Book Review: “The Mentoring Church”


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If you read the literature, you’ll quickly find that churches are supposed to be (or CAN be) a wide variety of things. Churches are supposed to be Purpose-Driven, Simple, Center, etc. But one thing that I had not seen before was the idea of a mentoring church. So Phil Newton’s book from Kregel Publications caught my eye.

What does the book contribute to the conversation about churches and mentorship?

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Top 7 Favorite Books I Read in 2017


Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Another year draws to a close and—as I did in 2014 and 2015 (but somehow not 2016!)—I’ve selected the Top 7 books that I read in 2017.

As the title suggests, these are not books published in 2017 but rather my favorites that I read this year. They are presented in no particular order and are a mix of fiction, essays, biography, and sci-fi/fantasy.

abofman1. The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis

Though Lewis wrote close to 3/4 a century ago, society has continued ever further down the track that Lewis diagnoses and dissects in these pages and his thoughts are perhaps even more relevant.

Lewis defends objective truth and natural law—or ‘Tao’ as he terms it—against those who would try to ignore or disprove or subvert it. He ponders the final result of man’s conquest of Nature and cautions against blindly following the idea of progress until we progress so far that we lose ourselves in the process.

Left me with much to ponder and wrestle with, as well as much to thank Lewis for. One I will definitely return to often!

silence2. Silence by Shūsaku Endō

A deep meditation on what makes true faith, the challenges and dangers of contextualization of the gospel message, suffering and persecution, and coming to terms with past failures. A challenging, striking, and thought-provoking read.

 

 

 

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3. The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton 

Chesterton combats common misconceptions and errors in his popular-level sketch of the outline of history. He shows how man is unique among the universe (and the other animals) and also how Christ is unique among men. I love his observation that to believe that there is no Creator or higher power requires believing in three miraculous occurrences: the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and the origin of man.  Really appreciate his perspective on history and how things are often the opposite of how they are presented by the skeptic of the church.

fell4. The Fellowship by Philip and Carol Zaleski

A marvelous portrait of The Inklings that is as much a book of literary criticism as it is biography. Lewis and Tolkien receive—of course—the most attention, but I was surprised by how interesting Barfield and Williams’ lives, beliefs, and careers were as well.

This is a must-read for any serious fan of Lewis and/or Tolkien! A true tour de force that deftly manages to give equal attention to these extraordinary men and their literary subcreations which have gone on to transform our world. If you’re anything like me, you will finish this book with a list of ten or so works either written by these authors or that deeply influenced them to add to your list of books to (re)read this year.

wonder5. Recapturing the Wonder by Mike Cosper

If Charles Taylor is right and we live in a “disenchanted” age, and if James K.A. Smith is correct that “you are what you love,” then how does our approach to living the Christian life change? What is different about our day-to-day experience as followers of Jesus? How do we practice the spiritual disciplines in our modern, secular world?

Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World is Mike Cosper’s attempt to “lift the veil a little bit on how the world has shaped us, how we’ve learned to see things through the lenses of disenchantment” (162). If that sounds interesting to you, head over to my full review.

stand6. The Stand by Stephen King

This year was the year that I finally read some of Stephen King’s works. Yes, somehow I had managed to avoid the master of horror/fiction until recently, but I finally gave in and read a handful of his books. I’m through six of the seven Dark Tower books, read The Eyes of The Dragon, and slogged through Insomnia (ironically a snooze-fest), but found The Stand to be the best of the bunch.

Two groups of survivors of a worldwide cataclysm band together: one around a spiritual and mysterious old woman and the other around an enigmatic and dangerous man known as The Walkin’ Dude. Their struggle for survival becomes a clash between Good and Evil as they all attempt to forge new lives in the ruins of what came before.

Incidentally, if that reminds any of you of the TV show Lost, there’s a reason: this book was one of the major inspirations for the show!

fool7. Fool’s Fate by Robin Hobb

Fool’s Fate is the conclusion to the second trilogy to star FitzChivalry Farseer and The Fool. Hobb has built a fascinating world that is both enjoyable and unique. Fool’s Fate functions as a marvelous capstone to both this second trilogy and the story that has carried on from the first trilogy. Hobb’s works are much more in the Tolkien/Robert Jordan/T. H. White school of fantasy than the George R.R. Martin/grim and gruesome/Joe Abercrombie syle. If you’re interested in a new fantasy series, then start at the beginning with Assassin’s Apprentice.

 

What about you? What were the highlights of your reading this year? Any on this list that you read too? Or any that now have piqued your interest?

Book Review: “She Reads Truth Bible”


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For several years now I have seen many of my female friends share posts on Instagram, Twitter, and/or Facebook about a Bible reading plan and online community called She Reads Truth. It always seemed like these friends were encouraged by participating in this community and I was always glad to see people excited to get into God’s word.

More recently, I have been excited by all the new Bibles Holman Bible Publishers have been putting out. I previously reviewed the CSB Reader’s Bible and loved it, so when I saw that there was an opportunity to check out a new Holman Bible Publishers release and that the Bible was a collaboration with She Reads Truth, I knew that I had to take the opportunity.

So what is the verdict on the She Reads Truth Bible? What makes it unique and is it worth investigating for yourself? Let’s take a look together at this recent release from Holman.

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Book Review: “CSB Reader’s Bible”


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For those of us who have been reading the Bible for a while, there are parts of our reading experience that we take for granted. But these very same features make it a strange sort of book. Take verse numbers and study Bible notes. These can be incredibly helpful, but they also clutter up the page and are not found in most other types of books (aside from textbooks, religious works, and academic resources). And chapter numbers in the Bible are much more frequent than chapter breaks in other sorts of books. Additionally, they can artificially segment off our Bible reading into tidy little units that lose the important context of surrounding verses. This is not to mention section headings, headers, cross-references, and other features! These factors can be imposing to first-time readers of the Bible and also can keep us from experiencing the books of the Bible as belonging to the genres in which they were originally written: as a letter or group of poems or as a story.

In response to these potential issues, Bible publishers have begun to put out Bibles that they refer to as Reader’s Bibles. I already had an ESV Reader’s Bible, so when the chance to review a CSB Reader’s Bible came, I jumped at the opportunity.

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Book Review: “A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament”


syntaxOnce you have learned the basics of reading Koine Greek, a beginner student starts being able to read longer passages and units with only occasional help from a Greek Lexicon or Bible language software. But there are still thorny passages that defy explanation, even after several lexicons or grammars have been consulted. These threaten to frustrate and discourage the student from reading in the original language. However, resources like Charles Lee Irons’ A Syntax Guide for Readers of the New Testament attempt to fill that gap and aid the student in deciphering intermediate and difficult passages.

“The primary aim,” the introduction states, “is to provide concise explanations of syntactical, clause-level features that may not be immediately obvious to the beginner.” This is intended to be a companion resource that one reading the Greek New Testament would have open (or readily accessible) while reading in order to facilitate a smooth understanding of the text.

Does it succeed in its aim? I used the Syntax Guide in a variety of settings: in a Greek exegesis class focusing on the Sermon on the Mount, in preparation for teaching a weekly Sunday School class for adults, and for sermon preparation. I found that it in every instance I consulted it, it gave good readings for difficult passages. Most of the time it simply provides a translation. Occasionally it cites the entry in BDAG where the definition it gives for a particular word can be found and cross-referenced. And sometimes it goes even further, providing an explanation for what is going on at the grammatical level instead of just translating the difficult phrase in question.

There were times it did not cover a phrase that I hoped that it would and there were other times that it simply gave a translation instead of a longer explanation. But those were the exceptions. A Syntax Guide for Readers of the New Testament will be an excellent help to any beginning or intermediate student of New Testament Greek looking for a help in growing in their understanding of NT Greek.

4 stars out of 5


Charles Lee Irons. A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2016. 629 pp. Hardcover. $39.99.

Thanks to Kregal Academic for the review copy, which I received for free in exchange for an impartial review!

Book Review: “Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader” (ed. Karen H. Jobes)


dtsFor the student of Koine Greek, a natural next step after learning the basics of the New Testament would be to turn to the Septuagint, or LXX, which is the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. The LXX was the Bible for Greek-speaking Jews from the 3rd Century B.C. until the time of Christ and became the Bible of choice for Christians in the first few centuries of Church history. Its impact on not just those early believers but the New Testament itself is not to be underestimated!

But the Septuagint is a different beast than the New Testament. One jumping straight from the NT to the LXX will encounter unfamiliar vocabulary, slightly (or very different!) meanings of familiar words, and strange syntax. It would be easy to be discouraged by this and not knowing where to begin in tackling this new challenge.

Enter Discovering the Septuagint. Edited by Karen H. Jobes, who teaches New TEstament Greek and Exegesis at Wheaton and has written (with Moisés Silva) an introduction to the Septuagint, this is a work intended to function as a guide for those students making the jump from the familiar waters of NT Greek to the LXX.

Discovering the Septuagint includes “more than six hundred verses of Greek selected from nine different books of the Septuagint” (9). These were chosen as representative of the various genres of the LXX as well as for their distinctiveness and also because they were referenced by NT writers (who at times preferred the LXX version to the Hebrew version).

Each section includes the printed text of the selected verses along with definitions and comments on the parsing or construction of difficult or unfamiliar parts of the verses. An English translation (NETS) follows for reference/comparison, as well as brief discussion of how the selected section is used or referenced in the New Testament.

Discovering the Septuagint fills a needed role in introducing the intermediate Greek student to how to read the Septuagint, guiding the student through important passages and helping familiarize what can be intimidating or frustrating. Jobes and company have produced an immensely helpful and straightforward all-in-one approach (i.e. you don’t need a copy of the Septuagint, an English Bible, a lexicon, and a book on the NT use of the LXX all open on your desk or even in Logos to study a given passage) to the subject that deserves a place in any serious Greek student’s library.

4 stars out of 5


Ed. Karen H. Jobes. Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2016. 351 pp. Hardcover. $39.99.

Thanks to Kregal Academic for the review copy, which I received for free in exchange for an impartial review!

Review: “A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 3” by Allen P. Ross


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I previously reviewed the volume on 1 & 2 Chronicles in the Kregel Exegetical Library and found it to be a volume very much to my liking that would make a solid addition to any pastor or student’s library. But 1 & 2 Chronicles is a relatively neglected area when it comes to good, rigorous academic work and commentaries. In contrast, there is no shortage of resources on the Psalms, which Bonhoeffer called “the prayer book of Jesus Christ” and which have given the saints throughout the ages words of comfort, solace, hope, and encouragement. How does this volume on the Psalms hold up?

In brief, it holds up excellently. If you are looking for a commentary that will serve as a one-stop-shop for your exegetical, homiletical, and devotional needs in the Psalms, this commentary would be a superb choice.

First things first: this is part of a 3-volume set on the Psalms and covers from Psalm 90 to 150. The advantage of these multi-volume commentaries is that they can go into much more detail on each Psalm. The main disadvantage is price. The three together currently cost $124.99 on Kregel’s website (though you can chop about $20 off of that by getting them individually on Amazon). So it’s a serious investment to grab them all, but I believe it could be worth it.

You see, the commentary on each Psalm contains a section with extensive notes on the Psalm’s text-critical issues, comparing the history of the Hebrew (MT) versions with the LXX, Qumran, and other extant copies. This is followed by an overview of the Psalm’s content and composition, a section-by-section and verse-by-verse exegetical analysis, and a final message and application section. There is something here for the scholar, the layman, and the preacher (though perhaps *slightly* more for the scholar and pastor).

Of course, this may be simply too much if you are looking for a commentary that only focuses on unpacking the Psalm for personal devotions or for a more thorough translation of the Psalm to a sermon or teaching form with examples that are relevant to a contemporary audience.

But unless you have a very narrow purpose you are looking for a commentary on the Psalms to assist you in achieving, this commentary functions marvelously in a variety of functions. I highly recommend it and am excited to have this in my personal library: can’t wait to use it!

5 stars out of 5


Allen P. Ross. A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 3: (90-150). Kregel Exegetical Library. Grand Rapids, Kregel Academic, 2016. 1018 pp. Hardcover. $49.99.

Thanks to Kregal Academic for the review copy, which I received for free in exchange for an impartial review!

Review: “40 Questions about the Historical Jesus” by C. Marvin Pate


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40 Questions About the Historical Jesus fills a niche that relatively few other books on Jesus occupy. As the book’s introduction states, “there are many books that focus only on the background issues of the relationship of the historical Jesus to the Christ of faith” (9). These are issues of the historicity of the Gospels, what we can truly know about the man named Jesus of Nazareth that lived 2,000 years ago, and the like. “On the other hand, many other fine books about Jesus only summarize his life, ministry, death and resurrection as based on the Gospels” (ibid.). So some books primarily focus on the background while others focus on the contents of the Gospels as we now have them.

Both of these approaches have their values, but this is a book that distinctly aims to incorporate both background issues to Jesus and the Gospels as well as discussing the content of the Gospels. A brief glance at the table of contents reveals how Pate goes about this: Part 1 (Questions 1-11) addresses background questions about the historical Jesus, Part 2 (Q’s 12-19) includes questions on Jesus’ birth and childhood, Part 3 (20-32) covers questions about Jesus’ life and teachings, and Part 4 (33-40) zeroes in on the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

How does the book do in accomplishing its aims? I was impressed by the scope of the questions (everything from “When was Jesus born?” to “Who was responsible for Jesus’ death?” to “What is the main message of [Matthew/Mark/Luke/John] about Jesus?”) and by the well-researched and thoughtful answers.

Of course, like most books trying to serve as an introduction and reference to a subject as vast as the background to and contents of the accounts about Jesus, this is far from an exhaustive list of questions. For example, aware of some who question whether Jesus was actually crucified on a Friday or perhaps was crucified on a Wednesday (mainly due to a rigid interpretation of “3 days and 3 nights”), I tried to find a specific answer to those exact objections here in this book. Question 37 answers “Did Jesus remain in the tomb three nights and three days?” but mainly does so by presenting positive evidence for a buried-on-Friday-raised-on-Sunday interpretation rather than answering specific claims to the contrary. This is sufficient, but not precisely what I was looking for.

Still, this is a great resource that serves as an excellent starting place for investigating questions about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

4 stars out of 5


C. Marvin Pate. 40 Questions About The Historical Jesus. Grand Rapids, Kregel Academic, 2015. 408 pp. Paperback. $23.99.

Thanks to Kregal Academic for the review copy, which I received for free in exchange for an impartial review!

Book Review: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Kings


A good commentary can be an invaluable aid to pastors, students, professors, and Christians in general. But not every commentary is equally suited for every task. Some excel in giving background information, others focus on the technical details of text criticism or the original languages, and others are more application-focused. Choosing the right type of commentary for the right task is a critical first step!

The Christ-Centered Exposition series is edited by David Platt, Daniel Akin, and Tony Merida. They have four goals for this commentary series, which they list in the introduction. 1) They seek to display exegetical accuracy. What the Bible says is what they want to say. 2) This series has pastors in view. It is designed to aid in sermon prep and drawing out the themes and applications from the text, not to be academic in nature. 3) They want the series to be known for helpful illustrations and theologically driven applications. And 4) they want to exalt Jesus from every book in the Bible.

exaltingTony Merida, who is the lead pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC and associate professor of preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, is the author of the volume on 1 & 2 Kings. The book is divided into eleven chapters on 1 Kings and nine chapters on 2 Kings. Though 1 and 2 Kings have more chapters than that, Merida does what he terms “sectional exposition” (5) and does not treat every verse individually but treats every section. Some chapters in the commentary treat multiple chapters of 1 or 2 Kings (i.e. chapter 1 covers 1 Kings 1:1-2:46) but other chapters focus on a single chapter from Kings.

Each chapter of the commentary begins with a “Main Idea” summary that encapsulates the theme or main point of the unit of Scripture. Then comes an outline of the section that will be covered and an exposition of each section of the passage according to the outline. Merida sums up the themes of the unit of Scripture and concludes each chapter with reflections on how this passage fits with the bigger story the Bible is telling and also how it impacts us today. At the very end of each chapter are questions for discussion and reflection.

This commentary specifically and the series in general do exactly what they aim to do and do it well. If you’re looking for a verse-by-verse analysis that goes into great detail about the historical/socio-rhetorical background or parses every single Hebrew word and explains them you won’t find that here. But if you’re looking for a resource to help you teach others these admittedly at times hard-to-explain passages and relate them to the gospel, this is the book for you. I recommend this book and series to all pastors and Bible-teachers looking for an accessible yet robust commentary that takes the Bible seriously and makes much of Jesus.

4 stars out of 5


Tony Merida, Christ-Centered Exposition: 1 & 2 Kings. Nashville, B&H Publishing, 2015. 340 pp. Paperback. $14.99.

Thanks to Zondervan and B&H Bloggers for the review copy, which I received for free in exchange for an impartial review!

Book Review: “Discipling” by Mark Dever


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“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
—Matthew 28:19-20a (ESV)

Discipleship: Jesus commands his followers to do it. But what does discipleship look like? Where do we disciple? And how exactly do we do it?

Mark Dever has written Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus, the latest entry in the 9 Marks series “Building Healthy Churches,” in order to answer some of these basic questions. The stated goal of the book is to “help you understand biblical discipling and to encourage you in your obedience to Christ” (19).

Not sure where to start with discipling other believers or not sure how discipleship should fit within the context of the local church? Start here.

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