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Book Review – Eschatology: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches

Book Review

Eschatology: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches

By D. Jeffrey Bingham

ISBN: 978-0825443442

Publisher: Kregel Academic

There is an old saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover…” and this is true with Eschatology: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches. When I ordered this book, it was on the basis of the subtitle with consideration to the words biblical, historical, and practical. While I found this book informative, I did not find it biblical, historical, or practical. I will qualify my findings based on the subjective definition of all those words.

Eschatology by Bingham is one side of a box. The Christian tradition is rich and diverse as is the Jewish tradition from which Christianity is derived. When I considered “biblical” and “historical,” I was expecting a thorough treatment of the subject of Eschatology, which is defined as “The part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.” I suppose I did get treatment on the subject, but it was very narrowly defined and almost exclusively from one perspective and tradition and that being Protestant and Reformed. While this was not totally unexpected, it was rather disappointing considering again the subtitle. I was hoping for a more inclusive and expansive treatment of the subject. As such, the material was presented in such a way that an unsuspecting reader might assume the dispensational view of biblical “final things” is the only way to understand and interpret the Scriptures.

It was my hope that the presentation of material would be more comprehensive and delivered in an objective manner, allowing the reader to make an informed decision on what theory they might understand as “more practical.” Unfortunately, this is/was not the case.

In fairness, the material, narrowly defined as it might be, was presented well. I appreciated the essay format with multiple authors. Likewise, I appreciated the effort and attempt at including a historical perspective although as a church history buff I noticed immediately how exclusionary the material actually was.

Book Review: A Commentary on Exodus

Book Review: A Commentary on Exodus

Author: Duane A. Garrett

Publisher: Kregel ISBN: 9780825425516

A Commentary on Exodus

The commentaries published by the Kregel Exegetical Library continue to impress me. The Commentary on Exodus by Duane A. Garrett is another strong volume in the Old Testament Series.

One of the many things that I particularly like about this series is there are no compromises where scholastic excellence is involved. The volumes in this commentary series are the pinnacle of academic excellence in my opinion. This can be an intimidating attribute for some, but I would say there is no reason for intimidation. In addition to academic excellence, the commentary is among the most readable that I have experienced. I am not a language or textual criticism expert and I still find the writing conversational and understandable. The marriage of readability and scholasticism is what moves me to rank this series so highly.

Duane Garrett has done an exceptional job with research and exposition of the Exodus narrative. Beginning with an incredibly comprehensive introduction addressing geography, archeology, Egyptian dynasties, socio-political circumstance, textual criticism and so much more, Garrett lays a solid foundation from which he works the major themes in his Commentary on Exodus.

No matter what commentary or commentaries you may have in your  library for this key book from the Old Testament Scriptures, Kregel’s Commentary on Exodus by Duane Garrett is a worthy addition and compliment to your collection.

Book Review: James the Just

Book Review: James the Just

Author: Dr. David Friedman

Publisher: Messianic Jewish Publishers ISBN: 9781936716449

James the Just: Yeshua’s Brother & Chief Rabbi of the Messianic Jewish Community

This is a short book, but very dense; this is to say, it might not be for everybody. When I was first offered this book for review, I was excited and looked forward to learning more about the Jewish perspective on the writings of James or Ya’akov from the collection of Scripture known as the New Testament. My goal in ordering this book was to hopefully learn more about the actual intent of these writings and perhaps understand more clearly, what may get lost in English interpretation.

Truthfully, there are some gems to be gleaned from this little book, but it was a difficult and cumbersome read for me. I’m not a Biblical languages scholar, nor am I a Biblical history expert; consequently, I struggled with finding a rhythm while reading through James the Just. There are many references to the original languages of Hebrew and Greek throughout the texts; likewise, there are quite a few transliterations of the texts that also added to the slowing down of my reading. These details contributed to my inability to digest approximately thirty to forty percent of the book. It is for this reason that I refer to the “mining of gems.” It was, in a very real sense, my experience. I would read, skim, read, skim… find a nugget that piqued my interest and then try to understand and polish up the nugget I had found. The ultimate end of this experience was that it made my level of enjoyment minimal; I felt my reading was more inclined toward work than anything else.

The book is well-annotated, complete with bibliography, reference tables, endnotes, and glossary. My experience will likely not be the average experience. I expect that most persons ordering this book will have a better background with the original languages and the socio-political history of the Jewish people. This is a very academic book and not something easily understood by the average Bible student.

As I have already said, there are some wonderful gems to be gleaned in this book. I particularly enjoyed chapter five, which seemed most like a commentary for me. I do caution you, before you order, evaluate what your purposes and expectations are for this book.

Book Review: A Commentary on the Psalms

Book Review: A Commentary on the Psalms

Author: Allen P. Ross

Publisher: Kregel Exegetical Library

ISBN: 9780825425639

A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 2 (42—89)

I continue to be impressed with Kregel’s Exegetical Library and Commentary series. I have obtained and reviewed several offerings from this set and the excellence and consistency remain steadfast. This second volume in Alan P. Ross’ Commentary on the Psalms keeps the “high bar” standard alive in the series.

This is actually the first volume of the Psalms series I have had the opportunity to work in. Volume one was released in February of 2012 and volume three is slated for release later this year (November 2014). I can say that I will be going back for volume one and I’ll be waiting in line for volume three, as I’ve enjoyed this copy immensely and count it as an indispensible resource for my Psalm studies and personal devotions.

Allen P. Ross (PhD, University of Cambridge) is professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School and has also taught at Trinity Episcopal School of Ministry and Dallas Theological Seminary. Having chaired the Old Testament department at Dallas Theological Seminary and served as Hebrew Scholar assisting in the translations of the New Living Bible and the New King James Bible, Dr. Ross is imminently qualified to offer exegesis and insight from the Psalms.

The treatment of each Psalm begins with an introduction of the text and textual variants. Here Ross shares the English translation and information relative to the original Hebrew, Greek translation variants, and other relevant manuscript and/or translation information. Next, is composition and context indicating the nature and purpose of the Psalm (lament, praise, hymn, confession of repentance, etc.). Following these introductory sections, Ross begins his exegetical analysis and expository commentary. This section is where Ross’ expertise truly shines. His extensive knowledge of the Old Testament and understanding of the Hebrew language combined with the temperament of an educator make this presentation very readable and interesting. I have used many commentaries that tend to gravitate toward one or the other spectrum of too academic or too narrative (almost paraphrasing the text with personal opinion). This commentary series seems to rest in the sweet spot of that spectrum with a comforting push toward the academic side. Ross completes his treatment of each Psalm with a homiletical application or “what does this mean to me” and “what should I do with it” consideration.

As I said at the beginning of my review, this is another fine addition to the Kregel Exegetical Library and should be near the top of anyone’s list for Commentary sets working with the Psalms. You can check out an example chapter here.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Kregel Publishing to read and post a review on my site. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Exploring Christian Doctrine

Book Review: Exploring Christian Doctrine

Author: Tony Lane

Publisher: InterVarsity Press

ISBN: 9780830825462

Exploring Christian Doctrine: A Guide to What Christians Believe

I am always on the lookout for teaching tools that will help me to share What Christians Believe. InterVarsity Press and Tony Lane have worked together to produce what is, in my opinion, an extraordinary systematic study in basic Christian doctrine.

Tony Lane (DD, University of Oxford) is professor of historical theology at the London School of Theology. One might suspect that systematic studies of Christian doctrine can be rather dry and academic, but Tony Lane has broken that stuffy stereotype and written a work that is interesting, edifying, and understandable across a broad range of learning styles and levels of Christian maturity.

One of the many things I appreciated about this compelling study was the theological stance of Tony Lane. He is self-described as “‘eclectic’ rather than ‘confessional,’ writing as an Evangelical Christian, but drawing upon a wide range of Christian traditions—Reformed, Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, etc.—without being tied to any specific one.” This attitude is pervasive throughout the study, from cover to cover; Lane shares insight and knowledge without bias and presents information as objectively and evenly represented between the Christian traditions as any resource I’ve ever come across.

The introduction sets stage for the purpose and format of the book. Lane writes; “This book originated as a series of Lectures for a first-year undergraduate Christian Doctrine Survey module. It is designed to be used by students at that level, either on their own or as a textbook for a whole cohort. It is also written to be accessible to the educated lay person who has no formal theological training.”

The format follows this basic pattern: (1) Chapter—the basic belief found in the doctrinal subject; brief historical account of the doctrine; important texts supporting the doctrine and any  creedal support; differences over doctrine between groups and interconnections of doctrine between groups; relationship of doctrine to the contemporary scene in both Church and culture (2) Interactive questions are sprinkled throughout each chapter with “What do you think?” invitations. Lane provides resources for the reader-student to engage and also includes his personal opinion on the subject. (3) Skeptic’s objections are discussed (4) Creedal and Confessional statements related to the doctrine (5) Errors to avoid regarding the doctrine (6) Issues creating tension and speculation are presented (7) Inclusion of aspects of participation in or with worship (hymn, liturgy, ritual) and prayer.

At the end of each chapter study, Lane includes a notes section and resources section that contains bibliographies for further study. Likewise, he provides a “question to answer” and suggests answers be limited to 100-words or less. He makes this recommendation to prepare the student to have a ready answer for man-on-the-street type questions where the listener may not be prepared or willing to listen to an essay styled response.

I have really enjoyed my reading through this presentation of Christian Doctrine. I do not exaggerate when I state it might be one of the finest I have come across in all my studies…especially, when I consider the range, depth, and diversity of presentation that it encompasses. I will likely be using this as a primary textbook for catechism with new disciples and likely engaging “old” disciples as well. As always, I continue to praise the work of InterVarsity Press with their tireless efforts to the ministry and education of God’s people.

Book Review: Midrash-Reading the Bible with Question Marks

Book Review: Midrash

Author: Sandy Eisenberg Sasso

Publisher: Paraclete Press

ISBN: 9781612614168

Midrash: Reading the Bible with Question Marks

I read this book several months ago and I’m just getting around to reviewing it. Since it has been in my “to be reviewed stack” of books, I’ve gone back to it time and again re-reading snippets here and there. I’m certain it will make my list of favorite books read in the year 2014.

I’m sure that I’m not alone when I confess that the world of Jewish religious literature was a bit of a mystery to me. I still do not understand it all (Mishnah, Midrash, Talmud, Tanakh), but I’m trying to learn since I believe that these ancient religious writings have bearing on my own Christian faith. I realize there are many Christians who do not agree with my thoughts, but believe that is to their loss.

The literature known as Midrash is an interpretative dialogue seeking the answers to religious questions (both practical and theological) by searching the meaning of the words of the Torah. Midrash attempts to “fill in the gaps” of stories where we do not have the information provided for us. There is much more to defining what Midrash is than the brief explanation I’ve provided, but we needed a working definition.

The very idea of filling in the gaps of Scripture might be terrifying, especially for evangelicals and fundamentalists who might hold a literal view of Scripture. It should not be terrifying. Midrash invites us to the wonder and possibility that God’s Word has for the believer. We don’t know everything about Scripture and we don’t know everything about what was intended for and about the people Scripture was originally spoken or written. Midrash suggests possibility and asks questions about what, if, and how. These questions and possible scenarios and outcomes engage our minds and the questions of our own souls. We wrestle with the living wonder that is God’s Word to humanity. This is my paraphrase of what Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso teaches in the first section of Midrash: Reading the Bible with Question Marks.

In part two of Midrash, Sasso introduces and shares a collection of translations and interpretations of twenty essential, classic midrashic texts. I can truthfully share with no exaggeration that I did not leave a single writing that my mind was not set into action pondering the original texts of the Scripture the midrash was referencing. This, I believe, is good.

There are discussion questions at the end of each midrash that are equally helpful in individual reading and study or with a group. Personally, I think this book would be best enjoyed in the context of a group. Additional resources of a bibliography, suggested reading lists, glossary and a brief notes section complete the book.

Examine a sample from Paraclete Press here

Book Review: Know the Creeds and Councils

Book Review: Know the Creeds and Councils

Author: Justin S. Holcomb

Publisher: Zondervan

ISBN: 9780310515098

Know the Creeds and Councils

When it comes to the Christianity and the Bible, it can seem there are as many different “beliefs” and interpretations as there are people.  According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations and organizations in the world.[1] This can present considerable challenges when comes to trying to understand “What we believe…” with regard to the Christian faith.

It is precisely for this reason that a book like Know the Creeds and Councils is such a valuable resource for members of and people who are curious about the Christian Church. The creeds, confessions, catechisms, and councils are the declarations of faith and unifying statements of the people to make up the Christian Church. These defining words are the “things we believe.”

Justin Holcomb has done a commendable job articulating these belief statements in a way that most anyone with the ability to read at a sixth grade level can understand. While some of these creedal statements and confessions can be a bit cumbersome, Holcomb has summarized them in such a way that there has not been any compromise to the integrity of the original statement.

One of the things I liked most is the linear development of theology and doctrine observed through these creeds and confessions. Most, if not all, of the succeeding statements build on the preceding teaching lending to a more robust and deeper understanding of the things the Church believes. Personally, this is important to me with respect to Ecumenicism; where my choices and considerations may differ from another Christian brother or sister, I can reach back to a confession or creed where we have common ground and stand in that place to build unity.

Each chapter provides a brief summary of each creed, confession, catechism, or council. Holcomb provides the historical background, content, and some contemporary relevance. The book is not exhaustive, nor is it intended to be. It does not cover every creedal document in detail, but provides an overview of the major statements of faith. It is a perfect introduction and gives the pertinent points necessary for beginning conversations that might lead to deeper study. Each chapter includes discussion questions helpful for the individual reader or group reading. There are also recommended resources for further reading about each creed, council, catechism, and confession at the end of each chapter. Additionally, there is a thoroughly annotated notes section at the end of the book that can provide even richer studies, should the reader decided to venture there.

Know the Creeds and Councils by Justin Holcomb is a great place to start with understanding the what and the why of our Christian beliefs.

 

[1] http://www.pewforum.org/files/2011/12/ChristianityAppendixB.pdf

Book Review: Tending the Holy

Book Review: Tending the Holy

Author: Norvene Vest

Publisher: Morehouse Publishing ISBN: 9780819219183

Tending the Holy: Spiritual Direction Across Traditions

This is a very helpful book, very helpful.

Since the time this book was originally published, the practice of spiritual formation and spiritual direction has continued to move to the front of many conversations in the realm of those who would profess to “be spiritual but not religious.” It is true that spiritual direction as a practice is also gaining prominence among those who are religions as well…at least I think it is, observations in the circles I travel prove this true to me. In light of these comments, it is helpful to understand what spiritual direction is and what it means across a diverse group of people sharing different “spiritual” beliefs.

The following is from the back cover of Tending the Holy:

“The contributors to Tending the Holy explore what spiritual direction looks like—and what questions are asked—through a variety of lenses. From an examination of the spiritual direction relationship in the Evangelical Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Sufi, and Hindu traditions, to the Benedictines, Carmelites, and Ignatians, and finally, to the contemporary lenses of feminism, Generation X, the institutional perspective, and even one based on the natural world and the spirituality of St Francis of Assisi, this collection explores unexplored territory. Tending the Holy is a provocative and cutting-edge resource foe spiritual directors and pastoral counselors.”

Norvene Vest, a spiritual director herself, serves as the editor for this collection of essays and has organized the book into three primary sections. Part one includes perspectives from worldwide faith traditions outside of the mainstream of Christianity. Part two of the book focuses on the Christian traditions and part three addresses a few special spiritual perspectives that are predominately Christian perspectives, but are located more on the periphery of the mainstream.

I found the information about these various streams and perspectives very enlightening, but even more than the information itself, was the attitude that the authors wrote their particular essay. I did not sense any proselytizing biases, but more to the contrary, there seemed a universal respect and openness to all other perspectives and traditions of spirituality. This “attitude,” whether perceived or otherwise helped me to read with openness and welcome learning from traditions other than my own. I believe I have been made better for it.

The book can be read straight through, but I am finding myself returning to it again and again as a wonderful resource and reading individual chapters. I have particularly enjoyed going back to read chapter ten (Transforming Institutions) and eleven (The Care and Feeding of the Gen-X Soul) on several occasions. I am sure I will be learning from these essays for some time.

I do wish there was a dedicated bibliography or a recommended reading section, but there is a well documented notes section at the end of the book that can fill this wish. This is a well-written and very helpful book. It might serve to break down barriers and stereotypes that have been harmful to relationships both in the traditions of Christianity and for interfaith discussions.

Book Review: A Commentary on Judges and Ruth

Book Review: A Commentary on Judges and Ruth

Author: Robert B. Chisholm Jr.

Publisher: Kregel Academic ISBN: 9780825425561

A Commentary on Judges and Ruth

I have quickly become a fan of “all things Kregel,” at least where it comes to theological resources. I have reviewed, and now use, quite a few books from the Kregel Academic publishing house. I can honestly report that I have not had a single resource that has disappointed me; each and every book has been a very useful and enlightening tool for my Bible studies. This commentary from the Kregel Exegetical Library Series on the Old Testament book of Judges and Ruth is no exception to my report.

This commentary, written by Robert B. Chisholm, follows a bit of a different format than many of the commentaries I most often go to for my Scripture studies. First, Chisholm uses his own translation of the Hebrew texts (he is eminently qualified for the task as department chair and professor of Old Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary as well as translator and senior Old Testament editor of the NET Bible). Second, Chisholm does not spend a lot of time wrestling with issues of textual criticism. While this might be important at some level of study, I have found it to be mind numbing and tedious when I am more concerned with working with meaning, interpretation, and application of the text. This is where this commentary shines, in my opinion.

There are thorough introductions to both books (Judges, and Ruth), providing expected detail information such as literary structure, chronology, outline, and socio-political landscape in addition to other items helpful in developing a high-level perspective. Included in the introductions, and not familiar to me in other commentaries, is the inclusion of a short section titled “Modern Proclamation of…” where Chisholm makes the effort to connect these ancient manuscripts to contemporary culture. Additionally, he includes preaching ideas for these texts toward the end of the introduction sections and each outline section of the book titled, “Homiletical Vantage Points.” I found these pieces thought-provoking and insightful.

As is expected with most commentaries, this is well-documented with resource references and thoroughly annotated. Concerning resources, a treasure trove bibliography is also included for each book at the end of their respective section. By treasure trove, I mean, the selection for Judges alone is thirty pages of reference titles!

While this is a very academic work, I did not find it “over my head.” I should mention that I am not a language scholar, nor do I hold a seminary degree. I found the commentary very accessible, fairly easy to read and understand (if you’ve had experience working in commentaries), and very practical. I was able to glean and apply information at first glance. This, in my opinion, is a ranking criterion for any “good” resource work and especially a Bible commentary.

As I mentioned at the outset of this review, I am rapidly becoming a huge fan of the works published by Kregel Academic and this Exegetical Library is very exciting to me. There are several other volumes planned in this series with a couple already available. If Kregel is able to maintain continuity of quality as found in this volume for Judges and Ruth, it is likely to become one of my favorite commentary series. This is an excellent choice for studies for these two Old Testament books.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Kregel Publishing to read and post a review on my site. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

This Light Within You

29MAR2014—Saturday

Lent.24—This Light Within You

Readings: Psalm 23  1 Samuel 16:1-13  Ephesians 5:8-13  John 9:1-41

I’m hanging on to the words read from one of the Lectionary passages for the fourth Sunday in Lent. The Apostle Paul writes to the Church at Ephesus and exhorts them; “Once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true” (Ephesians 5:8-9). There is some powerful imagery in those words from Paul. He teaches us that we now have the light of the Lord in each of us who have abandoned the self and turned to the Lord for salvation. Paul continues; “this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.” So we profess and confess to one another these words are truth, but what about our dailyness in living? Having received the free gift of God’s grace, we ask if we are using the services and resources of our local body to fulfill our mission.

I don’t think we have a choice in the matter or at least not a choice that we would willingly take. John writes in his gospel, quoting Jesus (it’s easier that way); “If you were blind you wouldn’t be guilty, but you remain guilty because you claim you can see” (John 9:41). These are not comforting words. Even worse, we live in an information age. In this first world consumer economy even non-believers have multiple translations of the Bible  (upwards of 26) available for free to them on a tiny handheld computer and smart phones. It is rapidly becoming a point where no one really is completely removed from reading, hearing, or having the Bible communicated to them in some form or fashion, certainly not in our first world country. I’m afraid if we are not living as if the Light within us is real and operating in terms of producing what is “good and right and true, we are guilty because we “claim we can see.” Christians, especially, should be living in a way that is good, and right, and true, because the Light within us produces those things. We are inhabited by the Spirit of God. Live like people of Light!

If we fail to live as the Light compels us, there may be no hope for us… Jesus tells his audience (and I believe us too);  “If you were blind you wouldn’t be guilty, but you remain guilty because you claim you can see”

Don’t be guilty—Choose light—choose Life.

Collect for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which giveth life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. 

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