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