Tuesday, October 28, 2014

10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know by Kari Kampakis

As a member of Amazon Vine, I'm able to review books through them, but--as I understand the terms--I'm only allowed to post my review on Amazon. Because I liked this book, I'm posting a description of the book here with a direct link to my review on Amazon.

book cover
10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know
by Kari Kampakis

ISBN-13: 9780529111036
Trade Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Released: November 4, 2014

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
When Kari Kampakis wrote a blog post in July 2013 titled "10 Truths Young Girls Should Know," the post went viral and was shared more than 65,000 times on Facebook. This nonfiction book for teen girls expands on these ten truths, including:

Kindness is more important than popularity. People peak at different times of life. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable-- otherwise you'll never stick to your guns. You weren't made to worship yourself. Today's choices set the stage for your reputation. Learn to listen to the whispers of God over the megaphone of public opinion.

Teen girls deal daily with cliques, bullying, rejection, and social media nightmares. Kari Kampakis wants girls to know that they don't have to compromise their integrity and future to find love, acceptance, and security. This book is filled with practical advice, loving support, and insightful discussion questions that will help young girls navigate a broken world and become the young women God made them to be.

My Review: Link to my review on Amazon.

Monday, October 20, 2014

James the Just Presents Applications of Torah

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James the Just Presents Applications of Torah
by Dr. David Friedman
with B.D. Friedman

ISBN-13: 978-1936716449
Trade Paperback: 152 pages
Publisher: Messianic Jewish Publisher
Released: July 12, 2012

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Back Cover:
When we view Ya'acov (James) for who he was: a chief rabbi, a Torah scholar, a Bible commentator, and akin to a high court judge, then we can better understand the purpose of his book. One of the main thrusts of Ya'acov's teaching is encouraging the practical application of the Torah's teachings.

My Review:
James the Just Presents Applications of Torah reads like 5 essays about James and the book of James that were complied together for this book. Some material was repeated in the different chapters, and the chapters had different focuses rather than building from one to the next. I could easily follow his overall points, but he jumped around some even within the chapters.

The author(s) set out to show that James was the chief rabbi of the messianic Jewish community in Jerusalem and what his position meant in terms of what we see recorded in Acts. He then showed how the book of James is likely a collection of James' teachings on certain portions of the Torah. He also explained the Hebrew background that helps clarify what James taught about faith and works.

I appreciate that the author admitted when he couldn't prove something rather than trying to pass it off as fact (as many authors do). I thought he did a good job of showing that these overall points about James and the origin of the book of James were reasonable and likely true. I was never able to fully understand some of his sub-points, though, like why he thought a vow automatically meant a Nazarite vow. His argument seemed to be "because some people where practicing this type of vow at that time." This seems rather random as other types of vows were also done at the time. Overall, I'd recommend this book to those interested in the Jewish background to the New Testament.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

NIV First-Century Study Bible by Kent Dobson

book cover
NIV First-Century Study Bible
by Kent Dobson

ISBN-13: 9780310938903
Hardcover: 1888 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
Released: September 9, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Booklook.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
The NIV First-Century Study Bible invites you into the questions, stories, and interpretations—both ancient and modern. Join Kent Dobson as he unpacks the culture of Bible times, and illuminates Scripture passages while asking thoughtful questions along the way.

My Review:
Compared to the overall excellent quality of the NIV Archaeological Study Bible, the quality of the NIV First-Century Study Bible did not impress me. The "about each book" sections, maps, pictures, timelines and such were pretty standard for a study Bible, so that just left the commentary study notes to make it stand out. Much of that commentary covered pretty standard things like pointing out when a prophecy had been fulfilled or references to the verse elsewhere in the Bible. Nothing unique there.

The "hook" was that the study note commentary would include quotes from the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, Philo, rabbis (from the Mishnah), early church fathers, and modern scholars along with some cultural background. The Old Testament commentary was sparse and usually not enlightening. He even resorted to summarizing what was happening in the text--things obvious if you'd read the text. However, the author did a decent job in the New Testament.

I've read the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary for the New Testament, which was a major source for the author's comments. Very, very little of his commentary was new to me. And, frankly, I got more insights and answers out of reading the Bible Backgrounds books.

Got questions? Well, so does this author. It seemed like this author was sometimes more interested in raising questions than giving answers--even when there were answers. For example, for Luke 1:5, the author made it sound like Luke must have made an error in saying "Herod king of Judea" because King Herod ruled more than Judea. I'm thinking, "Luke's focusing on Judea and that phrase doesn't exclude Herod from being king of more than Judea...what's your problem?" On the Luke 4:44 study note, the author even says, "Luke may have been using the term "Judea" generically to refer to Israel." Yes, so why not just say so in the Luke 1:5 note?

Another example: In Genesis 26, the verses indicate that Issac moved from a place of famine to a place without famine and then planted some grain. The author says in his Genesis 26:12 note that it's a puzzle how Issac got a good harvest during a famine. Gerar is located in a spot that gets more rain, which would have been useful information to include. But apparently it was easier for him to pose a question than find the answer. He said in his Genesis 19:25 note that "There is no archeological evidence for the existence of Sodom and Gomorrah." Plenty of people think they've found it, yet he makes it sound like no one even has a clue.

I could go on and on. There were plenty of study notes that left me wondering why he felt the need to include them, especially in the Old Testament. For example, his Genesis 43:18 note reads, "Was this a touch of humor by the narrator? Where Joseph and Pharaoh in such need of donkeys that they needed to steal them from poor shepherds?" It's those poor shepherds that were worried that powerful and potentially greedy people would take them as slaves and take their possessions, so why would this be a joke? For the Genesis 45:23, the author writes, "Why is the text focusing on donkeys again?" Um, is this really important enough to include, especially when you have no answer? Seems like useless filler to me.

(Though I took my examples from only a few books of the Bible, I read every study note before writing this review.)

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Songs of a Suffering King by J.V. Fesko

book cover
Songs of a Suffering King
by J.V. Fesko

ISBN-13: 9781601783103
Paperback: 124 pages
Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
Released: April 21, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
A devotional exploration of Psalms 1-8 with the premise that David, as the suffering king, prefigures Jesus Christ and that the psalms are ultimately about Christ.

My Review:
Songs of a Suffering King is a devotional-style look at Psalms 1-8. In the actual devotions, he gives a mini-sermon about the psalm and then showed how Jesus ultimately fulfills--and helps us fulfill--the verses.

I'd agree that you can find parallels between Jesus' life and David's life and that some psalms do have messianic references. However, the author seemed to feel that "righteous" and "blameless" in the Old Testament refer to someone who is sinless. Since only Jesus was sinless and some psalms claim that the speaker is righteous or blameless, the author seems to conclude that only Jesus can ultimately be the one saying the words of all the Psalms. However, several people were called righteous and/or blameless in the Old Testament, including Noah (Genesis 6:9), Job (Job 1) and Abraham (Genesis 15:6). Those words seem to be more about acting out their faith in God and being in right standing with Him than about never sinning.

The author's approach changed reading the psalms into a deeply theological study. His conclusions sometimes required fancy footwork to make them sound okay. For example, since only Jesus was sinless, only he can pray that his enemies be destroyed--and he only meant the ones who won't repent, of course. In Christ, we are also sinless and so can also pray that our enemies (in general) be judged/destroyed. But I don't think that's what Jesus meant by "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44) even with the provisos the author threw in.

I was in a group that studied through the psalms, and we finally decided that those passages showed how our desire for justice creates a human reaction but we ultimately need to remember God's role and take comfort in His character. I felt like the author's premise almost put the psalms beyond the reach of the layman. While his devotions were decent overall, his underlying premise made the psalms feel less readable rather than more meaningful to me.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.