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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Ask any of my former students and you will learn that my favorite Bible book is Ruth. I have studied it and taught it at least a dozen times over the years and still find new, fascinating, and even richer truths each time I look at it.

I have read numerous commentaries on Ruth, and frankly, most of the them are as shallow as much of the preaching about the book. More along the lines of commentary on a Harlequin romance (do they still print those things?), than any serious study of inspired literature.

So it has been a real treat to read Sinclair Ferguson’s Faithful God: an exposition of the book of Ruth. This little commentary is based on four talks that he gave fifteen years ago in Wales; you can find the audio of the sessions here. This commentary is far and away the best commentary on Ruth I have read.

Since the book is based on sermons, much of it is written for the ear more than the eye. And it is richly pastoral rather than simply technical. However, Ferguson masterfully undergirds his wise applications with excellent exegesis.

Unlike many other commentators and pastors, he doesn’t read western and modern romantic contrivances into the drama. He places it into its proper historic context. He also draws out the streams of theology that Ruth points to. From conversion to redemption to Christology and more, Ferguson unlocks truths on which to feast in meditation.

I have a few quibbles, mostly over his treatment of Naomi. I think he is too kind to her, seeing her ‘conversion’ at the end of chapter 1 as she returns to Bethlehem. I believe her expression of bitterness is a true reflection of her heart’s attitude. He is also a little too generous to her in chapter 3. He rightly identifies her scheme as ‘risky’, but I believe it is downright wicked.

However, Ferguson shines in his understanding of the character of Ruth and Boaz. He rightly identifies Boaz’s actions in chapter 2 as motivated by godliness rather than some pathetic attempt to impress a single woman he just saw across the field.

He also draws out the richness of the greater theology of the book. Listen to how he ends his final chapter:

The story that began for Naomi at a time when there was no king in Israel, became a day when there was no bread in Bethlehem, and then a dark night in which there were no children in her family.”

But God.

But her covenant-keeping, grace-bestowing God drew her with cords of love and unto her a Child was born, unto her a Son was given. A Son who would be the Bread of Life. A Son who would be crowned King, not with a crown of gold but a crown of thorns.

And that is why  the book of Ruth is a wonderful meditation for this Easter season.

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iron sharpening iron

Iron Sharpening Iron is an invaluable tool for pastors, Sunday School teachers, and others leading various Bible study efforts among Christians. Orlando Saer’s small manual is packed full of helpful and challenging thoughts and advice.
His description of leaders may be worth investing in this book by itself. Saer provides a perspective that I have never seen.  Too often small group Bible studies are led by those who are popular, talkative, or know the Bible well. But when thinking of the qualifications for this responsibility, says Saer  “skills are not at the top of the list. They are, in fact, way down at the bottom. … scary as it may seem, it is an all-around godliness of life…that is to mark a Christian leader.”  His emphasis on the shepherding role of a small group leader should serve as a needed deterrent to those who look at this as a one-hour-a-week box to be checked off.

Saer provides numerous helpful thoughts, particularly in areas you may not have considered before. For instance, he recommends setting a limited time frame for a small group study. It may seem wonderfully heart-warming to agree to engage in a Bible study with friends, but then life butts in, and suddenly it just seems daunting to have another weekly commitment on the schedule. How much better to agree to study a topic for, say, 6-8 weeks. Then stop and consider starting another study.

He also gives very good advice about refreshing or even winding down those studies that have run out of steam.

The book is extremely well laid out. Text boxes highlight specific details and pieces of advice. Saer’s explanations obviously arise from much personal experience and careful thought, and the book is arranged in such a way as to be a valuable resource long after it is first read.

The chapter titles show how thoroughly ISI covers this topic.

  • Ch 1 – Why small group Bible study?
  • Ch 2 – Preparing for leadership
  • Ch 3 – Managing the Group
  • Ch 4 – Mapping out the study
  • Ch 5 – Leading the meeting
  • Ch 6 – Prayer, care, and personal nurture

I highly recommend this book, especially as a companion to Dig Deeper: tools for understanding God’s word.

The following is a disclaimer required by some agency of our national government intruding once again in areas that are wholly irrelevant to their biblical and common-sense and constitutional responsibilities:

This book was received from Christian Focus Publications, Ltd. as a review copy. CFP does not require a positive review; all opinions are solely those of the reviewer.

 

 

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paradise lost

I listened to this while prepping several rooms for painting this week. I highly recommend it for this task!

Mark Twain said that a “classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” I remember studying this in high school and was intrigued way back then. I have tried to read it a few times since, but couldn’t make it very far. The audiobook is the way to go.

Each book (chapter) is introduced with a thorough explanation of what is upcoming, and this was extremely helpful in following the twists of the plot. Milton’s imaginative description of Satan’s counsels and intrigues against God, the battles in heaven, and Satan’s conniving to defeat man are all masterfully read by Anton Lesser.

Especially vivid are the scenes after Adam’s sin, as he and Eve wrestle with their guilt and blame one another. Sin is the fog we wander in. We are so used to it, we overlook it. How thought-provoking to consider what they must have gone through to fall from holiness to depravity in a moment.

Due to my unfamiliarity with the book, I was surprised by Milton’s wonderful sweep of biblical history as he has Gabriel (I think) explain to Adam both the results of his sin and God’s plan for full redemption.

Interestingly, the web has several free audiobooks of Paradise Lost. Look here and here for starters. I can’t speak to the quality of the reader or the recording, but free is free. I checked mine out of the library…or “liberry” as they say in some parts.

10 hours well spent. If you are taking a long road trip or have a lengthy hands-busy-mind-free task ahead, this is a worthy companion.

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scandalous, p.103

Do you not understand that we overcome the accuser on the ground of the blood of Christ? Nothing more, nothing less. That is how we win. It is the only way we win. This is the only ground of our acceptance before God. That is why we can never get very far from the cross without distorting something fundamental, not only in doctrine but in elementary discipleship, faithful perseverance, obedience, and spiritual warfare against the enemy of our souls. If you drift far from the cross, you are done. You are defeated. We overcome the accuser of brothers and sisters, we overcome our consciences, we overcome our bad tempers, we overcome our defeats, we overcome our lusts, we overcome our fears, we overcome our pettiness on the basis of the blood of the Lamb. We dare to approach a holy god praying in Jesus’ name, appealing to the blood of the Lamb.

DA Carson

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currently reading

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recent reads

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Dug Down Deep: Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters is an excellent small volume of theology. In this book Josh Harris, pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD, writes of his spiritual journey toward seeing the need to be grounded in doctrine, and then deals with eight key doctrines of Scripture. A final ‘how to’ chapter completes the book. At first glance this may seem to some to be superficial, but it is far from that. Harris, in fact, accomplishes the difficult task of briefly explaining the key points of critical doctrines without being trite, of being succinct and complete at the same time. He must have had a very difficult time figuring out what to leave out of each chapter.

Dug Down Deep is an excellent example of classical instruction. In each chapter Harris teaches the grammar of that particular doctrine, explains how it works and how it fits into the bigger doctrinal puzzle, and then effectively weaves in the ‘so what’, and ‘how should this be lived out.’

Dug Down is not intended to be a thorough explanation of any key doctrine. Rather than being theology-lite, it is a conversational and pastoral introduction to theology-alive. The aim of the book is best summed up by Harris’s dedication: “To Emma Grace, Joshua Quinn, and Mary Kate. Your father loves you very much. One day when you are older I hope you’ll read this book and realize that I wrote it for you. I have no  greater hope for each of you that to see you build your life on Jesus.”

An excellent book and well worth reading.

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