The Beginning and End of Wisdom by Douglas Sean O’Donnell

Beginning and End of WisdomO’Donnell, Douglas Sean.  The Beginning and End of Wisdom: Preaching Christ from the First and Last Chapters of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job.  Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2011.  240 pp.  $17.99.  Purchase at Westminster or Amazon for less.

Introduction

Douglas has served as senior pastor of New Covenant Church in Naperville, Illinois.  He is also the author of God’s Lyrics: Rediscovering Worship Through Old Testament Songs.

Summary

Divided into 7 chapters, the first six chapters are 6 sermons: 1 each from the beginning and end of Proberbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job.  Each sermon offers a Christocentric look at these wisdom/poetry books from the OT.

The final chapters serves as a lesson in hermeneutics concerning how one should preach the wisdom literature found in the Bible.  There are also two appendices that prove helpful for the pastor and lay leader.  The first looks at how to preach Hebrew poetry and the second offers book summaries of the three books of the Bible and even a suggested sermon series for each book.

Review

It must be realized that these chapters are sermons of a larger sermon series and serve as bookends to those particular series.  That being said, however, they are able to stand alone and offer guidance to the young pastor looking to preach these books or even stand alone sermons.

In his efforts, Douglas does a masterful job of pointing the reader, and presumably his congregation, to Christ in some difficult passages found in the Old Testament.  At roughly 13 pages each, these sermons can be read devotionally to great advantage for the reader.

Further, for the pastor who understands, they will be challenged by the Christ-centered hermeneutic used by Douglas.  After having read the six sermons, the final three chapters/appendices read more like a class on hermeneutics as stated above.

His writing style is simple and effective and enables others to learn a method of preaching that is often unknown today.

Recommendation

I can recommend this resource to all Christians.  To the lay person, i.e., non-clergy, you will begin to understand the OT wisdom literature in a new light.  To the pastor and aspiring pastor, you will have a good example of what Christ-centered preaching looks like.

The Invisible World by Anthony Destefano

The Invisible WorldDestefano, Anthony.  The Invisible World: Understanding Angels, Demons, and the Spiritual Realities that Surround Us.  New York: Random House, 2011.  210 pp.  $19.99.  Purchase at Amazon and on Kindle for much less.

Introduction

Anthony Destefano is no stranger to Christian Book Notes readers.  I have reviewed a couple of his children’s books in the past.  You can read more about his ministry at AnthonyDestefano.com.

Summary

Divided into 10 chapters, Destefano begins with a subjective experiential challenge he calls the haunt detector.  He claims that everyone has one.  From that point, he attempts to explain why we all seem to have this so-called haunt detector.  His second chapter lays the foundation for the rest of the book – it is the invisible God.

The rest of the book looks at various qualities of the spiritual realm from invisible helpers to invisible evil.  By chapter five, the reader begins to understand what is at stake as Anthony discusses the invisible soul.  From there he discusses the invisible warfare and grace as well as the power of suffering.

Toward the end of the book, Destefano offers an explanation of the invisible destiny of all….heaven or hell.  The final chapter attempts to make the unseen seen.

Review

First, it is important to know that Anthony is Roman Catholic.  Hence, his theology will be different than mine.  That being said, let me just say upfront, The Invisible World is a decent starting point for understanding the realities of the spiritual realm.

I would have like to have seen more Scripture references to the claims being stated.  Though there was nothing inherently wrong with what he wrote, I found it to be weak on biblical support within his own writings.  In other words, he offers his dogmatic assertions from what he knows but does not always support it with quotes from Scripture for the reader.

I appreciated that he discussed the truthfulness of hell and did not really shy away from the fact that this was  a legitimate place where people will go in the after life.  What I did not like is that he again did not really support this with Scripture.

Also, in the chapter on hell and heaven, he makes it a point that it is our free will that will save us.  He says that when a person “can’t bring himself to repent, even at the final hour, that person essentially condemns himself to hell” (p. 173).  This flies in the face of passages like Exodus 7:4; John 3:16-18; and Romans 9:17-18.  This half truth is perpetuated because we just cannot believe a good and holy God would ever send anyone to hell.

The fact is, God would still be good, loving, and gracious if He never saved anyone.

Recommendation

Again, as I said at the beginning, this is a decent introduction to the subject of the spiritual realm.  It should not, however, be the only book you read on the topic.  There are many other evangelical writers who support their claims with Scripture.  I can only recommend this book at the introductory level and with the caveat that you search out other resources to read.  I would highly recommend Randy Alcorn’s work entitled Heaven as the book to purchase.

Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung

Taking God at His WordDeYoung, Kevin.  Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me.  Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2014. 138 pp.  $17.99.  Purchase at Westminster for less, at Amazon for $12.46 and on Kindle for $8.57.

Introduction

Kevin DeYoung is no stranger to Christian Book Notes nor is he a stranger to Christian writing as a genre.  I have reviewed a number of his works here and have always found him to be spot on with his assessments.  This particular book looks at the sufficiency of Scripture for the believer.

Summary

Divided into 8 chapters over a scant 138 pages, Kevin looks at the importance of knowing that we can trust the Bible as being the Word of God given to us.  He offers a couple foundational chapters on believing and feeling and doing something and directs us to the reality that there is indeed something more to the Bible than meets the eye.  The next five chapters expound on the doctrine of the Bible that evangelicalism and Christianity at large has held to for 2,000 years.

We read about God’s Word being enough, being clear, being final, and being necessary.  All of these point us to the truth that the Bible we read today can be verified as being the inerrant and infallible Word of God handed down to us through the centuries.

The seventh chapter looks at Christ’s unbreakable Bible – the Old Testament. The argument is basically if Jesus believed the OT to be historically true, then we ought to believe this as well.  The final chapter is that we are to stick with the Scriptures.  This is nothing less that the Reformation’s mantra of sola scriptura…Scripture alone!

Review

I honestly hate that this book is even necessary today.  I say this because in reading it, I am reminded of how many attacks have been, and are, leveled at the Bible.  I am reminded as a pastor just how difficult the job of expositing Scripture can be in a world that seeks to undermine the authority of the Bible at every possible moment.  How do we compete with the world? We faithfully preach God’s Word as wholly true and trustworthy.  We also read books like Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word.

He writes from an exposition of Psalm 119 (not the entire Psalm) and looks at how God’s Word still speaks to us today.  It must be noted that while he is arguing for the clarity of Scripture, he is explaining this doctrine for the intended audience without assuming they know or understand the doctrine itself.

This works amounts to a rudimentary seminary class on the doctrine of the Bible.  A discussion that is covered in an hour in most seminary-level classes today is here treated in a 138 page book written for the lay leader.

His work is relevant and much needed today as the Bible continues to be attacked by those who claim to be Christian (anyone for rewriting the sin of homosexuality?).  In reading this work, you will have a better understanding of what has been believed and held by Biblical Christianity for 2,000 years.  You will begin to also understand the reasons why you can trust the Bible that you are reading today.

Recommendation

I recommend this resource to all who are interested in the discussion of why we can trust the Bible.  Will there be critics? Absolutely.  Will you agree with everything? Probably not, but the argument cannot be made that DeYoung is self-defeating by explaining the clarity of Scripture when he is in all actuality teaching about the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture.

ESV Reader’s Bible by Crossway Books

ESV Reader's BibleESV Reader’s Bible. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2014.  1840 pp.  $29.99.  Purchase at Amazon for $20.00, or Westminster books for $14.99.

Introduction

I have reviewed a number of ESV Bibles and have found each one extremely beneficial given its particular study notes or edition.  I also am one who reads the ESV regularly and preaches from it every Sunday.

Summary

This particular edition features  hardly any verse references (see review below) and is meant to be read as a narrative uninterrupted by artificial subheadings, verse interruptions, and large chapter subdivisions.

You can watch this video to gain a better understanding of what they are striving for in this particular edition.

 Review

To begin with, I was impressed with the packaging of the cloth over board edition.  It certainly is made to look like the classic that the Bible is and looks sharp sitting on any book shelf.

The two ribbons help in terms of reading plans especially since the verse numbers are not prevalent.  For example, I place one ribbon where I need to start and a second where I want to end for a given week.  Otherwise, you can have a ribbon for the OT and one for the NT.  Either way, the two ribbons prove to be beneficial.

My one criticism is even in the attempt to draw the reader into the narrative, they still use the verse numbers at the top of the page.  I understand this is for orientation purposes, but it is a bit distracting when they are not present in the main body.  Also, they are in red which draws your eye to the top of the page almost immediately.  Perhaps they could have been a bit smaller and set more like a page number rather than a page header.

The font size is perfect and the lack of footnotes is interestingly relieving to the reader.  The goal of “getting lost in the narrative” has been met and exceeded. One who reads this particular Bible will more than likely find that their reading time in the Word of God will increase substantially.

This edition will make a great family devotional Bible and one that can be handed down as an inheritance through the years.

Recommendation

If you are one who reads the Bible cover to cover each year, I recommend this edition to you heartily.  If you are one who studies for lessons and sermons, I would recommend this edition to you as well.  I have found that it helps to just simply read the Bible rather than try to study it.  Yes, studying is important, but so is simple Bible intake for the sake of familiarity.

Why Dogs Are…by Tana Thompson

Why Dogs Are...Thompson, Tana. Illustrated by Marita Gentry.  Why Dogs Are…  Talladega: Kendall Neff Publishing, 2014.  17 pp.  $14.99.  Purchase at Amazon and on Kindle for less.

Introduction

Tana worked in colleges for 30 years and, now that she is in retirement, she is pursuing her dream of writing.  In so doing, she is combining her love for dogs with her pursuit of writing.

Why Dogs Are is the first in a book series aimed at raising awareness of the various roles animals play in our lives that enhance and improve our physical, psychological and spiritual well-being.  This series is entitled Loved Unleashed.

You can read more at WhyDogAre.com.

Summary/Review

Why Dogs Are tells the story of how a dog teaches some life lessons to a very special child. It seeks to explore the concept of God’s unconditional love and how someone without the ability to see or hear can comprehend its scope and His impact in our lives.

I appreciated that the story involves a child, Brian, with a handicap.  So many children never understand the reality of life with difficulty except when they do not get their way.   The story is one of what God’s creation means to us as humans, the “jewel” of God’s creation.  I appreciated the interplay and the implicit example of God’s love for His creation.

I was a bit concerned when God needed help from His creation in order to show Brian how much He loved him.  My concern is that it will leave children with the idea that God needs help thus making Him less than who He is.  Yes, I can be accused of reading into this, but at the same time, we must do all we can to discuss God on His terms and according to His Word.

This concern notwithstanding, I really enjoyed the story and the truths that were proclaimed to a younger audience.  The love God does show through His creation to a young man that world often typically thinks of as less than perfect is to be understood in the context of our being created in His image.  That is where we find our argument for the sanctification of life and that is where Tana Thompson succeeds in telling a great story of love unleashed.

Recommendation

I feel I need to qualify this recommendation based upon the above comments.  Be prepared to explain to your children that God really does not need help but that it is part of this story in order to show His love for all of His creation.  I can recommend this book to all children and all Christians.  The layers of the message being shared in this book will have impact beyond the first reading.

 

 

God’s Great Creation: ZonderKidz Adventure Bible

God's Great CreationGod’s Great Creation (I Can Read! Adventure Bible).  Illustrated by David Miles.  Grand Rapids: ZonderKidz, 2014. 32 pp.  $3.99. Purchase at Amazon for less.

Introduction/Summary

The Adventure Bible is a best selling children’s Bible designed for kids age 12 and under.  This particular I Can Read! book is for the reading level 2 group of children which is geared toward ages 4-8.

This edition covers the 6 days of creation and the Fall of man.  The pictures by David Miles are well done and explode off the page with color.

Review

This children’s book does a good job of getting the main thrust of the Creation story to the children.  It also does a good job of explaining the fall of man by listening to the temptation of the serpent.  I wished it would have added the line from the Scriptures where Eve states that God said they couldn’t touch it which is not what was said when God gave the original commandment.

I point this out only because it leads to a number of important lessons for us today.  It teaches that we must know exactly what was said.  It teaches us that we ought to keep the text in context.  It teaches us that God is not nearly as “harsh” as we are to ourselves.

Regardless of this one point, I really enjoyed reading this to my younger children and letting my stage 2/3 reader read it aloud.  The story is biblically verifiable and leads to actual gospel conversation.

Recommendation

While I rarely recommend children’s books about the Bible because they are typically watered down, God’s Great Creation is part of a series of I Can Read! books that I think will go a long way in beginning to lay a foundation of the importance of Scripture in a child’s life.  I recommend this book for all Christian parents and families.

 

The Name Quest by John Avery

Name QuestAvery, John.  The Name Quest: Explore the Names of God to Grow in Faith and Get to Know Him Better.  New York: Morgan James Publishing, 2014.  394 pp.  $24.99.  Purchase at Amazon and on Kindle for less.

Introduction

John has been in the ministry over 30 years as pastor, small group leader, and missionary.  He has lived in Israel, England, Africa, and the USA.  He writes a regular Bible devotional at BibleMaturity.com.  You can also find out more about the names of God at NamesforGod.net.

Summary

Divided into 23 chapters over 394 pages, John Avery offers us a deeper look at the names, or as he correctly says, titles, of God in order to enable us to begin to understand our Creator at a deeper level.  This is not a simple work whereby the names or titles of God are listed.  Rather, this is a study that looks at the various names from differing perspectives and strives to link together the various names in order to give a more complete picture of God.

Review

Because this is not a simple exegesis of the names and titles of God, you are going to get much of John’s interpretation on the application and importance of the various names and titles of God.  This is not necessarily a bad thing as it does serve as a means for the reader to begin considering, as Paul says in part, “the depths and riches of God.”

You will probably not agree with everything he says but it will not be for a lack of biblical support.  In reading this work, you will need to have your Bible sitting open and at the ready.  As you progress through the (seeming) random assortment of names of God, you will begin to draw lines from one name to the other and, in the process, your knowledge of God and your awareness of your limited ability to understand the infinite will become crystal clear.

Recommendation

I can recommend this resource to anyone serious about studying the names of God.  In essence, you will be studying God Himself through His revealed Word.  In the end, you may disagree with some of John’s assessments, but you will have arrived at your own.  This is always for the edification of the believer.

 

Interview: Andrew Peterson

Andrew-12Many of you have been blessed by the music and story-telling ability of Andrew Peterson.  I had heard of his music and was introduced to his series, The Wingfeather Saga, by his publicist, Janet Bozeman.  You can read a review of all four books by clicking on this link.

You can read more about The Wingfeather Saga at the website.

Christian Book Notes (CBN):  Could you please share your testimony of how the Lord saved you from your sin?

Andrew Peterson (AP):  I wrote a song a few years back called “The Good Confession.” Here’s the lyric: I was a boy, just nine years old. I heard the Call and came. And they buried me beneath the water, then I rose again. Well, you know my dad was a preacher man. I walked the aisle and I took his hand. He said, “Son, just do the best you can and say the words: I believe He is the Christ, Son of the living God.”

Later, in the bridge, it says, All I know is that I was blind, but now I see that though I kick and scream, love is leading me. And every step of the way His grace is making me. With every breath I breathe, He is saving me. And I believe.

If I tried to tell the whole story, it would be a book. But that lyric sums it up pretty well. I was nine, I was broken, and I knew that only Jesus could fix me.

CBN:  My son Austin, 9, would like to know if you are coming out with a 5th book in the Wingfeather Saga series.

AP:  First of all, thanks for reading the book, Austin! So glad you did. And no, I’m not writing another Wingfeather book. My hope is that the epilogue and the picture on the last page will kick around in Austin’s heart for many years, kind of like another story I know in which the ending has only been hinted at, and we’re all waiting for something wonderful to happen.

CBN:  My son Isaac, 8, would like to know what was your inspiration for writing the Wingfeather Saga.

AP:  Hello, Isaac. I wrote these books because when I was your age I LOVED good stories. When I go to the book store now it’s hard to find the kind of stories I really want—there are some with super cool pictures on the covers, but many of the stories just aren’t very good. They’re missing a certain flavor that I crave—kind of like eating a bowl of soup that doesn’t have any salt. It just tastes like, well, nothing. Blah.

But there are some books that taste just right—like the Narnia books and The Lord of the Rings. And The Yearling and The Rise and Fall of Mt. Majestic and 100 Cupboards. I wanted to try and cook up the kind of story I would have wanted to read when I was your age.

CBN:  Given the relative newness of your series, what goes through your mind when the Wingfeather Saga is compared to that of Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and even Pilgrim’s Progress?

AP:  I’m sitting here trying to think of the best way to honestly answer that question. Part of the answer comes by way of the great Wendell Berry, “If anyone praises your work, doubt their judgment.” That said, I’m not ungrateful to be mentioned in the same sentence with those giants. It’s fun, even though I know I’m only a little halfling by comparison. I would truly love it if the books are still being read fifty years from now, and if there’s some element in the Wingfeather Saga that stirs your waters the way those other books have, then all the better. But thinking about that stuff too much is like walking into a minefield.

The Warden and the Wolf KIngCBN:  Recently, World Magazine voted “The Warden and the Wolf King” as their Children’s Book of the Year for 2014.  What was your reaction?

AP:  When I got the news, my first thought was, “Whoa! What a huge honor.” Second thought: “I hope that means more people will read the books.” The award is a great encouragement, but I mainly just want kids (and grownups) to get caught up in the Wingfeather story, to see it to the end, and to perhaps be moved by it. Many thanks to those, like World Magazine, and you, who have helped spread the word. Thanks!

CBN:  You are a magnificent story teller in both song writing and fiction. Can we expect another book in the future?

AP:  Yes! I’m already thinking about the next few books. And albums.

CBN:  What author’s have most inspired you? What musicians?

AP:  Well, Lewis and Tolkien for sure. Also Walter Wangerin, Jr., Annie Dillard, Wendell Berry, Chesterton, MacDonald, Merton, Rawlings, DiCamillo.

As for music, Rich Mullins, James Taylor, Paul Simon, Marc Cohn.

CBN:  Do you ever see The Wingfeather Saga being filmed as a major motion picture?

AP:  Yeah, it’s hard not to imagine the story on the screen. If the right producer came along I’d be sorely tempted to go for it.

CBN:  How can we pray for you?

AP:  Pray for my family. For Jamie and the kids and I to stay close even though my job and our busy lives pull at us from several directions.

 

The Simple Little Salvation Story by William F. Cote

Simple Little Salvation StoryCote, William F. Illustrated by Shirley Chiang  The Simple Little Salvation Story. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.  60 pp. $14.95. Purchase at Amazon and on Kindle for less.

Introduction/Summary

Bill Cote has written a children’s book that offers the gospel message to children (and the parents who read it).  It is only 60 pages and offers an explanation of our need of salvation as well as how we can be saved from our sins.

The illustrations by Shirley Chiang are colorful and invite the children to keep their attention on the pages as they are being read aloud or silently.

Review

One of my great concerns when I began reading this work was the comment in the “Acknowledgements” section where he talks of receiving helps from a priest in the Catholic Church as well as a pastor in a Baptist Church to avoid pushing the “heresy button.”  My concern is if you typically try to reach the Catholic and the Protestant with the gospel you are inevitably going to deny one or the other’s essential doctrine.  After all, the Reformation did happen for a reason.

As I read the work, I was impressed that Cote walked the line though he did not offer the works-based salvation of the Catholic Church.  He does keep the Protestant version of the 10 Commandments as well.  In other words, he offers the law of God in order to show the grace of God.

Could the gospel have been phrased more accurately? Perhaps, but the point is to share the “simple” story of salvation.  He succeeds in that endeavor.

One might also be upset at the complexion of Jesus given He is depicted as a fair-complected almost middle-class American.  While I easily get agitated at that, I understand the longing to have the children feel as comfortable as possible when talking to them about their sins.  Again, easy to tee off on, but not necessary if the parent is doing his or her job and teaching about Christ already in the home.

Recommendation

I can recommend this 60-page Gospel saturated little book to anyone wanting yet another opportunity to share the gospel with their children.  Cote’s Law/Grace approach is excellent and makes this work a worthwhile addition to your library.

 

Christ and the Desert Tabernacle by J.V. Fesko

Christ and the Desert TabernacleFesko, J.V. Christ and the Desert Tabernacle.  Faverdale North, Darlington, England: EP Books, 2012.  132 pp.  $13.99.  Purchase at Westminster for $10.35 or Amazon Kindle for $5.39.

Introduction

Dr. Fesko is Academic Dean and Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary, California.  He was also the church planter of Geneva Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Woodstock, GA from 1998-2004 before serving as pastor from 2004-2009.  He has written a number of other quality resources that can be found here.

Summary

According to the title, the work focuses on Christ and how the desert tabernacle points us to Him.  Throughout the book, however, the reader will look at the permanent temple built in Jerusalem as well.  Regardless, Fesko divides this work into thirteen chapters and looks at everything concerning the desert tabernacle from the building materials to the furniture within and even the consecration of the priests and the craftsmen who built and designed everything (Oholiab and Bezalel) and concludes with a look at the Sabbath.

Each chapter, save the first, offers the biblical information regarding the piece of furniture or the ceremonial cleansing, etc., being considered.  After establishing this foundation, Fesko moves to how each particular element is to be understood in light of the New Testament.

Review

Dr. Fesko plays it fairly safe in this work as he does not make the unusual stretches of application many attempt when looking at the tabernacle and Christ.  Much of his exegesis is Christ-centered and offers a deeper explanation to one of the more ‘boring’ sections of Scripture according to some.

Each chapter, though short, is a platform to plumb the depths of the amazing glory and mercy of God through His plan of salvation.  I found myself lead to worship and back to the Word of God as I sought to understand from a fresh perspective the importance of the tabernacle.  As can be expected, Dr. Fesko spends much of his NT application in the book of Hebrews.

Perhaps what makes this work more enjoyable is the pastoral precision and care in which he writes.  Each application is meant to drive home the importance of Christ and what He accomplished on behalf of us for the sake of YHWH.  To begin to understand the many layers and facets of the tabernacle and how it applies to Christ and the Christian today is to be swept away into a sea of beauty and awe.

Recommendation

This is a quick read that will have lasting impact on your life and meditations on the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Reading this work will also, I believe, transform your reading of the account of the building of the tabernacle, the temple, and then what all Christ experienced as He lived and died.  I recommend this to all Christians.

Short, introductory reviews of Christian Books