Saturday, November 14, 2015

Book Review - Tough Questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament

Make no mistake about it, there are some tough questions that skeptics, seekers, adversaries, and even well-intentioned Christians have about God. But we must also not make the mistake of inadvertently or intentionally thinking there are no competent answers to the tough questions. There are. Tough Questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament is one such book that attempts to answer these queries in an thorough but accessible manner. And I believe, for the most part, it does this successfully. Therefore, people ought to avail themselves of such books.

Author Walter C. Kaiser Jr. takes up “the most challenging issues that seem to cast the longest shadow on God’s character and his actions” and thereby “openly and honestly face these charges … and answer them with valid responses from the same biblical texts that are the basis for these challenges.”

The first three chapters deal mainly with God’s character. Is God merciful or wrathful, peaceful or warlike, truthful or deceptive? These chapters were the strength of the book for me. These issues cause problems for many people and I thought the author answered thoroughly and helpfully.

Chapters five, seven, eight, and ten seem to target questions more likely to arise from inside the church. These chapters deal with the questions that surround the contrast between grace and law, open theism and meticulous sovereignty, the omniscience of God, and the food restriction laws of the Old Testament. These chapters were not as appealing to me as others but that likely reflects the lessened interest I had for these topics.

Chapters four, six, and nine were in my estimation geared towards questions non-Christians would be very opinionated about and for which Christians have not armed themselves with very good answers. Of the three, Kaisers chapter on monogamy versus polygamy is significantly superior. I found this chapter very informative and helpful in addressing my own lack of knowledge on this issue. In fact, this chapter alone makes the book worth acquiring.

One critique of the book is that, at times, the author seemed to give a thorough survey of the question while only delivering a brief answer. Dealing with ten difficult topics could lead to an overly long book, but I felt some of the questions did not get as full an answer as I would have liked.

This small complaint aside, I think this book is worth getting one’s hands on particularly if the reader, or someone the reader knows, is struggling with these questions. There are solid answers available, but they need to be sought out in places such as Tough Questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Book Review – The First Days of Jesus: The Story of the Incarnation

Generally speaking prequels, at least when it comes to movies, receive mixed reviews at best. They often lack the appeal that the original movies from which they spawned command. However, The First Days of Jesus, sort of a prequel to The Final Days of Jesus, matches the accomplishments of its predecessor.

The authors, Andreas Kostenberger and Alexander Stewart, describe The First Days of Jesus as “a guidebook for reading and encountering the Gospel infancy narratives” which “will examine a section of the biblical text with an eye toward proper understanding and application.” As to these proposed aims of the book, I consider it a success.

This work did indeed help me encounter and engage with Scripture’s account of Jesus’ birth. The author’s efforts to help this reader properly understand the text were also successful. I learned new information around the narratives as well as, with the author’s help, dispel cultural myths and mistakes about the historical event. I feel I have a much better command of the passages under consideration.

Additionally, the authors endeavour to approach the biblical text in a manner that is “biblical, exegetical, historical, and devotional. The biblical-ness of their approach is evident as they connect the birth stories to both Old Testament prophecies as well as future events not yet fulfilled. They examine and exegete the texts with care and precision appropriate for the broad audience that this book would appeal to. By explaining how these texts fit into their historical context, I was helped immensely. It is easy to read these stories through 21st century lenses which obscures and confuses what really happened.

The devotional aspect of this book similarly appealed to me. By devotional, the authors mean that their intention is to “discuss the scriptures in such a way that you, the reader, will be drawn closer to God. I can avouch that the book did have this desired effect on me. A clearer, more accurate understanding of the bible will have this effect; the authors enhance the devotional character of this book through their intentional writing to this end.

Of the first book about Jesus’ last days I wrote, “This book will be valuable for all Christians as well as non-believers interested in the last days of Christ on earth. Its simplicity enhances the beauty and wonder of the story.” I can reiterate these sentiments and apply them infancy narratives covered in The First Days of Jesus. I recommend this book!