Review: Illustrated Bible Survey

17414742Ed Hindson is dean of the School of Divinity and distinguished professor of Religion at Liberty University. Hindson has a Th.D. from Trinity Graduate School of Theology, a D.Min. from Westminster Theological Seminary, and a D.Phil. from University of South Africa. Hindson is the author, co-author, or editor of numerous books and articles. Elmer L. Towns is the president of Elmer Towns Ministries and the co-founder of Liberty University. Towns has a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary and has received six honorary doctoral degrees for various contribution in the field of religion and education. Towns is the author of over 100 books and over 1000 articles. Most recently, Hindson and Towns have co-authored a useful revision of their popular-level Illustrated Bible Survey: An Introduction

Illustrated Bible Survey has the same goal as Hindson and Towns establish in the classroom, to “challenge [students] academically, inspire them spiritually, and motivate them effectively to discover and apply the great truths and practical wisdom of the Bible in providing them with a biblical basis for the Christian worldview” (p. xi). Hindson and Towns have provided a college-level textbook that is both accessible to students and laymen alike. The book covers the entire Bible and introduces the basic content of each book, such as the authorship, the background, the message, and the application of the book. Hindson and Towns also provide an outline of each book, include various reflection excerpts throughout, and a for further reading section that allows the reader explore more broadly. There are also study questions at the end of each book that provide an excellent basis for group discussion or personal review.

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the Illustrated Bible Survey (especially for those not required to purchase this book for class) is the over 200 full-color maps, charts, photographs, and illustrations. B&H does an exceptional in this space and the reader will appreciate the level of detail that goes into this aspect of the book. The maps and charts are especially useful. The content itself is good and will be useful for laymen, but it is far from exhaustive of the larger narrative of biblical scholarship. That is, while Hindson and Towns have provided a solid survey of the Bible, there is a seeming lack of interaction with other traditions or theological positions. The reader will get a narrow Baptist, dispensational-leaning survey of the Bible. This is evident in both the content and the suggested resources for further reading, and a major shortcoming of the book—especially since the format of the book only affords assumption and not serious interaction. It’s a helpful survey, but it’s not without its limitations.

Illustrated Bible Survey: An Introduction by Ed Hindson and Elmer L. Towns is an easy-to-read and informative volume. While limitations on the volume do not allow for the engagement that some readers will want, Hindson and Towns have provided a survey faithful to what students at Liberty University (specifically undergraduate students) will need. Everyone else looking to this volume as a potential purchase will likely be drawn to the visual appeal, and in that arena the publishers have provided something wonderful. If your a dispensational-leaning Baptist looking for something safe to use for Sunday School, then this volume will fit the bill well on all fronts. I take the latter without the former and still found it helpful, and I think most readers will as well.

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Review: Rediscovering the Holy Spirit

30649321Michael Horton is J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California. Horton holds a PhD from the University of Coventry and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and a DD from Grove City College. Horton is the author of numerous books and essays, as well as the host of The White Horse Inn, a nation-wide radio broadcast. Most recently, Horton has produced one of the most fascinating and comprehensive explorations of the Holy Spirit from a Reformed perspective in recent times—Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God’s Perfecting Presence in Creation, Redemption, and Everyday Life.

Rediscovering the Holy Spirit aims to emphasize both the distinct personality and operation of the Holy Spirit. Horton begins with the basic theological parameters regarding the person and work of the Holy Spirit. This includes the basics of Trinitarianism and the historical distinction that separates such from certain heresies. Horton quickly moves to a more thematic exploration of the Holy Spirit that loosely follows the trajectory of the subtitle—creation, redemption, and everyday life. Horton is keenly aware of the broader historical theological conversations on the Holy Spirit, and his awareness and sensitivity to the Scripture is unsurpassed. Readers will appreciate the care that Horton take as he explores the above, especially when it comes to uncovering the role and function of the Holy Spirit in the ordinary, day-to-day activities of the Christian life.

The scope and emphasis of Rediscovering the Holy Spirit is reason enough to immerse oneself in its content. From the role of the Holy Spirit in creation to the application of the person and work of Christ in salvation, Horton provides readers with fresh insight rooted in historical Christianity. Some readers will undoubtably turn away from Horton’s acknowledgement that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are equally active today as they were in the New Testament, especially from the Reformed tradition, but this is no reason to overlook the magnificent demonstration of Trinitarian theology that Horton elevates on every page. Horton’s writing style is generally academic in nature, and thus he is scrupulous in his documentation. That said, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit is extremely accessible to the educated layperson and will be more than beneficial for the average pastor.

Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God’s Perfecting Presence in Creation, Redemption, and Everyday Life by Michael Horton is a thorough demonstration of the person and work of the Holy Spirit from a Reformed perspective. Horton is clear, engaging, and extremely practical. There is something for everyone in this book. It is now the first book that I will recommend when asked about books on the topic of the Holy Spirit. It comes strongly recommended!

Review: Reading Biblical Greek

30649311Richard J. Gibson is principal of Brisbane School of Theology in Australia. Gibson has a PhD from Macquarie University and over twenty years of experience teaching New Testament and Biblical Greek at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia. Constantine R. Campbell is professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Campbell has a PhD from Macquarie University and is the author of several books, including Advances in the Study of Greek (Zondervan Academic, 2015), Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek (Zondervan Academic, 2008), and Keep Your Greek (Zondervan Academic, 2010). Together Gibson and Campbell have joined forces to create a masterful introduction to New Testament Greek that will likely shift the landscape of how the language is taught in institutions around the world.

Reading Biblical Greek: A Grammar for Students is presented with three goals in mind: (1) clarity, (2) convenience, and (3) currency. Gibson explains, “the quest for clarity is reflected in visual layout, the three-column structure to each lesson . . . convenience accounts for the apparent minimalism of the material [and user-friendly explanations]. . . in terms of currency, the material also seeks to reflect the latest developments in verbal aspect, middle lexical forms, and other issues” (p. vii). That said, the overarching goal is to equip students to read the text of the Gospel of Mark (at least Mark 1-4) as soon as possible and practical (roughly 42 lessons into the book). It is here that the exercises in the book and the translation work in the accompanying Reading Biblical Greek Workbook direct the student.

Gibson and Campbell have divided the textbook into 83 individual lessons. Each lesson occupies a single page of the textbook and each page is divided into a three-column layout. Each column also occupies a specific function. For example, the first column introduces the material for that specific lesson and includes explanation and information about the specific part of the language. The second column usually presents information that needs to be memorized, such as the rules of grammar and paradigms. Lastly, the third column is designated to examples and exercises related to the specific lesson topic. Having read and reviewed numerous introductory Greek grammars, I was impressed with the functional benefit of the layout and the intentionality that Gibson and Campbell displayed on nearly every page. Each word counts when you take a minimal approach to teach a language, and Gibson and Campbell have done students a massive favor in Reading Biblical Greek.

There is much to be praised about the layout of Reading Biblical Greek and the content that it supports. Gibson and Campbell really do get the reader into the text of Mark quickly and with substantial comprehension to understand how and what is being translated. I really appreciate that each lesson occupies a single page. This made it helpful for digestion and recognition of each lesson topic before starting new. That said, the convenience of a single page, three-column layout comes with a price. The dimensions of the book are awkward and difficult to place on a standard bookshelf without overlap. Its sized more like a coffee table book than a traditional grammar. Additionally, all the vocabulary is found in the back of the textbook, not within the lesson. This will be a matter of preference, but I would rather it be in the lesson itself and not located in an appendix. These are small shortcomings for an excellent Greek grammar, but they are shortcomings nonetheless.

Reading Biblical Greek: A Grammar for Students by Richard J. Gibson and Constantine R. Campbell is a masterful achievement that promises to help students better read and understand that New Testament. I don’t see this replacing Mounce’s work anytime soon. But, Gibson and Campbell have provided an up-to-date grammar that will be used as an alternative approach in undergraduate and online programs around the world. It would also be an excellent resource for those looking to learn to read Greek at home, especially with the video series and workbook at their side. If you are looking for a new alternative Greek grammar that will get you into the text of the New Testament while guiding you through the nuances of the language itself, I couldn’t think of a better book. You’ll just need to find somewhere unique to put it.

Review: Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary by Conceptual Categories

33098699Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary by Conceptual Categories: A Student’s Guide to Nouns in the Old Testament by J. David Pleins and Jonathan Homrighausen organizes the Hebrew nouns used in the Old Testament by logical categories to aid memorization and comprehension. It is here that Pleins offers a unique resource for students of Biblical Hebrew among a plethora of other vocabulary-building resources. Pleins approach, as stated in the preface, “is crucial because the mind constructs its mental space for language by making connections between words . . . without these associations, vocabulary building is reduced to rote memorization that all to often becomes an exercise in futility” (p. 16).

Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary by Conceptual Categories is well-researched and helpfully presented. The book is divided into four major sections: (1) the created order, (2) the human order, (3) the social order, and (4) the constructed order. Within each of these sections, Pleins has organized words under various conceptual categories. For example, under the section labeled “the created order,” the reader will find categories such as Heavens and Earth, Colors, and Flora.  Pleins has also included two helpful appendix articles that provide additional reading for further study on the various conceptual categories and gathers clusters of verses by the same categories.

There is much to be praised about the work of Pleins and Homrighausen and the vision for this project. As I interacted with the book, I found that the organization was both helpful and logical. I also appreciated the references provided for further study, including Scripture references and lexicons such as DCH and HALOT. That said, I do think that there was room in this volume to make it more visually appealing to the reader. The cover art lends to how this could have been accomplished, but the content therein is unfortunately just words on paper. This is a small shortcoming to an excellent resource, but I think it would have added volumes to its usefulness and appeal to students.

Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary by Conceptual Categories: A Student’s Guide to Nouns in the Old Testament by J. David Pleins and Jonathan Homrighausen is an excellent addition to the library of anyone looking to better understand and mentally organize the memorization of the Hebrew language. Pleins and Homrighausen have done a great service to students of the Old Testament and I sense that his approach will be utilized more broadly in the coming years. While the publisher may have missed an opportunity to make the volume more appealing with illustrations throughout, the book delivers on it’s promise. I couldn’t recommend it more highly!

Review: Exile: A Conversation with N. T. Wright

61CntzMDAbLExile: A Conversation with N. T. Wright edited by James M. Scott brings together 11 scholars from various academic backgrounds and disciplines to interact and engage with a controversial aspect of Wright’s New Testament worldview—an ongoing narrative of exile that underlines the heartbeat of the Second Temple period. Wright has expressed this topic in various forums and has developed it at length in a number of his books, including the magisterial two volume work Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Fortress Press, 2013).

The essays that comprise Exile are mostly edited and expanded from an engagement at Trinity Western University in November 2010. The volume opens with a sizable essay (60 pages) by Wright. This is the lead essay of which the contributing scholars will interact with and engage in the many pages that follow. The book is divided into four parts: (1) Old Testament/Hebrew Bible/Septuagint with essays by Walter Brueggemann, Robert J. V. Hiebert, and Jörn Kiefer; (2) Early Judaism with essays by Philip Alexander, Robert Kugler, and Dorothy M. Peters; (3) New Testament with essays by Scot McKnight, S. A. Cummins, and Timo Eskola; and (4) Theology with essays by Hans Boersma and Ephraim Radner. The volume appropriately gives Wright the final word and includes another sizeable essay in response to the collective work of the above scholars.

Wright’s work is notoriously witty and dense with complexity. The opening essay was a well-articulated and refreshing (re)affirmation of Wright’s exile thesis. The scope of the essay is quite breathtaking given the space, and Wright takes full advantage of the opportunity to explain his case. Wright’s claim isn’t that all Jews believed they were still in exile, but that some did, and Jesus and his followers picked up this belief as a chief resolution of the gospel message. In short, this essay is an essential starting point for both acquainted and non-acquainted readers. Wright has boiled down a lot of thought into these pages, and each and every word matters greatly for the road ahead. The engagement that follows is what many would expect from a multi-authored work, but the overall sense of argument and tone of the book is clear and pointed. The goal of the volume is to further the conversation, and this it most certainly accomplishes. The standout essays include “Not All Gloom and Doom: Positive Interpretations of Exile and Diaspora in the Hebrew Bible and Early Judaism” by Jörn Kiefer, “Exile to the Land: N. T. Wright’s Exile Theory as Organic to Judaism” by Scot McKnight, and all three essays on early Judaism.

Exile: A Conversation with N. T. Wright edited by James M. Scott demonstrates how academic dialog should be given and received. As Wright closes, “these eleven essays, in their different ways, have done what academic conversation ought to do: that is, they have compelled me to think through once more what exactly I have been wanting to say, and (I hope) how to say it more sharply” (p. 332). The only shortcoming of this volume is that some of the contributors assume a certain level of knowledge that some readers may not possess. But, most readers that are picking up a book with such title should know the journey they are about to embark on. It accomplishes its goal of furthering the conversation and I am excited to see where this volume takes us. One can only hope that it’s out of Exile. It comes highly recommended!

Review: A Week in the Fall of Jerusalem

518ApYLNpfLBen Witherington III is Jean R. Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. Witherington is a world-class New Testament scholar and the author of over forty books, including Invitation to the New Testament: First Things, Isaiah Old and New: Exegesis, Intertextuality, and Hermeneutics, A Week in the Life of Corinth, and the present volume A Week in the Fall of Jerusalem.

A Week in the Fall of Jerusalem is a rich and thrilling display of historical fiction that blends a clear and faithful understanding of the ancient world with a sensible storyline that eclipses the historical gaps. Witherington knows the ancient world surrounding the fall of Jerusalem well and is able to captivate the attention of the reader to both instruct and entertain simultaneously. The readers acquainted with Witherington’s previous work A Week in the Life of Corinth will be familiar with his ability to execute this format with excellence.

The book itself is brief, but fascinating. Personally, I’m not much of a fan of fiction, even historical fiction. But, what Witherington has accomplished here will be surprising and exciting to many readers. In fact, I think at points readers may even need to remind themselves that the narrative is mostly educated conjecture and not factual accounts. It’s just that captivating. Not only does he provide an imaginative glance into one of the most significant events of the early Christian movement, but he also provides numerous illustrations and excerpts that allow the reader to connect the narrative to reality. Again, those familiar with A Week in the Life of Corinth (or even A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion by Gary M. Burge) will be accustomed to this feature, but I have to say A Week in the Fall of Jerusalem does a much better job of bridging these two worlds.

Providing a blend of entertainment and education, A Week in the Fall of Jerusalem by Ben Witherington III will be an excellent addition to any library. It could function well as an undergraduate-level supplemental textbook for a New Testament course. It allows readers of all backgrounds to venture as deep as they want and offers an up-to-date exploration of first century Jerusalem through the lenses of one of the most catastrophic events to reach the early church. It will give the reader much to ponder. To be honest, you might not think about the background of the New Testament in same again. It comes highly recommended.

Review: The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest

61e0CA1aLgLThe newest volume in The Lost World series looks to reconcile the long-felt difficulty of the Israelite conquests with the ancient Near Eastern world. The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest: Covenant, Retribution, and the Fate of the Canaanites by John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton offers readers a captivating exploration that takes the Hebrew Bible seriously in its ancient cultural context and establishes a fresh pair of interpretive lenses for investigating the many important issues involved.

The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest “helps [readers] to transcend the shackles of our modern worldview and traditional readings to recapture the text as it would have been understood by the original author and audience” (p. xi). The book contains twenty-one individual prepositions across six major parts: (1) Interpretation, (2) The Canaanites are Not Depicted as Guilty of Sin, (3) The Canaanites are Not Depicted as Guilty of Breaking God’s Law, (4) The Language and Imagery of the Conquest Account has Literary and Theological Significance, (5) What God and the Israelites are Doing is Often Misunderstood because the Hebrew Word Herem is Commonly Mistranslated, and (6) How to Apply This Understanding. Keen readers who are familiar with Walton’s work in the series will be able to determine the trajectory of the book’s claim by following the titles of each major part (above).

The entire book is fascinating. It is unlike any other (seriously) exploration of the conquest narrative that I have ever read. Moreover, the preposition-driven organization of the book makes it extremely easy to navigate knowing what I was going to be reading. Like other books in The Lost World series, there will be some (possibly a lot) therein that the reader will not appreciate concerning the case that Walton and Walton have presented. It’s not traditional by any stretch, and for most that should be fine. Walton and Walton have done a tremendous job building their case and bringing the reader to an appropriate place of application. If the reader disagrees with the conclusion here and there, I can guarantee those same readers will still appreciate the amount of detailed work put into this volume. Without giving away the ending, The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest will make you think long and hard about the conquest narrative, and possibly even do a bit of reconsideration in areas you may not even have known needed reconsideration.

The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest: Covenant, Retribution, and the Fate of the Canaanites by John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton accomplishes exactly what it set out to accomplish. It will make you think about how deeply-seated our modern worldview and traditional readings are to our understanding of the Bible. I don’t think that Walton and Walton have done much to solve the theological tension of the Israelite conquest narratives, but they have certainly offered readers a plausible explanation to an age-old conundrum. If you have read any of the books from The Lost World series, then I likely don’t need to encourage you to grab The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest. Everyone else? Do yourself a favor and start reading this book right away. It will get you thinking about the topic in ways like never before. It comes highly recommended!