Book Reviews


Christian Ethics GeislerChristian Ethics by Norman Geisler was written in 1989.  I’ve known many people who have read this book over the years, but never bothered to do so myself until I saw it on sale for a deep discount!  I found it to be a great introduction to ethical systems and pressing moral issues.

Geisler starts by looking at various ethical systems such as antinomianism, situationism, utilitarianism, generalism, and variations of absolutism (these are the names he gives these views, which are not exactly my preferences).  He concludes that the Bible teaches a deontological view of ethics.  When it comes to the question of whether moral duties ever conflict and how we are to respond, he argues for the “greater good” view in which moral conflicts are real, and we do the greater good when we choose to lesser of the two evils.

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God ForeknowA couple of years ago a friendly soul purchased Steven C. Roy’s book, How Much Does God Foreknow from my Ministry Resource List.  Other research, however, prevented me from getting to this book until now.

As the title implies, the purpose of the book is to explore the question of God’s foreknowledge. It is meant to be a critical evaluation of open theism, which is the view that God cannot know the future, free choices made by moral agents because the future does not exist. One of the strengths of Roy’s work is that he interacts directly with Open Theists, quoting them at length.  This avoids the potential for constructing a straw man argument, and allows the reader to consider Open Theists arguments for themselves.

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Visual History of KJVWhen the KJV turned 400 years old in 2011, there were a number of books published to celebrate and explore this historic, influential translation. One of those books was A Visual History of the King James Bible: The Dramatic Story of the World’s Best-Known Translation by Donald L. Brake.  I picked it up earlier this year via a scratch and dent special through CBD, and I’m glad I did.  It is chocked-full of interesting (and not-so-interesting) information about the history of the KJV.

Brake covers everything from the impetus for the translation to its modern form.  He begins with a brief overview of the history of the English language and the first English translations of Scripture.  Politics and religious factions caused a tug-of-war when it came to the production and acceptance of new translations.  No English translation gained universal acceptance. While the KJV did not immediately gain the adoration of all English speakers, within 30 years it had supplanted most other prior translations, and only continued to gain more and more market share until it became the standard translation in the English speaking world with no serious challengers until the late 19th century.

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Universe from NothingLast year theoretical physicist and atheist, Lawrence Krauss, wrote a book titled A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing. As the title suggests, Krauss wrote the book to answer the age-old question of why there is something rather than nothing. The book was heralded by many atheists as the definitive answer to theists who claim God is necessary to explain the existence of physical reality. Indeed, in the afterward Richard Dawkins claimed that Krauss’ book devastates theistic arguments based on cosmology just as Darwin’s On the Origin of Species devastated theistic arguments based on design in biology. Other reviewers, however – including scientists, philosophers, and theologians – beg to differ. Having read the book myself (not just once, but two times now), I can see why they were less than impressed with Krauss’ argument.

While my overall assessment of Krauss’ argument is not positive, truth be told, most of the book was quite enjoyable and informative.  That’s because the first 2/3 of the book is a lesson on the historical development of modern cosmology.  Krauss doesn’t make his case for why there is something rather than nothing until the last four chapters.  Unfortunately, that’s where the book falls apart.

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In the Beginning We MisunderstoodMost books dealing with the proper interpretation of Genesis 1 attempt to do one of two things: show how Genesis 1 cannot be reconciled with modern science, or show how Genesis 1 can be reconciled with modern science.  Some try to show that Genesis presents us with a young universe, while others try to show that Genesis presents us with an old universe.  Either way, it is presumed that Genesis 1 intends to present us with a scientific description of how God created (order, duration, etc.). 

In their new book, In the Beginning…We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original Context, coauthors Johnny Miller and John Soden argue that this presumption is false, and concordism is a misguided hermeneutical approach to Genesis 1.  Discussions over the meaning of Genesis should not be driven by scientific questions, but by literary questions.  Our interpretation of Genesis should not be determined by our views about science, but by the text itself.  Why even think that God meant to provide a scientific description of creation?  The most important question to ask is what Moses meant when he wrote the creation account, how his readers would have understood it, and what practical impact it would have for them given their unique historical situation.  How did it prepare them for the theology and religious practices they were familiar with in Egypt, as well as those they would encounter in Canaan? 

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cold-case christianityJ. Warner Wallace is a retired cold-case homicide detective.  For the first 35 years of his life he was a staunch atheist.  Using his detective skills, however, he began to examine the NT gospels.  To his surprise, he found them to be trustworthy accounts based on eyewitness testimony to the life of Jesus Christ.

Wallace recently published his first book, Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels, detailing the evidence that convinced him the Gospels were reliable accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  Each chapter begins with an evidential principle derived from his experience as a detective, which is then applied to the Gospels.

Here is chapter-by-chapter overview:

Chapter 1 – Question your presuppositions about God.  All of us have bias.  Examine your bias to see if it is valid and true.  Keep an open mind.

Chapter 2 – Abductive reasoning.  What is the best explanation of the evidence?  Distinguish between possible and probable/reasonable (applies this to the alternative, naturalistic explanations of Jesus’ resurrection).

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Christology and NTI purchased Christology and the New Testament by Christopher Tuckett a couple of years ago, but just finally got around to reading it recently.

This book takes a look at the subject of Christology, but from a purely Biblical perspective (no post-apostolic theological development or creedal affirmations are considered).  Tuckett, who teaches NT at the University of Oxford, looks at how each NT author presents Jesus, particularly through – but not limited to – their ascription of various titles to Jesus.  While Tuckett is liberal in his theological conclusions (and it’s not even clear that he is a confessing Christian), his presentation of the Biblical data is quite good.  He has a great way of bringing out the Christological emphasis of the different NT authors/books.

If you are looking for a good introduction to NT Biblical Christology, this is a good resource.

9780805447576_cvr_webA while back someone purchased The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes for me from my Ministry Resource List, for which I am always grateful.

I do a lot of reading, and had a number of books to get through before this one.  I had requested the book because it came highly recommended as a great resource on the subject, but to be honest, I was not on-the-edge-of-my-seat-excited to read it.  Like every other theologian, I am not equally interested in every theological topic, and the Lord’s Supper has never ranked too high on my list of theological priorities.

I grew up Catholic.  Communion was something we participated in weekly.  I never understood what it was all about, and didn’t care to.  It was just a ritual I went through (including the ritual of trying to get that sticky wafer off of the roof of my mouth with all sorts of clever tongue contortions).  When I converted to Pentecostal, I went from celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly to bi-annually or annually, so I had even less reason to give the topic much thought.  Sure, I studied the various positions and the historical debates on the nature and purpose of the Supper in seminary.  That piqued my interest a bit, but more from a historical perspective than a personal interest in my own practice of the Supper.  I saw the Supper as a memorial, through that we should do it (and more frequently than we usually do as Protestants), but never got much out of it personally.  Then, I read this book.  It has greatly enhanced my appreciation for the importance and significance of this ordinance instituted by none other than Jesus Himself.  There are many nuances to the Supper that most of us pass over.  This book draws them out.

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Reasonable FaithDr. William Lane Craig is my favorite Christian apologist.  I’ve read countless articles he has authored and several of his books, listened to virtually every debate he has participated in as well as his podcasts and Defenders lectures, and even read his weekly Q&A on reasonablefaith.org.  I could rightly be called a Craigite, and yet I had never read his signature book, Reasonable Faith, which is now in its third edition.

I finally purchased the book and read through it with slobbering delight.  I must confess that having followed Craig for so long, there wasn’t much in the book that I had not encountered before.  But that is more of a personal commentary, and does nothing to detract from the wealth of information contained in this book.

Craig begins the book by answering the question, How can one know Christianity is true?  After surveying what important past and present thinkers have to say on the matter, Craig adopts a Plantingian-based model in which we can know Christianity is true in virtue of the witness of the Spirit in our hearts.  Craig makes an important distinction, however, between how we personally know Christianity to be true, and how we demonstrate to others the truth of Christianity.  While the witness of the Holy Spirit is sufficient for the believer to be persuaded of the truth of Christianity, we demonstrate the truth of Christianity to unbelievers through evidence and rational argumentation.

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William Lane Craig once recommended physicist Nick Herbert’s book, Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics, as a great introduction to quantum theory.  I picked up a copy to tackle this strange and oft-misunderstood topic.

Quantum mechanics is not for the faint-hearted.  It is difficult to grasp.  Even after reading this book I still can’t say I understand quantum mechanics well enough to explain it with confidence, but at least now I have a better understanding of what I don’t understand.  Apparently I’m in good company.  Richard Feynman once said, “I think it is safe to say that no one understands quantum mechanics.”

One thing I did glean from this book is what the debate is all about.  It’s not about the quantum facts.  We know the facts well.  And it’s not even so much over quantum theory (the mathematics used to describe the quantum facts).  Rather, the debate is about the physical interpretation of quantum theory.  What is the reality of the quantum world?

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Daniel Wallace is a prominent evangelical NT textual critic.  He has written about the field in various places, but never in much detail, and never in a book dedicated to the topic.  So I was very excited when I heard he was editing a collection of essays on the topic.  

Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament is not a general book on the topic of NT textual criticism, but a collection of essays criticizing the analysis and methodology of Bart Ehrman.  Indeed, if you have heard any of Wallace and Ehrman’s three debates, you will already be familiar with much of the material Wallace presents in his chapter.  But it is nice to have that wealth of information put to print and to have access to all of the details Wallace provides in the footnotes.  Here are a few facts about the NT manuscripts that are of note:  (more…)

In The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited Scot McKnight argues that the gospel being preached in evangelicalism today is a truncated or distorted version of the original.  Some think the gospel is justification by faith, while others identify it as the saving work of Christ.  However it is characterized, the gospel is understood to be all about personal salvation.  While that is surely part of it, the gospel is much more.[1]

McKnight argues that the gospel as preached in the NT consists of four elements:

  1. The story ofIsrael
  2. The story of Jesus
  3. The plan of salvation
  4. The method of persuasion

We cannot make sense of the method of persuasion apart from the plan of salvation, and we cannot make sense of the plan of salvation apart from the story of Jesus, and we can’t make sense of the story of Jesus apart from the story ofIsrael.  All four elements were integral to the preaching of the gospel in the early church.  

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In the early 20th century German theologian Walter Bauer proposed that Christian orthodoxy is a historical fiction.  Heretics were not those who departed from the original teachings of Jesus and the apostles, but those on the losing side of a political battle for dominance by one group of Christians over another.  Orthodoxy represents the side who won, not the side of those who remained faithful to Jesus’ teachings.  There is no such thing as Christianity per se, but rather a collage of various Christianities.

While Bauer’s proposal was severely critiqued by other scholars and joined the ash-heap of theological history, as is the case with most bad ideas, someone comes along later, picks up the idea, brushes off the ashes, repackages it, and tries to sell it again.  Such is the case with the Bauer thesis.  Today it is being peddled by people such as Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels.  Speaking to a postmodern generation that prizes diversity, detests absolute truth claims, and thinks truth claims are an attempt to gain power and exert control, they have found a receptive audience for their pluralistic view of Christian origins and history.  For them, the only true heresy is orthodoxy itself: the claim that there is one enduring truth, and one Christian faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints.

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For many famous historical figures, a distinction often needs to be made between the man and the myth that surrounds him.  This is no less true for Charles Darwin.  While the mythical features of a man are often later creations by others, in the case of Darwin, he created some of his own myths through his autobiography.  In his book The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin, Benjamin Wiker takes a critical look at the historical Darwin: the man, the myth, and his contribution to evolutionary theory.

Wiker documents several myths have arisen regarding Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution:

  1. That Darwin thought up the theory of evolution.  The notion that animals in the present evolved from earlier forms was not a novel idea.  The idea can be traced back to the ancient Greek philosopher Lucretius in the 1st century BC, and it was particularly in vogue among the intelligentsia in Darwin’s day.  In fact, his very famous grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, wrote a widely acclaimed book titled Zoonomia (1794) in which he laid out his own theory of evolution more than 60 years before Charles wrote On the Origin of Species.  In medical school, Darwin studied under a radical evolutionist by the name of Robert Grant.  He also read the works of other evolutionists.  Darwin did not come up with evolution.  He merely popularized the theory by providing a plausible, naturalistic mechanism by which it might work, backed up by some empirical observations.

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A few weeks ago I finished Paul Copan’s book “How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong?”: Responding to Objections that Leave Christians Speechless. This is a very good lay-level approach to dealing with common challenges to the Christian worldview.  He presents solid arguments against skepticism, pragmatism, naturalism (arguing that immaterial realities exist), scientism/empiricism (beliefs must be backed up by science), and reductive materialism of the mind (with a whole chapter on the mind-brain interaction problem).

Copan also tackles a subject most apologists never touch on: animals and the charge of speciesism.  He addresses the Biblical view of animals, our responsibility to care for them, and yet concludes that ultimately the animal rights/liberation movement is wrong.

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I just finished Christmas, Celebrating the Christian History of Classic Symbols, Songs and Stories, by Angie Mosteller. This book takes a semi-academic look at the history of American Christmas traditions, symbols, songs, and stories.  It had some really good information regarding the origin of Christmas trees, candy canes, wreathes, etc.

What Mosteller chose to write on, she wrote on well.  What I was disappointed in was what she failed to include.  For example, there was no treatment on the origin of the modern version of Santa Clause.  And most of the Christmas songs she chose to explore I had never heard of.  They may have been American classics, but they are virtually unknown on a popular level today.  And absent from the list were all of the non-religious Christmas songs like Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Jingle Bells, and the like.  I would have loved to have known the history of those songs as well.  She was writing from a Christian perspective, so I’m assuming she chose to focus on the Christian elements of Christmas rather than the non-religious aspects of the holiday.  But overall this book was a good treatment of the origin of Christmas traditions in America.

Many people think religious claims are untestable, making it impossible to make an objective, reasoned choice as to which religion you should adopt.  You just have to pick the one that fits your personal preferences, your family tradition, etc.  Mark Mittelberg challenges this view in his book, Choosing Your Faith In a World of Spiritual Options.

Mittelberg starts with a question that religious people often do not even consider: Why choose any faith at all?  His answer is interesting: because you don’t have an option.  We all place our faith in something.  The question is whether or not that faith is justified or not; true or not.  Contrary to popular belief, answering this question is possible.

Before he delves into the principles by which we can test worldview claims, he discusses and evaluates six faith paths that most people use to determine their beliefs, showing how each is deficient: (more…)

In 2010 Jerry Fodor, a philosophy professor at Rutgers University, and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, a biophysicist, molecular biologist, and cognitive scientist at the University of Arizona, published What Darwin Got Wrong.  Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini (FPP) are, by their own admission, died-in the-wool atheists and committed to a fully naturalistic account of evolutionary development.  And yet, they admit that they do not know how evolution proceeds.  One thing they are sure of is that Darwin’s account of natural selection cannot be it.  Natural selection fails as an explanation on both scientific and philosophical grounds.

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For a long time I have been wanting to read Harold Hoehner’s standard work on the chronology of Christ, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ.  I finally got around to purchasing and reading the book.  Here is my summary of his arguments for dating the birth (5 BC), ministry (AD 29-33), and death of Christ (AD 33).  Text in “[]” reflects my own thoughts/research.

Date of Christ’s Birth

Jesus was born while Herod was still alive (Mk 2:1; Lk 1:5).  Herod was declared king in 40 BC byRome, and took physical control of Palenstine in 37 BC.  He reigned 34 years.

Josephus tells us there was an eclipse shortly before Herod died.  The eclipse occurred on March 12/13, 4 BC.  He also tells us the Passover was celebrated shortly after (April 11, 4 BC).  So Herod died sometime between mid-March and early April, 4 BC.  Jesus must have been born before this.  (more…)

I have long been interested in the debate over the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20, known as the long ending of Mark (LEM).  Recently, I read Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: 4 Views by Daniel Wallace, David Alan Black, Keith Elliott, Maurice Robinson, and Darrell Bock.  Each author takes a different perspective on the ending of Mark:

  • Wallace = LEM is not original.  Mark ended his gospel at 16:8. (In Bock’s closing summary of the book, he noted his agreement with this position.)
  • Elliott = LEM is not original.  Original ending has been lost.
  • Robinson = LEM is original.
  • Black = LEM is original, but was added by Mark as part of a “second edition” to round our Peter’s lectures.

Of the four, I think Wallace presented the most convincing case, and Black the least convincing.  I will summarize the evidence/arguments for and against the LEM in hopes that this will help you sort through this issue as much as it helped me.

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