Evangelism Study Bible — not

This Bible is of mixed value. I had high expectations, but was disappointed with the result. There are some very good things, and then there are some serious concerns.2662 cvr CC.indd

Good:

Design

One of the best features: the footnotes. Sadly many Bibles have footnotes that are just barely legible (i.e. ESV Global Study Bible). In contrast, Kregel provided remarkably readable footnotes in this edition. The center column notes are a little small but still readable.

The Bible is well designed from the paper (no significant issues with bleed through; the accompanying photo highlights the bleed-through but in real life not that bad), background color for special articles (pleasant faint gray that makes the articles standout without jarring contrast), font choices (right choice for Biblical text, footnotes, special articles, and center column), which complement each use. The binding is solid and would appear to hold up well over time. Cover design is very attractive without being distracting or off-putting. Typographical error in footnote p. 1296 (right column, 2nd and 3rd line are repeated).Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 11.54.44

Well done to Kregel for the design and look of this Bible.

Translation choice:

Some may not care for the NKJV, but I think it is serviceable for this kind of Bible. There is a familiarity with the translation. As stated in the Introduction, this is “designed to be a study and training resource that will equip and encourage believers to share the gospel.” Thus, the choice of NKJV will work for many in that purpose.

Articles vary in quality

Included are some articles and notes that I find acceptable. I have only noted a few here:

Article on Matthew 9:9-13, “Don’t lose contact with non-Christians.”

Article on Matthew 11:28-30 “Inviting people to a relationship, not to regulations” (p. 1063)

Article on Matthew 13 “Illustrations: valuable tools for evangelism” (p. 1064)

Article on Philippians 2:1-11 “The only way up is down” (p. 1305)

Some concerns:

One article I found helpful was on humility relative to Numbers 12:3 and Moses’ humility (p. 148). I think this article accurately reflects the text about Moses, and by application the attitude of any believer in Jesus Christ.

But there many lists throughout this Bible about “steps” or “action items for evangelism” that could be helpful. My underlying concern has to do with whether some of these lists are faithful to the Bible text. In other words, taking sections out of context to apply to evangelism might seem helpful, but does it reflect the text? I think the article regarding 2 Chronicles 6:32-33 on Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the temple (p. 442) is an example that isn’t supported by the text itself. I don’t have a problem with the list that is provided in the article. However, I don’t think that list is sustainable by the text nor does it reflect the importance of the temple and the dedicatory prayer within God’s work in pointing ahead to Christ.

Not good:

Imported theology and downplaying the Biblical text:

My major concern with this Evangelism Bible is the footnotes and special topics. A little background on why this is so important to me. I have been involved in evangelism efforts for 40 years and have been training congregations since 1979, and pastors and congregations since 1989. Evangelism is critical for the Christian and the Christian church. I am always looking for good resources to help in this work of the church. Sadly I find this Bible does not help true evangelism, despite its stated goal.

There are central texts that deal with evangelism and yet they are downplayed and even changed. This has to do with theology.

Footnote on Matthew 3:6

“Later New Testament baptisms symbolized a believer’s identification with Christ following Him in faith” (p. 1049)

Thus, the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 has this footnote:

“baptizing them” “Christ commanded that those who trusted Him as Savior should be baptized. The New Testament teaches that baptism is not a part of or necessary to become a Christian. It is, however, the first step of discipleship” (p. 1089).

This approach continues in Acts 2:38:

be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. “Baptism is a public testimony of the inner reality of forgiveness. It is a testimony to our salvation, not a means of salvation (p. 1198).”

Romans 6:3-5 footnote:

“Some scholars believe it refers to spiritual baptism. By faith we are joined with Christ. Others believe that Paul meant water baptism is a public announcement believers make when they identify themselves with Christ in His death and resurrection. Though it isn’t necessary for salvation, water baptism furnishes a picture of what happens spiritually to Christians.” (p. 1244)Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 11.55.41

The same kind of note is made with Ephesians 4:5 (p. 1299), when Paul states there is “one baptism.” Based on the footnotes above and here, the reader of this Bible isn’t sure if there is one baptism (or which one) or two baptisms. So again, rather than the Gospel being something that is assuring through Word and Baptism, the Gospel is left uncertain, and part is considered unnecessary. The Biblical text does not support any of these footnotes—that is a theology imported to the text .

On the contrary, 1 Peter 3:21 clearly states that “baptism now saves you.” So in this Bible the great Commission is changed from God’s saving work (through His Word and Baptism, Matthew 28:18-20) to humans taking at least half of the Great Commission away from God making it their work.  Interestingly the article at the bottom of the page discussing the Great Commission has no word about baptism. Even worse, a fable is used to note that God has no second plan. (p. 1089) (see accompanying photo of the article).

Conclusion

I think from a design standpoint this Bible deserves praise and well done to Kregel. From a theological perspective evangelism, this Bible falls short. I am disappointed to say the least. In good conscience I can not recommend this Bible for evangelism work.

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Bible Review: Modern English Version part 1

MEV Thinline Reference published by Passio, with the MEV ©2014 by Military Bible Association.

This is the first of two posts regarding the Modern English Version Bible. In this post I will examine the external issues (cover, typeface, paper, etc.) In the next post I will examine portions of the translation itself.

From the web site :

The MEV is a translation of the Textus Receptus and the Jacob ben Hayyim edition of the Masoretic Text, using the King James Version as the base manuscript.

The MEV is a literal translation. It is also often referred to as a formal correspondence translation.

The Committee on Bible Translation began their work on the MEV in 2005 and completed it in 2013.

 

Cover:MEVCover

The color is officially: Cranberry Leatherlike. The color is a blend between a true red and brown (photo shows it more brown than in real life). I like the color because it is unique among all my Bibles, easy to spot.

The cover has a nice feel for a lower end synthetic product. The band shown on the left side is also on the back of the cover. When I first picked up it, the raised designed caused me to wonder whether that was a good decision (constantly feeling that design whenever you pick up the Bible to read). But after a few minutes, I didn’t really notice it, and the raised design wasn’t irritating as I originally expected.

Specifications:

1.2 x 6 x 9.8 inches (1.2 lbs)

1184 pages

Overall a good size, easily handled, comfortable to use (except font size)

Print:

I have two concerns about the print: the print quality (and size) itself and paper quality. The print is small, even for a Thinline bible. The size works okay with the black text, but with the red text, it is distracting.

MEV with some bleed through
MEV with some bleed through
Red text more difficult to read
Red text more difficult to read

I am not a fan of red letter Bibles, but I own a few and have reviewed many more. I’m not sure if it is the typeface, font size, color of red used, or the paper weight, but I found this red letter text very difficult to read. My guess is that the typeface is acceptable, but the paper, and maybe the text color are the problem areas. If I used this Bible publicly (teaching, preaching), it would be a challenge.

Note on the close up of both the black text and red text photos, there is significant bleed-through, the black text is at least readable, the red text far less so.

MEV Black text bleed-through, but readable
MEV Black text bleed-through, but readable

But it is worse with the red letter text:

MEV Red letter text and bleed-through
MEV Red letter text and bleed-through

Surprisingly it looks better in the photo than it does in real life. But notice the dense bleed-through in the lower right corner, as well as the center column references.

Final thoughts: Physical aspects of MEV Thinline Bible

The cover is well done and feels comfortable. I like the typeface choice. A little larger font size and the difference in readability would be significant. A second factor is the paper weight choice. I realize this is a Thinline edition, but the bleed-through is the worst I have noticed in all Thinline Bibles I have reviewed/used.

Book Review: Invitation to Philippians

Sunukjian, Donald R. Invitation to Philippians: Building a Great Church Through Humility (Biblical Preaching for the Contemporary Church). Weaver Book Company, 2014.InvitationPhilippians

I read many books. I try to find ones that will enhance what I know, broaden my perspective, or teach me something new. Unfortunately, this book did none of those things. The series title, ”Biblical Preaching for the Contemporary Church,” suggested to me that there would be helps for those preaching to dig into the book, in this case, Philippians. Instead it was a series of sermons based on Philippians.

At first reading the sermons might appear generally okay. He offers the key thoughts of the letter in each sermon. Taken overall, he covers what Paul highlights (but there is a subtle and seductive shift, see below). The reader has to keep in mind that this is a survey of the letter, not an in-depth study. As such it might work as an introduction for the congregation to engage in further discovery of the riches of Philippians. It didn’t seem to encourage the congregation to take a further look into Paul’s letter.

One challenge of reading a sermon vs. hearing a sermon is the difference in style. I appreciate the comments in the Preface, “But I have tried my best to retain their oral flavor—I’ve wanted them to still sound close to the way we talk. This means there will be incomplete sentences, colloquial and idiomatic language, and other features of the spoken word.” P. 7) In this case the author succeeded and he is to be commended.

There are some legalistic, yet inconsistent problems in the book.

That’s one way you can be confident that people are committed to the work of the Lord—their homes are available. (p. 7)

You can be confident that God is at work in someone when you see that person stand up for the truth and willing to take the heat for it. (p. 8)

You can have confidence that God is in people’s lives when they give their money. (p. 9)

There are too many counter examples in real life to use these as the criteria “that God is at work.” But even worse, sanctification becomes the criteria of the Christian life, even above justification. Perhaps the following quote best demonstrates the trend toward moralism:

The answer is: The more love we have, the better choices we will make and the better people we will become.” (p. 16)

This confuses Law and Gospel and highlights sanctification over justification. And then he contradicts himself in Chapter 10, “The Christian Subculture: Righteous of Rubbish.” He wrote:

What is this tragedy that occurs if we let someone impose their rules and regulations on us, pressuring us into their spiritual lifestyle? What is the harm, the damage we suffer when we begin to think that following someone else’s codes will make us more righteous in God’s eyes? (p. 77)

The corrective he offers is really the same with a different coating:

What defines you as belonging to God is not some external behavior. What defines you is the internal presence of the Spirit of God. He’s totally changed everything about you and has become part of your life…. You’re pleasing to him not because you belong to a particular party, but because you act justly and fairly and mercifully toward all those around you. (p. 79)

The author leaves the listener/reader in a predicament. It’s not what we do, but what we do that matters? I think this misses the entire thrust of what Paul wrote in 3:1-9. Note how the author bring this chapter to a conclusion.

And this brings him finally to the great damage, the great harm, the overwhelming tragedy that comes if you let someone else define what you need to do in order to please God and be righteous in his eyes. (p. 82)

Going back to his criteria/standard by which the people should live “the better choices we will make and the better people we will become.” Sadly, the author leaves the confusion, and his criteria/standard reflects exactly what he is urging them to avoid.

Another problem I had with the book was the overuse of illustrations. In some cases, illustrations seemed to take at least half of the sermon. I appreciate the need for and value of illustrations, but this seems a little over the top. For instance, in Chapter 8, “Working out the Working in,” the first three pages are devoted to one illustration. In this case, I have to ask, does this help point to the main issue, or is it the main issue?

I wanted to like this book. I have spent considerable time over the past couple years studying Philippians. Yet this book is a disappointment. Overall, I don’t think the book offers enough for me to recommend it, especially in light of the strong legalistic yet inconsistent approach to the Christian life. The confusion of Law and Gospel is evident throughout. In the process the author has subtly changed the focus of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

I received a copy of this book from Cross-focused Books for an unbiased review.

Book Review: House of Living Stones

I don’t often write book reviews of fiction. But this is one book I enjoyed and am pleased to write a review of it.

House of Living Stones
by Katie SchuermannSchuermann01

It didn’t long for me to identify with the church, the characters, the interactions. I have been in Lutheran churches for 65 years. This felt like home in many ways.

Highlights were the author’s ability to reveal each character’s personality in a believable way. Too often authors of Christian fiction seem to idealize the hero/heroine, and then paint the really bad characters in the worst light. In this book, each character is presented honestly, warts, sins, fears, and all. For Emily and Pastor Fletcher, the two main characters, the process of revelation follows church life. With sometimes surprising and funny results.

The situations reflect real life in many ways, very accurately. Conflicts happen because of vested interests, and because of people’s dislike for others. But as Katie reveals, sometimes the conflict comes from the issues of previous churches, previous relationships, including the hurts, disappointments, etc.

While there are several examples how to handle conflict from a Biblical perspective, the author also leaves some issues unresolved, or with renewed tensions… just like in real life. Sometimes addressing fellow Christians brings about immediate reconciliation, other times the relationship becomes exacerbated, and still other times time is necessary for the words to take  effect. Schuermann offers examples of each.

The book also offers insight in the funny side of church life. I knew early on that the author captured such humor, not at the expense of others, but at the exposure of truths that we often do not want to face. By smiling, we can nod our heads and say, Yes.”

As a matter of fact, Karl and every other man in the congregation had learned early on to never contradict the women of the Ladies Aid Society when it came to the subjects of food service, kitchen organization, coffee creamer brands, liquid soap scents,… (p. 29)

Also, some of the character sketches give background to more than advancing the plot. A character’s reflections inward and on other people adds considerably to understanding the insights that people have, and also observations that are accurate, and coming from surprising characters.

I’m glad I had the chance to read this book. I encourage people to get the book and read it, and re-read it. Thanks, Katie, for an insightful, humorous, and engaging story. My highest compliment to the author is this: Yes, I could move my membership to Zion Lutheran, and feel right at home.

 

Book Review: Blessed are the Balanced

Pettit, Paul, and R.Todd Mangum. Blessed Are the Balanced: A Seminarian’s Guide to Following Jesus in the Academy. Kregel Academic, 2014.BlessedBalanced

The helpful guide should be available to all seminary students. The target is especially those in an academic institution (namely a brick and mortar institution); but it is also applicable to those receiving their theological education online.  The authors address the balance of academic and spiritual growth that is so necessary in the preparation of pastors.

The authors identify the primary problem: “Unfortunately a good number of students graduate with a head full of biblical and doctrinal knowledge, but with a heart that has grown cold to God.” (p.7) In the introductory chapter they list four “Warning Signs of a Shaky Balance.” They are: “confusing your identity in Christ with your identity as a vocational pastor,” “growing isolation and privatization in your academic studies,” “lack of zeal and service for God and others,” and “lack of time for prayer and reflection.” Even this list is worth a look by every pastor who long ago left seminary.

The authors cover six chapters that provide insight and guidance to deal with underlying problem and many associated manifestations.

Christian Maturity and Higher Education

Learning about God and Living for God

Disciplining Heart and Head

Avoiding Spiritual Frostbite

Humble Service

Family and Friends

Each chapter covers critical topics related to the seminary student and the seminary challenges. The breadth of material means that the writing is terse and discussion is not drawn out. That actually is a very good thing in this kind of book. In other words, it is a readable book with excellent advice. But the style also permits quick reference in the future.

A couple of points regarding clarification and complementary concepts to help sustain the balance. In chapter 2 (“Learning about God and Living for God”) they include a reference to Luther’s dictum “sin boldly.” However, the authors seemed to miss what Luther was actually addressing. Luther’s advice did not have to do with Melancthon and a problem with hypocrisy in his preaching, as the authors assert.

Chapter 3 (“Discipling Heart and Head”) offers some excellent advice on discipline. However, there seems to be a gap. They write about “ancient disciples today” but then jump from the New Testament to the 21st century, as if the church throughout the ages does not offer any advice, insight, wisdom regarding disciplines. Thus, all of the types of discipline they mention are very good, but they are also basically individualistic. The church through the ages recognized that discipline is also incorporated into the community, and especially through the hours of the day (Matins, Vespers, Compline, etc.). While that may seem rustic or quaint, there is great value in such community disciplines to complement the individual practices advocated in this book (all very good).

Again, one item missing from the book is one I have mentioned in other Kregel Academic book reviews: there is no index (subjects, Scriptures, etc.). With a hard copy of the book, such a tool is essential for maximum benefit of the book.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. The only caveat is to note the missing historical church practice of community disciplines. Other resources can be found to supplement that area.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Book Review: Psalms Vol. 2

A Commentary on Psalms: Volume 2 (42-89) by Allen P. Ross

9780825425639

Content: 5 star, but…

Kregel provides a valuable resource in this commentary. The commentary follows the typical pattern that Kregel has used on the Old Testament Commentaries (see Judges and Ruth). The sections for analyzing each Psalm are:

  • Introduction (Text and Textual Variants; Composition and Context; Exegetical Analysis)
  • Commentary in Expository Form
  • Message and Application

The strength of the commentary is the second section (Commentary in Expository Form). Ross provides sufficient detail to grasp the central ideas. As in other commentaries by Ross, this one well serves the student, pastor, teacher.

Ross carefully explores the text within its historical context (if possible). But even more, he properly understands the Christological implications and foreshadowing that often are lost sight of. For instance, in discussing Psalm 45, he writes:

“Any application to a historical figure would be idealistic, for no king ever championed only righteousness, let alone lived up to the titles and epithets give to him, try as he might. But again, these words will find their true and literal meaning in the righteous reign of the Messiah.” (p. 71)

Such an approach demonstrates scholarly yet accessibility to the Scripture texts. At the same time, Ross provides a pattern for students, pastors, and teachers in their own study and preparation.

Ross provides many helpful and critical footnotes regarding Hebrew words and phrases. Just a sampling of these notes: “help” (p. 88), “wisdom” (pp. 140-2), “atone” (pp. 146-7), “trespass” (pp. 180-2), “create” (pp. 191-2). Perhaps the best extended discussion is “sin” (pp. 185-9). The examples continue, but this short list demonstrates Ross’s understanding of the text itself, and the implications of such understanding elsewhere. The student is well served by studying each footnote in detail.

The last section of each Psalm is Message and Application. While shorter than the other sections, the author pulls together the main thoughts and relationships so that the pastor/student can be sufficiently prepared to present the Psalm in a logical faithful way.

So what is negative about the commentary? Actually for what is presented the commentary is excellent. But it is what is missing that reduces its value. Three items stand out as missing, but which could provide the final touches on this fine commentary.

I was immediately struck by no introduction to the commentary. This seemed odd. Granted it is the second volume in the Kregel Commentaries on the Psalms, but some kind of introduction to Book II of the Psalms would be appropriate. Even a 20 page introduction would have been helpful.

Another missing feature was the Bibliography. Given that this was a resource for pastors/teachers/students, a Bibliography would seem not only logical, but necessary. Yes, there are footnotes for quoted material. But sometimes a valuable resource will appear in the Bibliography and yet not be quoted directly.

The final missing feature was a reference index. I have found this lacking more and more in printed books, but to me this feature increases the value of the text initially and in further studies related to the Psalms. For instance, I often study in Isaiah. How helpful it would be to have Isaiah 33:20-21 as referenced in Psalm 65 (p. 422). Likewise for studying Psalm 19, to know that Ross has referenced it in Psalm 79 (p. 676).

The question arises: how do you add these three additional items to a book that is already 841 pages? My recommendation is that font size of the text could have been reduced. Yes, this is a readable size, but I would have preferred to have the additional items for the sake of the font size.

The only negative I have about the commentary is a rather imprecise statement;

“The motifs or this psalm [48] appear throughout the pages of the New Testament. Jesus promised that he would be with us till the end of the age (Matt. 28:20); but in the upper room he explained that it would be in the person of the indwelling Holy Spirit (John 14:17).” (p. 131)

In trying to make the connection, he leaves a slightly skewed view of this matter of Christ’s presence with his disciples.

I should also note that I do not support the Premillennial position, but great value can be gained from the commentary nevertheless.

Summary

If you are a pastor/teacher/student of the Scripture, then this commentary is well worth the investment in the book. You will learn much, be guided in tying together the themes with a Psalm, and be encouraged in developing a usable preaching/teaching presentation.

Well done to Kregel and to Allen Ross; you have the Church in an exceptional way. The Church can use many more commentaries of this caliber.

Thanks to Kregel Academic & Professional for the review copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Interview: Book Review and More

Back on April 28, I reviewed the book Gospel Assurance and Warnings by Paul Washer. Shortly afterward Jordan Cooper (aka justandsinner) invited me to join him on a podcast to discuss the book review and further topics. The interview took place this morning. It was an honor to be interviewed and to discuss not only the book, but Law and Gospel, and true assurance of salvation. Interview.

We also had a chance to discuss the practical implications of getting this correct. Here are some additional links that will help:

Law and Gospel: Passive and Active Righteousness

Liturgy—Confession and Absolution

Liturgy—Brokenness, Forgiveness, Praise

The real world meets Law and Gospel