Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Review: To Light a Fire on the Earth

In To Light a Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age (Image, 2017), Bishop Robert Barron, popular radio evangelist, argues the relevancy of Catholicism in an age desperate for spiritual revitalization. The book reads like a conversation, an interview of sorts, with Barron being interviewed and quoted while John Allen, Jr., narrates the experience. Through this, we eavesdrop on their chats regarding aspects of the Christian and secular life and how, mysteriously, the Catholic faith calls Christians deeper into involvement with the world.

I read this book from a Protestant perspective; nevertheless, I have deep respect for the Catholic tradition. Barron made excellent points on how the universal Church ought to operate in the world and provides a fantastic approach to it. This book is a sequel to his popular primer Catholicism: A Journey into the Faith, and is useful for Catholics and non-Catholics alike who desire to go deeper in understanding how orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy.

Review: NIV Thinline Bible

Zondervan's newly updated NIV Thinline Bible (2017) is a revised edition of its classic Bible. There is nothing new about the translation; however, the way in which it is presented varies. Of most significance is the new ComfortPrint font, specially designed by the publisher for readability. The font is relatively large, at 9.4pt, and the words of Jesus are in read. It has a lay-flat design with a thumb index. It is leather and slim, measuring less than an inch in width. Finally, it has two ribbon markers.

Overall, this is a fantastic Bible. I particularly liked the font; it looks somewhat strange, but it is helpful. I did a test read through the book of Ruth and noticed that, somehow, my eyes navigated the page better. This Bible is shed of its study notes or additional end resources for a clean reading experience. The classic NIV translation is well-respected and balanced. For those looking for a simple Bible for study, reading, or church, look no further.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Review: Long Before Luther

As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, special focus returns to the questions on Protestant doctrine. How much different was it from the Catholic Church? Was a doctrinal split inevitable? In Nathan Busenitz's new book Long Before Luther: Tracing the Heart of the Gospel from Christ to the Reformation (Moody Publishers, 2017), the author seeks to answer the oft-asked question: Where was the Gospel before the Reformation? Through a careful examination of the development of the doctrine of justification, Busenitz shows the beautiful flourish of justification throughout church history.

Augustine is used as the "turning point" in the book; with the doctrine of justification examined in pre-Augustinian and post-Augustinian theologies. This subject may turn away some; however, the chapters are very short and easy to read. With a dense bibliography and extensive use of primary sources, readers are able to trace Busenitz' logical argument for how justification was not a Reformation invention, but rather a relative rediscovery of a treasure lost in history.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Review: They Came For Freedom

As we approach the season of Thanksgiving, it is easy to commercialize the American narrative. With flashy advertisements, holiday sales, and television specials, Thanksgiving can downplay the drama and severity of the events surrounding the founding of America. This is the problem that historian Jay Milbran seeks to solve in his new novel They Came for Freedom: The Forgotten, Epic Adventure of the Pilgrims (Thomas Nelson, 2017).

This book reads as a novel but serves as a textbook. Divided into three sections, the plot follows the plight of the persecuted pilgrims from Europe to the New World. It portrays this adventure as nothing short of harrowing—a radical, dangerous escapade with people passionate about seeking religious freedom. In an age with the secularization of church history, this novel is a reminder of the true spirit of Thanksgiving and should serve to give us a deeper appreciation of the trials endured for our religious liberties.

This book is well-researched and includes a bibliography, index, timeline, and primary sources. It is written in a narrative style with dialogue.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Review: NIV Reader's Bible

Study notes, commentaries, and illustrations are helpful, but there comes a time when one simply desires to read the Word of God, uninterrupted. That is the solution presented by the NIV Reader's Bible (Zondervan, 2017), a single-column, wide-margin version of the NIV Bible without headers, verse numbers, and study aids. Chapter numbers are moved to the margin, and footnotes are presented at the end of each book. The end result is a seamless reading experience that lets the Word speak in its original, unencumbered manner.

I am in love with this Bible. Its lay-flat cloth design and thick pages, with a simple yet powerful color scheme, make this an excellent Bible for devotions or public Scripture reading. The large text and Scripture references at the top of the page still make finding verses easy. The Bible is also available in a leather design for a more professional appearance. In an age of distractions, this Bible is a welcome addition for my personal and public worship uses.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Review: Color Index XL

For designers who enjoy a handy reference to quickly finding colors, the Color Index XL by Jim Krause is a welcome addition to their creative bookshelves. Following its pocked-sized predecessors, the Color Index is a large-format version of the guide to matching colors in various schemes. It also includes a primer on color theory.

The design of the book is quite excellent. It is simple, non-intrusive, and pairs colors well with unique patterns. RGB and CMYK codes are included for designers to transfer into their works. As a graphic designer, I find much use in these resources for inspiration; although, quite frankly, a color scheme website may be quicker to navigate and access colors. Therefore, this may be a piece to peruse occasionally but may not be my primary go-to. Nevertheless, this large book will still remain a part of my toolkit.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Review: Boundaries

The acclaimed classic Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend has been reprinted for the first time since its original publication in 1992. This book has stood the test of time for a reason: The content is amazing. Cloud and Townsend take a psychological and theological approach to relationships that involves why one should set boundaries, how to set boundaries, and how to measure boundaries. This incredibly practical text would serve anyone well who wants to improve their relationships with others.

Not much is different in this edition with the exception of a new chapter: "Boundaries for the Digital Age." Here, Cloud and Townsend tackle the changing digital realm of communication and how to set boundaries within it. For those who are struggling with thriving in relationships—with friends, with family, with spouses, or with God—this is a must-read. I highly recommend this book, as we all can benefit from living more unified in a fallen world.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Review: NIV Color Code Bible

At first glance, the NIV Color Code Bible (Thomas Nelson, 2017) does not appear to be any different than a standard pew Bible. The text size, lack of study notes, introductions, and visual aids would make it virtually indistinguishable from a standard reader Bible. However, the distinguishing factor in this Bible is the color coding. Significant passages are highlighted to identify various theological themes that arise over the narrative of Scripture. The color coding key is included at the bottom.

This Bible is designed for children; however, I believe that it would be useful for teenagers or adult seekers striving to find biblical evidence for Christian doctrine. The design is simple and minimal, although the pseudo-leather is soft and somewhat cheap. The text size is manageable for the average reader, but beware of the many colors on each page. Combining the headings and the highlights, the pages are visually busy, so this may not be for those who want an uninterrupted reading of Scripture.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Review: The Alphabet of Grief

Andrea Raynor's The Alphabet of Grief: Words to Help in Times of Sorrow (Waterbrook, 2017) is a short, compact book but is an invaluable guide to navigating the process of grief. Written in a warm, approachable way that combines pastoral excellence with scriptural integrity, Raynor uses each letter of the alphabet to present a systematic way of coping with loss. The stories are honest, the emotions are raw, and, at the end of it, you will emerge a stronger person because of the hope dispensed by Raynor's writing. The author does an excellent job of using biblical stories and principles in a way that avoids platitudes, truisms, and other cliches and does not knock them over the reader's head. This is a highly recommended text for pastors and parishioners who are trying to understand morality in the scope of eternity.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Review: The King James Study Bible

The King James Study Bible (Thomas Nelson, 2017) is a full-color, magnificent Bible for the lover of the KJV. With a beautiful, flexible leather lay-flat design and large text, this Bible will make a fantastic resource for those interested in going deeper in God's Word. It has a colorful design, study footnotes with pictures and aids that move from interpretation to application, and introductions to each book with a corresponding outline. The back of the book has study helps, such as a concordance and maps.

I was very impressed by this study Bible. However, the pages in this Bible are somewhat thin and consequently cause the pages to stick together. Additionally, the width of the Bible is somewhat thick, although it is a manageable size. Center column references and full color pictures are certainly a welcomed addition. Overall, this is a fantastic Bible if you want something that possesses both content and beauty.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Review: NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible

The NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Zondervan, 2017) is a fantastic resource to peek behind the pages of Scripture and discover the context behind the text. This hardcover Bible is, first and foremost, bulky. It is thick and filled with information on the background of seemingly mundane Bible stories. Introductions to each book place it within its historical context and frame it in a way that prepares readers to enter its setting. There are maps, diagrams, charts, and pictures of archaeological finds that attest to the historicity of the biblical narrative.

This is an excellent Bible that should be on the shelves of all scholars, pastors, and laypeople who want to explore the Bible deeper. I used Luke 15, the familiar parable of the prodigal son, as a test case, and found that its cultural background notes indeed went beyond the surface level interpretations. Most readers will find these notes interesting and will want you to dig deeper into the world of the Bible. The goal of this study Bible is to make you more fascinated with Scripture—and it indeed succeeds at this task.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Review: Thank You for Arguing

In Thank You for Arguing (Three Rivers Press, 2017), rhetorician Jay Heinrichs presents a readable yet comprehensive overview on the art of argument. Now in its third edition, this newly-revised version of the popular text features an "Argument Lab" at the end of the book, allowing students to practice their argumentation skills upon completion of the book. There is also a glossary of rhetorical strategies, helpful for quick and easy reference.

This is an excellent book that I wish I had when I was taking rhetoric classes. The author uses a humorous style and many real-world and pop culture examples, such as how to argue your way out of a traffic ticket. As Heinrichs argues, all the world requires rhetoric, so why not learn how to win everything from a presidential debate to a sibling argument. There are many pullouts with applications of his text—and he even analyzes the rhetorical devices used in the book itself! Overall, this is a very valuable text for casual readers and scholars alike, a perfect introduction to becoming an amazing arguer.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review as a part of the Blogging for Books program.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Review: Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God

What is God like? Is he the angry, violent God that we read about in the Old Testament? Or is he the picture of a loving, compassionate Father that we see in the New Testament? In Brian Zahnd's Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Good News, a pastor tries to correct Christians' false views of God. The book is named after revivalist Jonathan Edwards' most famous sermon for a reason; this sermon that had a profound impact on American evangelicalism also influenced how many American Christians view God today—an angry God.

The initial concern that readers may have is, "But God actually commanded genocide, didn't he?" Zahnd excellently avoids falling into heretical traps such as Arianism, Marcionism, and Gnosticism. He is careful to jump to far conclusions and uses Scripture to back up his points. Without ignoring the passages of Scripture that show God's angry side, he unpacks a Christological argument for how the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ finally closed the book on God's history of violence, replacing it instead with pure, true love.

For those looking to more fully understand God's nature, this is an excellent place to start. It is theologically packed yet not exhaustive, serving well as an introductory text. Perhaps we can all step away deeper in love with the God whose loving embrace holds us together.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review as a part of the Blogging for Books program.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Review: As Kingfishers Catch Fire

Ever wonder what an award-winning Bible translator does on a Sunday morning? As Kingfishers Catch Fire (WaterBrook Multnomah, 2017) is a collection of Eugene Peterson's sermons and musings from his years as a church leader. Subtitled "a conversation on the ways of God formed by the words of God," this anthology of Peterson's homiletic hits seeks to develop our spirituality in a way of deeper holiness. This book is organized around a canonical structure, almost like a pseudo lectionary. It is as if we are invited into Peterson's church for front-pew seats on a Sunday morning service, eavesdropping on what he has to say to his congregation.

The initial impression—wow! Peterson is warm, didactic, and authentic as he interprets and applies the Scriptures. This book is targeted toward seminarians and pastors, but it can easily find a resonant audience from laypersons. A valuable resource for personal spiritual formation that, with God's help, can spill into how we shape those we shepherd.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review as a part of the Blogging for Books program.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: Real Artists Don't Starve

The proposition of Real Artists Don't Starve (2017, Thomas Nelson) is intriguing. It begins with a shocking discovery about Renaissance artist Michelangelo. While he may be seen as the stereotypical "starving artist," he was actually paid a fortune for his murals on the Sistine Chapel. This led author Jeff Goins to the conclusion that being an artist does not mean succumbing to the "Starving Artist" mold. Instead, he contrasts this with the "Thriving Artist" of what he calls the New Renaissance. The book presents practical principles for becoming an artist who thrives, embracing countercultural mentalities of creativity.

Make no mistake—this book is not a how-to on starting a work from beginning to end. Rather, Real Artists Don't Starve presents a method, a mindset in which to enter a creative process. As a musician, composer, and graphic designer, I benefited from many of these ideas that I often saw as wrong, such as that "stealing" is a good thing. This book does have a self-help vibe to it, and its publication by a Christian organization hints at the betterment of life promised by the Gospel. Overall, this book is an excellent read for existing artists who want to go deeper in their craft.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Review: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

In an updated version of his groundbreaking work, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (2017, Zondervan), award-winning author Pete Scazzero outlines ten problems that arise from spiritual immaturity and provides biblically based remedies. The thesis is simple: It's impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature. His explanations are succinct, easy-to-read, theologically correct and scripturally rooted. This book comes highly recommended for those in all positions—from top-tier leaders to the average layman.

Scazzero melds psychology and theology as he uncovers the causes of spiritual immaturity. Step-by-step illustrations illuminate his concepts. He also uses a variety of illustrations, from popular culture to the Bible. Questions for reflection and a prayer at the end of each chapter provide an excellent immediate application of the principles. This book would be excellent for small group, leadership development, or discipleship courses. Overall, all could benefit from reading Emotionally Healthy Spirituality—it is of no surprise that this is a bestseller.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Review: NIV Kids' Visual Study Bible

The NIV Kids' Visual Study Bible (Zondervan Kidz, 2017) is a full-color, illustrated study Bible for the young explorer. With over 700 illustrations, photos, maps, and infographics, this Bible also features a one-column layout and a ribbon marker. There are study notes on the sidebars and allow space for annotation. Overall, this is an excellent Bible for young readers.

The text is the NIV, not the easier-to-read NIrV, and the commentary does use more advanced language, so parents should be cautious to present this to older children. The many colors and engaging graphics are sure to captivate children. The study notes are deep, insightful, easy to understand, and accurately bring to life much of the ancient text. Furthermore, the Bible gives insight into the cultural context, in particular the archaeological and geographic circumstances surrounding particular passages, which serve to add validity to the events mentioned in the text. The introductions to each chapter provide a simple overview that answer key questions (ie. "Who wrote the book?" "What do we learn about God in this book?"). A combination of illustrations, photographs, and graphics provide eye-popping ways to interact with the text.

This is an excellent Bible to introduce children to explore and discover the truths hidden below the surface and comes highly recommended.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Review: Giving It All Away...and Getting It All Back Again

In David Green's practical quasi-memoir, Giving It All Away...and Getting It All Back Again: The Way of Living Generously (Zondervan, 2017), the CEO and founder of Hobby Lobby reflects on a lifestyle of trusting God through financial and legal troubles. The master business leader tells of the famous Supreme Court battle involving the company and ruminates on a life that trusted God with the resources he has been given.

This book, however, is not about his personal struggles so much as it is a theological discussion of generosity. Applying the doctrines of God's sovereignty to a corporate setting, Green offers practical advice on becoming a generous steward of God's resources. Green argues that this radical generosity has a boomerang effect that, if we are responsible to God's creation, his providence will spill into our lives.

Giving It All Away is a fantastic read for those who want to learn from a Christian businessperson on the integration of faith, work, and economics and comes highly recommended.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review: The Gospel According to Paul

The Gospel According to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017) is an exciting exploration of Paul's version of the Gospel. Written by respected scholar and theologian John MacArthur, this book carefully analyzes some of Paul's most famous passages and interprets them to point to the heart of the Good News. In an age in which many are in need of hearing the Gospel, this book comes at no more opportune time.

MacArthur gives clear answers to questions such as: What is the Gospel? How do we know we have it right? How should we spread it to the world? MacArthur is clear in his argument, biblical in his support, and this book serves as an excellent reference to laypeople and scholars alike. There is also an extensive index and four appendices giving an in-depth discussion to the theology of the atonement. One should be careful, however, to note that MacArthur's theology is not ecumenical; his Calvinist leanings definitely play out in his interpretation of soteriology. Nevertheless, The Gospel According to Paul is a biblically based exegesis and defense of the Gospel, and I highly recommend it to all.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Review: The Dawn of Christianity

The Dawn of Christianity (Thomas Nelson, 2017) by Robert J. Hutchinson. Weaving Scripture, tradition, and archaeology together, Hutchinson creates a tapestry that shows how a ragtag group of fishermen, soldiers, and prostitutes—led by a rabbi—changed the world. There are four parts to this book: The Road to Jerusalem, starting with Jesus' call to the disciples and ending with his burial, Alive, the beginning of the Church, The Beginning of Persecution, tracing historical events in Acts, and The Expansion of the Jesus Movement, ending with the Jerusalem Council.

The book, written in narrative style, chronicles the beginning of the church from the life of Christ to the end of the New Testament. The cultural context provided in vivid detail by Hutchinson allows us to step into the shoes of the early disciples and gain a fuller picture of what the Christ meant to them. Furthermore, the book features maps and pictures of archaeological finds to enter into the story. An appendix with a timeline and "who's who" and an index make for a very well-researched and reputable book.

Overall, this book is an excellent introduction to early church history as viewed through new lenses. It is a refreshing, readable change-of-pace to traditional historical approaches to reading the New Testament, and I highly recommend it for laypeople and scholars.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Review: NIV Faithlife Study Bible

The NIV Faithlife Study Bible. published by Zondervan, is a rich study Bible filled with colorful notes, maps, and commentaries highlighting key insights of Scripture. The appeal of this Bible lies in its full-color infographics and map. The Bible also includes introductions to each book of the Bible and scholarly articles covering major biblical divisions and themes. Overall, I highly recommend this study Bible for an introductory or intermediate-level library.

The font size of the Faithlife Study Bible is standard and legible for most people. The verses are written in an appealing serif font, while the study notes are in a sans serif font, creating great harmony and distinction, increasing legibility. The study notes at the bottom feature word studies, geography information, and much more to unlock the full meanings of a text. The Bible uses an appealing color scheme that is unique yet not distracting to the eye.

The NIV Faithlife Study Bible is a welcome addition to the modern study Bible library and should enjoy great success in the future.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Review: KJV Word Study Bible

The KJV Word Study Bible by Thomas Nelson is a powerful study Bible that outlines key words that, in the original Greek and Hebrew, are essential to "unlocking the meaning of the Bible." Additionally, the Bible features introductions to each book and full-color maps.

My initial feelings toward this Bible are positive. The font size is very large and readable, and the boxes containing the word information are non-intrusive. The Bible features a Strong's index and concordance for those who want to use this Bible for more serious scholarly work. The leather cover seems durable, and the gold gilded edges are a nice touch.

Overall, I would recommend this Bible to others. The choice of words are great introductions into basic word studies, but should not be seen as an exclusive resource for Biblical language scholars.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”