Category: Book Review

Review: Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation?

91TNz8rUymLOld-Earth or Evolutionary Creation?: Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos edited by Kenneth Keathley, J. B. Stump, and Joe Aguirre brings together a decade of fruitful conversations between two prominent organizations with two similar, and yet, very different views of the creation debate.

Reasons to Believe (RTB) is an apologetics organization that “engages Christians with differing creations theologies with the goal of pursuing reconciliation through love, truth, and peace so that non-Christians observing these dialogues may be encouraged to trust [RTB] in helping them to be reconciled to Christ” (p. 3). BioLogos is an affiliate group of scientists and scholars seeking to illuminate how contemporary scientific consensus can be reconciled with Scripture. As Deborah Haarsma notes, “too many people have left the church or felt they couldn’t commit their lives to God because they perceive science (particularly biological evolution) to be the enemy of Christianity. Our goal [at BioLogos] is to call such people back to faith or invite them to consider the gospel for the first time, as we proclaim Christ as the Creator of all things in heaven and on earth” (p. 3).

As the title implies, Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation? is not concerned from a content standpoint with Young-Earth Creation (YEC) views or the various arguments and commitments that they necessitate—this despite the positions of some of the moderator comments throughout the volume. The book is organized topically around several questions. RTB represents an Old-Earth view of creation and BioLogos represents an Evolutionary Creation view. Unlike other multiview books, the tone of Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation? reads more like a dialogue between friends and colleagues than an academic exercise. Each chapter addresses a specific topic or question related to the debate and a representative expert from the organization provides a positive presentation. Afterward, the moderator (which varies by chapter) offers a summary and aims to push the conversation towards a productive end for the reader by asking specific follow up questions (often from a YEC perspective). Each contributor then answers the questions raised by the moderator and the moderator closes the chapter with a summary of the dialogue.

There is much to be praised about this volume. First, and probably foremost, while the content of the book can tend to get rather technical at times (especially for non-specialists in the related fields of science), the editors and contributors have intentionally aimed to make the book and its arguments accessible to the broadest audience possible. It’s easy to follow and the interaction is appropriately presented for the target audience. Second, despite being a topic of heated debate, the editors and contributors have overtly molded what it looks like to disagree with respect and charity. Third, the organization and format of the book offered ample room for discussion. There is almost no stone unturned in this volume, and the moderators aren’t shy about asking difficult questions (e.g. If evolutionary creation is true, and you believe that mankind is created in the image of God but descended from a common ancestor, at what stage did mankind receive the image of God?). Lastly, while most readers will find disagreement at some point (maybe even every page), the level of clarity around the specific issues discussed is to be commended.

Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation?: Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos edited by Kenneth Keathley, J. B. Stump, and Joe Aguirre brings together a decade of fruitful conversations between two prominent organizations with two different views of the creation debate. If you are looking for a detailed treatment of the two alternative creation views, then this is the most up-to-date and comprehensive treatment available. The interaction is always charitable and passion for truth is ever-present. Ultimately, I’m not sure that I’m convinced by either view, but I would wholeheartedly recommend it without any real hesitation. Honestly, don’t wait, get it now. It’s available today!

Review: Dictionary of Christianity and Science

30649305Dictionary of Christianity and Science is the collective work of over 140 international scholars brought together under the editorial oversight of Paul Copan, Tremper Longman III, Christopher L. Reese, and Michael Strauss. Dictionary of Christianity and Science contains some of the highest standards of research and review, and presents a fair-minded assessment of nearly every corner of the intersection between the Christian worldview and modern science. Together with over 450 articles written on key terms, theories, individuals, debates, and more, by leading scholars and experts in the field, Dictionary of Christianity and Science has rightly positioned itself as the definitive on science and Christian belief.

The organization and format of the Dictionary of Christianity and Science is superb and unlike any other dictionary I’ve seen or used. First, the entries are well-balanced and the contributors are top-tier in the field of the topics they addressed. This is of course of first importance when it comes to any dictionary of this caliber, but this is especially the case for one that boasts itself as a definitive work. Second, the format and organization of Dictionary of Christianity and Science is easy to use and ideal for a resource of this scope. Apart from standard articles on key terms, theories, individuals, and such, the editors have also included multi-view essays on a number of controversial topics—most of which pertain to various aspects of the creation/evolution debate. Additionally, there are introductory articles that function differently than a standard essay and focus on the central facts of a topic in a shorter and more concise form. Third, as one would expect coming to a dictionary, Dictionary of Christianity and Science provides solid, succinct answers to somewhat complex and challenging topics. This provides a clear basis for both understanding and further investigation, which can be explored in the curated bibliography that follows each essay. Lastly, the ground covered in Dictionary of Christianity and Science is simply amazing for its size. To be fair, it is small print crammed into tight double columns, but the riches of information that can be harvested from its pages is simply incredible. Readers will find something new and exciting, or at least interesting, on every page of this dictionary.

While the praises for Dictionary of Christianity and Science certainly outweigh its failed opportunities, there are at least two areas I found difficult or unsatisfying as I interacted with its content over the last few months. First, although there is a decent cross-reference system (using bold text throughout), I found that the navigation between the articles was not as easy as it could have because of some of the sub-titles within articles (e.g. Age of the Universe and Earth [Billions-of-Years View]; p. 28). Also, when I first began reading through the dictionary, I found the bolded text to be distracting and overused in some cases. This turned out to be only a momentary discomfort as I continued to use the resource. Second, I found the “References and Recommended Reading” section to be lacking in many cases, and even a bit unbalanced at times. While I’m neither a scientist nor a student of science, I am familiar with much of the literature and names from that side of the discussion, and would have liked to have seen maybe a bit more representation in the bibliography. That said, what is listed, as far as I could tell during my use of the resource, is well-positioned to point the reader in the right direction.

Apart from a few minor (possible) shortcomings, Dictionary of Christianity and Science edited by Paul Copan, Tremper Longman III, Christopher L. Reese, and Michael Strauss is a fantastic resource that will be unlike anything else on your shelf. The contributors to this volume are to be commended and the editors are to be praised for their work in bringing this phenomenal dictionary into publication. If you are interested in the intersection between the Christian worldview and modern science, then Dictionary of Christianity and Science should be at the top of your wish list and kept within an arm’s reach. It will be used often and unsurpassed for the foreseeable future, and it comes highly recommended!

Review: Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (3rd edition)

30649308There are few books that have had a more lasting influence on biblical interpretation than Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard Jr. This volume has been used in colleges and seminaries across the world as a trusted guide and authoritative introduction to the field of biblical hermeneutics for over two decades.

This newly revised and updated third edition of Introduction to Biblical Interpretation offers an up-to-date discussion on various developments in the field (and even related fields) of biblical hermeneutics and biblical scholarship, as well as refined and polish the previous work. As the authors note in the preface, “what we veteran Bible teachers write here builds on more than one hundred years of combined teaching and study. We believe our refinements in this volume reflect our more mature (and we hope more adequate and correct) thinking about this critical task” (p. 27). For most readers, these updates will be approached as a welcomed addition to an already astonishing work, while others may be seen as less than appealing. That said, the overall impression of the volume boasts a clear and consistent presence of fine-tuning towards an appropriate and needed end.

Those acquainted with the previous editions will be met by the same overall layout and familiar organization as before. The book is divided into five major sections appropriately aligned to bring the reader from point A to point B: (1) the task of interpretation, (2) the interpreter and the goal, (3) understanding literature, (4) understanding Bible genres, and (5) the fruits of interpretation. Each section is subdivided into various chapters on a number of related or sub-related topics. The chapters and sections hang together as a cumulative case that builds from page to page but also function well as standalone items for future reference.

The highlights of Introduction to Biblical Interpretation will depend upon the readers own personal conviction. The book overall is extremely helpful, well-organized, and both easy to use and read. Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard demonstrate an exceptional level of skill at navigating difficult hermeneutical issues or tasks with ease and clarity. Moreover, the comprehensiveness of the volume brings a level of clearness to nearly every aspect of biblical interpretation, from the history of interpretation to the application of the task itself. That said, among other things, some readers may find the authors treatment of interpretation by “advocacy groups” (such as liberation hermeneutics, cultural hermeneutics, feminist hermeneutics, and LGBT hermeneutics; p. 144-163) unsettling or demonstrative of compromise, particularly for those coming to the book with a clear, unhealthy attachment to conservatism. As a conservative myself, I found the treatment to be very helpful and informative, and, in fact, appropriately sensitive to the approaches of these various groups. There will be some readers who may jump to polemical conclusions regarding the revisions, but to do so, in my opinion, is simply unwarranted.

Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard Jr. is a work of unparalleled quality in the arena of introductory literature on the field of biblical hermeneutics. As stated above, it is used in colleges and seminaries across the world as a trusted and authoritative primer, and this third edition only makes its usefulness more relevant and refined. Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard have evaluated every corner of the intersections that the beginning (and even intermediate) student would need to know, and have provided a clear and persuasive presentation on how to read the Bible and read it properly. This is a book that deserves placement on the shelf of every serious student of the Bible. So, be sure to make room if you haven’t already.

Review: A Little Book for New Bible Scholars

71bb1S-8gOL.jpgThe world of biblical studies is both strange and dangerous at times. Many enter into the field with very different aspirations and dreams than when they leave. This can be due to a lack of guidance going into Seminary or a lack of mentorship exiting. A Little Book for New Bible Scholars by E. Randolph Richards and Joseph R. Dodson is an excellent volume that offers seasoned advice and insight from two capable biblical scholars.

E. Randolph Richards is dean and professor of biblical studies in the School of Ministry at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Richards received his Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author and coauthor of several books, including Paul Behaving Badly and Paul and First-Century Letter Writing. Joseph R. Dodson is associate professor of biblical studies at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. Dodson received his Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen and is the author of The “Powers” of Personification.

A Little Book for New Bible Scholars is a primer of sorts to the world of biblical studies. Richards and Dodson point readers towards the necessity of falling in love with the study of the Bible, and yet they don’t shy away from the dangers that linger for those who “study” too much. Richards and Dodson also do an excellent job displaying the need for humility that accompanies the field of biblical studies. Richards and Dodson wittingly write, “the field of biblical studies reminds me that I am always only sometimes right” (p. 24). The authors encourage readers towards doing the difficult work of good exegesis because it is here that the life-giving message of the Scriptures comes alive—both personally and professionally (p. 52). Lastly, Richards and Dodson speak to the importance of communicating correctly for your audience, humility, and endurance.

There is much to be praised about this volume. First, despite its small size, Richard and Dodson have packed it full of useful nuggets of wisdom. As a biblical studies major who holds three degrees in the field, I greatly admired the tone of the book and the manner in which Richards and Dodson spoke of the academic field to which we have devoted our lives. Second, while this book is targeted towards beginners, it is also an excellent and appropriate reminder for those seasoned in the field or even those who simply love to read and study the Bible. Lastly, I found the chapter “Biblical Studies is an Equal Opportunity Vocation” to be both refreshing and necessary. This inclusion is vital to the health and wellbeing of both the Church and the field of biblical studies. I commend them for the inclusion of this chapter and echo their encouragement for “female, black, Hispanic, and non-Western scholars to step up and do the hard work of biblical studies” (p. 79).

There are few books that I would classify as essential reads for those entering into Seminary with an eye towards biblical studies, but A Little Book for New Bible Scholars by E. Randolph Richards and Joseph R. Dodson is certainly one of them. This is a delightful volume that will encourage and equip you for the road ahead. Richards and Dodson have done a tremendous job and I would gladly recommend it to incoming students and friends in the future!

Review: In the Shadow of the Temple

41sG2plDgmLOskar Skarsaune is widely recognized as a leading voice on Jewish influences on early Christianity. Skarsaune is professor emeritus of Church History at MF Norwegian School of Theology in Oslo, Norway. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including Incarnation: Myth or Fact, The proof from Prophecy: A Study in Justin Martyr’s Proof-Text Tradition, and the present volume In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity.

In the Shadow of the Temple offers a unique and fresh contribution to the study of the development and practice of the early Church. Skarsaune argues against the common notion of a “parting of ways” after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and contends that early Christians were in continuous conversation with Jews about practice and doctrine in the early centuries leading up to Constantine—shaping the way they worshiped and thought about God. Skarsaune is honest about the strife that was present between the two groups, but ultimately paints a much more convincing portrait of early Christianity than the alternative.

The book is divided into three major sections with an epilogue to tie it together. The initial section of the book aims to uncover and present Judaism as the “mother soil” for the Christian movement, and thus examines Judaism from the Maccabees to the Rabbis. This section is dense and detailed, and Skarsaune’s understanding of the milieu shines brightly throughout. The next section of the book aims to position the beginnings of the Christian movement into the previously established context. This section comprises the heart of the book as Skarsaune constructs the foundation for his thesis. The final section of the book aims to explore the persistence of the Jewish heritage within the Christian movement beyond AD 70. Skarsaune brings the reader full circle and solidifies his thesis in nearly every aspect of the early Christian movement.

In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity by Oskar Skarsaune is praiseworthy on many levels. Skarsaune is clear and concise without jeopardizing the needed details to solidify his thesis. As a leading voice of early Jewish and Gentile Christian history, Skarsaune provides an authoritative, comprehensive introduction to the Jewish basis of early Christianity and challenges the notion of a “parting of ways” after AD 70. Skarsaune has written a book that is both accessible and informative, and his effort superseded my initial notion of the book’s endeavor. I can confidently say that this is one of the most important books on early Christianity that I’ve encountered in some time. It comes highly recommended!

Review: Old Testament Wisdom Literature: A Theological Introduction

11558697Old Testament Wisdom Literature: A Theological Introduction by Craig G. Bartholomew and Ryan P. O’Dowd is a clear and accessible introduction to wisdom literature with a unique focus upon the theological contribution of the Old Testament books. The goal of the book is to open a conversation amongst readers towards an embrace and embodiment of the theology of the Old Testament wisdom literature today (p. 16). This is accomplished through rigorous engagement with the biblical text and interaction with both ancient and modern scholarship.

Bartholomew and O’Dowd divide the focus of the book into three sections. Chapters 1-3 are an establishment of the context for the book, including an introduction to wisdom literature as wisdom, a survey of the world of ancient (i.e. Egypt, Mesopotamia, Israel, etc.), and the genre of poetry. These three chapters do well to achieve what they set out to accomplish, and everything else is captured in the recommended readings at the end of each chapter. Chapters 4-9 comprise the heart of the book and walk the reader through Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job, offering a theological interpretation of each book, an overview of the reception of each book, and interaction with the biblical text throughout. Chapters 9-12 move the discussion towards a more fuller theology of the wisdom literature for today and examine the use of wisdom and wisdom literature in the New Testament.

There is much to be praised about this volume. First, and probably foremost, Bartholomew and O’Dowd do an excellent job establishing the books in the ancient Near Eastern context. This allows the scope of the book to move beyond a typical introduction as the theological and hermeneutical considerations are developed. Second, each chapter concludes with a curated “recommended reading” section. This makes the book perfect for interested readers looking to adventure out on topics. That said, there are also several resources I anticipated to find as recommended reads, and when I looked I came up with nothing. Of course, this is minor in the scope of what Bartholomew and O’Dowd have accomplished. Lastly, while the wisdom literature of the Old Testament typically moves beyond the books explicitly covered in the volume, the introduction to wisdom and the ensuing literature does well to orient the reader with the necessary tools to accomplish the task of interpretation.

Old Testament Wisdom Literature: A Theological Introduction by Craig G. Bartholomew and Ryan P. O’Dowd is a clear and accessible introduction to wisdom literature with a unique focus upon the theological contribution of the Old Testament books. It is well situated for a classroom and even better situated for the interested reader. Those looking for a solid introduction to the wisdom literature of the Old Testament that will pay dividends in the end, will do well to consult Bartholomew and O’Dowd.

Review: An Introduction to Biblical Ethics

20458356An Introduction to Biblical Ethics: Walking in the Way of Wisdom (third edition) by J. Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan is an up-to-date, comprehensive overview of biblical ethics from a Christian worldview. The book is uniquely organized around the ethical implications that emerge from within the Ten Commandments, namely the love for God and the love for neighbor. The structure of the book is much the same as the previous editions, but Copan has both added and updated the material to reflect modern concerns (i.e. end-of-life ethics, stem-cell research, animal rights, sexuality, plastic surgery, genetics and technology, etc.). McQuilkin and Copan are attentive to allow the Scriptures to inform the conversation throughout and the reader will appreciate this clear line of sight.

Chapters 1-11 establish some of the foundational concerns with constructing a biblical ethic, such as a biblical view of love, law, sin, etc. McQuilkin and Copan have also added a section focused on ethical alternatives to help orient the reader more firmly in the Christian tradition. This allows the reader to identify the detectives of a biblical ethic more clearly before any attempt is made to apply the Bible to life. Chapters 12-34 build upon the foundation of the biblical ethic previously established and helps the reader apply such to various ethically related topics. These chapters will comprise the heartbeat of the book for most readers and users of this introduction. The issues discussed are vast, and McQuilkin and Copan offer a detailed treatment of each from a conservative evangelical perspective—both saturated with Scripture and logically presented with the consistency of conviction.

This third edition of An Introduction to Biblical Ethics: Walking in the Way of Wisdom follows in the footsteps of two well-received prior editions. Paul Copan has brought a fresh set of eyes to the task and built upon McQuilkin’s work with rigor and awareness. This is a book to keep nearby and consult often. It is an introduction, so readers will need to plan accordingly for further study. But for those that are ready to get their feet wet and begin applying the Bible to everyday life, McQuilkin and Copan is a first-rate resource. It is trustworthy, dependable, and equally engaging. Disagreements will arise for some readers. However, those who honestly analyze the arguments presented in this book should walk away with a new perspective worthy of consideration and application in the Christian life. I couldn’t recommend this book more!