Tag Archives: Book Review

Review & Reflection – Reformation Study Bible (2015)

The Reformation Study Bible (ESV) by Reformation Trust (2,534 pages, 2015)

Review:

Ligonier Ministries (and the teaching ministry of R.C. Sproul) have had a profound influence on a generation of Reformed believers.  It is entirely possible, however, that among its greatest legacies will be the production of the Reformation Study Bible (RSB).  The first edition of the RSB was in 2005.  Incidentally, my parents bought me a copy when it first came out, and the original RSB has been my daily reader for ten years now.  Overall, I loved it.  But as the years rolled by I noticed several features that seemed missing.  The lack of maps in the back and the curious omission of any Reformed creeds or confessions (why would something called the Reformation Study Bible not have the doctrinal statements of the Reformation included?) were just two examples that come to mind.  In 2015, however, Reformation Trust released a completely re-hauled and revised edition of the RSB.  Since the original RSB has been on the market so long, I’ll simply focus my review on the changes made in the 2015 edition.

And believe me, the new edition brings plenty of changes.  They’ve added almost 600 pages of content (including expanded introductions to each book which point out the place of each book in the history of redemption), 16 pages of high-quality color maps, new topical and theological articles, a yearly reading plan, and 10 ecumenical and Reformed creeds, confessions, and catechisms.  In addition to the expanded content, the new RSB has significantly changed it’s form.  In place of the familiar double-columns (with matching double-column study notes) the new edition has gone to a single-column format with three columns for the study notes.  The typeface is beautiful, the layout is packed with resources, and the content is outstanding.  Bottom line: this is a very good study Bible.

But it’s not perfect.  As the old saying goes, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” and all the wonderful additions come with a price as well.  The added commentary and resources means that this already large Bible (the first RSB was almost 2,000 pages) is now positively massive.  While well suited to the study it would be difficult to carry this Bible around to worship or Bible studies.  In addition, in an (unsuccessful) effort to keep the size under control, the publishers seem to have gone with a thin paper that has a good bit of ghosting.  Especially when one is on the last page of a book of the Bible you can see a lot of bleed-through.  For whatever reason, the print can also sometimes be hard to read and the placement of the cross-references on the inside of the page makes them very hard to read.

Still, in most ways, this is the study Bible I’ve always dreamed of.  The layout is attractive, the notes are sound, and it comes packed with a boatload of resources.  If you’re in the market for a study Bible (and if you don’t have one, you should be in the market) this is the one to get.  It’s not perfect, but it does some very important things well.

I would like to thank the good folks over at Reformation Trust for providing me with a free review copy of this book.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review. 


Review & Reflection – Passing Through

Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness by Jeremy Walker (265 pages, 2015)

Review:

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How is the church to relate to culture?  How are we as individual Christians to think about and structure our day-to-day lives?  What exactly is our identity as Christians and how should this shape our actions in this present world? It is to these questions, and others, that British Pastor Jeremy Walker turns his attention in this helpful book on the Christian life.  Central to Walker’s thesis is the idea that we as Christians have lost sight of our Biblical identity and that the loss of that identity has compromised our actions in this world.  What then, is our Biblical identity?  Walker argues that we are to see ourselves primarily (though not exclusively) as pilgrims.  People who are simply “passing through” as the title puts it.  After introducing his thesis and providing a framework for our thinking in chapters 1-3, Walker develops his point by looking at various aspects of the Christian identity.  Whether it is as pilgrim-warriors (ch. 4), pilgrim-evangelists (ch. 5), pilgrim-citizens (ch. 6), pilgrim-servants (ch. 7), etc… Walker urges Christians to consider how the Biblical motif of the pilgrim life can shape and reshape our understanding of this world and our place in it.  Each chapter follows the same basic structure: first, Walker introduces the topic of the chapter.  Second, he provides a Scriptural framework for considering the topic by looking at (and carefully exegeting) various relevant passages.  Third, Walker gives some summary thoughts which not only consider the content of the given chapter, but also connect that with all that has come before.  Finally, Walker provides specific counsels which provide practical guidance for how to apply what has been discussed thus far.

Reflection:

I found the structure of Walker’s book to be very helpful.  For someone like myself who thinks in terms of outlines, reading chapters which followed the same basic shape was tremendously helpful.  Not only does Walker provide good structure, he also produces good content.  Walker writes well.  In an age when too much writing (and far too much theology) is written poorly, Walker’s sentences sing, his paragraphs flow, and his ideas are communicated vividly and profoundly.  One can tell that he has read the Puritans deeply as he shares their wonderful ability to convey truth through beauty.  Another feature I appreciated about the book was how Walker tries to spend as much time as possible fully quoting and thoroughly exegeting the actual text of Scripture.  He avoids the exegetical shortcut of simply following up his statements with a string of proof-texts and instead does the hard (but fortifying) work of showing us how and where he gets his ideas.  With all the discussion today about questions of culture and engagement I found Walker’s book to be refreshingly Biblical.  While I would not agree with every jot and tittle, the broad thrust of this book was right on target and has already begun to helpfully shape my thinking on the topic.  I would encourage everyone to pick up this helpful volume as a useful tool on this pilgrim road we trod.

I would like to thank the good folks over at Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free review copy of this book.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.  Please check out their interview with the author here


Review & Reflection – The Quarry Revival

The Quarry Revival by Peter and Dorothy Bennett  (40 pages, 1992)

Review:

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This little book is unusual in a number of ways.  It is a fairly obscure account, of a fairly obscure event, that took place in a fairly obscure corner of the world.  It was loaned to me by an older couple in my church who come from Llandudno in the north of Wales.  They acquired this booklet years ago because it was of special interest to them.  It recounts the story of the 1904-1905 Quarry Revival in the village just next to their own. 

The authors describe the scope and purpose of the booklet in the forward,

“This booklet is not intended as another history of the Revival of 1904, although very little coverage of the Revival in Llanfairfechan has, in fact been written.  Only one of the accounts given here has ever been published in English and that in a newspaper of 1904 and not reprinted until now.  Those essays and reports previously printed in Welsh have not been published together as a group.  Together they give the ‘feel’ of Revival, the effect the Spirit of God had on a community of ‘ordinary’ people.”

  As I read these collected essays and reports  I read stories of ordinary, working miners who were strangely moved of the Lord to give themselves to prayer.  At first men scoffed or ignored them, but in time the rooms, houses, and halls that they would meet in were filled to the breaking point with those who had previously wanted nothing to do with religion.  Voices that had sworn in anger now swelled with praise.  This little Welsh village found itself transformed by the power and proclamation of the gospel.  We read of, “Richard Thomas who had been called by God away from his glass of beer in the Llanfairfechan Hotel – he just left it undrunk” (pg. 14).  One report summarizes the result of the Revival after the course of a year saying,

“There was a new echo to be heard from the rocks from now on.  The old ‘Graig’ (rock) seemed to have learnt the tunes ‘Pen Calfaria’ and ‘Gwaed y Groes’ and ‘Diolch Iddo’ during that year, and the place that was full of unseemly language and all sorts of gambling at the start of the year had become in reality a Bethel to many of us, and I know some, even to this day, who look on that place still as holy ground, and feel they can get down on their knees in prayer any time they go through there, and count it as a place sanctified to the Lord” (pg. 17).

Reflection:

Though focusing on a narrow slice of local history, this little booklet gives us a remarkable, moving, and plain-speaking overview of an event that (as with all revivals) has eternal significance.  Many of these reports were written by uneducated Welsh villagers at the turn of the century, and sometimes the style shows it, but what they lack in polish and style they more than make up for in conviction and spirit.  Reading this little book truly accomplishes its goal of “giveing the ‘feel’ of Revival, the effect the Spirit of God had on a community of ‘ordinary’ people.”


Review & Reflection – A Brief History of Wales

A Brief History of Wales by Gerald Morgan  (160 pages, 2011)

Review:

41mTdQbW3SL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_[1] In this trim volume, Gerald Morgan sets out to give readers, as the back cover puts it, “A superb introduction to the background to contemporary Wales, this book is also for anyone wishing to brush up on their history.”  Morgan sets out to accomplish this two-fold goal of both introducing and reviewing the history of Wales by offering brief chapters on Welsh history beginning with the writings of Caesar in 55 B.C. and ending with contemporary issues in Welsh political life well into the early 2000’s.  After a brief forward there are eight chapters (around 10-20 pages) followed by a fairly extensive list for further reading.  The chapters cover a range of topics but largely move forward chronologically with each chapter covering various figures and events in a given period of Welsh life.

Reflection:

I have to admit, I was disappointed in this book.  I picked it up on my last trip to Wales in the gift shop at Conwy Castle expecting to find a quick and fun intro to, and overview of, Welsh history.  I’ve studied quite a bit about England, Scotland, and Ireland, but knew substantially less about the history of Wales.  I’m sad to say that that’s largely still the case.  The biggest problem with this book is that it’s honestly a bit boring.  As a student of history I wasn’t naive enough to expect an action-adventure novel, but this book falls far short of its potential.  Rather than stepping back from the story to give us the big picture and the grand events, Morgan seems to get lost among the details.  I found myself skimming this volume as it seemed that the chapters became endless lists of names and dates.  Events which sounded like they were probably fascinating stories were duly mentioned but rarely expounded.  Characters that were undoubtedly memorable were quickly passed over in the rush to include the next name or date.  This is exactly what history shouldn’t be.  The odd exception to this rule was in chapter 7, “Riot and Respectability” which focused on the history of Wales during the Industrial Revolution.  It was as if Morgan came to life and suddenly found a remarkable knack for capturing and communicating the big picture.  We actually got a glimpse of the Welsh people as people, and it made all the difference.  It made me wonder if this period of history isn’t perhaps his true area of interest and the other chapters were simply symptomatic of his lack of familiarity with the material.  If someone already had a good grasp of Welsh history this little book might serve as a decent review, but for someone looking to learn for the first time, I suggest they keep looking.


Video Review – ESV Reader’s Bible

Above is my video review of the ESV Reader’s Bible.  Here are some of the links mentioned in the video:

You can watch Crossway’s video overview of the ESV Reader’s Bible here.

You can find the full review of the ESV Reader’s Bible over at the Bible Design Blog here.

You can pick up your own copy of the ESV Reader’s Bible at Amazon, CBD, or Westminster Bookstore.

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Review & Reflection – The 100 Cupboards Trilogy

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The 100 Cupboards Series by N.D. Wilson:

100 Cupboards 296 pages, 2007;

Dandelion Fire 466 pages, 2009;

The Chestnut King 512 pages, 2010

Review:

Like every other homeschooler, I’m a big fan of fantasy.  Tolkien and Lewis (in that order, thank-you-very-much) are the kings of the genre, and everyone else does their level best to write something that will remind us of their genius.  Few succeed, and with the bar set so high, who can blame them?  Thus, I’m always both excited and skeptical when I pick up a fantasy series and find myself wondering how close they’ll come to the goal.  But before I give you my thoughts about the merits of Wilson’s work let me offer a brief (and hopefully spoiler free) summary of this trilogy.

The 100 Cupboards trilogy begins with a boy named Henry who goes to live with his Aunt, Uncle, and cousins, in a small town named, wait for it…Henry, Kansas.  Henry (the boy, not the town) is a sheltered misfit whose parent’s troubled marriage has left him with little clue of what normal human relationships look like.  It’s only as he finds a secret wall of magical cupboards in his attic bedroom that things begin to change.  Book one focuses on the discovery and function of these cupboards.  Here we’re introduced to some of the main characters (including the villain) and the basics of the magic is explained.  The book ends dramatically, and a bit suddenly.

In book two, Dandelion Fire, Henry gains some magical powers of his own and finds the world to which he actually belongs.  The action picks up considerably and a host of new characters and cultures are introduced.  The characters we knew already develop and grow as the peril around them grows as well.  We learn much more about the magic of the 100 Cupboards world and though longer than the first book, I found the second a much faster (and more engaging) read.

In book three, The Chestnut King, Henry steps ever increasingly into the forefront as he matures and grows in his power and character.  This book is the most epic (in the technical sense, not the college frat boy sense) of the three, and the dialogue, action, and characters build steadily throughout the book.  Though it weighs in at a not insignificant 512 pages you’ll probably find yourself going through this volume in a matter of days.

It’s a challenge giving a review without spoilers, but hopefully that meager description gives you some sense of what to expect from the 100 Cupboards series.

Reflection:

So the big question is: how did Wilson do?  Is this one more series in a long line of authors vainly aspiring to be the next Tolkien or Lewis?  Yes and no.  Wilson can write well, and he does a masterful job of drawing on various sources (from the obvious ones like Tolkien and Lewis, to classical sources of ancient Greece and Rome, medieval epic literature like Spenser’s Faerie Queen, and classic Americana tales) without falling into mere imitation.  He’s read widely, and that comes through.  His dialogue can be strong and vivid, if sometimes a bit uneven.  His characters are interesting and memorable, although some are left disappointingly undeveloped.  His world is rich and the magic is one of the best conceived and most richly imaginative I’ve seen outside of the masters.  I felt that things got better as the series progressed, but if I hadn’t had friends tell me how good the series was I don’t know if I would have continued past the first book.  I found a number of times when Wilson would lose me in the midst of the action and I was left having to scramble across the page trying to find which turn I missed.  Let me encourage you, though, to stick with it.  This is quite the ride and well worth your time.  Not a perfect series, but most definitely a good one.  Wilson gives us a strong contribution to the fantasy genre and succeeds well in his goal of bringing magic to America.  Perhaps my own thoughts will be more refined once I’ve had the chance to read the series again, but all in all, this is a good one for the nightstand.


Review & Reflection – The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill

The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill compiled by Dominique Enright  (160 pages, 2001)

Review:

51ZllK8fFJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_[1]Winston Churchill was one of the towering personalities of the 20th century and an infinitely interesting character.  He was a soldier and a painter, an inventor and a statesman, a writer and an orator, a man of the Old World, and a maker of the New.  Churchill was many things, but for many of us what stands out is his razor-sharp wit.  In The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill author Dominique Enright compiles and presents some of the many wonderful quotes from one of the most quotable men of the past century.

The book is divided into various sections, with quotes categorized according to their topic.  So we have chapters containing quotes on everything from Politics, Words, Animals, Speeches, Friends, the Nations, Women, Drink, Anecdotes, and Epigrams.  There is a brief biography at the beginning of the book to orient the reader.  Enright draws from a wide range of subjects and shows us some of the breadth of Churchill’s prodigious conversational repertoire.  She writes as an admirer of Churchill without falling into the temptation to idolize her subject.  Many of the quotes contained in this book will have been found in other places (and some of the quotes you may have heard in other places will be questioned in this book), but there is much here that was new to this reader and perhaps it will be entertaining to you as well.

Reflection:

This is a fun book.  Not too deep, not too detailed, and not too dense.  Enright seeks to strike a balance between quotes that are edifying and quotes that are entertaining.  I’m not sure that she always succeeds, as I found myself wishing there had been a few more “zingers” on the entertainment front.  That said, there was much here that was interesting and it was a very quick read.  I felt like the biography at the front was helpful, but I imagine that someone who wasn’t very familiar with Churchill would need more than that brief introduction to always appreciate the quotes contained in the book.  There were a few times (really very few times) where the explanation of a quote was written clumsily, but all in all, Enright selected good material and presented it well.  I enjoyed the book immensely and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good chuckle from Churchill.


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