Book Review: The A to Z Guide to Bible Signs & Symbols

Bible Signs and SymbolsThe A to Z Guide to Bible Signs & Symbols: Understanding Their Meaning and Significance by Neil Wilson and Nancy Ryken Taylor is a beautifully designed and crafted introduction to the world of signs and symbols.

The authors do a great job of defining what it is for something to be a sign and what it is for something to be a symbol within the context of Scripture.  Given those parameters, the reader is informed that the book is not intended as a comprehensive listing of all the signs and symbols in the Bible, nor does the book claim to work out all of the potential nuances and meanings of the signs and symbols in the Bible.  As I went through the book, there were certainly various items that I had hoped would have been expanded upon further, but at the same time I fully commend the authors for going for a more conservative approach instead of venturing too far into conjecture.

If you are looking for an introduction to the world of signs and symbols that is reasonable and linked well with Scripture passages, this is a good first book.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers http://www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Book Review: Beat God to the Punch

Beat God to the PunchEric Mason tackles the topic of discipleship and grace in his latest book, Beat God to the Punch: Because Jesus Demands Your Life.  The compact book uses John 1:35-51 as its anchor thought to encourage the reader to bow the knee to Jesus in all aspects of life today.  As Mason states in his introduction, “Interestingly enough, we will find that it isn’t through contrived circumstances, but through the mundane to the magnificent seasons in life where grace works in us to a life lived on our knees walking with and serving the living God” (p 3).

There is no need to go into the details of each chapter – the author writes in a way that draws from many sources and from many angles which would make that a difficult task.

Rather, here are some of the highlights from the chapters:

Chapter 1: Crossing Paths With Grace – Mason digs into the history of the ancient world of discipleship, linking the first century to today and Jesus’ call for us to be his disciples.  The chapter ends with the exhortation, “At the end of the day, a disciple must be transformed into wanting what the Lord wants for them.  Will you live with the challenge of following Him…while you struggle to understand grace from  a divine perspective?” (pp 24-25).

Chapter 2: Experiencing Grace – While the chapter digs into grace and the experience of grace, the chapter holds two particular gems: the first is the nuanced grace/truth relationship in our relationships with others; the second is a description of his “F.A.T.” leaders (p 44).  The second stood out because of the emphasis on developing leaders who may not seem to be the ideal candidates based on human talent or their making certain that they were constantly waving a particular theological flag every chance they could.  Rather, they were “Faithful, Available, and Teachable” (p 44).  Encountering such an endorsement for church leadership development was encouraging and refreshing.

Chapter 3: How Grace Works – Goodness and mercy are spoken of throughout the chapter culminating in the statement, “Goodness and mercy pursuing us through the Spirit extinguishes all of our excuses for allowing our fervency for His Lordship to want during hard times” (p 62). The challenging words of the chapter encourage the reader to follow Christ no matter what is going on in their life or world.

Chapter 5: Completing Work of Grace – The spark of the book’s final chapter comes with the reminder that grace for following Jesus is not just for personal consumption. Grace is also for seeing how others need grace and extending grace to those in need.

Just in case you missed it, I skipped Chapter Four: Grace Recovered.  The reason is simple – it makes for a smooth(er) transition to my observed critiques of Beat God to the Punch.

There are a three main areas that I would have loved something more out of the book:

The fourth chapter of the book was a quick review of the doctrine of grace throughout church history.  The chapter read a bit like the part of a sermon that a preacher found to be really interesting but the congregation is left wondering how it actually added anything to the overall message.  Though Mason did try to connect the history with the call to follow Jesus, the linking was weak and I was left feeling happy for a history lesson but wishing the entire chapter had been shifted in a condensed format into the appendix.

A second aspect of the book that I found lacking was a clear connection of the thesis of the book throughout the chapters.  While each chapter was well-written, how the chapter directly fit into “beating God to the punch” of following Jesus as a disciple by grace was sometimes lost in the midst of the various citations, details, and examples.

Finally, I was left wanting more practical connections of the concepts of the book to a person’s daily life of discipleship.  Granted, keeping the writing more in the realm of concept and theology allows for the Spirit to convict the individual in their particular context; yet I was left floating in the theoretical a bit too much for my personal taste.  A few more personal stories or examples could have helped provide touching points to assist the reader apply the book to their lives.

My overall takeaway:

The book was a compact, short read that is worth picking up.  The reader will likely be left with an awe of the grace of God through Jesus Christ and a conviction to bow the knee to Jesus not only for initial salvation, but also in the day-to-day sanctification process of being a follower of Jesus Christ.

As Mason states, “At the end of the day, a disciple must be transformed into wanting what the Lord wants for them…Will you follow Him?” (pp 24-25)

Disclaimer: I received this book free from B&H Publishing Group.  The opinions expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Book Review: Same-Sex Marriage

Same Sex MarriageSean McDowell and John Stonestreet tackle a powder keg topic in their book Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage.  After reading the book, my initial impressions from skimming through the table of contents was confirmed: it is well-written, some people will find it helpful, and some people are going to hate the book.

Those who will find the book helpful are going to be those people who are interested in thoughtfully exploring a biblically-based Christian approach to sexuality and marriage.  In this category: For those who disagree with the idea that marriage is defined exclusively as between male and female, they will find well reasoned thoughts that consistently anticipate and tastefully respond to anticipated objections.  For those who aren’t quite sure what to make of this current political and social hot topic, they will discover the aforementioned plus a nice history of the pro-same-sex movement written without ad hominem or strawman fallacies.  For those who have already determined that they concur with Scripture’s consistent stance on the topic of human sexuality, they will find the aforementioned plus helpful hints on how to take care of their own heart and love others.

As for those who will likely hate this book, well…I am guessing, and could be wrong (and for that I apologize)…I would guess that this category would be typified by the reader who dogmatically believes that any disagreement with same-sex marriage or the lack of endorsement of the practice of homosexuality is by necessity homophobic, bigoted, intolerant, or any of the other charged buzz-words that float around op-eds and the blogosphere wherever this topic is broached.

Here are a couple of excerpts that, while not summarizing the book, stood out:

Speaking and living the gospel in the days to come could cost us dearly.  It could also provide the greatest opportunity for the Church to be the Church in our generation.  Most likely, it will be both. (p 88)

[We] must overcome reputation liabilities (deserved and undeserved), a firmly entrenched counter mindset, and the difficulty of presenting a winsome and reasonable case for our position…here are a few ideas:

1. We can change our reputation from those who hate gays to those who love them…
2. We must tell the truth about same-sex attraction, homosexual sin and same-sex marriage…
3. We can stop implying in our words and actions that homosexual sin is worse than all other sexual sins, and that sexual sins are unforgiveable…
4. We can defend the religious liberty of all Americans…
5. We can tell better stories about love, sex, marriage and family…
6. We need to expect the conversations about marriage and be ready for them when they come…

Make no mistake: Even if our words are articulate and loving, and we have a strong track record of kindness, we risk being embarrassed or ostracized.  We may even face unjust consequences, like a failed grade or loss of employment.  we need to be ready for that too. (pp 115-122)

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggerswww.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Book Review: The Ride of Your Life

The Ride of Your LifeThe Ride of Your Life: What I Learned About God, Love, and Adventure by Teaching My Son to Ride a Bike by Mike Howerton was an entertaining and quick read.  The author is a master storyteller that draws you into the book through his use of humor (often at his own expense) and life-connections.  If you want to teach your child how to ride a bike, this book is a good resource.  If you are looking for inspiration for the Christian life, this is a good resource.

Some Particularly Good Features

Let’s start with the good and great.  As aforementioned, Mike Howerton’s creative use of stories and humor is engaging and entertaining.  His light, winsome approach to writing eases you into nodding your head in agreement as he tenderly exposes the human heart.

It does not take long to realize that Mike must be great with kids and was likely an excellent college pastor.  The Ride of Your Life supplies the reader with amply material for sermon illustrations, especially if working with a teenage or young adult crowd.

Some Longed For Features

Now some critique.  As great as the stories were in getting a reader to think about the points in the book, I was left desiring more direct applications of Bible passages.  I realize that the book was written more for inspiration rather than exposition or study of biblical texts, but I would have still liked more opening up of the Scriptures.

Along those lines, the author did do a good job linking his stories with a concept in the Bible or a set of verse; but at times I was left longing for a bit more of a crisp connection with the text.  I suppose I was hoping that there would be more “wow, that section of the Bible really hits home; I’ll have to chew on that text some more” reactions through the author’s drawing together of his examples and the Word.

Overall Thoughts

Overall, the book was well written, entertaining, and had a way of helping you think about our relationship with God and others in a fascinating style.  The Ride of Your Life would make for some great inspirational reading.

 

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggerswww.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html

Dynamic Women of the Bible: A Book Review

Dynamic Women of the BibleThe third book I received from Baker Books Bloggers, Dynamic Women of the Bible: What We Can Learn From Their Surprising Stories by Ruth A. Tucker, is the longest at 301 pages.

The author explores over fifty women in the Scriptures, from Eve to Priscilla, with vivid imagery.  Ruth Tucker fascinates the reader with her ability to combine the biblical texts, the historical data, and her own imagination to bring the characters and their potential thoughts and motivations to life.  She asks probing and thoughtful questions (each chapter has a series of questions designed for small group discussion) asking the reader to go with her in her imaginations and even challenge her and her conclusions.

The book does not shy away from exploring the less than favorable situations women found themselves in during ancient times, but at the same time avoids the all too overplayed feminist rants found in some books that touch upon those subjects.  Even with the author’s superb ability to be honest without being overboard, at times the Old Testament section of her book had (in my opinion, take it or leave it) a little too much of the topic which I thought took away some of the other insights and vivid pictures portrayed by the author in the lives of these women.

One other critique of the book was the obscure and tangential reference to the author’s belief that Priscilla was the author of Hebrews.  In addition to feeling like the idea just flew in from left field in her writing, Tucker takes a less than subtle jab at anyone who would disagree with her by asking the question, “Why are some people troubled by the suggestion that Priscilla wrote the book of Hebrews?” (p. 300).  The whole section felt a bit forced and seems to detract from all the marvelous acts of Priscilla that we know about for certain through the Scriptures.

Outside of my couple critiques, Dynamic Women of the Bible is a well written and well thought out book that helps a reader dive into the lives and possible thoughts and motives of many of the women in the Bible.

10:10 Life to the Fullest: A Book Review

1010Daniel Hill’s 10:10 : Life to the Fullest addresses one of those nagging questions in the life of a Christian: “What am I missing?”

For a book that uses John 10:10 as the launching point, Hill spends very little time in the verse; rather, he digs into Hebrews 11 and the story of Joshua to illustrate a Christian “life to the fullest.”  Yet, I can forgive the author for this because he makes it clear that the book is not supposed to be an exposition of John 10:10 but rather an attempt to answer the questions of “What am I missing because I don’t seem to be experiencing John 10:10?”

Hill’s use of Joshua and Hebrews 11, intermixed with stories and personal experiences and other Bible texts, consistently drives the reader to what may be an answer to the question: “To become fully alive in Jesus, a Christ follower needs to learn to embrace all three dimensions of faith: faith and fear, faith and intimacy, and faith and mission” (p. 214).

The three components allow the believer to (1) examine the hidden fears that act as barriers between us and God and then find assurance in our being cemented in Christ; (2) explore the vastness of Christ through an intimate relationship with Him; (3) be courageous on mission with Jesus in our daily lives because He is the answer to our fears and is the One with us as we follow Him into the world for His kingdom.

Overall, I am well-pleased to have been able to review the book for Baker Book Bloggers.  Despite what seemed to be a bit of a shaky start in the first couple of chapters, the book began to flow smoothly with helpful insights.

The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw: Book Review

Atheists Fatal FlawI received The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw: Exposing Conflicting Beliefs by Norman Geisler and Daniel McCoy as part of the Baker Books Bloggers program.  The book is 157 pages of text and 20 pages of endnotes, making it a non-intimidating read but also providing enough research materials for those who wish to dig in deeper.

Overall, the book was well written and maintained a readability for anyone who has at least a basic background in apologetics and apologetic philosophical arguments.  For someone without that background, these book would likely prove to be a tough and possibly confusing read the first time through.

One of the strengths of the book is that that authors lay out their thesis in the introduction as a road map for the reader.  The road map is helpful because without reading the introduction, the reader may be confused as to why these Christian authors are spending the first half of the book making such an excellent case for accepting atheism due to “the problem of moral evil.”

They lay out quote after quote form prominent atheists deriding the Christian belief in God due to moral evil, human autonomy, submission, favor, death, faith, guilt, rules, punishment, pardon, Hell and Heaven.  Geisler and McCoy spend 100 pages presenting the case for atheism while only hinting at how they will deconstruct these arguments.

Of course, if the reader does not read the introduction, it will not take long for them to be confused and likely disappointed in the book.  If that reader keeps on going, they will finally catch a breath of fresh air at chapter 8: Inconsistencies.  After a multitude of pages attempting to prove that they are not trying to make a straw-man argument, the authors quickly expose the doublethink (“holding two contradictory belief’s in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them” p 1) flaw of the atheist argument based upon the problem of moral evil.

The final 50 pages of the book hold the key arguments are are the true meat of the book.  Page 129 shine as the book points out that “as is the case with all ten of these so-called problems [submission, etc]…is decidedly not the interventions themselves; the problem seems to be not merely aggravated but basically caused by the fact that God proposes them.  These ten things are fine in themselves [to the atheist writers].”

And again on page 145, “The atheist’s position is a fascinating one. Simultaneously, he hold that evil needs divine interventions and yet that divine interventions are evil.  All the while, these very types of interventions are absolved on the societal level. So, on the one hand, the atheist makes clear that the interventions are not evil in themselves. Yet when from God, these interventions threaten the atheist…In the end, the atheist is against neither freedom nor the interventions, though he condemns God for employing both.”

These two quotes, admittedly, come far short of presenting the full weight and intricate, yet simple, case by Geisler and McCoy.  To get that, you will have to read The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw.