Reformation Study Bible (2015 edition, ESV)

694400_1_box (1)Let me begin with the written content in the Reformation Study Bible (2015 edition, ESV).  The essence and flavor that arises out of this study bible are not only reflective of the Reformation era, but it is also clearly Reformed in theology and doctrine.  The study notes (or apparatus on the bottom), the introductions for each of the biblical books, the theological notes weaved throughout the study bible, and the topical articles placed at the end of the bible, are all beautifully set.  From cover to cover, I can say that the RSB is an attractive bible.  The symbol of the burning bush stands out and makes a statement.

Some of the theological notes are from the General Editor, Dr. R.C. Sproul, who is a passionate and effective teacher in the Reformed tradition (and from whom I’ve learned much from via audio/video/books).  The contributors to the RSB (2015) are respected theologians.  The editors: Associate, Old Testament, and New Testament and contributors have made a great effort in making the Reformation Study Bible a success. I think it’ll make a lasting impression and will be a go-to bible for this generation of Reformed-minded students of the Word.

I hadn’t used any previous editions of a Reformed study bible, but as I started reading more, I gradually became more impressed with the notes.  As I perused through some of the theological notes, I looked for a few anchoring points of Reformed theology. One example: under “Perseverance of the Saints” states: “The doctrine of perseverance does not rest on our ability to persevere, even if we are regenerate. Rather, it rests on the promise of God to preserve us,” and is followed by quoting Philippians 1:6 (p.1994). This is clearly covenantal interpretation so if you love covenant theology, you’ll love this bible for its Reformed-minded commentary and notes (image below: sorry for the poor picture quality I took with my phone)

Another example: under “Effectual Calling” (otherwise known as irresistible grace) states: “Before the inward effectual call of God is received, no person is inclined to come to Him… We see, then, that faith itself is a gift from God, having been given in the effectual call of the Holy Spirit…. Effectual calling is irresistible in the sense that God sovereignly brings about its desired result” (p.2146).

Some of the topical articles in the back and apparatus are not necessarily relevant only to the Reformed-minded, but can also be accepted by traditional evangelicals. The insert of various creeds, confessions and catechisms are definitely Reformed (e.g., Heidelberg, Belgic, Dort, Westminster) with the exception of London Baptist Confession (which is Calvinist).  Well, for those who want a quick-reference to the confessions and Westminster catechisms, it’s conveniently placed near the back of the bible.  In my opinion, I might ask if they’re really necessary, or are they there just to make a statement: “that this is indeed a Reformed study bible!” You decide but I think it might be the latter reason.  Most lay-people will rarely refer to them except for the odd times they want a quick reference (so it’s great for pastors and theological hacks and nerds, like me) 😉

The study notes (or apparatus at the bottom of the pages) are plentiful. I like how the study notes are interlinked to the theological notes. For example, the note for Rom. 3:23 links to the theological note on “Human Depravity”; and the note for Rom. 3:29 links to the theological note on “Predestination”. This makes it useful for the reader to locate expanded thoughts for deeper theological reflection.

Regarding the apparatus/study notes, much of it were from previous editions of the Reformation and Geneva study bibles. There are some updates and additions (however, I cannot compare because I don’t have previous editions).  This 2015 edition has over 1.1 million words in commentary, which has increased from the 760,000 words from the previous 2005 edition.  In the book introductions, what I personally find interesting to read in particular are literary features, Christ’s salvation, and special issues.  Book introductions in study bibles these days are a quicker-fix reference than the long-reads of biblical commentaries (It’s good for lay-people, but for pastors, it’s never a replacement for updated biblical commentaries).  The color-filled maps are very good.  It’s printed on high-gloss paper and is very attractive.

The cross-references in the margins are located a little too close to the inner margins in-between the pages. You’ll need a magnifying glass if you want to read it.  The narrower cross-reference margins leaves more room for the biblical text though so it might have been a give-and-take decision.  It’s a minor issue for me though. Personally, I don’t use the cross-references much anyway.

First on the ESV translation. The ESV has become a very popular translation in the last ten years, and will rival the NIV. Reformed and Calvinist evangelicals tend to flock to the ESV, and I think it’ll be here to stay for at least the next generation of bible readers.  It will also come out in the NKJV later in the fall of 2015.  If I may put this idea out there… just a thought: if Reformation Trust and Ligonier should desires to expand its influence, then why not also include the NIV, NLT and NASB translations?  Including readers of other translations will also expand the readership of the RSB.  I believe Christians need more access to solid, historic, Evangelical theology. Much of today’s evangelicals have access to fluff, and not enough substance.  Good commentary can strengthen traditional Evangelical theology in the minds and hearts of its readers.

RSBhardcoverNow onto some of the physical aspects. When I took the Reformation Study Bible out of the box, I flipped through many of its pages just to take in the all-around aesthetics of it.  I like how the layout appears on the page. I examined the binding and it is definitely Smyth-sewn because it allows you to lay it down flat on the table (unlike cheap glued bindings which don’t allow for this).  Also, when you look down the top or bottom of the binding, you can notice the separation of sections of paper. If the pages were only held together by glue, you would not notice any separation of sections. So this Smyth-sewn pages is a good thing because it’ll be more durable. Moreover, it is also glued for extra strength. I have hardcover so I cannot comment on how the leather is, but it does feel like a sturdy bible that will last.  Most bibles produced today only use cheap glued-binding but this one will be much longer-lasting.  I have to say that this was a good job on this one.  I wouldn’t buy a study bible without Smyth-binding, especially with it being over 2,560 pages thick (which is now expanded from the previous edition of 1,968 pages).

The font size good for me.  It might even be a little bigger than some other study bibles, it doesn’t seem as readable. Perhaps this is due to the contrast of ink-on-the-page.  However, I do see a few places that could be improved for future batches off the press. From a contrast level, the ink could be kicked-up a notch or two. I pulled out six other study bibles just to compare the ink contrast-on-page, and this one had the least contrast. What is most legible are the chapter numbers. The bible paper itself feels thinner than other study bibles. It has about 2550 pages. The paper is not as crisp as the ESV Study Bible’s so it took me more time and care to turn each of the pages. If the ink was any darker, it might bleed through to the other side of the pages. The print itself is definitely on the lighter side, but for my eyes it’s sufficient. Having a desk lamp near to it will definitely help.

This is a study bible that would appeal to many Calvinist-minded and covenant-minded readers and those who desire the traditional evangelical perspective. It will be loved by Reformed-minded and evangelical Presbyterians. I really like this edition. The caliber of this study bible is very good. I would say the Reformation Study Bible (2015 ed., ESV) is up there along with the ESV Study Bible and Concordia’s Lutheran Study Bible (ESV) as my top-three personal choice.  Good job on the Reformation Study Bible.

Thanks to Ashley G. at Reformation Trust Publishing for sending me a copy for review.

Love Wins: Rob Bell may be an inclusivist but he’s not a universalist

Author: Rob Bell.
Love Wins: a book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived” (HarperOne, 2011).

I liked Rob Bell’s Nooma series and have used it, but this book has stirred so much controversy that the evangelical and protestant world is still reeling from the aftershocks.  There was a lot of controversy when it came out earlier this year and I thought: “What’s the big fuss all about?  I’ll have to read it myself.” Many bloggers have already blogged about this so I’m a late-comer adding my two cents worth to this discussion. This is definitely not an indepth review but just a few of my thoughts.

In his book, Bell is trying to simplify the Christian faith by removing, or (and I’ll borrow Bultmann’s terminology) “demythologizing” the theological images of the Christian faith that may be out-of-touch with today’s postmoderns. Take the cross for instance; it was used for capital punishment in the Roman Empire and has become the prominent symbol of the Christian faith for the past twenty centuries. Today, the equivalent of this symbol might be the electric chair or lethal injection in some U.S. states where capital punishment is law.  So why stick with the “cross” terminology/imagery? That’s a good question. Bell’s demythologizing of the cross can be useful and easier to stomach, but his demythologizing of hell has definitely not been welcomed. This is what the fuss is all about. It is heresy to most evangelicals and traditionalists including myself, initially at least.

As an evangelical Christian, I try to simplify the Christian faith as much as possible.  The Christian faith can be as complicated or as simple as one makes it.  Theology can be complex, but a simplified interpretation of one’s theology can make religion a little easier to grasp and take a hold of. Furthermore, simplicity of faith makes spirituality easier to receive and embrace. Perhaps, this is what Bell was trying to do in his book.

Personally, I feel this demythologizing of the cross isn’t as bad as the demythologizing of hell (which was really a garbage dump just outside of old Jerusalem called “Gehenna”).  Most Christians interpret “hell” in the traditional sense of the word.  To many of us, hell is a place of eternal fire and brimstone reserved for the evil one, his demons, and his followers.

To interpret hell as anything other than this would definitely invite accusations of blatant heresy.  Then, it’s no wonder Zondervan rejected Rob Bell’s book.  They knew this would spark such a controversy that it might affect Zondervan in the negative way…and it would have.  Zondervan’s rejection of Bell’s book is a benefit to HarperOne’s benefit….but doesn’t Harper Collins own Zondervan anyway? (In the end, “Harper Wins” 😉 )

Despite these controversies, Bell’s book has, and will, help its readers expand their interpretation of theological ideas and images of the bible with a wider lense.

Personally, I don’t think Rob Bell has become a universalist, as some evangelicals may have accused him of being.  So has all this big fuss gone overboard?  I think so.  His language may sound universalist but I have my doubts whether he has actually converted.  I think he is more of an inclusivist, which is in-between an exclusivist and a pluralist.  He probably leans closer to that of Clark Pinnock’s than Karl Rahner’s; so his theology should still be within the bounds of orthodoxy.   It kind of sounds like he has drawn his theology from Pinnock because he used some similar language.  Now I’m defending Bell.  Where Bell went wrong was his vagueness and lack of clarity in language, which only added to people’s misperceptions of him.  A few of Bell’s statements in his book might be interpreted as universalist, but I think they can also be interpreted as being inclusivist (however, I could be wrong).  But if so, why hasn’t Bell defended himself as an inclusivist or made reference to people like Pinnock?  If Bell is actually an inclusivist, his theology is nothing new; it has been taught for decades by teachers like Clark Pinnock (Baptist), Karl Rahner (Catholic), and others.

On numerous television interviews, and as some of you already know (here, here, plus many more), Bell intentionally avoided answering some questions, for fear of being misinterpreted by his fellow evangelicals.  I am not certain about Bell yet but I am certain that he has not been clear-cut and straight-forward in speaking about his theology of hell as we would like him to be.  He seems to like to keep it vague… and probably intentionally so.  Let’s hope Bell’s theology hasn’t veered too far from orthodoxy.

Thanks to HarperOne for sending me this book to review.

Homosexuality and the Christian

Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends
Author: Dr. Mark Yarhouse
Published by: Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2010.
ISBN: 9780764207310

Before I cracked open the book, I came with the preconceived idea that this might be another one of those knee-jerk reactionary books that Christians write against homosexuality; but after reading the first two chapters, I knew right away that Dr. Yarhouse is a professional who speaks out of the realities of his practice and interaction with his patients-clients.  He is an evangelical who wants Christians, and the church, to respond with compassion and understanding concerning the challenges that go with having same-sex attractions and a homosexual orientation.

Author, Dr. Mark A. Yarhouse, Professor of Psychology at Regent University, and director of the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity, also has a practice in the Virginia Beach, VA area.  Therefore, this book is not just all theory, but is based on his knowledge that comes out of his practice and research.

This is the first book that I’ve read that challenges Christians to take a real close look at research and deal with facts rather than only Scripture.   We all know what Scripture says so the author doesn’t bother going through all that; knowledge of scripture is assumed.  But what most evangelical Christians tend to lack is a proper understanding of the real inner struggles that LGBT experience in society.

This book is divided into three parts.  The first part, in four chapters, discusses a lot of research; a three-tiered understanding of homosexuality; and the struggles that come with SSA and homosexual orientation; and also, if change is possible.  The second part, in three chapters, discusses practical solutions in handling if your child/teen, adult child, or spouse, announces a gay/lesbian identity.  Part three discusses how we are to respond to homosexuality.

I am glad that I have read this book.  It has opened my eyes to a new way of approaching homosexuality with this three-tiered framework.  For most evangelical and traditional Christians, we have been presented with only two options: 1) that homosexuality is wrong and we must reject it outright because it is nurtured; 2 that a person with same-sex attraction (SSA) and/or homosexual orientation was born with it (nature), and so we must accept their orientation.  This nurture vs. nature dichotomy is polarizing and is bound to create heated debates.  Churches are increasingly pushed into this debate, including mine.

Dr. Yarhouse distinguishes homosexuality into three tiers and it allows us to approach homosexuality with the focus on identity rather than on sexuality orientation.  After being enlightened with this innovative framework, I feel much more comfortable with my current understanding of homosexuality, and that I don’t have to compromise my convictions.  However, Yarhouse’s approach does cause one to reconsider whether same-sex attractions are nurtured. The author does not believe a person can be nurtured into a homosexual orientation, which is also what I personally believe.  Moreover, Dr. Yarhouse says that research has not found any real evidence that there is a cause to homosexuality.  Research has not proven that it can be created or nurtured, but as far as I can see, he does not state that it comes from nature either.

In the past, the Christian community have been forced to listen to, what Dr. Yarhouse, calls the “gay script”.  In western society, the “gay script” has been forced upon everyone. It typically says that SSA is natural and God-designed; it is who you really are as a person and is the core of who you are; one’s behavior is merely an extension of that core; and that self-actualization of one’s sexual identity is crucial for one’s fulfillment.  As Christians, we must reject this typical “gay script” and present an alternative script that is compassionate but yet realistic to the facts of SSA.

What I have gained from this eye-opening book is an innovative approach to homosexual orientation using this three-tiered framework. Personally, I have rejected the nurture vs. nature debate because it is fruitless and only leads to never-ending debate.  However, with this new framework, I feel more empowered in dealing with this polarizing issue within the Church.  This is the most balanced approach I have seen.  I believe it will help all Christians, gay or straight, to deal with same-sex attractions and homosexual orientation.   Most importantly, it also challenges Christians to deal with one’s identity, which should be focused on Christ, rather focused on one’s sexual orientation. This is a principle of being stewards of what God has given us, including our sexuality.

This is an excellent book full of nuggets of gold.  After reading this, the reader can no longer hide one’s head in the sand.  The reader will be forced to look at real research and the realities of SSA.  I cannot recommend this book more highly to the entire Christian community.  If I had to pick one, this would be it.  If any Christian is dealing with same-sex attractions, or if a Christian knows someone who is, this will help you gain the knowledge necessary to deal with it.

And thanks from friends at Bethany House for sending me this copy to review.

This is available at: AmazonChristianbook.com

Can small churches be strategically small?

Is your church too big?  Maybe think about downsizing.

What?!  Why would you want to get smaller when churches are thinking of ways of how to grow?  Author Brandon J. O’Brien in his new book, The Strategically Small Church (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2010) thinks that small churches have advantages that large churches do not have.  They are more intimate, nimble, more conducive to being authentic, and more effective.

O’Brien likes the idea of being lean and nimble and this is one natural trait of a small church.  Small churches do not think like large churches, which is a natural advantage because when churches become large, people have a tendency to take on a consumer mentality and think of the church as a service provider.  I totally agree because I have also felt this way when I was church-hopping larger churches as a younger person.

Being “authentic” is important for this post-modern youth generation who are trapped in a throw-away, temporary, and materialistic world.  The author says: “Many young worshipers are turned off by over-produced worship music and a speaker who is too polished” (66).  I agree; but why do many large successful churches have polished worship music and speakers? I guess that’s why may be large and filled with people, but some might also be lacking young people in their teens and 20s. There is a falling away of the young generation in many churches. There’s nothing wrong with large churches, as long as “its authenticity shines through its professionalism.”  Along these same lines, O’Brien advises readers to not confuse relevance with trendiness.  “True relevance is being sensitive to the culture or subculture” in which we do our incarnational ministry in our specific location.

I especially like this wisdom on recognizing the benefits of small congregations:
“When a pastor fails to recognize the benefits of the small congregation and insists on running it like a large ministry, he will ultimately undermine and obscure the church’s strengths. Rather than creating a mega ministry, a think-big strategy can destroy the church’s spirit” (73).  He says to “Just be yourself.”  Furthermore, being authentic is not a strategy because once it becomes a strategy, one becomes inauthentic.

The two congregations where I minister are small and so I have personally found this book very helpful and encouraging for me in my own context.  I am sure other pastors of small congregations who might feel limited by small congregations will also be encouraged by his positive outlook on small churches. The author, Brandon J. O’Brien, is editor-at-large of Leadership Journal and is a contributor to the Out of Ur blog.  I’m sure he has gained much insight from the challenges faced by the various pastors who have articles submitted for the Leadership Journal (e.g., Alan Hirsch, Dave Gibbons, Willow Creek). However, O’Brien is not just an editor, but many of his points are qualified because they are insights he has gained from his experience as a pastor.  This is a good book for you if you minister in a small church, or also in a big church, but want to do ministry like a small church.

And thanks to the fine folks at Bethany House for sending me this book to review.  Book available at:  Amazon and CBD.

HCSB Study Bible by Holman

I wish to thank the precious people at LifeWay for sending me a copy of the HCSB Study Bible to review.

Broadman & Holman has entered the study bible market with the new HCSB Study Bible in 2010.  This is a very good study bible.  As a perused through the HCSB Study Bible, I was taken in by its use of color in highlighting of subheadings, study notes, and cross reference verses.  It uses an orangy-tan color to give it that old rustic papyrus look—a tasteful use of color. The various colors give good contrast makes it easier to locate verses.  What makes most other reference bibles inconvenient and difficult to use is when the cross references look like “one big blur” of numbers and verses.  The HCSB-SB’s blue contrasting of verse numbers makes it much easier to locate the verse you are reading.  The solid horizontal yellow bar that highlights the alternate and literal translations acts as a natural page divider.  This breaks the page up so the reader can quickly find the bible text above and the study notes below.  I like this.

The font size of the bible text is reasonable and not too small and is similar to Times New Roman.  The study notes font size is a smaller type of Arial is readable.  The bolded text of key words is good too because it breaks up the “one big blur” factor.  The tan-brown subheadings is easy to read and helps the reader to locate the topic of the biblical text.  In the paper department, the bible paper used is not too thin, which is good. Some study bible paper is so thin that they can tear easily if you’re not careful. The paper in this one is a decent weight.  For a bible that has 2280 pages, it is on the heavier side but it’s not difficult to carry around.

The construction of the HCSB Study Bible is very good because the binding is Smyth-sewn rather than glued so I expect this bible will last a long time. All of the glued bibles are cheap to make and begin to fall apart after the glue dries up.  How can you tell if a bible’s binding is Smyth-sewn or glued?  Lay it flat and if the pages stay flat, then it is likely Smyth-sewn.  A more sure way to tell is by examining the edge of the binding from either the top or bottom view, if you see sections of pages folded into many sections, these sections are sewn together.  If you see some glue, it’s just to tighten it up but not to hold the page together.  However, if all the pages look like they are individually glued directly to the glue (similar to paperbacks), and you don’t see any small sections of folded pages, then you can be sure it’s a cheap glue job.

The text uses a two-column layout.  This is fine for me.  Some people prefer a single-column layout but I’m fine with two-columns.  What is important for me is that the inner biblical quotations (intertextual quotes from other books of the bible) are indented. This helps the reader to know when a passage or verse is being quoted by another biblical writer.  For example, the writer of Hebrews quoted Psalm 95:7-11 in Hebrews 3:7-11.  The quote text from Psalm 95 is bolded in Hebrews. This is a good feature I really like about the HCSB-SB.  I think it is important when you are doing a study or exegeting a passage of text.  A careful exegete-reader wants to easily determine where the inner biblical text originates from.  Moreover, given the good visibility of cross-references, the reader can quickly locate the inner-biblical text.

Another feature that is useful for the exegete-reader is the word study of key words or family of words showing the spelling, pronunciation, and meaning of the 175 Hebrew key words and 133 Greek key words.  It also explains the definition and expands upon how the word is used in other instances in the bible.  If you like AMG Publishers Key Word Study Bible but you’re too lazy to flip pages to really use it to its potential, then you might like this handy feature.

Each book introduction includes circumstances of writing (authorship, background); message and purpose; contribution to the bible; timeline; structure; and outline.
•    There are 18+ hand-drawn color illustrations, plus many more color photos in various places throughout the bible.
•    20 charts, plus many more charts placed throughout.
•    62 maps, plus 8 full-page maps on thick paper in the back of the bible.  In the maps and illustration category, I would say that it is even better than the other major study bibles.

The contributors to the study notes are some of the top evangelical scholars.  These include Ed Blum, Robert Yarbrough, Andreas Kostenberger, Duane Garrett, Walter Kaiser, Tremper Longman III, Carl Anderson, plus many more.  The essays are also contributed by some of the top evangelical scholars George Guthrie, Robert H. Stein,  Mark E. Dever, Daniel B. Wallace, Craig Blomberg, Craig Evans, plus more.

The contributors to the study notes are evangelical first and they seem to be largely from a Baptistic background.  That is very obvious in looking at the list of contributors of the study notes and essays.  I get a very strong impression that the study notes of this study bible are primarily written by Baptists, and secondarily by evangelicals.  If you are Baptist, and prefer a baptistic theology, then this study bible is for you.  Dr. Edwin A. Blum is the general editor of the HCSB, and is the executive editor of the HCSB Study Bible, is not Baptist, but the overall tone of this study bible is still Baptist and conservative evangelical—either dispensationalist and Calvinist.

Will the majority of contributors being Baptists be a barrier for this study bible?  I don’t think so. Most evangelicals are familiar with baptistic theology and we receive Baptists like any other evangelical Christian. On the other hand, if Broadman & Holman wanted the broadest appeal for the HCSB-SB, they might want to broaden their scope of contributors.  There are many other evangelicals other than Baptists, e.g., Wesleyan, Alliance, Pentecostal, Holiness, Nazarene, Ev. Presbyterian, Free Methodist, Mennonite Brethren, Evangelical Free, plus many more.

This is an excellent study bible.  I definitely put this study bible up there in the same league with the ESV Study Bible and NLT Study Bible [added: and Concordia’s Lutheran Study Bible].  Broadman & Holman did a very fine job putting this together.  I am sure this will become one of the premier study bibles as people begin to take more notice of it.

Your Church is Too Small

Zondervan, 2010

Your Church is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission is Vital to the Future of the Church
Author: John H. Armstrong
Publisher: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010
ISBN: 9780310321149

First, I wish to thank the good people at Zondervan for sending me this book to review.  This book is likely the challenging book I’ve read this year.  It is a book on the unity of the church.  This book managed to touch on many issues that I have thought about over the years but needed to reflect more deeply about. Thanks John.

John Armstrong, was a church planter adjuncts at Wheaton College Graduate School, and is founder and president of ACT 3, a ministry for equipping leaders for Christ’s mission.  In ch. 2,  Armstrong explains his personal journey into catholicity, beginning with his three conversions, of which I can totally relate with.  He also relates the unity of the church as being vital to God’s mission.  For Armstrong, to best serve Christ’s mission, Christian believers must minister out of spiritual unity and be rooted in core orthodoxy. This is profound for many evangelicals but it is true.  Much of our contemporary evangelical churches have rejected tradition and anything remotely related to tradition.  We tend to view anything old and archaic as a hindrance to the growth of God’s mission in the church.   However, there is a growing trend in new evangelicals of a wind of change.   As in Armstrong,I also used to think of Christian tradition as something as old, archaic, and useless; but today, I have come to love tradition.  I believe it has a valuable part to play in the modern-day church of today.  Armstrong teaches us that we need to embrace tradition if we are to move forward as a church in Christ’s mission.

Why the title?: “Your Church is Too Small?  Armstrong says that our contemporary churches have settled for a small view of the church—divided and fractured—and it has spread like a pandemic across the world.  His thesis is that a “small” view of the church harms the mission of Christ because it spreads the seeds of sectarianism and forces us to choose our enemies and friends based on whether or not we are in complete doctrinal agreement. We need a larger view of the church. Armstrong says: “When core orthodoxy, as represented by the Apostles’ Creed, is not of primary importance, the result will always be a small view of the church” and will be driven by personalities.

Even though I agree with this, it causes me to ask the question if denominationalism is the enemy here.  Can we have denominationalism without sectarianism?  I think the author gives an affirmative answer.  He does believe that diversity is a good thing.  Relational unity is something that many post-modern evangelicals, including myself, can support. What is relational unity?  It is a unity between persons that are rooted in their relationships with one another. This kind of unity is both spiritual and visible.  A visible unity is not necessarily a structurally united church, but it is one that is united in spirit without an organic union.  It is not unanimity, uniformity, nor union.  I like Armstrong’s statement: “This Christ-centered unity is not found in man-made structures or efforts to achieve oneness.  It is the fruit of our nearness to Christ and is modeled on the unity that Christ experienced with the Father.  It is a relational unity, experienced and revealed through shared mission.” (p.64).  The 20th century ecumenical movement failed because it tried to force an agenda based on theological unity, and was even politically fuelled by socialist and liberationist ideologies, says Armstrong.  There was also an absence of evangelicals and Roman Catholics.  Relational unity does not try to unite the church based on theology but on mission.

In coming from an evangelical Reformed background, Armstrong understands that evangelicals tend to be “satisfied with informal person-to-person expressions of oneness.  Because they tend to view the church as a voluntary association, they see no need to seek unity with other churches.”  I think he is right.  Ch. 11 talks briefly about this new ecumenism.  If the future ecumenical movement is to be based on ideology, it will fail again.  The CCT-USA, which includes Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Evangelicals and Orthodox churches, is the start of a new movement that can give our ecumenical discussions a fresh start.  The World Evangelical Alliance, which gives evangelicals an identity for over 420 million evangelical Christians, can strengthen the missional thrust of evangelicals.  But evangelicals must continue to work with other denominations to further the work of the mission of Christ.

Armstrong does not seem very sympathetic to church splits but I’m a bit more sympathetic.  Due to the hardness of our hearts to accept diversity, these movements and church splits were necessary and healthy; but this is my own view and not that of the author.  Sometimes, the harder we try to hold onto our own doctrine, the weaker the unity becomes.  Our unwillingness to diversify is why we had a Reformation in the 16th century, and the last three great awakenings, and the charismatic movement this century.  Throughout history, the Western Church has blamed the Eastern Church; Roman Catholics have blamed the Reformation; the Church of the Reformation has blamed the Mennonites; Evangelicals have blamed Pentecostals and Charismatics.  Due to the unwillingness to make room for differing views, I believe that some church splits were inevitable and were even necessary to the health of the church.  Today, God can still redeem the church and unite us.

Due to church growth through church-planting, evangelical and pentecostal-charismatic churches remain very much distinct in their diverse denominations.  However, I believe that their distinctiveness have been a natural outcome of growth in evangelical and charismatic churches.  Armstrong sees the pluriform of denominations as a negative thing because he sees no biblical basis for this way of thinking. Well, it may not be biblical but it might have been what actually happened in the first century church.  Church-planting via intentional church splits may have produced some of the largest churches in the world; but the real problem, he says, is that sectarianism creates an attitude of exclusivity.  I would agree with him but I think that church-splits are not the real problem. When this happens, it may also be a symptom of a deeper problem—the problem of not allowing a plurality of theological beliefs, as I mentioned earlier.

I am glad to see the author’s support for catholic diversity.  He states: “I do not believe we have to give up our theological distinctions to pursue unity.  In fact, any pursuit of unity that denies our uniqueness and diversity is not positive…But I believe there is a better way—the pursuit of catholic diversity, a diversity that fosters vitality.” (p. 93).  Catholic diversity: I like this term and he does try to flesh this out a little more in ch.10.  He describes what it is not by describing what sectarianism is.

The ecumenical movement of the 70s and 80s had died, but with Armstrong’s passionate writing in this area, I have learned that perhaps a new ecumenism is arising.  The idea of church unity within young evangelicals might kick-start this.  If what Armstrong suggests is true and “the influence of the fiercest forms of separatism seems to have waned in the last two decades in America” and that younger Christians are tired of it (156), then there is possibly a place for this new ecumenism.  The author sounds optimistic that this is the case and he would suggest that the answer to our ambivalence regarding this possible new direction is to recover classical Christianity in all of its paleo-orthodox forms and that this recovery of classical Christianity must proceed in the context of missional-ecumenism.

This book has been challenging and I am sure it will be so for all readers.  You may get angry and put it down because it can be a bit much for the average evangelical; but if you’re into ecumenism, you will love it and say “amen” to much of what Armstrong has to say.  I am sure that most readers will enjoy this book and gain a bigger view of the larger church.  Our church has been too small for too long.

It is available through: CBD, Amazon, and Zondervan in various formats: electronic, hardcover, and audio

Original Sinners by John R. Coats

Original Sinners: A New Interpretation of Genesis
Author: John R. Coats
Publisher: New York, NY: Free Press, 2009.
ISBN: 9781439102091

Are we any different from the biblical characters of Cain, Noah or Jacob? I would say “no.” We’re no different from them. We are all equal offenders just the same. The purpose of this book is to show how the biblical characters of Genesis are not any different from us. Their lives mirror our own. If I may borrow this term, we are all “original sinners”, just like the biblical characters of Genesis were. Some may not find comfort in this fact, but I find comfort in that I am no different from Cain, Abraham, Noah, Jacob or Joseph. Not that I would use their sins to justify my own sins—not at all. The point of it all is that God’s grace shown to them is also shown to us sinners too. That is where the comfort of grace comes in this book.

The author of Original Sinners is John R. Coats, a former Episcopal priest who was raised a Southern Baptist. All though the book may be about his interpretation of Genesis, I have found his stories sometimes more engaging and interesting than his interpretation of the biblical characters. For me personally, the author’s interpretations of Genesis are secondary; moreover, it is meant for the non-theological reader. If you are looking for an academic-like interpretation of Genesis, I would suggest looking elsewhere because this book almost reads like a story book or a compendium of his life’s challenging moments. Coat’s personal stories place his interpretation of Genesis into context, or vice versa. Actually, I think his interpretations of Genesis also function to place his life’s stories into context as well.

My criticism of this book is that, at times, I have found it difficult to follow his account of the biblical characters because he jumps back and forth between his personal stories about life and the biblical characters of Genesis. The book’s methodology of organization requires the reader to already be fully in-tune with the psyche of the biblical character at hand; otherwise, the reader may have to read twice in order to see the connection between the two. My other criticism with this approach is that the author may try hard to make a connection with his life and the biblical character. Sometimes, there is a strong connection, and sometimes, the connection may not be as strong as it could be. This way of organization, and therefore, of reading, may be more time-consuming but it does add an element of real-life context to each of the characters.

Anyway, the stories in the book are interesting. In one example, he shares some very personal stories like his tiff with his daughter about her use of the cell phone and his shock when he got the bill. He felt their relationship was breaking apart. Coats relates this story with Yahweh’s confrontation with Cain and the sin of murdering his brother Abel. At first, I had trouble making the connection, but I finally got it. He was making the comparison between Yahweh’s fight-ending knockout punch, and his heated fight with his daughter in the car.

All in all, this was an interesting read about one’s bouts with life’s challenges, which has helped me to reflect upon my own challenges of life. It has helped me to see that I’m not much different from the biblical characters myself. I also wish to thank Free Press (Simon & Schuster) for sending me this review copy.

Commentary on James (BECNT) by Dan G. McCartney

James (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
Author: Dan G. McCartney
Publisher: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009.
ISBN: 9780901026768

I wish to thank the good folks at Baker Academic (Div. of Baker Publishing Group) for sending me this copy to review.

Professor Dr. Dan G. McCartney has authored this great new commentary on James (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series).  He is the professor of New Testament interpretation at Redeemer Theological Seminary; and had been at Westminster Theological Seminary for over 25 years.

James is a curious character for me because this letter was questioned by Martin Luther as to whether or not it should be in the canon of the bible.  Some biblical scholars have questioned the canonicity of the book of James even though Luther never questioned James’ authorship, but just his content, or lack of important content.  It is only later that some scholars had come to critique the letter’s authenticity.    It is peculiar that the words “Christ” and “Jesus” are never mentioned. For a biblical author to never mention this is indeed a cause for curiosity, and this fact alone can give place to a legitimate argument for this letter’s questionable canonicity.  Dan McCartney notes that James:

  • evinces no concern for ecclesial authority or structure;
  • the importance of the substitutionary death of Christ receives no mention;
  • there is no cultic identification with Christ;
  • no discussion of how the inclusion of Gentiles affects theology; and
  • no reflection on how Christ fulfilled O.T. expectations.

I think is possible that during the early church, which faced extreme persecution, tried to keep their fellowship hidden underground.  I’m not sure if many biblical scholars considered this fact when they question the canonicity of some biblical books, especially that of the book of James.

The argument of about who the audience may not be as important as who the figure of James was. Perhaps this is why McCartney expends more ink on the topic of James’ authorship.  James is supposed by many scholars to be a highly educated Hellenistic Jew, or perhaps, a Gentile convert. Only given such a background could one write such a letter.  Here are some curious facts about James:

  • It contains some Semitic idioms grounded in the Jewish scriptures (e.g., “double-minded”).  Furthermore, his use of idioms, says McCartney, are very different from Greek but very much like Semitic style (e.g., 1:17 “shadow of turning”, 2:4 “judges of evil opinion”, or 3:6 “world of unrighteousness”)
  • Use of words by those of Jewish background (e.g., 3:6 “gehenna”, 2:2 “synagogue”)

Regarding use of phrases that at first seem to evoke Greek rather than Jewish literature, McCartney states: “such use has more the appearance of an “outsider” to a culture borrowing the terms but ignoring their “insider” connotations.  This is exactly what we would expect of a Palestinian Jewish Christian who was competent in Greek and who was familiar with the Hellenistic cultic milieu while also being critical of it.”  In a similar line of thought, and for comparison’s sake, I’ll offer the example of my own experience.  I am a Canadian with a Chinese ethnic background but who has been mostly educated in the English language, rather than, the Chinese language context.  Likewise, James was a citizen of Palestine and born in Palestine with a probable Jewish ethnic background but who was also highly educated in the Greek language within a Hellenistic context rather than a Jewish context.  This milieu of multicultural diversity broadens a person’s understanding.   This is evident in the letter of James.

The authorship of the book of James could have been either:

  • James the son of Zebedee, brother of John, who was killed by Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:2);
  • James the son of Alphaeus, one of the Twelve;
  • James the Younger; or
  • James, Jesus’ brother (Acts 12:17, Gal. 1:19) (which also poses a problem for the Catholic doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity)

Regarding James, the Lord’s brother, one external biblical source is from Josephus.  However, the validity of his commentary has been doubted due to possible additions written by Christian scribes.  McCartney notes that another outside source, Hegesippus’ account of James has tried to harmonize the story of James’s death found in Josephus with that from Clement of Alexandria.

If James was the brother, or even half-brother, of Jesus, the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity will be put on the spotlight.  However, Jerome claimed that the Greek word adelphos (or brother) could have also meant “cousin” or a member of the broader family network, at least up until the time of the Protestant Reformation.  Augustine and Roman Catholic scholars support this view. I could also support this view because I have been called a “brother” by friends, and by spiritual brothers in Christ.  The question of who James is still asked by many New Testament biblical scholars of James.  This question may never be answered until some future manuscripts are uncovered at some timely hour. I think it would be very interesting if it was discovered that James was the brother of Jesus.  That would definitely paint an interesting picture of the theology of Jesus himself—a law-oriented and moralistic Jesus?  God forbid.

Slightly related to this topic is another important issue concerning James.  Was James written as a response to Paulinism? If James was written before the time of the Apostle Paul, one should address the question of whether or not Pauline theology was a reaction to the moralisms of James.  On the other hand, if this letter was already in existence during the time of St. Paul and was known to him during the time of the Apostle Paul, it does cause me to wonder if Paul may have reacted to this letter of James.  This would also depend upon how widely known the teachings of James were within the early church.  Due to our popular Reformational-thinking, scholars most often seem to assume that the letter of James was a reaction to Pauline theology, rather than the other way around.  McCartney states: “Most scholars who view James as a reaction see it more as a reaction to a later development of Paul’s thinking than to Paul himself” (p.53).  I like his suggestion of Dunn’s strong position: ‘that what is reflected here is a controversy within Judaism—between that stream of Jewish Christianity which was represented by James at Jerusalem on the one hand, and the Gentile churches or Hellenistic  Jewish Christians who had been decisively influenced by Paul on the other’ (p. 54). If James is only read on its own terms rather than as a reaction to Paul or Paulinism, what fun would that be?

Such questions are widely entertained by N.T. scholars and we may never find an answer to this unless new manuscripts or extra-biblical documents surface.  If so, has Paul’s teachings on justification been misunderstood? If so, James may have wanted to provide a corrective in this letter.  We may find ourselves obsessed with defending against the issue that so defines evangelicals and the churches of the Reformation—that faith must never be dependent upon works.  Author, Dan McCartney, does not believe that James is addressing the issue of Paulinism.  He states:

“…the Gospels give plenty of indication that Jesus constantly encountered Jews who, though they paid lip service to the law, failed to perceive and practice its priorities.  The kinds of works of faith that both James and Jesus propound are things such as showing no favouritism, caring for the destitute, showing mercy, avoiding judgmentalism, and the like…. James’s true target is neither the Pauline notion of justification by faith nor even a perversion of it; rather, it is the endemic and widespread problem of hypocrisy” (p.36).

Given McCartney’s position, I do not know if he is would agree with the New Perspective on Paul (NPP), but it certainly would support this similar issue in NPP.  The author states that “even if James is addressing a purely Jewish audience, there is no reason why James’s diatribe against ‘faith without works’ has to be a reaction to Paul or a misunderstanding of Paul.  It could very well be simply another echo of the teachings of Jesus” (p.55).  This is very likely because James, who likely had a Jewish outlook, was also acculturated into the Hellenic world.  McCartney reasons this saying: “Thus, as a good preacher who ‘stands between two worlds,’ applying Scripture (the OT and Jesus’ teaching) to a world different from that in which Scripture (both the OT and Jesus’ teaching) was originally given, James speaks the wisdom of God using the forms, imagery, and rhetorical devices of Hellenism” (p.56).  His rationale makes total sense.  He positions himself in support of James being someone who “seeks to evoke from those who claim to have faith the kind of behaviour that manifests faith.” Maybe it is simply the admonition of practical behaviour, rather than an overly-complicated theological argument that we’ve made it to be.

There are so many issues that could be discussed in this post but I’m limited to space. I’ve enjoyed reviewing this commentary because McCartney has touched on many important issues. I would recommend this commentary on James to anyone who wishes to take a closer look at the various questions raised by biblical scholars.  The author certainly covers many here in this great addition to the BECNT commentary series.

Do we need a simple spirituality?

I’ve just finished reading Simple Spirituality: Learning to See God in a Broken World (IVP, 2008), written by Christopher L. Heuertz.  I heard Heuertz speak last month at the MissionsFest 2010 Conference in Edmonton, Canada.  After listening to him speak, I was impressed by his spirituality and found myself wanting to learn more from him so I bought the book to learn about what Heuertz calls Lifestyle Celebrations.

I was very much challenged by Heuertz in the area of humbling myself before God so that I may see the poor and care for them, living more simply, and submitting to respond to my neighbor’s needs, and being a broken person inside so that I can be used by God to bring healing and redemption to a broken world. To get to this place, I need to practice a disciplined and self-conscious spiritual formation. What’s this? One thing that I have found absent in our North American church is that we don’t practice spiritual discipline.  Our excuse is that it is too hard, or that it is too oriented around law. Our theological has held us captive to our own sense of what is right and good. The protestant church needs a change of heart.

The stories of Heuertz’s experience from India are extremely gut-wrenching.  Heuertz draws from the his experience of working in South India with Mother Theresa. They are very vivid and if you are emotionally weak-kneed or faint of heart, you will melt. If you are unemotional, you will crack.  Either way, a reader will be moved one way or another.  The pain and suffering that happens amongst the Missionaries of Charity can be extreme-to-the-max.

A stronger sense of community is something that we also need take more seriously. Most protestants, and evangelicals especially, do not have a strong sense of community.  Heuertz states:

The faith of the North American church has become very exclusive.  If someone does not fit the social and economic mold of our churches, they may have a tough time being accepted by the Christians there.  How many of us wouldn’t stare if someone who prostitutes walked into the sanctuary on Sunday morning—would not wonder why he or she was there, would not judge and criticize him or her in our hearts and minds?  Those who prostituted in first century Palestine felt as if they could spend time with Jesus—why can’t they feel the same way with his followers?

That’s a good point.  We may preach about Jesus drawing the line in the sand and saving the adulteress from stoning, but we would also demand that she repent quickly–the minute she walks into the church (or if she would actually walk into a church, that is).  In our self-righteous piety, we sure don’t make sinners feel very welcome in our churches.  Maybe something does need to change–starting with us, otherwise, how will they hear the gospel and make a change in their life?  Heuertz makes a good point.  He says:

If we don’t embrace a meaningful humility, community, simplicity, submission and brokenness as part of faith, such wounds may simply become more and more infected. We can’t simply proclaim God’s love and sing about it.  We need to simply live it.

WJK’s New Testament Library: Philippians and Philemon by Charles B. Cousar

Philippians and Philemon: A Commentary.  The New Testament Library.
Author: Charles B. Cousar
Publisher:  Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780664221225

First, I would like to thank for fine people at Presbyterian Publishing Corp for sending me this commentary to review.

When I first saw this commentary, the first thing I noticed was how brief the book was: 112 pages in length.  It is a compact introduction of Philippians covers the basic points of this epistle.  Well, given that fact that Philippians is not a long letter, I am amazed that some commentators can write 800 pages on this epistle.  However, given the nature of the NTL/OTL series of commentaries, it provides the necessary basics and does not aim to go too much into depth.  It is ideal for pastors and students who want a basic understanding of this epistle without too much detailed reading.  This is even shorter than the Pillar commentary.

For a detailed study, I would suggest the Anchor Bible (AB) by John Reumann, NICNT by Gordon Fee, or NIGTC by Peter O’Brien.  For an intermediate study, try Word (WBC) by Gerald Hawthrone, or Baker (BECNT) by Moises Silva.  If you have time to read and sift through all the details, then that’s fine.

Charles B. Cousar, Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, provides readers with the traditional components expected of a commentary’s introduction—location, authorship and integrity, place and date of writing, character and structure of the writing, an outline, the opponents, its main message and theme.

The author starts off his introduction revealing the theme of Philippians as being joy.  This gives me a good impression about Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.  It tells the reader that the writer of this epistle was a person who will hope-filled rather than one who was burdened down with suffering.  Suffering in the midst of hope and joy is what the suffering church needs to hear—even today.

Cousar is not so much concerned about the literary structure of Philippians.  He seems more concerned about the theology and context of Philippians.  He believes the authorship is Pauline, which is the majority view.  The probable places of writing are Rome, Caesarea, and Ephesus; he leans toward Ephesus.

Cousar states: “Paul uses an inordinately high number of exhortations to encourage the Philippians in their task to remain faithful and steadfast” (p. 13).  This observation needs to be felt rather than seen.  It is a subjective opinion but I would agree with Cousar.  The epistle does have an exhortative feel to it.

The author also sites Robert Jewett’s proposal “that these preachers who compete with Paul were itinerants, who believe that valid apostles should exhibit extraordinary phenomena such as having ecstatic visions and working miracles” (p. 15).  This is only one of four traditional criteria of a genuine apostle.   Cousar lays out the basic characteristics of Paul’s opponents; however, he doesn’t go into the popular identities and philosophical details about them.  For this commentary series, it is enough.

I like the point that Cousar makes concerning the message of the Christ hymn.  He states:

The text does not ask that an extraordinary virtue, such as humility, be abstracted from the story and made a virtue to be emulated.  Rather the whole story, including the eschatological worship of Jesus as Lord, takes on a mind-shaping role.  To be sure, the Christ hymn serves a serves a parenetic function to exhort the readers to look not to their own interests but to the interests of others (p. 18, 19).

This is a good point.  It is easy to center on Paul’s obvious traits and point to them as if they were meant to be exemplary for us.  On the other hand, if humility is not held to be an exemplary model, it might, however, be one of many points for Christians to model after.  Paul’s point of being a model to imitate (3:17) may also refer to many other things, including his reliance on God’s grace.  However, I am tempted to include the trait of humility into the list to imitate anyway.

Regarding the subjective genitive phrase “through the faith of Christ,” as opposed to, the objective genitive “through faith in Christ” in 3:9, Cousar takes a safe neutral opinion and concludes that it is inconclusive.  For Christians of the Reformation, the tendency is to lean toward a reading of “through faith in Christ.”  Personally, this is my theological tendency.  However, after reading commentaries on Romans and Galatians regarding this same issue, I, too, remain inconclusive…maybe even more confused or uncertain, which can be a good thing sometimes.

The author briefly brings up the possibility of 3:20-21being a pre-Pauline hymn or creedal fragment.  Keeping this point brief is sufficient. Personally, I can’t see this being a hymn and would not even entertain this possibility.  Other commentaries cast doubt on 3:20-21 as being a hymn.

I have enjoyed using this compact commentary on Philippians because I get the important issues quickly without doing too much reading.  As a pastor with less time to spare than before, this commentary from the NTL series is perfect for pastors who want to save time.

Review – Kairos Preaching: Speaking the Gospel to the Situation

Kairos Preaching: Speaking Gospel to the Situation
Co-authors: David Schnasa Jacobsen and Robert Allen Kelly
Publisher: Augsburg Fortress, 2009
ISBN: 9780800662509

I wish to thank my friends at Augsburg Fortress for sending me a copy of this book to review.

The heart of this book are chapters three to seven which speak about preaching gospel at funerals, weddings, stewardship, in the face of injustice, and in times of public crisis. The authors have structured these core chapters to deal with both theory and practice.  After reading each of these chapters, I have found these chapters useful in practical ways.  The authors’ identification of both context and situation help to make the good news pro nobis, or “for us.”  If the gospel is not pro nobis, the preacher’s words will be empty and vain.  In much of our preaching today, we have enough emptiness and vain rhetoric to fill an endless sieve.

Each core chapter is divided into two main parts: 1) discerning the context and situation; and 2) gospel commonplaces. The first part is theoretical and it helps the reader identify ways to relate the good news with real world by giving some examples where one can discern the contexts and situations where this can happen. The second part is more practical because it helps the preacher identify places where one can apply the gospel in real life situations. I like this division but I do favour the second sections on ‘gospel commonplaces’ because when I want quick means to inspiration for preaching, I can just skim over the sections in these chapters again to refresh my memory of some of the useful advice provided in ‘gospel commonplaces’.

I will bring out some of the tidbits from the locus of ‘gospel commonplaces’ that I have found invaluable:

Implication – Since a funeral sermon should articulate the gospel in the light of human lives, it should say much more than merely a personal eulogy…. But we need to be very, very careful that we do not imply by our words or manner that it was or is that person’s character or actions that is the basis for one’s relationship with the ultimate ground of being… The point of a funeral sermon is to remind us all that the meaning of who we are, the life we have lived, and what the destiny of our lives has been and will be is found in the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth…

What is the point of giving another eulogy at a funeral when someone else is already doing just that?  The family member or friend will be giving a well-thought out eulogy and so the preacher does not need to repeat another eulogy.  The sermon at a funeral is suppose to speak the gospel into the situation of those who are still living. The living need to hear the gospel and relate that to that spiritual lives.

Implication – a funeral sermon should focus on God’s action for us, rather than our action for God.  The latter runs the risk of works righteousness and fails to announce the gospel…. Here we need to be especially careful.  Even when the deceased actually was a powerful witness to the unconditional grace of God in Christ, because of the beliefs of our society, it is incredibly easy for people to hear that the deceased is with God because the deceased was such a good witness.

The evangelical gospel should be free from any attempt to glorify the works of any human; rather, it should glorify the work of God in Christ Jesus.   Paul says: “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,” (2 Cor. 3:5).

Implication – The wedding sermon is not so much a proclamation of the gospel as it is a connection of God’s creation through the structures of ordinary social life to this particular couple….  Marriage is about creation and God’s preserving of creation through human structures…. When we perform weddings, we do not act as ministers of the gospel but as agents of God’s creating and preserving love…we act, under the authority of the state, as agents of God’s left hand.  The wedding is not an evangelistic opportunity in the sense that we are there to call people to a vision of God’s deep concern for and involvement in ordinariness.

Personally, this was one important learning point for me.  I had previously thought of the wedding sermon as a possible opportunity to minister the evangelistic gospel to wedding invitees.  After more personal reflection, I have come to view the wedding sermon as less of an opportunity for proclamation of gospel.  However, I still believe that there is an opportunity for invitees to hear the gospel, which can be heard anywhere and everywhere the Word is preached.

Implication – The argument over “sacred” and “secular” in planning wedding services is unnecessary and counterproductive…. Dividing between some aspects of life that are “sacred” and some that are “secular” is a false distinction…. Just because a piece of music was originally written to be performed in a church building does not make it somehow more “sacred” than a piece of music written to be performed in a tavern.

I couldn’t agree with this more. In fact, some songs typically sang in tavern have been converted to hymns to be sung in churches, and, the vice versa also occurs.  This makes me wonder why our Christian rock and pop songs are seen as “unchristian” or “secular” and not sung more often in our traditional churches.  Some songs may not be as God-centered but may be appropriate as wedding songs; however, some careful consideration should be made to whether they should be played on a typical Sunday worship service.

Implication – “Traditional” marriage is not the only possible form of being for the world and for each other….  Is it possible for a same-sex marriage to be a marriage in the sense that we have been using the word?  No one, we think, could dispute that we have a gay or lesbian couple could symbolize God’s faithful commitment to creation…. Since faithful same-sex relationships seem on a biological basis to exclude children apart from extraordinary intervention, one might question whether a same-sex relationship can symbolize openness to the future in the same way that a heterosexual marriage does.  In our opinion, the ability to have children apart from medical or other intervention is not the core of the question.

I applaud the authors for addressing this question of same-sex marriage because it is a ticking time-bomb in the Lutheran church today.  It is already an explosive issue in the ELCA and will become one in the ELCIC in a year’s time. I respectfully disagree with the authors’ position here.  Apart from the inability to bear children due to a medical condition, a couple’s natural physiological design to bear-children is the precisely the core of the question.  A same-sex union violates the definition of marriage.    It is an obvious and direct witness to God’s design and will.  In my opinion, to reinterpret the design and will of God, the designer-creator, moves theology onto shaky ground because we have forfeited a God-centered view of theology for a human-centered theology.

Implication – In any stewardship sermon the total educational process is more important than immediate fundraising needs….  The truth is that too often our churches face these situations, not because the members do not have enough money for their own needs, but because they confuse consumer desire with actual need and divert money that could be used for mission.  The root of our financial crisis is in a deeper crisis of unbelief in the church—too many of us simply do not believe the gospel to be true.  We worship a stingy god in the midst of a stingy society, and so we are stingy with our giving….  As long as we live in a society that has been shaped by the ethos of consumer capitalism, stewardship will be one of our most serious issues, especially among those who have plenty of money to spend and whose institutions are growing.

I think this issue can be discussed even further because it is related to the communication of the importance of God’s mission and how Christ’s church is called into mission.  Financially struggling congregations seem to be struggling because they do not believe in the congregation or church’s ability to further God’s mission in the world.  There is a myriad of complicated factors regarding this issue. One, it may be that the issue hasn’t been communicated to the people well enough—that is, more preaching on mission and evangelism is needed.  Two, many congregations do not practice mission and evangelism.  They may know about it, and even speak about it, even in their annual theme statements; however, it hasn’t been indelibly marked into the people’s DNA as mission and evangelistically-minded believers.  This is why the people do not practice mission and evangelism as a lifestyle.  When this changes, the financial giving toward mission and evangelism will change.

Implication – Preaching in the face of injustice, like any other preaching, involves both justice and grace—in other words, prophetic preaching is still preaching the gospel…. One of the great temptations of prophetic preaching is to turn it into moralism…. Prophetic preaching should never sound like “it’s all up to us” nor that thanks to grace “it just doesn’t matter.”  Both fall short of preaching gospel in the face of injustice.

I totally agree.  I have heard sermons addressing injustices but have come out feeling condemned by law and have not heard any of the good news that Christ can bring hope and healing.  All law and no gospel also exists in sermons that address issues of injustice.   This causes listeners to feel more condemned than be filled with hope for a better future.

After reading this book, I have gained invaluable insights from the authors.  This book will be placed in a prominent part of my homiletics bookshelf.  I will definitely pull it out when I am looking for inspiration and advice on preaching sermons for special occasions.  This book is for you if you wish to gain nuggets of wisdom and become a better preacher.

The co-authors of this book are professors at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary in Ontario, Canada.  David Schnasa Jacobsen, Professor of Homiletics, is an ordained clergy in the United Methodist Church; and Robert Allen Kelly, Professor of Church History and Ecclesiology, is an ordained clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.  As clergy persons with preaching experience, they have applied their wisdom into a proper context for students of pastoral theology.  Thank you Professors David Jacobsen and Robert Kelly.

Christless Christianity by Michael Horton. Has the church been taken captive?

Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church
Author: Michael Horton
Publisher: Baker Books (272 pages)
ISBN-10: 0801013186
ISBN-13: 978-0801013188

I wish to thank the fine people at Baker Books for sending me this review copy.

Has mainstream evangelicalism gone Pelagian and taken captive to consumerism, pragmatism, self-sufficiency, individualism, positive thinking, personal prosperity, and nationalism?  Dr. Michael Horton thinks so.  The author of Christless Christianity is Professor Dr. Michael Horton, Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary, California.   Dr. Horton has good and accurate insights on the situation of popular mainstream evangelicalism.  I agree with much of the opinions he has expressed.  Mainstream evangelicalism is going in the wrong direction.  We need to be Christ-centered, not human-centered.  Otherwise, evangelical churches will see the same fate as most mainline churches.

I have read and reviewed another  book of Dr. Horton’s, Introducing Covenant Theology, and gave him two thumbs up for that one.  In Christless Christianity, Michael Horton takes an extremely critical approach and leads the reader through his critique of the less-than-desirable theologies in some of our mainstream evangelical Christian leaders.  This is only the second book of Dr. Horton’s that I’ve read and I hope he has taken a more positive approach in his other books.   I think the tone and the approach he takes is less-than desirable because it takes on a very condemnatory tone.   I know that Dr. Horton is concerned about the state of today’s evangelical church.  I am too.  However, after you hear a person rant on and on about the same subject, it gets tiring after a while. This is how I feel about this book.   This book is basically a rant against what’s going on in today’s misled evangelical Christianity and it feels far from being a book on theology.

I fully agree with Horton’s view of law and gospel, on the theology of the cross, and on the monogeristic position that we are helpless and cannot save ourselves.  I have absolutely no disagreement with Horton on these theologies.  However, I think he is picking on the wrong target.  I am also glad he is speaking up against the false promises in today’s feel-good therapeutic and prosperity gospel theologies.  Furthermore, I have never been a fan of Robert Schuller and prosperity gospel preacher Joel Osteen because I think their theology is wrong-headed.  To be fair and just, I am coming to their defense because I think Dr. Horton has gone too far and is even unfair at times in his critique of them.  He labels today’s mainstream evangelicals as “revivalists”.  This is the wrong term to use.  In chapter three’s “Smooth Talking and Christless Christianity”, the author basically spent most of the entire chapter critiquing Osteen’s teachings.   Horton feels that Osteen is really a “positive thinking” Robert Schuller-type who shameless advocates a theology of glory, and is selling a gospel that teaches people how to be a success in life.

Another beef with this book is that it misleads the reader into thinking that most of our modern-day evangelicals are spouting a message that humans are sinless and do not need Christ to save us from our sins. That is simply not true.  Many, if not most, evangelicals do preach on the seriousness of our sins, some times a little too much.  Many accurately divide law and gospel.  Moreover, other than our traditional-orthodox evangelical protestants, some of the mainstream evangelical churches are likely the last remaining bastions where law and gospel is still proclaimed and rightly taught rather than the wrong-headed antinomian approach.

Revivalist preachers like Charles Finney, whom Dr. Horton harshly criticized, was painted as a Pelagian, or at best, a semi-Pelagian who was fixated on human self-will. Horton says of Finney:

“Where American Transcendentalism and Romanticism (the nineteenth century’s equivalent of the New Age movement) attracted Boston’s intellectuals, Charles Finney and his revivalistic legacy  represents “an alternative Romanticism,” a popular version of self-reliance and inner experience, “taking up where Transcendentalism left off.”… And revivalism in its own way was popularizing this distinctly American religion on the frontier… Efficiency was the rule for success in religion as in business, and ever since evangelicals have judged new movements by whether they “work” in terms of subjective experience and moral transformation.” (p. 52).

Finney’s sermons were anointed by God’s Holy Spirit and his messages have brought a deep conviction of sin and were used by God to lead many souls to salvation or recommit their lives to Christ.  On the contrary, it was not popular but it brought a conviction to many souls, as did the sermons of John Wesley.  Finney’s and Wesley’s sermons have encouraged many to live their lives to the glory of God.  People with an Augustinian-bent can believe that the human will can play a part in the sanctification process but not in justification.  Sanctification is the only place where synergism is active in the Christian’s life.  However, what many of our pro-Augustinian Calvinists (and Lutherans included) misinterpret about “revivalist” evangelical preachers is that when they put the emphasis on how the human will plays a big part in the sanctification process of the Christian, they also assume that evangelicals are saying that it also has a part in justification.  There are many mainstream evangelicals who do not see the power of human will playing a part in one’s salvation.

At times, in one’s zeal for evangelism, a revivalist’s plea to the sinner to accept Christ comes across as decision-theology.  I have to admit that some evangelicals who are theologically untrained do give the wrong impression that it is in the power of one’s will that enables one to choose salvation.   However, we should not allow our theology to blind us to the point where we deny that the human will does exist and can have a part in the life of a Christian.

I believe that one can choose to reject God’s sanctification process due to our curved-inward nature that is hopelessly inclined toward sin, selfishness and self-idolatry.  However, our human will to say “Yes” to God’s salvation is made possible only through God’s gift.  Before I was theologically trained myself, I did not realize this important piece of theology, so, I can sympathize with some of my friends who ignorantly teach this to parishioners in evangelical churches.  Some of it may just be an issue of semantics but some of it is definitely due to a wrong understanding in theology.

The author also took the approach of trying to teach what unorthodox Christianity is like rather than what orthodox Christianity is supposed to be like.  Have you heard the analogy of how to recognize a genuine dollar bill from a counterfeit?  When one wants to teach someone how to recognize a counterfeit $100 dollar bill from a genuine one, the teacher should have the student should learn what characteristics makes a genuine $100 dollar bill, not what makes a fake one.  The student is not able to learn effectively from studying a counterfeit one. If you enjoy what seems like endless ranting about what is wrong with today’s evangelical church, you will enjoy this book; but if you want to learn about what is authentic evangelical theology, I would suggest you find another book.

Horton labels preachers like Osteen as semi-Pelagian New Age teachers.  Some of today’s teachers may be self-deceived but they are not as dark as Professor Michael Horton would seem to portray.    I wish more theologians as theologically astute as Dr. Horton could write books that help us to properly understand evangelical theology rather than continuously rant about what is not genuinely evangelical.  It would just be more edifying to the entire body of Christ.

There are very few books that I have reviewed and had to stop before reaching the end.  This is only the second one ever because I could not endure the negative tone.  It is not easy to read.  However, I did manage to review this one but not the other.  Please do not misunderstand my intentions for this review and commentary, for which I give the book a thumbs down.  Christless Christianity is available from Amazon for $13.59 in hardcover.

I have read and reviewed his book Introducing Covenant Theology and gave him two thumbs up for that one.I have read and reviewed his book Introducing Covenant Theology and gave him two thumbs up for that one.

Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Mark by Robert H. Stein

MARK
Series: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
Author: Robert H. Stein
Publisher: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.
ISBN: 0-8010-2682-2
ISBN13: 978-0-8010-2682-9

I would like to thank the fine people at Baker Publishing for sending me a review copy of Mark from the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.   The author, Professor Dr. Robert H. Stein, is Senior Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY.  He previously taught at Bethel Seminary and is a reknown scholar on the synoptic gospels.  He has authored other books including: An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus, The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings, Difficult Passages in the New Testament, Luke (New American Commentary), A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible, Studying the Synoptic Gospels: Origin and Interpretation and The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction. He was one of the N.T. consultants for the ESV Study Bible.

John Mark is traditionally known as the writer of the Gospel of Mark but Robert H. Stein is open to accrediting its authorship to another Mark.  Stein looks at the internal evidence, as well as, external evidence.  According to internal evidence, Stein says that “it fits well the tradition of the early church that it was written by John Mark.”  Stein also refers to external evidence: (Papias in Eusebius, Eusebius, the Anti-Marcionite Prologue, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Jerome).  However, he also raised arguments against Markan authorship in looking at an alleged geographical error (Mk. 12:25-13:4) and the author’s ignorance of Jewish laws and customs (Mk. 7:3-4).  However, for me personally, it doesn’t matter if it was the John Mark of Acts 12:12 or another Mark.  I still regard the Gospel of Mark as holy scripture: inspired by the Spirit of God and authoritative for the church of Christ.

Stein believes the second gospel was directed to an audience of Greek-speaking Christians, likely living in Rome, who were familiar with the gospel traditions and very knowledgeable about the Jewish religion.  The date of the writing of the Gospel of Mark is still debated.  It was likely written around (AD) 70 CE but Stein is open to the possibility of some time shortly after 62 CE.  Internal evidence pointing to allusions of the Jewish War in Mark 13 “abomination of desolation” also makes sense.  I think some time around 68/69 CE after Nero’s death was likely.

Stein also believes that Mark was the first canonical Gospel written, and along with Q, served as a source for both the gospels of Matthew and Luke.  He is of the opinion that:

…a cautious use of redaction criticism in Mark is both possible and profitable….Traditional redaction criticism is nevertheless not as holistic a discipline as it first seems, for it is primarily concerned not with the evangelist’s theology as a whole but rather with his unique theological contribution (p. 18).

Stein sees Mark as an historical narrative but not a narrative in the fictional sense because of the historicity of its accounts.    The historical events surrounding Jesus’ life controlled what Mark could write or not write.  Stein seems to feel more comfortable describing the Gospel of Mark as an historical biography.  As a result, he wrote this commentary for the purpose of explaining what Mark was trying to teach through his sayings and the events in the gospel. He did not write this commentary to show exactly what Jesus said or explain the life  of Jesus.  So perhaps a biography rather than a narrative would be more accurate but both terms accurately describe this gospel.

Steins view of Mark’s Christology is formed out of his miracles, words, actions and titles—typical things; but what intrigued me was his view of Jesus’ “messianic secret.”  I had never paid much attention to Mark’s Jesus who was reluctant to reveal his secret messianic identity, which was kept secret until the trial and crucifixion in Mark 14:61-64; 15:2-39.  He gives his reasons for this—for averting an immediate confrontation with Rome because Pilate would not tolerate a popular charismatic teacher who drew the attention of the masses.  This shows that Jesus was not killed as a political revolutionary.  Stein says he was killed because of the hostility of the religious leaders.  Second, Jesus’ messianic secrecy serves as a “literary device to highlight the greatness and glory of Jesus” (p. 25). Since Jesus is too great to be kept a secret, this inability to keep his messianic mission a secret, in itself, becomes the literary device.  This point is an interesting spin worth noting.

The commentary provides both Greek spellings and a transliteration of the original Greek.  Stein pays attention to the Greek.  Concerning Mark 9:31, he states:

The use of the iterative imperfect…indicates that the subject of Jesus’s future passion, death, and resurrection had been a constant theme of his teaching since 8:31…Thus the variation in the passion predictions could have a historical basis in Jesus’s having taught this “theme with variations.” The use of the futuristic present tense “will be delivered” … indicates the certainty of this future event” (p.439).

This is something that most readers and pastors do not pay attention to so I appreciate this attention.

Stein questions the authenticity of passages.  Regarding the disputed verse of Mark 10:45, he draws attention to its interpretation and authenticity.  He states:

The question of whether 10:45 is due to the theological reflection of the early church or came from Jesus himself tends ultimately to be answered according to one’s preconceptions concerning the historical Jesus.  If one assumes the historical Jesus was radically different from the Jesus of the Gospels, then one is predisposed, almost compelled, to deny the authenticity of this verse….It is much more likely that Jesus saw his mission along the lines of the suffering servant of Isaiah… (p. 487).

Given the approach of the BECNT series, Stein is allowed to challenge the status quo but he does not allow himself to get caught up in challenging the status quo for the sake of staking new ground in one’s research.   In liberal biblical theology, new discoveries for the sake of new research seems to be the ultimate goal, but it risks putting authenticity on the line which can actually lead to inauthentic scholarship.  Stein’s approach to theology is conservative but he takes into account the latest critical scholarship.  This gives me reason to remain confident in the new evangelical scholarship.

Stein also covers the important issues like historicity by mentioning various viewpoints.  Regarding the widow’s great gift in 12:41-44, Stein states:

The historicity of the account is often denied on the basis that Jesus could not have known how much the widow contributed to the treasury or that the widow had contributed all that she had (Haenchen 1966: 432-33).  In addition, some claim that the present account was originally a parable that has been transformed into a historical account (Dibelius 1934: 261; Nineham 1963: 334-35).  Yet Jesus might have known of the amount of the widow’s gift by overhearing the attending priest, who would have examined the widow’s offering and directed it to the appropriate receptacle.  All that transpired would have been spoken out loud (Gundry 1993: 731-34; J. Edwards 2002: 380-81).  The widow’s appearance may also have betrayed her situation (Evans 2001: 284) (p. 577).

The BECNT series doesn’t allow the reader to get lost in the forest of details (as some commentaries, e.g., WBC, ICC, may have a tendency to).  I like that because I can get the big picture and pick up on the pertinent issues of a text rather than wade through a sea of details.  Personally, I prefer a commentary that deals with the big picture of a pericope without getting bogged down with too many details.  Much of the details are useless to the heart and thrust of a sermon anyway.  What is the point of spending valuable time reading from commentaries and not be able to use the information one has learned?  Stein’s research is thorough and he references other scholars. He pays attention to existing scholarship, yet, he is able to keep the commentary in a succinct format that brings out the important points.

Robert H. Stein has written a fine commentary on the Gospel of Mark.  Stein leads the reader through the important points in detail while keeping the eye on the big picture.  I like this approach.  This is good for pastors who want to get the important and relevant information faster.  I am impressed with this commentary, and I am confident that as this series expands, BECNT will become established as one of the top premier commentary series in evangelical scholarship.  Another fine piece of work for Baker Academic!

Review: BibleWorks8

I wish to thank the fine people at BibleWorks for sending me this review copy of BibleWorks8.

BibleWorks8 is a software for exegesis and research.  It comes in very good use when doing research. I have found myself using this more often to pull up my favorite bible translations when I do exegesis.  I think this has now become my standard bible software.

BibleWorks8 comes with all the popular bible translations, including the NJB, NET Bible, JPS Tanahk, various Greek New Testaments, Hebrew bibles and Septuagint versions.  It also has bible translations for over 30 languages.  BibleWorks searches one version at a time but it can display as many translations as one wants.   If you want to search another translation, you have to switch to another translation.  I don’t find this too inconvenient but I suspect that a multiple translation search would slow down the search considerable.  I would prefer speed.  Furthermore, the older computers wouldn’t be able to handle a multiple search anyway.

There are all the popular translations you can think of—even the less popular translations like God’s Word, Complete Jewish Bible, Douay-Rheims, ERV, Peshitta-Ethridge, Geneva Bible, JPS (1917, 1985), Hone NT Apoc., James NT Apoc., Josephus Works, Septuagint LXX (Brenton, Magiera Peshitta, James Murdoch, Norton Peshitta, Targum Onkelos, Bishop’s NT, Rodkinson Mishnah, Tyndale’s NT, Webster’s Bible, Young’s Literal Trans.  What I noticed missing were: NCV, CEV, Message; however, I didn’t miss them anyway.  I’m not complaining about it because with this many translations, one can’t complain.

Just to see how capable the search was, I tried a search, and it displayed about 40 translations at once including Chinese and Korean translations without a problem.  I was impressed.  However, I wouldn’t try doing search and display on a phrase with that many translations.  No more going online to search different translations one at a time.  Now I can search and display as many translations as I want all at once.  This saves me a bundle of time.

The tricky thing to keep in mind is that when you display your list of translations, it will show you either the active versions only or all versions.  I prefer to show all versions because you can check and uncheck the versions you want to view or not to view.

Once you have selected which translations to view, you can also order them according to your preference from first to last.  I like this because sometimes, I don’t even bother to look at the less preferred translations, which will be displayed at the end of my versions displayed.

Another nice feature in BibleWorks8 is that it will allow you to search for a word, or even a phrase, from a list of verses searched and displayed.  What I mean is that after you have searched for a list of verses with the words you want, by clicking on an entirely different word in that list, it will pull up a new search on the word you just clicked on.  It does a continuous search on new words quite easily without having to enter a new word in the search.  After the search is completed, the window shows the number of occurrences located for that word or phrase in each of the translations.  That’s very useful information because if you want to locate the highest number of occurrences, you can select the translation that contains the greatest number of occurrences.  Once you have selected the text or phrase you want, you can click on the copy button or just highlight the piece of text, then paste onto an editor or wordprocessor.

If you are a pastor who does research and exegesis, this bible software will be very useful. I have found myself using this more and more each day and week and do not think I could be as efficient without BibleWorks8. It is a real time-saver.

I have been trying to learn this software as I do my exegesis each week. I am not so familiar with other bible software so I hope to be able to learn more about other features in BibleWorks8 as I go along.  I will blog about its other features  in a future post.

Review of Holy Bible: Mosaic (NLT) by Tyndale

Laura Bartlett from  Tyndale asked me to participate in the 10-week Holy Bible: Mosaic Blog Tour participated by 50 blogs. Be sure to enter the New Epistles Contest here to win a free copy of this brand new bible.  I will be sending out to the winner an authorized certificate for a free copy redeemable at any Christian bookstore.
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Holy Bible: Mosaic
Published by: Tyndale House Publishers and Creedo Communications.
ISBN: 9781414322032 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 9781414322056 (Leather-like in antique brown with cross)

Holy Bible: Mosaic is based on the 2007 edition of the New Living Translation (NLT).  The NLT is amongst one of my favourite gender-inclusive translations.  It is very easy to read and understand, and yet, accurate.  The New Living Translation has already become a standard translation for today.  I predict the NLT will become one of the top modern translations of the 21st century—becoming what the NIV was for the 20th century.

The artwork in Mosaic is another big part of this bible.   I have found the artwork very stimulating to my visual senses.  It is very colorful and exudes with beauty making this one of my favourite aspects of the Mosaic.  The artwork includes both ancient and contemporary, ranging from Asian, African, European, North and South American.  The layout in this front section makes it easy on the eyes.  There is a lot of empty space, ancient crosses, and color to highlight the varying font types. This is very well done, for which I hail my felicitations and adulation.  It’s a beautiful layout that is aesthetically pleasing to one’s sense of sight.

When I first examined the bible from a top-down perspective, one of the first things that stood out for me was its diversity in art, contributors, and meditative readings.  If there’s one word that describes this bible is: “diversity.”  The lectionary’s readings are also diverse.  Regarding this lectionary, the readings are related to a theme.  For Pentecost, Week 23, the readings focus on a theme, which happens to be on diversity: Ruth 1:1-22; Psalm 145; Philippians 1:27-2:11; Matthew 12:46-50.  It includes a one-year lectionary of readings (52 weeks) of which I am curious to know if it was originally developed for the Mosaic.

The contributions that give this bible its distinctive flavour are all located in the front of the bible.  Scripture itself is located in the second half of the bible.   Some of the contributions are original and are written by Christians throughout the world from different cultural and theological makeup.  I have found that some of them can also be challenging because of these differences in culture and theology.  Diversity can bring a new and refreshing perspective.  Here is one such contribution from the diversity theme that reflects a view of my own human nature:

In 1 Corinthians, Paul suggests that it is human nature to gravitate toward people who are like us.  Sometimes we maintain this habit by preferring to be with others who mirror us culturally, racially, economically, etc.  In this way, I have found, I can reduce the likelihood of conflict and find others more willing to validate my opinions.  I protect and reinforce my own identity through an easier, more comfortable option.  But God is calling me to so much more.  Jesus destroyed the barriers that keep me from engaging others (Chinn, p. 299).

What also makes the Mosaic interesting is that there are also historical readings and poetic reflections from theologians and luminaries from the historic ancient, medieval and post-reformation church.  They vary in theological traditions, including well-known figures like Albertus Magnus, Thomas à Kempis, John Calvin, Teresa of Ávila, Julian of Norwich.  Authors of readings from the ancient church include: John Cassian, Augustine of Hippo, Ambrose of Milan, Basil the Great. Even the Didache and St. Augustine’s Invocation are a few of the ancient meditations scattered throughout the 52 weeks of readings.  There are also some of our more contemporary theologians: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Andrew Murray, John Wesley, Alexander MacLaren, Witness Lee, Watchman Nee, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Charles Hodge, Horatius Bonar, and more.

The Mosaic contributors include some of today’s most contemporaries whom I have never heard of, e.g., David Sanford and Rex Koivisto of Multnomah University; Pastor Bill Senyard of New Life Church.  This makes the contributions very diverse—ranging from people who are unknown, and even, completely unknown, including editors and contributors for Creedo Communications who developed this bible for Tyndale.

Regarding the text of holy scripture itself, there is a center-column reference feature.  Personally, I find this to be a useful feature because I research related passages of texts.  The font of scripture is just large enough to be read comfortably in good light, but personally, I do wish the font size were a tad bit larger.  I like the font size that’s in the NLT’s basic hardcover edition.  However, this is only a minor concern for me.

Well, Tyndale, I say “Fine work” on this bible.  The Holy Bible: Mosaic is amongst one of the most unique bibles I have seen of late.  There are combined elements of simplicity, beauty, and diversity.  This is why this has to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing bibles my hands and heart have embraced in the past several years.

Other Holy Bible: Mosaic material is also available from Amazon:

  • Devotions for Advent: 9781414335780
  • Devotions for Lent: 9781414335810 (Available January 2010)