Thursday, August 20, 2015

Review: NIV Zondervan Study Bible


Review: NIV Zondervan Study Bible
D A Carson, General Editor


The NIV Zondervan Study Bible is a new study Bible which uses the NIV translation and which is structured in the following manner:

Quick Start Guide
Table of Contents which is divided into the following sections:
Each book of the Bible and its location
Maps
Charts
Illustrations
List of Articles
Abbreviations and Transliterations
Acknowledgments
Editorial Team
Editor's Preface
Preface
The Bible
Weights and Measures
Articles

The Bible proper is introduced with Chronological maps for both testaments and each Bible book is preceded by an Introduction which generally describes the author and place of the book's composition, the date of the book, the genre to which the book belongs, the style, content, and challenges of the book and the purpose for which it was written. Canonicity, Themes, and Theology of the books are also summarized. Some book introductions have more than these topics, some less. At the end of the Introduction, there is an outline of events in the Bible book.

Each page of the Bible takes up about --on average-- 50% of the page with verse-by verse commentary taking up the bottom half of the page. Verse cross-references are in tiny columns on the upper right edge of the pages.Illustrations are found throughout. Sub-chapter sections have summary headings that are printed in green. Corresponding Bible stories are listed under each topic heading.

The Articles in the Study Bible begin after the book of Revelations and are very good for the most part. Some writers write more accessibly than others. There are two or three women contributors, but for the most part the writers are men. The writers are also primarily European and from mainstream seminaries, denominations and theologies.

Unlike many Bible studies where verse-by-verse commentaries focus more on the spiritual application, exegesis, and meaning of a verse, the study portion of the Study Bible seems to have been written for story or reading comprehension. Historical backgrounds, insights into motivations and actions of Biblical characters as well as analyses of ramifications and consequences are shown for verses, individually or collectively. Most of the explanations are historical and spiritual. There are moments, however, when certain cultural biases or ignorance creep in, sometimes at the cost of truth. (This is often the reason why Study Bibles can be detrimental. Because human opinion is placed beside God's word, careless readers will incorporate the assumptions and biases of the Study Bible's editors and writers. )

For instance, a writer states in the commentary on Daniel 1:8-16:
"...this refusal of the royal diet has nothing to do with keeping kosher, avoiding political connections, or refusing food offered to idols; rather, they are giving God room to work. Their healthy appearance at the end of the chapter is the result not of diet but of God's grace." NOTHING? Nothing is a big word.

and Daniel 1: 13-14:
"A diet of vegetables and water rather than the royal food and wine would naturally make the four men look worse." NATURALLY? Based on what?

The commentator even states that Daniel not eating the king's choice food was only temporary and cites Daniel 10:3 as proof that Daniel later ate the king's food. But "choice food" is not the same as the king's choice food. And one can eat choice food according to the Torah without it being choice food from the king's table..even if one returns to meat-eating. Seems like a big leap to me.

Reading such a line makes the reader wonder if this is someone out to defend the meat diet. Is the writer speaking against vegetarianism? And the writer's parochial notion of what is healthy also causes him to dismiss the possibiity of Daniel actually keeping the diet prescribed by the law. The writer has a good point; God is the ultimate keeper of one's health. But in attempting to show this truth, he goes overboard. "NOTHING to do with keeping kosher?"
 
Did this man in one commentary on a verse totally dismiss Daniel's allegiance to the Kosher diet? What about the verse where Daniel decided he would not defile himself with the king's meat?

This kind of questionable opining is everywhere.
For instance, the description of what a spiritual mystery is in the commentary on  1 Corinthians 14:2 reads as follows: "Because nobody understands the language [when someone is speaking in tongues] what is being said is a mystery."

The writer is saying this is a spiritual mystery because no one understands what is being said. Certainly the word "mystery" turns up in other Bible books. "Great is the Mystery of our faith" is mentioned in Phillipians for instance. And "mystery" doesn't mean simply not understanding a language. But here, mystery is not defined as it is in other Scripture. One gets the feeling that some of the writers of this Bible Study don't read the Bible much.

The analyses are very insightful and helpful or sometimes just plain obvious to a longtime Bible reader. Although nothing in this Study Bible will cause anyone to stray from theological truth, it's best if the reader use two or three Study Bibles instead of just one. It is not a bad book. It is even a good and helpful book but it could be better.

The font used for Scripture is thin and perhaps should've been heavier but it is still readable. This book was sent to me free of charge in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: Exploring Christian Theology Vol 2: Creation, Fall, and Salvation

Exploring Christian Theology Vol 2: Creation, Fall, and Salvation  
Nathan D Holsteen & Michael J Svigel, Editors
Bethany House
www.bethanyhouse.com
$16.99

The editors of Exploring Christian Theology Vol 2: Creation, Fall, and Salvation are affiliated with Dallas Theological Seminary.

This book is written for mainstream Christians who want to understand the historic battles and debates that have occurred among Christian theologians. The writers are
concerned with showing the many shades and permutations of Christian theology throughout the ages. Because of this, there are clarifications which might help the reader understand if he/she has subtly veered from the right theological path.  It might also be good for atheists who want to understand what Christianity really says and not what popular theology says it is. Roman Catholics may not agree with some of the author's conclusions. Sects such as Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists might also disagree with some conclusions but all groups will probably agree on the historical facts. This book also shows the various pitfalls and wrong near-miss theologies that Christians can fall into without quite knowing it.

For some people, theology is a head game. For others, knowledge of true Christian traditiona beliefs is a matter of life and death. It is possible that many people have changed denominations because the doctrine of one denomiation -- whether true or false-- suited their itching ears or aching hearts better. Indeed, Christians who hated doctrines -- such as hell, eternal punishment, etc-- have created whole doctrines in order to have their Christianity and their own emotional peace as well.

The importance of Christian theology to daily life is first seen in the first sections where the various philosophies on the origin of the soul is presented. Many Christians have wondered, "When is the soul created?" Perhaps they lost a child to abortion or miscarriage and wanted to understand.

The editors and writers are clearly educated but they make an effort to make Christian theology accessible, although there are some chapters which might be difficult for pastors and teachers who do not have good reading comprehension skills.

The book is divided into the following sections:

The Christian Story in Four Acts
Part One: From Dust to Dust
Part Two: Wise Unto Salvation
These two parts are further divided into chapters entitled: High Altitude Survey, Passages to Master, Humanity and Sin in Retrospect, Facts to Never Forget, Dangers to Avoid, Principles to Put into Practice, Voices from the Past and Present, Shelf Space: Recommendations for your Library. These chapters are also then divided into subsections.
The book ends with a very large glossary of Christian theological terms

There are scripture memory boxes, charts of ideas, and footnotes at the end of each chapter.

In addition to their own words, the authors have also compiled quotes from famous theologians throughout the ages such as Aquinas, Wesley, Pascal, Jonathan Edwards, Whitefield, Augustine, Martin Luther, and of course Calvin among many others.  This is mostly in the section entitled Voices from the Past to the Present athough the book contains quotes throughout.

The book also speaks of salvation and shows the way of salvation throughout. Highly recommended.

This book was sent to me free of charge by Bethany Publishers in exchange for a fair and honest review.




Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Review: New International Reader's Version NIrV Study Bible for kids



New International Reader's Version
NIrV Study Bible for kids




  • Age Range: 6 - 10 years
  • Hardcover: 1792 pages
  • Publisher: Zonderkidz (June 30, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0310744032
  • ISBN-13: 978-0310744030


  • This new kids' Study Bible is quite good. It's not perfect, and some readers will probably compare it with the venerated King James Version. But, for people who are not native English Speakers, especially children and those who have studied English as a Second Language, this will be an easy accessible read.

    There are two main differences between the NIrV and Bibles for adult readers and native speakers. The first and main difference is how verses are broken down. Those of us who regularly read the Bible have gotten used to sentences that are run-on sentences or often one long clause after another linked together by commas, dashes, hyphens, and semi-colons. This version fixes all that. For the most part, most of the semi-colons and commas have been changed to periods. This sometimes makes the Bible a bit clunky and sometimes there is a tiny bit of paraphrasing (or repetition of the obvious) but the verses become clearer. So there are many Bible verses which are no longer made of one sentence but of two or three.

    For instance, instead of "A time to be born, a time to die" (KJV), there is now "There is a time to be born. And there's a time to die." The Bible doesn't feel bloated however.

    The other main differences is in vocabulary. This change is somewhat iffy at times. Again, from Ecclesiastes.
    "That doesn't have any meaning either. In fact, it's a very bad deal." Ecc. 4:8    

    Most of the vocabulary changes are not so trendy-hipster sounding and the book reads well. But there are a few moments when a reader will miss the majesty of certain verses or will cringe at what seems like banal-phrasing. Kids, of course, will not be bothered by that.

    Other issues with the vocabulary occur when some spiritual meaning seems lost. John 3:16 no longer states, "His only begotten son" but states "His one and only son." Some people might not like this change; after all, Scripture later states that all who are in Christ are children of God. In another example, there are changes from "the lepers worshiped Jesus" to "the lepers kneeled before Jesus."

    There are also some moments when it seems some words should have been changed to accomodate younger children.

    The cover is a hard-cover. There are several illustrations which are used to depict some larger spiritual truth. The typical information one finds in the Bible are present here as well, but they are written for children. So, for instance, the section which lists the books of the Bible is illustrated as books on a bookshelf.

    Highly Recommended. I received this book free in exchange for a honest review.
      


    Tuesday, May 19, 2015

    Mama Maggie by Marty Makary and Ellen Vaughn


    Mama Maggie
    by Marty Makary and Ellen Vaughn
    $24.99
    Thomas Nelson
    ISBN: 978-0-7180-2203-7

    I like books that tell me about other ethnic cultures, especially about the struggles of Christians in other cultures. If the story involves hardship in anyway, then I'm totally going to love it. When one considers all the books published by American Christian publishers, there are relatively few books for the general public that explores Christians in other cultures.

    Within the past ten months, I've reviewed books on Vietnamese refugee Christians, and one about a young Christian woman who started an orphanage in Haiti. This time around the book is about the religious and social suffering that Coptic Christians in Egypt have endured.

    Christians of all faiths will probably like this book. It's an inspirational story about a Christian doing good in this world. And the world is full of Christians doing good things that many people are unaware of. In this case, it's about Maggie Gobran, Egypt's Garbage Slums, the daily martyrdom Arab Christians endure, and inspiration.

    The writers really give a good historical background of these slums and why many Coptic christians from the countryside --many of whom don't really understand their faith-- have ended up living in such poverty. This is where the book shines.

    The book is about the work of Maggie Gobran, a woman who was rich and educated and who gave it a up to (wear all white) and work among the poor Copts in an Egypt slum. In vignette after vignette and chapter after chapter, we see how difficult the lives of young children in the slums were and how much Mama Maggie, the "Mother Theresa of Cairo," has improved their lives and their self-esteem. No wonder she was a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.  

    I mentioned the wearing of the white because I feel it's important. Christians in other cultures are not like western Christians and I suspect the wearing of white is a good external image, especially in the Middle East where Islam and Christianity are so obsessed with the Virgin Mary and with female purity. If a woman is going to do good in such a culture, I don't think it's a bad thing to wear white. White nun-like flowing robes are iconic and the power of the iconic in such a culture -- and among many uneducated people-- is powerful. I could only think of God telling John the Baptist to wear the outfit of a prophet.

    I really liked this book. Sometimes we Christians in the west cannot even conceive of what sufferings other Christians are enduring.  I will say though that I had a few struggles getting past the actual cover and writing style of this book.

    The full title of this book is Mama Maggie: The Untold Story of One Woman's Mission to Love the Forgotten Children of Egypt's Garbage Slums
    by New York Times Best-Selling Authors Marty Makary and Ellen Vaughn

    A round pseudo seal appears on the cover which states The Authorized Biography of Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Maggie Gobran.

    The book is published by Thomas Nelson.

    That's one unwieldy title, isn't it? Seriously, book covers like this tend to turn me off because I tend to dislike the way that Christian publishers promote books. Simply looking at the cover makes me think of several things:

    1) The best-selling authors were hand-picked by the publishing house because they are best-selling authors.
    2) Why does a book need two authors? To erase all personality from the writing and to make the book fit into the same exact mold of all Christian memoirs and biographies?
    3) Is there an un-authorized biography coming around soon?
    4) Mama Maggie was a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee? Who is Maggie Gobran and Why don't I keep track of Nobel Prize Nominees anymore?
    5) I didn't know there were Forgotten Children in Egypt's Garbage Slums. I should've known shouldn't I?
    6) Why is this woman wearing white with a big cross around her neck? Is she a nun?
    7) How am I going to make it through what promises to be a very very very overy-reverential book?
    8) If I, a Christian, is cynical about the presentation of this book, how would a non-Christian cynic feel about it.

    Yes, it is I, Carole the cynic, reviewing yet another modern Christian memoir. And you can imagine what it's like reading this book after pushing past all those questions.

    It's a good book, though. Of course it's reverential to an almost canonizing degree. Maggie Gobran is praised by these two writers in amost every line so that even when they try to humanize her she hardly sounds human at all. But here is a case where my feelings about the writing has to be divided from my feelings about the object of the writing.

    True, Maggie is saintly and is to be praised for all the wonderful programs and organiations (such as Stephen's Children's) that she created. But the continual praise the writers throw at her can be off-putting for some readers.

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


    Saturday, April 25, 2015

    Review: Just Add Watercolor

    JUST ADD WATERCOLOR-  Inspiration & Painting Techniques From
    Contemporary Artists
    by Helen Birch

    Watson-Guptill Publications
    Berkeley
    ISBN 978-60774-757-4

            A handy, colorful instruction book that uses contemporary art to
    illustrate watercolor tricks and techniques. Each technique is
    demonstrated in a spread, with the art on the right and the technique
    that the artist used described on the left.  Instead of the usual
    table of contents, there is a "visual index" which reproduces a square
    from each painting, with the page number in the lower right  of the
    square.
            The examples are not strictly reserved to watercolor; other
    categories include digital, mixed media, other water-based media, and
    non-paper media. There is a brief chapter in the back called
    "Watercolor fundamentals" that deals with materials, media & terms.
            Some of the artists and the techniques they demonstrate are Eleonora
    Marton, (painting in monochrome), Leah Goren (bold and unusual
    colors), Madara    Lukjanovica (glazed landscape), Charlene Liu
    (stenciling), Simona Dimitri  (creating color shift), Sasha Prood
    (creating movement), Peggy Wolf (painting from photographs),  Hornung
    (creating a stylized painting), Marcus Oakley (using primary colors),
    Kasia Breska (using "found" materials), Paul Bailey (mixing watercolor
    and acrylic), and Jennifer Davis (painting on wood).
            The book is 7.5 x 5.5 in, making it easy to carry and refer to. The
    artists are well selected for stylistic variety and give a good
    cross-section of approaches to this versatile medium.

    Wednesday, March 25, 2015

    Review: Black Moon



    In Black Moon, we have a road trip book of sorts. Jordan and Chase are young guys who’ve stolen sleeping pills and are travelling. Lila is a teenager whose folks have sent her on the road to protect her from their insomniac rage. Biggs is searching for his insomniac wife. So basically, all these folks have found themselves in a symbolic dark wood and angry raging sleepless folks are blocking them from the path direct.

    I really didn't feel the sleeplessness vibe. I just didn't. The author seemed to be exploring the frustrated, malicious, existential resentment of he “have-nots” towards the "haves." Those who cannot sleep are pretty vicious towards those who can.

    As is to be expected when everyone in the nation goes sleepless, the entire infrastructure falls apart. Universal insomnia being the cause of anarchy, I can believe. But I'm not sure the sleepless would have energy to be so nasty. As for the cause of the sleeplessness, the author riffs on the probable spiritual, emotional, or societal cause of this ongoing catastrophe. But in the end, I'm not sure what “sleeplessness” is a metaphor for. Are the ones who are able to sleep the true victims? Or are they the strong ones because they can shut off life and fall into peacefulness when they want to?

    The story feels like a series of poetic meditations thematically held together by the male characters’ goals, especially their goals toward their wives. If you intend to read this book, put away all thoughts about “beginning, middle, and end.” There is no real “ending” here. We are in literary territory  and riding the modern male’s stream of consciousness. This is a book which feels like a literary summer read and which folks will either love or hate.

    Review: The Hope of Heaven: God's Eight Messages of Assurance to a Grieving Father

    The Hope of Heaven: God's Eight Messages of Assurance to a Grieving Father Hardcover – March 10, 2015






  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Nelson (March 10, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 071802205X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0718022051

  • I found this book somewhat problematic. It's called Hope of Heaven by Allan M Hallene Jr. and it's a father's account of his son's suicide. So, yes it's important that the father has hope that his son will go to heaven. After all, Christians believe most suicides end up in hell because it is murder. I tend not to be cut and dried about where the souls of suicides go. We simply don't know the state of their souls or their minds.

    In this memoir, the dad finds his son's body after the son has hung himself. At that moment, God gives him a clear image that assures him that his son is at peace in heaven. We all know that need for spiritual assurance when someone dies. I imagine it would be even worse if the person has died unexpectedly or by suicide. There is also the whole question of parental guilt and responsibility.

    But the father gets these assurances. That could be a problem with me because I'm very wary of spiritual assurances. I'm generally wary of spiritual incidents, visions, dreams impressions etc as well. But something about assurances often makes me stop and ponder if the human mind wants to interpret things a certain way.

    Some books are hard to review because you know the writer has poured his soul out for the reader and because you know the writer is stil experiencing emotional pain you have no idea about.

    Another thing I'm wary about. The father is very calvinist/God's sovereignity. So he says stuff like God knew his son would kill himself because God knew his son was depressive and used those 23 years to help his son live and come as close to him so he could get to heaven. It's very subtle and I kinda get what the author is saying and maybe I kind believe him...but...wow. The father writes several times about his son's keeping his emotional pain to himself. And there are sections about the son being prone to these issues. I totally believe that there are pre-natal causes why some people are prone to depression. Perhaps there are genetic issues. And let's face it, God does not create bad genetics. It's a fallen world. There are also nutritional and even allergy-related depressions. And there are family dynamics. It's the family dynamics part of the equation that makes me uneasy. Even if the family isn't responsible for the depression, one wonders why this suicidal boy could not talk to his father. NOTE: I'm not saying the family could have helped him. I am not even saying the child feared his family so much that he couldn't tell them his heart. What I am saying is the father's repeated comments about how he tried to help his son just makes me wonder. Something about hearing something repeated a lot can do that. I'm just very cynical when it comes to Christians writing about themselves; I've seen too many self-deceptions. So wariness is not the author's fault, it's all mine.

    In fact the author is really good at telling his heart, discussing theology (particularly the fatherhood of God), and rightly dividing the thorny theological issues.  It's an interesting combination of theological paper, grief counseling, memoir, and PhD treatise with references.

    Anyway, all that said,  the comforting assurances, are very profound-- as assurances from God tend to be. And "if one is able to receive them", I think this book would be good for folks whose kids have committed suicide. Basically, this book would be considered a brave book in some Christian circles. And in other Christian circles, it would be considered a product of a wussy Christianity. It really all depends on one's denomination and how rigidly one thinks about things.

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

    Saturday, February 28, 2015

    Review: Salad Love by David Bez

    Salad Love: 260 Crunchy, Savory and Filling Meals You can Make Every Day

    I have to say it: this book is a feast for the eyes. Heck, it's an invitation to a feast!

    Those of us who eat the same old things every day and wish to change our eating habits in the easiest most delightful way will love this book. This is a salad book that opens up one's mind. First, it reminds us of other foods that we've forgotten and ignored along the way. Secondly, it opens up one's mind to salads period.

    But first, the eye-feast: This food has the best food photography I've seen in ages. The photos are not flashy or anything. They are pretty basic: a wonderful, wildly colorful salad on a plain white dish.  Each page has a large photo and a tiny list of the required ingredients at the bottom. Often, the ingredient list isn't necessary because a picture is worth a thousand words and the photos are pretty self-explanatory. Along with the photo and the ingredient lists on each page, there are also two circular insets. The smaller inset (at the top of the photo) contains only one word which states if the salad is Raw, Pescatarian, Omnivore, Vegan, or Vegetarian. The slightly larger inset diagonally opposite the first one and at the bottom of the photo indicates how to transform the salad in some way. For instance, how to change that particular raw salad to an omnivore alternative, or how to change a pescatarian salad to a vegetarian alternative, or omnivore to vegetarian. For instance, the pescatarian Tuna, zucchini, broccoli and black olive salad can be turned into a vegan alternative by replacing tuna with canned beans. By doing this, each salad can be made in two different ways. So although there are 260 salads, the inset with alternatives pretty much doubles the total number of salads.

    The salads themselves are a perfect blend for taste and health...and satisfies the need for different mouth-feel.

    Before the photos, we have chapters which are no more than two pages long. Seriously, this is a cookbook for those who do not like to actually read cookbooks. One page shows pictures of the items discussed in the chapter, and the other page is a short description.

    The first chapter of the book is called The Base. The base of any salad -- as described here-- are greens, grains (couscous, rice, barley, etc), vegetables cut into small pieces, and vegetables shaved to look like ribbons or spaghetti. He doesn't list noodles here but since noodles appear in some of the salads, I'll include that as a base as well.

    The second chapter is called Vegetables and Fruits. The author states these should take up about 25% of one's salad. So non-veggie-lovers should love that. The veggies are generally raw and the pics of vegetables show an assortment of the veggies and fruits that the author typically uses.

    The third chapter entitled protein states that one cup or 25% of one's salad should be dedicated to protein and again there are pics of protein: meat, eggs, beans, cheeses, fish.

    The fourth chapter is entitled toppings; the fifth chapter is "Fresh Herbs." The sixth is Dressings & Spices. This is a fun chapter because it features tiny little recipes for dressings.

    Then there is a chapter on tools needed in the kitchen.

    The recipes are placed in four sub-sections:  Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring

    For the most part, the salads don't need a lot of preparation. One might need to boil some rice or noodles here and there But all in all, this is a cookbook that takes all the work out of preparing a meal. And if one already has ingredients on hand, making these salads shouldn't take more than 20 minutes or so.

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








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