Thursday, June 1, 2017

God With Us - By Glenn r. Kreider

I was talking with one of my uncles some months ago and he was lamenting the lack of good Christian books out there, pointing out that the only good 'Christian' books are the ones that lead you to read the Bible itself instead of more books about the Bible. God with Us: Exploring God's Personal Interactions with His People Throughout the Bible by Glenn R. Kreider is one such book.  I don't believe that I had heard of this book before, or at least if I had it didn't catch my attention at the time.  A friend gave it to me and I ended up being very pleased with it.

In the book, Kreider focuses upon the humility of God.  He goes through the different periods of Biblical history pointing out many instances of God's graciousness towards mankind.  I'll list some particular snippets that I found fascinating:

First, in his section on Abraham Kreider points out that God could have responded in anger for Abraham's asking how he would know that he will gain possession of the land (instead of just accepting that it would happen), but He didn't, "God's response is compassionate, gracious and kind.  He cuts a covenant with Abram.…..The covenant does not make the promises of God more secure, but it does give Abram something he knows and understands." God didn't have to make a covenant at all, but He graciously did so.  And despite Abraham's flaws, God condescends to be known as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (who also were very flawed).

 Later on, in His call to Moses God condescends to answer Moses' objections to being chosen to lead his people out of Egypt, and has already provided a helper for Moses in the person of Aaron - This made me realize too that God could have made Aaron the leader of His people.  But even though Moses objected so much, God graciously still used Moses. 

And then of course, the amazing condescension of God to send His Son to earth as a human being….and as an infant, not an adult. Kreider says that for a while he had a hard time with the account given by Luke of when Jesus was 12 years old and deliberately stays behind in Jerusalem when His parents leave for home - in particular, Mary's apparently frustrated response towards Him, "My Son, Why have you treated us like this?..."   How could she dare do that seeing that she had been told beforehand that Jesus was "the Son of God"? And then he explains that his conclusion, " "Anyone who was in the presence of God in the flesh would recognize his deity, I thought.  I Now believe that this story reveals to us that Jesus' deity was well concealed.  Apparently, the difference between Jesus and her other children was not as obvious to Mary as I had thought.  Jesus never sinned, never rebelled against her; he never behaved in a depraved way."  He goes on to explain that, in a way, Jesus was, as it were, 'immature'(not meaning to indicate that Christ's action in staying behind was immature).  In other words, He still grew in wisdom, as that chapter points out, though in the process of growing in wisdom/'maturing'  He never sinned. And so Mary apparently had trouble perceiving His divinity because of this, despite having seen His perfect goodness.  I thought that was an interesting point. 

I also loved the concept that God has condescended to have His Son be in human form forever, "he humbles himself by adding to his complete deity complete humanity, not temporarily but permanently."  And not only this, but that Christ will be with His people forever on the new earth,  "The hope of redeemed humanity is not heaven but earth.  Heaven is a temporary home until the day of resurrection, when heaven will come down to earth and the God of heaven will make the earth his home (Rev. 21:3).  When the work of redemption is completed, the triune God will condescend to dwell eternally on this planet."

All in all I thought that it was quite thought provoking.  There were some things (as in any book other than the Bible) that bothered me a bit: such as Kreider's stating that, ""Although sin and rebellion will continue, God promises never to respond as harshly as he did in the flood." - I guess that he doesn't think that the future judgments to come upon the earth are not that bad? That confused me - especially as he says that he is premillennial.  And then he says that "Since the Scriptures testify about Jesus, any reading that fails to hear Jesus, any interpretation that fails to elevate Jesus, and any bible study that fails to focus on Jesus is incorrect and worthy of judgment." But what if certain passages elevate God the Father? What if they focus upon Him and not upon Christ…or what if they focus upon the Trinity as a whole? * Sigh*….. 


But I still liked the book.  Kreider does a good job of pointing out this other attribute of God, humility, that we ought to emulate, and that we will emulate because we have God- The Holy Spirit living inside of us.  It makes you want to take another look at the Bible with, not necessarily a new perspective, but with a heightened desire to notice God's condescension and humility towards humanity  that is revealed therein.  


Some of the websites where this book may be purchased are Christianbook.com and Amazon.com

My Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars *****

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Amillennialism and the Age to Come - by Matt Waymeyer

Amillennialism and the Age to Come: A Premillennial Critique of the Two-Age Model by Matt
Waymeyer is an excellent critique of Amillennialism and, in the process, an excellent defense of Premillennialism.

I learned a lot about Amillennialism and grew even more confident (if that's even possible) in Premillennialism.  One of the key things that seems to mark the Amillennial view is that they apparently believe that many Old Testament passages that speak of a this-earth Millennium are symbolic, not literal in their content. They believe that the New Testament is the key to understanding Old Testament prophecies in their true symbolic meaning.  In other words, you shouldn't take these passages at face value.  The New Testament (excepting Revelation) is the section of the Bible that is the literal key to the symbolic Old Testament.

Waymeyer goes through and defends a literal interpretation of these OT passages, showing that the literal interpretation is the most biblical hermeneutic and the one that harmonizes best with the Bible as a whole.

He addresses many of the passages that Amillennialists think definitively rule out a 1000 year millennium  on this earth (which includes death, marriage and births happening under the earthly reign of the Messiah).  They think that these passages render it impossible.

One of their big proof texts is Matthew 12:32, "And whoever may speak a word against the Son of Man it shall be forgiven to him, but whoever may speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age, nor in that which is coming.", they put a great emphasis upon "this age and the age to come" concept, basically saying that a this-earthly millennium would indicate that there are three ages, not two.  But Christ only spoke of two, therefore there cannot be a 1000 year Millennial Kingdom and therefore we cannot take the passages that appear to be speaking of a Millennial reign on this earth literally, they must be figurative.

One of their other texts is in Luke 20 where the Pharisees try to trick Christ with a question about marriage at the resurrection of the dead.  Part of Christ's answer is that there will be no marriage in the resurrection.  The Amillennialists believe that this rules out a Millennial Kingdom that includes people getting married and having children.  Waymeyer provides a good answer (I'll leave that for you to read when you get this book) and then in his conclusion says,: "If this were the only passage in Scripture describing the age to come one might understandably conclude that there could be no physical birth or death at any point during this time.  But with the testimony of the Old Testament prophets regarding the existence of sin, death, and procreation I the coming kingdom……..the need to harmonize the entirety of biblical teaching leads to the conclusion that Luke 20:34-36 is compatible with the millennial kingdom of premillennialism."


The only real problem I would have with this book is that Waymeyer does not address the, apparently future, sacrifices in Ezekiel (the section with the chapters in the 40s) that are described as "sin offerings". He does address the sacrifices offered at the Feast of Booths that are mentioned in Zechariah, but he doesn't address the ones in Ezekiel, which are one of the major questions even I, as a premillennialist, wonder as to how they will work out.   He doesn't even say, "I don't know what to make of them", which I would have preferred.  We don't need to know the answer to every question, but I would rather he would have addressed that section of Ezekiel even if he didn't come to a conclusion as to how they would potentially harmonize with books like Hebrews.

Assuming that these Ezekiel passages are Millennial, I don't doubt that they are perfectly compatible with the Millennial Kingdom. I just don't know how they are - this side of the Millennium.  The Premillennial view does have some questions that we do not know the exact answer to, but we know that these are paradoxes that will be explained at the time of Christ's 2nd Coming.  Just as the paradoxes of the first coming of the Messiah were cleared up at that time (how would the Messiah be a Conquering King and yet be rejected, and be pierced? Rule as King over Israel, conquering her enemies and yet be rejected and "cut off from the land of the living? ) by the realization that the Messiah would come twice.

Overall though, I think that Waymeyer does a great job in his critique.  One of the points that he thinks we should recognize is that "no single prophetic or narrative account is an exhaustive description of what has happened or will happen."  The prophecies complement and build on each other, they do not contradict each other.  And I think that that is one of the best arguments that Waymeyer makes throughout this book:  that, because of the passages that speak of a Kingdom on this earth, it is our duty to try to harmonize them with other passages that give us more information about the future, it is not our duty to allegorize them away when we are not given any prerogative to do so in the Bible.  We trust that somehow they all fit together perfectly, even if we do not see how at the moment.


I highly recommend this book, it is very well written (I read it in about two days), highly informative with intriguing and thought provoking arguments.  It has a lot of footnotes too, which I like in a work like this (especially when one spots quotes from, and references to, other books one may one to read) .  I think that it is very helpful and a great critique of the Amillennial position. 

Among other places this book may be purchased at the Christian Book Distributors web site and also at Amazon.com and KressBiblical.com

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
*****

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

1777: Tipping Point at Saratoga - by Dean Snow

One of my favorite ways to learn history is by reading  books that focus on an individual event in that history.  I like overviews too, but I especially  like to "zoom in", as it were.  One of the ways in which I like to do that is by reading biographies of individuals in that time.  One of the other ways is to read books that focus on various individuals experiencing the same event. 1777: Tipping Point at Saratoga, by Dean Snow, is one of the latter.

The time period is that of the American War of Independence, the year is 1777.  General Burgoyne is heading toward Albany in an attempt to cut off New England from the other Colonies.  It is a risky move that may end up with him being cut off from supplies.  General Horatio Gates is waiting for him to show up.  The two armies end up clashing and Burgoyne finds that he is cut off from supplies and that all his enemy has to do is wait for him and his men to get hungry enough to either surrender.  The whole while the continental army is growing day by day.

It is quite an interesting read, switching in between the perspectives of various people on both sides.  There are the two opposing generals, there are other officers of both sides, and several couples on the British side (some women joined their husbands and followed the army around).  The narrative generally moves day by day, showing you particular characters in certain hours of the day and what had led up to that hour.  All in all, it's quite intriguing and carries one along - you really want to know what is going to happen to the various people, 

There are a few problems that  I had with the book.  First, take a look at this paragraph: "The founders tended to be Deists, or at least sympathetic to Deism, people who were skeptical of religious ideology, skeptical of institutionalized religion in general and of Christian doctrines in particular."  I feel wary about those statements, I have never gotten that impression from the history that I've read, but perhaps I just haven't delved into it enough. Anyway, he goes on to say, "This predisposed them to favor flexible democratic processes over rigid absolutes.  The Constitution eventually accomplished the intended objective, emerging as an amendable document subject to improvement."  That makes the constitution seem more like a suggestion than a standard of law.

Also there was one instance that I know of fiction, an elderly woman helping her husband by loading muskets who then cannot resist peeking over the top of the rampart and gets hit in the face by a musket ball.  The beginning of the book mentions that a skeleton of an elderly woman had been found with her face blown out.  The theory of how she died is, of course, a plausible theory but not known fact.  I would rather that that that would have been incorporated as theory in the narrative, not stated as fact.  It just makes me wonder if there are other places in the book that are fictional guesses as to what happened.  I do believe in rigid absolutes in certain areas, including the topic of history, and something factual happened to that woman, it isn't up to those who follow her in history to make up their own story of her death and present it as fact.

One more thing, I had some trouble understanding the maps with indicators of where the armies were in the map.  It's probably just me though, others will probably understand it well.

Otherwise I really enjoyed reading it.  I liked seeing the different perspectives and events of that section of days in 1777. 


I won an advanced reading copy of this book in a LibraryThing Giveaway (from Oxford University Press), I was not required to review the book (at all, either positively or negatively).  Many thanks to LibraryThing and Oxford University Press!! 

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

CSB (Holman) - Ultrathin Reference Bible - Brown Leathertouch

The Christian Standard Bible is a new revision of the Holman Christian Standard Bible.  They have made some changes, and it seems to me that many of those changes are toward a more literal translation, which is a good thing. 

Here are some samples:

In Matthew 19:28 the HCSB renders it:
"Jesus said to them, 'I assure you: in the Messianic Age, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne…" This new revision has it as, "Jesus said to them, 'Truly I tell you, In the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne…'" - CSB

Not that I'm disputing that the renewal of all things references the Messianic age, it's just that "the renewal of all things" is a more literal rendition of what Christ said, more toward a formal equivalence rather than a dynamic one - which I believe is a safer route.

To some degree the same holds true with the following:

Daniel 9:25:"Know and understand this:  From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince will be seven weeks and 62 weeks…" HCSB

"Know and understand this:  From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until an Anointed One, the ruler, will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks" CSB

1 Peter 3:1-2: "In the same way, wives, submit yourselves to your own  husbands so that, even if some disobey the Christian message, they may be won over without a message by the way their wives live when they observe your pure, reverent lives." HCSB

"In the same way, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the word, they may be won over without a word by the way their wives live when they observe your pure, reverent lives."  CSB

The translators also switched "languages" in 1 Corinthians 14 to "tongues", though I still think that Languages was a good translation.

There are also noticeable changes in the way the translators interpret the text, for example, in 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul is explaining that if a husband or a wife has an unbelieving spouse who wants to leave them, that they should let them leave, they then translate his next words as, "Wife, for all you know, you might save your husband.  Husband, for all you know you might save your wife." CSB  Whereas the HCSB said, "For you, wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband?  Or you, husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?"  - 1 Cor 7:16?   Which is a rather significant change.

There were some things that I did not like about this translation.  For instance, they seem to have caved a little bit more on the gender inclusive language - 1 John 3:17  "If anyone has this worlds goods and sees a fellow believer in need but withholds compassion from him -how does God's love reside in him?" CSB

"If anyone has this world's goods and sees his brother in need but closes his eyes to his need - how can God's love reside in him?"   HCSB  They do note that their goal is to translate the Bible faithfully, they simply change some gender specific language to gender inclusive when the text itself allows for it. I still don't think that that is necessary, but okay.   

And then there is a problem that I had with the HCSB that I still have with this revision.  One of which is that, despite saying in their introduction that their "OT Textual notes show IMPORTANT differences among Hebrew (HB) manuscripts and ancient OT versions, such as the Septuagint…(emphasis mine)", they do not include the LXX variant of Psalm 40:6, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not; but a BODY hast thou prepared me: (Brenton- Emphasis added), Whereas the Masoretic text (which only goes back to about 900 A.D. [or CE]), the text the Majority of our Old Testaments are based on, says, Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; MINE EARS HAST THOU OPENED: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required." (KJV - emphasis added).  The difference is extremely significant as the writer of Hebrews quotation of that verse matches the Septuagint and not our Masoretic text in that it says that God prepared a body for the speaker rather than opened his ears.   And yet they include a manuscript variant of the number of the beast, 616 - which variant is quite suspect as Irenaeus (a person who lived in the earlier days of the church who is thought to have been a follower of Polycarp a follower of the Apostle John) said that this variant was false, and that the older manuscripts did not contain it nor did those who knew the Apostles support it.  If they included this variant of the number of the beast then I do not  understand how they did not give the variant of Psalm 40 which is supported by the writer of Hebrews in the Bible!

One other thing that confused me:  The CSB is presented as having been translated directly from the original languages rather than using an existing translation as its basis. There is a chart on the website for this translation showing many translations and separating them on the basis of whether or not they are translated directly from the ancient languages as opposed to using an existing English translation as the basis.  The CSB is shown to be a translation not based upon an existing translation. But to me this seems to be contradicted by the admission that the CSB is a revision of the HCSB.   That just struck me as rather deceptive.  Perhaps I simply didn't understand the chart….

Otherwise, this is quite a nice translation  Also, this Bible is very nicely bound, with a LeatherTouch cover (it feels very nice).  The text is in two columns with a center column cross reference.  There is also a concordance at the back as well as full color maps.  All in all, very nice.




Many thanks to the folks at B&H publishers for sending me a free review copy of this book (My review did not have to be favorable).

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
 *****

Among other websites you may purchase this Bible at Christianbook.com and on Amazon.com

Friday, March 31, 2017

The French Revolution - Ian Davidson

Did you know that Thomas Paine was a part of a constitution writing convention of the French Revolution?  Neither did I.  Actually, I really didn't know much about the French Revolution at all.  This book, The French Revolution: From Enlightenment to Tyranny by Ian Davidson sounded like a good resource for discovering more about this historic event.

This book was quite helpful, taking you through the many events that made up that period in French history, some of these events being: a National Assembly coming into power subordinating the King to a Constitution, France going to war with Austria, the King being condemned to death and executed, various uprisings of the people, the Terror, many public beheadings (apparently so common that they became boring) and the ultimate execution of Robespierre himself. 

I learned that the Revolution did not start with the people wanting the King overthrown (I guess I sort of assumed that they were all for Regicide), the move was made at first to keep the King but subordinate him to a Constitution. He would no longer be the ultimate authority, rather there would be a National Assembly which would have the power to vote on things - I think the King was given some sort of veto power, but that didn't last long.   Even after the  monarchy was completely removed not all Frenchmen wanted the former King executed (the lack of that desire caused trouble for them later on), but they were overruled. 

Robespierre eventually comes into power and the Terror begins, and it truly sounds as though it would have been quite terrifying.  Ultimately it came down to utter lawlessness,  if one was accused of being against the government, you didn't even need proof of guilt.  It was basically a matter of one's being presumed guilty simply because one was accused.  ""the tribunal could only choose between two verdicts, acquittal or death, and that based not on evidence but on the moral conviction of the jurors."  Ironically, Thomas Paine was supposed to be executed (due to various events) but was saved by a mistake.  Davidson does not focus on the Terror part of the history (It only takes up about one chapter), the Terror was simply one part of the whole Revolution…or 'revolutions' of power in France, and it actually didn't last as long as I had presumed.

The history in and of itself is a bit overwhelming as there are so many changes of power, various political inclinations of the characters involved, and many constitutions and other political documents produced, but the author of this history does a pretty good job of talking you through what was happening.  it's still hard for me to keep track of all that happened in retrospect, but that's where the timeline at the beginning of the book comes in handy.  

I want write a few notes here, about the book, first, there is an awkward discussion in one of the notes at the end of the book, that I don't quite see as relevant to the history - or at least is not something that I felt the need to know. And also there are pictures in the middle of the book, two of which (paintings) are not decent (some nudity).  

On another note, there were  several helpful maps included in the book, a timeline and also an interesting list, compiled by Davidson, of people of note in the revolution. His list "suggests" that "anyone who did anything in the Revolution that could come to the attention of later historians had a 43 percent chance of a violent death".  

One of the things that I found striking about the French Revolution, as opposed to the American one, is that it appears that it was quite atheistic in its endeavors.  Robespierre tried to remedy this by coming up with something called the Supreme Being, but even then, Robespierre seemed to consider himself the supreme being rather than any supernatural entity. That seems to be the 'thing' about the French revolutionary leaders: they were themselves the moral reference rather than anything outside of themselves - which is perhaps why events were so mixed up,  because the people, with their varying opinions, were themselves the standard rather than any fixed point.  They really were not governed by any fixed law, rather it was the laws made up by whoever was in power at the time.  The people governed the law rather than vice-versa.

 Davidson is an interesting writer, he keeps the attention quite well and is not afraid to give his own opinions and speculations on the various events of the Revolution. I didn't necessarily agree with all of his opinions of the events he is recounting, but it was interesting to see what he thought.  Before I read this book, I mainly thought of the French Revolution  as a chaotic, murderous, disorganized attempt at mimicking the American one.   In a way that is true (at least in my opinion), but it was more organized than I thought, though there were many conflicts as to how it should be organized (thus multiple constitutions and changes of power), it was, perhaps, a little less murderous than I thought, though it still struck me as rather violent during pretty much every stage, and it wasn't quite as chaotic as I had thought, at the beginning, though it still seemed to get more and more chaotic as the Revolution progressed.

All in all, it was quite the fascinating read. 


Many Thanks to the folks at Pegasus Books for sending me a free review copy of this book!  - My review did not have  to be positive

My Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
****

Here are a couple (there are more of course) of websites where this book may be purchased:  Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Answers to Prayer - George Muller

Answers to Prayer by George Müller is part of the Read & Reflect With the Classics Series (I am reviewing the hardcover version) which provides thought provoking questions and also prayers at the end of each chapter.   Müller's book details various accounts of God's all sufficient grace in the works that God had prepared for him to do.

The way that Mueller approached the ministries that God graciously gave him is very unique compared to most present day Christian ministries (and perhaps most ministries in Müller's day as well).  Ministries today are very focused and reliant upon, money.  They  hold fundraising drives, have commercials on the radio asking for people's support, and some will send tons of letters and emails begging for monetary help. I think of one ministry in particular, which, although its founders believe in God's absolute sovereignty, they contradict their belief by implying that their ministry cannot continue without the help of people, that "your support makes ministry happen". 

Many ministries act as if they are the most important ministry in God's Kingdom and that if you do not give money and they expire, that God's Word will not be given out any more.  Muller did not act like that.  He knew that God did not need human beings in order to get His work done. 

Müller took a more faith-based approach, relying upon God rather than upon people for help.  He would not ask people for help with ministries, he asked God, period.  And God provided.  "Never since the Orphan work has been in existence have I asked one single human being for any help for this work; and yet, unasked for, simply in answer to prayer, from so many parts of the world, as has been stated, the donations have come in, and that very frequently at a time of the greatest need."

He also came to the conclusion that one should not rely on people's promises to give money and that one should not even think about those promises: "Now this morning it came to my mind, that such promises ought to be valued, in a certain sense, as nothing, i.e., that the mind ought never for a moment to be directed to them, but to the living God, and to the living God only.  I saw that such promises ought not to be of the value of one farthing, so far as it regards to thinking about them for help."  This is quite a contrast to ministries who beg for pledges of money, and put large or regular donors names up on plaques.  They make more of the people, more of the tools,  that God uses than the Supplier Himself!  God is the One who supplies all our need, and though he may use people to do it, they are but channels (think "Channels Only").  God doesn't need people, or their money, AT ALL in order to supply our needs!

As Müller puts it, "Earthly friends may lose their ability to help us, however much they desire so to do; but He remains throughout eternity the Infinitely Rich One.  Earthly friends may have their minds after a time diverted to other objects, and, as they cannot help everywhere, much as they may desire it, they may, though reluctantly, have to discontinue to help us; but He is able, in all directions, though the requirements were multiplied a million times, to supply all that can possibly be needed, and does it with delight, where His work is carried on, and where He is confided in.  Earthly friends may be removed by death, and thus we may lose their help, but He lives forever, He cannot die.  In this latter point of view, I have especially, during the past 40 years, in connection with this Institution, seen the blessedness of trusting in the Living God alone.  Not one nor two, nor even five nor ten, but many more, who once helped me much with their means, have been removed by death; but have the operations of the Institution been stopped on that account?  No.  And how came this? Because I trusted in God, and in God alone."

Müller would at times give updates on God's provision for the ministries in times of great need, but this was to encourage Christians in the faith, not to work on their emotions to make them feel compelled to give supplies.  At least one time Muller and his fellow workers put off giving an update because at the time they were, from a human perspective, in desperate straits, and they did not want other people to know it, wanting to rely solely on God for help.

Many ministries want God to give them a yearly supply rather than just their daily bread.  The ministries that God gave Müller charge over lived day by day in reliance upon God's supply, many times literally being given the means for their daily needs DAILY on the day they were needed, rather than in advance.

I really liked this book. The only thing that I didn't quite like were the prayers that were added at the end of each chapter.  I would rather that they have been commentary rather than prewritten ways that we can use to talk to God. Yes, we do not know how to pray as we ought, but neither does the person who wrote those prayers.  Though I don't think that using other people's prayers is necessarily wrong, Christians ought not to rely upon other Christians to write their prayers for them, we have the best Helper of all in the Holy Spirit who is our Interceder in our prayers (Romans 8:26-27).    There are good concepts in them though, "You provide what I need, and if I don't have it, I can absolutely trust that I don't need it. "

Before I end, and I really need to end because this is quite long, at the end of the book there is an appendix containing an article by Muller on "The Careful and Consecutive Reading of the Holy Scriptures".  It is an excellent read, and describes Muller's goal in writing this book.  He advocates the consistent daily reading of the Scriptures, over and above any other book.  He describes how he once slacked in that area and how he had gotten into the habit of reading other books, including Christian ones, instead of the Scripture.  "…thus, like many believers, I practically preferred, for the first four years of my divine life, the works of uninspired men to the oracles of the living God."  As he put it, "God himself has condescended to become an author" and this is the "book of books" containing all that we ought to know!  We should not value Christian books (including this one) above the Scriptures, the Scriptures themselves should be our delight. 


Many thanks to the folks at B&H Publishers for sending me a free review copy of this book (My review did not have to be favorable).

My rating:  5 out of 5 stars
*****

This book may be purchased at (among other websites) the Christian Book Distributors website and Amazon.com

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Art of Beatrix Potter

The Art of Beatrix Potter is a very nice collection of her art.  It is quite a large book, rather like one for the coffee table.  Divided into five sections, each section deals with significant places where much of her art was produced and inspired. It gives you a pretty good idea of her life by means of commentary on her art and  of photographs that were taken of her, her family and various places where she lived and visited.

I'll mention right away that it seemed a bit disjointed.  It didn't quite seem to follow much of a sequential order, it just sort of bounced around the timeline of Potter's life.  But the point of the book isn't to give you a biography of Potter, but to introduce you to her artistic skill, and I believe it does a good job in this.

There are drawings and paintings of landscapes, of houses,  rooms inside of houses, and of various creatures, many of which were studied by her for her children's books: rabbits, frogs, ladybirds (or as we Americans call them, ladybugs), squirrels….etc.  There are also photographs, or scans, of the covers of many of her children's books, and some history behind the various ones as well.  There are also pictures of some sections of the letters to children that many of her stories originated from.

Potter had some unusual subjects that she did as well (at least to me!) such as paintings of fossils and also paintings of various fungi, which becomes, after the first two or three, rather boring, but her artistic skill is still quite intriguing to observe, despite the subjects.

There were several interesting tidbits about Potter, for instance:  She admitted to being quite unoriginal in her artwork, she copied nature as it was, she didn't imagine a completely original scene, preferring to use what was in front of her rather than imagining something completely different. But she would change scenery, mixing different aspects of multiple places that she had copied together to make one picture.  She would copy gardens and rooms inside of houses, and would travel around to various places finding scenery to paint that would potentially make good backgrounds for her characters in her various books.  Her animal characters were often modeled by her own pets (including the hedgehog that became Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle).

Another thing about Potter that I learned(this surprised me as I would never have thought it of her) , has to do with the pictures of fungus that I mentioned earlier;  she was apparently very interested in fungus! She studied it during her younger years, and loved painting it.

Overall I think that this is a nice collection for Potter fans, and that people will enjoy the history and the pictures.  It inspires me to take a closer look at God's creation and realize how marvelous it all is, and how great the One who created it is!


I received a free copy of this book as a part of the Library Thing Early Reviewers Program:  Many thanks! (My review did not have to be favorable)

My rating: 4 out of five stars
****


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

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Alvin York - By Douglas V. Mastriano

Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne by Douglas V. Mastriano is a very interesting account of the life of this man, of what happened on the battlefield in World War 1 that elevated York, a former pacifist, to fame.

 Alvin York was born into what became a large family, the third of eleven children (the family lived in a one room cabin on a farm by the way!).  His two older brothers where married and had farms of their own when his father died and so York became the head of the family.  After this, despite having been born into a Christian family, York went downhill morally and became a heavy drinker and a gambler, and of course, associated with bad people.  He acknowledged that his sins started small and then these things became controllers of his life.  Change came when York became a Christian and actively put away and resisted his old habits, he truly became a "new creation", a new person. 

When war broke out between the United States and Germany in 1917, Alvin York faced the strong possibility of being drafted.  He had become a pacifist by this time, struggling to reconcile His new found life in service to God and passages in the Bible that he thought indicated that Christians should not physically fight and kill other people, even under the authorization of their own government.  He appealed for exemption from military service, but his appeal was denied and he was called up to serve.  Alvin's pastor encouraged him to trust God in all of this, and Alvin obeyed the draft summons and joined the army.  I thought that it was neat to see his acknowledgement of the sovereignty of God in all of this, making sure to be obedient and serve well in this place where God had placed him, even though to be there was against his own will. 

Still burdened in conscience about killing other people, York finally approached his commanding officer with his concerns, which officer brought him to another officer, and both of them graciously discussed what the Scripture had to say on the subject, York quoting Scriptures that he thought supported pacifism, and the officers bringing him to Scriptures that indicated that the Bible was not against war.  He ended up becoming convinced that it was okay for him to go to war, though perhaps still having some struggles with doubts for a little while afterward.  And so York stays in the fighting of the section of the army, and ends up making the famous capture of 132 German soldiers, which event, and the aftermath of York's life are also recounted by the author. 

I thought that that  Mastriano did a very good job with this biography, it was well written and interesting, and there are many excerpts from York's personal accounts and statements.  At the end of the book, there is as chapter dealing with his research into the spot where the famous event happened, showing pictures of the bullets and giving accounts of other archaeological evidence confirming the location, and York's account, of the event.

 I also liked many of the little details that are given, such as where it is noted that York's wife Gracie did not like the part in the movie that ended up being made about York where she and York are seen  kissing before they are married - which they apparently did not do in real life.   And as another example, I was especially surprised to find out that part  of the motivation for the particular attack on the Germans, in which York's division participated (and in which York became famous), was to free 'The Lost Battalion.'

York was a very interesting and principled Christian man, and humble as well as is evidenced in his endeavor to honor those men who were with him and give the credit to the Lord for what he was enabled to do.   This is an inspiring biography. 


Many thanks to the folks at the University Press of Kentucky for sending me a free review copy of this book (the review did not have to be positive)

My Rating:  5 out of 5 stars
*****

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Inductive Bible Study - Richard Alan Fuhr, Jr. and Andreas J. Kostenberger

Looking for a book that will give you good guidelines for studying the Bible well? Inductive Bible Study by Richard Alan Fuhr Jr. and Andreas J. Kostenberger is a good resource on the topic. As the authors of this book explain, God chose to reveal His will to us through His written Word, rather than through personal revelation/new revelation.  He chose that it would be learned progressively with effort rather than instantly without any work on our part. We should revere God's choice method of conveying the knowledge of Him that He wants us to have and His will that is revealed through this collection of holy documents.  Fuhr and Kostenberger take you through a series of steps that will assist you in reverently discovering and handling what God's Word says with accuracy and reverence.

The steps you are taken through range from: comparing English Bible translations, Asking the right questions of the text, using commentaries, word studies, practicing discernment and of course, one of the most important steps of all, recognizing the importance of context and authorial intent.  It is pointed out that, "Those who read the Bible with little awareness of surrounding context often do so because they have been trained (by example) to think through Scripture in terms of devotional nuggets, memorizing verses and reading for inspirational insight rather than interpretive understanding."  Context is emphasized strongly, and related to that, I very much appreciate the cautions about word studies (though they are still encouraged),  where it is made clear that when studying individual words or phrases in a passage, it should be remembered that the meaning of those words will ultimately be discerned through the surrounding context of the phrase, not just their bare lexical meaning, "contextual meaning will always take precedence over lexical meaning."

The authors write very well, are easy to understand and the steps in each section are outlined in charts, which helps with remembering and simplifying what one has learned.  They give illustrations to demonstrate hermeneutical errors, some of which I found sadly amusing. For example, Fuhr talks about a missionary conference that he once attended where the theme verse was Joel 3:14, the verse was used as a reference to people ready to make a decision for Christ, but when one looks at the surrounding context of the verse, the 'decision' referenced in the verse is referring to God's decision to bring judgment on the nations, not salvation! 

They recommend many study resources (look for these in the footnotes as well), and also provide demonstrations of the inductive method by using it on various texts of the Scripture.  Being 'doers of the Word' and not merely 'hearers' of it is also stressed.  They make the interesting argument that, "While the Holy Spirit is certainly capable of providing interpretive insight, we'd suggest that illumination has more to do with appropriation than interpretation."  In other words, the work of the Holy Spirit is more seen in the Christian's personal application of the truths of Scripture to their life than by their coming to the correct conclusion as to the meaning of any given section of Scripture (though this is very important of course).  They do clarify that not all texts of the Scripture are necessarily directed at 'doing', some texts give us more knowledge about the God whom we serve by obedience to His will (by the enablement of the Spirit).  But both are a part of what we glean from our Bible study: knowledge of God and His will, and then living in light of the revealed truth. 

I want to mention two more things, first, ironically I must admit that I disagreed with some of their conclusions on the interpretation of some example texts (I will probably take another look at them), but the authors themselves encourage the reader to not be afraid to disagree with a Bible commentator if one thinks (by means of correct hermeneutics of course) that a they are not interpreting a text correctly.  Also, the authors kept using female pronouns when speaking of any given Bible studier, which terminology was rather tough to get used to (despite being a female myself) and was rather distracting.  I think that using male pronouns would be more in keeping with the Bible's teaching of male headship and of woman being taken from man in the creation rather than vice-versa. it simply seems more biblical to have any given person referred to with masculine pronouns rather than having a male read feminine pronouns and apply them to himself.  I understand that our culture is very concerned about gender inclusiveness, but this book is primarily directed at Christians, most of whom would (or at least should) have already come to grips with the primarily masculine pronouns of the Bible, especially those that, though masculine, refer to both male and females. To me it's like someone using the term "womankind" to refer to both males and females, instead of 'mankind'.  I am just not comfortable with it.

But overall, I really liked this resource, and would recommend it to pretty much Christian looking for an aid to accurately studying the Word of God.


Many thanks to the folks at B&H publishers for sending me a free review copy of this book (My review did not have to be favorable).

My Rating:  *****
Five out of Five Stars

Here are a couple of the websites where this book may be purchased:  Amazon.com and christianbook.com

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Good Place to Hide - Peter Grose

A Good place to Hide:  How One French Community Saved Thousands of Lives During World War II by Peter Grose is quite an interesting account.  This French Community, mainly of Le Chambon but also other communities around the same area, was made up of various unique people, many (perhaps most) of whom helped saved Jews in one way or another.  One of the most intriguing things about this rescue operation is that it was apparently not organized into one big operation, and no one was ultimately in charge. 

Generally, I have focused on reading biographies, and have found that focusing on the life of one person was more interesting to me than general history.  But more recently I have become very intrigued with histories that deal with historical events from the perspective of many of the people who experienced and participated in those events.  Take a group of people and stick them in a particular tragic event or perilous time and what do they do? How do they act? Will they be brave or cowardly? Will they be selfish or selfless?

This book focuses on people living ,working in or through  "the upper reaches of the Loire Valley", a plateau in France.  The time period is that of world war ii, with Nazi Germany ultimately taking over France, at first, only ruling half of France (though in reality they ruled the other half by means of the French Vichy government which gave into Nazi ideals) and eventually ruling the whole.   The people on the Plateau end up being known as those who would take in Jews and other people fleeing the ramifications of Nazi rule.    Many of these people were not natives of that part of France (and some were not Frenchmen at all), but they all end up in that particular spot.

  There are multiple characters in this history:  Andre Trocme is a protestant pastor and ardent pacifist who ends up very involved in the saving of Jewish refugees, all while trying to keep the community from using violent means to attack the enemy.  Simone Mairesse loses her husband in the war, and instead of giving in to grief and despair desires to be active in opposing the enemy.  Andre Trocme and his wife provide her with an occupation (non-violent by the way):  helping to save (particularly Jewish) refugees, which she agrees to do and becomes a key source in finding safe houses that would take in Jews.  Oscar Rosowsky, a young Jewish man who wants to be a doctor but who is denied that occupation because of his Jewishness, and ends up becoming a document forger instead (doing his work while also having a false identity himself of course). These are just a few of the individuals who make up a part of this history.

There are joyful moments, such as when raids on houses are foiled in their attempts to round up Jews.  There are funny moments, such as when a lady who is about to be arrested pretends to be insane, or when you find out that one of the methods used to disguise Jews  and get them to safety was to dress them up as boy scouts…even older men!  And there are also sad moments, and ironic moments, one of those being when you learn that a Jewish mother and her son are hidden separately in the same village without those who are hiding them knowing that they are related to each other.  The neat thing about all of this is that this is that all of these things really happened, these were real people, not actors, these were truly scary times dealt with in real time, in real situations.

Reading history as a Christian makes it even more intriguing for me, especially as I am a premillennialist (believe that the Bible teaches that there is a future mass salvation of Jews and that all of those Jews will end up back in the promised land), and so I think that it is exciting to see how God sovereignty used various people, places and events to thwart Hitler's plan to exterminate all Jews.   The people working on and through this French Plateau were some of those means, and their 'story' is quite enthralling.

Many Thanks to the folks at Pegasus Books for sending me a free review copy of this book!  - My review did not have  to be positive, I truly did like this book.  

My Rating:  5 out of 5 stars 
*****

Just a quick note:  Being a book of history, there is a little bit of foul language (as of course, people swore and blasphemed back then too).  But it is easily scribbled out and/or passed over while reading out loud (as I did when I read it with my younger sister).

Here are a couple (there are more of course) of websites where this book may be purchased:  Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

When a Nation Forgets God - By Erwin Lutzer

When a Nation Forgets God: 7 Lessons We Must Learn From Nazi Germany by Erwin Lutzer, compares the things that started Germany on the path to becoming Nazi Germany to things that are happening in America.  The path that Germany took  turns  out to be eerily similar to the one America is taking. 

The Germans wanted a political savior.  Along came Hitler to fix the economy, take care of their children, and protect them from  dangerous things and people(which in their view included Jews). They wanted someone who would make them feel patriotic again and proud of their country rather than humiliated as they felt after World War one.  Hitler came along and did just that. 

Many Christian went right along with it, and patriotism began to be substituted for Christianity, especially as Hitler couched patriotism in a Christian light.  There was "positive Christianity" and a movement called, "God believers" where people could find that the state could be a good substitute for the church in many (or all) aspects of life.

I think that the parallels between the Germany of the 1930s-40s and America today are fascinating and instructive, and that we truly can learn lessons from the past.  I just have a bit of a problem with Lutzer saying that, "We need to develop a 'theology of civil disobedience' ; that is, we need to think through this question:  When do we tolerate the curtailment of our freedoms and at what point should we speak and act? "  To me that statement seems along the lines of saying that wives need to develop a "theology of disobedience to husbands", or saying that children need to develop a "theology of disobedience to parents".  I wish that Lutzer had worded that differently.  Though I agree, of course, that there is a place for disobeying government if that government tells us to deny Christ, worship other gods, or have abortions to control the numbers of the population…etc.  these things go against God's Word.   

Also, Lutzer seems to view Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a martyr for the cause of Christianity. Though I do believe he was a Christian, I do not see historical evidence that he was killed because he was a Christian.  Lutzer himself says that Bonhoeffer would, "eventually become a martyr for his part in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler."  I do not know if one can make a legitimate biblical case for assassinating a leader whom God has put over you.  We need to remember that Nero (who was a pretty horrible and murderous man) was in charge when Paul wrote, "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." (Romans 13:1).  We know that this does not mean that we obey them when they go against God's law, but I do not see that we can gain a biblical validation for making the murder of any political governor whom God has placed over us into a Christian act- no matter how bad the man is.  This is probably not the idea that Lutzer meant to convey, I just felt as though I needed to address it. 

Anyway, I do think that this is an interesting book overall, and I especially like how Lutzer points out that we do not need to "win" the ideological battles with our culture (thought we certainly do try), our homeland isn't here anyway. God's ultimate rule and victory is sure, though we need not see it now.  We need to stand firm and obey God rather than man if man tells us to disobey God. 

To me this book seemed like an abridgment of Lutzer's other book, "Hitler's Cross", which I liked quite well.  I would recommend reading that book if you would like a fuller look into the Nazi Germany and modern America comparison, especially in its dealing in more detail with how corrupt churches became in Nazi Germany and how politicized, eventually losing any of the true Christianity they ever exhibited.


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

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars 
****

A couple of the websites (there are more of course) where you may purchase this book are christianbook.com and Amazon.com

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

KJV Journal the Word Bible (Large Print)

The KJV Journal the Word Bible (Large Print) is a Bible designed for those who like to write notes in their Bibles.  The text is laid out in one column on each page and next to the column of text is a ruled margin for writing  (or as is also advertised: for creating art - but I don't necessarily recommend that). 

The paper is very easy to write on with pen and pencil (I like how the pen just glides along the page).  The Bible when opened really does lay quite flat, which also helps in writing neatly.  It would be useful in writing particular exegetical comments down, noting insights from your pastor and perhaps noting other translations of particular verses.  I don't think that there is enough room to write notes on each verse on any given page,  but one normally doesn't write a lot when noting things in a regular Bible, just the things that really capture our attention and that we want to remember to associate with the text.

 I kind of wish that they would have put the writing space at the bottom of the page (as study Bibles do with commentary) instead of next to the Biblical text.  It would help with organization: one could just write a tiny number next to whatever verse a particular note pertains to and place the same number next to the handwritten commentary below for reference sake.  It  wouldn't be quite as distracting as having one's own notes right next to the text that do not necessarily pertain to the verses one is reading at the moment (as one's notes can take several lines down the side of the page and thus seem to encompass several verses). 

But I still think that this is a pretty handy Bible to have if you like taking notes in your Bible already, and you could just do the drawing arrows to the verse method of pointing out which particular verse you are commenting on. Or I suppose the numbers reference method might still work in this format as well.

The version I have is a hardcover, but there are several other editions as well (including leather), and also other translations.

 My Rating: four out of five stars
**** 


I received a free review copy of this book from The BookLook Bloggers Program (My review did not have to be favorable). 

A couple  (of the many) websites where you may purchase this Bible are Amazon.com and Christianbook.com