Friday, November 7, 2014

The Christmas Promise--Review

The Christmas PromiseThe Christmas Promise by Alison Mitchell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Christmas Promise by Alison Mitchel and illustrated by Catalina Echeverri is a wonderful new book from The Good Book Company and would make a perfect Christmas Eve present for the entire family.

My kids especially enjoyed the whooshing angels and the partying shepherds. We all enjoyed the fantastic illustrations. I had two parts that really stuck out to me as especially good. I really was blessed by how the promise-fulfillment aspect of the Gospel was presented throughout the story. It wasn’t just that Christ came on Christmas morning; it was that Christ came according to the Scriptures, according to God’s promise.

Highlighting the fact that this all happened in fulfillment of God’s promise helps kids see that this wasn’t just some random occurrence or some haphazard rescue plan hatched in a post fall world, but rather the unfolding of what God had decreed to occur. Also, I enjoyed how Christ is presented as the King who saves. Because of how that was highlighted, I was able to have a couple of good talks with my kids about the wisemen (the 3 kings) and the crowning with thorns episode in the passion narrative, along with all that is explicitly in the book.

This is one of my favorite kids books we have ever had the joy of reading together. We will be returning to this over the next couple of months and the next few years. It is a blessing; I would encourage you to get a copy today!

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews.

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Alby's Amazing Book

Alby's Amazing BookAlby's Amazing Book by Catalina Echeverri

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alby’s Amazing Book is a fun new release from The Good Book Company’s children’s division. It is about a squirrel who loves stories and especially the stories of the Bible. This is a good book but I had a couple of reservations.

Alby loves all stories and sees himself at the center of all of them. He especially loves the stories of the Bible because they are true and because he knows the author. In fact, the Bible was written to Alby from God. I loved the fact that it emphasized the true-nature of the stories of the Scripture and the revelatory-nature of it being written to us, in this case Alby the Squirrel.
What I think it missed was the greatest of all stories, the story of redemption. In the context of the book, emphasizing that all of the stories are part of a bigger story of God redeeming his creation, would have been quite powerful. Also, and this was one that my wife thoroughly disagreed with, I didn’t like the font. The text on the pages was hard for me to read at certain points. My wife thought it looked cool and that I just have old eyes.

The illustrations are gorgeous and how biblical text is tied into the drawings is breathtaking. The beautiful illustrations make the book while the story supports them. This is a good book for younger children and can lead to some good discussions.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible available

I will be writing a short review of this when it releases in Logos Software.  I am confident that this will be a worthy investment and will prove to be a blessing to all who spend time with it and to the Church in general.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Friday, October 31, 2014

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Monday, October 27, 2014

The Foundation of Communion with God

The Foundation of Communion with God is a John Owen reader designed especially for those of us who see the fruit of John Owen’s work but are either uninitiated(not likely) or overwhelmed (quite likely) by the style and content of Owen’s work.  McGraw provides a good selection of Owen’s writings and shows the Trinitarian-focus that defined much of his work.

McGraw presents a series of selections from the works of John Owen.  He has updated some language, punctuation, and spelling to minimize the difficulty of reading.  Owen’s concepts are deep enough to drown in for most of us, it is nice having some of the encumbrances of archaic grammar removed.  McGraw does not just haphazardly choose selections but has an “intentional progression of thought” that takes the reader “through Owen’s teaching on knowing God as triune, Scripture and worship, heavenly-mindedness, and covenant and church.”

McGraw argues that Owen’s
devotional emphasis on communion with the three persons of the Trinity is rare among Puritan authors in particular, and in the history of the Christian church in general. His beloved and intertwined themes of Trinity and worship bring the fundamental principles of Reformed theology to their devotional height in promoting personal piety. Owen’s brand of piety was inherently Trinitarian. This practical Trinitarianism is the primary gift that his works can bestow on modern readers.

Appendix A covers why Owen is difficult to read and gives some tips for reading Owen’s works.  I think this will be incredibly helpful to many and think it would have served the reader well to have read this even before diving into the selections the McGraw presents.
This book will not make you an expert on Owen.  And it is not a sort-of “Owen for Dummies” that distills all of his thought for the reader.  If you truly are uninitiated this work will not benefit you much.  If you, however, fall into the “overwhelmed by Owen” camp, McGraw’s volume will be a welcome introduction to the thought and works of one of the giants of theology.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Crossfocused Reviews.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

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Total Truth

Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Study Guide Edition)Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity by Nancy Pearcey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nancey Pearcey’s book on worldview is a classic in recent Christian publishing and is a must read for all who seek to understand our culture and the place of the mind in the Christian religion.  There is plenty to “amen” in this work and will be plenty for most people to pause and think about, even if you do not come to same conclusions that Pearcey does.

Pearcey sets out to help the reader do much.  Pearcey wants to help the reader “identify the secular/sacred divide that keeps your faith locked into the private sphere of ‘religious truth.’”, begin to craft “a Christian worldview in your own life and work,” and to “teach you how to apply a worldview grid to cut through the bewildering maze of ideas and ideologies we encounter in a postmodern world.”

She does this by “weaving together insights from three strands”: creation, fall, and redemption.  The work has four sections. “Part 1 sheds light on the secular/sacred dichotomy that restricts Christianity to the realm of religious truth, creating double minds and fragmented lives.”  Part 2 focuses on creation and refuting the “reigning creation myth” of Darwinian evolution and making a positive case for Intelligent Design.  Part 3 “peers into the looking glass of history to ask why evangelicals do not have a strong worldview tradition…Here we step back from the present to take a tour of the history and heritage of evangelicalism in America.”  Pearcey then closes with a reminder that “the heart of worldview thinking lies in its practical and personal application.”

Pearcey does a great job of assaulting the “the divided concepts of truth characteristic of Western culture: secular/sacred, fact/value, public/private,” and her lament on the absence of a “Christian mind” is appropriate and urgent.  She addresses how this affects believers in “common” professions, though her use of Veggietales as a positive example of a believer shunning the sacred/secular divide to become a quality filmmaker might be a bit of a stretch.

Pearcey uses the creation, fall, redemption matrix to guide worldview formation and critique.  She does this with Marx, Rousseau, Sanger, New Age Pantheism, and then moves on to a long section on Darwinism.

The section on Darwinism is extensive and, at times, devolves (see what I did there) into a bit of Darwinism-causes-all-evils, You-can’t-be-a-Christian-and-hold-to-evolution, bogeyman talk.  Christians debating the intricacies of evolutionary theory from a theological perspective were just allowing the secularists to “conquer”.  Those who would hold to theistic evolution are just putting “theological gloss” on atheistic science.  The only right response is to outright reject evolutionary theory…you know, the same way the church engaged the heresy of heliocentrism.  For a work that looks at the creation mandate it seems to have a low view of common grace and general revelation in the area of science.  It is impossible not to agree that Christians are embracing a facts/value dichotomy, but why is ID the way to fix this?  Couldn’t the outright rejection of any type of evolutionary theory cause this fact/value dichotomy?  Terming theistic evolution as “methodological naturalism” is helpful if you desire to poison the well, but it is not helpful if you actually want to present the position fairly.  However, the argumentation against atheistic evolution (even though it is presented as an argument against any type of evolution) is intriguing and rather convincing from a scientific and philosophical perspectives.  It is definitely worth a read and a re-read.

Pearcey’s critique of pragmatism was strong and quite applicable.  The historical survey on sacred/secular divide from the time of Plato on was fascinating.  I am not sure on her encouragements on how to deal with unbelievers (“pre-evangelism” of seemingly engaging the rational mind before engaging with Scripture).  I would be interested in her take on the sensus divinitatus and presuppositional apologetics.

And I think there is an overemphasis on the ability of “apologetics”.  Using Peter’s admonition to be ready to give a reason of the hope as being able to offer credibility to the Gospel through argumentation is a common position, but the “reason for hope” in Peter IS the Gospel, not argumentation that supports the Gospel.  The survey of the history of evangelicalism was interesting and, at times, quite sad but certainly helps to “understand why so much of the Christian world finds itself trapped in a two-story view of truth today.”

This is a book worth reading.  There were times I “amen”d out loud and there were times I wanted to bang my head on something more solid than the sheetrock that surrounded me.  Whether my approval means anything or my consternation was due more to my limitations than those of the book, the jury is still out.  What is not up for debate is that this is a book that should be read by most everyone because it addresses a conversation that needs to be engaged by all.

I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Like a Museum Exhibit in book form

Jonathan EdwardsJonathan Edwards by Simonetta Carr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have heard about the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series by Simonetta Carr for quite some time.  Numerous people have recommended this as, if not the “go-to”, one of the best series of biographies for kids to learn from and enjoy.  Her newest volume on Jonathan Edwards was my introduction to the series but if it is any example of the series as a whole I will be getting some more volumes for my kids.

You really have to look through one of her books to get an idea for what it is.  Trying to describe it just does not do justice.  It is part storybook, part encyclopedia, part textbook.  It is beautifully presented and is quite unique in style and content.

The work on Edwards covers his life from birth to death.  It hits the highlights of his life but also his influence.  The Great Awakening, time with David Brainerd, expulsion from Northhampton, mission to the Natives and acceptance of the call to lead Princeton University are all covered with original and period-specific art-work, artifacts, photographs, a nice, succinct timeline and a neat Did You Know? section.  If I had to try and explain this book I would say it is like a museum exhibit somehow translated to a book.  It is quite unique and interesting.

Jonathan Edwards life has been of interest to me since becoming a Christian, especially after spending some time with the work of George Marsden.  I am quite pleased that Mrs. Carr has made a way for my children to share in this interest and to expose them to believers of the past.  Volumes in the series include biographies of Calvin, Augustine, Lady Jane Grey, Owen, Athanasius, Anselm, and Knox.

These beautiful and unique books are perfect additions to personal, church, and school libraries.

*I received a review copy from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews.

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Prone to Wander

When I first realized that the communion of saints, which I confessed well before I understood, meant that I am united to others in Christ regardless of temporal limitations, that I was in fellowship with believers around the room, around the town, around the world and throughout the ages, I was blown away.  To think that, in a very real way, I fellowship with Paul and Peter and John and Aquinas and Augustine and Jerome and Luther and Calvin and Baxter and Spurgeon and countless others whose names I will not know until eternity, is overwhelmingly encouraging and exciting to me.  And upon learning this, a treasure that had laid hidden on my bookshelf was revealed for what it is.

When I had read The Valley of Vision and only found examples of prayer, it was neat.  It was encouraging.  It was a good devotional book.  But when I opened those pages and realized that, through the communion of saints in Christ, I had the opportunity to pray with these believers who have now entered into the presence of the Lord, it became so much more than encouraging, so much more than neat.  It became, as much as any other non-canonical book I have read, a blessing.  To say that I hold The Valley of Vision in high esteem would be stating it rather mildly.  So, when I heard that P&R was releasing a book that would be “like the Valley of Vision”, I was initially rather skeptical.

But I shouldn’t have been.  P&R Publishing blesses me over and again with the resources they put out.  And when I found out that Barbara Duguid was an author for this project, I became very interested.  Duguid wrote a book (Extravagant Grace) that ministered greatly to many people, myself not the least.  The way God used her to shower the reader in his grace and see to it that the truths of the Gospel invade the deepest and darkest crevices of our remaining sin stirred hope and peace in me that had not been experienced in too long.  To say that I had high expectations for Prone to Wander would be stating it rather mildly.

The book is organized by topical prayers.  Topics include: forgiveness, doubt, love for enemies, unity, love, and many more.  Each prayer is prefaced with a Scripture that is a “Call to Confession”.  This Scripture is utilized to show us areas of sin in our life.  After the perfect requirements of God are laid before us, the authors lead in prayer of confession drenched in theological richness, broken confession, and Gospel hope.  After the prayer, an “Assurance of Pardon” is presented in the form of another appropriate Scripture.  Then a few hymns are suggested for the reader to respond with in praise through song.

The uses for this work are manifold.  I would love to see it implemented in some manner in our small group times or even corporate worship at church.  I am eager to use it in family worship and it will get much use in private devotions.  One of the benefits to this new release is the fact that it is a new release and the language reflects that. While I love the older language you find in The Valley of Vision, it is charming and just feels pretty, the modern language in Prone to Wander opens it up to greater use in family devotions and community settings where old English is not as well received.

To say that my expectations have been met would be stating it mildly. :-D  This gem will be a mainstay in my library and, as importantly, in my “books to give as gifts” list.  I have gifted this book out a couple of times already and plan to do so again.  I do hope that P&R will release a beautiful leather version like Banner of Truth has done for The Valley of Vision.  I would love to have a copy that is as aesthetically breathtaking as the contents are emotionally stirring and spiritually edifying.  As it stands, the paperback edition is not bad at all and the contents are altogether amazing. 

Sample prayer:
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
The Lord helps and delivers them
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
because they take refuge in him.

Almighty Lord,
We find great delight in your creation and the good things you have given us to enjoy, but we rarely spend time delighting in you. We tend to enjoy you when you give us what we want, but we become anxious, fretful, and angry when life is hard and you seem unwilling to rescue us from uncomfortable or painful circumstances. We spend many days haunted by guilty fears over the sins that we have  committed, forgetting the wounds that will forever scar the hands of your Son, and that plead forgiveness for us every moment of every day. We fail to bear grief and shame patiently, because we forget that you alone are our stronghold in times of trouble, and you are working all things together for our good. Father, forgive us.

We thank you for your radiant and beautiful Son, who delighted in you above all else and perfectly committed all his ways to your sovereign will. We praise you that his flawless obedience is ours through faith, and we are forever reconciled to you as your beloved children. Instead of trying to escape discomfort, Jesus chose the pathway of excruciating pain in order to purchase us. In the tomb he waited patiently for you, trusting in you for his salvation. You delivered him from death, making a showcase of his righteousness and your justice, investing him with great honor and glory. He took refuge in you, and you exalted his name above every other name. Thank you for uniting us to Christ and for loving us in the very same way that you love him.

Father, cause us to find overwhelming delight in the salvation you have given us through Christ. Stir our weak souls to arise and shake off the fearful guilt we cling to with stubborn pride. Open our eyes more and more to see our great High Priest, crushed for us, and now pleading for us before your throne. May we treasure his love and believe with all our hearts that nothing can separate us from it, not even the sin with which we continue to struggle. Give us such great confidence in the gospel that we run joyfully to you in the midst of our weakness, to hear your pardoning voice and feel the ardent and passionate embrace of our true Father. Amen.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

“Arise My Soul Arise”
“Be Still, My Soul”
(pages 44-46)

*I received a review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

From the Publisher's Website:

Sum­mary: “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.” But what are “those things”? Why do we con­fess them?
The pur­pose of con­fess­ing our sins is not sim­ply to remind us what great sin­ners we are, but rather to point us to the great Sav­ior we have. Inspired by the Puri­tan clas­sic The Val­ley of Vision, this book pro­vides spe­cific prayers of con­fes­sion in response to par­tic­u­lar Scrip­ture pas­sages. They are ideal for use in church or in per­sonal devotions.
These prayers thank God for Jesus’ per­fect right­eous­ness and sub­sti­tu­tion­ary atone­ment for our sins and ask for the help of the Spirit in pur­su­ing holi­ness. They close with a scrip­tural assur­ance of par­don in Christ for the sins of God’s peo­ple. Appen­dices include the hymns ref­er­enced in each prayer, as well as the ser­mon texts that accom­pa­nied these con­fes­sions as they were orig­i­nally used in wor­ship services.
About the Authors:
Bar­bara R. Duguid is a coun­selor and min­istry assis­tant at Christ Pres­by­ter­ian Church (ARP) in Grove City, Penn­syl­va­nia, where she crafts the weekly liturgy. She is a pastor’s wife and the mother of six chil­dren, and she holds an advanced cer­tifi­cate in bib­li­cal coun­sel­ing from the Chris­t­ian Coun­sel­ing and Edu­ca­tional Foun­da­tion in Glen­side, Pennsylvania.
Wayne Duguid Houk is the events direc­tor and con­fer­ence plan­ner at Chris­t­ian Coun­sel­ing and Edu­ca­tional Foun­da­tion in Glen­side, Pennsylvania.

Iain M. Duguid is pro­fes­sor of Old Tes­ta­ment at West­min­ster The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary, Philadel­phia. He has writ­ten numer­ous works of bib­li­cal expo­si­tion, includ­ing Esther & Ruth and Daniel in the Reformed Expos­i­tory Com­men­tary series, Ezekiel in the NIV Appli­ca­tion Com­men­tary series, and Num­bers in the Preach­ing the Word series.
What Others Say About This Book:
I find it eas­ier to learn about God than to talk to him. These devo­tion­als and prayers assist me in doing both, with the added ben­e­fit that they inspire me to pray those prayers with others.”
 Edward T. Welch, Fac­ulty Mem­ber, Chris­t­ian Coun­sel­ing and Edu­ca­tional Foundation

Duguid and Houk show how the heart long­ing for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with God can find peace and beauty in bib­li­cal con­fes­sion. . . . help[ing] us to face the bit­ter to taste the sweet.”
Bryan Chapell, Senior Pas­tor, Grace Pres­by­ter­ian Church

This book has many virtues. One is its flex­i­bil­ity in being adapt­able to a range of sit­u­a­tions, includ­ing pub­lic wor­ship and pri­vate devo­tions. . . . I love its over­all aims and method.”
—Leland Ryken, Pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish, Wheaton College

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