Saturday, June 28, 2014

Book Review: Know the Heretics

If you've ever heard of the Gnostics or Pelagius and wondered what they had to do with church history and heresy and how they're relevant today, author Justin Holcomb has written a book for you. 

Each chapter in Know the Heretics provides historical context, why the teaching was heretical, what the orthodox church's response was and how knowing about each heretical theology is relevant today.  Holcomb closes each chapter with discussion questions for a small group and a brief bibliography for learning more.

Chapters include:

By arranging the heresies historically, Holcomb also instructs readers on how the church had to define beliefs on the character of God, the nature of Christ, the persons of the Trinity, and the means of salvation.

This is not an easy subject and this book, though brief, is not a quick read.  However, Holcomb provides enough information to begin a study on each historical heresy.  It's particularly good that he includes a section on contemporary relevance, since some of these heresies refuse to die and persist in modern churches, particularly churches that are moving away from using established church creeds and historical study.  Whether you always agree with Holcomb's conclusions or not, this is the sort of book that makes you think about what you believe, about what your church is teaching, and about the message of contemporary Christianity in light of the historical church.


I received a copy of this free from Book Look Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Book Review: Zondervan Essential Atlas of the Bible

One of the most fascinating classes I took in seminary was Historical Geography of the Bible a.k.a "The Maps Class."  We studied the Bible through the study of the land and the ways that people moved and settled in the Holy Land. It really added a new dimension to my personal Bible study.
This atlas provides a similar service.   The first few chapters of the atlas discuss the geography of the Middle East which is useful for understanding why some of the events unfolded the way they did.   Subsequent chapters take readers through Biblical history with maps and charts detailing the movement of the Patriarchs, the conquest of Canaan, the kingdom united and divided, the time between the Testaments and the time of Jesus and the early church.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the amount of information that Zondervan packed into this 160 page atlas. (It's a bookshelf book that would fit into a tote bag--not a coffee table book.)   Readers have around 200 detailed maps and photographs to examine, plus color charts, tables, and graphs that provide historical context and relevant information for each section. Carl Rasmussen's articles on the different periods of Biblical history are detailed and his writing style is easy for laypeople to follow. He provides ample Biblical citations and explains where archaeologists are still trying to determine location for Biblical events.

This is much more than just an atlas to look up places on maps. The articles are a helpful companion as you study the Bible and the Scripture index helps locate maps and charts relevant to a passage.  

Highly recommended.   An essential reference for anyone who's serious about Bible study.  Also useful for anyone planning a trip to the Holy Land.

I received a copy of this atlas from Booklook Bloggers in return for an honest review.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Book Review: Schools in Crisis by Nicole Baker Fulgham

Schools in Crisis is one of a series of "Frames" published by the Barna Group. Each of the Barna Frames provides data-driven information about a particular social issue or trend. The Frames are meant to be an overview, a discussion starter, and possibly a springboard to action for a group of interested people.

This particular frame focuses on America's public schools. Barna's research found that 46% of Americans think public schools are on the decline and fewer than half of Americans view public schools favorably.  While more than 77% of Christians believe that they should get involved in public schools, many are unsure how to get involved or feel that schools don't want Christians to be involved.

Author Nicole Baker Fulgham introduces readers to the world of students at low-performing (mostly urban) schools and the need for Christians to take an active role in mentoring, tutoring, and otherwise supporting schools as they work to overcome overwhelming social and educational problems.

The final chapter briefly introduces us to a church in Oregon that has gotten involved and provides advice for finding ways for churches to partner with schools in crisis.

I was interested in this Frame because I work at an urban school that is succeeding, largely through the efforts of dedicated staff and numerous volunteers who support teachers and students.  My own church partners with several local schools to address the needs of children who run the risk of going hungry on the weekend when no school breakfast or lunch is available.

I applaud Nicole Baker Fulgham for her call to Christians to engage this social problem head on.  She invites Christians to get involved directly through volunteering, but also encourages Christians to take on the role of advocate with local school boards and state and local governments to provide better funding and to learn about the social issues that impact the community.

Although Schools in Crisis is brief--a mere 72 pages of discussion--it packs in a good deal of well documented research and personal stories.  I agree with Fulgham; this is an issue that Christians should engage--not to throw stones at public schools, but to help lift up the teachers, staff, and students in at-risk schools.

This is a social issue that impacts everyone in America, whether you have children or not. Highly recommended.

I was provided with a copy of this book by HarperCollins Christian Publishing in return for an honest review.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Book Review: The Adam Quest

The full title of this ambitious work is The Adam Quest: Eleven Scientists Who Held on to a Strong Faith While Wrestling with the Mystery of Human Origins and author Tim Stafford has condensed a tremendous amount of research into a highly accessible book for laypeople.  You won't find an in-depth explanation of the scientific work involved, but you will get the flavor of current research and meet some notable scientists who spend their days researching questions about life on earth.

Stafford, who is Senior Writer for Christianity Today, provides a snapshot of 11 different scientists whose work converges on one of 3 different Christian beliefs about evolution and creation:  young earth creation,  intelligent design, and evolutionary creation.  The scientists disagree with each other on how life has and is developing, but all hold firm to the belief in God as creator.

Some names might be familiar to readers: Michael Behe, author of Darwin's Black Box.  Others might be known more for their discoveries: Mary Schweitzer's discovery of blood vessels in a T. rex bone.  Within the chapters readers discover how these scientists came to faith and how their beliefs clashed with and developed while working alongside well known scientists such as Jack Horner and Stephen Jay Gould.  The men and women Stafford profiles are not lightweights; they're well educated, thoughtful, inquisitive, and articulate.

My main takeaway from this book is a list of names to look for and some additional books to read. As a former science teacher, I've followed this debate and am dismayed--as Stafford and the scientists he interviews are--that too many Christians and scientists feel that faith and science are mutually exclusive. This leads to anti-intellectualism on one side and empty materialism on the other.

One of my favorite sections is where Ard Louis discusses the false notion that science is the arbiter of all truth.  If someone notices a kettle on the stove and asks "why is the water boiling?", a mechanistic explanation provides the pure science involved in transmitting energy and changing the velocity of water molecules.  On the other hand, "why is the water boiling?" can also be answered "I'm making a cup of tea." Both explanations are true. Science will never give us the whole picture and God is not diminished when we examine the wonders of His creation.

I highly recommend this book as an introduction to the different schools of thought on creation and as a book for small group study.  I would like to see a video series or study guide developed to accompany this book.

The Adam Quest
by Tim Stafford
Thomas Nelson

I received a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in return for an honest review.