Review: Fool’s Talk

24043186Fool’s Talk: Rediscovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by Os Guinness is a well-timed reminder concerning the importance of persuasion in the proclamation of the Christian gospel. “We are all apologists now,” declares Guinness, “and we stand at the dawn of the grand age of human apologetics, or so some are saying because our wired world and our global era are a time when expressing, presenting, sharing, defending and selling ourselves have become a staple of everyday life for countless millions of people around the world, both Christians and others” (p. 15). It is here that Guinness boldly observes our time and context as the greatest opportunity for Christian proclamation since Jesus and the apostles, and thus, it is here that Guinness persuasively (pun intended) reorients the reader towards the heartbeat of apologetics found in the art of Christian persuasion.

Guinness guides the reader from beginning to end with noticeable expertise and experience in the field of Christian apologetics. However, for Guinness, Christian apologetics looks much different than the traditional approaches still used by many Christians today. Rather, the approach Guinness is keen to advocates is simple, cross-centered and cross-shaped persuasion. This is not a book for those seeking to catch up on the most recent apologetic techniques to be utilized in the workplace and beyond. It is a call to the Christian to put down the soulless crutch of technique alone and rediscover the all-encompassing power of the gospel of the cross. “Technique has its place,” as Guinness rightly acknowledges, “but it is time to challenge the imperialism of technique and keep technique in its place” (p. 46).

The art of Christian persuasion, then, is that which seeks to use the uppermost strengths of human reason and creativity in the defense of truth. Guinness describes the twofold reality of such persuasion as the apologists effort in, “Mustering all the powers of reason, logic, evidence and argument . . . [for] the task of answering every question, countering every objection, and dismantling false objections to the faith and to knowing God . . . Expressing the love and compassion of Jesus, and using eloquence, creativity, imagination, humor and irony . . . to pry open hearts and minds that, for a thousand reasons, had long grown resistant to God’s great grace, so that it could shine in like the sun” (p. 253). This is the art of Christian persuasion, the heartbeat of Christian apologetics, and the rediscovered platform of gospel-centered proclamation that Guinness commends to his readers.

Fool’s Talk: Rediscovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by Os Guinness is nothing short of a classic. Guinness is remarkably warmhearted in his exhortation and criticism of the present-day landscape of Christian apologetics, and his alternative approach is refreshingly biblical. “We are all apologists now,” and yet, as Guinness explains, “many of us have yet to rise to the challenge of a way of apologetics that is as profound as the good news we announce” (p. 16). It is here that Guinness has delivered a book that will both encourage your heart and reignite your soul for the task of Christian apologetics—namely, the art of Christian persuasion. If you are looking for an apologetic book that will alter the way that you interact with the world around you for the sake of the gospel, and reorient your heart towards the proper means of such interaction, then this is a book that you will do well to read. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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Review: Jesus as a Figure in History

066423447XMark Allan Powell is Robert and Phyllis Leatherman Professor of New Testament at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio. Powell has a Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary and is the Chair of the Historical Jesus division of the Society of Biblical Literature. Powell is the author of numerous books related to New Testament and Historical Jesus studies, including Introduction to the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2008) and the well-received survey, and focus of the present review, Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee, second edition (WJK Books, 2013).

Jesus as a Figure in History has been long praised for its balanced and unbiased approach to the study of the Historical Jesus. Now thoroughly revised and expanded, the second edition of this best-selling textbook brings the conversation up-to-date with the current trends within Historical Jesus scholarship. The book opens with a brief exploration of the conversation up to the present and provides strategic focus on some of the key players, contributions, criteria, and sources that have largely defined the discipline. For those unfamiliar with the issues and individuals surrounding the quest for the Historical Jesus, Powell has provided an excellent entry point into the conversation, and function as a type of prerequisite for the remaining chapters.

The substance of the book is spent unpacking (1) the method and approach used, (2) summary of the results, and (3) criticisms therein of major players in Historical Jesus studies. These players include Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, E.P. Sanders, John Meier, and N.T. Wright. However, before these in-depth treatments, Powell provides what he calls “snapshots” of some of the more peripheral players and the images of Jesus that have arose therein, including, Jesus the social prophet (Richard Horsley), Jesus the charismatic Jew (Geza Vermes), Jesus the magician (Morton Smith), Jesus the sage (Ben Witherington III), Jesus the Cynic philosopher (F. Gerald Downing), Jesus the itinerant radical (Gerd Theissen), Jesus the millenarian prophet (Dale Allison), Jesus the mamzer rabbi (Bruce Chilton), and Jesus the purported Messiah (Paula Fredriksen).

The book concludes with summary and cross-referencing of key issues that remain within the scholarly conversation, both agreements and disagreements concerning method and context. Finally, Powell has included additional appendix material not found in the first edition, including, Did Jesus Exist?, Historical Jesus Studies and Christian Apologetics, and Psychological Studies of the Historical Jesus. Each of the appendixes are a welcomed addition to Powell’s overall treatment, especially the attention given to the marginalization of Christian apologists within the conversation, namely Darrel Bock and Craig Keener.

Jesus as a Figure in History is skilled in its investigation and presentation of the Historical Jesus material, and it remains surprisingly unbiased throughout. The reader will find that the content and organization of the volume is well oriented and intentionally curated for all background types and interest levels. In other words, Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee by Mark Allan Powell has provided nearly everything the interested reader would need to enter into or keep current on the developments of the discipline both past and present, and for this reason it comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: Hidden Riches

17384428Christopher B. Hays is D. Wilson Moore Associate Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. Hays has received a M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from Emory University. He is the author of Death in the Iron Age II and in First Isaiah and is currently working on the Isaiah commentary for the Old Testament Library series. Most recently, Hays has released an excitingly useful volume for students and enthusiasts of the Old Testament: Hidden Riches: A Sourcebook for the Comparative Study of the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East (WJK Books, 2014)

Hidden Riches opens with a brief introduction to the history and methods of comparative studies. Hays does the reader a service by immediately establishing his efforts within the overall context of the discipline, and rightly positions the reader for the coming investigation. The book is arranged canonically (Pentateuch, Former Prophets, Latter Prophets, and Writings), and thus is ideal for the task of comparative studies. Each chapter begins with introductory or composition information for both the biblical and ancient Near Eastern literature, including date, location, language, and more, followed by a readable and up-to-date translation of the comparative source (translations are done by Hays and others scholars, and footnotes are provided therein). Each chapter concludes with discussion around the sources, reflection questions, and a brief bibliography for additional study.

Hidden Riches is an excellent resource for serious study of the Hebrew Bible, and I think that there are a number of qualities that make this volume appropriate for the average reader but especially for academic use. First, Hays’ interaction when seeking to provide discussion around the biblical and ancient Near Eastern text is accessible and easy to understand for the average reader, although it does assume some prior knowledge in various sections. Second, the inclusion of a separate bibliography at the end of each chapter is fitting for additional study, but I think that the work cited will be largely inaccessible to the average reader. There are certainly gems buried, but this section will find its primary use in the work of graduate students and beyond. Third, Hays covers a wide range of comparative genres and the scope of the volume is quite impressive. There is certain to be something for every reader to ponder regardless of academic experience and background.

The comparative study of the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near Easter literature is strangely neglected in the arena of popular thought concerning the Old Testament. While the reader is certain to walk away with some level of disagreement with Hays, the importance of the study should not be overshadowed by intellectual conflict. The Hebrew Bible did not develop in a vacuum. What I appreciated most about Hays’ treatment of the study in Hidden Riches was his keen ability to bring high-level scholarly conversations down to a level in which even an interested undergraduate student could interact. This is a volume that will both make you think and challenge your thinking. Hays is clear, informative, fair, judicious, and well-positioned for the task of this book. It will be used often and comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: An Introduction to the Old Testament

13746569Walter Brueggemann is William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary. Brueggemann has authored over a hundred books and several scholarly peer-reviewed articles. Co-author Tod Linafelt is a former student of Brueggemann at Columbia and is currently Professor of Biblical Literature in the Theology Department of Georgetown University and the author and co-author of a number of books and articles. Together, Brueggeman and Linafelt have revised and expanded Brueggemann’s best-selling Old Testament introduction and brought new life to a critical classic.

This revised and expanded second edition of An Introduction to the Old Testament has several new features that build on the success of the previous edition. First, Brueggeman and Linafelt have included a substantial new chapter on the literary art of the Old Testament. The focus of the new chapter rests on the differing literary resources of biblical narrative and biblical poetry—the two largest genres of the Old Testament. Second, Brueggeman and Linafelt have included a number of textboxes throughout, which take the following two forms: (1) close readings and (2) Midrashic moments—the former focusing on interesting and illuminating details, and the latter focusing on specific examples of the biblical text being put into interpretive use. Finally, each of the chapters has been revised and updated accordingly, and the bibliography has likewise been updated with works published since the first edition.

Brueggeman and Linafelt have provided an excellent introduction the Old Testament. The hermeneutical focus of the book invites the reader into the world of the Old Testament, allowing them to exit with a renewed a sense of literary understanding. Moreover, the scope of the volume is quite impressive and the reader is certain to benefit greatly. Still, much of the criticism that plagued the previous edition remains within the second edition—particularly for the conservative evangelical readers. There are a number of unsettling statements that permeate this volume and many readers will undoubtedly find Brueggeman and Linafelt to be disconnected with their traditional Christian convictions concerning the Old Testament. For example, only a few pages into the volume, Brueggeman and Linafelt seem to affirm that the majority position within biblical scholarship views the Old Testament as historical fiction—at least that it is unreliable in an effort to provide guidance concerning historical facts (p. 6). Similar assertions are found throughout. Still, this should not hinder the reader from taking hold of the wisdom and insight that can be gleaned as he sifts through the mounds of chaff.

An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination by Walter Brueggemann and Tod Linafelt is an excellent introduction into the literary world of the Old Testament. Brueggeman and Linafelt will make you think critically about the traditional understanding of the Old Testament, and for the trained mind, such interaction will only work to strengthen convictions. There is a lot that I personally disagree with in this book, both in methodology and interpretation. Nevertheless, the benefit of interacting with two sharp-minded scholars in the field of Old Testament studies is an indispensable opportunity—and this volume is perfect for that occasion. The revisions and expansions to this volume are welcomed and I trust that it will continue to yield similar success as the previous edition. If you are looking for an introduction to the Old Testament that will function as a critical companion to many of the standard works in the field, An Introduction to the Old Testament is likely the best volume on the market. It comes highly recommended for the careful reader!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: The Unseen Realm

25077593Michael S. Heiser is Scholar-in-Residence at Faithlife, the creators of Logos Bible Software, and has a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and Semitic Languages from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Heiser has written a host of peer-reviewed articles for Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Journal of the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament, Themelios, Tyndale Bulletin, Bible Translator, and much more. Heiser also contributed a number of articles in the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets (IVP, 2012), and the Lexham Bible Dictionary. Most recently, Heiser has made waves with his new book The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Lexham Press, 2015).

The Unseen Realm begins with a brief introduction into Heiser’s personal journey as a Hebrew student and his encounter with Psalm 82. This background provides the premise for the investigation that then unfolds in the coming pages. The book is divided into eight parts: (1) First Things – the stage is set with some preliminary rules for engagement; (2) The Households of God – attention is directed towards the initial biblical patterns, namely that God has a divine family, a heavenly assembly, or council, of elohim in which he is superior over all others; (3) Divine Transgressions – attention directed towards the arrogance of the nachash (the Serpent) and his transgression that fractured the human-divine relationship; (4) Yahweh and His Portion – attention is directed towards Yahweh’s acts of intervention amid his people, especially when in conflict or threatened by gods or men; (5) Conquest and Failure – the readers are guided through the intended results of the conquest under Moses and Joshua, and the divine backdrop that motivated therein; (6) Thus Says The Lord – attention is directed towards the theological intentions that undergird the monarchy’s history, and the reader is guided through the prophets and into the realization of the kingdom already, but not yet; (7) The Kingdom Already – the exploration enters into the realm of the New Testament and the anticipation and inauguration of the King, and the New Testament dependence on Old Testament motifs therein; and (8) The Kingdom Not Yet – the investigation comes full-circle and further establishes the supernatural worldview of the context within the closing climax of the Christian Bible.

There are a number of exciting aspects of this book that make it a must-read. First, I think that Heiser does an excellent job guiding the reader through some of the more commonly discussed issues of critical scholarship concerning the unseen realm of the ancient Near East, and yet does so in such a way as to keep the tenor of the conversation understandable and clear for the reader. Second, it is clear that Heiser is sensitive to the fact that the content being presented is likely to shake the foundation of many personal traditions. His awareness of such, I believe, makes the reader desire to follow his investigation further as oppose to abandon it. Third, Heiser does well in his overall organization of the topic. Each chapter has various subsections that build upon each other and allow the reader to digest smaller chunks of text and ideas. Finally, the overall thrust of the book is executed well and I think the reader will appreciate the attention to detail, but it is the content that makes the book so incredible. Admittedly, I did find myself in disagreement with Heiser at times, but he is generally fair in his understanding and presentation of the text—especially when it comes to Genesis and the Old Testament—and he does well in guiding the reader to his conclusion rather than making a bunch of empty statements.

The Unseen Realm is breathtaking. Heiser presents a vision of God and the supernatural world that untangles much of the complexity that has historically plagued the reading of passages such as Psalm 82, Genesis 1:26, 6:1-4, Judges 6, Daniel 7, and much more. Having already been familiar with Heiser’s work, I knew in large what to expect with this book. But, I must say, The Unseen Realm has delivered much more than I anticipated. This doesn’t mean there aren’t areas of concern or disagreement that I have with Heiser’s hermeneutic at part, but rather that his arguments are well-presented and persuasively met with a keen awareness of the ancient Near East. Heiser will make you think outside your traditional bubble as he ushers you through the ancient Near Eastern world with confidence and wonder. He carefully guides the reader through difficult waters of ignorance and unearth an undeniable theme penetrating the biblical narrative. Students of the Bible will do well in reading this book closely. It will change the way you read and study your Bible, and for that it comes highly recommended!

Also, for those wishing to investigate further, Douglas Van Dorn has compiled an excellent companion volume, The Unseen Realm: A Question & Answer Companion. This volume is saturated with Scripture references and useful beyond words. I wouldn’t buy one without the other!

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: Codex Sinaiticus

26206717Codex Sinaiticus is easily one of the most important ancient documents ever discovered. Much work has been done over the last several decades to bring this fourth-century manuscript to the world, including a project to photograph and digitize the entire codex to be made available online for use of both scholars and laity alike. Because of the sheer availability of the manuscript, courtesy of The Codex Sinaiticus Project, the advances in the study and analysis therein have been everything but fruitless—as seen clearly in the recent publication of Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript edited by Scot McKendrick, David C. Parker, Amy Myshrall, and Cillian O’hogan.

Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript is an overflowing reservoir of distilled scholarship. The roster of contributors to this volume is akin to the who’s who list of textual studies, both Old Testament and New. The contributors include Harry Gamble, Emanuel Tov, Rachel Kevern, Albert Pietersma, Eldon Jay Epp, David Trobisch, Klaus Wachtel, Juan Hernandez Jr., Peter M. Head, Amy Myshrall, Dan Batovici, David C. Parker, T. A. E. Brown, and many more. Each scholar has contributed within an area of expertise or specialization concerning the codex, and each of the twenty-two essays fall into one of five major sections: (1) historical setting, (2) the Septuagint, (3) early Christian writings, (4) modern histories of Codex Sinaiticus, and (5) Codex Sinaiticus today.

Every page of this volume is littered with detail and each article possesses equal footing with regards to usefulness. However, there were a number of standout articles that I found especially helpful and a number of features that I found useful within this volume. In regards to the latter, I was really surprised by the quality of the publication. The book itself is clothbound with thick pages and numerous high-quality photographs. There are also a number of useful charts and illustration throughout that really help to connect the content of the volume to the reader. This is especially the case in Rachel Kevern’s article on the reconstruction of quire 17 folio 1 and Amy Myshrall’s article on the presence of a fourth scribe, among others.  In regards to the former, some of the standout articles include “Codex Sinaiticus: An Early Christian Commentary on the Apocalypse” by Juan Hernandez Jr. which contains an excellent discussion surrounding the book Revelation in Sinaiticus and an appendix that charts out all the textual variations therein, “Codex Sinaiticus: Its Entrance into the Mid-Nineteenth Century Text-Critical Environment and Its Impact on the New Testament Text” by Eldon Jay Epp, and “The Presence of a Fourth Scribe?” by Amy Myshrall.

I was a little disappointed by the use of endnotes. But, at least, the notes are found at the close of each chapter as oppose to the book. Still, given the amount of information found in the notes, I think footnotes would have been a more appropriate choice. Apart from the endnotes, each article closes with a bibliography that, like the endnotes, contains an abundance of useful information for the attentive reader.

Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript is a fascinating work of scholarship. From the binding of the book to the content therein, it is clear that tremendous care was taken to produce a volume that would retain its usefulness and influence for many years to come. The content is technical in nature and clearly directed towards an academic audience, but that doesn’t mean that it is useless for the interested laymen. If you are looking for the most recent and up-to-date interaction with this important biblical manuscript from today’s leading textual scholars this volume cannot be overlooked. It comes highly recommended and would be well-worth the investment.

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: Romans (SGBC)

27263087The Story of God Bible Commentary is an exciting and practical commentary series that seeks to explain the biblical text in light of the grand story of the biblical narrative. The editors and contributors for this series are top-tier scholars with seasoned insight and experience into the world of biblical interpretation and proclamation—making this series an attractive addition to the minister’s library. Most recently, Romans by Michael F. Bird, adds a much anticipated and sizable volume to this growing series.

Bird opens the volume with a brief introduction. Attention is directed towards the standard introductory material, but it is curated in such a way as to position it within the overall theme of the series. As the commentary proper opens the reader is guided passage-by-passage through three major sections: (1) LISTEN to the Story—includes the NIV translation with additional references to encourage the reader to hear the story within its broader biblical context, (2) EXPLAIN the Story—explores and illuminates each passage within its canonical and historical setting, and (3) LIVE the Story—reflects how each passage can be lived today and includes contemporary stories and illustration to aid teachers, preachers, and beyond.

Despite the possibility of some foreseen theological and interpretive disagreements, I think the reader will find the commentary itself to be extremely useful. Bird is well-informed in regards to the contemporary theological conversations that surround the Book of Romans, and his writing style is fresh and engaging. I found the “Live the Story” section to be helpful, but it was a bit inconsistent in this respect—meaning some passages are better than others. Where I found Bird to really shine was the “Explain the Story” section. Bird is consistently helpful here, and his clever illustrations and humorous wit keep the reader engaged throughout. Theologically, I found Bird to be significantly more sensitive to the issues surrounding the New Perspective on Paul than myself, and I presume the same will be true for other readers as well. Still, his interaction was well worth reading. The reader will sense an unusual acquaintance with Bird while reading his commentary, and I found that his conversational tone really bolstered his intentions therein.

Commentaries on the Book of Romans are almost more plentiful than the sand of the sea. Do we really need to add another commentary to the already mountainous pile? Is there anything worth unearthing that hasn’t already seen the sun? These are good and appropriate questions to ask. But a sufficient answer isn’t as easy as it may seem. The Story of God Bible Commentary: Romans by Michael F. Bird is a unique contribution that offers a unified presentation of one of the most important Pauline epistles within the grand scope of the biblical narrative. Bird is well-informed and easy to read, and any lack of distinctive interpretive contribution is made up for in his keen ability to keep sight of the whole amid the details. Moreover, Bird does well in distilling the technical jargon that plagues much of the preexisting mountain of Romans material into a practical package that almost anyone can enjoy and understand. Do you need another commentary on Romans? I don’t know. But you certainly need this one!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.