Posts Tagged ‘Book Reviews’

ESV Study BibleEvery couple of years on average since I attended college in the 1970s I have read some version or edition of the Bible I have not previously read. If it’s just the straight text of some version without a lot of study notes, then more often than not I complete it in about a year. The more substantive editions, however, require more time to work through and digest. Such is the case with the ESV Study Bible I just completed after an unusually long time of about three years reading it. The 2,752 pages are an absolute wealth of information, not to mention an excellent Bible translation.

The English Standard Version (ESV) was first published in 2001 by Crossway Bibles, with the extensive Study Bible published in 2008. You can access a free online version of the ESV (not the Study Bible) at www.esvbible.org. Purchasing a hard copy of the Study Bible entitles the purchaser to have access to the full Study Bible online, along with the ability to invite up to five others to share online access.

The ESV Study Bible was the result of the combined efforts of 95 evangelical Christian scholars and teachers. As you would expect from a study Bible, additions to the biblical text itself with the relevant footnotes and cross-references include thorough introductions to each book of the Bible, numerous additional articles, maps, illustrations, charts, timelines, and a concordance. After completing the biblical text with the accompanying notes, it was a mini education in itself to read the sections related to biblical doctrine, biblical ethics, interpreting the Bible, reading the Bible, the canon of Scripture, the reliability of Bible manuscripts, archaeology and the Bible, the original languages of the Bible, the Bible in Christianity, the Bible and world religions, and the Bible and religious cults.

For those that don’t know, I graduated from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1982 and did further Doctor of Education study at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary a few years later. I have to confess that I could confidently advise young men and women today to invest themselves in a relatively small set of resources including the ESV Study Bible and several other books and they would be soundly equipped doctrinally for their ministry. Of course, there is more to ministry than knowing doctrine, so there is still much value in formal ministry education, especially for the practical side of ministry functions. For myself, though, if I got a do-over, I would trade all the theology and biblical studies courses I took for a few good study Bibles and other resources and spend the time learning their contents inside and out.

Most of us, though, don’t read the Bible because we’re in a full-time ministry vocation. If we read it (and that’s a big “if” with most Americans today), we do so as individuals committed to or seeking to know God better and to serve him more faithfully. That is why having such an excellent study Bible in hand is a great help to any Christian at any stage of spiritual maturity. The meat within its pages will satisfy the spiritually hungry who has known and served the Lord for decades as well as the new or not-yet believer who is eager to learn.

A few years ago I completed the MacArthur Study Bible by John MacArthur. It was also excellent – a treasure trove of information and insight. There is something to be said, though, for a study Bible like the ESV Study Bible being the cumulative effort of 95 scholars and teachers as opposed to one man, no matter how excellent and sound that one man may be in his doctrine, research and writing. For that reason, plus for the additional sections in the ESV Study Bible, I have to give the nod to the ESV as my preferred study Bible between the two of them, although I usually read the notes from each when preparing to teach or preach. They are complementary, not in competition with one another.

Next on the Bible reading list for me is The Apologetics Study Bible for two reasons: (1) I have not yet read through the version called the Holman Christian Standard Bible that this study Bible uses, and (2) the focus of the additional helps in this study Bible are geared toward Christian apologetics which is the practice of understanding and giving reasons for ones faith as well as responding to objections from others regarding the faith. We can always use a little improvement in that regard, so I look forward to spending now through 2014 working my way through the 2000+ pages of The Apologetics Study Bible. The few parts I’ve read to date show great promise for continuing to learn and grow in the faith.

I’ll end with a confession… You might think that someone with a seminary education and several years of ministry behind him who has read the Bible cover to cover 20+ times would have a good grasp of it all by now, but that’s the humbling thing about each effort to read another version or edition of the Bible. There are so many stories and lessons each time I read that jump out as though I’m reading them for the very first time. Maybe I’m a little dense. Maybe God uses different stories and passages to speak to us where we are at the moment, and with each reading I’m in a different place in my spiritual journey that responds to different stories and teachings.

Growing in Christian faith isn’t something anyone masters this side of heaven. There is always more to learn and far more to growing in Christlikeness than any of us have yet experienced. While God is perfectly capable of speaking to us through any good translation with or without study notes written by others, it seems reasonable to me that we use the minds God gave us and the incredible resources available to do our part in seeking to know Him and His Word more fully. Spending time – however long it takes us – to slowly study and ponder a comprehensive study Bible like the ESV Study Bible is time well spent, honoring God with our mind and seeking Him with our heart.

CluetrainManifesto10thAnnivEditionIn April 1999, some brave souls spoke for many when they tacked 95 theses on the Internet at cluetrain.com. The basic message went like this: “A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.”

The phrase “markets are conversations” was central to the message (in fact, that’s the first of the 95 theses), and the warning to businesses is that they need to realize the potential of networked people having conversations to disrupt business as usual, dethroning the stranglehold that controlled communications and marketing efforts by businesses has had on the marketplace for way too long. The theses and subsequent book called for businesses to join the conversation in the marketplace as real people, or those in the marketplace will go elsewhere and gladly engage in doing business with other companies that are willing to have real, human relationships with them. In a sense, markets via networked communications between people have the opportunity to function more like the street bazaars of old than the industrialized, sterilized, distanced supply chains we hear more about today.

To get a good, quick feel for what Cluetrain was (and is still) about, take a few minutes to read the 95 theses on the homepage at cluetrain.com. The site is intentionally preserved to look like it did in 1999 to capture a piece of history. Read it a couple of times and be amazed that it was written that long ago. Much of it reads like it was written today. The original 95 theses do not attempt to group themselves into subtopics – at least not in a clear, easily outlined way. There are connected theses that assume placement next to each other, though, so you may benefit from the simple categorization of them on the Cluetrain Manifesto Wikipedia page.

The four ringleaders of Cluetrain were Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searles, and David Weinberger. A host of other signers gave their blessing to the ideas presented in the theses.

While I first read the 95 theses a number of years ago, I had never read the book until this week. The first book was published in January, 2001 – The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual. You can read the entirety of that book for free online here if you like. Ten years later, the book I just finished reading was written – The Cluetrain Manifesto: 10th Anniversary Edition. In addition to the full text of the original book, there is a new introduction and additional chapters by the authors including reflections on the relevance of the ideas today and updates describing what has and has not come to pass as predicted in the original text. While not everything predicted has come true (at least not yet), the book is amazingly current and, I think, still prophetic. Prophecy isn’t always about predicting the future. It is as much about proclaiming a message to those in the present about a situation and speaking to the consequences of acting or not acting properly in response. In that sense, the book is still prophetic.

Anyone involved with marketing and communications in businesses should read the book. In fact, as consumers who are doing the very things this book predicted over a decade ago, there are very few for whom the book isn’t relevant. There are far too many companies in 2013 who still haven’t learned the lessons these authors were shouting from the rooftops in 1999. There are too many companies mistakenly believing they can and do control communications about their company, products and services. There are too many refusing to acknowledge – much less participate in – the marketplace conversations. There are still company-erected barriers keeping employees from participating (at least officially) in the public conversations. Walled forts around many businesses seem to do all they can to keep the customer out of the daily workflow and at a safe distance, harming relationships rather than doing the things that would develop relationships and goodwill.

There are probably many people who would be offended in some way (possibly many ways) reading Cluetrain. Fortunately, I have enough of a rebel within me to thoroughly enjoy the ideas of the book throughout as well as the unhindered frankness with which they are presented, if not all the salty language. If you are part of a marketing or communications team in a large business, be sure to put your big girl or big boy pants on when you read it, because this is not your typical business book and it will regularly slap you around a bit. That’s probably a good thing.

There will be others who just don’t buy what Cluetrain is selling. I found it humorous to find John C. Dvorak’s 2002 PC Magazine article about Cluetrain quoted on the Wikipedia page admitting to such, and then imagining far more about the book’s devotees: “I don’t get it… the apparent faith in this odd vision of an idealistic human-oriented internetworked new world/new economy marches forward. I imagine all these folks holding hands in a large circle, rolling back and forth, with some in the middle of the circle, spinning and chanting and hugging, all naked. I’m betting that most of these folks go to Burning Man and all of them write blogs about it and how cool it was. They link to each others’ blogs and read what they say about each other—all highly complimentary.”

That’s funny stuff, John, and I can even imagine the same. Some paragraphs of the book read like the author was as high as a kite while writing it. Still, you have to get past such occasionally awkward moments and style and hone in on the point of it all which was then and still is perfectly valid and important.

Whether you agree or not with the basic premise of Cluetrain, and whether you agree or not with many of the 95 theses, this is at minimum good fodder for an important conversation many businesses still need to have.

By the way, the name “Cluetrain” was spawned from a comment about a Fortune 500 business that didn’t get the message of the book: “The clue train stopped there four times a day for ten years and they never took delivery.” Here’s hoping that you, dear reader, are part of a business that takes delivery of the many clues The Cluetrain Manifesto has to offer.

Now, put on something tie-dyed, grab your favorite beverage, kick back without your shoes and go read those 95 theses. Then, if you’re willing, either read the original or 10th anniversary edition of the book. It’s worth your time. I promise.

not-a-fanIt is rare when I am blown away by a book, but that has happened this week upon reading Kyle Idleman’s Not a Fan.  Idleman is a teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, one of the largest churches in the U.S.  Until a week ago today, I confess I had no idea who he was.  I attend another Louisville church.  Last Saturday, though, I did the rare thing of attending the Saturday morning men’s Bible study at my church where they just started studying this book.  Midway through the video intro to the study I purchased the Kindle edition and had it downloaded to my phone immediately.  I just finished reading it today.

The subtitle of the book is “Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus.”  It compares and contrasts what it looks like to be a fan of Jesus vs. a seriously committed follower.  Divided into three parts, the chapter titles are descriptive of what you can expect inside:

Part 1: fan or follower?

  • Chapter 1: D.T.R. (define the relationship)
  • Chapter 2: a decision or a commitment?
  • Chapter 3: knowledge about him or intimacy with him?
  • Chapter 4: one of many or your one and only?
  • Chapter 5: following Jesus or following the rules?
  • Chapter 6: self-empowered or spirit-filled?
  • Chapter 7: the relationship defined

Part 2: an invitation to follow

  • Chapter 8: anyone – an open invitation
  • Chapter 9: come after me – a passionate pursuit
  • Chapter 10: deny – a total surrender
  • Chapter 11: take up your cross daily – an everyday death

Part 3: following Jesus

  • Chapter 12: wherever. What about there?
  • Chapter 13: whenever. What about now?
  • Chapter 14: whatever. What about that?

Idleman mixes sound biblical teaching with a conversational writing style that is simultaneously convicting, informative, challenging, insightful, and humorous.  If you skip even the chapter’s end notes, you’ll miss some real gems.  Nearly all chapters conclude with a short testimony from someone about his/her personal experience of becoming a committed follower as opposed to a mere fan in the stands for Jesus.

A sure sign of a book’s impact is what the reader does differently as a consequence of reading the book.  For me, I immediately added the book to a very short list of recommended resources I include on a Bible memory brochure I have distributed for the past several years.  With only five books making that list (besides three study Bibles), it takes a book having a major impact on me to make the cut.  This one made it.  As I start to ponder which books will be on my reading list for 2014, I am currently of a mind that this needs to be in the very short list of books I re-read periodically.  It’s that foundational and beneficial.

Of course, the point of the book is not to make a recommended reading list but to help people be true followers of Christ, so in that regard I am confident that its teachings will quickly come to mind when I face those decision points daily that indicate whether I am a fan or a committed follower.  It already has me thinking about a couple of specifics that I may need to change in response to the book.  I am challenged by the author’s experience of making the check he and his wife write monthly for Christian ministry the largest check they write monthly – larger than a house payment or anything else.  I am challenged when asked in the book to name ways in which I have sacrificed for my faith.  I am challenged when I ponder aspects of business life that are contrary to clear biblical teaching and how easy it is to justify separating one’s faith and practice from certain business actions.  The book wasn’t written to comfort the afflicted, but it may very well afflict the comfortable.  That’s a good thing.

Not a Fan has been released in various editions, such as for teens and study groups, and a video series exists to accompany group studies.  There is also a pastor’s kit.  There is so much potential in the message of this book to help transform lives, groups and churches into the Christ followers they can and should be.  The church has done itself no favors by allowing easy-believism, and the message of Not a Fan confronts that practice and it’s damaging consequences head-on.

If you think you are a follower of Jesus, you would do well to read this relatively short, 224-page book.  It may confirm that you are, indeed, a follower (albeit an imperfect one), but it may also jolt you into realizing you’ve just been a fan of Jesus and have never really surrendered to Him.

If you want some specific suggestions for further exploration of the subject, here are my recommendations:

Ultimately, the best thing you can do is to be a committed follower of Jesus.  Don’t be a fan.

Pilgrim's ProgressIt seems far too presumptuous of anyone – especially me – to review one of the greatest Christian classics of all time, so let me say up front that this is not a review in the sense of a critique of this timeless allegory first published in 1678.  It is, rather, a reaction to having read it yet once again as I have been so inclined to do periodically for the past several decades.  For the benefit of those who have never read it, I’ll include some basic explanatory info as well.

For those unfamiliar with the book or its author, John Bunyan was a 17th century preacher and writer in England.  A Protestant, Bunyan wrote this allegory to describe the journey – the pilgrimage – of the Christian from that point in time when the heart and mind are awakened to one’s need for God to that glorious point in time when the troubles of this life are past and one’s eternal inheritance has come to pass.

I love the sometimes lengthy titles of old books.  The full title of this one is “The Pilgrim’s Progress From This World to That Which Is to Come: Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream Wherein is Discovered, The Manner of His Setting Out, His Dangerous Journey; and Safe Arrival at the Desired Countrey.”  How can you not love that?

What was published in 1678 is now considered to be Part 1, whereas Part 2 describing the pilgrimage of the original main character’s wife, family and others came along six years later in 1684.  You can find editions with both parts together as well as separately published, and you will find plenty of editions at that.  The book has never been out of print since its 1678 publication and a search on Amazon yields many choices, both in the original English of the late 1600’s as well as more contemporary versions.  I chose to read it in the original English to help put my mind back in that century as I read.  Doing so helps me connect with my Christian and biological ancestors.  For those who get derailed reading the King James Version of the Bible with all its language differences from today, you may want to jump ahead to a contemporary version when you read it if that helps you focus on the content and meaning as opposed to the language.  I assure you that when it comes to Bible study, I prefer modern translations except when enhancing them through a better understanding of Greek and Hebrew.  For the brevity of time it takes to read The Pilgrim’s Progress, however, I prefer the original language.

I don’t recommend substituting a stroll through the whole book with a quick synopsis such as you will find on Wikipedia.  However, if doing so whets the appetite for the full course, by all means, take a look.  You will find there a brief history and listings of the main characters and destinations encountered along the pilgrimage.

Bunyan uses obvious names for his characters in the book.  The main character is called Christian.  Others include Evangelist, Obstinate, Pliable, Hypocrisy, Faithful, Goodwill, Hope, Talkative, Ignorance, Atheist, and many more.  With no chapter divisions throughout the book, dialogue and occasional dream narrative are joined back to back as the characters experience places in their journey from the point of origin (City of Destruction) to the destination (The Celestial City) and many points along the way such as Slough of Despond, Hill Difficulty, Valley of Humiliation, Valley of the Shadow of Death, Doubting Castle, The Enchanted Ground, The Land of Beulah, and The River of Death.

Dialogue is generously sprinkled with references to Scripture along the way by which the wisdom or folly of the speaker is measured.  While reading, I was amazed at the depth of Bible knowledge Bunyan had in order to write what he did.  Oh, that the daily walk of Christians today was filled with remembrance of God’s word as we encounter the struggles and temptations we face.  It is a treacherous and dangerous world in which we live, and to face it armed only with one’s own thoughts, feelings and limited knowledge, and not the truth of Almighty God is a path doomed to failure.  It is impossible to call to mind, though, that which we have not learned in the first place!

There are times reading the book when I marvel that it was published 335 years ago.  It could just as easily have been written today, judging from the soundness of its teaching and how familiar the journey is to this fellow pilgrim.  Not many books pass the test of time, but this one has done so because it’s truth and the familiarity of the pilgrim’s journey resonates anew with each generation of believers.  There are events in the news today that could be responded to with the words of Bunyan.  To do so would be a perfect response to the same temptations faced in 2013 as the heart and mind of man faced in 1678.  Our technology, affluence and accumulated knowledge have not changed the human heart one little smidgen in 335 years.

If you have never read The Pilgrim’s Progress, I implore you to do so.  Print and electronic editions are plentiful with several of the electronic editions at no cost.  By reading it, the Christian will be encouraged and the non-Christian may just see himself or herself in one of the other characters.

I’ll leave you with Bunyan’s own conclusion:

“Now, Reader, I have told my dream to thee;
See if thou canst interpret it to me,
Or to thyself, or neighbour; but take heed
Of misinterpreting; for that instead
Of doing good, will but thyself abuse:
By misinterpreting, evil ensues.
Take heed, also, that thou be not extreme,
In playing with the outside of my dream:
Nor let my figure or similitude
Put thee into a laughter or a feud.
Leave this for boys and fools; but as for thee,
Do thou the substance of my matter see.
Put by the curtains, look within my veil,
Turn up my metaphors, and do not fail,
There, if thou seekest them, such things to find,
As will be helpful to an honest mind.
What of my dross thou findest there, be bold
To throw away, but yet preserve the gold;
What if my gold be wrapped up in ore?–
None throws away the apple for the core.
But if thou shalt cast all away as vain,
I know not but ’twill make me dream again.”

Dogs That Know BookSometimes you get a lot more than you bargained for in a book – in a good way – and that’s what happened to me in reading Rupert Sheldrake’s Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home (And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals).  As a dog lover, and given the title of the book, I was expecting a series of warm, fuzzy stories about the connection many dogs have with their owners and the ways that relationship and intelligence plays out.  Boy, did I underestimate the contents of this 400-page book!

Sheldrake has been a serious researcher in the field of animal-human connections for many years and has written extensively on the subject in peer-reviewed journals and in books such as this one.  The book does, of course, contain many amazing stories, but also includes a wealth of research results that give much weight to the conclusions he draws on the subject.  For animal lovers who would like to know if their “inexplicable” experiences with animals have been shared by others, this will be a great book to take your time with, enjoy, and to learn from as you absorb its contents.

By the way, this is certainly not just for dog owners.  There are chapters and stories devoted to several other animals – cats, horses, rabbits, birds, and more.

A look at the sections and chapter titles will give you a good idea of the depth of content:

  • Part I: Human-Animal Bonds
    • The Domestication of Animals
  • Part II: Animals That Know When Their People Are Coming Home
    • Dogs
    • Cats
    • Parrots, Horses, and Other Animals
  • Part III: Animal Empathy
    • Animals That Comfort and Heal
    • Distant Deaths and Accidents
  • Part IV: Intentions, Calls, and Telepathy
    • Picking Up Intentions
    • Telepathic Calls and Commands
    • Animal-to-Animal Telepathy
  • Part V: The Sense of Direction
    • Incredible Journeys
    • Migrations and Memory
    • Animals That Know When They Are Nearing Home
    • Pets Finding Their People Far Away
  • Part VI: Animal Premonitions
    • Premonitions of Fits, Comas, and Sudden Deaths
    • Forebodings of Earthquakes and Other Disasters
  • Part VII: Conclusions
    • Animal Powers and the Human Mind
  • Appendix: Controversies and Inquiries

How many times have you and your pet looked at each other at the same time without any verbal, physical, or audible cue?  Has your pet shown unusual compassion when you were ill?  Can you tell that some weather event is about to happen because of the actions of your pets rather than any meteorological signs visible to you?  Does your pet seem to know your intentions or your whereabouts or your imminent return home apart from any routine schedule that might easily explain such behavior?  Do you recall hearing remarkable stories of pets traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to find their owners in places the pets have never been to before?  Many pet owners share such experiences, yet there are few resources devoted to relevant and serious studies, partly because of an inherent bias against the notion from many scientists, according to the author.

Callie Asleep

My sweet Callie – never too far away from me

That’s where the value of the research data comes into play in the book – not just random anecdotal stories.  It also makes even the appendix of this book very interesting because it is devoted to sharing a number of details where the author has been challenged or misrepresented, and includes his convincing rebuttal to such attempts.

Sheldrake admits that there is much yet to learn and that not all such interesting animal behavior can be explained by him or anyone at this time, but that is why genuine scientific inquiry is needed.  Those who respect science are not afraid of controlled experiments and replication of them and whatever data results from them.  Yet, there is an underlying bias of skeptics that dismisses the idea of any kind of animal telepathy or related phenomenon as a bit kooky or unnatural, when it may in fact be quite natural.

I was intrigued by the author’s discussion of morphic fields as possible explanations of some of the phenomena related to animals’ seeming awareness of their owners and familiar places from afar.  The image he presents is one of a giant invisible rubber band mentally connecting the pet with the owner or place that somehow draws one to the other.  You’ll have to read it throughout the book to appreciate the author’s explanation far more than my couple of sentences.

There may be sections that some readers aren’t too interested in if their goal is to focus on the warm, fuzzy stories of pets and their owners.  That’s fine.  Read what interests you from the book.  But I dare you to read it and not come away with the distinct notion that there are some wonderful, albeit inexplicable, things that happen between many animals and their owners as well as animals and other animals.

My two cents: I believe our Creator has built far more into His creation than we come close to understanding, and more than some are willing to open their minds to considering.  We should never mistake our lack of understanding as proof that something doesn’t exist.

The book is worth the time to read.  You’ll be fascinated by the stories, and you’ll learn some things along the way.  Enjoy!