The Word

Keeping my “flock” encouraged (and law-abiding) and coordinating all the other usual pastor-y things from home continues to take up a lot of my time and creativity. However, I don’t want to fall completely behind on reviewing, so here are two short reviews of a couple short but excellent biblical studies books.

Taking God At His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me by [Kevin DeYoung]Title: Taking God at His Word:
Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough and What That Means for You and Me
Author: Kevin DeYoung
Genre: Theology (Applied Bibliology)
Pages: 129 (plus indices, etc.)
Rating: 5 of 5

The subtitle pretty much covers what the book is about. This is an excellent little primer on a conservative Protestant (I would say Evangelical, but that title is freighted with so much political baggage anymore that I hesitate to use it) understanding of the Bible as God’s authoritative Word.

Kevin DeYoung’s passionate, occasionally humorous, pastoral style keeps this from being a dry systematic theology book. It sparkles with a love for God’s Word and contains practical wisdom on taking advantage of God’s gift of “everything needed for life and godliness.”

The book is directed primarily toward Christians who already accept the Bible as God’s self-revelation. However, I would also recommend it to those with other convictions as a means of getting a basic non-caricatured overview of what we believe.

Title: Can We Trust the Gospels?
Author: Peter J. Williams
Genre: Theology (Bibliology)
Pages: 140 (plus indices, etc.)
Rating: 5 of 5

The earliest written sources that we have on the life of Jesus Christ are the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Peter J. Williams argues from a variety of external sources and internal characteristics that it is reasonable to trust their veracity. Along the way he also looks (unfavorably) at the so called Gnostic Gospels.

The overall tone of the book is scholarly rather than pastoral, but it does not require prior knowledge of the topic or use unexplained academic jargon. The author provides a basic overview of the various lines of evidence and offers a wealth of scholarly resources for those who want to dig deeper. I appreciate that he is confident and articulate in his arguments, but humble and reasonable enough to know that he cannot conclusively prove his case. At a certain point it comes down to faith, but it is a reasonable faith.

I would highly recommend this book as a counterbalance to those in the “historical Jesus” field who treat the Gospels as distorted legends that developed over time.

The KJV & Vernacular Translations

Title: Authorized – The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible
Author: Mark Ward
Genre: Theology / Translation Theory
Pages: 154
Rating: 5 of 5

“If the King James Version was good enough for the Apostle Paul, then it’s good enough for me!” Obviously, this statement is (mostly) a caricature of the KJV-Only or KJV-Superiority positions. However, it demonstrates that when it comes to discussing the merits of various English Bible translations, reasonableness and graciousness far too often take a backseat to emotional appeals and exaggerated claims (from both sides).

This book is probably the most gracious, even-handed discussion of the King James Version that I have ever read. It starts with a thoughtful chapter on “what we lose as the the church stops using the KJV” – mostly a sense of historical value, continuity, uniformity, and grandeur when it comes to the language.

The author then goes on to talk about what we gain by having the Bible translated into modern vernacular. He discusses the biblical rationale behind having vernacular translations. For example: the New Testament was originally written in vernacular Koine Greek rather than grand/archaic Classical Greek, the Apostle Paul repeatedly speaks of the necessity of communicating in easily understandable language , the KJV itself was intended to be a vernacular translation back in 1611, the continuously changing nature of language, etc. He answers common objections and shows the reliability and spiritual value of many modern language translations (e.g. the ESV & NIV) without disparaging the historic value or scholarship of the KJV.

He does not go into detailed scholarly arguments about manuscripts and textual families since this is a popular level book (and those arguments are tremendously overblown). However, he does provide this website as a resource to show the slight differences between the different editions of the Greek New Testament that underlie the KJV and more modern translations.

If you are curious about Bible translation or think that the KJV is the only “definitive” English Bible translation fit for mature Christians I urge you to read this book. If you are interested in a slightly more scholarly approach that does go into manuscript/textual issues I would also highly recommend The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism by D. A. Carson. It is quite a bit older (1978), but the general principles discussed in it still hold true.

A closing quote from the book:

I want to change the paradigm we’ve all been assuming. Stop looking for the “best” English Bible. It doesn’t exist. God never said it would. Take up the embarrassment of riches we now have. Make the best use of our multi-translation situation, because it’s truly a great problem to have. (p. 137)

Miscellaneous Mini Reviews

It’s time to get caught up with some mini reviews:

Camber of Culdi (The Legends of Camber of Culdi Book 1) by [Kurtz, Katherine]Title: Camber of Culdi
(Volume 1 of The Legend of Camber of Culdi)
Author: Katherine Kurtz
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Pages: 277
Rating: 3.5 of 5

If you’re into court intrigue featuring a race (the Deryni) with telepathic, telekinetic, teleportation, teletcetera powers, this may be the book for you. In this alternate Medieval Gwynedd, the new Deryni monarch is an oppressive tyrant to his human subjects. The wise Deryni lord, Camber MacRorie, must step up and counteract this unjust ruler. Cue pages and pages of plotting and counter-plotting and trying to prod a reluctant conspirator into assuming his birthright. It was well-written and had a certain building tension, but the “chivying someone into ‘doing the right thing'” trope is one of my least favorites so my personal reading experience suffered a bit. Also, I’m pretty sure this is a prequel trilogy to a long-established series in which Camber is a legendary character of the distant past, so I think I would have enjoyed it more had I read the original books first. (kind of like how The Magicians Nephew is actually not the best place to start The Chronicles of Narnia…read them in order of writing! And I won’t go any further with that thought lest I get up on my soapbox)

Title: Killer in the Rain
Author: Raymond Chandler
Genre:  Noir/Hardboiled Detective Short Stories
Pages: 394
Rating: 4 of 5

When Raymond Chandler wrote his Philip Marlowe novels, he “cannibalized” a number of his short stories for characters and plots. This collection assembles eight of those short stories. None star Philip Marlowe, but you can see the protagonists becoming increasingly like him. Some of the plots are almost identical to the novels that came out of them, and some differ fairly significantly.  This is worth reading if you’re a Chandler fan, but I’d strongly recommend reading the novels first so that you can appreciate the superior works without spoilers.

Title: The Code of the Woosters
Author: P. G. Wodehouse
Genre: Classic Humor
Pages: 272
Rating: 4 of 5

If you’ve read one Jeeves & Wooster book you’ve read them all. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as they’re all good for a laugh. However, don’t read them too close together or they all sort of run together and you can’t remember what to say about them other than that they are enjoyable, which is pretty much what happened with this one…Bertie was good-hearted but inept, Jeeves saved the day with the magic word Eulalie, and it was enjoyable.

Title: Now That’s a Good Question:
How to Lead Quality Bible Discussion
Author: Terry Powell
Genre: Teaching Theory
Pages: 96
Rating: 4

This book has excellent suggestions for how to generate useful, thought-provoking discussion questions for small groups (or any other ministry that allows for interactive teaching). It also has some decent guidelines for putting together a Bible study if you are a beginner. To me, the few “teamwork” exercises scattered throughout the book felt like the kind of stupid “rah-rah let’s all pretend that this is beneficial but it’s really just obnoxiously cheery and insulting to our intelligence” exercises that I had to suffer through at various job orientations (though maybe I’m just emotionally scarred by past experience).

The biggest weakness of the book was in its formatting. Some pages looked like the content was just barfed onto it in a jumble of font sizes and styles, bullet points, block quotes, infoboxes, and awkward stock photos. I think it’s supposed to look light and playful, but it comes across amateurish. I mean, what is this?!

Tacky Formatting
Where do I look first?!

Overall, despite the tacky formatting, I highly recommend this book for new teachers in church ministries.

Rigorous Bibliology

Title: Light in a Dark Place:
The Doctrine of Scripture
Author: John S. Feinberg
Genre: Theology (Bibliology)
Pages: 770
Rating: 4.5 of 5
Future Release Date: 4/30/18 (Thank you to the author and Crossway for providing an eARC through NetGalley!)

John S. Feinberg is one of my favorite theologians, but his books are not for the faint of heart. They could best be described as academically rigorous…which being interpreted is he absolutely beats his topic into the ground. He examines every facet with precision: interacting with other scholarly treatments of the topic, exploring every possible interpretation of potentially relevant Scripture passages, and pulling together all of the strands into precise, nuanced arguments & definitions. To be honest, it can become a bit tedious and repetitive at certain points, but it is worth it as you are left with a thorough understanding of the topic.

In this particular volume from the Foundations of Evangelical Theology series (of which Feinberg is the general editor), he explores the doctrine of the Bible. He thoroughly discusses such topics as its divine origin (revelation & inspiration), characteristics (inerrancy & authority), contents (canonicity), and usefulness (illumination, clarity, & sufficiency). His conclusions are solidly within the boundaries of evangelical Christianity, but are stated with more clarity and precision than you will find in many (most?) evangelical theology books. The section on illumination, the Holy Spirit’s ministry of helping people understand God’s Word, was particularly helpful to me (exactly what is meant by understand in this definition being a key point of discussion). Overall, despite being a bit of a slog at times, this was a helpful book that left me with a greater appreciation for God’s Word.