Thinking Out Loud

August 25, 2015

Review: NIV Zondervan Study Bible

It’s one thing to write an article about an upcoming Bible based on media releases — which appears in part at the end of this one — it’s another thing entirely to hold one in your hands. Such was the case last week when a beautiful bonded leather edition of the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible was delivered.

NIV Zondervan Study Bible open

Opening the pages, it occurred to me that in another era, this was the type of product that a family would order by mail, wait weeks for, and upon its arrival the family would gather around the dining room table to check out the different features. It deserves a party!

This is very much an encyclopedic Bible taking the existing NIV Study Bible — which will continue to remain in print — and combining it with ideas such as the supplementary articles seen in the ESV Study Bible and the use of charts seen in the Life Application Study Bible, and the use of full color, in-text pictures first used in the NIV Archaeological Study Bible.

As you would expect, there are detailed introductions for each book, but also to each section of Biblical literature. However, the bulk of the supplementary articles are placed at the back, and these are topical but also tied to elements of systematic theology, though I’ve noticed the publisher prefers the term Biblical theology. There are many maps at the back; I also noted a full-page map embedded in the middle as well. A variety of scholars contributed to the project which was headed by D. A. Carson. The print version also includes a free digital download.

At 2880 pages this is a Bible packed with features. As such, I wish the font chosen for the notes was a little clearer, but I might upgrade to the large print edition. This may not be your take-to-church Bible edition, but it offers some great helps for both the new Christian who wants background information, and the veteran Christ follower. 

Below is the original article posted here in anticipation of this significant Bible release…


NIV Zondervan Study Bible

Opinions here are those of the author; this is not a sponsored post.

While the title may confuse some, you have to assume the publishers already sorted out that potential confusion and went ahead with the name anyway. The NIV Zondervan Study Bible is releasing later this summer, and is certain to get mixed up with the classic NIV Study Bible which has been with us for several decades. The latter isn’t going anywhere.

At a major online Christian retail site, we read:

The NIV Study Bible will remain in print. With over 10 million copies sold over 30 years, this bestselling study Bible will continue to help readers come to a deeper understanding of God’s Word.

And then it offers this chart which outlines the differences:

NIV Study Bibles compared

Looking closely at the author list above, methinks that that Zondervan is going after the same market as purchased the popular ESV Study Bible. Clearly, to some extent, the Reformed community is in view. However, by virtue of its weight, the ESV product attracted a broader audience containing features which had not heretofore seen in study Bibles. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but the ESV Study did contain elements worth emulating.

Zondervan is quick to point out that this new project was not adapted from the present study edition, but was “built from the ground up.” 

Bonus: For those of you who’ve read this far, here’s a look at some of the extras in this Bible below which is a clue to where the advance peek treasure is buried:

NIV Zondervan Study Bible ArticlesClick the image above, and then click the “preview” tab to see the full table of contents and many of the introductory articles.

August 3, 2015

J. Warner Wallace: Another Cold Case Solved

Two years ago here I reviewed the book Cold Case Detective by J. Warner Wallace, in which the principles by which this police investigator has operated in his vocation are applied to fleshing out the reliability of the Bible’s gospel narratives. At the time I wrote,

Every decade or so a great work of apologetics appears which breaks the boundaries of the discipline and reaches a wider audience.

I enjoyed the book, and in the time that has passed since I wrote that review, have enjoyed recommending it to a variety of readers, though at times, I also feel it is Christian apologetics’ best kept secret.

God's Crime SceneA few weeks ago, Wallace returned with God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe (David C. Cook) in which he applies the same skills to the idea of God being behind what we might call creation. But we need to watch using the word creation in describing this book, since creation science is concerned with origins and answering the “How did we get here?” type of questions. Rather, this is more about intelligent design and bypassing the How? and When? questions to look more at What?; or more specifically the complexity that exists in the world pointing to a master designer; a designer who exists outside the realms we can observe or quantify.

The last distinction is important to Wallace’s argument; he compares it to cases where detectives would have to determine if the killer was in the room or came from outside the room. The analogy is very fitting, but the proof isn’t contained in one chapter or another, but in the aggregate of a case built on a foundation consisting of an amalgam of evidence and syllogistic logic.

The evidence “inside the room” points to a very specific “suspect.” He’s not a malicious intruder. Although I’ve titled this book God’s Crime Scene (in an effort to illustrate an evidential approach to the investigation of the universe), God hasn’t committed any crime here. In addition, God is not an unconcerned intruder; He isn’t dispassionate about His creation. (p. 201)

God’s Crime Scene is intended therefore to make the argument for the existence of God accessible to the average reader through the comparisons to anecdotal cold-case detective work, and the use of cartoon-like illustrations. But make no mistake, this is not light reading.

This time around, I found myself gladly absorbing the chapters that were more philosophical and epistemological in nature, but totally over my depth in the sections that relied more on biology and physics. I could only marvel that the author was able to present such a wide swath of material which was so multi-disciplinary.

Still there were elements of the argument that were not lost on me. Even a child could see the resemblance of a machine-like mechanism in the human body and a man-made machine that forms a similar function, the latter being something we know was intelligently designed. Or the logic that if we agree that the brain is distinct from the mind, then it’s not a huge leap to the idea that a soul exists.

This is a textbook-quality product that will appeal to a variety of readers with an assortment of interests in this topic and offers the additional payoff of further insights into detectives’ investigative processes. You don’t have to understand every nuance of every issue to both appreciate and learn from Wallace’s writing; and it is in the cumulative assembly of all the various subjects raised here that Wallace is able to mark the case closed.

I give this a very high recommendation both for Christian readers and those who doubt God’s existence. I’d be interested in seeing links to articles where non-believers have interacted with its various chapters, as I believe Wallace has been very thorough in his documentation and his logic.


At 340 pages in an oversize paperback, this book with ‘crime’ in the title is a steal at only $17.99 U.S.

July 21, 2015

Shack Author Paul Young’s Newest Releases in Two Months

Paul Young - EveAfter the huge success of The Shack, many publishers were after Paul Young’s third novel, Eve. When first released, The Shack was a game-changer for Christian publishing, its commercial success rivaled only by the controversy it created, with many of the negative responses coming from people who had never read the book. It also was put in the rare situation of having various other books written about it. 

Radio host Drew Marshall once quipped, “There are two kinds of people; people who like The Shack, and people who don’t like The Shack;” indicative of the great divide the book’s portrayal of God created.

After nearly five years, Young reappeared with Crossroads, followed by another three year gap that’s about to change on September 22nd when Eve, a 320-page novel releases simultaneously in hardcover and paperback from Howard, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

From the publisher’s blurb (excerpt):

…When a shipping container washes ashore on an island between our world and the next, John the Collector finds a young woman inside—broken, frozen, and barely alive. With the aid of Healers and Scholars, John oversees her recovery and soon discovers her genetic code connects her to every known human race. She is a girl of prophecy and no one can guess what her survival will mean…

…Eve is a bold, unprecedented exploration of the Creation narrative, true to the original texts and centuries of scholarship—yet with breathtaking discoveries that challenge traditional misconceptions about who we are and how we’re made. As The Shack awakened readers to a personal, non-religious understanding of God, Eve will free us from faulty interpretations that have corrupted human relationships since the Garden of Eden.

Eve opens a refreshing conversation about the equality of men and women within the context of our beginnings, helping us see each other as our Creator does—complete, unique, and not constrained to cultural rules or limitations…

You can read the full blurb at this link.

In an interview with Publisher’s Weekly published on Monday, Howard Vice President and Editor in Chief Ami McConnell said,

I think the thing that I am most proud of is that it’s the product of decades of thought and perhaps even pain on Paul’s part, and it’s a very rich experience. Every read that I’ve done has brought out new levels of awareness and understanding. This is a story that has never been told before. I have been working on just novels – no non-fiction – for a decade, and so I know the tropes. I know what notes you have to hit with certain kinds of stories, and I’m faithful to make sure that authors hit those notes. This is a story I have never read before. It’s a new approach to a story as old as our culture.

You can read more of that interview at this link.

 

July 20, 2015

It’s Summer: You’re Entitled to Some Diversions

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:03 am

For the most part, the Christian blogosphere takes itself all too seriously. When was the last time you saw anyone review a fiction title? And no, we don’t count the bloggers who trashed The Shack without ever reading it.

I try to read at least one fiction title in the summer. If I can’t actually go anywhere in the warm months, I can at least enjoy some small diversions or distractions.

The Deposit SlipThis year it was The Deposit Slip by Todd M. Johnson, which released back in 2012. I’d seen this one in the bookstore and it struck me that it was my type of storyline, and definitely male-reader-compatible in a field that attracts a mostly female demographic. I also didn’t want to start a series, so a stand-alone title was needed.*

The book is legal mystery that begins with a young woman who discovers a deposit receipt from a local bank when emptying out her late father’s safety deposit box. The amount is a cool $10.3 million. She hires a lawyer and from the beginning — this isn’t really a spoiler — you know the bank is as guilty as heck and covering the truth; but the remaining pages are needed to get everyone to what one expects to be a dramatic, final courtroom showdown.

The case has a variety of twists and turns, with a very fast-paced script based on the author’s 30 years in legal practice. Though this isn’t my usual genre, I was able to track most of the legalese.

The faith-focus in this novel is basically non-existent. Given its publication under the Bethany House imprint, a division of Baker Books, I checked a variety of other reviews to make sure I wasn’t missing something.

Otherwise, five stars.


*The following year the author released Critical Reaction which features a different cast of characters and this time around, a female lawyer. I enjoyed Deposit Slip so much that the 2nd book is currently in my pending stack of books.

July 18, 2015

Two Children’s Products Every Adult Should Own

You will learn much from these two products that were originally produced for a much younger audience. If you can’t justify the expense in a kid-less home, rent a kid for the weekend.

Jesus Storybook BibleThe Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones (Zondervan).

We attended a weekend seminar where the speaker walked up to the pulpit carrying only this book. While it doesn’t replace a regular Bible, it shows how the classic stories we read to our children anticipate or foreshadow the coming of Christ. Probably one of the few Children’s Bible story books to receive critical acclaim by theologians.

If you can’t bring yourself to own a kids title, in October the book is releasing in an adult edition as The Story of God’s Love for You.

 


 

WhatsInTheBibleSetBuck Denver Asks “What’s In The Bible?” by Phil Vischer (Jellyfish Labs).

Regular listeners to his podcast know that the Veggie Tales creator decided to go beyond the moralism of the video series that made him well-known, and this time around teach the Bible narrative instead.

There are sections of these stories that evidence the input of Christian education and theological specialists. There’s a lot of inane banter between the puppet characters, but in-between, there are lessons for both kids and adults that begin with the first introductory kid-friendly segment about Bible inspiration and interpretation. Each episode is about an hour with a break in the middle.

13 DVDs will set you back, so look for bundles like the one pictured here. A second series is now in production.

 


Check out an interview with Sally Lloyd-Jones on the Tuesday, June 19th edition of the Eric Metaxas Show, hour #2.

Check out the Phil Vischer Podcast and the What’s In The Bible website.

 

July 16, 2015

Book Review: The First Time We Saw Him

The First Time We Saw Him - Matt MikalatosI know I’m going to lose some of you in the next paragraph, but…

This is one of those books where the writer takes key stories from the New Testament and retells them as though they happened today.

There. I said it. Yes, I know… been there, done that.

Updating the narrative is the stuff of every youth group meeting you’ve ever been to, right? But this one was different. I got ambushed. It totally brought the stories to life for me and cause them to see them in a fresh way. Christ’s birth. The parables. The encounters. The miracles. The crucifixion. The post-resurrection appearances.

For me, The First Time We Saw Him: Awakening to the Wonder of Jesus (Bethany House, 2014) shows that Matt Mikalatos is an author who can truly pull this off.

And yes, the above paragraph says 2014. The book was sitting unread in a stack of review copies that I obviously received a year ago. Something drew me to it. That’s probably what bothers me most; that great books like this just get lost in the shuffle because they don’t nicely fit into a specific (prayer, marriage, parenting, devotions) category.

At this point, the review is about to get subjective. If anything, reading The First Time We Saw Him awakened me to the idea that you just can’t wreck this story we call The Bible. No critic can detract from it. Science can’t undermine it. Poor translations can’t spoil it. Skepticism can’t keep you from being drawn back to it.

You can’t make this stuff up. It reminds me of a quotation Philip Yancey attributed to Walter Wink: “If Jesus had never lived, we never would have been able to invent him.”

It’s times like this I wish this blog, as popular as it is, had exponentially greater influence, because I’d like to start a movement that would get people passionate about books like The First Time Saw Him, and take this book in particular, and make it the sleeper hit of the year; rock it to the top of the charts. It’s definitely worthy of greater exposure.

I think later tonight, I’ll start back at chapter one.


…Since some might feel in my excitement in this review I wandered off course, so here’s the publisher blurb:

Scripture tells us that the words of Jesus made people uncomfortable, confused, angry, repentant, worshipful, and riotous. Today, we read the words of Christ in a steady, even tone and find ourselves wondering if maybe we’re missing something. Could it be that we’ve lost the emotional power of Jesus’s words simply because we’re too familiar with them?

With incredible insight into the surprising and unsettling aspects of Jesus’s parables and life, Matt Mikalatos reimagines familiar stories and parables in a modern-day setting, bringing alive for the contemporary reader all the controversy and conflict inherent in the originals. These emotional, sometimes humorous, and jaw-dropping retellings include the stories of the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the lost coin, the feeding of the 5,000, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and more, asking provocative questions like What would be the modern equivalent of Jesus letting a “sinful woman” wash his feet? Who would be the hero of “The Good Samaritan”? How would Jesus tell the parable of the lost sheep in a city like Portland?

192 pages, paperback

June 9, 2015

Toward a Post-Industrial Faith

Reading John J. Thompson’s Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World, makes me wish that Zondervan had a sort of outreach imprint like Baker Books has with Brazos or NavPress has with Think, because this is probably the best example of what we once termed a pre-evangelism resource.

Jesus Bread and Chocolate - John J. ThompsonSaid differently, this is the book you always wished existed so you could start the conversation with that friend, neighbor, relative or co-worker who believes that Christians are people who simply don’t [fill in the blank] and one of the the things they don’t enjoy is, for example, a decent glass of wine.

Of course, if you think that beer is of the devil, or that an $8 loaf of bread is simply bad stewardship, this is probably not the book for you.

I was drawn to review this after watching an interview the author did with Phil Vischer and Skye Jethani a few weeks earlier. I connected the name with a Christian music store called True Tunes that specialized in all the hard-to-find, out-of-print and imported Jesus Music and CCM that was born in the days of the Jesus People in the 1970s.

However, people do move on to other interests and reinvent themselves, and although the book has a chapter which references those early Christian music days, John Thompson has emerged as a connoisseur of quality beer, wine, coffee, bread and sees in the making and enjoying of these things a number of modern day — or more accurately ancient — parables to everyday life and faith. (If they published in hardcover, and added more pictures, this could be a coffee-table book about coffee!) 

Yes, the above paragraph does say beer and wine; you can almost hear the sound of the demographic narrowing. If your definition of what constitutes a Christian book is, well, more somber, then again, this title is probably not your particular cup of tea, or in this case coffee. So I’m going to let the publisher define it for you:

Farmer’s markets, artisanal dark chocolate, home-made bread, craft-brewed beer,  and independent boutique coffee shops may not immediately call to mind issues of faith, but they should. As the “American Dream” starts to fray at both ends, millions of people are embracing values that seem to hail from a bygone era. They are seeking out the local, the small, the responsible and the nourishing instead of the cheap, the homogenized, the mass-produced and the canned.

Is it possible that this renewed interest in these pre-modern values may actually offer an open door into the hearts and minds of this generation? Is there a way to explore specific, inspiring stories about coffee, bread, chocolate and art that lead people toward a truly Biblical understanding of the person, words and work of Jesus to reveal the truth, goodness and beauty of the Gospel?

With fascinating stories and a thread of memoir, Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate explores the emerging—actually re-emerging—values of this post-industrial age and points out parallels between them and the teaching and ministry of Jesus and his earliest followers. Rather than seeking to tie the faith to trends in the culture, it shows how trends in the culture are already very close to the organic kind of faith that could re-energize the church and bring countless young and middle-aged people into a saving experience of Christ.

I think that last paragraph might leave you feeling the book is less accessible than it is. Let’s just say that Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate is equal parts quality food, heartfelt autobiography, and a whole lot of stuff to think about.

 

 

 

May 11, 2015

Seeing Your Life From God’s Perspective

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 am

Orion's belt

About a week ago before falling asleep, I reached into the review stack, and discovered a 2013 book, The Beauty of Broken by Elisa Morgan. Clearly, this was a book for women, but it was late so rather than pull out another title, I decided to read just one chapter.

Beauty of Broken - Elisa MorganSeveral days later, I am two-thirds of the way through my first foray into this Christian “women’s interest” book. Maybe I’ll start reading “mommy bloggers” next. (Okay, maybe not.)

Elisa Morgan’s life has been marked by a number of circumstances that would have to be described as tragic. I’m not purporting to review the book here, so I won’t get into details. But it was the one page where her husband Evan shared something — I believe it’s the only spot in the book where he speaks — that I wanted to share as an excerpt today. This is the entirety of the quotation, but remember you’re jumping into the middle of much larger story.

Finally I just sat down in the bay window of our breakfast room and looked up at the sky. Honestly, I’d had it. But I felt compelled to look at the stars.  I’d always been intrigued by the galaxies. And in that moment, one of my favorite Psalms filtered through my thoughts, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?'”  (Psalm 8:3-4 NIV).

It was like God was drawing my gaze upward – to consider his heavens.  I couldn’t not look. Yet I couldn’t figure out what was going on, what I was supposed to see or understand.

“Yeah. Yeah. I know, you’re all-powerful and all,”  I said sarcastically through the glass of the window up to the sky. I couldn’t believe I was acting this way towards God and I half expected him to zap me in the moment. But I was just so sick of it all.  In this weary night watch I relented, “I see it all, God. You made all this. You’re infinite. Whatever!”

Still, I couldn’t take my eyes off the night sky. And then Orion’s Belt came into focus. My eyes were nailed to it. I couldn’t pull them away.  Astronomy wasn’t even a hobby for me, but everything I’d ever known about that constellation whirled through my mind. Orion’s Belt: three stars, seemingly perfectly aligned and yet most likely hundreds of millions of miles apart from each other. For some reason I imagined myself in an airplane – no, a space ship circling in the cosmos, and then around a single star in the formation. I realized that from that vantage point – going around just one of the three stars, I couldn’t really see or even know about the other stars, much less how they aligned together to make a unique constellation.

And then I heard God speak to me – as in no other moment in my life. I’ll never forget it.  Evan, from where I sit, it all lines up.  Suddenly, I was sitting with God, next to him in his celestial seat, viewing eternity past and future, without limitations. God laid his hand on my shoulder, and pointed out the stars to me: a picture of his providence and sovereignty in our lives. From no other place could I have comprehended… from where he sits, it all lines up.

May 1, 2015

Connecting People and Resources

I’ve written before about the common thread in all the different ministry ventures I’ve worked with. With radio, I got to introduce people to new songs and new artists. With worship leading, I got to connect people to vehicles that could be part of their personal expression of praise to God. As a book and music reviewer, the motivation was more obvious. As a blogger, I get to share information about other voices online. As a link list curator for Leadership Journal, I was able, by the news and opinion pieces I noted, to be influential in the lives of Christian leaders.

radio-towerI guess I like facilitating a whole load of networking.

But let’s return to radio for a minute. If I were to return to it — and I did look into various avenues — I would no longer get to choose the songs being played unless I brokered the airtime and picked the playlist myself. Radio stations either use consultants or have their own formula for choosing what goes into the rotation. Even the morning show guys, when they’re done with their banter, simply play the next song on the list.

You could solve this, I suppose by being the consultant or music director, but there are only so many openings, and even in small-to-medium markets, it’s often just one guy who controls a number of regional stations.

With worship leading, similar formulas apply. There’s often a tacit understanding that if a new song was introduced by last week’s team, you’re expected to continue with that song over the next three weeks. In demographically wide churches, you draw from different sources representing different ages and tastes to create an eclectic music set.

Music reviews largely don’t exist. Unless you write for Relevant Magazine, you’re about 500 times more likely to receive books in the mail to review than a CD. (We’ve reviewed several here, but it’s the exception, not the rule.) Bloggers tend not to be excited about specific books as they were five years ago; as Christian publishing faces challenges there are fewer and fewer new writers stepping onto the scene; and there appears not to be the push by publishers to utilize social media.

With my role at PARSE now ended, I look for new ways to share the passion of sharing. The one role that never ends is my two days a week at the Christian bookstore. There, I still have some influence, though there is always the suspicion on the part of some that I’m wearing my shopkeeper hat, and not my role as friend, counselor, or helper. Where ministry and retail converge, it’s not always an ideal fit.

My observation there is always the same: The greatest connector for people and products is the local church pastor, but for that to work, the pastors first need to know about the book in question, and most don’t have the interest, the time, or both.

But trust me, from YouTube to the Christian blogosphere to the world of Christian music and publishing, there are a ton of resources out there.

Finding and utilize them will enrich your life, and the lives of family members, extended family, neighbors, co-workers and others in your circle.

April 23, 2015

The Lacey Sturm Story, In Her Own Words

As I wrote back in October, I became aware of Lacey Sturm while live streaming one of the Franklin Graham ‘Rock the Lakes’ events. Many weeks later, a copy of her book The Reason: Revelations of a Rock Princess turned up in a review package from Baker Books’ Canadian distributor, and this week I finally got to it.

The Reason - Lacey SturmI am not the target audience for this book, so I needed to review it with that in mind. Lacey’s story is that of a young girl on a definite trajectory toward suicide, and how a dramatic encounter with a man at the back door of a church she was fleeing redefined that trajectory. She went on to become the lead singer of the Christian — but not always overtly Christian — band Flyleaf.

This book would totally resonate with that young girl in your sphere of influence who dresses in black, or has purple hair, or holes up in her room for hours listening to music you consider dark, especially the one whose writing or poetry seems saturated with sadness.

Lacey describes her early years as one addicted to sadness; addicted to pain. In the book, her ‘Before and After’ story is very clear; her life change very dramatic.

Years later, she has another encounter with someone who again speaks what can only described as a supernatural word of knowledge into her life about the ministry gift and burden God gave her, and the role of her husband Josh in leading and guiding the application of that gift so that it doesn’t burn her out. He tells them, “This is a very heavy, heavy calling. God has poured his love for this generation into your heart, and allowed you to sing with a heart of passion, so they will know God loves them.” (p.164)

Again, this book isn’t for everyone; but it’s a resource that everyone should know exists because you never know when you’ll encounter someone in a similar situation. It’s also a good read for anyone in, or considering entering the music business.

 

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