Sunday, August 24, 2014

Review: NIV Spiritual Renewal Study Bible

I really love this Bible.. well there is my usual caveat: I like the NIV but I love the NLT. But you know...other than that....

The basic subtext of the commentary in this Study Bible is Restoration. One executive editor is  David Stoop, a psychologist and founder of New Life Ministries, which offer counseling and treatment across America. The other executive editor is Stephen Arterburn, who has a masters n Education. So there is this pervasive idea that the person reading this study Bible has been through a hard time --perhaps even endured some destruction in her life-- and is ready to rebuild her life, her relationship with God, and to allow God to lovingly rebuild her.

I know that all sounds like pychobabble but that's just me. The commentaries profiles, etc do not sound like psychotherapy. They really do feel spiritual. And trust me, I have a real dislike for anything that hints, sniffs, reeks of psychobabble...probaby because I've often found Christian psychologists to be more psychological than Christian. But that's just me. Perhaps.

Unlike the Spirit-filled Bible which has a lot of names I recognized, the writers and editorial staff of this book are unknown to me. (That's not saying much, of course. . .but it goes to show that a great Bible study doesn't have to be written by folks who are famous in Christendom.)

The Study Bible begins ith a User's Guide which discusses how to examine our lives. It's a short little feature but that alone is something every christian should read.

Then a list of features follow:

The features in this Bible are similar in many ways to those found in other Bibles but there are also some differences.

There is the usual Bible Book Introductions, Text Notes, Devotional Reading Plan, Spiritual disciplines devotionals, spiritual discilplines profiles, and Character Profiles. But difference here is the focus on spiritual discipline as a means of renewal and restoration.

Each Bible Introduction includes: The Big Picture (a synopsis of the Bibe book), Spiritual renewal themes found in the particular book (for instance, the spiritual renewal themes in Genesis are A Good Creation, A Ruined World, Promises of Redemption, and Hope for Reconciliation.)

The Spiritual Keys Devotionals,  Devotional Reading Plan, spiritual discilplines profiles, and Character Profiles are all interspersed throughout each book and each chapter also contains insightful notes for Bible verses at the bottom of the page.  Indexes to all these are included in the back of the Bible.

The index to text notes include such psychological terms as boundaries, commitments, communication, complacency, peer pressure, compromise, choicesdenial, rationalization, discouragement, self-esteem, blame, accountability, wholeness, inventory.

There are seven keys -- the ones found in the beginning introduction:
1) Seek God and Surrender to him
2) See the truth
3) Speak the truth
4) Accept responsibility
5) Grieve, forgive, and let go
6) Transform your life
7) Preserve Spiritual Gains

All these have subtopics and verses that apply.

Seriously, this remedies the biggest flaw of the Celebrate Recovery study Bible which felt as if all we got was a litany of blaming former victims. I mean I understood the sorrows of the folks in celebrate recovery but the book felt a bit constrained by the whole recovery terminology. (But i digress.)

The Bible Characters in the character profiles are the usual folks...but given that renewal spin.  I really liked the one about Herod's Family and greed.

The spiritual disciplines, devotionals, and profiles show the disciplines as:
Bible study and Meditation, Fasting, Prayer, Repentance and confession, Service, Silence, Solitude, Spiritual Friendship, Stewardship, Worship.  All these also have subtopics. For instance the spiritual friendship subtopics include "But isn't God enough?" "Friends for life." "Maintaining our relationships" "Touching heart, soul, and body" and "Marriage: A most intimate friendship."

I heartily recommend this book. I received this book from Zondervan at no cost for a fair and honest review.



Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: Dark Eden by Chris Beckett



Dark Eden
Chris Beckett


  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Corvus (January 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848874634
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848874633







  • Wow, this is a great book! I've always loved anthropological scifi, where we see the power of culture on human affairs. I also like speculative fiction where a writer comes up with a speculation...a kind of "What if?" and then we get to see the ramifications of all those "what ifs."  Part of the fun of what if stories is being aware of how the smallest thing affects or is affected by that great what if proposition.

  • So then, imagine an Adam and Eve couple, stranded on a dark planet with no sea and no sun. They decide to have children and they have told these children about the world they came from. These tellings are passed on through subsequent (often mutated because they are inbred) generations. How is a spaceship to be described?  Why it's a boat in the starry swirl sea above!    

  • This what if speculation of the novel comes very close to being a parable and some folks might fnd themselves being uncomfortable with that. What is this book saying about Oral Tradition? (and in a subtle way, about the gospels, since the gospels --according to some-- were oral traditions?) And what is the mix of truth and misunderstanding? What is the purpose of story? To inspire? To change? To lock us into tradition? What if the story has elements of conservatism and revolution in them? What to choose? When do you revolt against Elders? When do you listen to them? Should you stay in a static place awaiting rescue from the sky or should you move on from the old doctrine, so to speak?

  • Other readers might find the book hard going because there is a whole lot of talk about "slipping with" folks. Morals are different in a world without talk of God and where the idea of Jesus has disintegrated as the King of the Juice. (We get the feeling that either Angela wasn't too bright or the tales she told got diuted over the years.)  I'll also add that "juice" is the word for semen in this book.

  • Well, there are a lot of words for stuff in this word. The author is new at coining words, and of course one has to read this story intuitively in order to feel what a certain word might mean. It's not that book is meant to be a puzzle but you'll have to muddle through a bit and sometimes you might not fully understand what a "leopard" looks like or what trees on Dark Eden actually look like.

  •  Since this is full-on speculative, I can't say the writer set out to challenge the Garden of Eden Biblical narrative. There is only one line there which seemed to be a dig at religion. But there is a feel in the novel ...a kind of arrogance toward old stories, and the author does seem somewhat proud of himself as if he has shown his readers that he is an honest seeker after truth who has struggled with accepting anything by faith and he understands their quandary. In that way, certain parts of the story feels downright smug and other parts feels wrong. If a person of faith had written a story with the same premise, that person might have included a god or might have had more insightful things to say about the idea of traditional storytelling. But then the believer would have a different purpose. I also think that a modern Christian writer would probably not have created such a culture. Christian writers are notably dishonest and prudish about sexuality and there probably would have been some dishonesty in exploring the sexual culture of the descendants of Angela and Tommy.   

  • And yet, the ramifications of the story works out so well in so many fine and wonderful details that one can't be too angry. Atheists will use it to show how wise they are in their opinions. Some might even use this book to mock religious people. But I don't think this is what the author fully intends. This is the beginning of a series so who knows where the author will go with it? Does he intend to mirror other events in human history and Biblical history? We already have the makings of tribes and as the book ends, there are hints of tribal warfare coming in FAMILY. As such, we can't make any decisions about the author's feelings about faith in a god or gods of anykind. Not until he makes the people of this world "make" a god or if a god presents himself to the people of Eden. At present there are moments in the narrative when some great coincidence happens and one finds one's self asking why. Why has hero John Redlantern found this relic? Why did the adventurous group from FAMILY find what they found? Is it just by chance? Is it providential guidance from a god or from the universa God? Is it just a writer doing the easy stuff and creating coincidences in the plot?  We shall see.

    All in all, this is an amazing book.

    I'll be writing a longer review for this on The Fan sometime in September. Til then....
    I received this book through the blogging for books website. 

    Friday, August 08, 2014

    Review: The Quick-Start Guide to the Whole Bible

    Review: The Quick-Start Guide to the Whole Bible
    Dr William H Marty
    Dr Boyd Seevers
    Bethany House
    $12.99
    ISBN: 978-0-7642-1128-7


    The Quick-Start Guide to the Whole Bible is a good book for Christians who need to understand the timeline, summary, and spiritual significance of the books of the Bible. It is a good starting place for Christians who wants to get a basic idea of each Bible book before reading it. That means the entire Book of Psalms or the book of Isaiah are distilled into four succinct pages. The writing is accessible and informative. 

    Sometimes, one finds one's self wondering why a particular book was written in the first place. Especially when for the price of this book, one could get a book which gives much more indepth commentary ..or even buy a good used printed study Bible from Ebay or a new study Bible on kindle.

    How shall I describe this book? Well, it's somewhat useful for those who have never read their Bibles or for people who know Bible verses but who really don't know why or when each Bible prophet wrote his book. Think of it as the Cliff Notes edition of the Bible, although Cliff Notes would probably be more indepth. 

    There is another book, published a few years ago, called:
    The Whole Bible Story: Everything That Happens in the Bible in Plain English by Dr. William H. Marty
    Yep! The same author. I really liked that book. This book looks like the outline for that book. So... I ask again: why was this version needed?  Did someone say an even smaller summary of the Bible was needed? 

    The authors should have given their manuscript to folks who know nothing about the Bible. Why do I say this? Bevause sometimes the belabor seemingly unimportant points and ignore important points. When they belabor an unimportant point, the knowledgeable Bible reader finds herself feeling she has subtly been indoctrinated into some picayune pet authorial doctrine. For instance, in Genesis, they go out of their way twice to mention the Sethite theory and to declare that no one is sure who "the sons of God" is. (This seems to be done to make the reader aware of the Sethite doctrine.) Yet, earlier in the Genesis chapter, the authors don't comment on what the meaning of the "serpent" might be. If ever there was a place which needed a comment about what folks not "knowing" or agreeing on an interpretation, shouldn't this be it? No, really! Serioiusly! It's not as if I want the author to jump around from book to book, but if they said something to the effect of: "the book of Revelation defines this serpent as Satan" then I'd be cool.

    And speaking of the Book of Revelation, the authors repeatedly say that the book was written by John. Well, yes, the book is written by John but John also says it is also a revelation given by Jesus. And John was directly told what to write to the seven churches. Instead, the authors say that John describes Jesus as being the source and subject of the book of Revelation. A comment which felt kind of mealy-mouthed to me. If the authors wanted to be fair, they could have said that "some people -- not us, mind you-- believe that these were actual visions. But we feel that John was consciously using apocalyptical metaphor."  I understand that authors need to cover their butts in case they offend testy argumentative Christians but I wish this book had been more honest about what the authors actually believed. Instead, we get a feeling of authors putting themselves in a safety-zone in order to have a book that is the lowest common denominator among denominations. Of course writing a book about the Bible...well, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. We Christians are pretty argumentative. Still, for all their generalize summary of the Bible books, one does get a strange feeling that one is being treated to a party line.

    Call me a cynic but I tend to think that many Christian authors of big publishing companies try to keep themselves safe. They write about the same 600 or so topics.  Christian publishing houses just like selling books. Christian authors don't seem to really care about writing better than their competitors. They just imitate each other. I can imagine the editorial meeting for this book: "Let's put 'Quick-Start Guide' in the title. Folks like the words 'guide' and 'quick-start' and will buy our book. And this book will really help those folks who don't want to read the Bible."  

    There is nothing reallly bad about this book. It could certainly help a lot of people. But there really isn't anything all that great about it either. There are countless other books that seek to encapsulate the Bible and who do a better job. Heck, one can go on the internet and find used study Bibles that are more helpful... and those study Bibles INCLUDE an actual Bible.  

    If you can afford to, and if you really hate reading the Bible and want to pretend you have, I'd suggest getting Dr Marty's other book. Or David Pawson's Unlocking the Bible. It's a little bit more expensive and it is kind of heavy to carry around but it's much more helpful than this one is. The chapters describing each Bible book are like introductory sections in a Study Bible. One leaves the book feeling dissatisfied...and vaguely looked-down upon. 

    Monday, July 21, 2014

    Review: NIV God's Word for Gardener's Bible



    Review: NIV God's Word for Gardener's Bible
    edited by Shelley Cramm, General Editor

    And who is Shelley Cramm, you might ask? I don't know who she is. If she is popular in Christian circles, I'm unaware of that. Maybe she's popular in gardening, horticulture, and landscape cultures. Funny thing, though: Although she is a total unknown -- at least to me-- this is one of the best study Bible's I've read. I'm really digging it. (I m so tempted to put in a lot of plant puns in this review.)

    I thought this Bible study would be sort of homespun and cutesy. It's not. It has some great devotionals, though. Devotionals that touch the soul but which are also incredibly informative. I probably will not look at figs the same way, after the section on the significance of the fig tree in the garden of Eden.

    Gardeners who read their Bible are probably already aware of the significants of pests, droughts, watering, planting, pruning, etc. I'm sure gardeners see the Bible through gardeners' eyes, just as scifi writers see the Bible as a book by a creator about worldbuilding, or lawyers see the Bible in terms of legal documents. But do most gardeners know about the plants in the Gardens in Persia?

    There are some wonderful insights in this book and some great devotionals. One of my favorite is the discussion of Xerxes going into the garden after Esther had revealed Haman's plot to him. It hadn't occurred to me to see the situation as symbolic of going into one's place of repose to ponder bad news. Yes, I thought as I read the devotional, this rings spiritually true.

    The book contains 260 daily readings and 52 weekend readings all arranged in weekly themes. One cannot go a few pages in this Bible without seeing these devotionals. The weekly themes are divided into sections which include Garden Tour, Garden Work, Garden Stories. These sections are further subdivided. For instance, Garden stories include devotionals on Seasons, Sun and Shade, Weather, Pest and pestlence, Jesus' Parables, Israel's horticultural allegories, Away from the Last Supper, Jesus, the Seed, the Root, Branch, and Firstfruit, Harvest of Righteousness, Intimacy with God in the Garden. All these readings are scattered (sowed) throughout the Bible but there is a guide to all of them collected in the Introduction.

    Each devotional contains a verse to meditate on, a passage to read, and other Biblical passages with which to compare to the original verse. The devotional follows, which may or may not include quotes from gardening books, and historical and hortological backgrounds. The devotional ends with a prayer. Then a short sentence directs the reader to other devotions in that particular category.

    One of the best parts of this study Bible is how the editor shows the thematic flow of certain plants. The fig leaf in the Garden of Eden pops up in the Genesis section. Later, the cursed fig tree closes the metaphor. The meaning and purpose of the olive leaf in the dove's mouth as a symbolic truth to Noah on through to the Mount of Olives. The lentils Esau ate in exchange for his birthright, through the rape of Tamar to Ezekiel's bread to Daniels pulses. Rahab's use of flax and the Proverb 31 woman's use of flax. And now I certainly understand why the prophetess Deborah would sit under a palm tree.  After reading through this Bible I'm tempted to wade through and meditate on all the floral images and spiritual essences that are hinted at in the Song of Solomon.  

    The book is hardcover and feels sturdy. It's thicker and smaller than the other Bible studies I've been reading, which makes it handy for one's church bag. The print is normal-sized. I would've liked a large print but that might be asking too much. The translation is the NIV. I highly recommend this book to all Bible readers but especially to folks who love gardening.

    I received this book free in exchange for a fair and honest review


    Sunday, July 13, 2014

    Review: Celebrate Recovery Bible



    Okay, I shouldn't feel so angry. After all, the HarperCollins folks didn't exactly say the Celebrate Recovery Bible was a Study Bible. So..my bad for assuming it was...because the Celebrate Recovery Bible is kind of. . .lacking.

    It might be me. I've been reading and reviewing a lot of Bibles lately. And when I see the amount of work put into Bibles such as the NIVintegrated Bible or the Spirit Filled Bible or the Modern Life Study Bible...it just makes the Celebrate Recovery Bible look pale in comparison.

    First of all: what it has:

    There are some great testimonies from Christians who have had addiction, abuse issues. Those testimonies are pretty brave because we allknow how judgemental some Christians can be. OR how self-reliant. So kudos for these folks who put their stories out there for readers to identify with.

    The Celebrate Recovery Bible also has Bible character studies. For instance. I am Eve. And you can imagine what insights can be drawn from the whole Eve, temptation, and forbidden fruit thing. There are also other characters such as Moses, the Demoniac, the Syro-Phonician woman (whose daughter was oppressed by demons...or as some would say addictions. The mother is shown as the archetypal suffering parent of a child who should be in recovery.)

    Like all Bibles, it has Book Introductions, Lesson Studies, Recovery-Related Scripture Ties, Topical Index, Daily Devotionals, Subject Index, the Eight Principles and Twelve Christ-Centered Steps of the Celebrate Recovery Program.

    The Celebrate Recovery Bible has a foreward by Rick Warren and is a "purpose-driven recovery resource with devotions and articles by John Baker." It is designed for Christians in Recovery. The Twelve Step groups such as AA, Alanon, OA, NA, etc began as Christian organizations. However now they have become places where figuratively one's Higher Power could be a chair or a rock. This book seeks to return the twelve steps to its moorings and to show the Bible verses that are behind those "Christ-centered steps."

    A good goal, I think. So I really can't fault the Bible. Except I was kinda expecting more.  The way the Bible uses the Scripture "ties" seems a bit facile and the commentary about some of the Bible characters seems a bit old hat and sometimes forced into the recovery motif. For instance, Martha of Mary/Martha/Lazarus fame is depicted in a way in which the Bible never depicted her. In the Bible we get a snapshot of her reaction on a particular day, a particularly busy day. Jesus says nothing about her recovery "issues" and Martha is shown in the Bible as being very spiritual but somewhat harried about having new guests suddenly show up at her house: cultural hospitality issues and requirements of women etc. But in this the character study says Martha is "spiritually-barren," "a people-pleaser," someone who wanted to "impress people"  whose "self-identity revolved around identity." Really????? Jesus is depicted as "confronting Martha's non-productive habits and emotions." Seriously?

    I'm all for folks getting insights that suit and touch their lives but sometimes I had to roll my eyes because of the over-reaching. But there is also a part of me that thinks they could have been more involved in all the Bible verses than they are. They really don't comment on the Bible chapters, books, stories, etc as much as they c ould have. And they hit all the typical Biblical stories, which gives me the feeling that these folks don't read their Bibles themselves. They just work with Bible stories they know.

    So a part of me thinks they should've really been more in-depth with the Bible study...and another part of me feels "heck, I'm glad they didn't do to other Biblical passages what they did to the Martha section."

    I guess I can recommend this Bible. It will no doubt bless many people. And it does tie-in the Scriptures to the twelve steps. But it wasn't particularly impressive as a study Bible.  

    I got this book as part of the Harper Collins booklookblogger review program

    Monday, July 07, 2014

    Review: A Floating Life

    Floating Life
    Tad Crawford
    ISBN: 978-1611457025


    Tad Crawford’s A Floating Life is ostensibly fiction. The nameless narrator is adrift, not knowing where he is, where he will end up, and why he finds himself in disparate places. As fiction, the plot revolves around his confusion about his sudden dislocations, the breakup of his marriage, and his new job as assistant to someone who is trying to harness the energy of the waves.

    But that is only important if one accepts the story as fiction. The story, however, is not fiction. It is not even surreal fiction, although the situations that happen to our narrator are all quite dreamlike. Rather, this book is almost like a literary rift on change, fluidity, and confusion. The thematic question is: “What is change? What is energy? How do we drift with life? How do we control our drifting? And will our hero learn to change and to accept change, come what may?”

    The book is philosophical, speculative psychology. Therefore those who buy this book expecting anything like a story will be very disappointed. But those who like books that symbolically explore the human psyche will find this book very beautiful, odd, fantastical and profound as it rifts on existence, change, goals, and cosmic and human energy. Those who like Jonathon Livingston Seagull and Carlos Castenada might like this. Some of the images used by Crawford will lodge in and haunt the psyche for a long while.        

    Monday, June 30, 2014

    Review: New Spirit-Filled Life Bible


    The NIV New Spirit-Flled Life Bible is a great Bible for Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians. The Executve Editor is Jack W Hayford, Litt.D. and anyone who has heard Dr Hayford teach will understand how profound his insights are. Other editors are Paul G Chappell, Ph.D., Kenneth C Ulmer, Ph.D, D.Min., Judy Brown, Ed.D., Roy Hayden, Ph.D., Jonathan David Huntzinger, Ph.D., and Gary Matsdorf, M.A.

    Other Contributors are people well known in Charismatic circles, including people such as Reinhard Bonnke, D.D., Paul F. Crouch, Billy Joe Daughterty, Marilyn Hickey, Frederick Price, Pat Robertson, James Robison, among many others lesser-known but just as influential.

    The Book contains several sections, one of whch covers forty-one themes known as "Kingdom Dynamics." The kingdom dynamics are essential to those who believe in the pentecostal message of the full gospel and the good news of the kingdom. Because this study Bible seeks to highlight the past and present works of God's Holy Spirit, it is quite different from Bibles which may have more preterist leanings.  In order to show the timeless workings of the Holy Spirit, the editors have used a dove symbol whenever a Biblical text connects to the Holy Spirit.

    The Kingdom Dynamics themes include Prayer Power Precepts, Spiritual Empowerment Precepts, Personal Growth Precepts, Supernatural Ministry Precepts, Global Outreach Precepts, among others. These precept sections contain essays and sermons on topis and specific Bible verses.

    There is also a word wealth section which shows the meanings of certain important words. So if one is lookin gup the meaning of grace or forgveness, one can find them easily.

    Then comes the Truth-In-Action sections whch are charts that show what each Bible book teaches. The end sections of the Truth-In Action connects to the Word Wealth found in the books and to Kingdom Dynamics. There are also charts and in-text maps.

    Each of the Bible books begins with a description of the Author, the date the book was written, the theme of the book and the key words of the book. Then the Author's history, the Date, the content, the personal Application, Prophesies about Christ,, description of the Holy Spirit, and Outline of each Bible book is given.  There are charts that show a Bridging of the Testaments and which harmonize the gospels. After the book of Jude, there are studies which prepare the reader for the Book of Revelation, showing all the possible views of the Last Days.  (It doesn't take any particular view, leaving the decisions to each individual Christian.) After the Book of Revelation, there are articles on the Holy Spirit Gifts and Power, and The Holy Spirit and Restoration, World Evangelism, Ministering Healing to the Nations, Understanding Messianic Jewish Ministry, How to Lead a Person to the Savior, and a Concordance.

    Throughout, there are clickable Bible verses for almost every verse in the Bible which gives geographical, theological, cultural, and other information.

    As I said, links are aplenty. I don't know how the printed version of this study Bible would look but I definitely want one.  I generally don't use kindle versions of Bibles because I get lost with all that skipping around then backtracking to get back to the Biblical text.  The way the kindle s set up...it's possibe that one can read all the notes on the Biblical text without reading the texts themselves. And unless you are good at using kindle, I suggest you read the How to Uee This Bible section and links. If you can, I'd suggest getting the printed version.

    This is a very good Bible and I highly recommend it.