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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.

Book Review – “One Big Thing” by Phil Cook

What really matters is what you do with what you have.” Those words from the famed H.G. Wells speak volumes as to the reality of the world in which we live, though I would add to that statement the phrase… “Where you are at.” 

Just walk into any chain bookstore and you’ll quickly notice that we live in a world that is overflowing with self-help books. From Dr. Phil to Dr. Drew and everyone in between, there are people out there willing to give you their opinion on how to find “it,” though they rarely ever tell you what “it” actually is. One Big Thing, the latest book by Phil Cooke is more than the typical run of the mill, buy it off the shelf self-help book designed to help you find either happiness or success in life. In our complex world, it’s difficult to find your way, to get your voice heard, and realize the dreams and desires of your heart. I work in the field of ministry communications and I can state as fact to get noticed you have to stand out from the crowd, and doing so isn’t an easy process. The author makes the argument that in order to effectively stand out means that you must focus on the one thing in your life that inspires your passion and separates you from the pack, and on that point I agree 100%. Now this book doesn’t promise to identify what your “One Big Thing” is, but does give you the tools and inspiration to find it so you can start living a life of purpose for yourself, which ultimately will impact those around us in a positive way because one life whether we realize it or not impacts another.

The book is laid out in an easy to follow, easy to understand format that avoids clutter, rabbit trails, or any other literary landmines that so often appear in the books I read. Each section of the book builds on the previous in an ascending order… asking questions such as “whose painting the portrait of your life,” “do we really have a destiny,” and “why one big thing.” Cooke follows up those questions by discussing the concept of power – focusing on our perceptions and values. The work concludes by taking a look at the fact that when it comes to the one big thing, the first that it’s not about us, and it’s never too late to start.

 Phil Cooke helps you to not only discover that one big thing, but also teaches you the secrets of making an unforgettable impact with your life. Now as previously stated he doesn’t give us the answer to life’s questions, he simply points you in the direction you need to go to find the answers… which to me is one of the things I appreciate most about this book. This was a book I read in three sittings. It was an easy read and I didn’t have to struggle to get “into” it, which was a great relief to me and my ADD.  The book is one that will cause you to reflect on past experiences, or at least that is what it caused me to do. I was led to reflect on my life journey, experiences I’d had and decision I’d made and how they have impacted who I am and what I do in life.  

This book is one that forces us to focus on “self,” which for me is hard, it runs against my personality type and often conflicts with my view of faith, which is Christ-centric, and service-to-others oriented. Phil does a masterful job at maintaining a proper balance, and in the process showing us that when we’re at our best, everyone benefits, including the church, and those within our sphere of influence… this book reminded me of many things I already knew but had forgotten or ignored, one of the most important being that I can’t and shouldn’t try to do everything and that I must say “no” on occasion when people want my input or time on a project… do one thing and do it well! 

You’re Not Crazy… states the epilogue of the book, which I found reassuring because, I often I feel as if I walk on the edge of crazy… and sometimes cross over. This book is for everyone who’s been pulled in different directions, born with multiple abilities or just wondered what to do with their lives, Phil aids you in getting the answer. Having read most everything from Phil that I can get my hands on I must say that with this book he has again hit it out of the ballpark… Unless you are someone who ignores the obvious you cannot close this book and not be ready to tackle tomorrow. I give this book a five out of five on all counts!

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 – “Globequake” by Wallace Henley

“And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.”  (Matthew 24:6-7)

For as long as I can remember there have been folks who have fretted and fussed over nearly every catastrophic event that has played havoc with our world, believing it to be a warning of the nearing Apocalypse. I will be the first to admit that whenever we our world gets hammered with things of a life altering nature, such as the political upheaval and economic despair that is going on daily all over the world, it is difficult not to think that Christ must be coming soon. Though it may appear that Jesus is indeed be coming soon, we must remind ourselves of the fact that no one knows the day or hour at which Christ shall return.

So then how is it that we are to live in the face of a world gone crazy until such a time that the Father decides it time to send Jesus back to get us… how do we live in a world that’s falling apart? To that question there is no simple all-encompassing answer, but in his latest book, “Globe Quake” Wallace Henley shares with us that there are indeed things that can be done, in our lives as individuals, in the life of our family, the life of our church, and in the life of our nation to help us navigate on our journey through a world that seems headed toward utter destruction.

It’s a proven fact that change, especially that of the intense, life altering variety has the ability to shakes up society, culture and even our longstanding beliefs, as individuals and society as a whole. Henley compares these changes to the movement of the tectonic plates deep within the earth, as they move the earth literally tears itself apart and reshapes itself. For most anyone this type of action would be cause for alarm, but contrary to being an alarmist, Henley goes to the one place we should go first for answers, and yet seldom do… Scripture!  He reminds us that while there is always change, there is also always God! This book brings us back to our proper moorings, reminding us that indeed God is in control.

Now as an admitted OCD perfectionist who loves order over chaos I very much appreciated the logical, easy to follow format of the book, its content is well conceived and well presented as evidenced by the simple, yet effective layout of the book, which flows in an ascending order of spheres

The Sphere of person

The Sphere of church

The Sphere of family

The Sphere of education

The Sphere of governance

The Sphere of business-marketplace

It’s obvious from the onset that Henley is an experienced author with the ability to relate his points to everyday life, and though it took me a while to get into the book, buy the time I was a few pages in I was hooked. He writes not as a preacher, nor as a journalist, or politician, he writes as a concise mixture of all three, in a fashion that is very This book was my first experience with Wallace Henley, and I must say that I will be checking out his other offerings in the near future.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishersas 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 – “What You Need To Know About Bible Prophecy” by Max Anders

Here some time ago I preached a mini-series (2 messages) at church on the second coming of Christ. To begin the first message I asked the following question…

“When it comes to the end times are you “postmill,” “premill,” “amill,” “pretrib,” “midtrib,” “posttrib,” or just plain “confused?”

I think that if we’re going to be honest many of us find ourselves in that last category. When it comes to harmonizing the scriptures that talk about the return of Christ and eschatology in general there are 4 primary schools of thought as to how these events will play out. So is one of these perspectives right and the other three wrong, NO! All these perspectives are simply man’s attempt to understand the things of God, all have strengths and all have weaknesses.

This last fact is one of the reasons that I very much enjoyed Max Anders latest release of “What you need to know about Bible Prophecy.” In this book Anders presents the primary viewpoints of eschatology, giving deference to none. He attempts to give a fair presentation to all viewpoints, and he does well in doing so.

Though there are points of disagreement between the differing viewpoints within all there are several key facts that all agree upon, even though they may differ as to how and when such things occur. I believe that no one fully understands this doctrine, this principle of the faith, known as “eschatology.” I’ve been studying it in-depth for over a decade and I still have trouble sorting it all out, and any other preacher, if he’s honest would say the very same thing. The good news in all of this is the fact that how and when Jesus comes back isn’t a salvation issue. So we are free to agree to disagree about the details! Kudos to Anders for being willing to take a stand on this fact!

I also appreciated the layout of the book, with the information being presented in a clear and concise manner i.e. you don’t need to be a theologian to understand it. The section at the end of each chapter I also though was well thought out, especially the “speed bump,” “what if I don’t believe,” and “for further study” sections. 

The only real issue I took with the book can be found on page 47.  There, Dr. Anders states;

 “In many cases, differences of interpretation arise simply because some people do not understand how to interpret scripture”. 

Now while it’s true that not understanding the fundamentals of hermeneutics can lead to differences of interpretation, I don’t believe this is the case in the vast majority of disagreements relating to eschatology. If so many gifted scholars disagree on a point of interpretation is it because of bad hermeneutics? Most likely not! In most cases these differences arise because often our theology shapes and informs our eschatology and our eschatology shapes and informs our theology.  I thought that the statement appeared to stand opposed to what Anders was trying to accomplish with the book.

Though there are and always will be disagreements about how the events surrounding the end times will take place there is one call that goes beyond all disagreement, a call that all herald… “BE READY!”

All in all, the book is a great foundational tool for the studying of bible prophecy, and I highly recommend it. It’s one that I will use in the future as a teaching tool.

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 – “The Coming Revoultion” by Dr. Richard G. Lee

Revolution – it’s a word that is equally loved and despised, embraced and rejected. To some it’s a rallying cry, yet to others talk of it is nothing short of treason.

Revolution is a “buzz-word” in our modern lexicon, and has been one in every society since the dawn of creation!

Now because of the subject matter, and open defense of the Judeo/Christian foundation of our nation some, specifically those on the political or theological left will be apt to reject the content of this book without even giving it a cursory examination. The book that I speak of is my latest read from the Thomas Nelson Book Sneeze program entitled “The Coming Revolution” by author Dr. Richard Lee, pastor, author, speaker, and American patriot. It must be stated from the onset that Lee writes from a very conservative (some would say hyper-conservative) viewpoint, so a note to many of my liberal friends – This book will be very hard, if not impossible for you to swallow, but I encourage you to try it anyway!

If one were to give this book a fair reading they would see that this is no lightweight conservative diatribe without merit, but a clear and concise case that the world in which we live is changing and revolution is indeed in the air. As we read through the book the author proves that contrary to modern academia our nation’s founders were indeed Christians who not only knew the importance of God’s leading, but were ones who followed that leading and accomplished great things. 

Lee takes us on a whistle-stop journey on the history of our country from the founding of the first English settlement in Roanoke, and the Puritans at Plymouth Rock, to the actions of a group of preachers known as the “Black Robe Regiment,” and of the founding of our great nation by a group of freedom loving revolutionaries who would be branded as traitors by their own government!  

Lee speaks of the ideals that made the American experience something that had never been seen in the world before, freedom for all, religious tolerance, moral worldview, and independence, concepts which may seem somewhat cliché by today’s standards, but ones that were truly a radical departure from the norms of Europe and colonial America.

Not only is this a book pertaining to history, it’s also one that deals with the here and now, and how what we see and experience today was not only shaped by our history, but how that history does indeed play a role in our future. Lee does a masterful job taking us through the world of faith in the 21st century, here in America and abroad. As a Minister I’ve personally seen the impact of the stories he tells and statistics he shares first-hand. His presentation won’t win him any awards for political correctness, for the picture he paints is one of sobering reality, a truly sad commentary on a great nation that has turned its back on the God of her youth.   

Politically speaking I’m a conservative libertarian; in that I believe the federal government exerts way too much control over the daily lives of Americans. I’m an unashamed advocate of small government, believing that as much as 90% of the regulation that comes out of Washington D.C. is unconstitutional in nature, and far exceeds the authority granted to the U.S. Congress by Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.  

For me personally the most important part of the entire book is the last section, entitled “what you can do.” Here Lee moves beyond theory to action, giving his readers 6 actions that they can personally take to aid in helping our nation regain her proper footing; the steps are as follows…

(1) Prepare Personally (2) Partner with Others (3) Learn the Process (4) Participate in the Arena (5) Proclaim the Truth (6) Persevere until We Prevail.

These are concepts that aren’t necessarily new, in fact they are universal truths that have played out time and again the history our world and of our nation. In this book Lee, though a minister and theologian does focus on religion in this book, he focuses on heritage, one that was guided and directed by a resounding faith in God and His providence. 

If you’re a person who doesn’t find politics or the true history of America interesting, then chances are you won’t like this book. If you’re like me and are concerned about the spiritual and political trajectory of our nation and believe that America is being driven off course by an out-of-control government then you’ll probably find this book to be helpful.

As another review of this book stated “if you are a supporter of President Obama and his agenda, you will read this book as if it came straight from Fox News. If you are a supporter of the Tea Party, you will hail this as the greatest book of our time.”

From my perspective I view it as neither one. For I don’t agree with every conclusion made or position taken but I do believe that Lee’s book is quite beneficial, in that it forces us to examine the present and future in light of the past, and on that note I agree with Oliver North that it serves as a “powerful reminder about why America is great and worth fighting for.” So I therefor recommend it to others.

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 – “Job 38-42 by David J.A. Clines” [Word Biblical Commentary vol. 18b]

“But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.” [Ecclesiastes 12:12 NASB]

Occasionally I am drawn to this passage especially when I get caught up with a book that would be considered by most as a “reference book.” In the past I’ve openly admitted that I’m a bibliophile, a “lover of books,” and that admission still stands. I’ve also admitted that I’m more academically than practically minded, in that I love books of an academic nature, ones that delve into the nuance of a biblical passage drawn out by the ancient languages they were originally written in, hence I’ve much enjoyed my latest read, Job 38-42 of the Word Biblical Commentary written by David J.A. Clines.  

I’ll admit from the onset that I know very little about the author of this work beyond the background information presented in the front flap of the book, yet by reading the book one quickly comes to the conclusion that Clines is a first rate biblical scholar and exegete. I only wish I had the first two volumes on Job to get a complete picture of this momentous work. I first came into contact with the “Word” series of commentaries while a student in Bible College, and I have always appreciated their scholarly approach to scripture, only the price tag ($40-50 per volume) kept me from adding them to my library.

In this volume (№ 3 of 3) Clines covers the later portion of the book of the book of Job; chapters 38-42. In the text we find God’s first speech (38:1- 40:2) Job’s first reply (40:3-5) God’s second speech (40:6-41:34) and Job’s second reply (42:1-6) followed by the Epilogue (42:7-17) in all aspects Clines does a masterful job with the text.  

There are several aspects of this book that lends it to my liking.

(1)  The Explanation Section at the end of each chapter provides a clear insight into the meaning of the text. It’s not overly academic, as to appeal to the novice researcher, yet when taken with the other sections; it’s of high academic standards, as to appeal to the advanced researcher… the best of both worlds.  

(2)  This is not a translated work from another language. Though I’ve been blessed by many works of foreign writers, this work was done in the English language, and therefore avoids any pit-falls that may come from any “lost in translation” type issues.  

(3)  The commentators prepare their own translation of the text. I especially like this aspect of the commentary because it allows one to see the text with new eyes on biblical Hebrew. What the text loses in continuity (one text throughout, eg. NIV or NASB) it makes up in perspective.

(4)  The general appearance and set-up of the book. From the onset it looks confusing, and jumbled, and for some this will be a “turn-off,” but there is a method behind the madness, and I love it. It allows for a person to find all information on a particular passage… be it references, language issues, or commentary. It’s all there in one place, and there is something for everyone.   

(5)  But beyond all that the thing that makes this book most appealing to me is the extensive, and I mean extensive bibliography (250 pg.) that is included in the book. It looks to contain everything or most everything of substance that’s ever been written on the book of Job, and I would have purchased it simply for this feature!

This book may not be for everyone, but for a serious student of Scripture it’s a worthwhile investment, if you can afford it. As with the other books in this series, the scholarship is superb, and is what one would expect under the leadership of the late Bruce Metzger. Though one (myself included) may not agree with all the conclusions drawn, it’s a work that encourages critical thinking, and promotes textual understanding. So with everything taken together I highly recommend this book to the public at large.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishersas 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 – “Has God Spoken?” By Hank Hanegraaff

“The Word of God is deeper than a flannel-graph…”

R.C. Sproul

In a theological world that has sadly become over-saturated with the works of atheists and agnostics masquerading as bible-affirming theologians, this book truly comes as a breath of fresh air. Though I personally hold some reservations concerning Hank Hanegraaff, due to his “preterist” leanings and “deficient theology,” concerning some foundational biblical doctrines I’ve always appreciated his writings [especially Resurrection] and have been challenged by them.

His latest book “Has God Spoken?” the third part in his trilogy continues to provide answers the most critical questions that are coming from our post-Christian world. Being well researched, well written, and engaging, overall it does a sufficient job in meeting the goals that it was designed for.

This book is much different from other apologetic books that I have read in that Hanegraaff seems to be  writing with the believer in mind and, not directly to the skeptic themselves… though they would gain much from reading it. It takes more the form of a tool for training than a standard defense of the faith. Now anyone who has read his past works of listened to Hanegraaff on the radio, knows that he is fond of utilizing acronyms, which I appreciate because I too am fond of them and they work great as a tool for retaining important information, but as with anything it can be “over-utilized,” and with this work he may have just crossed that threshold. In this work the acronym M.A.P.S. Manuscript Copies, Archaeologist’s Spade, Prophetic Stars, Scriptural Lights, is the basis for the presented information, and I think it does a satisfactory job lighting the path that the reader will be journeying down.

In the book we see Hanegraaff addressing 4 primary questions:

  •  Are the manuscript copies we have today reliable?
  • Is there any external corroboration to the Bible?
  • What predictions of future events does the Bible make?
  • How do we (or should we) interpret the Bible?

As with any book on theological matters, one will struggle to find 100 % agreement with the content, as fallen, imperfect people, we’re never going to agree with anyone one everything, and in my position this is where I find myself standing with this book. Aside from my previous disagreements with Hanegraaff on issues Preterism, the role of Baptism in the salvation of man, etc. there are areas in this book that I also find to be a bit troubling. There are a sufficient number of issues that I take that I could spill much ink over, but for the sake of expediency I’ll only mention two of them.

  • My first issue isn’t even one that deals with theology or matters of faith, it deals with the tone Hanegraaff takes when dealing with UNC religious studies professor Bart Ehrman. Now from the onset I’ll make it clear that I have serious fundamental disagreements with Ehrman, and I believe that his writings aren’t always academically honest as they should be. Now I believe that in any course of study we should challenge people on their positions, but it should be done in a civil manner, and there are times that Hanegraaff crosses the line of civility.
  • My second issue is the one that troubles me the most about this entire work. It’s an issue that lays at the very heart of the Christian faith… the “verbal inspiration” of Scripture, a truth that Hanegraaff in his own words openly denies,

“The point that should be underscored here is that the disciples, moved by the Holy Spirit, codified the essential wisdom of Jesus – not the exact words of Jesus. Put another way, they left us a memorable oral tradition rather than the words of their Master on tape.” (pg. 20)

As far as academic standards are concerned [which is becoming more of an issues for me these days] the book, even with its flaws passes muster. The material is well-researched and of sound origin, with copious end notes, providing avenues for further study in each area, or a fact-check tool for those who may happen to question the given claims by the author. I can however say albeit with some reservation that this book has some aspects that would merit it’s reading by others, though not for a new believer. It’s a sufficient tool, as long as it’s supplemented in areas where it’s deficient, for those who desire to have a firm grasp on the evidence that proves the validity and truth of Scripture and how we can defend it.        

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.