Sunday, August 31, 2014

Bible Review: NIV The Journey Bible

The NIV Journey Bible doesn't really address any serious issues in the church. No questions of doctrine or other controversial ideas. So it won't answer any complicated questions "seekers" might have. It is, however, entirely written for beginners, whether those new to the faith or those considering the faith.

The version's various sections repeat the basic message of the Bible and put it in easy-to-understand terms. There are several opening sections on topics such as Jesus' famous one-liners, a chapter on commitment to the faith as commitment to a bride, a section on defining moments of the Old and New Testaments, and a sometimes difficult to follow section that summarizes the entire Bible using exact quotes. There are also reading plans for five basic books of the Bible (Genesis, Deuteronomy, John, Acts, Romans) and for the devotionals / short articles provided throughout. Book intros include bottom line and central ideas, timelines, outlines, introductory stories and more. They're all written with the beginner in mind.

I had hoped to find some more defense of the faith material, but there wasn't much there. Just a section on who Jesus was and a summarized defense of the faith.

The e-book includes a section on how to navigate using the device and includes the various articles at the end of each book rather than within the Bible text.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Nonfiction Christian Review: God’s Design for Man and Woman by Andreas J Kostenberger and Margaret E Kostenberger

In “God’s Design for Man and Woman,” the Kostenbergers lay out a theological survey of what both the Old and New Testaments say about the battles of the sexes. In short, their basic premise is that God set up Adam as the head of humanity before the fall, set up men as leaders of Israel as priests and kings, set up 12 male tribe leaders and 12 male apostles, and that he could have changed that to include women at any time if it were just a cultural situation.  The book includes an appendix on the history of women’s rights, particularly in America, on Biblical interpretation, and on special issues regarding gender passages.

The Kostenbergers give great detailed defenses from Scripture and summaries of their points, which I thoroughly agree with. I recommend their book for anyone wishing to truly explore what the Bible has to say on the very prevalent issue of sexuality. But a warning to all: it is an academic read. The text itself is easy to read, but the Kostenbergers leave very little white space (reserved for pull quotes) and divide the book into chapters that could have been further divided into parts.

I realize that the book is already very long, but I do wish the authors had trimmed some of the unnecessary biblical character profiles for the sake of adding more to other sections. They go into very little detail on the defense of the Bible, for example, and while they include a chapter on practical application, I would have appreciated more examples. They refer to deacons and offices in the early church, but give little detail on what those entailed. While their appendix on women’s rights was useful and extensive, an appendix on homosexuality would have been just as useful.

And the book still left me with many questions. If the place of a woman is in the home, what about single women? What about women who don’t have a heart for service? And what about the roles of men and women after the resurrection when there will be no marriage or sex? What is the difference between women holding authority in the church and holding authority elsewhere, such as in the academic world?

Read the book and detailed footnotes, but make your own connections, and be prepared to look elsewhere for more information.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Christian Fiction Review: Annie’s Stories by Cindy Thomson

Since Cindy Thomson’s book “Annie’s Stories” follows a young woman with a great love of reading, any natural reader is bound to enjoy the title character’s journey. At a time when immigrants were still coming through Ellis Island and facing a poor economy, Annie’s own personal story takes a surprisingly deep and moving turn.

Annie comes from a laundry where women are falsely accused and then mistreated. She clings to her father’s written and illustrated stories, the only positive memory she has of home. Living in a boarding house with her unpleasant cousin, Annie dreams of setting up her own library and helping unwanted women learn and grow. When a detective with foul motives snoops around and a postman, Annie’s love interest, discovers a secret behind Annies’s father’s stories, things suddenly become complicated in the boarding house, and Annie is determined to stay independent with her head held high.

Author Cindy Thomson keeps the reader on the edge of her seat, anxious for resolution. Thomson’s story development is refreshing in that Thomson knows how to develop relationships slowly while keeping the action moving. The romance feels authentic and the story keeps you hooked with suspense, drama and emotion.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Christian Nonfiction Review: The First Time We Saw Him by Matt Mikalatos

I can see the appeal in Matt Mikalatos’ desire to present the Gospel in a fresh light through his book “The First Time We Saw Him.” For me, personally, the original is enough, but I understand there are many who need more modern examples to truly relate to what is said in the Bible.

In this vain, Matt alternates between commentary and retelling select portions of the Gospel in a modern context. His organization isn’t consistent, and he changes tenses in the telling of these stories (if you know me well, you’ll know I don’t care for stories told in present tense). However, I was surprised by the occasional comment or point that stood out.

The book did not bore me as I thought it might when I began reading it. The stories remained accurate in their modern contexts. And Matt’s commentary reads like lengthier devotionals. I’m not one for devotionals, and I have a short memory, so I didn’t really get any takeaways from the book, but there are many who will, especially newer believers. After all, even I found some of his commentary refreshing.

* Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Bible Review: The NIV Spiritual Renewal Study Bible

The Spiritual Renewal Study Bible provides plenty of extra commentary, including footnotes that seem to serve as reminders and explanations of passages rather than academic exploration.

Spiritual keys, split into seven parts for each testament, seem more geared toward those looking for a self-help book, focusing on leaving the past behind, forgiving each other and surrender to God. The "self-help" feel doesn't come across so much in the "key devotionals" so much as in the editors' introduction to and explanation for them. I suppose this fits what I know of editor Stephen Arterburn's specialities, though. I don't know much about editor David Stoop.

The remaining extra content includes profiles of people in the Bible and lessons from their lives; books of the Bible introductions that focus on "Spiritual Renewal Themes" and provide essential facts, as well as outlines of the books' content; and spiritual discipline devotionals (great reminders of the Biblical support for activities such as prayer, study, worship, repentance and more).

I did find at least one minor instance of modern-day sensibilities sneaking into the content, but it wasn't a deal-breaker, and the devotionals do not appear to delve into any controversial issues.

The content is laid out well with pleasant fonts, and it set up in such a way that readers can easily use the Bible for daily devotionals. It's not a Bible for deep study, but it's a good resource if you're looking for something to help you start acting in your faith.

* Disclaimer: I received this Bible for free in exchange for my honest review of it.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Nonfiction Review: Dancing on the Head of a Pen

I've never read Robert Benson's work before, and judging by the few "spiritual" things he says in his new book "Dancing on the Head of a Pen," I would likely disagree with much of his faith-inspired writings. But his denomination or faith has little bearing on whether or not "Dancing on the Head of a Pen" is worth a read, and judging by the title alone, it's clear Benson is a creative writer.

Benson's book on writing lays out some general writing tips that most writers will already know but find inspiring nonetheless. Reading about writing makes me want to write, but unfortunately I never have anything to write, at least not anything that could make a book. So, I don't feel considerably helped along by Benson, but I enjoyed his book, at any rate. He includes stories from his life and writes with charm. He tends to break his stories up into short bits, which did bother me somewhat (when I felt the story was interrupted), but made the book a quick and easy read (in just two evening sittings). Benson also includes several quotes from more famous authors.

Tips include: Write every day (at least 600 words), choose a small jury of people as your audience, don't speed, recognize the steps of writing and editing, read a lot, stay in the habit, take a step outside every once in a while, and be careful who you share your work with.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Christian Nonfiction Review: Tough Topics

I'm not surprised that Sam Storms has worked with (and refers a lot to in his book "Tough Topics") Wayne Grudem. One thing I remember from my required Biola reading of Systematic Theology is that Grudem is both a fairly conservative Christian theologically and he believes in the modern day use of all spiritual gifts. I know I'll get some negative feedback for going to this topic first, but it is a topic that interests me, a topic I am still exploring, despite the fact that I tend to lean toward the cessationist position.

Storms does address other topics, and he does a good job at it, too, but his position on the spiritual gifts did not satisfy me. While he gave some good arguments, particularly about the existence of the gifts throughout church history, he completely ignored the context of the purpose of tongues (for nonbelievers, as a sign for the Jews) and he lacked any solid definition of the gifts. Storms mentions a private prayer language, but that is a part of tongues that has always confused me. He also debunks the argument that prophecy is equal to Scripture, but gives no reason why and neglects to proceed to actually define what prophecy looks like.

When discussing the history of the gifts, he refers to ascetics and mystics' use of the gifts, but as far as I know the majority of those where practically different religions. He gives examples of how the gifts might just be labeled differently in churches that don't believe they exist, but then at the same time clearly lays out some of the major false teachings of the churches that actually do teach spiritual gifts. Storms exposes the false teachings of the prosperity and "Word of Faith" movements, but does not condemn them as separate from the true church. I would have liked to have seen more of a disclaimer here since these movements do not just teach a name it and claim it gospel. There's much more to their false teachings.

Be assured, though, that Storms does not agree with the Word of Faith movement and he does believe in the eternal security of the believer. And Storms has some great points to make on these issues. He also covers demonic activity, tithing, healing, the inerrancy of the Bible, God's foreknowledge, basic Christian doctrines, and more. This is an intellectual book. Storms goes into great detail and often refers to verses or passages without citing them in full, so readers must pay careful attention. But it's worth the time and effort. I may disagree with Storms on the gifts of the Spirit, but I learned a lot from the rest of his book.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Christian Nonfiction Review: Created for Influence - Dynamic Women of the Bible

I rarely review a book without finishing it, yet this past month or so I somehow requested two books in a row that ended up being difficult to finish. They weren't entirely bad books. I just had better books to be reading that I could actually get something from. Even the recently reviewed "Quick Start Guide to the Whole Bible," which was a rather boring book because I knew what was in it ... even that book I was able to finish without feeling I had lost time. So here's the deal on the two books I was unable to finish:

Created for Influence by William L. Ford III

I was hoping for a good read on how to better influence the people around you for Christ, but this turned out to be more about prayer. I understand the author's urgent plea for believers to have stronger faiths and pray more often for anything and everything, but the book seemed repetitious and, at times, more supernatural than what I'm used to. In fact, the further I read and the more I looked into the author's background, the more I saw a Charismatic influence on the book's content. And since I am not Charismatic, it just did not seem for me. I read about half the book and then set it aside to read more intriguing books.

Dynamic Women of the Bible by Ruth A. Tucker

I wouldn't say this book is poorly written. But author Ruth A. Tucker seems to read into the stories of the women of the Bible, adding details that might be better suited for fiction retellings. Each chapter basically retells the story of one or two women of the Bible. But the retellings don't include much if any commentary. The questions at the end of each chapter are not thought-provoking. Overall, I just think you'd be better off reading the original stories than this dull (but easy) read.

*Disclaimer: I received these books for free in exchange for my honest review of them.

Christian Nonfiction Review: The Quick-Start Guide to the Whole Bible

My high school and college Bible classes basically went over every book of the Bible in their basics, so "The Quick-Start Guide to the Whole Bible" was a nice review. However, I'm pretty sure that 1) the material provided outside of book summaries could be found in the intros to most Bibles and 2) I could have read most of the New Testament in the few days it took me to read this book. Therefore, I would recommend it only for true beginners, or those who maybe need an overview and don't have time to read often.

The book consists mostly of very short applications for modern day readers and short summaries of each book's contents. I would have liked to have seen a chapter linking the books together with a short discussion of God's overall plan and how that is weaved throughout both Testaments. And the book could have used some more cultural background, but then again it is already 299 pages longs (but is easy to read). I did underline a few things, but I won't be keep the book on my shelf.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review of it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Christian Nonfiction Review: If God Is Good by Randy Alcorn

I'm about half way through Randy Alcorn's Heaven book. He can take some time and thought to get through. Much like "Heaven," Alcorn's "If God Is Good" draws heavily from Scripture and lasts well over 400 pages. It's a deep read that requires the reader to make connections and figure things out on his or her own. Alcorn knows how to divide his book into easy-to-read sections, however, with bold headline sentences and chapters grouped together according to topic.

Alcorn's main premise is the basic Free Will argument (that evil exists because God wanted his creation to have free will so an honest and genuine relationship could live). God's grand scheme for our better both requires and answers the problem of evil. God remains in control, but His curse upon the land and man after the Fall continue to affect us. Still, God uses evil and suffering for good. If not for each individual circumstance, then for an overall plan that requires freedom and ends with a perfect world after God's judgment.

Throughout his book, Alcorn addresses Atheism/Non-Theists, Free Will vs. God's Sovereignty, Heaven and Hell as real places and answers to "the problem of evil and suffering," what the Bible has to say about evil and its origin, and how man can live meaningfully in light of suffering. Alcorn covers a lot, but it's worth a slow, digestive read.

I do wish Alcorn had considered more religions and systems outside of Christianity and Atheism. Plus, Alcorn's stories at the end of his book somewhat bored me (I am more interested in straight preaching and new ideas). Also, I have to wonder: If the purpose of suffering and evil is for our growth in character and preparation for Heaven, then what about those who die early or are incapable of understanding such growth? Other questions: If God's character defines good, how do we truly know that it is good? Could we have increased, multiplied, and grown in God without the Fall if we were incapable of knowing God's character (His grace is seen in forgiveness of sin) before the Fall?

It's a very difficult subject with no one single answer, although Alcorn ends his book with the proposal that one word, one name, one person answers it all: Jesus.

*I received this book in exchange for my honest review.