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.

Book Review – “The Good and Beautiful Life” by James Bryan Smith

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I am always looking for fresh ways to explore who God is and how to live the Christian life.  When I originally read The Good and Beautiful God, I found some fresh ways of understanding who God is.  That book is the first in a three-book set by James Bryan Smith.  After finishing the first book, I wanted to continue to expand my views by reading the next book in the series, and InterVarsity Press graciously agreed to send me a copy of The Good and Beautiful Life.

Where the first book attempted to help us reexamine our views of who God is, The Good and Beautiful Life sets out to help us get a better sense of how to put on the character of Christ, to borrow from the subtitle.

Smith draws a lot of his inspiration from Dallas Willard, and, as I understand it, Smith’s three books are a sort of “curriculum of Christlikeness” that Willard encouraged him to write.  If you are familiar with Willard, you will certainly sense a lot of the same ideas coming through Smith’s writing.

The book takes the Sermon on the Mount and breaks it down by representing it as Christ’s blueprint for what a disciple’s (or to borrow Smith’s term, “apprentice’s”) life should look like as he or she increasingly follows Jesus.

The chapters follow the Sermon on the Mount in order, tackling ideas such as learning how to live without anger, without lust, and without vainglory, as well as learning how to bless those who curse you and living in the kingdom day by day.

After each chapter is a brief “Soul Training” exercise to try to apply the material to one’s life and help the process of inner transformation.

At the end of the book is a 32-page appendix that is a small group discussion guide to help walk small groups through that material as a way of supporting and encouraging one another to grow.

Smith points out throughout the book that the idea is not one of changing one’s outward life only (or even primarily).  The real focus is on allowing Christ to change one’s inner self so that the outward actions follow as a natural result.  It brings back the idea of Christ’s talking to the Pharisees and explaining that rather than cleaning the outside of the cup and dish while leaving the inside dirty, they should have cleaned the inside first, and the outside would have been clean also.

There are a few areas where I am not sure I agree with Smith, but I am still considering what he has to say.  For example, he tackles the idea of casting one’s pearls before pigs and argues that Jesus is not saying to withhold something precious from those who don’t deserve it (pages 192-195).  Rather, he interprets it as saying that pigs cannot digest pearls, so they will get hungry and turn on the owner, whom they can digest.  The idea being that the pearls represent condemnation and judging and that people cannot “digest” that, or handle it, so it won’t help them but will leave them starving for help.  Based on most interpretations I have read, Smith is definitely in a minority view here, and he acknowledges as much in the book.  I have to say that I am not totally convinced by his view yet, although it would make the passage flow better.  But to me, pearls always represent something expensive and precious (pearl of great price, the gates of pearl in Revelation, etc.); this would be one of the only places, if not the only, where that would not apply, especially if Smith’s view is correct, as judging and condemnation could not be interpreted as precious.

Overall, however, I found this book very refreshing, and there are many great ideas to take away from it.  Where Willard provides a lot of the theoretical side of kingdom living, Smith works more on the practical side, so combining Smith’s work with Willard’s will give a more well-rounded idea of the type of kingdom living they advocate.

If you are looking for a “curriculum” for Christlikeness, this book (and this series) is a good one to consider.

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

Bible Review – ESV Reader’s Bible 6-Volume Set

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In previous reviews, I have talked about how much I love reader’s editions of Bibles.  The current review is no exception.

Crossway released a reader’s edition that is certainly not your typical carry-to-church Bible, since it is divided up into multiple books.  But what it sacrifices in terms of portability, it gains in terms of aesthetics and design.  The ESV Reader’s Bible Six-Volume Set is a beautiful edition of the Scriptures that anyone would do well to have in their library.

For all of the strengths of previous reader’s Bibles, they still have the typical setbacks that one-volume Bibles have: thin paper, ghosting of text as a result, a lot of lines per page, etc.  Crossway found a way to remedy some of that by dividing the Bible up into six volumes: Pentateuch, Historical Books, Poetry, Prophets, Gospels & Acts, and Epistles & Revelation.

The six volumes come in a sturdy slipcase to hold them.  This slipcase is not a mere afterthought, but has been beautifully designed as well.  The foiling design on the side is astonishing (and I believe there is meaning in the design, which you can find on the ESV Reader’s Bible Six-Volume Edition website, and there are “blocks” set at the bottom of the case to help prop up the books themselves so that they retain their shape and don’t sag over time.

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Each volume is printed on thicker, traditional book paper.  Because there is no pressure to fit the Bible into one volume, the lines per page have been spaced out, allowing easier flow on the eyes by providing some blank space for the eyes to rest with.  Each volume has a ribbon bookmark for marking where you leave off in reading.  The edition I have is a cloth over board edition, and the binding is a sewn binding.

The text is in a single column format and is set at a 12-point font (the single volume Reader’s Bibles have a 9.5-point font).  Words of Christ are in black text.  There are no chapter numbers or verse numbers anywhere on the page, except for the psalms, which retain their traditional numbering in a red font.  There are occasional section headings in a red font, but they are greatly reduced over most Bibles.  For example, Genesis has 7 headings total and Matthew has 9.  If you compare that to a traditional Bible, you will find that is a great reduction, and these headings serve to help guide the reader with minimal intrusion and disruption to reading.  Each volume does contain an index in the back which provides some guidance as to what page chapters of the independent books of the Bible would start on, if someone needed it for reference, but this edition cannot be used to locate specific verses or even verse ranges.  Of course, that is by design, as this is truly meant to be a Bible for reading, not study.

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The only place that the layout makes it a little more difficult to read, to me, is in the book of Proverbs.  Everything seems to run together a little more there for me, but it may just be because I am used to a traditional layout.  It is certainly not a deal breaker on this set.

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When you compare a volume of the six-volume edition to the one-volume editions, you can see the difference.  Here, I’ve opened to the same passage in Numbers, and you can see the ghosting on the one-volume edition as well as how close the lines are to each other, whereas there is almost no ghosting of text on the six-volume edition, and the spacing is much more pleasing to read for long periods.

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If you are looking for a Bible that can stay at your house and provide long periods of reading of Scripture with minimal interruptions, the six-volume edition of the ESV Bible is perfect for you.  The cloth over board edition retails for $199.99 at Crossway’s site, and I have seen them as low as $100 at other sites.  It is money well spent!

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

 

Book Review (and Comparison) ESV Reader’s Bible Top Grain Leather

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Forgive me for posting so many reviews.  Work has me a little behind, and I have a break right now, so I am trying to get caught up.

I have been very impressed with Bibles designed specifically for reading as opposed to studying lately.  It is nice to be able to sit down and just get lost in the words of Scripture without all of the distractions that come with Bibles designed for reference (as helpful as those features can be).

One edition I have owned for a while is the ESV Reader’s Bible cloth over board edition.  I was thinking of upgrading to a TruTone edition, and when I looked, I noticed that they were releasing a top grain leather edition.  I love good leather Bibles, and Crossway is known for producing some great ones.  I asked about being able to review one, and Crossway generously agreed.

This post is focused on reviewing the top grain leather edition, but it will also have some comparisons to the cloth over board as well.

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The inside of both editions is the same (except for possibly the text editions; the cloth over board I have is the 2011 edition, while the leather is the 2016): 9.5 font, two ribbon bookmarks, single column text, smyth-sewn binding, maps in the back, words of Christ in black text, and so on.  There are no translation notes included giving alternate readings, original Greek and Hebrew, etc.  The verse numbers have all been removed and placed in a red font at the top of each page, giving a verse range for the page.  Chapter titles are still included, and are placed in a red font in the margin where each chapter starts, except for the Psalms, where the psalm number is in red font at the beginning of each psalm.  The titles of each book are also included in the same red font.  All of this serves to try to make the text itself stand out, which is the focus of a reader’s edition, and it works very well.

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The top grain leather edition comes in a clam-shell box, whereas the cloth over board edition comes in a permanent slipcase.  The edges of the top grain edition are traditional rounded edges like most Bibles have, and the pages are gold gilded.  The cloth over board edition has no gilding and the pages are right-angle corners like normal books.  One other selling point for the top grain leather edition is that it has a lifetime guarantee on it, and Crossway goes above and beyond in honoring that guarantee (I know from personal experience). The spine of the top grain leather edition has raised bands on it, which give it a nice texture.  The corners of the inside of the cover are also folded over the inside cover rather than having the cover glued down on top of the leather.

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The cover is very flexible and soft, which is a nice feel.  You can roll it up on itself and it will immediately fall right back into its original shape.  It truly has a nice feel to it.

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Most leather Bibles that I have seen have something of a “hinge” that attaches the cover to the text block itself.  This hinge is the one part of the top grain leather edition that could cause some people pause in purchasing this copy.

If you are holding the Bibles in your hands to read, there is not really an issue with it opening well.  If, however, you like to lay your Bible flat on a table to read, the hinge of the top grain leather edition sort of works against you.  When I tried laying the Bible open, I could not get it to remain open easily until I turned toward the middle to end of Exodus, and starting at about Titus or Hebrews, it keeps trying to close at the end.  The cloth over board edition, however, opened completely flat from the very first few pages (the Preface and Introduction), and lays flat all the way to the end of Revelation.  It is possible that with enough use, the hinge will loosen up on the top grain leather edition, allowing it to lay flat from beginning to end.  As I have read other Bible reviews in the past, however, there has been some caution about forcing the hinge to open, as it could break the bond between the hinge and the text block itself.  This may or may not be an issue to you.  Again, if you hold the Bible in your hands when you read, it won’t matter if it lays flat or not.  But if you do like to have your Bible lay open without having to hold it, it is something to consider before you purchase.

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All told, you really cannot go wrong with any edition of the Reader’s Bible from Crossway.  If you like leather Bibles, and cost is not a problem (the top grain leather edition retails at $109.99), then the top grain edition is a great purchase.  If you want your Bible to lay flat, and like the feel of older books, the cloth over board edition may be for you; it is also cheaper at $29.99.  There is also a TruTone edition, though it may be getting more difficult to find, and it retails at $44.99.

I would encourage everyone to try to get a Reader’s Bible of some sort, as it really does help restore the text into a readable format that helps grasp the text in its original context without the divisions that hinder our understanding of Scripture many times.

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

Book Review – “Star Struck” by Dr. David Bradstreet and Steve Rabey

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Now that I am teaching middle school science, I am realizing just how broad of a field it truly is.  There is so much to try to learn and know, and this knowledge covers multiple branches.  Right now, I am reading anything I can to try to help increase my knowledge base for science.

As a result, I jumped at the chance to read and review Star Struck by Dr. David Bradstreet and Steve Rabey, published by Zondervan.  I was not disappointed.

The book focuses on astronomy and trying to help increase believers’ sense of wonder at the cosmos that our Creator has made.  I believe the book succeeds at that goal.

It starts with a history of astronomy, starting as far back as the Egyptians and Babylonians.  It continues to trace astronomy to modern times, digging in to the lives of Kepler, Galileo, and others.

Bradstreet is not afraid to let his faith shine through, as he has Scripture references throughout, makes an argument for design, and even tackles the age of the universe (Bradstreet is not a Young-Earth Creationist, but seems to lean to Evolutionary Creationism, I believe).

In addition, Bradstreet discusses everything from binary suns (which fascinated me) to extraterrestrial life, and the ongoing “space race.”

There is a section of photographs in the book to illustrate what he discusses throughout, and he includes notes and resources in the back for those wanting to read and study further.

I think Bradstreet did a great job at taking a broad and potentially challenging topic and making it easy to understand for those, like me, without much background in the field.  At the same time, I think everyone would benefit from reading the book, regardless of how much knowledge of astronomy they may have.  It really will leave you “seeing the Creator in the wonders of our cosmos,” to borrow the subtitle of the book.

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

Book Review – “How I Changed My Mind about Evolution”

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Anyone who knows me knows that I do not shy away from tough topics or from potentially controversial ones, even if that means reading things that go against what I have always thought.

Just this year, I switched to teaching science instead of English language arts.  As a result, I have been diving deeper into scientific topics than I have in the past.  Obviously, this leads to questions on things such as evolution and the age of the earth.

I was raised with a Young-Earth Creationist view, and have only slightly studied outside of that view, including Old-Earth Creationism, Intelligent Design, and to a lesser degree, a Literary Framework view.  One view I had not really read on was a Christian view of evolution.  Yes, you read that right.  A view of evolution in support of the idea from a Christian viewpoint.  I like reading about all sides of an issue, and I prefer to read about them from proponents of the view, as opposed to just reading about it based on critiques from its opponents.

I heard that InterVarsity Press had a newer book called How I Changed My Mind about Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science, and I thought it would be a good place to start learning about a Christian view of evolution.  IVP was kind enough to send me a copy, and I am glad they did.

The book is not so much an explanation of evolution as it is an attempt by various contributors to explain why they came to believe in evolution, even as Christians, and why they don’t believe it contradicts their evangelical faith.  Let me state up front that as far as I can tell, none of the contributors are what we would think of as liberal; they all embrace evangelicalism, and they hold the Bible in high regard.  But they also hold science in high regard, and they feel that God would have the Bible and science read in light of each other.  It is viewed as a “two-book” model of Scripture and nature, based on Psalm 19, I believe.

The contributors come from a wide range of backgrounds and positions, including scientists, pastors, seminary professors, and so on, as well as from a decent range of denominations.  Some of the more well-known contributors are James K. A. Smith, Scot McKnight, Tremper Longman III, Franic Collins, N. T. Wright, and John Ortberg. One thing that is insisted on is that they don’t refer to themselves as theistic evolutionists (as the older name would have it); rather they call themselves evolutionary creationists, with an emphasis on the idea that evolution was the way they believe God chose to create the world and bring it to the point it is currently at.

What really struck me was how many had been raised to believe in and defend a young earth who ended up switching their viewpoints in light of the evidence of science, as they put it.  I was raised primarily hearing stories that went in the other direction.  In at least one case, the contributor went into a scientific field with the sole purpose of proving evolution and an old earth wrong, only to be totally convinced by the evidence.

I was also struck by a reoccurring theme of people (either the contributors or people they knew) going through major struggles out of a sheer fear of science as a result of their upbringing.  Honestly, I can sympathize with those people.  After all, Young Earth views are often pushed in such a way that all of science (biology, astronomy, geology, etc.) is part of one big conspiracy theory to try to brainwash people away from God’s word, so we must be ever vigilant and remember that Christians must interpret science in a completely different way than most people might.  Is that really the case?  Honestly, everyone has to decide that for themselves.  But it saddens me to think about how something so majestic as all of God’s creation could become a point of tension for so many, as it has for me in the past.

One thing I really liked was how frequently the contributors would admit that they don’t have all the answers.  To be honest, reading Young Earth literature growing up, there never seemed to be room for lack of knowledge; there was an answer for everything, even if it didn’t seem to make much sense.  It was refreshing to see people honestly admit that they may not always know all the answers, but they are willing to continue to study and hold on to faith in the mean time.

Again, this book is not an all-out defense of evolution, although there are parts of the book that provide some reasoning for that view.  Rather, it is an attempt to open doors of communication and to show that contrary to many Young-Earth arguments, people don’t just come to believe in evolution as a way of doubting Scripture or moving away from God.  These contributors all stand firm in their love and devotion to their Creator, even though their understanding of His word regarding creation is different from others.

Regardless of where you stand on the question of evolution and the age of the earth, you should read this book to gain a sympathetic understanding of where evolutionary creationists are coming from.  While it may not change everyone’s mind on how old the earth is and whether evolution in any form is a viable mechanism for creation, it will at least allow a discussion to occur with a proper understanding of where one side is coming from, as opposed to setting up false caricatures of those people.

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

 

Bible Review – ESV Journaling Bible Interleaved Edition

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Ever since I heard about Jonathan Edwards’ blank Bible he used for taking notes, I have been fascinated with interleaved Bibles.  In my experience, there have been very few of them.  When I found out that Crossway was releasing one for the ESV, I was very excited!  As always, Crossway has gone above and beyond in delivering a great Bible.

For the basics, the ESV Journaling Bible Interleaved Edition comes in several editions.  I received the tan cloth over board edition, and it arrived in a sturdy slipcase.

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The layout on them all is a double-column text in a smyth-sewn binding.  The type size is smaller than most at 7.5 font, but it has to be for the size of the Bible.  In terms of thickness, it is about as thick as the ESV Study Bible.  This is due to a couple of factors.  One is that there is a blank page inserted between every page of text (more on this later). The other is that the paper itself is thicker than traditional Bible paper, which is great for taking notes without bleed through or ghosting. For most people, this will be a Bible that stays at home instead of being carried around to church and Bible studies.  The paper is cream colored, which I am appreciating more and more in Bibles. It does come with one brown ribbon bookmark.

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One of the first things I noticed when checking this Bible is the text edition change.  I expected to see that it was the 2011 text edition.  Instead, I saw that it is the “ESV Permanent Text Edition (2016).”

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A few weeks later a Web page was created on the Crossway site that explains the edition.  You can read the page here.  There were changes to 29 verses (52 words total).  This will be the definitive edition of the ESV, with no more forthcoming changes from Crossway.  As someone who tries to commit large passages to memory, I am actually pleased with this decision, although I can understand the need for further revisions with new manuscript discoveries and/or insights into Greek and Hebrew.

The selling point of this Bible is that it includes one blank page for every page of Scripture. For those who like to take notes, make cross references, or draw in the Bible, this space should be more than enough for a lifetime of note taking.

At this point, it has not been decided whether this Bible will be mine or my wife’s.  She tends to write in her Bibles more than I do, so it will probably become hers.  In order to keep from writing notes she may  not want later, I tested the writing on the Introduction page of the Bible and the reverse of that page.

What I really like about the format of this note-taking Bible is that it is not text on one side and blank on the other, but each page either has text on both sides or is blank on both sides.  I think this was a great decision on Crossway’s part.  When you write over the text (underlining, circling, etc.), the text on the other side helps hide it from show through or ghosting.  The writing in the blank parts show through more, but it will only occur in the margins and on the blank pages of notes, so it won’t distract from reading the text of Scripture itself.  I tested three different pens and a highlighter, which you can see below. There is some ghosting, but I noticed no bleed through.  (At least with the pens that I tested.  Other pens may have different results.)  The pictures below are how the two sides of one page looked for me.  The circle on the blank page was drawn so I could see if I could spot it on the text side on the reverse; I really couldn’t.

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If you love writing in your Bible, but don’t like the bleeding and ghosting that appears with most of them, or if you feel like there isn’t enough space in traditional Bibles for the notes you want to make, the ESV Journaling Bible Interleaved Edition would be perfect for you!

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