Book Review – CSB Reader’s Bible

I have recently become a huge fan of Reader’s Bibles.  I love the simplicity of only the text on the page without the distractions of chapter numbers, verse numbers, and footnotes, helpful as they may all be.  I currently have a six-volume ESV reader edition, a one-volume ESV reader edition, and the NIV Books of the Bible reader edition.

One recent (re)translation that has come out is the Christian Standard Bible (CSB).  I have enjoyed reading through that translation, and I was excited to hear that they had a Reader’s Edition being released.  Upon request, the publisher agreed to send me a copy to review.

The edition I received was a gray cloth over board edition.  Interestingly, the slipcase is the same cloth over board material as the Bible itself, which was a nice tough in my opinion.

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The Bible is well constructed, and it lays flat from the very first page of the Table of Contents all the way to the end.

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The font is a decent size and boldness, which makes for easy reading.  The paper is very white, but that helps the text stand out. Because it is a one-volume edition, the paper is not as thick as the multi-volume editions released by other publishers; it can’t be if you want a portable Bible.  But the line matching helps to minimize ghosting from one page to the next.

Each chapter starts with a larger initial letter in a blue font, and the same blue font is used at the bottom of the page to give you a rough guide as to what book and chapter you are reading in.  This could be helpful if one were to take the Bible to church to read with, although you would still need to listen to the context and be familiar with it, as there are no verse numbers throughout.  It also retains the bold font for quotations from the Old Testament in the New Testament.  There are maps in the back, but there are no guides as to what page numbers certain chapters could be found on.

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I like the CSB’s use of setting new dialogue in different paragraphs, more like a modern novel would.  It helps me keep track of who is talking when.  This has always been a weakness of the ESV to me, as they may have a back-and-forth conversation all in one paragraph.

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The Bible does include on dark blue ribbon bookmark to help you keep track of where you are reading.

To me, the CSB Reader’s Bible is almost the perfect layout.  I love the font, and the boldness of the text.  It doesn’t seem too cramped on a page.  But the one thing I wish they had done is take more of a note from Biblica’s Books of the Bible set or the six-volume ESV set and do away with chapter numbers all the way around, possibly redividing text by thought.  I understand that keeping the beginning of chapters noted with the large blue first letter helps orient some readers, but it still forces an unnatural division into the text.  It’s almost like the CSB Reader’s Bible got right on the verge of producing one of the “perfect” Reader’s Bibles and stopped just short of the final goal.

All in all, the CSB Reader’s Bible is a welcome addition to my collection of reader’s editions, and it is one I will refer to again and again.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review – ESV Devotional Psalter

A while back, Crossway had released an ESV Psalms standalone book.  A little more recently, to help move the psalms into a devotional use, they released the ESV Devotional Psalter.  Crossway was kind enough to send me a copy to review.  (I will say at the outset, please forgive any blurry pictures.  My camera phone does what it wants half the time.)

There are many similarities between the two, including the layout, the font, and paper type, and the color scheme used. The paper is thicker than normal Bible paper, and it has more of an opaque, almost beige appearance to it.  The text is a decent size for reading, and verse numbers are out to the left of the text in a distinct red font.  It also contains one ribbon bookmark.

The biggest difference is that after each psalm  there is now a devotion to help guide the reader into a time of reflection and prayer as they read the psalms.  The few that I read seemed very theologically sound (which I would expect from Crossway) and life applicable.

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The copy I received came in a hardshell slipcase.  I love having slipcases like this as it helps protect the Bible itself when it is on the shelf.

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The psalter is a TruTone portfolio design, which is a beautiful design for a Bible, in my opinion.

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If you are looking for a standalone psalter that offers some guidance to help move the ancient prayers into a modern way of applying them, this is certainly the psalter to consider.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of this psalter from Crossway in exchange for my honest review.  

Book Review – “All Things New” by John Eldredge

all things new

For a few years now, I have been very interested in understanding what will happen in the end according to Christian theology.  I am not talking primarily of various eschatological views, but of our eternal future in the end.  Several authors, such as N. T. Wright, Randy Alcorn, and even Dallas Willard have contributed to my understanding that what we normally think of as “Heaven” falls far short of what Scripture seems to say.  In reality, we are not going to live somewhere “out there,” but right here, on Earth.  A new Earth with no weaknesses or sin, to be sure, but Earth all the same.

When I saw an offer to preview and promote John Eldredge’s new book All Things New, I jumped at the chance to read and review it.

Eldredge’s main point is that we must have an accurate understanding of what eternity will be like if we hope to have it influence our lives here and now.  He tackles what Earth will be like, the fact that evil will be overthrown, and what we will do forever once everything is restored.  And he does so in a very readable way.

Let me address those who have read much on this before.  For those who have studied the issue, you will probably not find anything strikingly new here.  You will also not find as much Scripture referenced as you would in a book by Alcorn, for example.

What you will find is what, in my opinion, Eldredge is known for: painting a picture in a very elegant way.  Where other books offer perhaps a deeper, more theological and Scripture-saturated understanding of the future, Eldredge also uses movie and story references and takes a cue from them to help us imagine what things will be like.  That is not to say that he never uses Scripture; he does.  But it appears that Eldredge wants us to take more time to dream and imagine about what everything will be like, to get us to desire it from what we imagine it will be like.

It is here that Eldredge succeeds.  Let me provide just one example from the book:

“If you woke each morning and your heart leapt with hope, knowing that the renewal of all things was just around the corner–might even come today–you would be one happy person. If you knew in every fiber of your being that nothing is lost, that everything will be restored to you and then some, you would be armored against discouragement and despair.  If your heart’s imagination were filled with rich expectations of all the goodness coming to you, your confidence would be contagious; you would be unstoppable, revolutionary.

“Friends–don’t let anyone or anything cheat you of this hope; it is your spiritual lifeline. You have barely begun to take hold of it. Do not let anything diminish the beauty, power, and significance of this hope above all hopes. Jesus lived the way he did in this world, for this world, because his hope was set beyond this world; that is the secret of his life…” (p. 200; emphasis in original).

Amen!  One can’t help but be stirred by the above.  And that is Eldredge’s claim to fame, in my opinion: the ability to stir us up in our imaginations and get us excited again.  Whether he is writing about prayer, the heart, holiness, or, now, the renewal of all things, Eldredge has a way of making us desire again.

I believe the best way to develop our understanding of the future is to take the more theological works and combine them with the imaginative ones, blending them together to create a Scripture-founded hope that resides deep within us.  Eldredge’s new book is a great addition to this goal.

*Note: I was provided a complimentary advanced copy of the book by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review – “Reading the Bible Supernaturally” by John Piper

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I had previously reviewed John Piper’s A Peculiar Glory, and while it was good, it wasn’t my favorite book by Piper.  His newest title, Reading the Bible Supernaturally, sounded better, and I am thankful for Crossway for providing me a copy to review.

I am always looking for anything that will help me read the Bible better and apply it to my life more.  Piper’s book sounded like a good candidate, and indeed it was!  Piper helps the reader understand why it is so important to read Scripture, what the ultimate goal of our reading should be, and how to be better readers.

The book is divided into three parts.  Part 1 is “The Ultimate Goal of Reading the Bible,” part 2 is “The Supernatural Act of Reading the Bible,” and Part 3 is “The Natural Act of Reading the Bible Supernaturally.”

The first part is the foundation for the other two.  He begins by giving a brief overview of the ideas contained in the previous book, A Peculiar Glory.  This serves to either refresh one’s memory if they had previously read the book (which was my case) or to provide an overview to those who hadn’t so that they would know where Piper is coming from.

After providing this brief overview, Piper begins to lay out the ultimate goal in Bible reading.  Piper defines it this way: “Our ultimate goal in reading the Bible is that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation.” (p. 41)  I like that summary very much, and the rest of part 1 unpacks this proposal in great detail, taking it step by step as Piper lays out his argument for why we should accept his proposal that this is the ultimate goal in Bible reading.

In part 2, Piper emphasizes that apart from the Spirit of God working in our lives to open our eyes to God’s word, we would never be able to receive anything from Scripture as we read it.  He emphasizes that this is not because of any natural lack in ourselves and our ability to read.  Rather, our fallen nature prevents us from seeing God in the Bible, until the Holy Spirit does a work in us to open our eyes.  There is a definite Calvinistic slant here, but overall I don’t think it is anything that most people would disagree with, whether they identify as Calvinists or not.

Part 3 begins to focus on what things we can do as we read the Bible to be sure we are understanding what is written.  Some of the aspects we need to cultivate, according to Piper, are humility, prayer, faith in God’s promises, learning to identify the meaning of the authors, and active reading by asking questions of terms, phrases, propositions, and paradoxes.

Part of the way that Piper says we can read better is by using a method called arcing, and he provides an appendix that very briefly explains and demonstrates how arcing works. He also mentions that there is a Web site that is more interactive to help understand the concept.  I have to admit that I would need something more interactive, as the appendix did not help me visualize how this would work that well.  It may be enough for some people, however.

The back of the book also has a general index and scripture index.

As with many of Piper’s books, Reading the Bible Supernaturally will probably take more than one reading to really grasp some of what he argues for.  But it is a book that is definitely worth more than one reading.  I have to say that it also has caused me to want to go back and reread A Peculiar Glory to try to put the ideas from the two books together into one coherent whole.  I believe that Piper may be working on a third book in this series, and after reading the second book, I cannot wait to see where he goes next.

If you are looking for something to ignite a spark in you for searching the Scriptures, Reading the Bible Supernaturally is one book I would definitely consider picking up.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review – “Practicing the Power” by Sam Storms

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My background is interesting.  I was raised Southern Baptist (and cessationist), became a Christian at a Pentecostal revival, began attending an Assembly of God church (and became a continuationist), and now am back in a Southern Baptist church, though not back in my cessationist roots.  Needless to say, I don’t feel I fully fit in with either group.  I believe that the gifts of the Spirit are for today, but I also feel there are many excesses and abuses that occur in many churches that practice them.  I cannot agree biblically with cessationism in total, but I cannot merely accept everything that passes itself off as being Spirit-led today, either.  Trying to find material that bridges that gap is very difficult.  Now, however, I have one book I can certainly point to as a starting point for those interested.

Practicing the Power by Sam Storms is, in my opinion, a wonderful book that is a great balance between theology and Scriptural exegesis with an emphasis on embracing God’s ongoing movement through the gifts of the Spirit.  I am very glad I was able to read and review this book published by Zondervan.

Let me preface by saying that the book is, in some ways, surface level.  But I believe that was the book’s intention.  There are other books out there that go deeper, and Storms points out several throughout this book.  But as an introduction to the issues, this book excels.

For those concerned that this book may be too excessive and perhaps not biblical, let me assure you that Storms is Reformed and the foreword is written by Matt Chandler.  While I may be wrong, I don’t think Chandler would have written the foreword for something that he felt was unbiblical.

Throughout the book, Storms tackles issues like prayer and fasting, deliverance, and especially the prophetic, which is where he spends quite a bit of time, as there are many issues surrounding that gift.  I think Storms does a great job throughout at tackling objections and concerns with continuationism, and I believe he does an outstanding job of bringing Scripture to bear on the issues.

For example, when talking about healing, Storms does not shy away from the fact that not everyone we pray for is healed.  But it doesn’t prevent him from pointing to the Scripture verses that say we should be praying for healing anyway.  He does not move so far to the God’s sovereignty side that he is hesitant to pray for healing, but he also does not move so far to the healing side that one feels healing must come no matter what.  I like Storms’ balance.

I think that Appendix 2 was probably one of the most helpful parts of the book.  In that appendix, Storms lays out 12 bad reasons for being a cessationist and 12 good reasons for being a continuationist.  Since it is an appendix, the reasons given must necessarily be brief, but I liked his overview.

I have often lamented that most doctrinal/theological churches tend to neglect (intentionally or otherwise) the reality of the Spirit in our lives, while most churches that are more open to the Spirit tend to neglect deep doctrinal/theological study and thinking.  Storms has done a wonderful job of bringing the two together in this book, and I hope it is the beginning of a merging that will be very powerful in the Church as a whole.

If you are interesting in understanding why some are convinced the Spirit still operates with the gifts mentioned in the Bible today, and you want to do so from a balanced, biblical, and well-thought-out perspective, Practicing the Power is a good place to start.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers program in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review – “God at War” by Gregory A. Boyd

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I want to begin by saying that I don’t think any review I could write would do this book justice.  I will inevitably either give too little or too much information, and I run the risk of misrepresenting what the author is arguing.  But I will do my best to give my thoughts clearly and fairly.

For years, I have been wanting to read God at War: The Bible & Spiritual Conflict by Gregory A. Boyd.  InterVarsity Press agreed to send me a copy.  I am thankful they did, and they have been very patient with me, as this book has taken me quite a while to read, and I still have the companion book to work through.

God at War is no easy or light read.  The book is 414 pages long, including the text, notes, a selected bibliography, and author/subject index, and a Scripture index.  I read through all of the text (293 pages) and notes (101 pages!), and flipping back and forth took me a while.

Boyd’s book is a good and challenging read.  In the book, Boyd is attempting to offer an explanation of theodicy that he feels does a better job of explaining the problem of evil than the traditional (Augustinian) view of theodicy.  To do so, Boyd argues that the Bible contains a warfare view of creation.  That is, there is a war raging between God and Satan (and his forces of evil), and this warfare is the overarching worldview through which we should think.  As a result, we should not be surprised that bad things happen to good people; rather, we should expect them, as we would expect bad things to happen during a physical war.

This requires us to rethink traditional explanations of how God and evil can coexist.  The traditional view sees God as being in sovereign control of everything that occurs, even the evil things that Satan and people may do.  A philosophical result of this view, according to Boyd, is that we must ultimately claim that everything that happens is, in some sense, according to God’s will and part of His good plan, even evil things.  To Boyd, this ultimately makes God responsible for both good and evil.

According to the warfare view that Boyd espouses in the book, bad things happen not as part of God’s overall will, but against God’s will as a result of free creatures (both demonic and human) choosing to do evil.  As such, there are truly things happening that are pointless.  Still, God is so good that He will ultimately bring good out of these things, though Boyd is clear that those things didn’t happen in order to bring about that good; rather, God causes good from inherently evil things that happen.

These claims are very different from what many are used to hearing, and they require a lot of explanation to back them up.  That is the focus of this book.

In God at War, Boyd focuses on understanding evil and how it works with God only as a supplement to arguing for his warfare understanding of the Bible.  He holds off on the explanations of how evil exists in a universe created by a good God for his follow-up book, Satan and the Problem of Evil.

The first part of this book focuses on the warfare view of the Old Testament, while the second part focuses on the warfare view of the New Testament.  I cannot possibly go over everything Boyd discusses in these parts, but I will offer a brief overview.

In the first part, Boyd works through the Old Testament, showing that from the beginning of Creation, there is an idea of warfare as God establishes order from chaos.  He moves on to show how this warfare view works its way out throughout the entire Old Testament, culminating in an understanding of Satan.

In the second part, Boyd turns his attention to the New Testament, arguing that Jesus’ coming on the scene is the beginning of an invasion, for lack of a better word, of enemy territory.  He walks readers through seeing Jesus’ mission being one of overpowering the enemy and taking back the world he has stolen, and Jesus demonstrates this through exorcisms and healings, both of which are direct confrontations with Satan’s minions and activities.  From there, Boyd focuses on the cross and resurrection as being in line most strongly with the Christus Victor view, over and above the penal substitutionary atonement view.  What I like is that Boyd does not set these views against one another, but orders them so that God’s redeeming people is a subset of His restoring creation by giving it back to Jesus as king rather than having forgiveness of sins being the main focus.  He ends by showing how the idea that we are at war (in the already/not yet state of affairs where Satan has been shown to be defeated, though not ultimately defeated yet) continues through the epistles and Revelation.  We see this in the fact that we are called soldiers who need to fight the good fight and put on the full armor of God while being aware of the devil’s schemes since he prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour, whom we need to resist as we stand fast, among other statements.  (I think I fit enough Biblical references in that abnormally long sentence.)

I will say that after reading the book, I can clearly see a clear warfare view in the entire Bible.  Whether that is because I have just finished the book, so it is in the forefront of my thoughts or because it is that clearly present has yet to be determined.  Boyd, however, certainly accomplishes what he set out to do: Show that the idea of warfare runs throughout the entire Bible as the theme that ties it all together.

I am certainly anxious to read his follow-up book now to see how this all works out in theory and practice.

The largest concern I have is with Boyd’s Open Theistic view.  It is clear that Boyd rests his arguments in this understanding of God’s sovereignty and knowledge, though I believe he made a statement that one could see a warfare view in Scripture without holding to Open Theism specifically.  I am still reading for and against Open Theism as contrasted with more traditional views of God’s knowledge and sovereignty, and I am not convinced that Open Theism is the best view.  Readers will want to be aware that Boyd is working out of that Scriptural understanding as they read through this book.

All in all, this is definitely a book I would recommend to those who are interested in spiritual warfare, a warfare view of Scripture, or in understanding theodicy in a deeper way.  Whether you walk away from the book convinced or not, I don’t think you will find a better explanation of a warfare view of Scripture than Boyd presents; at least, I cannot picture how there could be a more thorough one.  (Chapter 1 alone has 88 endnotes!)  You will not regret reading this book.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review – “The Lost World of Genesis One” by John H. Walton

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As someone still studying various issues related to science, the Scripture, and how to interpret them both, I have been reading books by authors on various perspectives.  One recent author who has gained some attention is John H. Walton.  He has written a few books now trying to understand Genesis in its ancient context.  The Lost World of Genesis One starts, quite literally, “In the beginning.”

The subtitle of the book is “Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.”  Walton’s view is that we must understand the ancient context of cosmology and creation origin stories in order to better understand ancient thought on the issue of origins and creation.  By understanding the ancient mindset, we can then better understand Genesis 1 and what it is trying to say.

The layout of the book has Walton presenting 18 propositions to help us understand his arguments.  These include propositions such as “Genesis 1 Is Ancient Cosmology,” “Ancient Cosmology Is Function Oriented,” “The Cosmos Is a Temple,” and “The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Do Not Concern Material Origins.”

From here on out, please excuse any mistakes in my understanding or representation of Walton and his arguments.  The views he presents are very new to me, and I may not be understanding him perfectly.  If so, I fully accept any mistakes on my part.

I was raised understanding the Genesis creation account as explaining “how and when things were created.”  This would essentially be a material origin view.  Walton’s argument is that Genesis is not concerned with material origin (when and how things came into being).  Rather, he believes that Genesis is concerned with functional origin (why things came into being).

As a result, Walton argues that science may present one understanding of how things came about, with Scripture providing the importance of the creation.  This, of course, results in allowing science and Scripture to not be at odds with one another, unless science is saying God is not involved at all.  While Walton argues that his goal is not to defend evolution or any scientific views in particular, one cannot help but wonder if that may not be at least an underlying desire, if not explicitly discussed.  I suppose that crosses into judging motives, however, and we do have to be careful about doing that.

Walton’s central argument is that the Earth is viewed in Scripture as God’s cosmic temple, and that the creation account deals with the establishing, filling, and functioning of that temple.  It is, to say the least, a novel view compared to many I have read.  I cannot, at this point, say whether I agree with him or not, as I still have to think through many issues related to his perspective.

Perhaps the most interesting part of his book was his last proposition that public science education should be neutral regarding purpose.  It almost began to feel a little like the old “non-overlapping magisteria” arguments presented elsewhere.  Science and faith are in different fields, and the two have no contribution to each other.  I’m not sure I can fully agree with that perspective.  Primarily, I would argue that there is no such thing as total neutrality; one’s worldview will always at least partially color one’s perspective, and I’m not convinced we can escape that, although we can try to account for it and minimize it.  At the same time, his view, if adopted, could solve some issues in teaching science as a Christian in a public arena.  It would also have to apply both ways, so atheists could not push a purely materialistic view of science anymore than Christians could push a supernatural one.

Despite Walton’s claims, I think one would be hard-pressed to understand how Walton is not arguing ultimately for evolution, however.  In one proposition, he argues how other theories of Genesis and science either go too far or not far enough.  In this chapter, he argues against Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism, Literary Framework Hypothesis, and forms of the Gap Theory.  He also seems to explain that since Intelligent Design is concerned primarily with purpose, it has no place in public education of scientific ideas.   At least from my studies, I cannot figure out what would be left, short of some view of Evolutionary Creationism.

Granted, Walton would argue that I am asking the wrong question.  His emphasis is that the Genesis account is not trying to discuss science, as we think of it, since it deals with material origins.  But if all the above views are thrown out, I cannot see any view left other than the current standard evolutionary view of material origins, as far as science is concerned.

Also in his defense, Walton explains that he is concerned primarily with the best way of understanding Genesis 1, regardless of what science currently says.  As a result, his view of Genesis would not change, even if our scientific understanding of how things developed does change.  This provides some sense of solidarity on understanding Genesis that does not require one to argue that science is wrong in what it says, as the two are not even addressing the same questions.

If Walton is right regarding how to understand Genesis 1, it would be a huge relief to many, as it would allow them to let science speak on its own, and however one interprets Genesis it would have no bearing on our pursuit of scientific understanding.  I admit that is an attractive thought.  At this point, however, I am not sure if it stands up to total scrutiny yet.  I admit, I am new to both understanding science and trying to look deeper into the creation account in Genesis, so I am not able to provide an in-depth critique one way or another beyond my thoughts listed here.

I am in no way saying Walton is wrong; for all I know, he is spot on.  The view is so novel to me, however, that I am struggling to reconcile it with the interpretations I was raised with.

If you are a student of the science/religion questions, and if you like trying to see if we can “harmonize” (for lack of a better term) the two and how best to do it, then The Lost World of Genesis One (as well as the follow-up The Lost World of Adam and Eve) are great books to add to your list of books to study.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.