Bible, Books, Interviews, Reviews

Upcoming Review and Interview

I am pleased to announce that not only will I finally post my review of Timothy Ward’s Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God sometime early next week, but I will also be posting an interview with the author. Stay tuned…

Αυτω η δοξα,

Jason

Books, Gospels, New Testament, Reviews

Book Review: Life Application Bible Studies – John

Life Application Bible Studies: John

Published by Tyndale House

ISBN: 1414325614

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Tyndale House

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Many thanks to the kind folks at Tyndale House for this review copy!

I have commented previously on the format of these handy volumes, so that will not be mentioned here (read my review of Hebrews in this series here for comments on format).

There is no question that the Gospel of John is a highly theological book. John’s treatment of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are quite unique when compared to the Synoptics. The writers of the notes on the text leave no doubt in the reader’s mind–Jesus is indeed God and man, without separation or division in nature. They state:

“When Jesus was conceived, God became a man. He was not part man and part God; he was completely human and completely divine…The two most common errors people make about Jesus are to minimize his humanity or to minimize his divinity. Jesus is both God and man” – p. 7

Expectedly, this view carries throughout the study guide.

The notes that occupy roughly half the page through most of the book give more-detailed information on verses that either make important theological claims or refer to historical and/or cultural events and customs that might be unfamiliar to modern readers. These notes also offer commentary on verses throughout and seek to make application to the reader’s modern context.

One of the features more prominent in this volume are the character profiles. Given that John wrote a narrative, it is characteristically smattered with accounts of different people and their interactions with Jesus. These profiles provide a variety of information such as strengths and accomplishments, lessons from his/her life, vital statistics, and key verses in which they are addressed or mentioned. The important people in John’s Gospel profiled are John the Baptist, Nicodemus, Lazarus, Caiaphas, Mary Magdalene, John, and Thomas.

The one downside to this volume (and likely others in the series) are the occasional clichés that find their way into the notes. For example, on page 11 in Nicodemus’ character profile, the authors state “God specializes in finding and changing people we consider out of reach.” While this statement is true, it just seems a little simplistic.

That minor criticism aside, I would, as with the previously-reviewed Hebrews volume, recommend this study of John, especially to those who study in small groups or privately and do not have the time for more lengthy treatments of this most glorious Gospel.

Books, Old Testament, Reviews

Book Review: The Lost World of Genesis One

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate by John H. Walton

IVP ǀ Amazon ǀ CBD

Many thanks to Adrianna Wright at IVP for this review copy!

I was very excited to see Walton’s book would be available this year, and even more so when I received a copy for review. There are two reasons I was anxious to read this book. One, I have become disenchanted with my original understanding of the creation account of Genesis 1 (namely, the literal six-day creation view) and, two, I have become weary of the incessant debate between evolutionists and ID advocates. These two issues meet head-on in Walton’s book as he makes a case for understanding the creation account of Genesis one in terms of function, not material creation, and how this plays out in the ongoing evolution/ID debates, particularly with reference to public education.

Walton arranges the book into eighteen propositions, successively building his case for function-oriented creation in Genesis 1. Each chapter (proposition) is relatively short, which makes for easy reading, but is substantial enough that Walton’s thesis is adequately argued. In propositions 1 and 2, Walton orients the reader to a proper setting in which to read and interpret Genesis 1 and discusses the way Genesis’ creation account would have been understood in its original time and culture. Propositions 3-7 deal primarily with textual matters concerning the various acts of God’s creative work in Genesis 1. Propositions 8 and 9 focus on the concept of the cosmos as Temple, seeking to provide a synthesis of the argument thus far. Proposition 10 argues specifically against Genesis 1 as an account of material creation. Propositions 11 and 12 are essentially a discussion of the positives of the view articulated in the book, as well as a brief address of competing views of Genesis 1. In propositions 13-18, Walton discusses his view of Genesis 1 in relation to science, with the final proposition focusing on public education and the ongoing evolution/intelligent design debate.

Overall, Walton does a fine job of articulating an interpretation that could easily consume twice or three times as many pages.[i] Walton’s knowledge of the Ancient Near East is obvious, though certainly condensed for this work, and his exegetical ability is clearly seen. However, given the scope of the book, I was a little disappointed that there was not ample space for more thorough discussions of various aspects of this interpretation of Genesis 1, particularly the exegetical discussions (see below).

There were a couple of negatives concerning this book. First, I find that Walton is somewhat repetitive concerning the thesis of the book; if you got to the end of this book and couldn’t remember what it’s primary argument was, it wasn’t for lack of stating it! Second, as with any book of this length (considering the weight of such a topic), there are some sections that I would have liked to have had more interaction with sources and more detailed analysis of varying viewpoints. Though I believe Walton is very skilled in his exegesis, I also wanted more detailed discussion of the various scriptures he cited in defense of his argument.

These two points aside, my opinion of the book is decidedly positive. One of the more appreciable aspects of the book is Walton’s dealing with sensitive nature of the issue of origins, an issue that is often guarded by dogmatic antagonists from both biological evolution and ID camps. Though not all advocates for either position could or should be categorized in this way, they are the ones who usually get the most attention. Essentially, Walton believes both sides to be in error (generally speaking) regarding their posturing for a place in the classroom. He rightly argues that both theories (as well as others) should be taught in the classrooms, so long as each theory’s metaphysical assumptions are held in check.

He rightly acknowledges that proponents of biological evolution enjoy the dominant position at present, but that this should not be a threat to Bible-believing Christians. Given his interpretation of Genesis 1, he concedes there is at least open the possibility of biological evolution as a means of God’s creative work (though he is not convinced of this and does not advocate the theory). Rather than being a threat to faith, Walton views this as an opportunity to find common ground on the discussion of origins, because Genesis 1 is essentially irrelevant to this matter. This approach to Genesis frees the Christian from using Genesis to defend something it does not address.

In summary, I think Walton’s book is a much-needed contribution to a discussion that is polarizing for the many involved. It hearkens the reader of Genesis 1 to shed his/her contemporary spectacles and view the text through the lens of those to whom it was written, to read Genesis 1 as a ancient cosmology, not a paradigm of modern science. Walton says,

“Through the entire Bible, there is not a single instance in  which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their own culture. No passage offers a scientific perspective that was not common to the Old World science of antiquity” (p. 19).

To understand what the text means to us, we must first understand what it meant to them, and if you are seeking to understand better Genesis 1, I highly recommend this book!

Memorable quotes:

“One of the sad statistics of the last 150 years is that increasing numbers of young people who were raised in the environment of a biblical faith began to pursue education and careers in the sciences and found themselves conflicted as they tried to sort out the claims of science and the claims of the faith they had been taught. it seems to many that they have to make a choice: either believe the Bible and hold to a young earth, or abandon the Bible because of the persuasiveness of the case for an old earth. The good news is that we do not have to make such a choice. The Bible does not call for a young earth. Biblical faith need not be abandoned if one concludes from the scientific evidence that the earth is old” (p. 96)

“Divine intention must not be held hostage to the ebb and flow of scientific theory. Scientific theory cannot serve as the basis for determining divine intention” (p. 105)

“The most respectful reading we can give to the text, the reading most faithful to the face value of the text—and the most ‘literal’ understanding, if you will—is the one that comes from their world not ours” (p. 106).

“In the functional view that has been presented in this book, the text can be taken at face value without all of the scientific gymnastics of YEC” (that is, Young Earth Creationism; p. 109)

“That is precisely what we are proposing as the premise of Genesis 1: that it should be understood as an account of functional origins of the cosmos as a temple” (p. 84).


[i] As noted here, Walton does have more detailed treatment of the thesis of this book slated for publication sometime in the near future, entitled Genesis One as Ancient Cosmology, from Eisenbrauns.

Books, Reviews

Book Review: The Message Behind the Movie

The Message Behind the Movie: How to Engage a  Film without Disengaging Your Faith by Douglas  M. Beaumont

Published by Moody Publishers

ISBN: 0802432018

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Many thanks to Duane Sherman at Moody Publishers for this review copy!

Disputes concerning Christians and culture are not new and will likely continue to be a hotly-debated subject amongst them for the foreseeable future. Among these disputes is the question of movies; specifically, is it permissible for Christians to watch movies that are not explicitly “Christian”? No doubt battle lines have been drawn, dividing the “Christians-should-not-watch-secular-movies camp” from the camp in which Christians feel free to watch secular movies, so long as they do so discerningly. I looked forward to reading The Message Behind the Movie because I am a devoted follower of Christ and I love movies. As Christians we are certainly to filter entertainment through the lens of Scripture, testing what is evil and clinging to what is good. The problem many Christians face when it comes to movies, if they deem movies to be acceptable forms of entertainment, is what makes a movie acceptable for viewing. To this end, Beaumont’s book offers practical advice on how to be so discerning.

The Message Behind the Movie is divided into three “acts” (based upon a standard screenwriting procedure in which each “act” serves a particular purpose): 1) Watching and Understanding Movies, 2) Evaluating and Discussing Movies, 3) Applauding and Avoiding Movies. A brief comment on each section will suffice.

Act one focuses on watching and understanding movies and is very informative about the different aspects and features of movies, such as the lighting, sound, and structure, how these decisions are very intentional and how every moment of a movie purposefully planned. Beaumont helpfully guides the reader through these and other aspects of movie-making so that hopefully they, with a little practice, will learn to “watch movies well.” Overall, Act One was the most interesting section of the book. Beaumont’s frequent references to particular aspects of some of the cinema’s finest achievements kept me turning these early pages. I was very intrigued to read about scenes from some of my favorite movies from his perspective.

Act two slows down a bit in its address of how to discuss movies according to particular disciplines such as theology, philosophy, and Scripture. While these are essential disciplines in which to discuss movies and their message, I felt the pace of the book lagged in comparison to act one. Part of the reason is because these chapters essentially amount to an apologetic for the Christian faith. This really did not shock me, as the author is a Ph.D. student in and professor of apologetics. Please do not misunderstand me—I am all for apologetics. However, most (if not all) the information in this section is material I have read numerous times and can be found in most intro-level apologetics texts. I would have preferred more discussion and interaction with movies themselves rather than an apologetic presentation.

Act three somewhat regained my interest, but I felt was rather brief in comparison to the first two acts. Act three focuses on the question I believe most would ask when picking up this book—“What should we then watch”? Beaumont does provide a good summary of the points presented throughout the book (though brief) and will certainly be helpful for those asking this question.

Format-wise the book was appealing and easy to read. Errata were few, including a statement that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1948 (they were discovered in 1947—I know, it’s nitpicking!). In summary, The Message Behind the Movie is a helpful volume that will be a good starting point for Christians who wish to be discerning about the movies they watch, having at least rudimentary tools to “watch movies well.”

Memorable quotes:

“Finally, we must avoid the common tendency to balk at offensive elements in a movie while indiscriminately imbibing false worldviews and destructive philosophies when they are presented in non-offensive ways.” p. 57

“If you think the film was objectively sinful to watch, then you should discuss that later with a view toward discipleship, not discipline.” p. 156

Αυτω η δοξα,

Jason

Books, Cults, Reviews

Book Review: The Mormon Mirage

The Mormon Mirage: A Former Member Looks at the Mormon Church Today by Latayne C. Scott

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I want to thank the kind folks at Zondervan for this review copy!

The Mormon Mirage is divided into two parts. Part one describes the author’s reasons for leaving the Mormon church. She addresses the major theological and historical issues that proved untenable in her investigation into the claims of the church. These issues are lumped into the following categories: her “apostasy” from the Mormon church, Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, Mormons and revelation, the Mormon pantheon, and salvation and exaltation. Part one occupies the majority of the book as it deals with the various foundational tenets of the Mormon worldview. Part two is all-new material, in which the author lays out nine pivotal issues and challenges facing the Mormon Church today.

Of the books I have read that address Mormonism (or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, hereafter referred to as LDS), they almost always deal primarily with the religion’s theological and historical shortcomings (crucial areas to be sure). I enjoyed that Scott dealt with these issues in her book, but I was glad to read the first major section of the book that dealt with the founder of the Latter-Day Saints: Joseph Smith the man. Scott ably recounts many details of Smith’s life such that the reader has a suitable understanding of him as a person before trying to understand the religious movement he started. If you want to better understand a religion, you must study its founder.

This book, unlike many in the genre, reads more like a historical narrative than an apologetics text, and that’s a good thing. She factually weaves together the various strands of Joseph Smith’s life and exploits with subsequent church leaders’ efforts to maintain and expand the Mormon Church’s girth and influence. Scott creates a telling tale of the church that on the one hand would shine its light of family values and societal goodwill, and, on the other would prefer to keep its most sacred rites and darker moments of its history shrouded in mystery.

For those who are versed in LDS theology and history, Scott’s book may not provide information previously unknown to them, yet it will serve to remind and reinforce the reader’s recollection of the serious pitfalls of the claims and teachings of the LDS church. However, for those whose knowledge of LDS is less expansive, Scott’s book will serve as an excellent primer. This does not imply that The Mormon Mirage is strictly or explicitly a beginner’s guide, but it is geared toward those who are not scholars (p. 11). Do not be deceived, however, for this is no summary of Mormonism or a mere comparison of the LDS church with orthodox Christianity (though those elements are inherent in this type of work). Scott seeks to reveal Mormonism for what it is—a church that is founded on perverted theology and historical claims that are fictional at best.

Though Scott has thoroughly exposed the fundamental doctrines of Mormonism to be tenuous, she does so in a tone that is borne out of compassion and concern for her Mormon friends and family. Her exposé throughout is erudite and you can often sense a frustration in her words. Few statements capture this sentiment like the question she poses regarding the Book of Mormon: “Why can’t the Mormons own up to the fact that the Book of Mormon is a fraud”? (p. 90) This is one of the great qualities of the book—the author’s perspective. As an evangelical Christian, I enjoy reading books that address cults and false religions from a biblical perspective, but often times they are written from the perspective that would be identical to mine—an outsider looking in. Certainly this a good and necessary thing, but the perspective of a convert from the religion/cult at hand always offers insight that would not otherwise be known. They possess knowledge and experiences that come only from being a participant in the goings-on of these kinds of organizations.

To be sure, Scott is not the only one to have “apostasized” from the LDS church and publish her experience, but hers is a deeply personal work that not only discloses the fundamentals of Mormonism, but urges the reader to consider the merits of the church’s claims and evaluate for oneself its trustworthiness. Personally, it is more revealing to hear from a former insider than one who can only examine the church externally. Not having read the previous two editions I cannot comment on the changes and updates made for this third edition. But whatever the changes, I am confident that this edition will be a helpful guide both to those who belong to orthodox faith traditions and wish to know more about the LDS church and to those who are outside orthodox faith traditions or a not a part of any faith tradition and wish to know more about the LDS church.

Αυτω η δοξα,

Jason

Books, New Testament, Reviews

Book Review: Life Application Bible Studies – Hebrews

Life Application Bible Studies: Hebrews

Published by Tyndale House

ISBN: 978-1-4143-2564-4

Amazon ǀ Tyndale House ǀ CBD

Thanks to Tyndale Publishers for this review copy!

The Life Application Bible Studies are condensed treatments of Bible books that are plentiful in information and focused on life application (thus the title!). There are two aspects of this volume on which I want to comment: the format and the content.

Concerning the format, each guide boasts several features designed to facilitate familiarity with the Bible book and aid in navigating its contents. These include notes, book introductions (which is further subdivided), outline, personality profiles, maps, charts and diagrams, cross-references, textual notes, and highlighted notes. The lessons are laid out very well and only employ certain features on each page, thus not overloading the reader. A slight drawback (as is the case with smaller-sized guides) is the small print. While easy enough to read for many, some may find the text a little too small. Read the first chapter here.

The content of this particular volume was very informative and reflected a conservative interpretation of the text (which I prefer!). Hebrews can be a tough book for many students, especially when dealing with the use of the Old Testament throughout. Part 1 of the book, which is the biblical text along with all of the notes and other features mentioned, is taken largely from the NLT Study Bible. Part 2 is comprised of study questions that are based on smaller segments of the biblical text. The authors’ goal was “to write thoughtful, practical, dependable, and application-oriented studies of God’s Word” (p. 33), and to this end they are largely successful. Applying Scripture to modern scenarios is a task that requires diligence and discernment and I believe that the authors have posed questions that rightly reflect the intent of the passages chosen. There are always minor things that one will find in such questions that perhaps could have been better worded or more targeted, but there is nothing here that should give attentive Bible students pause.

The downside that often comes with Bible studies such as this is the lack of depth concerning the exegetical process and argumentation. Again, as mentioned previously, this is purposeful in that these are not full-blown commentaries, but guides designed to facilitate a greater understanding of Bible books without the often cumbersome reading of technical exegetical treatments. Even so, there were a few places where more information concerning how the author arrived at a certain conclusion would have been helpful. Nevertheless, this guide fulfills the purpose for which it was created.

The Life Application Bible Studies are a great resource for Bible students of varying levels of knowledge and should prove to be a useful tool in studying and teaching God’s Word.