Book Review – God’s Book of Proverbs (CSB)

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The book of Proverbs is one of the most-read books of the Bible, and with good reason.  We need wisdom, and there is no better place to get it than straight from God’s word.  But remembering where to go for proverbs related to specific issues is not always easy, as they sometimes jump around in the Bible.

Enter God’s Book of Proverbs by Broadman & Holman.

This is a wonderful little book that takes the Proverbs from the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) and arranges them topically so that one can easily locate proverbs related to whatever issue one is needing wisdom on at the time.

The book is cloth over board with a small dust jacket wrapped around it.  It includes one ribbon bookmark, which I think is a great touch.

Proverbs with cover

Proverbs back with cover

Proverbs without cover

There is a presentation page, if you want to give it as a gift.  (And I think it would make an amazing gift for many situations, such as marriage or graduation.)

Proverbs presentation page

After a brief introduction, there is a table of contents where one can look for and find the section they want to dig into wisdom about.

Proverbs TOC

In each section, the proverbs related to that topic have been pulled together in one place for easy reference.  Below are the first pages for “anger” and “prosperity.”

Proverbs anger example

Proverbs prosperity example

There is also an additional index for finding specific topics.

Proverbs index

At a retail of $9.99, this is an amazing little book!  While I would never say we should replace the Proverbs as they are in the biblical canon, having this handy companion volume is great.  It makes a great quick reference when you know what wisdom you need.  I highly encourage you to pick up a copy of God’s Book of Proverbs.

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

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Bible Review – CSB Pastor’s Bible

I am continuing to dig into the CSB, to read it and compare it with other translations and what (very) little Greek knowledge I have gained.  I am still enjoying what I am reading and finding.

Holman Bible Publishers graciously agreed to send me a few different editions to look over and review, and I hope to get to all three soon.

Today, I am reviewing the CSB Pastor’s Bible.

As far as I know, for the time being, if you want a single-column Bible in the CSB, you only have two options: the CSB Reader’s Bible, which I already reviewed, and the CSB Pastor’s Bible.  I do believe they have another personal size single-column being released later in 2018, but I’m not sure when it will be available exactly.

Some of the basic information for this Bible, from the back of the box, are that it has a smyth-sewn binding, black-letter text throughout (no words of Christ in red), and 11-point type (the Large Print Ultrathin Reference Bible has 9.5-point type; a picture comparing the two is posted later).  Unlike the Large Print Ultrathin Reference Bible, there are no cross-references in the Pastor’s Bible. It comes with three ribbon markers (one black, one red, and one white).  The edition I received is a black LeatherTouch, and it has silver gilding on the edges.  It has all the CSB footnotes throughout, and the CSB topical subheadings are included.  As with most Bibles, it has a presentation page, a concordance in the back, and full-color maps.  The perimeter has stitching around it: black on the outside and red on the inside.  But the inside cover liner seems like it is glued on rather than sewn in.

In terms of size and weight, it is certainly not the smallest and lightest Bible you can purchase.  It is, however, still a good size for carrying to church, unlike some of the massive study Bibles out there.  Even if you don’t want to carry this one with you, it is good for keeping at home to read.

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Pastor's Bible inside

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As you can see in the above two pictures, there appears to be a decent amount of margin space in the Pastor’s Bible for those who like to make notes while they are reading.  No, it is not a wide-margin Bible, per se, but it has more space than some Bibles do in the margins.

The Pastor’s Bible is designed to be a CSB resources specifically for pastors.  After the book of Psalms, it includes a section for wedding ceremonies (classical and contemporary, pictured below), information on funeral preparation, and some funeral sermons.

Pastor's bible classical wedding

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The funeral preparation is broken down into a few tips with detailed information under each one: what to do on receiving notification of death, what to do when visiting in the home, what to do when scheduling the service, what to do during the funeral home visit, what to do during the service, what to do when concluding the service, and what to do at the graveside.

The funeral sermons include a basic funeral sermon, one for a funeral for a child, one for a funeral for a student, and one for a funeral for a suicide victim.

At the end of the Bible, there are various pastoral helps.  These include a “where to turn” section with Scripture references to help (pictured below), “A Brief Biblical Theology of Leadership,” “Eight Traits of Effective Church Leaders,” “Pastor, Find Your Identity in Christ,” “Glorifying God in Your Ministry,” “What is Biblical Preaching?,” “Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures,” “What is Doctrinal Preaching?,” “Four Keys for Giving an Effective Invitation,” “Five Ways to Improve Congregational Singing,” “Soul Care: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love,” “Letter to the Church,” “Five Steps to Start and Keep an Evangelistic Culture,” “How Do You Disciple Others?,” “The One Thing You Must Do as a Student Pastor,” and “Sharing the Gospel with Children.”  The last two articles demonstrate that this Bible is equally valuable for youth and children pastors, as well as senior pastors.

Pastor's Bible pastoral care

While it is geared toward pastors, I have seen many discuss their love for this Bible merely because of the large print and single-column format, so if you are not a pastor, don’t rule out this Bible, thinking it is irrelevant to you.  The layout itself is beautiful and easy on the eyes.

If you are a pastor and are looking for a Bible with many helps and articles of encouragement and advice, this is a wonderful Bible to add to your library.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of this Bible from 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 – “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.

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.