Tag Archive for 'Book Review'

Book Review: What the New Testament Authors Really Cared About

Book CoverWhat the New Testament Authors Really Cared About – A Survey of Their Writings (2nd Edition) by Kenneth Berding (Editor), Matt Williams (Editor)

When I had the opportunity to review this book, I took it without deliberating because I reviewed its predecessor, What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About, which I was very impressed with, and find very helpful as a reference tool.

Here is what the publisher, Kregel, says about this 2nd edition:

Now in hardcover, this second edition of What the New Testament Authors Really Cared About has a new cover and layout to correspond with the look of the popular companion volume, What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About.

The artwork is on the hardcover, which I really like, instead of a dust jacket. The paper and everything else about it is very high quality. Color is used throughout making it pleasing to look at, and the table of contents has a list almost four pages long of maps, photographs, and tables, to give you an idea of how illustrative it is. As with most things “illustrated”, there are many photographs that are fillers–they could probably have been taken anywhere. I may have been more judicious and not have to have photos everywhere just because. On the other hand, it would be hard to find completely relevant photographs to find for every space that an image would occupy.

It’s a New Testament introduction (or survey) of sorts, but written by those who teach undergraduates as opposed to those in seminary or graduate courses. The audience is for the less scholarly inclined and more for the regular person who would like to get a good overview of each book of the New Testament, and specifically what each inspired author was conveying to their original audience. There are also “more than one hundred applications highlighted in sidebars to clarify how the New Testament authors might apply their writings to Christians living in the twenty-first century.”

I found some of it to be somewhat of a summary of the Biblical book, which is rather simple, but the majority is on what each author emphasizes and is conveying to his audience.

The book is generally theologically neutral, but is bent towards the Calvinist end. This may be more apparent in some of the usual areas.

The first chapter, Walking in the Sandals of a First-Century Jew, is extremely helpful. This provides a backdrop of where the authors are coming from and who some of their original audience is.

There is no introduction to the gospels, which I at first found puzzling. I then realized that the book is focused on each author. However, What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About has a very helpful introduction to the minor prophets. I think one for at least the Synoptic Gospels would have been helpful to show the differences even more than the similarities. There is an introduction to Paul’s writings which is very informative.

For those who would like something other than the mammoth New Testament introductions, like deSilva’s–which I have–and is literally the biggest (tallest) book I have, but something more comprehensive than what a study Bible would have in their introductions to each book, this is a good fit. I’m very glad to have it as a reference book.

I received this book free from Kregel Academics for the purpose of reviewing it. 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

Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Kregel Academic; 2 edition (August 27, 2015)

Book Review: God’s Battle Plan for the Mind

Gods-Battle-Plan-For-The-MindGod’s Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation by David W. Saxton

This is one of the more important books I’ve read in a long time. We do hear about meditation, but it’s not emphasized enough, and seems like it’s certainly not practiced enough. The author’s goal in writing this book is “to convince God’s people of the absolute necessity of personal meditation.” If you need any convincing of how important and beneficial meditation is, not to mention how it’s commanded and practiced by many inspired writers and people of faith in Scripture, you will most likely be convinced after reading this book, unless you just don’t care. The book also stresses that meditation is not for speculation or inquisitive thinking, but for practical matters and application to one’s behavior, which is another part of why the reader is left with how important this Biblical practice is. There are numerous short quotes on every page from well-known and not so well-known Puritans. Every one of them stresses the importance of meditation, but also stresses that the privilege becomes an enjoyable habit that benefits us and honors God.

The author doesn’t assume that everybody has a problem with meditating, which is refreshing. It bothers me when authors appear condescending when they assume that everybody has a problem with prayer, for example, when I know from experience that it isn’t true. David Saxton describes people who do meditate and how it greatly benefits them. The book is very encouraging and positive, although you may know how strict the Puritans can be in their descriptions of who godly people are, and what they do and don’t do.

Although it’s only 138 pages long, the book is pretty comprehensive in its treatment of meditation. I would call this a popular level book that’s easily understandable for anyone except a new believer. We learn about the unbiblical forms of meditation, which dispels any negative notions some may have when the word meditation is mentioned. Meditation is also called the doctrine of Biblical thinking, which may be a more helpful term for some people. Also written about are forms of meditation (like occasional and deliberate), types (Scripture, creature, and creation), reasons, benefits, difficulties and choosing what to meditate on.

One thing I didn’t see is how to progressively get into meditation for those who haven’t done this at all, similar to Nine Minutes With God – How to have a quiet time. Even though I often combine meditation and prayer, exactly what meditation is has always been kind of an enigma for me, and Saxton provides the reader with many valuable methods and helps, but many of the Puritans mentioned ‘an hour’, which might be a little scary for most of us. A guide on how to first start out would have been nice, since there really isn’t a lot of solid material out there on this subject.

I think the book could have been a little bit better organized and edited, but that doesn’t take away from the content. I’m sure the author had his reasons for the way he ordered things. Many times there was repetition. A quote from Watson appears on page 12 and 22 for example. Other concepts were repeated and could have been consolidated. You’ll find that chapter 9 is Reasons for Meditation, where I would have put it near the beginning. Types of meditation were near the beginning; I would have put them later on in the book. But it’s still all there and repetition can’t be that bad of a thing for learning.

There was almost no part of this book that left me uninterested (although I admit I skimmed the part about unbiblical meditation). It kept my interest the whole way through and has solid knowledge and wisdom throughout.

I would highly recommend this important book for anyone who isn’t already greatly benefiting from meditation or anyone who would like more perspective on what the Puritans think about this subject. I would give it 4 1/2 stars, but will round it up because of its importance.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an unbiased review.

Oh, remember this, the sweetness of religion is incomparably more than all the pleasures of sense.

–William Bates, On Divine Meditation, as quoted in God’s Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation, pg. 123

Buy it from Amazon: God’s Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation by David W. Saxton

Book Review: Titus For You by Tim Chester

Titus for YouTitus For You by Tim Chester The book is a book about a book about the gospel. Titus is about the gospel–all three chapters. Although Paul left Titus in Crete to appoint leaders, the book is “all about ensuring the gospel is central to the everyday life [sounds like many good books that have come out in the last few years] of the church, so that the world can be reached for Christ.” There is a great explanation of the gospel on pg 94-95. There is a brief, one page introduction to this series of books, then it goes right into a brief introduction to Titus before starting the section-by-section examination. It’s from a Reformed perspective, if that matters to you, but he doesn’t go heavily into doctrine or try to convince the reader of any specific theology. They say that “these books are not commentaries.” I would say this is an exposition of sorts, but not a verse by verse commentary. The book can be read through (at only 115 pages, including unnecessary text box pull quotes that quote what’s already in the book–magazine style), read in your own personal devotions, or used as a Bible study with questions for reflection at the end of each section.

The book takes us through Titus section by section. Verse references are bold, although the text of the Bible is not included, and any words that are rare or used differently in everyday language are gray when they first appear, and are explained in a glossary towards the end of the book. This includes explaining theological terms,  Christian lingo, and words or terms used in the Bible that new believers may be unfamiliar with. I think it’s a nice, user friendly feature. 

He often gives some helpful background and historical information. An example would be that Titus 1:12 is a quote from a Cretan philosopher, Epimenides, who basically says that they fit the stereotype that we now have. It doesn’t sound much like philosophy to me, but then he was a Cretan after all! There are some minor items in the book that aren’t to my liking, but overall, I learned a lot and think it’s a very good book. (Was I supposed to wait until the end to write that?) The first thing I didn’t like is right at the beginning in The Introduction To Titus, he starts out with a couple of paragraphs about the movie It’s A Wonderful Life, and then compares that with “what Paul is doing in the letter he writes to Titus.” I don’t like comparing movies to the Bible, even if it’s a wonderful movie. And even though he gives a short description of it, I would guess that many younger people haven’t seen it. Chester compares Titus with Acts. There’s a comparison I’m more satisfied with. He also refers to Ezekiel calling on the breath (or Spirit) of God to bring life to corpses as a comparison to preaching the gospel. Starting on page 57, he talks about “living the good life”. This sounds a little strange to me, almost like a beer commercial (Miller beer’s The High Life–which sounds a lot stranger today than it did back then) or something Joel Osteen would say. What he means is doing good works and living a godly life as laid out in Titus 2:1-10, which isn’t strange at all. Then he continually refers to living the good life throughout the rest of the book. The problem is if someone quotes a part of the book that has that phrase in it, or comes late to Bible study, or a number of other situations, the wording might sound strange without the context. A couple of other things I didn’t care for:

  • In Titus 2:4-5 he takes out the one idea of being busy at home and spends a full page on how wives, especially mothers, should forgo careers to stay at home. Not that I disagree, but he’s taking one or two things from each category and making a whole scenario out of it.
  • Sometimes he’s unnecessarily negative. “If you are in your twenties, do not live like a child–on your Xbox all the time.” Or, “I wonder how you think of God. Maybe he seems distant to you. Maybe he seems harsh or high handed. Or maybe you feel that he has forgiven you, so now he tolerates you.” However, out of that he does write extensively about enjoying God’s kindness.
I’ve always liked Titus, and that’s the reason I decided to review this book. I think it’s a good book for its intended purposes, and as mentioned, especially good for new believers. Some people might overlook Titus. If that’s the case, this is a good book in pointing out how it’s about the gospel and what Paul’s message to Titus–and everyone who reads it–is about. I think just about anyone could learn from it. The minor dislikes don’t detract from the main exposition about the book of Titus, which I think is well worth reading.
As of this writing, there are other books in this series covering Galatians, Romans 1-7 (by Timothy Keller), and Judges.

I received a free copy from The Good Book Company through Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an unbiased review.

You can find it at Amazon.com in hard cover or Kindle format.

Mini-Review: Thinking Rightly of Christ

Book - Thinking Rightly of ChristThinking Rightly of Christ: What Scripture Really Says about Him – And Why It Matters by Bryan Holstrom

Bryan Holstrom is a Ruling Elder at Covenant of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Batavia, Illinois. He is also the author of Infant Baptism and the Silence of the New Testament. This was given to me by a blogger who attended his congregation. She offered three of his books to a couple of people in exchange for an unbiased review. (I only chose this one.) He is not well known, but he’s someone who is worthy to be read. This is somewhat of a dilemma in the publishing industry right now–sometimes big name authors are contracted to write books because of their name, or there are people with great content that nobody knows about yet, which can be harder to sell. You can read more about that at Jesus Creed.

The purpose of this book is to correct such deficient thinking about Christ, particularly among Christians, and to replace our false conceptions of his person and work with one befitting the Creator of the heaves and the earth, who upholds all things by the word of his power (Heb. 1:2-3). To that end, each of the twenty chapters seeks to expound upon a truth statement drawn directly from Scripture that touches upon the subject at hand.

I learned a lot in just in the first part of the book. The things written about are things that matter. I added subjects to Evernote like Why did John refer to Jesus as ‘The Word’?, the importance of the Trinity, Modalism, his interesting commentary on Footprints in the Sand, The Angel of the Lord, and an explanation of that old word begotten, just to name a few.

He doesn’t write cute or personal stories, but he’s not dry either. His writing is organized well, always Scriptural, and seems to use the right amount of words. As the book goes on, he seems to get a little unnecessarily polemic in my view. But other than that minor point, I got a lot out of this book, which is on one of my favorite subjects. I would highly recommend it for someone who is a Christian and familiar with Scripture, but not necessarily looking for an extremely scholarly tome on the subject of Christology. Any serious layperson is bound to learn from and enjoy it.

Paperback (Only): 308 pages
Publisher: Ambassador-Emerald International (June 24, 2010)

Find it at:
Amazon.com

Also see:
Blog Interview with Bryan Holstrom: Author of “The Gift of Faith” « The Reformed Reader

Book Review: Why Christ Came-31 Meditations on the Incarnation

why-Christ-cameWhy Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation by Joel R. Beeke and Willaim Boekesten

I look forward to anything by Joel R. Beeke, President and Professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. I call him the busiest man in Christian publishing because he is authoring and editing so many new books each year and has resurrected so much Puritan material.

In the Preface, the author writes, “Learning the reasons for Christ’s advent will help us more deeply celebrate His birth, allow us to see more clearly how it is connected with the rest of His ministry, and help us understand its importance for our lives.” I think the book succeeds very well in this objective.

However, I was rather taken aback by what he writes soon after, lamenting the general lack of knowledge and apologetics: “Suppose someone asked you, ‘Why did Jesus come to earth?’ You could probably come up with one or two reasons.” If you want to offend some of the readers, even if it’s a minority, that’s a pretty good way to do it. I read this paragraph a few times, hoping I was misunderstanding. That sounds very condescending to me. As an exercise, without having seen the table of contents yet, I thought of six major reasons Christ came. When I saw that some of the chapters were narrower in scope, I could come up with 6-10 more. One of my pet peeves is when authors make broad assumptions about the reader.

Thankfully that was an aberration–the only one that I saw. The whole book is very positive in tone and links why Christ came to how that affects our lives in a personal way.

Each chapter is about three pages long and is titled “To…”, stating a purpose, with a verse or passage of Scripture, sometimes two, as a heading. The content of each chapter is topical, based on the chapter title. It’s meaty material. It would be difficult to write fluff based on Why Christ Came, but I’m sure there are plenty up to the task (down to the task?). But not here. There are a few anecdotes sprinkled in, but not as much as you would find in most devotional material. There are also some quotes from Reformed theologians from the past, the Heidelberg Catechism, and often a versification of part of a Psalm at the end of a chapter. And there is a lot of Scripture. Everything written is backed up by the Bible.

There are a few end notes, but they are only for sources of quotes. All Scripture references and quote authors are noted in the text of the chapter.

There are only two other very minor negatives or things I would change based on my preferences. First of all, using the KJV. I have no problem with the translation. It’s wonderful. But some of the verses quoted in key areas were totally lost on those not well versed (get it?) in 17th century English, like “sore amazed”, quoting Mark 14:33 on pg 3. One of these centuries, I think we’re going to have to get past this. The other is that some of the chapter’s content will wander from the title, even within the three pages. I don’t think this is really a problem, since the book most likely won’t be used as reference material. It would seem a bit more organized and focused if the author kept the material closer to the title or used a different title.

But that was a long paragraph on a couple of tiny nitpicks. This is an unusual devotional in that it teaches the reader so much and pulls together so much Scripture in only three pages for each subject. I hope people don’t think of this as a “Christmas Devotional”, because it’s something that should be meditated on all the time and can also be kept for when wanting to read something short. It’s one that could always be left on the coffee table or nightstand.

This book was provided by Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for a fair review.

You can find this at Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle formats.

Book Review: Jesus On Every Page by David Murray

Book Cover - Jesus On Every Page by David Murray Jesus On Every Page by David Murray

The author writes: “Some surveys put the ratio of Old Testament to New Testament sermons at 1 to 10. Some would like it nearer 0 to 10. But might this imbalance in the spiritual diet of most Christians explain many of the spiritual problems in the modern church and in modern Christians? Or as theologian Gleason Archer put it: ‘How can Christian pastors hope to feed their flock on a well-balanced spiritual diet if they completely neglect the books of Holy Scripture on which Jesus and all the New Testament authors received their own spiritual nourishment?’”

In addition to this book being about what the title says, it’s a book about recovering the Old Testament in general. I love the Old Testament and am so glad to read what David Murray has to say. In the first chapter, after the quote above, he offers a litany of reasons as to why we have lost the interest in and importance of the Old Testament. He’s not overly polite in this area, and it’s a needed admonition. At one point I thought he was being a little on the negative side, but then I’m already biased in believing how important the Old Testament is.

That’s just the first chapter. I very much appreciate the first portion of this book which is not just introductory material. In Part I: My Road To Emmaus, he writes about how when he was a younger lad, he reluctantly became a professor of Hebrew and Old Testament in a small Scottish Presbyterian denomination. This started a study of a subject he first dreaded, but quickly began to enjoy.

The way the book is written is as if he’s in a living room speaking with a variety of people. The newer believers will be able to understand him enthusiastically teaching them, and the more knowledgeable Christians will learn a great deal as well. He writes about the Old Testament from the perspective of Jesus, Peter, Paul and John, and how they utilized the Old Testament (a lot!).

In the chapter on Paul, he wrote, “I decided…” when discovering something about how the Old Testament was quoted. This sounded rather strange, as if he was going about this on his own and not using the wisdom of the church universal to confirm his findings. But this was quickly dispelled, as before this and throughout the rest of the book, he provides ample quotes from people like Christopher Wright, Jonathan Edwards, and many more. Murray is an educated learner, being a Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, having pastored two churches in Scotland and recently starting a new pastorate. So he is teaching us from his own knowledge gained, but providing additional sources of information, which also provides the reader with a nice bibliography. The references are contained in the oft complained about end notes, including Scripture references.

For those willing to read about this subject, this will be highly valuable in understanding the importance of reading and studying the Old Testament. (Also see: 7 Reasons To Study Your Old Testament)

I wanted to write mainly about the first portion of the book since you will find plenty of reviews about the rest of it. As I was reading the second portion, I found myself not just learning about Jesus in the Old Testament, but also how to read and interpret the Old Testament, which is fantastic. The book has more to offer than just what the title suggests. I highly recommend it.

I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

I also read David Murray’s short book Christians Get Depressed Too which was surprisingly good, since I expected it to be too basic. He’s also one of my favorite bloggers and Twitterers.

See the book’s web site Jesus on Every Page : Dr. David Murray

The book can also be found at Amazon.com

Book Review: The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek

the-handy-guide-to-new-testament-greekThe Handy Guide to New Testament Greek Grammar, Syntax, and Diagramming by Douglas S. Huffman

I am a Greek student who is nearing the end of what would typically be a year of beginning Greek. This handbook is geared for “second-year Greek students (and beyond), pastors, teachers and preachers.” It’s a handbook of helpful tools as opposed to “explanatory tales”, and supplements the Greek grammars well. It does go more in-depth when it comes to diagramming however. The three large categories it covers are Greek Grammar Reminders, Greek Syntax Summaries and the previously mentioned Phrase Diagramming, in addition to a bibliography. There are many helpful tips along the way like the AAA rule. Adjective preceded by an Article is Attributive.

This is a quality handbook in every respect. The writing is clever at times but serious. The paper is thick, and although it’s paperback, it should hold up decently if well traveled. Color is used well throughout. You can see a PDF excerpt starting at page 13. Two small complaints I would have are sometimes medium/dark orange is used with a lighter orange background and is a little hard to read. This may be difficult for those who are color blind, so be sure to see the PDF file. There is also some text that’s very small, even for younger eyes. There is a quote on page 79 that’s sitting in the middle of a page with plenty of white space around it with text that’s much smaller than necessary.

From my level of learning, this looks like an excellent guide for all of the subjects mentioned. This small sized book is only 112 pages including the bibliography, but seems longer. Tables and text explanation are interspersed and are very easy to understand and decipher. The layout of the tables is excellent.

I especially like the phrase diagramming portion. They use 1 Peter 1:3-9, which I happened to do in English (PDF file) a few years ago. As mentioned, there is much more explanatory text here, although it’s somewhat between a guide/handbook and something that would be a section in a textbook on exegesis. I’m not sure if this guide is the place for it, but I especially like it because I like to look at as many methods and descriptions of diagramming as I can. Four methods are briefly explained, Technical, Phrase and Semantic Diagramming, with Arcing mentioned. “An adaptation of phrase diagramming that incorporates some of the broader concerns of semantic diagramming is favored here.” The reader is taken step by step through the passage, building on what needs to be identified, divided and connected.

There is also an extensive six page bibliography at the end for all sorts of Greek and New Testament Tools. The section on the dreaded Greek-English Interlinears has four entries. I would have added a fifth, being the Mounce/Mounce Greek and English Interlinear New Testament (NASB/NIV) which also has Mounce Sr.’s English translation along with the Greek. (Don’t worry, I never use it to cheat.)

I would highly recommend this handbook. I have a Greek grammar with a lot of Post-it® Flags in it for various tables and declensions, but this guide can replace that and would lighten up many peoples’ load on the go if they don’t need a grammar on paper just to look these types of things up. I’m certain I will be using it a lot in the coming years.

The author, Douglas S. Huffman, serves as Professor and Associate Dean of Biblical and Theological Studies at Biola University in La Mirada, California.

You can buy it at Amazon.com

I received this book at no charge as a review copy from Kregel Publications in exchange for an unbiased review.

Also see:

Mini-Review: Being Well When We’re Ill by Marva Dawn

This is one of the more complete books on suffering that I’ve read, and pertains directly to dealing with chronic suffering. The book is thoroughly Biblical and steeped in Scripture. And although I disagree with much of her theology (I’m Reformed, she’s an Arminian brand of Lutheran or something along those lines), most of that is secondary. She repeats some terms like Trinitarian God and meta-narrative ad nauseum, but that’s a minor nitpick.

Marva Dawn is someone who suffers from multiple chronic conditions herself, so she speaks from experience and this is part of why the book is thorough. She offers words of comfort, encouragement and sympathy but doesn’t go too far. The book is very well organized and edited, with just the right amount of words. She writes equally about physical and psychological suffering from an orthodox Christian perspective. Despite a few catch phrases that I don’t like (going along with some of the theology I disagree with), Dawn knows her Scripture and it’s evident that she is good with using it in context and interpreting it well while applying it to the situation of a sufferer.

I would recommend this very complete, encouraging, educational and Scriptural book to anyone who is suffering, wants to understand those who do, or anyone who just wrestles with the subject.

Marva Dawn

A couple of quotes:

One of my biggest problems in dealing with the breakdown of my body is that I keep looking in the wrong direction. I look to the past and the capabilities I once had, instead of looking to the future and what I will someday become in the presence and by the grace of God. Perhaps that is the strongest temptation for you too. Our culture reinforces that mistake by its refusal to talk about heaven, as if it were an old-fashioned and outdated notion. We also intensify the problem by craving present health (as limited as it can be) more than we desire God.

A friend once said to me. “This is so hard getting old—there are so many things we can‘t do any more. I guess the Lord wants to teach us something.” Indeed, our bodies will never be what they previously were, and we find that difficult because we miss our former activities. But God wants to teach us to hunger for Him, our greatest treasure. Instead of rejecting the notion of heaven, we genuinely ache in our deepest self to fill that concept with a larger landscape of the Joy of basking in God‘s presence.

–Marva Dawn, Being Well When We’re Ill, pg 231

On feeling guilty about lack of ‘productivity’:

In a time of infirmity, the illness IS one’s work. Taking care of all the disciplines that our health problems require IS the other part of the small daily fidelity to which we are called, beside the faithfulness of being attentive to God. We can be well simply by our diligence in being who we are at the moment.

–Marva Dawn, Being Well When We’re Ill, pg 137

Mini-Review: The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

How can a 40 page book be so life changing? In The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Timothy Keller expounds on 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7. He fully explains what Paul means by not caring what others think about him, how a court would judge him, and doesn’t even judge himself.

He explains that neither high or low self esteem are legitimate. The only thing that matters is what the Lord thinks of us. And that is based on the gospel. Because God imputes his righteousness to us when we are born again, we can do things for the joy of doing them, not because we want to build our self esteem or even try to become more humble.

With the gospel, the verdict comes first, then the performance follows. Jesus went on trial for us. All that matters is how He sees us.

This would be good to read multiple times, maybe once a year.

It’s only $2.74 at Westminster Book Store. Buy them for your friends. The Kindle edition is often on sale for 99 cents. This was a sermon and may be online somewhere in audio form.

Book Review: A Commentary on The Psalms by Allen P. Ross

Kregel Exegetical Library: A Commentary on the Psalms by Allen RossA Commentary on The Psalms, Volume 1: 1-41 by Allen P. Ross

I am a lay person who is a ‘serious (zealous) student of the Bible’, as this blog name suggests. I read the exposition of Genesis by Ross entitled Creation and Blessing and became a fan of him and his style. That exposition was perfect for me and my level of development as is this commentary/exposition of the Psalms. According to Ross it’s “for pastors, teachers and all serious students of the Bible.” This commentary isn’t quite as academic as Goldingay’s for example, but it’s also not for beginners. It’s very thorough, and didn’t leave me wanting at all. In fact, he answers questions I didn’t know I had. It would be a little much for a new Christian, especially the introduction. At nearly 900 pages for volume 1 of 3, it may also look a little intimidating to some. But I like big books.

I find introductions to commentaries extremely helpful. This one is fairly long and extremely informative, and even motivating. One of the most ‘valuable’ parts of the Introduction is The Value of the Psalms. He quotes quite a few people from different time periods, including Calvin, and writes about the importance of the Psalms, how this importance used to be realized, and how the church in general has lost their value and stopped using the Psalms as a model for prayer and use in worship beyond a cursory reading here and there. This has inspired me to spend more time with the Psalms and this is the type of commentary that can be used in sort of a devotional way, for lack of a better term.

There are quite a few subjects dealt with using just the right amount of words, a few of them being Literary Forms, Theology of the Psalms and a guide to Exposition of the Psalms.

Ross is experienced in teaching the exposition of the Psalms in the seminary classroom and expounding them in churches, and has gained a good sense of what needs to be explained in a concise way, which I think shows in this commentary.

As opposed to taking a verse or line from a Psalm for a message (or plaque?) Ross says, “the exposition should cover the entire psalm, and that it should not only explain the text verse-by-verse but also show how the message of the psalm unfolds section-by-section. After all, a psalm is a piece of literature and therefore has a unified theme and a progression of thoughts developing that theme.” He has “not included views down the history of interpretation” but mainly sticks to his own exposition except for various quotes from others used sparingly. This is definitely not a ‘commentary on commentaries’.

Some Hebrew words are shown and explained. There are no transliterations, which aren’t helpful anyway. For those who don’t know the language, he describes the words in a pretty understandable way. Footnotes deal further with Hebrew, Greek (Septuagint) and various English translations.

Each Psalm has his own fairly literal/formal translation along with textual variant issues dealt with in the footnotes. Then Composition and Context, Exegetical Analysis (an outline), Commentary in Expository Form, and Message and Application.

He seems to answer most or all of my questions as mentioned before. Ross explains many of the terms, phrases and Hebrew idioms that people like me can learn from. For pastors it can help in wording explanations. In Psalm 13 for example, Ross explains why it is a lament, how the text shows that the trouble is ongoing, what the significance of an asposiopesis is, and explains what remember means in this context.

I have been given a copy of the book by Kregel Publications for an unbiased review. I’m afraid I sound like it’s not very unbiased because the review is so positive. The only possible negative thing I can find at this point is that the typeface is a little on the large size for me, although half the people reading this would appreciate that. A bit smaller and the book wouldn’t be so large and wouldn’t have as much of a “rudimentary” look, because it’s not. The quality of the paper is very good and the cover design bound to the hard cover (no need for a silly dust jacket) is very classy.

I think this commentary would be valuable for nearly anyone. I would only rule out new Christians as mentioned before because they might get lost with many of the theological terms and subjects, especially in the introduction, even though it isn’t at a high academic or technical level. For those who are motivated though, I’m sure they would benefit in some way and it would be a good investment for the future.

Ross mentions that volume 3 will have an extensive bibliography and writes about how important it is to have more than one source. He emphasized that this isn’t the only commentary one should own. If I can afford it, I would like to acquire the other volumes. I haven’t gotten word yet when the they may be arriving, but if I find out, I’ll let you know. (See Vol. 2 and 3 of A Commentary on the Psalms by Ross for an update.)

Excerpt at Christianbook.com

Publisher: Kregel Academic & Professional (February 29, 2012)
Hardcover: 928 pages
ISBN: 978-0-8254-2562-2

Buy it at:

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Book Review: Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi

Haggai, Zechariah, and MalachiHaggai, Zechariah and Malachi by Iain M. Duguid

This book was given to me unsolicited by the publisher, EP Books, and I chose to review it. I had previously reviewed How to Enjoy Your Bible by this publisher.

This commentary is an exposition of the last three books of the Bible. It aims to interpret the Bible text section by section as opposed to verse by verse exegesis. At the end of each chapter is an Application section that deals with how the previous portion of Scripture applies to us today and how it points to Christ and the New Testament.

You will find that the theology is solidly evangelical and Reformed, the latter especially showing up in the Application section. If you aren’t familiar with that term, I don’t think it will be of major significance.

This popular level book is useful for pastors and laypeople who want to gain a better understanding of these three books of Scripture.

The author provides his own translation of these texts, however in the exposition, Hebrew words are mentioned sparingly but in a helpful and understandable way.

Why are these books important to study? “Gospel writers quote Zechariah 9 – 14 more often than any other biblical source in explaining Christ’s sufferings and death.” (pg 11) The commentary helps clarify many of the obscurities of the visions in Zechariah. Also, “The fundamental theological context of these books is the return from exile,”. The commentary helps bring into perspective this relatively small portion of history with equally ‘small’ but significant events.

I enjoyed reading this succinct 241 page book. Though it doesn’t go as in-depth as a more thorough and technical commentary, there weren’t any major questions left unanswered for me. I didn’t feel a need to to go another source for more information, although I wasn’t preparing a sermon or studying deeply.

The earlier mentioned Application section is very helpful. I felt these sections may have been a bit longer than necessary and stretching some things a little far. I wouldn’t have minded a little more content in the expositional portions, but that may be more of a preference than a criticism.

There are the dreaded endnotes instead of footnotes. If you want to look up a reference, to the back of the book you go.

One of the reasons I like reading good expositions like this of the Old Testament is that in almost any section, things learned help to understand other portions of the Old Testament. This is the case over and over again with this book. Whether it’s history, feasts, symbols, Christology, references to passages in other books or any number of topics, this commentary will help you not only with these three unsung but important books of the Bible, but will help you understand the whole Old Testament at least a little bit better.

I highly recommend it.

Hardcover: 255 pages
Publisher: EP Books (Evangelical Press) May 2010
ISBN-10: 085234712X

Buy it from:
Amazon.com
Cumberland Valley Bible Book Service

A listing of the other EP Commentaries can be found here:
EP STUDY COMMENTARIES

Book Review: Ryken’s Bible Handbook

Ryken's Bible HandbookRyken’s Bible Handbook by Leland Ryken, Philip Ryken, James Wilhoit

This book was provided as a review copy from Tyndale House Publishers. This review has been a long time coming and in the future I don’t ever intend on letting a review go on this long since the time I receive the book. I thank them for their generosity and patience.

This book is for teachers and students of the Bible and I think it would also be good for parents to use with their kids. Even though it’s over 600 pages long, it’s a smaller sized reference book and isn’t comprehensive or meant to be. It’s a concise handbook on how to read and study each book of the Bible. Anyone familiar with studying the Bible will benefit from this book.

Each chapter is devoted to a book of the Bible and includes things such as Author’s Perspective, Audience Perspective or Implied Audience, Special Features, Challenges Facing the Teacher or Reader of the Book, How to Meet the Challenges, Form, Genre, Structure, Outline, Timeline, Characters, How To Apply the Book, Key Verses etc. Don’t let that overwhelm you. Each part is concise and very useful and not every chapter has every one of those.

I especially like The Most Common Misconceptions of the Book since this is one thing I’ve been working on for a few years now whether it’s books, passages, verses, etc. I also like Perspectives which are quotes on the book at the end of each chapter by various authors and scholars and somewhere in each chapter there may be a quote dealing with a subject of the book. I also like various Did You Know? inserts which are short factual items related to the book that are helpfully shaded in gray (see below).

Also sprinkled throughout the book are one page articles on the major genres of the Bible and other topics anywhere from How We Got the Bible at the beginning to Apocalyptic Writing in the end. My one complaint is that these articles don’t look different enough from the rest of the book. It’s easy to keep reading and not always realize it’s the start of the article. The typeface is different but that’s the only thing that sets it apart other than the title. A border or shaded background would be helpful.

The very idea of a “Christless sermon” appalled Charles Spurgeon and in the same vein this handbook always looks for how OT books point to Christ but doesn’t press the point too far if it’s scant.

There has to be some interpretation in a book like this but as far as I can tell it’s very neutral. Since my theological outlook is the same as the authors’, I may not be able to discern that as clearly as others. In any case, I can’t imagine anyone not benefiting from this book.

Part of the reason this review took so long is because I read each chapter before reading each book of the Old Testament this year (in addition to having surgery right in the middle). This was very helpful. It gave me a “heads up” on things to look for without telling me how to interpret it or without it being a commentary that I would want to read after reading that book of the Bible.

This is the only book that I can remember reviewing where I really don’t have anything negative to say other than the formatting issue of the article inserts. I often even try to find something negative so that I don’t sound like a shill for the publishers that provide review copies for me. I like it that much.

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Product Information:

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (September 19, 2005)
  • ISBN-10: 0842384014
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.5 x 1.5 inches

Coming Reviews

I don’t usually write about what reviews I’ll be doing until I actually do them. What’s the point in wasting the time writing about what I’ll be reviewing and then post again when I review it? But I so much want to be like everyone else and be a cool and famous biblioblogger so I’ll try it this one time. If anyone can tell me why this is a good thing let me know.

Soon I hope to review Ryken’s Bible Handbook. This has been very helpful.

I’ve been eyeing a book called Helpful Truth in Past Places: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Counselling (their spelling). I thought I’d write to the publisher, Christian Focus, and they wrote right back telling me they’d be happy to send a review copy. I’d like to see if what’s written in the book can be applied individually to the reader in addition to a counselor.

book Helpful Truth in Past Places

Book Review: Unburdened

Christian Book Review: UnburdenedUnburdened: The Secret to Letting God Carry the Things That Weigh You Down by Chris Tiegreen

Tyndale House Publishers has graciously provided me with a review copy of this book.

If I were to use one word for this book, it would be balanced. Back to that later.

Right off the bat I have to say I don’t like the word Secret in the title. Doesn’t it say somewhere that there is nothing new under the sun? Maybe we’re above the sun on this matter. I thought we were done with books that say secret or cure or free from whatever. I rather doubt it was the author’s idea to put that in there.

Another small complaint is that Scripture references, of which there are a lot fortunately, are end noted–shown in the back of the book. I would think if not showing the reference in parenthesis at least they could be shown at the bottom of the page. I’ll be glad to look up the Scripture but having to look it up in the back of the book first makes for two “lookings up”.

This book was timely for me. I read it after I had gotten back surgery–a lumbar double fusion. My faith was being tested at the time and I was worrying about everything. Because of this book I made a commitment to worry less, with God’s help and direction of course. Because of the surgery, I read the book and am now reviewing it later than many other people so I will try to cover things that others may not have yet.

The book is balanced because just when I felt he was cheerleading about not worrying on our own, he wrote about how important it is to do it with God’s help. When I thought he may be writing about the power of positive thinking, he would write about how we need to not just stop worrying, but replace our thoughts with Biblical ones.

He balances our responsibilities with God’s, explaining both well from a Scriptural perspective in alternate chapters, including some anecdotes from his own life.

We can’t shed all of our responsibilities and obligations. We have decisions to make, tasks to perform, things to learn, bills to pay, and people to care for. We don’t live in a vacuum.

We can, however, cast all our cares on the Lord. That’s a promise–or, rather, a command. It’s an act of rolling our worries off our shoulders and onto his, fully expecting him to take responsibility for dealing with them appropriately. We absolve ourselves of the responsibility for determining the outcome and handle only the aspects of those burdens that he tells us to handle.

Most of us have read that sort of thing many many times but within the context of the book it’s good to review it again.

What and how God tells us something can be a sticky issue in other parts of the book. I won’t go into that here because it depends on your theology and view of what and how God speaks. Just be aware of those things when reading the book.

One portion of the book I disagree with is that, “Those who see themselves as adopted children of God in whom he absolutely delight find themselves growing in purity in ways that a person focused on his utter need for mercy never does.” The first part of that statement is certainly true. But Biblically we are to constantly recognize and confess our sin and grow in appreciation of his mercy. I will say that he’s addressing people who focus too much on their sin and not enough on being redeemed children of God, but I think he goes too far here. He gives no Scripture in this section other than being dead to sin.

The second to the last chapter, titled Praise, comes awfully close to the “power of positive thinking” type of psychology. In reading it a second time, I can see where he comes so close to that type of mindset, but then comes out of it by bringing the spiritual dimension back into it. I would read that carefully, but with an open mind.

Here are a few more quotes that might give you an idea of what the book is like.

God is deeply concerned for your body, and he does promise to heal us, but he is infinitely more invested in your heart. That’s where his Spirit thrives and does amazing things in your life.

We can never experience any kind of loss that he does not have some kind of provision for.

The fallacy of mistrust is that it doesn’t recognize God for who he is.

We don’t have to figure out the root cause of all our wounds and issues in order to deal with them.

But that’s the goal: deep-down trust that can count on his agenda to be at least as good as or better than our own. Then we can relinquish ours and rest in his.

I recommend this book. It’s rather basic and most of us have read much of what’s written (and I didn’t find a secret) but it’s written in a way that most everyone could benefit from. Knowledge of the Bible is necessary, but there is no deep theological or philosophical jargon that would leave anyone confused. As mentioned earlier, because of reading this book I made a commitment to worry less. That’s very valuable even if I disagree with some of it. On the whole I think it’s a solid book that will help anyone who needs to work on this matter.

Buy it at:
Amazon.com

Paperback: 240 page
Publisher: SaltRiver
Published: June 7, 2010

Book Review: Why is God Ignoring Me?

Book - Why Is God Ignoring Me?Why is God Ignoring Me? What to Do When It Feels Like He’s Giving You the Silent Treatment by Gary R. Habermas

This book is a review copy sent to me by Tyndale. I thank them very much for the opportunity to review this book.

The author knows pain. His wife of 23 years, the mother of four children, died of cancer. He knows the loneliness which follows something as horrific as that. Although he doesn’t go into much detail in the book, this is an author who is obviously writing as someone who is truly sympathetic with the person reading this book. Yet at the same time I don’t think he gets to the heart of the matter and I feel he is often missing connections either with what the reader feels they want or what’s most important from a spiritual perspective.

Much of the book is about how God is working in the world. He isn’t silent. He is working and speaking through healing, answered prayer, angels, demons, near-death experiences and people who haven’t heard the gospel who have been prepared for it. If I was in the situation of wondering why God is ignoring me, I would be thinking, “But what about me? That’s great that these things are happening to other people but I still feel ignored.”

Next he talks about “love letters”. Things that are more subtle than the last chapter like feelings of joy, conviction of sin (a good one), etc. I kept thinking, What about the Bible? I wouldn’t necessarily call it a love letter, but it’s one big collection of letters written by God through people to us. Any time we want, we can hear God speak to us by just reading it. We may not often get a special revelation, word of comfort or conviction of sin, but God’s word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), not just a collection of text. Augustine said, “The Holy Scriptures are our letters from home.” Thomas Watson, a prolific Puritan writer wrote, “Think in every line you read that God is speaking to you.”

A strength of the book is Biblical Teaching That Life Will Be Difficult (page 46) that’s within Chapter 3 – Our Favorite Verses. This talks a lot about the Biblical view of suffering which is really what people who feel ignored by God are going through. There is a lot of Scripture given in this chapter. He writes about how prayer isn’t always answered (or the answer is ‘no’). He writes about the Bible saying that life isn’t always going to be rosy, even some of Jesus’ prayers weren’t answered, Christians in the present time are often strengthened through sickness, trouble etc.

Some of the things written about are legitimate and some are on the edge without a lot of backing from Scripture. It reminds me of the book Prayer by Richard Foster. And interestingly enough he refers to that book a lot. I gave it a very unfavorable review here on this blog.

A good quote from this book that I wish he would have dwelt more on is,

By giving God the preeminent place in our lives, we draw closer to him, and in doing so, we just might find that he’s not as hidden as we might have assumed. Concentrating preeminently on God can help promote a mind-set and atmosphere in which he can work more fully in us.

Chapter 7 is what I would call spiritual (in a good way) cognitive therapy, or what we tell ourselves. This is done in a way that isn’t worldly and helps us to think in a more Godly way.

In the last paragraph of the book he writes,

We know so much more than Job ever did, especially the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. With such a foundation, we are more than justified to trust God with those matters we don’t understand. Shouldn’t we be willing to grow and mature spiritually as we wait for our resurrection, which will place all our suffering in an eternal perspective?

This would be a good place for the book to start and concentrate on.

Although the author is a Christian apologist and is a solid conservative evangelical Christian I can’t recommend this book, although it may be helpful for some.

I would recommend How Long, O Lord? by D.A. Carson. The title gets to the heart of the matter and even that is Scriptural. Cries of the Heart by Ravi Zacharias is also good. There are also many good books on suffering in general and trusting God like Suffering and the Sovereignty of God by John Piper et. all and Trusting God by Jerry Bridges.

Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (February 26, 2010)
ISBN-10: 1414316887

Where to buy:
Amazon.com
Westminster Bookstore does not sell this book.