Monday, August 14, 2017

The Whole Bible Story - A Review

The Whole Bible Story

Whole Bible Story Cover.jpg

William H. Marty

A Review
The story, not the text, of scripture, is the focus of this book. The story is well-written and will assist the student to understand the events which provide the foundation upon which the Sacred Scriptures are built. The writing is terse, but clear. Presented as a history book rather than scripture, the story is easy to read and follow. This new edition of the text is supplemented with an assortment of images - both black and white and color images.  Here is a sample of the text from Genesis 1:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In its original state the earth was empty and dark. Like a bird watching over its young, the Spirit of God hovered over the watery surface of the earth. God created light on day one. On day two, he placed the sky between the earth and the heavens. He made land and vegetation on the third day, and on the fourth day, he put the stars, the sun, and the moon in place. On day five, God filled the sky with birds and the oceans with creatures of the sea. God created animals on the sixth day, and finally, last but not least, he made humankind in his image. (This means they were like God in certain ways.) God enriched their lives by providing them food to eat and giving them responsibility for the rest of creation. When God finished his work, he saw that everything he had made was perfect. There was absolutely no defect in his creation. He rested on the seventh day and set it apart as a day to rest and to remember that God is the creator of the universe.

The author’s stated purpose is, “that it will motivate people to read the Bible.” My major concern with the book is that it does not refer the reader back to the scriptures. Each chapter begins with a summary of the “Main Characters” and the “Settings” of the events detailed in that chapter - but no reference to the scriptures from which the story is being told. This is true for text found at the opening of chapters, footnotes, sidebars, or in an index.  

For the lay person, college student, or seminary student, this book would provide a useful tool to review the story of scripture; however, the lacking scripture references do reduce its value. This could be corrected with an online index or prepared insert to be downloaded by the reader.
This review is based on a free copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions are mine alone.

Monday, August 7, 2017

What Does Consent Really Mean? - A Review

What Does Consent Really Mean?

What Does Consent Really Mean - cover.jpg

Pete Wallis, Joseph Wilkins, Thalia Wallis

A Review

Note this book is not aimed at a Christian audience per se. Christians may be, some will be, offended by the topics covered here.  However, it may open doors for communication for parents, friends, and classrooms.

The authors provide a guide toward understanding what many mean by “Consent” in today’s secular culture. They take no stand on the ethical, moral, or faith based decisions involved in giving consent, only on how to recognize and accept consent or the lack thereof.  Same gender issues are addressed, but not strongly - almost as afterthoughts.

Though the reader is given ideas on how to recognize consent, little is said how to respond when consent is not granted. In other words, nothing specific is said about what “No” really means. Another missing topic is the use of alcohol or drugs to limit inhibitions. This topic rises to the service, not as the result of a date rape drug being administered; but as a current criminal case makes it way through the California court system when a guy was seduced by an inebriated girl of similar age. The courts ruled that he was not guilty - a legal decision, not a moral one.

Finally, no mention is made of the issue of consent within a marriage or other established relationship - it is as if the issue of consent only must be addressed by those still dating.

The book provides a beginning point for discussions, it opens the door for conversation; but suggestions need to be made to discuss the missing elements of consent, not covered directly by the authors.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions are mine alone.

Monday, July 31, 2017

NIV Devotional Bibles for Teen Guys and Teen Girls - A Review

NIV, Revolution Bible
The Bible for Teen Guys

NIV Revolution Bible.cover.jpg
NIV, True Images Bible
The Bible for Teen Girls

NIV True Images Bible.cover.jpg


A Review

Zondervan has created a pair of devotional Bibles for guys and girls. Though marketed together, they are aimed (?) at separate audience based on gender. They both contain helpful comments and inviting full-color pages designed to draw the reader into the text. The comments in each are generous throughout.

Though each contains an abundance of comments, the comments are not parallel or complements of each other. In fact, many of the comments in both are not as gender specific as the titles might suggest. A great majority of the comments could be included in a gender neutral Bible designed for a general teen readership. It is this reviewer’s opinion, that by not seeing the comments in both Bibles, significant and important teaching will be missed.

The most gender specific features of each edition are the colors chosen for the comments and sidebars. The guys’ Bible uses a light blue background for comments, the girls’ Bible uses a light (in some cases, too light) pink background for comments. Also, the full-color pages in the “True Images Bible” are also obviously aimed at a traditional feminine audience. The same is not true for the “Revolution Bible”; these full-color notes are truly gender neutral.

This reviewer would recommend that copies of both Bibles be made available to members of all genders - either through a library (one copy of each) or a classroom collection of Bibles (with multiple copies of each edition being available for the whole class) so that comments from both editions can be read by all. Of course, parents will need to choose the Bible most appropriate for their own child, assuming they will be purchasing a single copy for their child.
This review is based on free copies provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions are mine alone.

Irving L. Jensen Collection - A Review

Irving L. Jensen Collection

Jensen Collection Cover.jpg

Irving L. Jensen

A Review

Faithlife and the family of Irving L. Jensen have provided a great collection of 24 Bible Study tools aimed at students with a wide range of previous exposure to the Scripture.

For those just beginning their study of scripture, whether a new believer or a long time member of the Family of God but with little experience in personal study, there a number of individual book studies. Some these (e.g. the study on the Prison Epistles) provide introductory material before jumping into a series of questions which will help the reader dig, understand, and apply, the Scriptures to their own life. Along with books on individual books, there are also titles that cover larger portions of scripture. For example, The Layman’s Bible Study Notebook provides a set of workbooks covering the whole New Testament.  Simply Understanding the Bible includes an introduction to every book of the Bible (alas, it does not provide study questions to guide the student into deeper study). Except for this book, there appears to be less than complete coverage of the Old Testament, A number of key OT book are covered, but there are some key OT books which seem to be missed (e.g. Isaiah). As noted earlier, the New Testament is covered quite well - both with titles covering multiple Bible books and those focusing on a single book (e.g. each of the gospels has an individual book).

There are also tools for those who are ready to dig in for themselves. At the gentler end of the spectrum is Jensen’s Enjoy Your Bible: Making the Most of Your Time With God’s Word.  The ten chapters (130 pages) begin to introduce the reader to the tools needed to begin a habit of personal inductive Bible Study. For those wanting a bit more in-depth discussion of the inductive Bible Study Method, Jensen’s  Independent Bible Study provides 6 chapters plus appendices with more details on developing a personal Bible Study habit.

Besides the book studies, there are also three character studies within the collection (David, Ruth, and Mary).  

I and other users of the LOGOS Bible Study Library waited a long time to gain access to this material - at times even wondering if it would make it into publication. When the Jensen family became involved in the process, things moved along more quickly. This collection of books is provided for use with LOGOS Bible Software - available at various price ranges, including a Basic version available with a few key books for free.

These books are certainly suitable for individual study.  Though instructions are included within the collection for using the material with a small group or Sunday School class, it is not clear to me how this can be easily accomplished given that the individual books are mostly out of print (updated editions from another publisher are available for several of the titles). Some clarification from LOGOS or the copyright holder may be needed.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions are mine alone.

CSB Apologetics Study Bible For Students - A Review


A Review

Over the last few months, I have begun to appreciate the Christian Standard Bible (CSB), beginning with a couple of reviews published in February and March of 2017. It is quickly becoming my favorite pulpit Bible. I am becoming increasingly excited as Study Bibles are becoming available based around the CSB.

CSB Apologetics Study Bible For Students is the first such text to cross my path. As I approached this Study Bible, I had two questions. How does it compare to the original version of the Apologetics Study Bible and how does it compare to earlier editions of the Apologetics Study Bible For Students.  

First, how does the CSB Apologetics Study Bible For Students compare to the original Apologetics Study Bible? There are two obvious differences. The footnotes are basically the same between the original version and the student version, except that Bible references have been updated to use the CSB. I did not check every footnote in all 66 books of the Bible, but I did check those in Philippians (my current preaching text) and in the Psalms (for an example from the Old Testament). It is possible that translation decisions did not allow every footnote to use a CSB reference to support a footnoted comment.

The second difference is that sidebar material has been substantially revised from the original to the student version. In some cases this means that similar topics have merely been rewritten by a different author; in other cases, new material has been added.that will be appreciated by students (though non-students might find some of these new comments of help - e.g. the article on pornography).

The differences between the previous edition of the Apologetics Study Bible For Students and CSB Apologetics Study Bible For Students are less dramatic - mostly accounting for the change to using the CSB. As would be expected, textual footnotes are those found in the CSB rather than the original translation.

The bottom line is this, pastors and libraries might consider having both a copy of the original Apologetics Study Bible and a copy of the CSB Apologetics Study Bible For Students. The differences in the sidebars would make having both editions available an important addition to a library - personal or otherwise.  

Students might be advised to keep a copy of the CSB Apologetics Study Bible For Students handy while in school (or until starting seminary). They can consider adding the Apologetics Study Bible (or other helpful Study Bibles) to their personal library as they are given additional responsibility in the church.
This review is based on a free copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions are mine alone.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Perish From The Earth - A Review

Perish From The Earth

Perish From The Earth Cover.jpg

Jonathan F. Putnam

A Review

Blending a great deal of history with a believable, though fictional, story, takes talent and skill. Jonathan F. Putnam had done just that.

My acquaintance with Lincoln began and ended with his Presidency. “Perish From The Earth” takes the reader back to an earlier time in Lincoln’s career when he served as a circuit riding lawyer in Illinois. We are introduced to his best friend and roommate from that era, Joshua Speed. Similarly, we are introduced to Lincoln’s co-workers, prosecutors, and judges. Others from that era that make an appearance also have their roots in the history along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. The mid-19th-century river boat culture takes on a life of its own as the story develops. Wrapped in a mystery and a courtroom scene in the town of Alton, IL, worthy of a great 20th-century writer, the who, what, where, and why’s, that make this story engrossing, readable, and exciting.  

For any fan of Lincoln, for any fan of historical fiction, and for any fan of great courtroom drama, this book should quickly become a must read. The author hints that more may be coming - I do not want to wait, I want more now!
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions are mine alone.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Death In D Minor - A Review

Death In D Minor - Cover.jpg

A Review

Henery Press has another winner.

Gethsemane Brown is up to her ears in murder again - but this time it also involves art forgery (both textiles and oil paintings) and two gentle ghosts. She finds herself and her brother in law charged with murder and in the middle of a ring of forgers that has done its work on both sides of the Atlantic. And while processing crime clues, her landlord is about to sell her rented lighthouse for an obnoxious price to an obnoxious real estate baron. She will need help from her friendly ghost, Eamon, the original owner of the property where she now resides; except, the wrong ghost shows up.

I am not a believer in ghosts, but if I could enjoy Casper as a child, I can also enjoy Eamon and Daniel, the ghost of a 19th-century sea captain who knew the artist whose work was being forged. In fact, he blamed himself for her death. Throw in a couple of eccentric FBI agents, and members of the Irish Guards (i.e. police), and the author has an interesting tale that should capture the interest of a number of readers. Though this is the second book in a series, it can easily be read as a stand alone novel. I had reviewed the earlier book and did enjoy the further development of the characters in the author’s second book. Whether you have read the first book or not, Murder In D-Minor is fun reading.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions are mine alone.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Time To Stand - A Review

A Time To Stand

A Time To Stand-cover.jpg

Robert Whitlow

A Review

After a brief prelude involving field workers in the South in the years immediately following the civil war, the book opens with the robbery of a local convenience store. That robbery set a sequence of events in motion that would result in Officer Luke Nelson, a local, white, policeman being charged for assault of a local, and apparently innocent, black young man.

The officer's defense would fall into the in the hands of the very white and credentialed Theo Grayson, Esquire. At his side would stand Adisa Johnson, a relatively new attorney who had just won her first big case in the city of Atlanta. But Adisa’s credentials were less than stellar - she had been fired shortly after winning her case because of a less than outstanding interview with a local reporter. And she was black.

The story revolves around the motives and circumstances which drove Officer Nelson to shoot the young man. But at the same time, it explores the thoughts and feelings of those living in the deep South as black, white, rich, and poor, interact on a daily basis. Can the law, in the face of community challenges, remain neutral and focus on finding the truth in spite of the cultural preconceptions which lie within the small town of Campbellton?

As in the past, Whitlow writes a compelling story that will hold the reader’s interest from beginning to end. It will draw those interested in the practice of law, the cultural struggles of the South, and the personal struggles of men and women living in that environment. As is typical, Whitlow weaves the personal faith of the characters into the story - some with no faith, some with a growing faith, and some with strong faith challenged by the circumstances of this case. Whitlow does not tend to pick up characters and further develop their stories in future books (he has done this, but it is not his usual practice), but I would love to see how this particular set of characters continue to develop over time. We get a glimpse of life in Campbellton a year after the main story’s closure - I would like to see how these characters have challenged their community two to five to ten years into the future. Alas, that will probably take our own imagination.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions are mine alone.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Beneath Copper Falls - A Review

Beneath Copper Falls


Colleen Coble

A Review

It is not often that I ask to review a book that I do not want to read, but having read two chapters of this book, I know that this book is not for me. Those two chapters contain three episodes of physical abuse.

Now, I normally enjoy a romantic thriller; I enjoy most episodes of Criminal Minds (most, not all). But I also have lived with my wife for almost a half century as we both have struggled with the repercussions of the physical abuse that she and her mom experienced during her childhood. This book starts out with a sufficiently dark tone that I am choosing to not read it.

The publisher offers a gotcha - the reader must review the book and rate it. So my one-star rating is the value of this book to me. I recognize that others will like it more than me, but given my history and that of my wife, this book is not something I can or want to read. Several years ago, as I began reviewing books on a regular basis, I tried to return a book to this publisher because I did not want to read it (I do not remember why). At that time, they allowed me to do so, but was told that writing a poor review was better than not writing one. So I offer this, my brief response, to this book.

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

Monday, July 3, 2017

Coding Projects in Python - A Review

Coding Projects in Python


Carol Vordermam
Craig Steele
Dr. Claire Quigley
Dr. Martin Goodfellow
Daniel McCafferty
Dr. Jon Woodcock

A Review

I was caught by surprise when this beginner's guide to Python was aimed at children, but focused on syntactical issues rather than problem-solving. The authors assume that the readers will have some experience in using a programming language as a problem-solving tool. There is very little time spent on developing algorithms that can solve problems.

The first couple of chapters review python syntax. The rest of the book focuses on illustrating code for eight apps or games - but with little detail on how the solutions were developed. Added value is provided with a set of appendixes that provide all the code developed in the book, a glossary, and an index to all the features of python covered in the book. Lots of color and illustrations would make the book attractive to a child wishing to learn to program.

If the reader has prior training in developing algorithms and translating them into a programming language, this book might be of service. However, that is not likely to be a child. This is my first concern with this book. The other is the inclusion of syntax errors within the coding examples in the text. I did not test all the code, but did find one error on page 19 of Chapter 1 where a sample piece of code has an unmatched parenthesis.

The lack of instruction in creating algorithms and the presence of error(s) requires the need for an instructor to walk the student through the various samples provided in the book.

The book would serve as an ancillary text for a python course. The index and sample code would serve as excellent samples for the beginning programmer learning python.  The book, however, is not suitable for teaching basic programming skills.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions are mine alone.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Bible Story Coloring & Activity Book - A Review

Bible Story
Coloring & Activity


A Review

I eagerly awaited the arrival of my review copy of this book, but I was not sure what to expect. However, I found myself wonderfully surprised when I found this book in my mailbox this week. Rather than a 20+ page book of easy activities, I found an almost 400-page book of activities that would be satisfying to kids from pre-K through elementary school.

The activities range from simple coloring pages to various kinds of puzzles and combinations of both. About half of the activities are clearly tied to a Scripture passage, usually a chapter or two. Others are related to a nearby page and its scripture passage.  It should be noted, that almost all can be directly connected to a scripture passage, several of those do not have a direct reference to a scripture.

The back cover lists 10 different activities:

  • Word Searches
  • Crossword Puzzles
  • Connect the Dots
  • Hidden Messages
  • Fill in the Blanks
  • Secret Codes
  • Unscramble
  • Mazes
  • Find It
  • Matching
And as the cover says, “... and more”.  This collection of activities would be great on a road trip with kids, for a child to use while staying home when sick, as a boring summer day’s activities, etc. The book would serve as an excellent supplement to a morning Sunday School class or mid-week children’s activity time. Parents may want to consider the book as a stocking stuffer for Christmas.
This review is based on a free copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions are mine alone.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Fatal Forgeries - A Review

Fatal Forgeries

Fatal Forgeries Cover.jpg

Ritter Ames

A Review

Laura Beacham’s parents were art thieves. She was in the art recovery business. That at times put her at odds with much of the rest of her family - and those odds could be fatal. That theses sounded intriguing, but I was disappointed in its implementation.

The book is inviting as the characters travel throughout Europe, visiting or traveling near landmarks in London, Barcelona, and Paris. Similarly, the book introduced me to the world of art, particularly as created by Caravaggio, an Italian artist. These side trips did give value to the book and made the trip interesting as I used Google and Wikipedia to discover more of these unknown worlds.

The book, however, has one large problem - it does not offer a complete story. This reader felt as if he were set up, but that nothing was accomplished in its 300 pages. Paintings were not returned, parents were not found, thieves were not caught (though one murderer was).

I kept hoping for some conclusion of the story, but it never came. Like an afternoon soap opera (with far less romance), one can only hope the next book offers the satisfactory ending expects from an enjoyable book.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinion are mine alone.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Rethinking Holiness - A Review

Rethinking Holiness cover.jpg

A Review

Though I am a Wesleyan pastor, my introduction to Holiness theology was less than typical. I began my journey as a United Methodist but chose to attend an Evangelical Free Church seminary recommended by Paul Little at a weekend IVCF retreat. My appreciation of holiness theology came from three sources:
  • John Wesley’s A Plain Account of Christian Perfection
  • William Burt Pope’s Compendium of Christian Theology
  • Richard Watson’s Theological Institutes
I occasionally struggled with some of the more modern interpretations of Wesleyan holiness theology, but I found these texts to be satisfying and understandable. The current book brought my education into the 21st century.
Besides the topic, one other aspect of this book attracted me to it: the author has his roots in the Christian Missionary Alliance Church. I, too, had spent six years attending a CMA church - even considered entering ministry via this denomination. God had other plans and brought me to the Wesleyan Church. And four years later I was ordained as a Wesleyan Pastor.
For these two reasons, I jumped at the chance to read and review Rethinking Holiness.
Though the book occasionally has a practical bent, it is primarily a theology text. As such it is grounded in scripture.  The book begins with a grand look at the holiness of God. To Van de Walle, God’s holiness is not an attribute, but the defining characteristic of God. It is what sets Him aside from every other thing that claims or we are tempted to replace God with falls short on this characteristic.  Other things and people may be called holy, but only by the fact that they have been made so by their connection to God.  
The seven chapters each address a different aspect of holiness’ importance to the rest of scripture and our world:
  1. The Desire and Need for Holiness
  2. A Biblical Definition of Holiness    
  3. A Theological Investigation of Holiness    
  4. Holiness and the Nature and Purpose of Humanity    
  5. Holiness and the Nature and Problem of Sin   
  6. Holiness and the Nature and Goal of Salvation    
  7. Holiness and the Nature and Goal of the Church  
Each chapter concludes with an .”Excursus” covering a related, though distinct, topic. For example, the Excursus found at the end of Chapter 3 discusses “Human Language and the Nature of  God”. The book is well-researched with references and includes a complete index in the last few pages. My only disappointment with the book is that the author does not address the topic of entire sanctification - though that is not a specific point in the doctrinal statement of the CMA Church.
The writing is concise, well-organized, and interesting. I felt invited to move into each chapter and to be engaged with the content. The writing is easily understood, whether the reader is a theolog or a layperson. The book belongs in the seminary library. Some church libraries will find it useful. It would certainly fit well as an ancillary text for a course on God’s character or attributes or one focusing on the role of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. Finally, the book is recommended reading for anyone (scholar, pastor, or lay) looking for a source of personal renewal in their walk with Jesus.
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.