hey, Crossway, thanks for being awesome!

crosswayIt’s no secret that the HCSB is my favorite bible translation with respect to the its combination of translation equivalence with well-written English…with that in mind, however, I must admit to having a love affair with the ESV for over a decade now. It’s not that I absolutely love how it renders every verse into clear English–because sometimes it’s just plain difficult (though some of the worst passages have been markedly improved through the years). It’s not that it’s a sweeping update to the venerable and magnificent RSV–it’s a much-needed but rather minor one. It’s not even that I care about the ‘rock star’ endorsements it has garnered over the years–I had my first one pre-ordered in 2001 before anyone had ever really heard of the ESV and could care less about the endorsements (especially the neo-Calvinists, since I’m Lutheran [grin]).

So why do I love the ESV, use the it regularly, have multiple copies of multiple editions on my shelves,and suggest it to folks as a bible they should consider purchasing? Simple. Aside from being a solid translation in a field of good ones, Crossway is an awesome publisher. Seriously.

From before the first ESV was released, those involved in the project never hesitated to answer my emails and address my questions, concerns, etc. I was a lay-person then and a simple Air Force chaplain now–no one of consequence. Still they have always been responsive. Since then, Crossway has demonstrated an unparalleled loyalty to their clients–resulting in a myriad of incredible editions of the ESV that fill a lot of very specific niches even if they fail to sell zillions of copies each. Unlike any other bible publisher today, they have responded to requests for single-column bibles, heirloom quality bibles, Greek / Hebrew parallel bibles, the incredible Gospel Transformation Bible…you name it. And, in all honesty, I have most of these editions either in print or electronically. (The new Psalter that is coming out shortly looks absolutely gorgeous, in case you haven’t seen it, BTW.) You should go check out all they offer right here. These are very different page layouts taking tons of editorial time to create and produce, not merely a series of kitchy, bedazzled covers in all manner of cool colors slapped on a generic text block and cranked out as fast as possible to try to increase sales volumes.

I’ve contacted several other bible publishers through the years and asked about similar editions to those Crossway is putting out. The response has always been the same. Minimal marketability equals no support from corporate equals no luck. Nuts. I’ve always thought that was the wrong answer, and I still do. If Crossway (a non-profit) can routinely do it, you big boys can too. End of rant.

So anyway, all of this is to say simply this: Crossway, thanks for being awesome.

A loyal fan,

T.C.

P.S.–they didn’t give me any free stuff to write this, just in case you were wondering if I’m a sellout!

the HCSB: great but not perfect

Movable Type galley. Galera con tipos móviles.In two previous posts (here and here), I touted the excellence of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, but I would be remiss to explicitly or implicitly suggest that the translation is perfect. As a translation, it is not perfect, but it is such an excellent version that its lack of widespread acceptance and use–even in light of the cult-classic status of the ESV–absolutely baffles me. Let me now offer four unsolicited, ‘big-picture’ suggestions for improvement of this already remarkable translation.  While I am working on a writeup dealing with translation recommendations of specific verses in the HCSB, I shall not get to that level of detail today.  Instead, these thoughts aim to serve is a high-level critique, suitable for consumption by everyone, not just those who want to dive into the details of language translation issues.

the name: HCSB1

OK, so this is probably not fair game because no established bible translation is going to change its name after nearly a decade of publication, but I lament that the publishers chose to name this translation the HCSB for three reasons:

  1. “Holman” — no matter how many times anyone says, “The HCSB isn’t a Southern Baptist bible,” having Holman in the name has forever wrongly linked the SBC and the HCSB, creating a theological bias that does not exist. It would be like Concordia publishing a bible that ‘wasn’t Lutheran’ or JPS publishing an Old Testament that ‘wasn’t Jewish’…except that the HCSB really is not a baptist bible!  Trust me on this, I went to Southern Seminary but am not baptist.  Even though, the HCSB does not have a denominational slant to it, I think it will forever fight an uphill (losing?) battle to convince folks of this reality.
  2. “Christian” — kinda goes without saying that a bible will be “Christian,” no? Why bother?
  3. “Standard” — in my opinion, the whole idea of a “standard” English bible died with the explosion of the multitude of bible translations the English language now enjoys. The RSV was probably the last true ‘standard’ bible.  Now, such a name is wishful thinking, at best.

Let this observation merely be a lesson to future English bible translation committees, not that we need one for the next 25 years or so given that we have the HCSB right now!

translation: “the name is Yahweh”

One of the banners at the top of the HCSB website proclaims, “The name is Yahweh. God gave us his personal name, which is why you’ll see it in the Holman Christian Standard Bible.” Translating the tetragrammaton (YHWH) as Yahweh instead of the traditional LORD was a bold move in bible translation, done previously to my knowledge only in the New Jerusalem Bible. It is also linguistically correct.  My last post pointed out the importance and benefit of this choice.

The first edition used Yahweh a handful of times. The 2010 update upped that to about 500 times. I’d love to see the translators use it consistently across the nearly 7,000 instances of YHWH in the Old Testament. There is no good case in my mind for translating YHWH as Yahweh sometimes and as LORD other times–if anything it only muddies the waters since most readers will not recognize that the Hebrew beneath these two translations is identical. “Pastor, what’s the significance of the difference here?” Reply, “Um, eh, um…there is none.”

editions: take a risk to create loyal fans, B&H

One of my favorite things about the ESV is that Crossway isn’t afraid to take a risk on editions that the ‘experts’ shun as unprofitable. Examples of ‘risky’ editions abound, including: the ESV Journaling Bible, the ESV Wide Margin (forthcoming), the Personal Size Reference Bible / Personal Reference Bible, and a host of single-column layouts. Crossway has also partnered with Baker/Cambridge to produce some stunning editions: wide-margin, Pitt-Minion, and Clarion layouts. While I have no idea about the sales of any of these individual editions, the overall strategy has worked.  ESV fans are some of the most incredibly-loyal bible version fans out there!  These are all rather niche editions that are probably not big money makers–I know because I’ve corresponded with folks in the publishing departments at B&H and Tyndale in the past and received that exact answer. No projected sales = no backing from management.  Pardon me, but Crossway has demonstrated the foolishness of this answer.

Here’s my question to B&H: since such customer responsiveness creates insanely-loyal customers and Crossway (another non-profit) is willing to take these risks, why not do the same with the HCSB instead of giving us a couple of very solid specialty editions (e.g., the HCSB Study Bible is an incredibly solid study bible for one) but repackaging the same few double-column, center-reference, red-letter editions over and over?2 Or how about this crazy notion, partner with Tyndale to create a parallel (facing-page, please) HCSB-NLT bible? I’ll buy a case, or ten!

editions part two: academic credibility

Another amazing thing Crossway has done with the ESV, which has created a great level of credibility in academic circles, is to partner with the United Bible Societies to create four amazing academic editions: a parallel Greek NT, a parallel Hebrew OT, and both NT and OT interlinear editions.

I would love to see the same thing done with the HCSB, especially the parallel/diglot editions.3 Looking to justify the gamble, B&H? Last I checked, the SBC had nearly 10,000 seminarians…how’s that for a great first publication run? How great would it be for this fantastic translation to be taken seriously (i.e., used regularly) in academic circles and not just SBC Sunday school materials?

Each of these ideas are mine, but I do not think I’m the only one that holds them.  In fact, I’ll bet that first case of HCSB-Hebrew/Greek diglots or parallel HCSB-NLT bibles that I’m not!


1 I’m really not sure why I bothered to list this, except to point out again, in a rather tongue-in-cheek fashion that the HCSB is NOT a Baptist bible.
2 To be fair, the new text block in the most-recent HCSB reference bible is a thing of beauty. See my thoughts on it here. In addition, as I mentioned, the HCSB Study Bible is an incredible study bible that should enjoy much better sales than it currently does…I don’t have access to the sales history but it isn’t even in the Sept 13 top ten study bible list, seriously?! Especially unfathomable to me in light of the fact that the number one study bible is B&H’s KJV Study Bible.
3 I can almost see the visceral reaction of my Greek professors (one of whom is now the chairman of the HCSB translation oversight committee!) at the suggestion that we put diglots in the hands of seminary students.  I’m certainly not advocating these tools be used instead of the traditional Greek NT during Greek studies, but as one who has been in the post-seminary ‘real-world’ of ministry now for nearly ten years, I freely admit that my Greek / Hebrew skills will never be to the point where I don’t need some helps to read even though I read Greek / Hebrew several times a week.  A diglot is a much better tool (i.e., less of a crutch) than an interlinear.

photo credit: Creative Commons | Xosé Castro Roig

the HCSB: matters of style done well

shiny happy letters (reprise)

Every new bible translation adopts a particular ‘style’ or ‘feel’ to its English.  For the sake of consistency, translation committees are forced during their work to make many stylistic decisions that will affect how the English will read.  These decisions are compounded by the very nature of their work–translation–where a mechanical word-for-word translation of each individual word from Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek into English would result in an almost nonsensical translation that read more like a monologue from Yoda than any form of written or spoken English.

Now, when comparing bible translations, people tend to speak of formal vs dynamic equivalence.  I am not a fan of discussing bible translations in terms of equivalence because I honestly believe these comparisons are 1) misleading because no translation (bible or not) from one language to another truly presents a consistent word-for-word translation, as anyone who speaks more than one language will tell you and 2) often used pejoratively to discuss why other translations fall short of the one being touted.  More than this, these comparisons are both relative (i.e., there is no standard by which to measure equivalency) and, as a result, subjective (i.e., even the most well-intended comparison is ultimately done at the whim of the individual making the rankings).  There are better ways to compare and evaluate translations.

With that pet peeve in mind, let’s ask what sort of style did the Holman Christian Standard Bible adopt?  Here are a few of the general, stylistic choices the HCSB made that I think are right on the money…

‘Messiah’ vs ‘Christ’

Hopefully this doesn’t burst anyone’s theological bubble, but Christ is simply a Greek translation of the Hebrew word for Messiah.  In other words, they are synonyms, even though we tend not to think of them that way.  We tend to think of Messiah in only Old Testament terms and Christ in only New Testament terms–wrongly creating a distinction without a difference.

How does the HCSB handle this?  It does not simply translate the Greek word ‘christos’ as either Christ or Messiah, but chooses how to translate it based on the larger context with a footnote at the first use in any chapter reminding readers why.  Based on the explanation in the footnote,  ‘christos’ used in a Jewish context is typically translated Messiah, whereas in a Gentile context it is translated Christ.  The best place to see this is the multiple speeches in the book of Acts.  One could probably find specific instances that fail to abide by the general rule–I have not taken the time to look at every single occurrence–but overall the decision so translate ‘christos’ in this fashion is both a helpful and accurate choice.

Every day in the temple complex, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

– Acts 5.42, HCSB

‘Instruction’ vs ‘Law’

English translations traditionally translate the Hebrew word ‘torah’ as law.  Presumably, this is done because the oldest Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint or LXX) translated it this way.  The problem is that ‘law’ is not the best way to understand ‘torah,’ especially in Western society, where ‘law’ typically has a very cold, antiseptic connotation.  As the Dictionary of New Testament Background points out, “The word Torah is derived from the Hebrew [word] meaning ‘to guide’ or ‘to teach’ …as in Exodus 35:34 and Leviticus 10:11. Thus the more precise meaning of the noun would be ‘teaching’ or ‘doctrine’ rather than ‘law.’”

The HCSB breaks with the traditional translation of ‘torah’ as ‘law’ and instead rightly translates it ‘instruction.’  Though non-traditional, it is a superior translation.

How happy are those whose way is blameless, who live according to the Lord’s instruction!

– Psalm 119.1, HCSB

‘Yahweh’ vs ‘LORD’

As mentioned previously, one of the innovations the HCSB translators made was to translate the Hebrew name YHWH into English as the Yahweh.  Typically, English bibles translate the tetragrammaton as LORD in all caps or small caps, a tradition that goes back to the style chosen by the KJV translators over 400 years ago.  The 1901 American Standard Version consistently translated YHWH as Jehovah, a translation now almost universally understood to be an incorrect rendering of the Hebrew.  The 1985 Roman Catholic New Jerusalem Bible translates YHWH as Yahweh throughout the Old Testament.

Recognizing that YHWH is a proper name, the HCSB translators decided to take a non-traditional route and translate YHWH as Yahweh, though not consistently or evenly.  I shall go into more detail about this inconsistency in future posts, but needless to say translating YHWH as Yahweh vs LORD is a huge and welcome change.  At the very least, when we read Yahweh, we instantly recognize that we are not reading about some ancient, nameless God.  At its finest, this translation style makes some passages go from nonsensical to wonderfully vivid.  For example, here how Moses and Aaron’s exchange with Pharaoh in the beginning of Exodus 5 is traditionally rendered:

Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness. ‘” But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.”

– Exodus 5.1-2, ESV

This sounds well and good, but Pharaoh definitely would have known who the Lord was, that is who was God.  In Ancient Egypt he, Pharaoh, was god!  This dialogue only becomes transparent and makes sense when we recognize that what we have traditionally (and wrongly) read as LORD is actually the proper name of the God is Israel.

Later, Moses and Aaron went in and said to Pharaoh, “This is what Yahweh, the God of Israel, says: Let My people go, so that they may hold a festival for Me in the wilderness.” But Pharaoh responded, “Who is Yahweh that I should obey Him by letting Israel go? I do not know anything about Yahweh, and besides, I will not let Israel go.”

– Exodus 5.1-2, HCSB

Read with Yahweh instead of LORD, this exchange makes complete sense.  Pharaoh had no idea who Yahweh was…just another god of one the nations around him, who he did not feel compelled to obey or worship.

Each of these stylistic choices goes against the grain of the traditional English bible translation begun by the venerable KJV.  While we should not easily dismiss church tradition for the novel and ‘better,’ we must recognize that our knowledge of ancient languages is always improving even while our own language is always evolving…two realities that require us to not become slaves to our translation traditions, especially when there are truly better ways to render the word of God into contemporary English.

photo credit: Creative Commons | Markus Mayer via Compfight

the HCSB: everything I hoped the ESV would be

The ESV is the bible translation I’ve always wanted and tried to love. I had one pre-ordered back in 2001 in hopes it would be the best bible in the English language. I had high hopes that it would “fix” the quirky wording of the updated NASB, address some of the concerns raised about NIV translation choices, and be the only bible I would use or need for years to come.

I used the ESV exclusively for many years–always wanting to consider it “the one” but never quite being able to do so. On the surface there is much to love about the ESV: endorsements from every Christian ‘rock star’ preacher / teacher / professor on the scene today; a multitude of incredibly well-done layouts / editions; second-to-none marketing; and a wonderful, non-profit publisher (Crossway) that does a tremendous job printing and distributing the word1. But as far as the translation itself, I’ve never gotten over the fact that it’s ‘essentially literal’ philosophy has given us a translation that is essentially identical to the RSV on which I was raised and hardly groundbreaking at all.

While the ESV has won a lot of accolades and advocates, there have been many criticisms leveled at it too. In 2007, Dr. Mark Strauss presented a paper at ETS titled, “Why the English Standard Version Should not become the Standard English Version.” In this paper, he presented approximately two hundred specific instances where the ESV could be improved and compared the ESV rendering against a multitude of other English translations. Unfortunately, in my opinion, he failed to consistently compare any translation against his examples except the TNIV, which has never won widespread acceptance.

This week, I took Strauss’ examples and compared them against the readings in the Holman Christian Standard Bible and concluded that, while not perfect either, I can say that the HCSB is everything I hoped the ESV would be. While that sounds like a strange endorsement, my point is this: instead of continuing to call for revisions / updates / etc. to the ESV’s awkward and archaic English, those concerned should instead take a look at the HCSB, where almost none of these common objections exist.

Here are some of the specifics, based on my analysis of Strauss’ categories. In the realm of “oops translations,” the HCSB correctly translated 100% of his seven examples. The HCSB also properly rendered 77% of the 43 missed idioms on his list. With respect to 18 lexical errors Strauss pointed out, the HCSB corrected 92% of the errors present in the ESV. Surprisingly to me, of the seven exegetical errors Strauss cites, the HCSB only got 50% right…something I shall have to look more into. The final category I compared was title collocational errors, which are a grammar mistake where speakers/translators use the wrong combination of words when constructing common phrases. Here the HCSB scored a respectable 73%. I did not even bother looking over Strauss’ list of archaic or poorly-worded English, because even its advocates will not argue the reality of the ESV’s less-than-modern English. Overall, the HCSB correctly translated 78% of the ‘problems’ Strauss has with the ESV. The 2011 ESV update has still not corrected / adjusted / addressed any of the issues Strauss raised back in 2007.

While few writers present such in-depth criticisms of the ESV, many suggestions and wishes routinely crop up among bloggers and writers. One of the most common wishes is for the use of ‘slave’ instead of ‘bondservant’ throughout the New Testament. Others have argued for translating the tetragrammaton / YHWH as ‘Yahweh’ instead of the traditional ‘LORD.’ Though by no means consistent with the latter, the HCSB incorporates both of these additional suggestions.

So, over against the ESV, the HCSB corrects a multitude of translation-related problems and incorporates routinely-expressed wishes that the ESV translation committee has consistently decided against. As if that weren’t enough reason to consider the HCSB a decidedly superior English translation, think on this…The HCSB is the only major English translation to properly translate John 3:16. “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” This is not the KJV-influenced English rendering to which we are all accustomed. But, this verse is not about how much God loved the world (i.e., “soooo much”) but about what that loved motivated God to do for the world.

The HCSB is not without it’s faults. I’m drafting some thoughts on areas where I think the HSCB should continue to improve in future revisions–including some ideas that I think might help the translation score some much-needed traction and acceptance, which has been sorely lacking for such a great translation. With that in mind, however, I can confidently say that the HCSB…truly is everything I hoped the ESV would be…probably the best translation in the English language today.


1 Crossway’s responsiveness to customer feedback, production of some of the most wonderful editions / text layouts ever devised, and commitment to proclaim the gospel through the publishing efforts is one of the principal reasons I continue to purchase and consult the ESV…and a reason you should too!

Mother India: Life Through The Eyes of The Orphan

As an adoptive parent of three wonderful children from Ukraine and Ethiopia, I jumped at the chance to review an advance copy of Mother India: Life Through the Eyes of the Orphan by Word Films.  After watching now several times, I can stun up the entire movie in one word: other-wordly.  (OK, it’s hyphenated, but it’s still technically one word)

India is home to over 31 million orphans…read that again…31,000,000 orphans.  That number is far greater than the combined total populations of the ten largest cities in the United States.  Think of the entire populations of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, and San Jose COMBINED , and then add New York in AGAIN.  That is nearly 31 million.  It’s unfathomable, isn’t it?

In this film, David Trotter and Shawn Scheinoha get taken in by a family of 25 orphans living in and around a train station in rural India.  What they experience and share is guaranteed to break your heart.  The experiences of these children, their struggles to cope with hardship, and the true family that they have developed is truly unbelievable for most Americans.  As one who has traveled around the world and seen living conditions that have literally made me sick to my stomach, Mother India succeeds in giving insights into the plight of these orphans.  It does much more than that, however, and this is where it truly shines…David and Shawn have told us the names and stories of just a few of India’s countless orphans.

Through this movie we come to know, not just about them, but to a little bit about them as people and their stories.  This movie is an absolute must-see.  But…you won’t want to watch it all.  It will break your heart.  It will leave you unable to continue in your own status quo knowing about the stories of these children (and the 147 million orphans world-wide who share similar lives) but content to not think about them anymore.  And that, friends, is a tremendous, God-blessed burden for us to act upon!

Mother India releases today, April 23rd!  Pick up a copy here at Amazon (not an affiliate link)…you won’t be disappointed.

Prayer Book of the Early Christians : a review

Prayer is part of the sacred heartbeat of the Christian faith. Prayer is learned by praying, alone or with others. Prayer, for many, is also one of the most challenging aspects of the Christian life. As Scot McKnight wrote earlier today:

Prayer is not only hard for most Christians, it is discouraging to be reminded of the importance of prayer. Sometimes it is a scolding preacher and other times nothing more than the word of someone who seems so good at prayer. A few years ago I became convinced that one of the major reasons prayer is hard is because we rely too much upon ourselves.

In light of what is a discouraging experience for many of us, how are we to enrich our lives of prayer? Throughout the history of the Church, she has turned primarily to two sources for prayer–Scripture itself (primary the Psalter) and prayer books. While the latter is unfamiliar to many Evangelicals, prayer books have a long history throughout Eastern and Western Church traditions. The Prayer Book of the Early Christians by John McGuckin is a new prayer book influenced heavily by Eastern (i.e., Russian and Greek) Orthodoxy. As such, it offers a treasure trove of ancient but most likely unknown material to those of us in the West.

The structure of the daily office (i.e., Morning, Midday, and Evening prayers for those unfamiliar with the term) will not be unfamiliar for Roman Catholics or others in liturgical traditions, though the prayers–aside from the Psalms used–will no doubt be new. In addition to these daily prayers, there is a section of about fifty prayers and shorter liturgies ranging from prayers before meals, to prayers for the sick, to a blessing for a home. The depth and richness of the prayer included, many of which date back to the time of the Church Fathers, is a welcome antidote for much of the shallow platitudes that tend to make up many of our prayers today. While Evangelical Protestants will no doubt avoid the included petitions to the saints and to the Virgin Mary, there is no reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater and conclude that there is nothing profitable in this work. On the contrary, Prayer Book of the Early Christians, is one of the most easy to follow, historically rich, and approachable prayer books I have come across in a long time.

After using this book almost daily for several months, I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to grow in their prayer life and delve into the amazing tradition of prayer the Christian church has built over nearly two thousand years.

Prayer Book of the Early Christians is available from Paraclete Press, Amazon, and other bookstores (not affiliate links).

My thanks to Sr. Madeleine at Paraclete for providing me a copy to review!

new Holman Christian Standard Bible editions

After making significant updates to the HCSB in 2010 and releasing the superb HCSB Study Bible shortly after, B&H has started releasing some new HCSB reference editions featuring a completely redone text layout and greatly expanded textual and translation-related footnotes.  So far, both regular and large-print Ultrathin reference editions have been published with the new text block.  The main innovations of the new layout include:

  • sans-serif fonts throughout
  • book and chapter references in the bottom margin instead of the top
  • extensive footnotes for textual and translation-related issues

Below the photos are some thoughts about the new features.  If you’re looking for a review of the HCSB as a translation, Pr. Richard Shields has done a great job reviewing it at his blog: https://exegete77.wordpress.com/

Sans-serif fonts are pretty standard for the web (including this blog) and some e-readers, but a quick look through my library revealed that I have very few print books with this type of font.  To me, in a side-by-side comparison of two equally-sized serif (think Times New Roman) and sans-serif (think Arial) fonts, the sans-serif font appears larger.  Another benefit is that the quirky HCSB choice to bold-face OT quotes in the NT is not nearly as noticeable than in prior editions.  Personally, I think this is a good thing as I find the use of bold-print very distracting.  Overall, though somewhat novel for print editions, I find the sans-serif font extremely easy to read, even for long periods of time.

Book and chapter references are moved to the bottom margin in these bibles.  At first I thought this would be very difficult to get used to after decades of looking to the top margin for these references; however, it took me about five minutes to adjust.  As radical a departure from the norm as this appears, don’t overreact.  It works.

In my opinion, the most wonderful improvement in these new layouts has been the incredible expansion of the footnotes, as seen in a couple of the above pictures.  These notes are not interpretation or study bible-type notes but are exclusively related to textual issues (comparing difference manuscripts) or translation matters (alternate translation possibilities).  As nerdy and academic as this might sound, I find these notes extremely helpful.  The only other bible I have seen that even comes close to this level of detail is the NET bible.  B&H should be commended for this valuable addition.

These new layouts are fantastic.  If you are in the market for a new bible, the HCSB is a super translation, and these new editions are wonderful.  Many thanks to Jeremy Howard at Lifeway for providing me a copy of the large-print edition for review!

new writing endeavors

Reaper RPAS Aircraft Lands at Kandahar, Afghanistan

 

I haven’t given up blogging for Lent, but my blogging will be slowing down for the next six months as I begin my current master’s thesis.  I will be researching and writing a Just War tradition (JWT) evaluation on the United States’ use of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA or “drones”).  The paper will look at both the use of RPA in theory and in practice and see whether the jus in bello (justice in war) facets of JWT challenge us to make changes in either our doctrine or praxis.

My initial hunch is that, while placing a greater burden to be used ethically than traditional weapons systems, there is nothing inherently immoral about RPA.  I also expect to find that our current use of RPA around the world violates the jus in bello JWT principle of discrimination more than other weapons systems.  These are only my initial gut feelings, however, and I am open to whatever my research suggests.

Either way, things will be slower around here for the next few months.  I still plan to post from time to time, though, so don’t abandon me completely!

photo credit: Creative Commons | Ministry of Defence

a couple of superb ESV editions

When not wrestling with Greek in the LXX and NT, I spend most of my English bible reading in three versions: the ESV, the HCSB, and the NLT.  Due to some of the difficult phrasing in the ESV and the fact that I minister mostly to folks who are younger and unfamiliar or turned off by its traditional wording, I spend the least amount of time in the ESV.  That said, Crossway keeps me coming back again and again because of the superb editions they publish–editions that sometimes fill a very specific reader niche and aren’t likely to be huge sellers but are nonetheless treasured by bibliophiles for various reasons.

Last fall, I picked up a copy of the ESV Single Column Legacy Bible for no other reason than its typesetting and layout.  Sounds crazy, I know, but the layout of this bible makes it an absolute dream to read.  Mark Bertrand did an excellent three-part series on this edition beginning with this post.  I highly recommend jumping to his site and reading the series to get a picture for what went into this edition.

Today I was in my favorite bookstore, picked up a copy of the recent ESV Single Column Journaling Bible, and fell in love with this new edition.  The layout is amazing–single column (obviously), super wide margins, and a creamy page color similar to that used by the German Bible Society in their Greek and Hebrew texts.  Best of all, as a chaplain who needs a bible that can be tossed in a rucksack and dragged all over creation for worship services, bible study, and counseling, it has the same hard cover and elastic flap similar to the original Journaling bible and Moleskine notebooks.  This bible may be the perfect chaplain’s bible!

I shall post some photos in the next couple days for you to get an idea of this great little edition.  Until then…

on self importance, from Embracing Obscurity

The trouble with you and me and the rest of humanity is not that we lack self-confidence (as we’re told by the world) but that we have far too much self-importance. The thought of being just another of the roughly one hundred billion people to have ever graced this planet offends us—whether we realize it or not.

Anonymous, Embracing Obscurity

book review, Embracing Obscurity

Once in a while a book comes along that you don’t want to keep reading but just can’t stand put down–the kind of book that cuts to the core of the problems facing the church and points out what a life seized by Christ looks like. My list of books in this category is short: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, Richard Stearns’ The Hole in Our Gospel, David Platt’s Radical…and most recently, Embracing Obscurity.

From the opening pages, this anonymous work rightly calls our over-inflated egos on the carpet and points out the delusional drunkenness of our sinful pride:

We’re all intoxicated with a desire to be known, recognized, appreciated, and respected. We crave to be a “somebody” and do notable things, to achieve our dreams and gain the admiration of others. To be something–anything–other than nothing.

The trouble with you and me and rest of humanity is not that we lack self-confidence (as we’re told by the world) but that we have far too much self-importance. The thought of being just another of the roughly one hundred billion people to have ever graced this planet offends us–whether we realize it or not.

Encouraging, right? It should be. It should be very encouraging that, as anonymous and obscure as we truly are, we are loved by an omnipotent and eternal God who, in the ultimate act of humble obscurity, took on humanity to dwell among us and die a criminal’s death (Phil 2.6-8). Here, in Christ, is our true significance, and here we find the strength to subdue our pride and embrace obscurity that God might be magnified in our lives.

After showing us where our true significance lies, the author spends the rest of this powerful work encouraging us to follow Christ by embracing servanthood, suffering, and the mystery (from the world’s point of view) of the Christian lifestyle that is so counter to our culture. Most importantly, we are reminded, we have a finite amount of time in order to glorify God in our earthly lives:

You will die. Maybe today; maybe fifty years from now. How will you spend the seconds, hours, days, and years you have left? Will you waste your time loving the things of this world, worrying about your star rating, and focusing on your success? Or will you invest the remainder of your life “seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers”? Will you take on the disposition of Christ, submitting to God’s will, loving justice and mercy, serving selflessly and loving fully? Will you walk worthy of the glorious gospel–even if no one ever knows your name?

I am not overstating when I say that this book has the potential to send you off in a direction you never thought you would go. It’s message is uncomfortable. It is unsettling. And it is absolutely necessary.

If you’re interested, check it out on the Embracing Obscurity website or at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or CBD (not affiliate links).

(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog.  Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

on the American Dream, from Embracing Obscurity

A lot of us are caught up in this religious version of the American dream, even in the church.

Anonymous, Embracing Obscurity

from Embracing Obscurity

We’re intoxicated with a desire to be known, recognized, appreciated, and respected.  We crave to be a “somebody” and do notable things, to achieve our dreams and gain the admiration of others.  To be something–anything–other than nothing.

Anonymous, Embracing Obscurity

Note: This is the first in a series of ‘teaser’ quotes from the forthcoming book, Embracing Obscurity, that releases on October 1st.  I will be doing a full review this week so check back for more!

book review: Fierce Loyalty

Community-building is a huge topic today’s social media-obsessed world where people are increasingly physically alienated but craving relationships. As one who has worked to develop a sense of community in the various military units and civilian workplaces I have been a part of over the last 15 years, I have read widely on what it takes to ignite and nurture this often-elusive, passionate sense of loyalty. In light of my experience, let me say this:

Sarah Robinson ‘gets’ community, and in her new book Fierce Loyalty she shares what it takes to create it.

Since Sarah was kind enough to provide me with an advance copy last week, I have read and re-read Fierce Loyalty: Unlocking the DNA of Wildly Successful Communities. The “Fierce Loyalty Model” she proposes contains five building blocks that are both simple and essential for creating community. Through the lenses of her model, I can look back and see those facets I have neglected or omitted in the past as well as areas I want to work on in my current workplace.

The examples in Fierce Loyalty are primarily taken from traditional for-profit businesses, but Sarah’s model has been consistently proven in her experiences with other organizations. These building blocks are perfectly applicable to non-profits, churches, small groups, military units, online communities and divisions/branches/sub-groups of any larger organization.

Fierce Loyalty is a must-read and releases tomorrow, September 18th. As a super bonus, the Kindle edition will be on sale for $2.99! Anyone passionate (or even mildly curious) about what it takes to create a great community would be insane to pass up this deal.

Go to Amazon to order or to the Fierce Loyalty website to learn more about Fierce Loyalty and Sarah.

most influential books, #1: The Cost of Discipleship

NOTE: With this post, I’m beginning a new series on the most influential books I have ever read aside from the Bible.  Currently, there are three books I wish to visit, but who knows how long I shall dwell on the topic.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic The Cost of Discipleship belongs on the shelf of every Christian, without exception.  It is one of those rare books we should re-read often–slowly and contemplatively, with pencil in hand.  In its pages we find ourselves confronted with the fallacy of ‘cheap grace,’ a disease so insidious as to be obviously repulsive and yet so widespread as to be all but overlooked.

The cross is laid on every Christian.  The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world.  It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ…the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise godfearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ.  When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Those powerful words and others like it, refuse to leave us complacent, lazy, and unmoved.  They will not allow us to sit content with comfortable Christian lives that resemble the American dream of wealth and luxury far more than they resemble the transformed lives of countless Christians throughout the ages even to today.  The first four chapter of The Cost of Discipleship, little more than sixty pages in my edition, contain some of the most Christ-centered counsel for living the Christian life as well as God-fearing rebuke for the farce we have made of much of our faith.

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and…” Be materially blessed?  Live his best life now?  Believe heaven is for real?  Pray circles around your biggest dreams?  Take control of your life?

Nope.

Unlike any of those phrases–all taken from a Christian living bestseller list–Christ bids us come and die.  He bids us come and die to ourselves that we might follow him and truly live.  Contrary to the bestseller list (which Bonhoeffer would never appear on today), we cannot have it both ways.

Christ’s call to the rich young man, to Levi, to Peter, to Paul, and all the others in the pages of Scripture were all the same.  “Only one thing was required in each case–to rely on Christ’s word and cling to it as offering greater security than all the securities in the world.”

Christ’s call to us is identical.

photo courtesy of stock.xchng

Book Review: Seal of God

Seal of God is a fast-paced, first-person account of one man’s incredible journey through the toughest military training our nation has to offer, the training that makes our US Navy SEALs. Chad Williams has made a cut that few others will ever attempt, let alone succeed, and wears coveted Trident of the SEALs. Along the way, this rough and tumble guy showed his strength and prowess in training, bar fights, and combat overseas. There was one he could not best, however, as Christ gripped his soul during a Greg Laurie crusade and would not let go. Now separated from the Navy, Chad is an evangelist with a passion for sharing Christ with others.

The details of his SEAL training; the rowdy men with whom he lived and fought; and the 180-degree turn Jesus wrought on Chad’s life make this book a page-turner. With that said, however, as an Air Force chaplain, I was hoping to read more about how he worked through the tension between his often gruesome calling as a SEAL and his faith in Christ. Instead of the hard teachings of Christ military folks often struggle to reconcile with their vocation, Chad’s struggles were only with how his fellow SEALs hazed him for his faith. Ultimately, I was hoping for more thoughtfulness and depth, because I am certain Chad has wrestled with these issues as much or more as he did his treatment in the Navy.

Is Seal of God a good story? Absolutely. In my opinion, though, it could have been much, much more.

Thanks to Tyndale Press for providing a review copy!

Book Review: The Voice New Testament

When I first heard about the Voice New Testament, I was excited and intrigued.  The idea of a rendition of Scripture written primarily to be heard excites me, because until very recently in history, Scripture was not read like a textbook but heard by the people of God during times of corporate worship.  At the same time, I was intrigued because the translation team included many individuals who were clearly qualified with respect to their academic credentials but who are not well-known as Bible translators.  Neither of these points is inherently good or bad–they just formed my initial reaction to hearing about the project.

After reading a great portion of the Voice New Testament, I concluded that there are two reasons I cannot recommend this translation / paraphrase (?) for study or general use.  First, the text contains many insertions within the biblical text of notes attempting to clarify the text’s meaning.  These are essentially footnotes embedded in the main body of the text.  Though italicized to indicate that they are not part of the text, their placement within the flow of the text could be misleading to readers, unintentionally elevating these comments to the same level as inspired Scripture.  The second reason I have against recommending the Voice is that, while billed as a dynamic translation, it really reads more like the Message, which I would consider to be a paraphrase versus a true dynamic translation (like the New Living Translation).  The translation team took lots of liberties with the text–ones I think go well beyond what is either needed or desirable to satisfy their charter of highlighting “the beauty of God’s communication to His people” to ensure “the voice of God is heard as clearly as when He first revealed His truth.”

In sum, while I admire the goals of the Voice, it is not a translation I can recommend.  If, in the future, a revision was made to address these concerns (and those raised by others), I would gladly revisit this edition, but until then I will not refer to it often in my devotions, preaching, or teaching.

You can find out more about The Voice on the publisher’s website (here) or on Amazon.com (here).

Book Review: Reading God’s Word Today

Reading God’s Word Today, by George Martin, is a clear, thoughtful, and eminently readable book on getting the most out of spending time reading Scripture.  Though brief (less than 200 pages), it is by no means short on substance.  Though written from a Catholic perspective, it is one of the few books, besides the Bible itself, I sincerely wish I could place into the hands of every Christian, Protestant and Catholic alike!

The book is divided into two parts, the first providing a model for how to read Scripture and the second focusing on how God reveals himself to us through it.  Martin is quick to point out that Scripture is to be read in the Christian life devotionally–that is, as part of the ongoing, daily conversation between the Christian and God.  The point to spending time daily in God’s Word is not to check off boxes on a reading plan or read through the entire Bible in x number of days.  Instead, we are reminded of the importance of taking our time meditating on the words of Scripture, mulling over them that we might not only understand what we read but that we might truly hear God’s voice speaking to us through them.  The approach Martin outlines is the classic, time-tested Christian practice called lectio divina (holy reading), which consists of four parts:  reading, understanding, listening, and praying.  The point, as he succinctly writes, “is to help Scripture ‘come alive’ for us.”

The second half of the book discusses the proper understanding of Scripture as the Word of God revealed to humanity.  Martin explores God’s use of inspired human agent in the process of divine revelation and how the Bible consequently revels God to us and recreates us, by the power of the Spirit, into his people.  In this section, he anticipates some common questions and objections about the origin of Scripture, discusses the necessity of understanding the background and cultural setting (especially of the Old Testament), and points out how the infant church was impacted by both Jesus’ teachings and the writings of the Apostles.

This little work is a very practical, wonderfully helpful book and a gift given to the body of Christ from Martin’s pen.  Every believer at every stage of their Christian life would benefit from reading this book…and then reading it again later on to be reminded of its great truths.  As a Christian, this book reminded me of the great treasure we have be been given by God in the Holy Scriptures–I read it, marked it, and re-read it.  As a chaplain, this is one of the books I hope to be able to make available to all I encounter from day to day, whether Protestant or Catholic.  As a parent, besides Holy Scripture and our Catechisms, I will definitely work through Reading God’s Word Today with my children that their understanding of God’s Word might be deepened.

You can purchase this book here.

I wrote this review of Reading God’s Word Today for the Tiber River Blogger Review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, the largest Cathlic store online. For more information and to purchase, please visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.

Tiber River is the first Catholic book review site, started in 2000 to help you make informed decisions about Catholic book purchases.

I receive free product samples as compensation for writing reviews for Tiber River.

Book Review: A Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible

Just before Easter, Andrew Rogers at Zondervan was kind enough to send me a review copy of A Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible.  This new bible consists of the previously-published Reader’s Hebrew Bible, edited by A. Philip Brown and Bryan W. Smith, and the Reader’s Greek New Testament (2nd Ed), edited by Richard J. Goodrich and Albert L. Lukaszewski, bound into one beautiful volume.  If you’re like me, and have been hoping for the day when these two wonderful works would appear in print together, you will NOT be disappointed.

In case you are unfamiliar with the Reader’s texts published by Zondervan, they include the Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek texts of the Old and New Testaments along with footnote definitions of all words appearing less than 100 times in Hebrew or 30 times in Greek (definitions of all words appearing more than 100 time or 30 times, respectively, appear at the end of each testament).  The critical apparatus of the original language texts is not included, so this Bible will not replace the standard critical editions for textual criticism work; however, that is not its purpose.  The intent of this Bible is to increase the reader’s ability to pick up the Greek/Hebrew texts and read without a continual need to refer to lexicons and look up unfamiliar vocabulary, and for this purpose the Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible excels!

The Greek New Testament text used is that underlying the Today’s New International Version (TNIV) New Testament.  There are places where this text differs from the main reading presented in the United Bible Society (UBS) text, based upon decisions made by the TNIV translators to utilize some of the multitude of textual variants detailed in the UBS text.  In each of these instances, the TNIV and UBS texts are listed side-by-side in a footnote for reader’s to compare.  The Hebrew Old Testament text comes from the Westminster Leningrad Codex, which differs from the standard BHS critical edition in only a handful of places (only 12 consonantal variations total).  The definitions used in the footnotes and mini-lexicons at the end of each testament are derived from the standard lexica–BDAG, Louw-Nida, LSJ, and Trenchard for the NT; HALOT and BDB for the OT.

As far as the mechanics of this Bible go, the leather used is very finely grained but very thin.  While I expect it to loosen/soften up with use, out of the box the cover is fairly stiff.  Overall, I would say the leather is of higher quality than that typically appearing as “Genuine Leather” in most contemporary Bibles but not nearly as nice as one would find in a high-end (e.g. Cambridge) Bible.  Only time will tell if this thin real leather will stand up as well as the more robust Duo-tone covers used in the separate volumes.  The pages are (thankfully) not ultra-thin and are gilded in silver, which nicely accents the black leather cover.  The binding of this nearly 2.5″ thick Bible is sewn (hooray!), so I expect to be able to get many years of use out of it before rebinding.  Also, there are two ribbon bookmarks (hooray!) and a typical complement of maps, which are located in between the New and Old Testaments. A standard Greek font (i.e., NOT italics like USB or the Reader’s Greek NT, 1st ed) is used that is slightly smaller than the font of the UBS or large-print Nestle-Aland texts but larger than that used in the standard Nestle-Aland edition.  The Hebrew font is larger than the standard size BHS but slightly smaller than the large-print BHS.  I find both fonts very readable.  The only concern I have about how the Bible was put together is that the cover has square corners versus the more typical rounded corners found on leather bound works.  It remains to be seen how well these will hold up through lots of use.

All in all, I highly recommend this Bible for anyone wanting to improve their ability to work in and enjoy the original languages of Scripture.  Whether just starting out as a student of biblical languages, a more advanced student coming to the realization that you cannot read large portions of Hebrew and Greek as easily as you want, or a seasoned pastor wanting to dust off those synapses you haven’t used since seminary, the Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible will make a fantastic addition to your array of language tools.

NLT Breakthrough to Clarity Contest and Giveaway

The great folks at Tyndale are having a contest, giveaway, sweepstakes with some AMAZING prizes available to those who enter.  In a word, WOW.  As if free paper copies of bibles wasn’t a fantastic prize for any believer, this contest really raises the bar…check out the details:

The New Living Translation Break Through to Clarity Bible Contest and Giveaway

Visit www.facebook.com/NewLivingTranslation and click on the tab that says “Sweepstakes”

Fill out a simple form, take a quick Bible clarity survey, invite your friends to join and you’ll be entered to win one of our exciting prizes.

With each fan number milestone a new prize will be given away.

Grand Prize

Apple iPad 64G and a Life Application Study Bible
Awarded when the NLT Fan Page hits the fifth milestone
Retail Value: $829.00

2nd Prize  – Already awarded

32G iPod Touch and a Life Application Study Bible
Awarded when the NLT Fan Page hits the fourth milestone
Retail Value: $300.00

3rd Prize – Will be awarded when fan count hits: 3500

Kindle DX and a Life Application Study Bible
Awarded when the NLT Fan Page hits the third milestone
Retail Value: $489.00

4th Prize Will be awarded when fan count hits: TBD

Apple iPad 16G and a Life Application Study Bible
Awarded when the New Living Translation Fan Page hits the second milestone
Retail Value: $499.00

5th Prize Will be awarded when fan count hits: TBD

Apple iPad 32G and a Life Application Study Bible
Awarded when the NLT Fan Page hits the first milestone
Retail Value: $599.00

Prize Eligibility – Recently updated to include more countries

Sweepstakes participants and winner(s) can be U.S. residents of the 50 United States, or residents of any country that is NOT embargoed by the United States, but cannot be residents of Belgium, Norway, Sweden, or India.  In addition, participants and winner(s) must be at least 18 years old, as determined by the Company.

Sweepstakes Starts

March 17, 2010 @ 10:24 am (PDT)

Sweepstakes Ends

April 30, 2010 @ 10:24 am (PDT)

Wait, there’s more!

Visit http://biblecontest.newlivingtranslation.com/index.php for a chance to win a trip for two to Hawaii!

Here are the details:

Choose one of six passages of Scripture from the New Living Translation and consider:
How do these verses encourage you to know God better?
What is God teaching you in this passage?
How does this passage apply to your life?

Submit your answer and you’ll be entered to win.

Just for signing up: Everybody Wins! Win a Free .mp3 download from the NLT’s new Red Letters Project. It’s the dynamic, new presentation of the sung and narrated words of the Gospel of Matthew. You win the download just for entering! Or choose to download the NLT Philippians Bible Study, complete with the Book of Philippians in the NLT.

Every day, one person will win the best-selling Life Application Study Bible!

The grand prize: One person will win a fantastic trip for two to the crystal clear waters of the Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore in beautiful Hawaii.

“What’s in the Bible?” Giveaway Winner

In a bizarre twist, of the nearly 100 people that viewed the “What’s in the Bible?” Giveaway post…only ONE person bothered to comment!  That pretty well clinches it for smiley671, who will get the episode of her choice for her daughters to enjoy!  In the spirit of spreading the word on this great new DVD series, I am going to send BOTH certificates to her–one to choose from for her family and one to pay forward to a friend/church member/etc. of her choice.

May God richly bless your family and another fortunate family through this gracious gift from Tyndale and Phil Vischer!

For the rest of you readers…shame on you for not taking time to register a comment.  I checked the spam filter, you’re not there!  Free stuff for the taking and no one willing.  You have not because you ask not!

“What’s in the Bible?” Giveaway!

Yesterday I posted a review of Phil Vischer’s new project, “What’s in the Bible? with Buck Denver.”  Today, as promised, here’s a video teaser of this amazing new creation:

Also, here is a link to download some promised coloring pages for the younger viewers in your household…

But, I know why you’re all really here–FREE STUFF!  That’s right, courtesy of the fantastic folks at Tyndale House, I have award certificates for free copies of Episodes 1 and 2 of the “What’s in the Bible?” series.  Episode 1 is titled, “In the Beginning,” and covers…well…exactly what you might think, Genesis.  Episode 2 is titled, “Let My People Go!” and examines the book of Exodus.

How do you win?  Simple.  Just leave a comment to this post as to WHICH episode you’d like to have and WHY (don’t forget to include your email address, which will NOT be published for the world to see).  Get creative–funny or serious–and my fair and impartial, but sometimes moody, 13 year-old daughter will choose the winners, who will receive a certificate that you can redeem at your local Christian bookstore.

Piece of cake, right?  Let the games begin!  You have until midnight on Monday, March 22nd, to leave a comment.  I’ll announce the winner on Tuesday.

DVD Review: “What’s in the Bible?” by Phil Vischer and Tyndale

“From the man who made vegetables talk (and sing and dance and tell Bible stories) comes an engaging new series that walks kids through the entire Bible!”

One of the most memorable scenes in Tyler Perry’s movie “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” depicts of of Perry’s many characters, Joe, complaining about how boring the Bible is and pretending to fall asleep as soon as the Bible is opened.  As funny as that scene is, unfortunately its humor stems from just how close Perry’s depiction is to real life for many, many people.  Phil Vischer has long sought to change that sad fact, first through the wildly popular “Veggie Tales” and now through his new project, “What’s in the Bible?” His goal?  To “see the world’s most amazing book come to life for a new generation.”

As I sat down with my two children, ages 13 and 6, to watch the first two episodes on a preview copy Tyndale House so graciously sent me, I honestly had no idea what to expect.  Within minutes, we were all hooked! Unlike “Veggie Tales,” which is an animated series, “What’s in the Bible?” uses muppets, which is at once unique for children and a bit nostalgic for parents.  Visher has combined his characteristic side-splitting humor with a level of depth and teaching never before seen in children’s productions.  For example, not far into Episode 1: In the Beginning, my 6 year-old was rolling on the floor laughing to a singing pirate while my 13 year-old was learning from that pirate about the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) and why Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox believers have different numbers of books in their Old Testaments.  Later on in the same episode, Buck Denver and the other characters teach about some of the attributes of God (e.g., he is creative), the reasons God created us (e.g., to take care of the earth), and differing opinions about the age of the universe (old-earth and new-earth creationism).  There is no doubt that very few children will have had the benefit of being exposed previously to such a wealth of information about Scripture and God’s unfolding plan of redemption.  In short, “What’s in the Bible?” manages to be insanely funny while at the same time teaching at a depth that will doubtless make many parents blush as they learn alongside their children.

Lest my words lead you to think the material presented here is over the head of Vischer’s intended audience, let me assure you it is not.  All the teaching points presented are done so in manner and in such a way as to be understandable by children in the 8-12 year age range.  Younger viewers will be captivated by the music, muppets, and humor, even though they will probably not understand everything in the episodes.  Older viewers might initially be put off by the muppets, thinking them childish, but if they will give these episodes a chance, I have no doubt they will walk away knowing much more about the Bible than they did before.

All in all, the more times I watch these videos, the more I am amazed!  Phil Vischer has definitely hit a home run with “What’s in the Bible?”  I look forward to many more hours of going through the Bible with Buck Denver and friends!

Curious about “What’s in the Bible?” and want to find out more?  Check out the website www.whatsinthebible.com or www.tyndale.com to learn more.  You can also follow @whatsinthebible on Twitter or check them out on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/WhatsintheBible)

Stay tuned for more posts on Friday, including a video teaser, coloring pages for kids, and a chance to win one of two FREE “What’s in the Bible?” episodes (courtesy of Tyndale House)…be sure and check back then!

Review: Glo bible software

Glo is bible software like you’ve never seen or experienced. Period.

As Nelson Saba, co-founder of the Glo project has put it, Glo is the bible “re-imagined for a digital world.”

In my more verbose words, Glo is a revolutionary piece of bible study software that makes use of a variety of stunning media to immerse users in God’s word like never before!  After just over a month of using the software…

System Requirements and Installation

The system requirements for Glo are pretty straightforward and typical for recently released software.  They are, according to the Glo website:

  • Microsoft Windows® XP, Vista®, or Windows 7 OS with lastest service pack installed
  • An internet connection
  • At least 18GB of free hard disk space
  • Dual Core Processor
  • 1GB RAM for Microsoft Windows XP, or 2GB RAM for Vista or Windows 7
  • ATI or NVIDIA video graphics card with Microsoft DirectX 9 support
  • DVD Rom Drive

I attempted to install Glo on two different systems with varying success.  The first system I tried was my older 2.0 GHz AMD system with 3 GB of RAM and Win XP.  Though not a dual core processor, Glo installed and ran with no problems whatsoever.  Some of the intense multimedia aspects of Glo bog the system down some (zooming around on maps and playing HD video), but it is nonetheless very usable.  I also tried to install Glo on a 2.5 GHz dual core system with 2 GB of RAM and Win XP with no success.  Immediately after selecting the option to install Glo, the software repeatedly hung up.  There is no telling whether or not there is something quirky with this particular machine or not…did anyone else have problems installing Glo?

Once started, the installation process itself takes a LONG time.  It took well over two hours to install completely, but given that Glo is installing over 3.5 hrs of HD video, over 2300 hi-res photos, over 550 virtual tours, and over 140 hi-res zoomable maps, it isn’t surprising.  Still, it seemed to take longer to install than in actually did because I wanted to dive in and use it!  Patience, friends.  Sit back and read some Job while you’re waiting (grin).

User Interface

The Glo interface is simple, intuitive, and visually appealing.  Everything in the program centers around Bible, Atlas, Timeline, Media, and Topical ‘lenses,’ which makes navigation and use very easy.  Perhaps the best way to describe the interface is just to demonstrate it:

The Experience

In short, Glo is incredible.  Of all the bible study software I regularly use, including Logos and Bibleworks, Glo is the only one that made my thirteen year-old daughter stop and ask, “What’s that?”  More than just stopping, she soon became engrossed with the pictures, videos, and maps that Glo offers.  I’m no expert, but if Glo can captivate a teenage girl and get her involved in bible study, I would call that a resounding success!

As great as this software is, however, there is still room for improvement, especially in the area of searches.  Glo comes with both NIV and KJV bibles (additional bibles are forthcoming, I believe), but there is no way to select only one or the other as part of a search.  Additionally, search results come back from both versions in no particular order (certainly not canonical order).  At first I tried to discern whether some sort of relevance aspect might be in use, but even one-word searches come back in seemingly random order.  In my mind, this quirk keeps me from being able to recommend Glo as one’s only bible study software.  If you know what passages you want to study, Glo is incredible, but if you need the ability to do even simple searches, Glo will frustrate you.  I hope future updates will address this problem.

I mentioned above that my computer is older and not the fastest in the world.  I would really like to try out Glo on a high-end computer system sometime and see how well it performs.  As I said, the lag I experience is a bit annoying but nothing I blame on the software and nothing that keeps it from being completely usable.

Conclusion

As I’ve said throughout, Glo is an amazing piece of software.  The media included in it is unmatched by any other tool I have ever used.  While the search capabilities are not robust enough for me to use as my only bible study software, the media alone is reason enough to recommend Glo to anyone.  If you have any Christmas money lying around that you weren’t sure what to do with, I’d definitely recommend this software.  I hope the Glo team will continue to refine this wonderful software and make it even better.  My thanks to Ken Keim of the Glo support team who was kind enough to send me a copy of Glo to review.

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Book Review: The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

With the recent growing interest in Evangelical circles of liturgical practices from the larger Christian church (as evidenced, for example, by the Nelson’s Ancient Practices series of which this volume is part or the publication of Tyndale’s Mosaic NLT Bible), Sister Joan Chittister’s book The Liturgical Year provides an excellent introduction to the history, practice, and significance of the Christian liturgical year.  As she points out early on in this work, “The liturgical year is one of the teaching dimensions of the church.  It is a lesson in life.”  With this understanding in mind, she proceeds to discuss the development through history of the liturgical calendar and how its observance can be used as a teaching tool to challenge us to increasingly model our lives on the life and walk of Christ.

After exploring these preliminary items, Sr. Chittister takes the bulk of her book to look in some detail at each of the major seasons and holidays in the liturgical year–all of which, of course, center on the primary celebration of Christianity, Easter.  More than just describing the historical facts surrounding each church season or feast, Sr. Chittister continually challenges us, by God’s grace, to be truly changed by our annual journey through the life of Christ–transformed through our worship that our lives might more clearly mirror our Savior’s.  Two chapters at the end of the book on saints and Marian devotion will meet with resistance from those of us in Protestantism.  While I certainly do not agree with Roman Catholic theology on these points, I did find the discussion helpful if only to better understand the teaching of the church in these areas.

In sum, for those unfamiliar with the liturgical calendar, The Liturgical Year will provide a welcome introduction to its riches.  For those whose observance of the church calendar may have devolved into mere rote, this book can provide a re-energizing and necessary Christocentric focus to our worship.









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Review of God’s Word Translation–the New Testament (Part 3)

In this third post in my multi-part review of God’s Word Translation (GW), I will take a look at the New Testament as translated in GW.  If you are not familiar with GW, please read my first post on the history and philosophy behind GW and my second post on the Old Testament in GW.

Overall Readability

As mentioned in my review of the Old Testament, GW has achieved excellent readability–balancing contemporary English style without breaking significantly from traditional English translations.  What I said about the Old Testament holds true for the New in that I would place the ‘feel’ of GW (anecdotally) somewhere between the NIV and NLT.  One thing I have noticed by spending time with this translation over the past couple of months is the consistent use of simple word choice and sentence construction.  These facets are discussed in the “Guide to God’s Word Translation” booklet I received from Baker, and after reading large portions of this translation I appreciate what the translators were trying to accomplish.  Additionally, some of the English and Evangelical colloquialisms found in other contemporary translations are absent from this translation.   Far from creating a ‘dumbed down’ translation with respect to vocabulary and grammar, GW would lend itself very well to use in teaching the English language or in an ESL church context.  I hope GW will be able to find a warm reception and be put to good use in this area.

The Gospels

The narrative and dialogue of the Gospels reads exactly how one would expect these genres to read.  The flow is very good, interrupted only by section/pericope breaks common to most translations.  The style in the dialogue sections reflects contemporary English, for example, in its use of contractions and lack of repeating ‘verily’/’truly’ phrases (which are very good Greek but very poor English).  As in the Old Testament, poetic sections (primarily quotes from the OT) are formatted with multiple levels of indentation to show the Hebraic use of parallelism, effectively pointing out to English readers a poetic device we are largely unaccustomed to using.  As a format note, all the of the editions of GW I have seen are black-letter editions.  I do not think any red-letter editions exist, which for many of us is a stylistic bonus.

The Epistles

The language and grammar of the Epistles also makes for a very readable translation, even in the very lengthy sentences of Paul and difficult Greek used by Peter.  As is customary in many English translations, very long Greek sentences are made into more manageable English sentences.  As I’ve seen throughout GW, the translation team has done a very good job overall crafting an accurate and readable English translation.

Non-Traditional Wording

In my review of the Old Testament, I pointed out three areas, both good and bad, where GW broke with long-standing tradition in the realm of English bible translation.  There are more examples of non-traditional vocabulary choices in the New Testament, several of which are worthy of note, either positively or negatively.  First, let’s look at some of what I consider to be good changes:

  • Instead of ‘repent,’ GW consistently uses some variation of ‘change the way you/they think and act.’  While this is a verbose translation of ‘metanoeo,’ it accurately defines the Greek word in terms familiar to contemporary English speakers.
  • Instead of ‘verily, verily’ or ‘truly, truly’ throughout the Gospels, GW uses ‘I can guarantee this truth.’  In sections where Jesus says ‘amen, amen’ repeatedly it can sound a bit mechanical, but it’s an improvement over either of the traditional renderings.
  • In keeping with other contemporary English translations, GW translates the standalone use of ‘christos’ as ‘Messiah’ rather than ‘Christ.’  ‘Iesous Christos’ is still translated traditionally as ‘Jesus Christ.’  Even though Messiah and Christ are synonyms, I prefer to have ‘christos’ translated as Messiah to clearly link OT promise with NT fulfillment.

There are also a few choices made by the translators that I don’t like:

  • GW tends to translate ‘trespass’ (‘opheilema’) and ‘sin’ (‘hamartia’) as ‘failure,’ which itself I think is a failure.  In the typical usage of those with whom I interact, ‘failure’ connotes an unintentional shortcoming of my best efforts rather than intentional defiance or rebellion.  While ‘failure’ can denote ‘trespass’ or ‘sin,’ I don’t find it used this way.
  • Similarly to the NIV and NLT, GW translates ‘sarx’ as ‘sinful nature’ rather than ‘flesh.’  Lots of ink has been spilled evaluating this choice, and I won’t add to it other than to say I really don’t like it.
  • Instead of ‘grace,’ GW consistently uses ‘kindness,’ which only partly misses the mark.  God’s grace to us isn’t just kindness but his ‘undeserved kindness’ toward sinful humanity.  Simply using ‘kindness’ weakens the impact of God’s grace (‘charis’).
  • The most problematic vocabulary choice made by GW, in my opinion, is the use of ‘God’s approval’ instead of ‘justify’ (dikaioo).  Justification is more than just God’s approval, which itself connotes God’s positive reaction to some work on humanity’s part.  Justification is our acquittal from sin, God’s pardon of us (in Christ) in spite of ourselves.  Considering this translation was done by a team that maintains that a proper understanding of justification is key to salvation, this choice is a real disappointment to me.

Overall

The New Testament is well done overall.  As with the Old Testament, the narrative is clear, the dialogue contemporary, and the poetry well-presented.  I love the single-column, black-letter text, both of which create an enjoyable reading experience.  Also similar to the OT, some of the non-traditional wording choices are helpful but some, especially the translation chosen for ‘grace’ and ‘justify’ are poorly done.  In fact, this last item is probably the one thing that keeps me from recommending God’s Word without caveat.  Hopefully, the folks at Baker will take note of these items and revise the text, which would make this a truly solid, wonderful translation…not that it’s far from that mark today.

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Review of God’s Word Translation–the Old Testament (Part 2)

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In this second post in a multi-part review of God’s Word Translation (GW), we will take a look at the Old Testament as translated in GW.  If you are not familiar with GW, please read my first post on the history and philosophy behind GW.

Text Formatting

As far as I know, the text layout in all editions of GW is identical: single-column, black lettering with textual footnotes.  I have not seen an edition that includes cross-references, and the God’s Word Study Bible is the only edition I find in the catalog that includes them.  With respect to readability, this layout is fantastic. The single-column layout allows narrative text to read like a book instead of a technical manual and allows poetry to be formatted in such a way as to clearly bring out the parallelism so important and prominent in Hebrew poetry.  The only thing I find distracting are the section titles, but these appear in just about every edition of every translation, so this is nothing specific to GW.  Because of the choices made in the text layout, GW gets high marks for formatting and readability.

Overall Readability

In my opinion, GW has achieved very good readability without sacrificing readability or breaking markedly from traditional English bible translations.  While there are certainly places in every translation where one could suggest stylistic revisions for one reason or another, overall GW is a comfortable read falling somewhere in my totally unscientific scale of readability between the NIV and the NLT.  In other words, someone familiar with the NIV or translations leaning more toward ‘formal equivalence’ may find that GW sounds more ‘familiar’ than the NLT.  This isn’t necessarily good or bad, merely my attempt to place GW in the context of versions many readers are more familiar with.  If you are curious to read several passages from GW side-by-side with other versions, check out Joel’s series of reviews on his blog.  Since he has provided so many examples, I do not intend to provide more.

Narrative

The narrative in GW reads as one would hope narrative would–smoothly.  While I haven’t read through all of the OT in GW, I have enjoyed what I have read.  Consistent with its goal of readability without oversimplification, the narrative portions sometimes shorten sentence length over what is found in the original languages, though translators have aimed not to shorten sentences for the sake of shortening them if such edits compromise or blur their meaning.  The narrative also tries to avoid piling up clauses or prepositional phrases, both of which create more difficult reading.

Poetry

One of the most important literary devices in Hebrew poetry is parallelism (see this great Wikipedia article on Biblical Poetry for a primer on the subject).  Especially over against rhyme, meter, rhythm or other devices that are not readily apparent in any translation from Hebrew to English, understanding parallelism helps provide significant insight into understanding the significance of the Psalms, songs, and some prophetic sections in the Old Testament.  The poetic sections of GW are one place, in my opinion, where the editors have really made good use of the additional real-estate allowed by having a single-column format.  The wider, single-column layout allowed editors to use multiple levels of indentation to group together multiple parallel phrases nested within a section of poetry.  While this indentation is not original to the Hebrew, it definitely allows English speakers whose poetry uses parallelism less than rhyme to easily (and visually) see its structure and better understand its meaning.  I have seen no other single-column layout that so effectively utilizes indentation to organize and present poetry.  This is one area where GW really shines!

Non-Traditional Wording

In its attempt to remove easily misunderstood technical language (see my first review), GW breaks with translation tradition in some places.  This is more apparent in the New Testament, as we’ll see, but there are several important areas where non-traditional wording is used in the Old Testament.  One significant departure from traditional English translations is the use of ‘instruction’ as the translation for the Hebrew ‘torah’.  While ‘instruction’ is almost the universal lexical definition of ‘torah,’ most English translations routinely translate it as ‘law,’ and even non-technical commentaries are quick to point out this important difference.  Making this change was an excellent choice.

Another traditional phrase appearing in the Old Testament is “Lord of Hosts” (‘Yahweh Sabaoth’).  Here ‘hosts’ is a reference to angelic beings, i.e. the hosts of heaven.  It is an archaic phrase that few Christians are truly familiar with and even fewer, if any, non-Christians would implicitly understand.  GW has chosen to translate this phrase “Lord of Armies,” which I think is unfortunate, as there is no explanation that these armies of the armies of heaven and not the armies of men or earthly politics.  There is room for significant misunderstanding here, in my opinion, and translating this “Lord of Heaven’s Armies,” as the NLT has done, is a much better choice.

A final non-traditional translation choice was made in Deuteronomy 6.4.  This verse, commonly known as the ‘shema,’ is an important part of daily prayer for the Jews.  Traditionally this verse is translated as, “Hear, O Israel:  The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (ESV), which serves to emphasizes the unity of God.  In the context of a polytheistic culture and God’s constant warnings against worshiping other Gods, Dt 6.4 is better understood as Israel’s ‘pledge of allegiance’ to Yahweh.  As such, GW (similarly to the NLT) translates this verse, “Listen, Israel: The LORD is our God.  The LORD is the only God.”  Again, in my opinion, this was an excellent choice by the translators.

Overall

Overall, the Old Testament of GW is very well done.  The narrative is crystal clear and the poetic sections are wonderfully presented.  While not all aspects of non-traditional word choices are necessarily more helpful than traditional English renderings, in two areas at least, I find the changes refreshing and, quite honestly, more accurate.

Stay tuned for our look next time at the New Testament!

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Review of God’s Word Translation–History and Philosophy (Part 1)

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The folks at Baker Books were kind enough to send me a couple editions of God’s Word Translation (GW) to read and review.  This translation has been around for over fifteen years, but until getting picked up by Baker in 2008 hasn’t gotten much exposure or widespread publicity.  Because of that, my intent is to look at this translation across several posts to try and give it a thorough review for those who may not know much about it or even have heard of it at all.  My reviews will take a different approach than Joel Watts’, who is also in the process of writing several reviews of GW on his blog.  If you’re interested in seeing how GW compares to other translations (in parallel), be sure and check out his fine series.

History

Technically, the translation known now as GW had its beginning in 1982, when God’s Word to the Nations Bible Society formed to update a translation known as An American Translation, which was translated by a small group of conservative Lutheran scholars.  Over time, this work took on a new direction and ended up being a completely new bible translation–still translated primarily by this core group of Lutherans but utilizing reviewers from a variety of Christian backgrounds, including Baptists, Presbyterians, and others.  After several revisions and continual work, God’s Word was introduced to the marketplace in 1995.  Since then, the text has remained unchanged and publishing has passed from World Bible Publishers to Green Key Books (2003) and finally to Baker Books (2008).  [More information and history can be found here]

Translation Philosophy

(Note: The quotes from the following two sections come from the pamphlet “A Guide to God’s Word Translation”)

The translation philosophy espoused by GW is called Closest Natural Equivalence (CNE).  In an area where most of the debate goes back and forth between literal v. dynamic equivalence, form v. functional equivalence, or word-for-word v. thought-for-thought translation, CNE seeks to satisfy three related goals:

  1. Provide readers with a meaning in the target language (here, English) that is equivalent to that of the source language
  2. Express that meaning naturally, in a way that a native English speaker would read or write
  3. Express the meaning with a style that preserves many of the characteristics of the source text

hebrew-detailAs a point of comparison with other major bible translations, while not calling their translation philosophies CNE, both the New Living Translation (NLT) and Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) use similar approaches.  Why this approach?  Quite simply, there are concerns with either of the predominant two paradigms that make some sort of mediating position not only necessary but desirable.  Regarding the former, literal translation philosophy:

Form-equivalent translations adjust the grammar and syntax of the source language text only enough to produce a reasonable recognizable and understandable English translation.  Form-equivalent translation results in an English text that is a combination of English words, some English syntax, and some Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek syntax.

In other words, as my one of my Old Testament professors used to say about the NASB and the ESV, “Great Hebrew, terrible English.”

There are also pitfalls with taking a solely dynamic approach to translation:

While function equivalence theory of translation has the proper focus [of accurately conveying meaning in the target language], in practice it has produced English translations that have lost some of the source texts’ meaning.

In sum, the goal of CNE as advocated by GW, NLT, and HCSB is to maintain the delicate balance between a rigidly-literal rendering of the text that fails to communicate clearly in English and a highly-dynamic rendering that omits characteristics of the source language that are important to the meaning of a given passage.

Technical Theological Language

One important question translation committees have to wrestle with and answer is how they will approach translating words associated with theological concepts.  Typically, English translations use the traditional renderings that have been used for centuries, some going back so far as to be borrowed from Jerome’s Latin translation of the bible (the Vulgate):

While these words continue to be used by theologians and even by many Christians, the meanings that speakers assign to them in everyday use do not match the meanings of the Hebrew or Greek words they are intended to translate. The words have become jargon–words with specialized meanings often poorly understood by nonspecialists.

As Ed Stetzer pointed out on Twitter recently, “If you can learn to order at Starbucks, then you can learn theological language at church.” I completely agree, and while I would suggest that retaining words like covenant, justify, propitiation, righteous, and others in our theological teaching, preaching, and discussions is a good thing, it is difficult for me to suggest that retaining these terms in a bible translation is helpful considering how differently these terms are used in contemporary language (if they are used at all!).

The GW translators did not make this decision arbitrarily but based upon research in local congregations:

 

To determine how English speakers understand a few key theological terms, God’s Word to the Nations Bible Society undertook a survey of churchgoing lay people.  Of five theological terms tested, no term was understood correctly by a majority of the respondents.  That is, a majority of the respondents did not give a definition that matched the primary meaning of the underlying Greek word…The survey results for covenant (40 percent gave acceptable answers) were better than for the other words included in the bible society’s survey.  For instance, only 10 percent of the respondents gave a correct meaning for the Greek word dikaioo when asked to define justify.

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In theory, I am totally at ease with the decision to use words more easily and correctly understood by contemporary English speakers.  I will examine and evaluate some of the specific usages in GW in future reviews on the OT and NT, because I find some weaknesses in the words chosen in some places.

So we’re off and running on our look at God’s Word Translation!  Over the course of the next few reviews, I will begin to take a look at the details of this translation, including formatting, word choice, translation style, etc.  Hopefully this is enough to whet your appetite to come back and read more about this relatively unknown translation.

Review: Cambridge Pitt Minion NLT Reference Bible

Last week, the folks at Cambridge bibles were kind enough to send me a review copy of the recently-released Pitt Minion NLT in beautiful black goatskin leather.  I’ve never actually owned or even had the pleasure of looking through a Cambridge bible, but I’ve read of their almost legendary reputation for being all-around top of the line editions.  After just a few days with one, I can say without reservation, if you are looking for a magnificent compact edition of the NLT you can treasure for years and pass on to your children, look no further…here it is!

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Cambridge Pitt Minion NLT

Layout

For those unfamiliar with the Pitt Minion layout, it is a compact bible that fits comfortably in your hand and reminds me of the bible I often saw on my grandmother’s night stand.  Though this edition is the up-to-date 2007 edition of the NLT, everything about it is beautifully reminiscent of bibles from years past.  Here is how it stacks up in size against the ESV Personal Reference Bible and the NLT Slimline Reference Bible:

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NLT Slimline Reference Bible (bottom), ESV Personal Reference Bible (middle), NLT Pitt Minion Bible (top)

Binding

As one would expect from a high-end bible (the list price for the goatskin edition is $129.99 / $93.59 on Amazon), the binding is Smyth-sewn, which allows it to lay flat right out of the box and ensures there will be no worries down the road with pages coming unglued or whole chunks coming loose as the binding becomes brittle.  As you can see, after just one week of moderate use, it lays wonderfully flat, even when opened to Genesis 1.  From this shot you can also see the beautiful art-gilded, red under gold pages–another touch of elegance from years gone by:

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Opens flat right out of the box

As if laying flat wasn’t indication enough of the ‘limpness’ of the binding, you can see how it flows beautifully around my hand when held:

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Limp binding drapes over the hand

Oh yes, did I mention it was goatskin?  Beautiful and soft to the touch.  Not as supple and smooth as the Premium Calfskin ESV editions that Crossway has published, but certainly soft and pleasing to the hand.

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Readability

As a compact bible, the text is small, as you would expect.  The copyright page says the typeface is 6.75 point.  In contrast, the ESV Personal Reference Bible is set in 7.4 point type and the NLT Slimline Reference Bible in 8.0 point type.  That said, even with the smallest typeface of these three comparable editions, the Pitt Minion is by far the clearest and most readable of the three.  Here is a comparison between the NLT Slimline (left) and Pitt Minion NLT (right):

NLT Slimline Reference Bible (left) vs. Pitt Minion NLT (right)

NLT Slimline Reference Bible (left) vs. Pitt Minion NLT (right)

…and here is a comparison between the Pitt Minion NLT (left) and ESV Personal Reference Bible (right):

Pitt Minion NLT (left) vs. ESV Personal Reference Bible (right)

Pitt Minion NLT (left) vs. ESV Personal Reference Bible (right)

In my opinion, the ESV Personal Reference Bible has a better layout–I’m a huge fan of single column layouts–but the two columns of the Pitt Minion allow for a more compact edition that gives up nothing in overall readability with its smaller but perfectly clear font.  In general I am not a fan of red-letter editions, but it somehow seems appropriate in the Pitt Minion because of its classic feel.  Fortunately, I haven’t seen any type offset between black and red lettering, and the dark red ink is neither too bright nor too pink to allow for easy reading:

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Red-lettering is dark, clear, and aligned well

Features

The cross-references and footnotes in this edition are the same as those found in the NLT Study Bible and Holy Bible: Mosaic NLT.  Unfortunately, the Hebrew/Greek word study notes from those editions didn’t make it into the Pitt Minion.  I find those a nice touch to the other editions, as they point out places where impo rtant original language words are used and provide nice, succinct definitions of words that pastors/teachers often emphasize.  The Dictionary/Concordance is the usual 100+ page edition that has thankfully become the standard in recent NLT editions.  It’s more lengthy than that found many other bible editions and is quite helpful if you don’t have a full concordance or electronic search at your fingertips.

One of my favorite features in the Pitt Minion NLT is the maps.  As I’ve confessed before, I’m a complete cartophile, and this edition doesn’t disappoint!  The maps are the same Moody Bible Institute maps found in Crossway’s ESVs but with the added bonus of more than twice as many as Crossway includes.  There are a total of 15 maps, including many that are extremely helpful for OT study, and an eight-page map index.  Fantastic!

Summary

In case you haven’t picked up on the general tenor of this review, I absolutely love Cambridge’s Pitt Minion NLT!  If you’re ok with the small print, I can think of no better quality, compact edition of the NLT that you can enjoy for many years.

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Book Review: The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns

Back in early July, the folks at Thomas Nelson were kind enough to send me a review copy of Richard Stearns’ new book, The Hole in Our Gospel.  It has taken me this long to read and review it, not because of busyness or some other excuse, but because Stearns (the President of World Vision U.S.) is a powerful writer who truly made me consider the complacency that has long plagued American Evangelical Christianity…the complacency that has all to often plagued me in my Christian walk.  His penetrating look at the living out of a truly biblical Christian faith begins in the Introduction, where he writes:

The gospel itself was born of God’s vision of a changed people, challenging and transforming the prevailing values and practices of our world…What if each of us decided with renewed commitment to truly embrace the good news, the whole gospel, and demonstrate it through our lives–not even in big ways, but in small ones?

From this starting point Stearns, who has traveled around the world encountering poverty, disease, malnutrition, neglect, and a host of other horrors at a degree few of us can imagine, challenges the Church universal, and especially wealth and resource-blessed American Evangelicals, to live out the social implication of the gospel in a completely Christ-centered way.  In a way that resonates with my own disappointment with many conservative Christians, he bemoans the fact that we have largely left social ministry to theological liberals and demonstrates why this not need and should not be the case.  He spends much of his book describing the sheer magnitude of social issues around the world–the very same ones addressed by Jesus in the Gospels–before showing how easily we could make a tremendous impact on the world in the name of Christ.  Unlike many similar books championing social causes, Stearns is unapologetically Evangelical in his approach and places the gospel at the center at all times.  Also, unlike many similar books, Stears’ writing caused me to open my eyes to the reality faced daily by countless millions around the world, truly reflect on the complacency that has worked its way into my own life, and challenge me to try to make a difference in my own neighborhood and across the globe.  Any of us who have grown comfortable in our Christianity would benefit greatly from Richard Stearns’ brutally honest, powerful, and Christ-centered call to live out the faith we profess.  His message needs to be heard.

And the Winner Is…

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If you entered my Holy Bible: Mosaic giveaway contest you had a fantastic opportunity to win a copy of Mosaic and odds that you’ll never get in Vegas or in the lottery!

So…fanfare aside, the winner of my giveaway is @martyrologist! Thanks for your thoughtful comment and mention/link on Twitter.  To the others who entered, I wish I had copies to give to everyone, but there are still many contests in work and other opportunities to win.  Check Mosaic’s blog for tour dates and locations!

Holy Bible: Mosaic Giveaway!

In case you haven’t figured out the pattern yet, everyone hosting a stop on the Mosaic blog tour also has a free hardback copy of Holy Bible: Mosaic to give away, courtesy of Tyndale!  The contests are hosted individually by the various bloggers, and each contest is as unique as each of us.  Here are the ‘rules’ for the contest here at Taking Thoughts Captive:Mosaic

  1. Comment on this post, telling my how you think the Mosaic will deepen your walk with Christ and how you anticipate making use of its unique features in your family/congregation/parish/ministry/etc.
  2. Link to my review of Mosaic on your blog and/or mention it on Twitter.  (If you tweet about it, my handle is @st_polycarp…be sure to let me know you mentioned/linked to the review)

You can comment up until midnight next Tuesday, October 6th.  I’ll announce the winner on Wednesday!  Be sure and leave your email addy on the comment form, or I won’t be able to contact you if you’re the winner.  If you don’t win here, check out the other blogs on the Mosaic tour for another opportunity!

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Holy Bible: Mosaic (NLT) Q&A with David Sanford

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As part of the Mosaic blog tour running through the end of November, I was fortunate enough to get a copy of Holy Bible: Mosaic (please check out my review here) and have the added bonus of hosting a Q&A session with David Sanford, who served as the General Editor for Mosaic at Credo Communications and contributed to the meditation for Christmas, week 1.

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T.C.:  Tell us a little about yourself–faith background, ministry involvement, writing/publishing involvement, etc.

David Sanford:  I come from a long line of atheists. While I was growing up my father would lecture me: “There are no rules. Don’t obey anyone. Don’t even obey me.” When I decided to become a sold-out follower of Jesus Christ at age 13, however, I discovered my extended family did have a long-standing rule: You can’t be a follower of Jesus Christ. I began to experience my father’s disfavor, anger, and ridicule. My paternal grandparents disowned me. Not quite what I expected, to say the least.

At that point, I opened my Bible and began reading. Imagine encountering Scripture’s most famous stories for the first time, without any clue what happens next. That was my experience reading God’s Word cover to cover for the first time. By the end of Genesis chapter 44, for instance, I expected Joseph, Prince of Egypt, to tell his armed guards to slaughter his brothers–men who had betrayed their own flesh and blood years earlier. Instead, in the first three verses of chapter 45 Joseph barks at his guards, orders them to leave, reveals his true identity to his brothers, and then forgives them. I instantly started weeping. How could I have guessed? I’d never seen that kind of love.

A decade later, two days before I wrapped up my final exams at what is now Multnomah University, God opened up the door for me to go to work for John Sloan, one of the most respected and successful Christian editors of our generation. Nearly twenty-eight years later, I still love my calling. All told, I’ve seen nearly 400 books and Bible projects published. My wife, Renée, is my witness: My all-time favorite project is the brand-new Holy Bible: Mosaic.

T.C.:  How did Mosaic have its beginning?

D.S.:  Like most book and Bible projects, it began with a dream. Actually three dreams. I had the original vision. Tyndale’s Director of Bibles and Reference (Knox Group), Kevin O’Brien, had a similar dream. When we started talking, we both had an amazing “Aha!” moment. I had an initial detailed written proposal, but hearing Kevin’s dream helped flesh it out further. And then his colleague Keith Williams, one of Tyndale’s Bible and reference editors, joined us and shared his vision, which we incorporated, as well. Add nearly a dozen contributing editors, more than fifty writers, dozens of artists and hundreds of writings from every part of the Church around the world over the past 20 centuries, and voilà!

T.C.: What was your favorite moment / memory during the creation of Mosaic?

D.S.:  Definitely getting the first copy hot off the press. Until then, everyone had seen only pieces. The finished product far exceeded everyone’s expectations. Some contributors danced. Others cried. It was that moving. I’ve never experienced anything like that before.

T.C.: The quotes, etc. used in Mosaic range the spectrum from Mennonite to Eastern Orthodox, including many outside the realm typically accepted or read by Evangelicals (doubtless Mosaic’s prime ‘audience’).  What advice or encouragement would you give readers when reading from sources unfamiliar to them (at best) or from groups they may have been told are explicitly ‘wrong’ about matters of faith (at worst)?

D.S.:  When you talk heart-to-heart with many evangelicals, you hear a growing longing to be connected to the whole Church (with a capital C). As well, for the past 15 or 20 years there’s been a growing recognition that the historic branches of the Church share what Rex Koivisto, Ph.D., author of One Lord, One Faith, calls “the core of orthodoxy.” Furthermore, we’ve finally recognized we have much to learn from each of those branches. Not because those branches offer something new or different, but because they have so many areas of strength. When we draw from the best of the Church, it’s marvelous. That’s why the name, Mosaic, is so fitting for this Bible and the values it expresses. Still, if anyone is still nervous, I can assure them that all of the writings included in Mosaic are rock-solid biblically and theologically.
mosaic_bible
T.C.: What is your vision / hope for how Mosaic will be received and used?

D.S.:  The Mosaic Bible features two parts. The last 1,000 pages is the Bible itself, without interruption (except small icons to point out Scripture readings). The first 340 pages feature six-page “weeks.” Each lists Scripture readings, artwork, and writings tied into a specific week and important theme within the Church calendar. I use the term “Church calendar” somewhat loosely, however, since we’ve merged the best parts of various historic calendars into 53 “weeks.” Unlike other Church calendars, Mosaic has an extra week for Easter (since Resurrection Sunday moves around from year to year). Like other Church calendars, Mosaic begins with Advent (repeatedly click the top right corner at http://bit.ly/4qnUFs/). Of course, you can start reading Mosaic anytime. Just visit www.HolyBibleMosaic.com to find out where we’re at in the Church calendar that week. Then jump in. You’ll be hooked almost immediately.

T.C.: You wrote the meditation for Christmas, week 1.  How did your participation, preparation, and study for this particular devotion affect your walk with Christ?

D.S.:  I’ve spent months overseas trekking through the Amazon, Andes, Alps, Sahara, etc. Making my way across part of the Sahara was the closest I’ve come to seeing what life might have been like at the time of Christ. If I’ve learned anything overseas, it’s how to wait. I’m probably the only guy in America who thanks God for the privilege of waiting at a red light or thanks God for the joy of standing in a long line at the post office. Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time meditating on what it means to truly wait versus giving into the “faster!” mentality in the Western world. I’ve also gone back to the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation and asked myself, “What does God want me to understand about waiting?” It turns out God’s Word has a lot of say about the subject. From Genesis 3:15 on, we find Adam and Eve and millions of other believers waiting and waiting and waiting for the Promised One. By the time of Jesus Christ, most people had given up. But a few never gave up hope. And against all odds, God kept his promise at just the right time. We always think “now” is the best time. That’s rarely the case.

T.C.: What is your favorite work of art featured in Mosaic?  Why?

D.S.:  There are scores of wonderful works of art in Mosaic, so it’s next to impossible to pick a single favorite. One of my favorites, however, is the oldest work of art, dated c. A.D. 380. It’s a beautiful Christian mosaic picturing two fish and small loaves of bread. The mosaic is amazingly well preserved. It reminds me of the boy in John 6:8-9 who offered his sack lunch to Jesus. With those five small barley loaves and two fish in hand, Jesus gave thanks to his Father and then feeds the multitudes. I remember hearing my first sermon on that Scripture passage when I was a teenager. I went to a very conservative evangelical church that didn’t believe in prophecy today. But one Sunday the senior pastor, Dr. Lowell C. Wendt, stopped in the middle of his sermon and gave a prophecy. In that prophecy, he said that I would feed multitudes with the Word of God. I’ll never forget that experience. Some thirty-three years later, I believe Mosaic is part of that prophecy come true. What a joy to work on it with some many dedicated brothers and sisters in Christ. Many are now praying that we’ll have the opportunity to create more Mosaic-style Bibles.

T.C.: Given the vast possibilities to draw materials from for the weekly meditations in Mosaic, how did the team go about narrowing the field and deciding what to use?

D.S.:  My hat’s off to managing editor Beyth Hogue. She helped our large team identify what historically important biblical themes should be covered during Advent (4 weeks), Christmas (2 weeks), Epiphany (6 weeks), Lent (5 weeks), Passion Week, Easter (7 weeks), and Pentecost (28 weeks). In turn, those 53 themes were divided up by Beyth among the large team of writers and contributing editors and artists and artistic directors who oversee large collections. In a sense, everyone knew what pieces they were contributing to the mosaic. But we had no idea how well all those pieces would fit together. Then Keith Williams did the final editorial piecing and polishing. The end result is a completely new kind of Bible.

——————————

Many thanks to David for answering my barrage of questions and sharing his personal insights on the development, vision, and hope for Mosaic!  He has graciously agreed to correspond to anyone with further questions and can be contacted at david[at]credocommunications[dot]net.  Further information about Mosaic and the blog tour can be found at the Holy Bible Mosaic website.  Also stay tuned for a Mosaic giveaway contest hosted here beginning today here!

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Holy Bible: Mosaic (NLT) — A Review

Mosaic

Over the past few months, my anticipation has been growing regarding the release of the Holy Bible: Mosaic (New Living Translation).  Since I heard of the concept from Mosaic‘s general editor, Keith Williams (@KeithWilliams), I have developed high hopes and high expectations for what I wanted this bible to be.  Last week, I graciously received a review copy from Laura Bartlett at Tyndale and have been pouring over this bible ever since.  After a week with this work I can sum up my review in a few works:  My expectations were not only met, they were far exceeded!

Opening this bible for the first time, it is readily apparent that it is neither a study bible nor a devotional bible in the traditional sense.  All the devotional material is contained in the first 350 pages, preceding and completely separate from the biblical text except where cross-referenced by marginal notes.  I confess, I really like this approach to devotional material.  One of the stated goals of Mosaic is to offer ‘the complete text of the Bible without interruption’–a goal it has achieved with this unique approach to separating devotional material from the biblical text.

The devotional material that makes up Mosaic is structured into weekly meditations ordered to follow the church year.  For those of us in liturgical traditions, this approach is instantly recognizable, but for those in other traditions, the introduction offers a short explanation of the form, function, and purpose of the church calendar.  Each meditation has its own theme with scripture passages drawn from, but not rigidly tied to, the Revised Common Lectionary.  While centered on scripture, each meditation presents readers with approximately six pages of beautiful artwork, quotes, hymns, poems, prayers and space to write down their own reflections.  The materials presented in these meditations are drawn from the entire spectrum of Christianity, from the 1st century to the 21st century and from Mennonite to Eastern Orthodox.  As stated in the introduction, all this is ‘designed to bring you into contact with the global, historic church as you engage with God’s Word.’

As an Air Force chaplain, Mosaic offers me a unique treasure beyond that obviously offered in the Word of God.  The written material in these meditations lends itself to use not only individually but corporately for worship, devotion, study, and pastoral care.  In addition, the materials are drawn from all regions of the world, which allows me an instant connection with the people our troops will be working with and living among–and if we cannot broach the language barrier, the artwork in Mosaic, also drawn from all cultures, can create a powerful visual connection with members of any culture and ethnicity.  While I will have several study bibles in my office / tent / chapel, Mosaic will be the one bible I will have in my hands or in my rucksack at all times!

DeluxeI will not endeavor to offer a review here of the text of the New Living Translation (2nd ed, 2007 text) itself.  Others have done such reviews in painstaking detail.  I shall only point out that, through the last ten years,  I have gone from the NASB to the ESV to the NLT as my primary text for preaching, teaching, and pastoral care.  The details of this bible’s textual layout, however, warrant a few words.  Mosaic is a typical two-column layout with one of the most extensive center-column cross-references I’ve seen in a NLT edition.  In addition to scriptural cross-references, there is also a basic word study cross-reference listing of 100 important Hebrew and Greek (200 total) words with expanded definitions, usage, and other information just before the over 100-page dictionary/concordance.  The margins of Mosaic are just under an inch (top, bottom, and outside), which isn’t much room for extensive notes but which provides a small writer like me enough room to make a few notes.  Mosaic is also a black-letter edition, so there can be no complaints about Tyndale’s historically rose or pink-looking ‘red-letter’ editions.  The font used in Mosaic may be a bit small for some, but while smaller than that used in some other bibles I have, it is wonderfully crisp, clear, and easily and most readable of any NLT edition I own.

Overall, I wholeheartedly recommend Mosaic for anyone looking to grow deeper in their walk with God, be challenged to see Christianity beyond their own denominational or ethnic boundaries, or anyone looking for a fine edition of the New Living Translation.  Tyndale has given us a great resource in Mosaic, and I thank them not only for their tremendous efforts but for the opportunity to review it!

Note:  I am participating in Tyndale’s Mosaic blog tour on Friday, October 2nd.  More details can be found at:  www.holybiblemosaic.com Stay tuned for a Q&A with Mosaic‘s General Editor at Credo, David Sanford and a Mosaic giveaway!

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Mosaic NLT Released Today!

The blogosphere is abuzz with the news that Tyndale’s newest NLT, Holy Bible: Mosaic, releases today!  For those like me who have anxiously been waiting, this is great news.  For those who may not have heard or read about Mosaic, here is the brief description from its website:Mosaic

Holy Bible: Mosaic is about helping you encounter Christ in a deep and authentic way, through insight from every continent and century of the Christian Church. Historical and contemporary art and writings from across the globe offer a depth of Scriptural wisdom and understanding as you read and reflect on God’s word.

Mosaic is arranged so that every week has variety of content for reading and reflection. Each week follows a theme appropriate to the Church season (such as Advent, Easter, etc). The content included for each week includes full-color art; Scripture readings; a historical reading; a contemporary reading; a prayer, creed, hymn or quote; and space for reflection.

Tyndale has much more information on the Holy Bible: Mosaic website (http://www.holybiblemosaic.com)

As with other bloggers writing about Mosaic, I will be spending some time with Mosaic and writing a review in the days to come.  Additionally, this blog will be one of the stops on the Mosaic blog tour–currently, I’m scheduled for October 2nd.  Finally, courtesy of Tyndale, I will be giving away a free copy of Mosaic via a contest I will be beginning in a few days!  If you can’t wait to try and win one…jump on over to Amazon, do some early Christmas shopping and get a copy for yourself!

Until all these kick off on this website, I encourage you to check the Mosaic blog for the schedule of blog stops and check out the first stop (and blog-a-thon) at The Church of Jesus Christ!

The Lutheran Study Bible (TLSB)–A First Look

It’s finally here!  As hoped, my copy of The Lutheran Study Bible (TLSB) arrived yesterday from CPH, so I thought I’d take a few minutes and discuss my first impressions.  This is by no means a thorough or critical review of the contents of the notes, etc., just a few of my first thoughts on some of the features of this highly-anticipated release.TLSB

TLSB size–Those familiar with the Treasury of Daily Prayer will notice that TLSB has almost the exactly same dimensions as TDP.  This means that, proportionally, it is a bit more ‘squarish’ than most books, but I confess that I really enjoy its proportions aesthetically.  As wide as the pages are (nearly 7″), I much prefer the hardback binding to a very floppy leather…I can almost hear some of you gasp as that!

TLSB text–The TLSB uses the English Standard Version (ESV) bible, and though the copyright page lists a 2001 copyright from Crossway, a cursory check of the changes between the 2001 and 2007 versions (from Rick Mansfield’s blog) reveals that this is indeed the updated 2007 version of the text.  While not a huge deal, it frees Laban’s children from the oversight of his goats (ha, ha) and spares the rest of us some awkward renderings that were improved in the update.

TLSB fonts–I’m not exactly sure what font size is used, but the print is perfectly readable, even with the bit of bleed through that is common to just about every bible.  The font size of the main text is approximately the same of that used in the NLT Study Bible (to cite a recent example), but the TLSB print is more crisp, clear, and readable.  The font of the notes is quite a bit smaller but still clear and easy to read.  This is a red-letter edition bible, which I am not fond of for either theological or practical reasons, but the red lettering is also crisp and easy on the eyes.

TLSB book outlines–I’ll probably show a bit of my bent toward being an egghead here, but the outlines presented at the beginning of each book are superb.  Some bibles present half-hearted outlines that paint so broadly as to be less-than-helpful.  Until now, the gold standard in my mind were the outlines shown in the Reformation Study Bible, but I can say without hesitation that TLSB has the most thorough outlines I’ve ever seen in a study bible.  They go at least three levels deep (sometimes four) and are a tremendous help for getting feel of the overall structure and flow of the books.  Fantastic!

TLSB drawings–Anyone who has seen any of the preview/promo material has probably seen the examples of Schnorr’s engravings that precede every book in TLSB.  As classical representations of biblical events, I happen to like them, though I suppose some will think otherwise.  CPH was fortunate enough to secure permissions to use several of Hugh Claycombe’s line drawings of the Tabernacle, the temples, Jerusalem, Jesus’ route through Passion Week, etc.  If you’ve used the NIV Study Bible, you’ll recognize these drawings immediately.  I personally think they are some of the most helpful illustrations of their type to appear in recent study bibles.

TLSB maps–This is the single lackluster area I’ve noticed so far in TLSB.  The color maps appear in the front, interestingly, and are relatively few and devoid of much detail.  The consistency of the in-text maps varies widely from other similarly bland ones (e.g., Jesus’ ministry in the gospels on p. 1584) to some wonderfully detailed and helpful ones (e.g., Assyrian exile of Israel, p.609).  As a complete cartophile, I treasure great maps but find nothing to get too excited about here.

TLSB articles and charts–The in-text articles and charts are definitely a strong-point of this bible!  The articles cover a wide range of topics, from the primarily doctrinal to the primarily application-focused.  Those I have read are well-done, concise, and very helpful in addressing the concerns raised (including alternate viewpoints) by each topic.  Charts are similarly well-done, thorough, and helpful.  More to follow on these in future reviews.

TLSB book introductions–While I haven’t had the opportunity to read many of the introductions, I have been pleased with those I have looked over.  The introductions do not hesitate to deal with matters of historical higher criticism; discuss form, genre, and literary devices where helpful; include large excerpts from Luther’s introductions, and provide a wealth of other helpful introductory information.  One of my favorite features is the substantial definitions included in the “Key Terms and Phrases” sections before the Pentateuch, the Psalms, and the Pauline Epistles.  Given the sometimes challenging language of the ESV, I think this offers great insight into some ‘churchy’ theological terms that may be used differently in Scripture than in everyday language.

These ‘few’ thoughts have gotten pretty long, and I haven’t even mentioned the TLSB introductory materials–articles on how to read the bible (hermeneutics) and understanding Law and Gospel; lectionaries; a two-year reading plan; and the text of Luther’s Small Catechism.  All this, and a more in-depth review of the content of the study notes will have to wait for another day!

After just a few short hours, I can say without reservation that, in TLSB, CPH has provided an amazing resource that will serve to edify, strengthen, and nurture the church of God for many years to come.  My heartfelt thanks goes out to all who contributed!

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New Bibles Coming Soon: The Lutheran Study Bible and Mosaic NLT

As I type this, the FedEx website tells me that my copy of The Lutheran Study Bible is on the truck for delivery this afternoon.  With many others, I’ve long looked forward to see what gems this new ESV-based, distinctly Lutheran work has in store.  From the preview material that CPH has been steadily pumping out for several months, it doesn’t look like anyone will be disappointed!  According to its forward:

TLSB

The Reformation started from a man studying the Bible: Martin Luther. It grew from an educational setting: Wittenberg University. As these facts show, biblical studies and Christian education had the greatest importance for early Lutherans. Everywhere the Reformation spread, Bible reading and Christian education followed. Lutheran congregations, schools, missions, colleges, and universities still place great importance on study of Holy Scripture.

But there is another, perhaps even more important, factor binding the Lutheran Church to the careful study of Scripture, something that distinguished the Lutheran Reformation from other movements–its beliefs about God’s Word.

Mosaic

On a similar note, I received confirmation yesterday from Tyndale that a review copy of the Mosaic NLT bible is on its way as well.  I’ve been very excited about this project since learning about it from one of its editors, Keith Williams (@KeithWilliams).  Though I’ve wrestled with the NLT at times since adopting it as my primary translation last year, it’s still my translation of choice and doubtless will be for many years to come.  While Tyndale has been more tight-lipped about the exact contents of Mosaic, what I have seen so far looks fantastic.  I’m particularly excited that Tyndale has chosen this blog as one of the stops on the Mosaic Blog Tour.  October 2nd is the currently scheduled date, so be sure and check back.  There will also be a contest to give away a copy to one lucky reader!

Until then, I plan to review both of these promising new offerings…coming soon!

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Book Review/Summer Reading: Dreamhouse Kings series

dhkThe dog days of summer came early this year to southeast Texas and with them came requests from family and friends for summer reading recommendations.  If you or your teens are looking for a series of fantastic thrillers, let me wholeheartedly recommend Robert Liparulo’s Dreamhouse Kings series.  These books follow the cliffhanging, time-traveling adventures of the King family after they move to a new house in a new town, only to find the home contains eerie portals to other times and places.  What should pose great adventure for the King children turns quickly to terror as a trespasser from one of the portals kidnaps their mother…beginning one of the most harrowing rescue missions ever!

I have previously reviewed and recommended House of Dark Shadows.  Recently, I have finished up Watcher in the Woods and Gatekeepers, Liparulo’s second and third releases in the series, and recommend those with equal enthusiasm.  Liparulo writes with lucid, dramatic prose and fashions stories that draw readers in to his fantastic world.  After finishing up each book in little more than a day, my wife asked if I thought the reading too easy for our twelve year-old daughter.  My reply?  “You don’t read  Dreamhouse Kings books quickly because they are too easy but because they’re too hard…to put down!”

While you may get through these books in rapid succession, that is no cause for concern, because the next book in the series, Timescape, is due for release July 7th!

timescape

What could be better than all this?  Well, there are two more volumes (at least) in the works and rumors of a movie!  Read all the latest news about this series at Robert Liparulo’s DHK blog.

Book Review: In the Footsteps of Paul by Ken Duncan

In the Footsteps of Paul is a breathtaking collection of photos chronicling the life of the Apostle Paul.  Through his camera lens, Ken Duncan has traveled through Israel, Turkey, Greece, and other locations to give readers a stunning glimpse into the places where Paul lived, worked, preached, and traveled.

The photos in this work are magnificent and are a real gift to visual learners like me who can easily imagine the Apostle traveling along Roman roads and sailing from beautiful Grecian harbors.  Photos of ancient frescoes and churches show us early Christian renderings and memorials to the events in Paul’s life.  Modern cityscapes and aged ruins connect the past to the present.

Some have criticized the text and quotes that are interspersed from page to page, and I personally have mixed feelings about them.  The quotes from Scripture corresponding to a given location or event provide a great visual to link biblical accounts with a real-world location.  In my opinion, however, the “inspirational” quotes don’t contribute much to the overall work.  That said, the text in this book is really quite secondary to the beautiful photographs that are its main focus.

In short, this spectacular gift book has taken up residence on our coffee table and has created a regular time of adventure, learning, and conversation for our children and guests.  I recommend it heartily for anyone wanting a glimpse into the real-world locations that made up the life and labors of the Apostle Paul!

Book Review: Helping Those Who Hurt by Barbara Roberts

robertsHelping Those Who Hurt: A Handbook for Caring and Crisis is a purse/backpack/satchel-sized treasure trove of practical, biblical information for reaching out in the name of Christ to those in very difficult situations.  Barbara Roberts, the author, has more than two decades of experience in crisis ministry and offers readers concise and wise counsel for ministering in a variety of crisis situations, including: hospital visits, death/dying, aging, relationship problems, addiction, and abuse.  Potential readers should not let the books small size mislead you–this book is jam-packed with practical information to help you understand what the troubled individuals are going through as well as godly, Christ-centered advice on how to reach out and provide care.

In addition to this immediately helpful information, Ms. Roberts provides over twenty pages of bibliography, organized by topic, to give readers additional resources for study and preparation.  With the multitude of books out there on counseling and caregiving, it is hard to overestimate how valuable this listing can be.  While not familiar with every book in her list, it appears she has given us a fantastic listing of counseling’s “Greatest Hits” from a conservative, Evangelical perspective.

As one who has counseled in hospital, local church, and military chaplaincy settings, this is one book I highly recommend for vocational and lay counselors alike.  Even those who would not consider themselves “counselors” could benefit greatly from Helping Those Who Hurt, using it to prepare themselves to be used of God to provide words of comfort, encouragement, and hope to those in crisis.

Book Review: Reclaim Your Dreams by Jonathan Mead

ebookdreamcover-194x300For those of you who aren’t familiar with Jonathan Mead, he blogs at Illuminated Mind and is a regular writer at the insanely popular Zen Habits.  In his own words, “My purpose here is to explore the uncommon side of things that is often overlooked by the typical, mainstream approach.  Illuminated Mind is about finding freedom from what we’ve been conditioned to think will make us happy.”

Jonathan is a thinker and a questioner in the best sense of the word…one who is neither content with the status quo nor content to accept what anyone tells him at face value.  One of my most cherished theology profs once told me, “For every one book you buy that you know you’ll agree with, buy at least two that you know you will challenge you.”  For me, Jonathan Mead is one of those fellows who is both immensely enjoyable to read and simultaneously guaranteed to challenge.  Though we share fundamentally different worldviews, as far as I can tell, I love to read his writings and use his ideas as a springboard from which to do my part and shake up the status quo from time-to-time (my boss might read ‘time-to-time’ as ‘always’…but that’s a matter of perspective, I guess!).  With those thoughts in mind, I naturally jumped at the chance to read and review his recent ebook, Reclaim Your Dreams:  An Uncommon Guide to Living on Your Own Terms.

Though he never comes right out and says it, Jonathon Mead is a classic existentialist, interested in challenging authority and the status quo; following his dreams wherever they might take him; and in general, ‘suck[ing] out all the marrow of life.”  Thoreau, Whitman, Emerson, and Kierkegaard would be proud of their faithful disciple.  While that might put off some of the regular readers of this blog, since Dead Poet’s Society is one of my favorite movies of all time…the former existentialist in me got really excited over this book and agrees wholeheartedly with many of Jonathan’s points, even if I don’t presently agree with all the finer points of his philosophy.  For example, some might be uncomfortable with his unashamed questioning of authority, but there certainly is nothing wrong, in principle, with a genuine, humble quest for the truth and desire to find a better way of doing things.  If we find out that those we question are right, great.  If not, we continue our search, being careful not to disregard the answers we’re given just because they clash with our personal desires.

If I could sum up the point of this book in two short thoughts it would be–your life/job/vocation doesn’t have to look like society tells you it should…define your dreams and go for them!  In an age when so many are trapped in the pursuit of productivity and the culture of the cubicle, Jonathan rightly recognizes that much of life’s joy is found in the journey.  As he writes, “Too often we let the fear of the unknown keep us from taking action, so we follow the herd where things are comfortable and predictable.”

Many of Jonathan’s frustrations will be all too familiar for those in corporate America, which largely seems immovably fixed in its ways and its culture of “the way we’ve always done it.”  Instead of being lemmings blindly following those who have gone before us, he challenges us to define our dreams, our purpose, our values and then relentlessly pursue them…all the while passionately enjoying the journey and not simply focusing on the goal at the end of the road.  In order to break free of the routine, Jonathan provides a multitude of practical exercises designed to get readers to think beyond any self-imposed limits, walk through the process of understanding / defining our dreams, and making those dreams reality.  His writing is not some divorced-from-reality motivational work, however, he is clear that living out your dreams is both risky business and hard work–both of which are instrumental in avoiding lives of “quiet desperation.”

In short, whether or not one subscribes to the philosophical worldview embraced by Mead, there are many gems in this ebook that can be put to good use by anyone seeking to clarify and then follow his or her dreams.  It is, to use his own words “a permission slip to be ridiculous…[and] an invitation to dream.”  Check it out here on Illuminated Mind.

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Book Review: Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century by Hank Hanegraaff

Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century is an extensive update and revision of Hank Hanegraaff’s classic, first published nearly twenty years ago.  In it, he examines and scrutinizes the theology, practice, and teachings of some of the most popular “Word of Faith” (or simply “Faith”) preachers and teachers so prominent in American Evangelicalism today.  As in the initial version of Christianity in Crisis, Hanegraaff contrasts the teachings of the Faith movement with those of the historic, Christian faith to show the great disconnect between the two.  Using the acronym FLAWS, he examines deficiencies in this movement’s beliefs in the areas of faith, the nature of God, the understanding of the atonement, the fixation on health/wealth, and the theology of sickness/suffering.  After focusing on the negative aspects of these teachers and preachers, Hanegraaff offers several chapters of teaching on the “basics” of the faith in the areas of prayer, the Bible, the nature of the church, basic apologetics, and the theological non-negotiables of historic Christianity.  As is characteristic of Hanegraaff’s other works, he provides countless endnotes (nearly 75 pages) and a lengthy bibliography documenting the teachings of those under scrutiny, eliminating any serious accusation that he is taking these individuals out of context.

Hanegraaff’s lively writing style makes Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century an enjoyable read.  While he is to be considered an ardent defender of the faith, he is neither slanderous nor mean-spirited as he writes.  Two aspects of this book stand out and make it shine, in my opinion.  First, Hanegraaff is quick to separate the Word of Faith/Faith movement from Charismatic Christianity.  While the two are often lumped together by those in non-Charismatic circles, he points out the clear distinction between them in order to eliminate confusion for those who may erroneously believe or assume they are one-and-the-same.  Perhaps the most valuable portion of this book is the chapter titled, “Cast of Characters.”  In this chapter, Hanegraaff examines the false teachings of many prominent Faith teachers/preachers, including: Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, John Hagee, Rod Parsley, Paula White, and many others.  His lucid writing style clearly communicates what these individuals teach as well as pointing out the problems associated with their teachings.

Regardless of whether or not one is familiar with the original edition of this work, Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century is sure to make a valuable addition to the library of any Christian seeking discernment in the midst of the sometimes-confusing landscape of American Christianity.

Book Review: House of Dark Shadows by Robert Liparulo

House of Dark Shadows is the first of three (currently) thrillers in the Dreamhouse Kings series by Robert Liparulo. Aimed at the tween crowd, this book is a fast-paced page-turner that will not fail to disappoint either the teen or even adult reader. There are plenty of reviews at online booksellers, the publisher’s website, and the author’s site to provide details of the content and storyline, so I won’t repeat any of that here. I will say, however, that story was reminiscent but by no means a copycat of one of my favorite children’s books, A Wrinkle in Time. For parents curious about the suitability of this series for their children, I would recommend reading the six-page Prologue, which gives a teaser of what is to follow in the story. In my opinion, this intro is the most thrilling part of the whole book, so if this part is not too intense, nothing else in this book should prove to be too much for your young readers.

While I wholeheartedly recommend this series for any parent or tween looking for a wonderful thriller, perhaps the best endorsement I can give actually comes from my twelve-year old daughter. Historically, her favorite books have been classics, specifically Robinson Crusoe and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Upon finishing House of Dark Shadows, however, my daughter gleefully proclaimed, “Dad, I have a new favorite book.” I shouldn’t think that Mr. Liparulo would mind his work being placed alongside these great stories of the English language…even if by a twelve-year old!