upon certain things about Dinosaurs, Clarey is careful not to be dogmatic on certain things, like whether or not the dinosaurs were warm or cold blooded, whether or not Dinosaurs carefully looked after their young…etc.  He speculates, but makes sure that you know that he is merely speculating as he has not observed the live dinosaurs in action himself.  For instance, in one spot he is giving some speculative reasons as to why a certain dinosaur had a very thick skull, concluding with, "God designed these dinosaurs with an unusual thickened skull for possibly all these reasons, and/or just to glorify Him by demonstrating tremendous diversity."  But his speculation was very interesting, and I must add that it is informed by certain observations that can be made by observing fossils and things.  But on all topics, like how far back in time Dinosaurs existed he holds very firmly to interpreting what science discovers of Dinosaurs by means of what God has said about His creation in His Word. 

I loved it when giving the modern estimates of how old certain dinosaurs fossils are sometimes he says things like "Secular Dated: such and such millions of years ago" (I'm paraphrasing of course).   Clarey uses a lot of repetition mainly when he is refuting the views of unbiblical scientists, he'll repeat statements about scientists have trouble with Marine fossils being mixed up with Dinosaurs but that Creationists don't have a problem with it because they believe in a global flood which is an excellent explanation as to how those creatures could have gotten mixed together.  The repetitions like that are fine as they hammers these possible explanations into one's head, biasing one still more towards bias towards the Bibles account of the age of the earth, which I think is a good thing, and it is also good if you are using the book as a reference book rather than just reading it straight through.

All in all, I loved the book because it was biased, and the author had presuppositions, Biblical presuppositions.
The author is unapologetically biased towards the account of Creation given by the Ultimate Witness of Creation :  God, the Creator Himself.


In compliance with FTC guidelines, I state that Master Books has provided me with a free review copy of this book through Cross Focused Reviews (My review did not have to be favorable).  Lots of thanks to the publisher and Cross Focused Reviews!

You may purchase this book at (among other places) Amazon.com and Masterbooks

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Apostles' School of Prophetic Interpretation - By Charles Maitland

The Apostles' School of Prophetic Interpretation: With Its History Down to the Present Time - by Charles Maitland is a very fascinating book on prophecy.  Maitland bases his premise on the fact that the Apostles taught Christians verbally and not merely through letters, and that those letters do not contain everything they taught the early Christians.   He cites 2 Thes. 2:15, "So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or by epistle of ours. "(2Th 2:15 ASV)  And also uses another verse closely connected with the above to prove his point, speaking of 2 Thess. Ii 5-6.  "…on this point St. Paul and the Thessalonians understood each other:  'Ye know what withholdeth.' And how had they learnt it?  'When I was yet with you I told you these things.'  They knew something not directly expressed in Scripture:  and this knowledge they were told to hand down together with the epistle." Paul told the Thessalonians to hold fast to, and by implication to pass down, what they had been taught, by letter and by the Apostles' verbal teaching.  So Maitland thinks that one of the best ways to study prophecy is to see what many of the Christians of the early church believed in regard to prophecy as they may have learned from the Apostles, or those taught by the Apostles, about certain prophetic interpretations.  This is what the author does in this book, going down through church history to see what the earliest Christians believed and observing and critiquing the deviations from those interpretations that ended up occurring along the way

The conclusion of the book is that the correct scheme of prophetic interpretation is a Premillennial one: The ultimate Antichrist has yet to come, Babylon the Great has yet to be destroyed, there will be a literal thousand year reign of Christ upon this earth…etc. One of his biggest conclusions is that the Roman Catholic Church is 'Rome' or Babylon, the Great Harlot spoken of in prophecy…I'm still a bit 'iffy' on that but he did make some very interesting arguments on that score. There were differing views amongst the early Saints about whom the woman clothed with the sun represents, some early church Saints believed it was the Church, others that it was the 'Jewish Church'.  At times, I must admit, I was bothered by the author's inconclusiveness about the Jewish people…though if I remember correctly, I think he did believe (he lived in the 1800s) that they would be brought to Christ at the end, though not necessarily taking a prominent or significant place in the 1000 year reign.  That was rather disappointing to me, but I really liked the book overall. 

Maitland gives many very fascinating thoughts, a couple of which I'll quote here: Speaking of the incredible deceiving power the Antichrist will have, so powerful that if it were possible even the elect would be deceived, the author speaks of the, as it were, reverse truths Christians will bank on to hold to the true Christ and reject the Antichrist: "Compared with the history of our Savior's life, faith and unbelief will seem, in that day, to have changed sides.  What it was blasphemy to say of the first, it will be soul-saving truth to think of the second:  he truly 'hath a devil, and is mad;' he lives and reigns 'by the operation of Satan,' for it is the Dragon that gives him that power, and seat and great authority. ..The same Scriptures that foretold good things of Christ have declared bad things of Antichrist.  Seen by this light, his very miracles will resolve themselves into a fulfillment of prophecy:  to style himself God, will stamp him 'Man of Sin:' for, if he did no miracles, he would not be the Antichrist of prophecy…"  and speaking of the Jews' rejection of Christ as Messiah in spite of the prophecies supporting him: "For Christ Himself, instead of uttering new prophecies about Antichrist, refers to that which was before spoken by Daniel the prophet:  it being His purpose not to bear witness to Himself, but to support His own mission by the witness of His Father's prophets.  The rejection of that witness, according to the primitive belief, will increase the condemnation of the Jews, and in the end bring Antichrist upon them:  God will send them strong delusion, that, as they rejected Christ in spite of their own Daniel, so they may receive Antichrist in spite of Daniel also." I had never thought of it that way before, the Jews rejection of Christ, and their ultimate acceptance of Antichrist, both actions were/are/will be in spite of the prophecies of Scripture!

The book is filled with little witty, sarcastic, and profound statements about erroneous prophetic views, for instance, in the introductory essay (which I strongly advise you to read as well) the author is defending the literal interpretation of scripture and makes comments like, "When history has falsified any part of a prognostication professing to be derived from Scripture, the mistake will be found, not in the over-literalness of the interpretation, but in its not being literal enough."  and speaking of allegorical interpretations and giving an amusing demonstration of how the Jews could have allegorically interpreted the prophecies of Christ, "Thus the methods now employed to evade the natural meaning of the prophecies about Antichrist, would have enabled the Jews to evade all that was predicted about the first coming of Christ." And many pages later, in the main part of the book after comparing in a chart (yes, this book has charts too!) differing views of early Christians for and against the Millennium he writes, "But on which side shall we range St. John?  Were he uninspired, nothing could be more decisive than his statement:  - 'They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.'  Have we at length come to this, that because we reckon him inspired the plain sense is to go for n nothing?" In other words, is John TOO inspired to be taken literally?  Maitland was very good at using sarcasm to make his point. 

Oh, and another interesting note, I have heard several times over the past few years an interesting account of a discovery of a variant of the number of the beast that says 616 and not 666.  It wouldn't be quite worth remarking on except that a second manuscript was found rather recently that has the same variant, so it seemed to give it a little more credence and cast doubt upon the number of the beast.  The account made me wonder about it as well.  This book helped me draw a conclusion on it, simply through the author's recounting of prophetic history:  Speaking of Irenaeus (a probable disciple of the Apostle John), the author writes:  "Through Irenaeus we discover that……Some had changed the Beast's number to 616; a mistake which he supposes to have begun with the copyists, and to have been kept up by 'vainglorious' attempts to support some names that agreed with 616." " Against those who had altered the number of the Beast's name, he could bring this conclusive argument:  'They that have seen John face to face say otherwise.'"  Well, that settled me on 666! 

I suppose I should end this now…there were SO many points made in the book, and I took SO many notes/wrote down quotations, the above are just a sampling of them.  I strongly recommend getting this book, it gives a very interesting look at the study of prophecy down through the ages, and is VERY thought provoking. 


Many, many thanks to Wipf and Stock Publishers for sending me a free review copy of this book!  My review did not have to be favorable.  

Besides Wipf and Stock Publishers, one of the places this book may be purchased from is Amazon.com

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Little Pilgrim's Progress - Helen Taylor

Little Pilgrim's Progress is a rewritten, illustrated version of Pilgrim's Progress and Christiana for kids.  In this version, Christian is a "Little Pilgrim" who is close friends with a little girl named Christiana who has several little siblings. Christian goes out on his pilgrimage first, and meets with various characters similar to the original Pilgrim's Progress, though some of them have been changed to be boys instead of men.  Christiana goes on her pilgrimage later on in the book with her siblings, where they also encounter Christian's father who has become a Christian and is also journeying to the Celestial City.   

There are two things that I had trouble with regarding this book and this is that first of all Christian's mother, who had gone to the Celestial City before him, is focused upon too much, she is portrayed as if she is watching, and possibly even helping him on his pilgrimage.  Speaking of Christian's mother, one character tells him, "you will find her again, little Christian…And do you know that she often very near to you?  You cannot see her, but she can see you." It took away some of the focus that should belong to God alone as Helper and Protector. We don't want children looking to their dead relatives for help, they should rely upon God!  And then when Christian arrives in the Celestial city and meets his mother he seems more focused upon her than upon the King: "'Does the King live there?' whispered Christian to his mother, for his hand was still clasped in hers.  'Yes,' she replied, 'and when you have knelt before Him and seen His glory, you will be perfectly happy forever.'  'I am happy now,' said little Christian, 'because I have found you, and you love me.'   'Ah yes,' she answered, 'but the love the King is far greater than mine.'" That just seemed very odd…instead of assuming that Christian had learned to love the King above everyone else (especially now that he is in 'Heaven', he loves his mother seemingly above everybody else and has a desire to be with her more than with the King.  It almost makes it seem as though Christian became a 'Christian' only because he wanted to be with his mother! This would be something to talk to children about if they read this book or you read it to them. 

Secondly, I thought that many of the theological dialogues were too dumbed down, and too much was cut out that could have been rendered into language understandable by children, such as the various  Scripture quotations that are cited in the original Pilgrim's Progress.   I could have understood  why the book was written the way it was if the book were for very little children but the back cover says that it is for 8-12 year olds.  Also, I found it odd that though many of the dialogues were very watered down many of the difficult names were left unchanged, such as Diffidence, By-Ends, and Discretion.  Why weren't those simplified as well?   

 But overall I liked the book. Aside from moments like what I mentioned above, most of Christian's focus does seem to be on seeing the King. I did very much like the change of the Monster Apollyon's name to a monster called 'Self'.  Which results in some interesting dialogue, like Christian saying to Self after Self tries to woo him, "The King loves me better than you do, and I would rather live with Him."  And of course Self gets angry with Christian and declares that Christian is his own servant, not the King's, and Self and Christian end up in a big fight with each other. 

All in all it is an interesting read that kept my attention throughout, even when Christiana began her journey and travelled through many of the same places Christian did.  There are many interesting concepts to discuss with children and as I said above, it would be good to talk to children about the flaws of the book as well.
 

Many thanks to Moody Publishers for sending me a complimentary copy of this book to review (My review did not have to be favorable).

You may purchase this book from Christian Book Distributors and other bookstores.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Short Answers to Big Questions about God, the Bible and Christianity - by Clinton E. Arnold and Jeff Arnold

Short Answers to Big Questions about God, the Bible and Christianity by Clinton E. Arnold and Jeff is just what its title declares it to be, it is an endeavor to answer, in only a few pages, many questions new Christians, or unbelievers, have about God, the Bible or Christianity.  The book is not as good as I had hoped it would be.  My main problem with it is its presentation of the relationship/interaction between God and mankind. 

 First, its discussions of the love of God toward people are presented too much like the modern concept of "falling in love", an uncontrolled, "couldn't help it" type of thing.  Here are a few quotes to demonstrate what I mean:  "God isn't just loving, he is love……And he isn't just a loving person 'in theory'; he literally, at this very moment, is aware of his deep love for you. "and, "he loves you because he created  you…If  you have a child,  you have felt this love before; you don't love your child because of what they've accomplished; you love them because they are your child.  This is how God sees you. …"  I don't remember anywhere in the Bible where God's love is declared to have been bestowed on us simply because we are His creations.  God created Satan too but He doesn't love him even though he is His creation. "The problem of sin created a serious dilemma for God…It is his nature to hate sin….yet he earnestly wants a relationship with his people…..", "In his perfect purity, holiness, and righteousness, God is deeply offended by our sin.  Yet he longs to have a close relationship with us.  Since he cannot simply overlook our offenses, he devised a merciful and loving plan to deal with this problem…"  To me, this makes God's love come across as a human loving a pitiable sickly little child, but God's love isn't generally presented that way (unless you count the picture of God's love towards Israel, but even then, it was His choice), it's more like God choosing to love a corpse, or a zombie…those dead in their sins and yet using their decaying faculties to rage against God and His attributes and desires. God CHOSE to have pity on us, God CHOSE to love us detestable creatures, creatures who naturally choose to despise Him and His laws in favor of their own selves and desires.  He chose to make us New Creations, breathing spiritual life into us. 

Second, in answering the question "Why Bad things happen to good people", part of the explanation is given like this, "God gave us the free will to make our own decisions.  Without this freedom, we would be unable to truly love God - or each other, for that matter; we would simply be robots following commands.  So when we ask how an all-powerful God could allow someone else to wrong us, the problem with what we're asking is that God's power has nothing to do with it;….God could, if he wished, end all pain on this earth right now.  He could step in and directly control everyone's actions, thoughts, and feelings in order to keep anyone from doing anything that causes harm.  But imagine the cost:  an entire world full of people who move around like puppets, never saying or doing anything that wasn't controlled for them.  No one wants that." So will we be robots in Heaven, not able to choose evil?  When God makes us into New Creations, Christians, does that make us puppets?  Is it really more loving for God to let a person choose to make choices that will lead to condemnation for eternity than it is for Him to change their dispositions to desire the right and accept Him so that they will live in the New Heaven and the New earth for eternity?  That logic doesn't come from the Bible.  That logic doesn't even make sense when it comes to parents with their children, it would not be loving for a parent to let their child slap their brothers and sisters around and then also give them the option to choose to stick their finger into a light-socket.  The loving thing to do would be to stop them from doing both of those things, not giving them a choice in the matter, even if they aren't happy in the process of being stopped.  "…without this freedom, we would be unable to truly love God.." really? Where does the Bible say that?  True love comes from God (see 1 John), it doesn't originate with human beings.  God defines love, and we learn in the Bible that true love is selfless.  So to rephrase the above statement, "Without the freedom to be selfish, we wouldn't be able to truly be selfless?"  As you can see, I don't believe that question about why bad things happen to good people was answered biblically in this book. 

Things like the above really bothered me.  This is not to say that there weren't good things in the book, there were.  I just don't think that this book would necessarily be the best to give an unbeliever or an immature Christian because some of the answers given do not match up with what the Bible says.  I really liked their section on why we don't always sense the presence of God. That chapter contains many statements that I really like, actually, I think they're excellent! So I'll end on a positive note with my favorite excerpt from the book:
 
Soon after I stopped feeling this intense love and presence of God, I started grasping for things that normally brought that passion back.  I would drive almost an hour away to find churches with great worship bands and speakers……I knew on some level that there was something off about the way I was approaching this, but I felt like I needed to do whatever it took to get that feeling back.  And then one day it struck me:  my faith had stopped being about God and had become about how I felt.  That was really selfish of me.  It shouldn't have mattered how I felt if I trusted that God was real.  At that point the best thing for someone like me was to remove those feelings so that my faith would once again become about God, not myself. ….the end result was that I began learning how  to center my life around God with or without the feelings that I once had…….To make Christianity purely about feelings is to make it about ourselves rather than God.  God doesn't promise to constantly flood us with intense emotion…From the earliest days of the church, Christians have based their closeness to God on theology - on what they knew about God from Scripture - rather than feelings.  Many of the first Christians shed blood for believing in God.  If anyone had the right to feel distant from God, wouldn’t it be the people suffering for his sake? Instead, the early disciples rejoiced at the chance to suffer for Christ (Acts 5:41)."


I received a free review copy of this book from the Baker Books Blogger Program and my review did not have to be favorable.

 

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Carols of Christmas - Andrew Gant

The Carols of Christmas by Andrew Gant goes through various popular carols of Christmas and tells some of their intricate, and often confusing, history.  You may not come out of the book wiser than when you started it about who wrote such and such a carol but Gant himself warns of this in the intro:  "…if you occasionally get to the end of a chapter in this book slightly unsure about who wrote words or tunes or bits of either, me too…." Apparently we don't know exactly who wrote some of the songs, and many of them were revised from their original written form. 

One of the histories I found particularly interesting was that of Hark the Herald Angels Sing, originally Hark How all the Welkin Rings' by Charles Wesley.  Apparently George Whitefield was one of the people who revised the song, one of the verses he changed was "universal nature say 'Christ the Lord is born today!'" to "With th'Angelic hosts proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem!'"  I found it interesting that Mendelssohn, the man who composed the music that was eventually used for the words, didn't think that the tune was fit for religious songs and that it would "never do for sacred words.  There must be a national and merry subject found out…" Nowadays it would be hard for me to picture it put to secular words!

Gant's style of writing is a bit confusing at times, he strikes me as trying too hard to be casual, which doesn't always flow very well in my opinion. Also some of his statements were a bit weird, for instance, his comment, "the most potent force in the shaping of human destinies: luck", and then again, when speaking of the original lines of Wesley's hymn, cited above, "universal nature say…" he declares that , "…there is something gloriously inclusive, almost pantheistic…in Wesley's lines…much better than Whitefield's replacement." Statements like that seem a bit odd for a Christian to say.  There were several songs where I had wished that he would have dealt more with the history of the wording and meaning of the words  but he focused on the development/ evolution of the commonly used tune (or tunes) for the carol instead.

All in all it was a bit confusing, and I think it could have been written a lot better than it is, but it did have interesting tidbits of carol history in it, and the cover is pretty and feels neat!


I received a complimentary copy of this book from the BookLook blogging program in exchange for my review, which did not have to be favorable. 

I rate this book at 3 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Happiness - By Randy Alcorn

God commands His people to be happy and therefore being 'happy' is a matter of obedience for Christians. Such is the argument of Randy Alcorn's newest book "Happiness".  It seems that he has encountered a lot of Christians who seem to think, or imply, that happiness is sin and that God's purpose is for us to be holy, not happy.  He declares that the oft cited difference between happiness and joy is in reality a nonexistent difference, that the terms are so alike in meaning they are synonymous.  "The distinction between joy and happiness is not biblical".   

He critiques the view that 'joy' is more 'contentment' without reference to the emotions, while 'happiness' is primarily circumstantial and emotional.  He makes a case that the word "joy" is also emotional in meaning.  He also believes that "happy" is the better term to use in the case of many of the Greek and Hebrew words translated in many Bibles as "blessed".  Perhaps the term "blessed" isn't the best term to express the actual meaning behind the original words, but is "happy" truly the best?    I don't deny that the words do, perhaps even often, denote 'joy' or 'happiness', but do those terms always express their primary meaning?  Alcorn quotes from dictionaries and lexicons to show that the definition of "happy" corresponds with aspects of the lexical definitions of the Greek and Hebrew terms. One of the elders at my church (also a biology teacher at a Christian school)  pointed out that the lexical meaning of a word is not necessarily the common usage/evolution of the word.  He used the word 'gay' for example: the dictionary still includes 'happy' as one of the definitions, but nowadays, to use the term in reference to happiness would be unwise as its primary usage in our society refers to homosexuals.

 So, when Mr. Alcorn makes statements like, "God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy" and "A Gospel that promotes holiness over happiness isn't good news. " and, "our happiness is a measure of our obedience"  what picture does that convey? When I think of "happy" I picture an emotion ,a beaming face, a person in a state where they are prone to laugh merrily.  I suspect that others may have the same idea of 'happiness'.  Am I sinning if I am not in a jolly state?  Am I disobeying God when I am simply content with His will and am in a serious, not a merry, condition of mind? What if I changed the quotes above using a synonym for happy, "Our merriness is a measure of our obedience",  "A Gospel that promotes holiness over jolliness isn't good news."  This is along the lines of what Mr. Alcorn's statements imply to me.   

Again, maybe he is right and "blessed" isn't the best English word to use to translate words like 'makarios', but are the words 'happy' and 'joyful' the best ones to use?  For instance in the beatitudes, is the best translation truly, "happy are the poor in spirit…" or would expressions like  "content", 'favored by God' or 'fortunate', fit better?   

Alcorn says that, "Maybe by defining joy as unemotional, positional, or transcendental, we can justify our unhappiness in spite of God's command to rejoice always in him" But is having the 'happiness' emotion to be our primary goal?  Or can we admire and be in awe of God without having a feeling of merriment or jocularity? Can't one serve God without being jolly and yet not be sad? "…feelings are not the entirety of joy, but since God's joy involves his emotions, shouldn't our joy involve ours?"  Alcorn asks. Maybe this is the case, but does the emotion have to be "happiness" or can it be emotions of "awe", "contentment", "peace", or can it be an action of the mind/thought processes like focusing on God's will and submitting to it, loving others, praying to God, or even weeping with those who weep? But  does delighting and rejoicing in the Lord always take the form of great emotional happiness?  I'm sincerely asking these questions, not just using them as counters to Alcorn's arguments.

Alcorn seems to think that a major problem among Christians today is that they are against happiness.  Maybe the ones he knows of are, but the ones that I know of aren't.  Actually, I've thought that a major problem amongst Churches has been the focus upon drumming up emotions and feelings, like happiness, over and above seriously trying to be intent upon learning and doing what God says.   The statement is made in the book that the word happiness has been, "a bridge between the church and the world - one we can't afford to burn".  Alcorn makes a great case that Christians should be happy in the Lord, and that true happiness can only be found in Him and doing His will. But Happiness, even happiness in the Lord, isn't the beginning of wisdom, rather, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom".  Our witnessing to bring others to Christ will not, and should not (I think) always be presented as an offer of happiness, but rather out of our reverence for the Lord, we may witness by warning of His judgement:  "having known, therefore, the fear(not the happiness) of the Lord, we persuade men…"(2Co 5:11 ASV). " And our motivation in serving the Lord will not always be our emotional happiness in Him: Having therefore these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. "(2Co 7:1 ASV) Not, "perfecting holiness in the happiness you have in God". 

 I am NOT against Christians being happy, I just don't see the biblical proof that we're necessarily sinning if we are not in that particular state.  If he had presented it from the standpoint of the many reasons Christians have to be happy in the Lord and used material that he has presented in sections of this book like, "Ways to Cultivate Happiness", "Happiness Comes From Meditating on God's Word," and "Happiness Through Confession, Repentance and Forgiveness." I would have liked it much better.   A lot, and I truly mean a LOT, of good points were made in this book, I just didn't like how Alcorn presented the concept of happiness as an obligatory state for Christians to be in, and I wasn't convinced of the exegetical necessity for all of the Greek and Hebrew words dealt with in the book as needing to be translated as 'happy'. 
 

Many thanks to Tyndale House Publishers for sending me a complimentary review copy of this book (My review did not have to be favorable)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament, by Phillip Wesley Comfort

A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament, by Philip Wesley Comfort is an interesting and a potentially helpful resource in studying the NT.  I appreciate that summaries are given about the various manuscripts that are referred to in the commentary, including their symbols, which are what Comfort uses to refer to the different manuscripts as he comments on the different readings of any particular verse. 

Most of the variants appear to be rather small and do not appear to change the meaning of a verse much, for instance some manuscripts saying 'Jesus Christ' in a certain variant and others reading simply "Christ",  whichever reading a Bible translator chooses to use doesn't make a major difference as either way we know to Whom it refers.   Comfort mentions a variant of Romans 8:28 which I found interesting, he translates the variant as, "God turns everything to good" which of course is different from "all things work together for good."  He says that "this is the original wording according to three early MSS….It is God who turns everything to good; it is not just that everything works out for the good."*  But I don't think that that concept is lost by using "all things work together for good" because God's being the One working all things together for good is evidenced by the verses that follow (and by realizing the sovereignty of God that is taught throughout the Bible).  It is an interesting variant though. 

Comfort's eschatological views are evidenced in his commentary on the number of the beast in Revelation, "A variant reading is 'his number is 616…Either reading could be original…whichever one John wrote, they both symbolize Caesar Nero…"  I take it that Mr. Comfort is not premillennial.  Also, I disagree with some of his commentary on the variants of 1 Cor. 14:33, " 'For God is not the  author of discord but of harmony, as in all the gatherings of the saints.'  This reflects the reading of the three earliest MSS…contra NA…which join this phrase with the beginning of 14:34.  The difference in meaning is significant:  harmony is the rule of God for all the gatherings of the believers…"…Paul was not saying that women should be silent in all the Christian gatherings, only in Corinth, which must have been experiencing problems with women speaking out of turn during the prophesying."  But even if the statement, "as in all the gatherings of the saints" doesn't connect with vs. 34 that doesn't imply that the command about women not speaking in the assembly only applied to the Corinthians church.  I don't see that implication at all.  Paul says, "It is shameful for a woman to speak in the Church."  That sounds like a very general statement that encompasses all church gatherings.  Besides, what about Paul's telling Timothy that women shouldn't teach or hold authority over men but should remain quiet while learning (1 Tim 2:11-15)?  Was he referring only to the women of the Corinthian church?  I think not.  

But,  I do like the book overall, and really appreciate Mr. Comfort's work in putting this book together enabling one to learn about the different variants of the NT even if one doesn't agree with all of Mr. Comfort's comments on them.

Many thanks to Kregel Academic for sending me a free copy of this book to review!

One of the places where this book may be purchased is at Amazon.com


*I omit certain parts of quotations as they are mostly symbols of various manuscripts referred to that I don't know how to replicate in type.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

An Epic Tragedy: Lusitania by Diana Preston

Perhaps this is odd, but I find the subject of the Sinking of the Lusitania fascinating.  Perhaps it is because so many people's lives were affected and lost at once, and it was interesting to see  their reactions under pressure and fear of death, some were brave, some were cowardly, some were selfish and some were selfless. 

Lusitania
 Like the first book I've read on the subject, Dead Wake by Eric Larson,  An Epic Tragedy: Lusitania by Diana Preston looks at many people as they travel on the Lusitania and experience her sinking (The Lusitania was a passenger liner torpedoed by the Germans during WW1 before America entered the war).  Preston seems to repeat the accounts of  more people than Larson did, which I appreciate, even though getting glimpses of so many people does make it a bit 'crowded' at times and hard to remember who's who (that's more realistic right?).  It makes it seem like one is getting a 'bigger picture' of the event. 

 As I was reading it seemed almost as if I could see the event happening.  It was made more 'real' by Preston's describing the normal life and daily events that were happening just before and when the torpedo hit.  Some people were eating lunch, others were taking walks on the deck, one man was trying to prove to another man how the Lusitania could not be torpedoed when the question was settled by the ship being hit during his explanation! 

 And then the accounts of thoughts and actions of people as the ship sunk and they entered the water (the huge ship sunk in only 18 minutes!)  made it eerily 'come to life'.  Some were inspirational in their bravery, some were pitiable in their cowardice and the behavior of others was shocking in their desperation to focus on saving their own lives.  One man found two babies left behind on deck, picked them up and jumped into a life boat with one under each arm.  Other men pushed terrified women into lifeboats while other men and women ignored those in need and greedily fought for the means to save themselves.   Some survivors remembered having odd thoughts pass through their minds while in the water.  I was touched and amused by the account of one man, Charles Hill who was "dismayed by the determined selfishness of his fellow passengers….As Hill thrashed in the water and began to go under again, he had the irrelevant thought that 'I hadn't paid the barber for my week's shaves.'  He almost laughed.  But moments later, as he tried to swim to the surface, he felt he was 'dragging something heavy.'" When he came up he found an old man holding one of his ankles while a woman with a child held his other leg, and he didn't kick them off (which one would think would be normal reaction as is proven by the accounts of the unloving actions of others)! He grabbed onto a lifeboat and they were all pulled in.  I found Third Officer Albert Bestic's thought, as he hung on to an upturned collapsible lifeboat, especially striking when he "shuddered" at the sounds around him, "like the despair, anguish and terror of hundreds of souls passing into eternity."

Diana Preston writes well and keeps the interest almost all of the way through.   Towards the end of the book she deals with conspiracy theories, questions, speculations and motives about the sinking of the Lusitania, and I found that a bit boring, though others may not. There were was some bad language used (quotations of various people at the time), and there was at least one detail given about someone's tatoo that I absolutely did not need to know….

It is an interesting account, a sobering look at the actions and thoughts of various people who are close to being summoned to stand before God.

 

Many thanks to the folks at Bloomsbury Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book! My review did not have to be favorable.
 
One of the places where this book may be purchased is Amazon.com

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

NIV Zondervan Study Bible

When first received my copy of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible in the mail, my first impression was amazement over its size and weight, it is HUGE!  It is quite impressive on the inside as well, the text of the  NIV is laid out in a one column format instead of the usual 2 columns.  The cross references are placed on the side of the column and study notes on the bottom.  I loved the charts throughout, especially in the OT which included charts summing up what was in certain sacrifices and offerings, and charts on the Lord's appointed festivals, census results, Levite Numbers and responsibilities…etc.  Very helpful.  There were many photographs of Biblical areas throughout, and also pictures of various archeological finds having to do with many biblical events and people.  Those are quite fascinating and interesting.  

Many of the study notes seem quite intricate and useful and exegetical.  Several of the pages are quite packed with notes.  There were various scholars writing the study notes for each individual book of the Bible and you can see the negatives and positives to that.  For instance, I was pleasantly surprised (shocked may be the better term) that the person who did the study notes in 1 Corinthians actually took the literal view of chapter 7, where Paul repeats, affirms and perhaps expounds upon, the Lord's command,  "To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord):  A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband.  And a husband must not divorce his wife." 1 Cor. 7:10-11  The writer of the study notes comments:   vs. 11"...There are only two options for a divorced woman: (1) remain unmarried or (2) reconcile with her husband.  a husband must not divorce his wife.  Just as a woman must not divorce her husband; again Paul formulates no exception." Vs. 15, 'Let it be so.'   when a non-Christian spouse divorces a Christian spouse, the Christian cannot do anything about it.  not bound in such circumstances.  it is often suggested that this allows a deserted Christian spouse to remarry since the Christian is not 'bound' to the marriage that has been dissolved.  This interpretation is not plausible:  (1) In v. 11 Paul prohibits remarriage in cases where divorce has taken place. (2) The Greek verb does not mean 'bound'; it means 'enslaved' or 'under bondage.' (3) The thrust of the context is maintaining marriage.  (4) Paul speaks of 'freedom' for a new marriage only in cases when the spouse has died (v. 39; Rom 7:1-3).  If a non-Christian spouse leaves the marriage, the Christian spouse is not responsible for the divorce.  Christian spouses may not initiate divorce from non-Christian  spouses on religious grounds..."  But then where you turn to Christ's comments on divorce and remarriage in Matthew 7 and 19 you find the usual view espoused  (dissolution of a marriage before God in the case of adultery)by whomever wrote the study notes. 


 But now I must talk about the negative aspects of this Bible.  One is not so bad, but some may find it quite inconvenient, and that is that the font is (or seems to me) quite small, and that is aggravated by the fact that it is difficult to lift the book closer to one's face to take a closer look  because it is so heavy.  But if they made the font any bigger the Bible's overall size would be impractical and it would probably end up having to be treated like some old gigantic Bibles of the past where would you just designate a place for it to be left open on its own stand as it would be difficult to transport.
 

The second negative was that the person(s) who wrote the study notes on Genesis did not come down firmly on a literal 24 hour day creation.  For instance in the introduction to Genesis it is stated that, "The question of the age of the earth is not automatically resolved with the use of the seven days in 1:1-2:3.  In 2:4, Moses uses the same Hebrew word for 'day' to summarize all the work of creation…Of course, this does not mean that the term 'day' cannot refer to a 24-hour day in the seven days of creation.  But it may also serve other purposes."    And therefore of course, they also do not firmly promote a global flood in Genesis 6-7 but leave it open to the possibility of its being a regional flood.

 

The third negative is that the Bible has at least a few engravings, paintings and other forms of art picturing unclothed people.  I'll mention three of them  here: First there was a picture of a naked Adam and Eve holding a few tiny conveniently placed leaves…I don't get why they don't at least depict them in the clothing of leaves they had tried to make, or why don't they picture them when God clothed them with animal skins?  Why depict the father and mother of all mankind in what is now their shame???  It is STILL their SHAME, why is it okay for their offspring to have pictures of them in that state???????I don't understand that at all.  And then there was an engraving or something  showing  circumcision being performed on men and it was completely unnecessary, I didn't need to see that.   And lastly there was a painting in the introduction to Psalms that showed unclothed and scantily clothed Egyptian women musicians, the only connection to the Psalms was that they were musicians.   Why? Why choose that one?  I don't care if they are ancient archaeological finds and are considered 'a work of art', I don't care how old it is,  there are bad/immoral works of art from history just as there are bad works of 'art' today!  I don't understand how a person can think that pictures depicting naked people are justified to have in a Bible, rather I see it as an affront and a contradiction to the teachings of the Bible itself.  Think of Christ's statement:  "Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, that every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. "(Mat 5:27-28 ASV).  What if a picture was placed beside it showing a lewdly dressed woman with the caption "ancient depiction of a prostitute", wouldn't that seem a little (sarcasm) contradictory? 

I'm sorry to have to be so negative but I simply had to say something.  I would have rated the study Bible higher if it hadn't been for the bad pictures. 

  

I received a free review copy of this book from the Booklook blogger program in exchange for my review which did not have to be favorable.

 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

'Till We Meet Again

One of the ways I know a book is well written is when it seems too short. 'Till we Meet Again by Ray and Betty Whipps with Craig Borlase is one of those books.  It is a true World War II account of a U.S. soldier (Ray) who ends up wounded and transferred to a place where U.S. Nurse (Betty) works.  Upon meeting they discover their love for each other.  After promising to marry Betty, Ray gets sent out to the battlefield again and gets captured.  But I knew it had a happy ending before I read it because their picture is on the back of the book as an old, happily married couple (of course, you can assume it too because Betty's name is joined with Ray's on the book cover with the same last name as Ray).   

Told from Ray's first-person dramatized view, Betty's perspective is mainly told from her letters scattered throughout the book.  I found their first meeting very…I don't think that amusing is the word…it was very heartening/encouraging.  Betty had noticed the lack of men who were visibly Christians amongst the soldiers she met and cared for in her duties as a nurse. It just became an understood thing with her, that most of the men she took care of were not Christian, actually, it sounds as though she hadn't met a Christian soldier yet.  Then God brought in the injured Ray.  The first day they met Ray had a Bible visibly on him because he had fallen asleep with it the night before.  When Betty saw him, the first words out of her mouth were not, "how are you?" or, "I'm Betty, what is your name?"  Or something like that, rather it was, "Are you a Christian?"  I found her absolute joy at meeting another Christian delightful. Her first attraction to Ray was not his looks or other superficial things but was the fact that he was a Christian.   

I read the book in one day as it was more of a narrative book than a thought provoking one(not that I wasn't thinking while reading it), generally no deep thinking was inspired, it was just more of a high level observation of God's direction of their lives.  Both Ray and Betty seem to have had a God-focused perspective during the trials He had ordained.  It was very interesting to see this part of God's plan for their lives. 

I received a free copy in exchange for this review (my review did not have to be favorable)
 
This book may be purchased at Amazon.com (and other bookstores)