Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Feasting on the Gospels
- Matthew Volumes I and II
- A Review

Feasting On The Gospels


Volumes I and II


Cynthia A Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson

A Review

These two volumes are the first of a series of “Feasting on the Word” Commentaries that follows from the earlier “Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary”.  Not coming from a highly liturgical church, it was a pleasure to see John Knox extend the series beyond the texts covered by the widely-used, but not universal, lectionary.  It should be noted that this series is not merely a re-organized version of the earlier work, but an entirely new commentary.

Volume I covers the first 13 chapters of the book, Volume II covers chapters 14-28.  Like the earlier series on the lectionary texts, each of the commentaries is actually four commentaries in one:

  1. Theological
  2. Pastoral
  3. Exegetical
  4. Homiletical

I was somewhat reminded of the old Interpreter’s Bible Commentary - which had two parallel commentaries (Exegesis and Exposition).  The four perspectives (as they are called in the text) are laid out side-by-side across two pages.  Each new pericope begins on a new, left-handed page.  An e-book reader will best be configured to read two-page across (with the cover having a single page to itself) to properly access the content, though careful reading will allow a reader to follow the text with minimal difficulty.

The material has chosen a middle ground between scholarly and readability.  Thus allowing this commentary to be available to the layman, the pastor, and the scholar.  The commentaries, as might be expected, are very much Presbyterian; but not so much so that, given today’s ecumenical environment, the books will be of use to those of differing persuasions (it might be noted that this writer is an ordained Wesleyan Pastor).  I received my copies of these two commentaries as I was completing a survey of the Life of Christ as depicted in the book of Matthew for Lent;  I found their comments and observations of help in my sermon preparation.

My only concern is that at this point the publisher has only committed itself to completing a commentary on the four gospels - though it would be hoped that the series would be continued to include the remainder of the New Testament and the entire Old Testament.  More than once, publishers have developed a series of commentaries which focus only on the most popular books of the Old or New Testaments.  I am looking forward to future installments of this commentary.  John Knox is to be congratulated for committing itself to furthering the work begun in the earlier set.

This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Dog Gone, Back Soon - A Review

James Harriott Moves to Vermont

I thought I was picking up a veterinary medical thriller.  I was not disappointed, but Dog God, Back Soon was not the medical thriller I thought it was.  

Nick Trout’s latest book is a gentle walk through rural Vermont when a veterinary pathologist, Cyrus Mills, leaves his state job in South Carolina to take over the small (read very small) veterinary practice run by his father.  The doc must quickly learn he is now dealing with people not dead animals.  Those people might be risk-taking boyfriends or wierd farmers or elderly dog owners.  Diseases ranges from Cannabis poisoning to Mad Cow Disease.  In the midst of caring for people and animals, Dr. Mills finds himself, much to his surprise, falling for an ineligible young woman.   

The biggest shock comes as Dr. Mills discovers that a new chain store vet service has opened its doors across the lake - an office with the latest in technology and “service”, service that comes at a cost.  Both the vet and the office manager raise big questions about the ethics behind the large clinics behavior.  

I found myself pulled into the story - not so much because of the drama, but because of the characters, both human and otherwise.  Living in upstate New York, I could picture the cruel winters depicted in the story.  Having lived in small town America, I understood some of the relationships depicted by Nick Trout.  I was so intrigued with this book (which I received free from the publisher) that I went and purchased its prequel.  I will also look forward to reading any forthcoming sequels that may proceed from the author’s pen.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Biblical Preachng - A Review

A Review

I began seminary in the Spring of 1974.  My homiletics professor also wrote the textbook that we used that semester, Lloyd Perry’s A Manual For Biblical Preaching.  Though I spent most of the years since then in a college classroom teaching Computer Science, that book did provide the foundation for whatever I spent in the pulpit for many years - I expect it still does.  It was 10 years ago that I discovered another text on preaching that greatly influenced my thinking about my sermon preparation each week, Wayne McDill’s 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching.  Though I have never sat under the teaching of Dr. McDill, I was privileged to correspond with him by e-mail a number of years ago.

This past month I discovered a third book that will help form my work in the pulpit.  Haddon Robinson’s Biblical Preaching is a classic, now in its 3rd edition - but I do not remember having an opportunity to read, rather devour, it in the past.  It was a pleasure to do so this past couple of weeks.  

Biblical Preaching is a practical walk through the sermon preparation and delivery process.  I particularly appreciated the tools and questions that Dr. Robinson provides for identifying the practical implication of a Bible text - often the most difficult step for me in the sermon preparation process.  I also found identifying the three audiences for which the preacher must prepare his or her sermon helpful

  1. The original biblical audience for whom the biblical author was writing
  2. The current world in which the preacher lives
  3. The specific community in which the preacher lives

As these two examples illustrate, the book is full of practical advice. In addition to practical advice, the contains two chapters I did not expect to see.  First is a complete sample sermon - fully evaluated using the tools and guides provided in the text.  Second is a set of student exercises (40 pages worth) - with answers.  The inclusion makes the book suitable for both the classroom student (though the instructor will need to develop his or her own exercises for grading) and for the self learner (who will need to evaluate his or her own work using the included answer key.)  

As I mentioned earlier, I wished I had discovered Haddon Robinson’s work earlier - I am very glad I discovered it now.

This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Harbour Master - A Review

A Review

Daniel Pembrey has again tackled the difficult issue of human trafficking and the sex trade.  His current novella takes place in the Netherlands, in and around Amsterdam.  The question that presents itself is where is a line drawn between legal practice of prostitution and the illegal practice of forcing young women into a “career” they neither sought or wanted.  

The drama when an almost retired police detective that is present when a body is discovered floating in the canals that define much of Amsterdam.  Before it is through, he will need to question the commitment of his colleagues on the force, be concerned for the safety of his family, wonder how high in government the criminal element has it corrupt fingers, and, perhaps, question his own sanity.
The picture Pembrey draws of Amsterdam is vivid - and more than once forced this reader to check out the background upon which the book is written.  At various points I was looking at the history, architecture, and geography of a country and city with which I was not familiar.  My personal journey into Google and Wikipedia, as I followed the story added to my appreciation for the author's skill.
Though Pembrey does a credible job of writing a police drama with a collection of vile and evil crooks and a police force standing against the evil they perpetuate, he has not offered a strong voice standing against prostitution in general.  The author only loosely connects prostitution in general to the issue of human trafficking for which it serves as the foundation. Choosing to place his current drama in a country where the sex trade is legal, allows him to avoid that larger question.

This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Zondervan Essential Atlas of the Bible - A Review

A Review

This atlas is the one that should be in every lay person’s library.  It is the atlas that should be in every church library.  It is the atlas that would be great at the back of every Study Bible - except at 160 pages, it would never fit.  The only exception would be the Zondervan Atlas of the Bible - a 300 page tool from which much of what is in its smaller brother was taken   

The 3-D maps are pleasure to look at and use.  They will assist the reader in understanding the history and travel issues that faced people living in either the Old Testament or New Testament eras.   The maps are detailed; but, as expected, the atlas also includes includes substantial details connecting the history of the scriptures with the land upon which it occurred.   

The atlas divides its contents into two major sections based on Geography and History.  The first five chapters describe the geography of the Holy Land from Egypt to Mesopotamia - examining the topography, regions, weather, and roads that defined the Biblical era as a whole.  The remaining 17 chapters focus on the historical periods that allow the reader to follow the events that occurred from creation to Christ’s life.  The final chapter includes a closer look at the city of Jerusalem - as it changed over time.  

As the introduction points out, this volume will serve as an excellent tool for personal Bible Study, group study, or as ancillary text in Bible School or College.  I would think the seminary or graduate student might prefer having access to the more complete 300 page book from which this book is derived.  It should be noted that the difference in price between the two books is not significant - the user may find it hard to decide between the two based on price.

This review is based on a free copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

The Garden Plot - A Review

A Review

A classy cozy mystery starring Pru Parke, a transplant from Dallas, TX, to the English countryside, with the hope of working in the garden estates of the landed gentry.  As the one year deadline she had given herself is coming to an end, she also finds herself wrapped in a murder mystery that may force her to stay in England longer than her finances will allow,

It was a pleasant read as my wife and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary on our very first Caribbean cruise.  The visits Pru makes to various English gardens throughout the story added a vacation feel to the book, though the excessive number of rejection letters she received for positions for which she applied or interviewed was a downer.  Perhaps it was bit too much like real life at the start of the 21st century.

In the midst of her part time job Pru discovers a body in shed on the property that served as temporary employment while waiting and hoping for that permanent position that would allow her to remain in England.  It is this murder and Pru’s lack of a permanent position that serve to anchor the story and give a believable quality.  

Though it served as a pleasant vacation read for me, for others it will no doubt serve as a similarly pleasant Spring read (for those in the northern hemisphere) as the days grow longer and the temperature warms up.  

This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Critical Condition - A Review

A Review

Dr. Mabry has added another well-written book to my library.  

Shannon Frasier is “almost engaged” - she just has not said “yes” yet.  Her suiter appears to be willing to wait, but for how long?  She had through it before - an engagement that is.  It was terminated when her fiance had   been shot in front of her during medical school and she could do nothing to save him.  And now it was happening again.

But before that could happen, there was another murder - and detective Steve Alston becomes infatuated with Shannon even as she and her sister were suspects in this most recent case of murder.

It would take some clever work on the part of Steve and his partner, Jesse Callaway, working with Shannon and her sister, Megan, to get to the bottom of this murder and a number of others.

The author’s faith comes out throughout the book - in the lives and events which make this book so readable.  To the reader looking for a medical mystery that will hold his or her attention, from beginning to end, Critical Condition may be just the book that is needed.  

This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Four Views on the Historical Adam - A Review

Four Views on the
Historical Adam

Matthew Barrett
Ardel B. Caneday

A Review

This newest book in Zondervan’s “Conterpoints” series takes look at the role that Adam and Eve play in current theological thinking.  Recognizing that much of our understanding of Adam will depend on the role God played in creation, the editors begin by exploring six models of creation - ranging from philosophical naturalism (God was not involved at all) to Young-Earth Creationism (God created the earth in seven day approximately 6000 years ago).  Not all of these would be conceived as evangelical opinions - but they cannot be ignored.

Four authors are then asked to address the role Adam had in the creation story.  These four views are summed up in the book’s “Introduction”:

  1. There is no historical Adam - creation was a naturalistic process that, when properly understood, can be aligned with the Bible.
  2. There is an historical Adam, but in actuality Adam and Eve are seen as “archtypal” representatives of the entire human race.
  3. Adam and Eve were real, actual, historical persons - though he may have been the leader of his tribe or family.  This view is typical of creationists who hold an Old-Earth historical perspective.
  4. Adam and Eve were real, actual, historical persons whose very existence is evidenced by a careful reading of the Old and New Testaments.  This view is typical of those who hold a Young-Earth view of creation.

The book, along with examining the arguments for each of these four views, also explores, albeit briefly, the importance of understanding Adam and Eve to Christian faith for all believers.  Though each of the authors are careful to document their own writing, I was disappointed to not find suggestions for additional reading for those who may want to dig deeper into specific viewpoints.

Though the book is addressed to the Scholar, it would be readable by the educated lay person with basic training in science and theology.  I would recommend it be read by believers seeking to relate science to their faith - it may not provide all the answers, but it will assist the seeker in connecting these two areas of their lives.  The book is not an apologetic, but an attempt to educate the student of scripture to how other believes have understood the beginnings of the human race. Upper division or graduate students in the science would be well to add this book to their reading list - perhaps during a summer break or as late night devotional reading.  In addition, pastors may find the material of help as they work with a lay community who finds itself regularly confronted with challenges to their own view of creation.   

This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are mine alone.  

Death By The Book - A Review

A Review

Ms. Dodson leaves me feeling like I am reading a Murder She Wrote mystery written by Agatha Christie.  It combines the fun and humor of Murder She Wrote and the English culture of the early to mid 1900s to create a devilish clever crime spree - by the most creative of culprits.

The author has brought back the characters first introduced in her earlier book Rules of Murder.  Along with a number of new characters, including Aunt Ruth, a caring but meddling relative from England, the book held this readers attention for the past week.  

Though the book is not overwhelmingly Christian, faith plays a significant enough part in the story that the believer will be appreciative of the role faith plays in the life  of the various characters.  On the other hand, the non-believer will not fill as if he or she has been smothered in unrealistic pictures of the believer’s life.  I feel comfortable recommending the book to readers from a variety of backgrounds.

This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are mine alone.