Book Review – “NIV Essentials Study Bible”

From the onset I will freely admit that I am not typically a fan of “study bibles,” preferring to let scripture stand alone on its own God ordained merits. I am also weary of Study Bibles because they run the risk of promoting questionable doctrine. The clearest example of such an issue comes from the granddaddy of all study bibles, and the one I also consider to be the least reliable and most detrimental of them all, the Scofield Study Bible. According to Scofield’s notes Jesus is what can be called a “parenthetical insert” into history because salvation history has been detoured into the Church age until the Jewish people are ready to return to God. From his perspective Jesus did not intend to establish a Church, and the very idea of the “Church” is God’s plan “B” because the Jews of Jesus day rejected him as Messiah. This idea is absurd, when one takes into account the sovereignty of God over all things, yet over the years I’ve heard this idea preached and taught by preachers and teachers.  

Personally I use the Thompson Chain Reference Bible (NASB) for my personal study and preparation. A “cross reference bible” is different from a “study bible,” in that it only provides relevant parallel references, not the theological considerations of men. Truth be told I have a love/hate relationship with study bibles, I do own a few of them, and my favorite would have to be the Archeology Study Bible, which I have found to be a better than average production as far as “study bibles” are concerned.

Last week I received a review copy of the new “NIV Essentials Study Bible,” and have spent the past week reading through it and evaluating its notes, references, and overall presentation style. Upon evaluation, I believe that this study bible is an excellent resource for the study of scripture, especially for a new believer. While I didn’t have the to read every study note and comment, those which I did read, focusing on what are considered to be “controversial” texts showed great respect for the text, and tended to avoided the pit-fall of bending scripture to fit the commentators theological perspective. While I may not personally agree with all of the comments, and who would, I didn’t find any of them particularly egregious.  

With this “study bible” there is little to condemn, and much to praise… I very much loved its “Lens” layout, and how it drew insight from the other excellent resources and study bibles which utilize the NIV text.

Flyover Lens: Start each book of the Bible with the right perspective from easy-to-read introductions from the popular Essential Bible Companion.

Unpack Lens: Easily understand and interpret Bible passages with bottom-of-the page study notes and in-text charts from the best-in-class NIV Study Bible.

Dig Deep, Look Close Lens: Understand the fascinating historical significance of the Bible with articles and photos from the bestselling NIV Archaeological Study Bible. (Which is still my favorite Study Bible)

Q & A Lens: Get concise, easy-to-grasp answers to your most perplexing questions about the Bible with questions and answers from the beloved NIV Quest Study Bible. (Which is still probably the best Study Bible for new believers)

People Lens: View Scripture from the perspective of the 100 most important people in the Bible with notes for the student of any age excerpted from the timeless NIV Student Bible. (The first Study Bible I ever used, and still love it for its clarity and simplicity

Guided Tour Lens: Get a bird’s eyes view of Scripture with a Guided Tour, also excerpted from the category-leading NIV Student Bible.  

Insight Lens: Find meaning in the Bible by reading these magazine-style call-outs from the NIV Student Bible.

R &R Lens: Reflect and Respond with this quick inspirational focus time, which unveils the sweeping narrative of the Bible as seen in the award-winning The Great Rescue, NIV.

Back in the day when the “Schofield” study bible was one of the only options for a study bible there was a well-known spoof against it that was derived by editing the line of a well-known hymn: “My faith is built on nothing less than Scofield’s notes and Scripture Press!” Funny as that line may be, it also serves as a sad commentary on what we imperfect people can do with the word of God, that’s why I’m so pleased that this attempt was as successful as it is. I give it 5 stars, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a “good” study Bible.

Book Review – “All You Want To Know About Hell” by Steve Gregg

Hell… no word in the English language elicits more negative and bone chilling responses.  Hell is the one location that no one ever wants to visit, its images in our minds eye are the stuff of horror movies and nightmares, a place of desolation, darkness, fire and brimstone, it’s the worst part of the bible, but the question arises, what exactly is “Hell.”  This is a question that preachers, theologians, and the common man and woman in the pew have wrestled with for generations.  It’s one that goes all the way back to the earliest days of humanity, and it’s one that isn’t going away. So we as the Church and as members of a broken and fallen humanity have to figure out what exactly we’re going to do with that mean, evil, bad and nasty place…

Through the years gallons of ink has been spilled on forests of trees in an effort to show us exactly what exactly Hell is, and in each of these one of three primary views has been expressed,

1)      Universal Reconciliation – in the end all humanity will eventually be saved, including those in hell who are purified by their suffering

2)      Conditional Immortality (aka Annihilationism) – those who suffer in hell will pay for their rejection of God for a season and then God will destroy them along with hell itself.

3)      Eternal Torment – those who reject God will suffer for all eternity in Hell

Exponents of all three views hold to the reality of hell, what separates them is the question of the duration of hell’s existence and the final destination of its inhabitants. When trying to sort through the competing views one can easily be overwhelmed by information overload, this is where the latest offering by Steve Gregg steps in to assist. In his most recent book “All You Want To Know About Hell,” he succinctly takes the reader through each of the primary views, examining the primary texts supporting each position, and said positions strengths and weaknesses. The book isn’t an exhaustive study of the subject matter, it’s an overview, giving the reader the most applicable information available, and inevitably Steve will be criticized for leaving “something out.”

If you happen to be looking for a book that will give you a definite answer to the question, this book isn’t it. This book is one whose intention is to get us to think about the question, to question what we’ve been sold as truth for generations, and search out the Scriptures for the answer. This book isn’t about toting a party line, or pressing personal beliefs on the subject, it is in fact what I believed it was designed to be, a fresh look at a question that will not go away, a question that each of us must ultimately answer for ourselves.

This is an exceptionally well-written and informative book on the subject given the unpleasant subject matter. It’s clear that Steve has done his “due diligence” and has spent a great deal of time over many years researching and considering the issues involved. I appreciate his approach to the subject, and for the average person in the pew, or outside the church for that matter, no finer treatment of the subject of hell is available on the market today. I give it 5 stars!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their “booksneeze program.” I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions and views expressed here 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.”


Book Review – “Finally Free” by Heath Lambert

The following is an introduction to a series of sermons that I’m planning on preaching this coming year at the church where I currently serve as preaching and teaching minister… the series title is “World at War”

“If the enemy can’t beat you, then he will lure you to sleep with the ordinary, distract you with the urgent, and get you worked up over nothing. Every day we are bombarded with messages of power, success, entertainment, wealth, pleasure, and romance, and through these things the enemy seeks to convince us that our lives are somehow incomplete, and we spend much of our time chasing after these grand illusions that promise fulfillment, and in the process find ourselves chasing after false gods…we find ourselves committing idolatry! It sounds strange, it sounds like something from a bygone era far, but it’s real, it’s a war that rages within us, and it’s one we’re all fighting whether we realize it or not. Not only that it’s a war that has eternal implications!”

One of the pivotal battles of this war, and a cultural issue that the church has no other option but to address is the blight of pornography… This issue typically either falls under the area of “pleasure” or “romance,” depending on which gender one happens to be. It’s an issue that for years was considered to be a men’s issue, but the latest research shows us that it is now, primarily due to the ease of access via the internet, it’s an issue that is facing a large number of women as well.

Over my years as a minister I have counseled several men who have struggled with pornography, and have read extensively on the subject, so when this book became available I jumped at the chance to read it, especially when I discovered that Josh Harris, a man who I greatly respect had written the forward, I knew it was a must read… and I will say that I wasn’t disappointed.

It’s been my observation that most of the resources on dealing with the sin of pornography addiction, the amount of which is growing on a daily basis, all tend to focus on the idea of “fighting the beast within,” overcoming the issue by the strength of God, the strength of yourself, and the strength of an accountability partner. While there are some effective aspects of such thinking I’ve always believed that there was something missing in the conversation, and that something is “grace.”

If there ever was a more appropriate topic to focus on when dealing with the issue of pornography it’s without question grace! And this is where Heath Lambert hits it out of the ballpark! His work, “Finally Free, Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace.” Is one of the best works I’ve ever read on the subject, not only that, it’s one of those ideas that cross the road into other areas of life where we struggle to keep on the straight and narrow.

Lambert lays out 8 foundations which we can use to stand on in our fight against this sin; Sorrow, Accountability, Radical Measures, Confession, Spouse, Humility, Gratitude, and a Dynamic Relationship with Jesus. These foundations are built not on our own power or the power of others but the power of God, demonstrated through his amazing grace! (Side note: As a visual learner, I appreciated the graphic on pg. 15)

In this approach Lambert hits the issue head on, but does it in such a way that the audience can embrace the truth while, being comforted by the fact that they are loved by the God in whose image they are made.

Overall this is perhaps the best book on the subject I’ve ever read and I’m sure it will be one of my “go-to” resources in the future. Typically I find at least a few points of disagreement in any book that I read, but as of now (I’ve only read it once) I’m struggling to find any major points of divergence, which means that the author has done his work and done it well!

I give the book 5 Stars

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their “booksneeze program.” I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions and views expressed here are my own.

Book Review – “God’s At War” – by Kyle Idleman

Here several years ago I read a great little book by Tim Keller entitled “Counterfeit God’s,” about the empty promises of money, sex, power, and other things that we place in front of our relationship with God. The book was simple, yet profound, and if I were to describe it in a single word, it would have to be “amazing.” Here last month I received a review copy of Kyle Idleman’s latest work “God’s at War,” which deals with pretty much the same topic as Keller’s book only that Kyle uses more real-world experiences to illustrate his points, while Keller focuses on examples from Scripture. If I were to describe Kyle’s latest book in a single word, it would have to be “amazing.” He is a wordsmith of the first order, painting vivid pictures that bring the truth of scripture into to clear focus, to teach us, and to in many cases convict us about those little, and sometimes not so little things that we place on a pedestal and direct our worship towards. 

To begin the journey the reader is presented with a series of questions; such as; “what disappoints you?,”  “what do you complain about the most?,” “where do you make financial sacrifices?,” “what worries you?,” “where is your sanctuary?,” and “what are your dreams?”  These questions may seem somewhat simplistic and bordering on the mundane, but encapsulated in them are the very things that tend to drive men, and many times drive them mad as they seek satisfaction and wholeness in life. 

Kyle walks the reader through walks through several prominent concepts, none of which are inherently wrong, but often find themselves as the focus of our adoration, attention, and worship, especially in the affluence of our own culture.  

The book isn’t meant to be a deep theological treatise, but a simple straight shooting expose that can be read and understood by anyone, believer, or not. The concept of idolatry isn’t new, it’s as old as time itself, but Kyle’s treatment of it is a light shining in the darkness for our current generation, exposing the frauds that all so often masquerade as truth. I give the book 5 stars, if I could give it more I would!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their “booksneeze program.” I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions and views expressed here 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.”

Book Review – “Who Do You Think You Are?” by Mark Driscoll

23I’ve always held to the premise that the primary focus of life isn’t about “who you are,” but “whose you are,” and when we come to the understanding about the second the first comes into focus!

For that reason when I first received notification that Mark Driscoll’s new book was about to be released I decided to read it for myself. I’ve read, or think I’ve read every book/article the man has ever written, and though I’ve had disagreements with him in the past, sometimes extremely intense disagreements I always read anything he writes. He’s an astute observer of people, and the culture in which we live, and if for no other reason than that, what he writes is worth the time.  He’s always been one that makes me “think,” and even though I disagree with him on many things, I’ve always appreciated him for that.

The book, as with many that have come before, and undoubtedly like many that will come after, seeks to help believers discover who they are in Christ. No one would argue that such an undertaking is a daunting task, because most people, even the most committed of Christians, struggle to grasp who they are in Christ. This book is one that the reader would do well to read with an open Bible. The flow and outline of the book are tied to one of the most exciting and engaging of Paul’s epistles; Ephesians!  Though not directly a “theological” work, this book does offer the reader a good dose of theology intermingled with numerous real life stories of people who have had to overcome intense obstacles to in discovering their identity in Christ. These stories do well at revealing the power of Jesus Christ in radically transforming a person’s life, not taking them from “bad to good,” but from “dead to alive.” In fact the stories far outweigh the theology in their effectiveness.

If I have any criticism of this book, outside of my standard theological disagreements with Driscoll’s Calvinism or New Calvinism, or whatever it’s being labeled this week, it’s that it suffers from what many books of this nature suffer from… disjointed flow. It’s pretty obvious to anyone, or at least anyone who’s a preacher that this book is based off a series of sermons, which in and of itself isn’t a problem. The problem arises when content isn’t edited to fit the format of a book. Each chapter in this book could stand alone as an individual piece. The book would have been better if the editors would have taken the time to effectively format the text so that the information presented wasn’t needlessly repeated.  This issue is systemic in the world of Christian publication, and it’s hopefully one that is addressed in due time… Hint, Hint to Thomas Nelson!

Because of his theological position, I wouldn’t recommend this book to a new believer. But for someone who is well grounded in the faith, even if you’re not a fan of Driscoll, I would suggest that you take time to read this book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their “booksneeze program.” I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions and views expressed here 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.”

Book Review – “Jesus; A Theography” by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola

22I have been writing book reviews for nearly ten years now, first as an independent reviewer and more recently as part of Thomas Nelson’s “Booksneeze” program. I love to read, so doing such a thing as reviewing what I was reading seemed to me to be only natural.

My most recent read was “Jesus; A Theography” written by two of my all-time favorite authors, Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. While I may not necessarily agree with them on everything they’ve written or the positions they hold, I’ve always been grateful to them for challenging me to consider why I believe what I believe, and to have a willingness to re-evaluate those positions when necessary.

The book was one that I had been anticipating the release of for some time, and couldn’t wait to get my hands on. I have read many “biographies” written about Jesus, but this book promised to be different, not just another bio to read and shelve in my library… and different it was! If I could sum up this book in one word, it would have to be… “AMAZING.” Instead of simply conveying the events of Christ’s life in some chronologically styled fashion, the authors convey the life Christ through the story of God’s interactions with humanity through Christ, using the four gospels as their source material… what a novel concept!

While some may look at the book and shy away simply because of its size,  this work is a sterling example of a situation where we should never  “judge a book by its cover.” Yes the book is large, perhaps even massive… but its appearance is deceiving. I’m a bible preacher, and bible teacher, and I have made my way through countless scholarly works on the life and times of Jesus, many of which took me days, weeks, and months to digest, if ever, and many of them were as dry as sawdust. This book however was neither dry nor hard to digest, and it maintained the highest of academic standards…  It’s a book that anyone can read, and more importantly anyone can understand!

If I have any complaints about the book it would probably be only one… the authors make much of the “symbolism” found in scripture, and sometimes I think that they take their explanations a little far, though not necessarily out of the realm of reality, but still just a little overboard for my perhaps idiosyncratic taste… case in point; On page 26 the authors state that “Jesus refers to Himself as a bird.”  The reference they give for this is Luke 13:34, “…how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” I think the point here is Jesus gathering and protecting his followers, not Jesus likening Himself to a chicken! At times I found it somewhat difficult to read, but taking into account the amount of information being disseminated that was a minor issue that couldn’t be avoided in such a work, and when all is said it was a page turner from the first page to the last! I

The book is soundly rooted in Scripture as the authors examine Jesus’ life and while some might not agree with every conclusion they draw, the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is given its rightful place, making this book Christologically sound making it crystal clear to the reader that “Christianity is Christ,” which in many cases separates and distinguishes it from its contemporaries.

 There are some many things  that are praise worthy about this book I would probably write a book just listing them all, so I’ll save space by simply mentioning a couple. (1)I greatly appreciate the detailed research that went into this work, evidenced by the 108 pages of appendices and references. (2) I also applaud the fact that the authors did not limit themselves to their own faith traditions or era…even going so far as to include purposely include the thought of the post-apostolic witnesses (pg.311) The breadth and scope of this work is truly amazing, and I believe that this will soon become a classic among Jesus literature, and a must read in Jesus studies! Without hesitation I give this book 5 out of 5 stars!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their “booksneeze program.” I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions and views expressed here are my own.

Voter ID Laws and the Integrity of our Electoral System

It’s not often that I post things of a political nature on my blog, most of the time I stick to theological issues and book reviews. However I had a conversation with a good friend of mine the other day concerning voter ID laws and the impact of voter fraud on our electoral system. My friend took the position that voter fraud is a virtually non-existent problem, with very little discernible impact on electoral outcomes… and that such laws disenfranchise voters and are a tool used by the political right to suppress minority votes.

My response to him follows…

Small numbers can make big differences… consider if you will these two examples;

(1)    Kansas City MO – A Democratic primary between J.J. Rizzo and Will Royster in a district where the victor was certain to win the general election. Rizzo received about 50 votes illegally cast by citizens of Somalia. The Somalis, who didn’t speak English, were coached to vote for Rizzo by an interpreter at the polling place. Rizzo ended up winning by 1 vote.

(2)    Norm Coleman vs. Al Franken – An 18-month investigation found that 341 felons in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area illegally voted in the 2008 election. Compared with the 2.7 million votes cast in the state, 341 seems insignificant. But after the recount of the U.S. Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken, Franken’s margin of victory was only 312 votes. The illegal votes cast by felons were not discovered until after the recount, making 341 an awfully significant number.

It’s a fact that voter fraud is not only real, it’s a real problem, with real, often long-term implications, and to suggest  that voter ID laws somehow disenfranchise people or that they are some scheme devised by the Republicans to suppress minority voters who tend to vote in favor of Democrats is totally ludicrous.

The vast majority of low income people have IDs just like the rest of us, even the poorest of the poor.  To suggest that these individuals don’t have such identification doesn’t withstand scrutiny because without such identification they wouldn’t be eligible to qualify for the programs the left surely wants them qualified for and dependent upon. Government programs that are designed to help the low income people such as Medicaid and Welfare require photo identification from participants simply because the administrators of such programs want to eliminate fraud. Why should our electoral system be any different?

The political left loves to scream the political moniker “disenfranchisement” from the rooftops every chance they get, this is especially true when denouncing the enactment of voter ID laws. But when we realistically look at the situation it’s the legitimate voters that are being disenfranchised right here and now by a failure to verify the integrity of the system. When improper ballots are commingled with legitimate ballots, there is no way to retract illegitimate ballots from the system. Defending a system that doesn’t take meaningful steps to prevent illegitimate ballots from being introduced into an election undermines the votes of legitimate voters. The reality is that there is no malicious purpose behind asking a person to show an ID and prove their identity prior to voting.

In fact in 2008, SCOTUS upheld a voter-identification law in Indiana, saying that requiring voters to produce photo identification is not unconstitutional and it affirmed the position that states have a “valid interest” in improving election procedures and deterring fraud.

In most states I would need a photo ID to drive a car, buy a gun, cash a check, open a bank account, board an air plane, purchase some prescription drugs, rent an apartment, be admitted to a hospital, get a marriage license,  have a beer, or even buy a tube of superglue at my local Wal-Mart… Would those regulations be disenfranchising to me, or are they somehow suppressing my rights if I didn’t have a photo ID? Hardly! Even Michelle Obama, a committed opponent of voter ID laws required people to not only present a valid photo ID but also their social security number to the secret service in order to attend one of her book signings, in that context apparently people she wants voting for her husband here in a few weeks aren’t welcome at some of her events… the liberal hypocrisy on this matter is monumental!

Simply stated… voter ID laws are simply a way to protect the integrity of our electoral system, nothing more, nothing less.