Book Review: “Reformation Women” by Rebecca VanDoodewaard

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A large majority of the most famous Protestant reformers are, indeed, men. There are many reasons for this, but it would likewise be a mistake to think that the Protestant Reformation was a movement instigated and propagated solely by men. Rebecca VanDoodewaard’s Reformation Women: Sixteenth-Century Figures Who Shaped Christianity’s Rebirth takes on the task of better understanding the role of women in the Reformation. While numerous women could possibly be selected, VanDoodewaard narrows down her research to twelve in particular. Some were fairly well-known, but others were virtually unheard of (to me, at least). At about 115 pages, this was a remarkably quick read. I finished more than half of it during down time on a weeklong missions trip, so it’s certainly not an intimidating size. For those interested in learning about women of the Reformation, who likewise want to be exhorted to Christian godliness, will find this concise book to be delightful.

By far, my favorite chapter was number one, which covered the life of Anna Reinhard. It is refreshing to hear of the personal details of what life was like for Anna and family in sixteenth century Switzerland, as the entire family pressed on to win people over to the Reformation. Many of VanDoodewaard’s citations are drawn from primary sources, though occasional secondary texts are referred to or quoted. VanDoodewaard makes it manifestly clear in her introductory remarks that she is not trying to follow the patterns of modern feminist historians, though she argues there is some good to be found in this recent historiographical movement. One thing that is probably most necessary to know from a historiographical perspective is the underlying motivation that VanDoodewaard seems to have in Reformation Women, namely, that this book is not merely to revise historiographical viewpoints of how women lived during the Reformation (in fact, that generally was not the case). And for that, professional historians might be a little disappointed. More so, this book could be lumped together in the “Christian Living” genre, since a great deal of emphasis is placed on finding these women  to be inspiring role models for Christian women today, and men as well. Furthermore, it is especially geared towards women in the “Reformed” theological camp. That is not to say that non-Reformed readers will find this book valueless, but there are noticeable criticisms of Catholics and Anabaptists that just did not seem to be as equally represented among those in the Reformed traditions. Overall, though, there is much to gain from reading Reformation Women, both for historical enrichment and spiritual encouragement.

***Disclaimer: Special thanks to Cross Focused Reviews for providing a free review copy. All opinions were my own.***

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Book Review: “A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament” by Charles Lee Irons

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Earlier this year, in the summer, Kregel published a new book by Charles Lee Irons, “A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament.” It may seem like a daunting task to come up with a syntax guide for literally every book of the New Testament, moving in canonical order, verse-by-verse, but that is what Irons has attempted. Some may question whether or not such a resource would even be valuable, considering the amount of editing one would have to do in order to complete this project in about 600 pages. However, I do believe that this book can be quite beneficial for students of the Greek New Testament.

While exegetical commentaries would likely cover much of the available information on syntax, not everyone is interested (or able) in buying expensive works for meticulous New Testament research. Others, perhaps a majority of Greek New Testament readers, are reading it for preaching and teaching. I see Irons’s book as a useful tool for such readers, who would like a handy guide for reading not the vocabulary, or data on parsing, but syntactical information. Yes, it is pretty advanced material, but it’s certainly comprehensible for students that have studied Greek for a couple of semesters (and have retained their Greek). Overall, in my time reading through “A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament,” I have found some very helpful syntactical insights that I would likely have missed simply using Greek tools found in traditional Bible software and textbooks.

***I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions were my own.***

Book Review: “Going Deeper With New Testament Greek” by Kostenberger, Merkle, and Plummer

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New Testament Greek has become more accessible than ever in the last several years, thanks to great digital and online resources, but also to some very good New Testament/Greek scholars. B&H Academic is about to release an intermediate textbook that, I think, might just become a new standard. Kostenberger, Merkle, and Plummer set out to make an intermediate Greek grammar that was more than a reference volume, and generally succeeded. While the main part of each chapter does actually seem like a normal reference work to me, this resource also includes some special features. The most significant inclusion for me was the Greek reader at the conclusion of each chapter. I appeal to the wisdom of many Greek teachers that one of the most effective ways to learn Koine Greek is to simply read the New Testament in the original language. However, on most points within the text that teaches the grammar, the authors cite plenty of biblical examples. All three professors teach at Baptist seminaries, so you may encounter some Baptistic interpretations, but I didn’t notice anything major in the portions I was able to read (of course, I am a Baptist as well…). Overall, this book was tailored to be a college/seminary textbook, which is why they’ve written a standard semester worth of 15 chapters (1 per week), but there are a lot of other online resources provided as well like quizzes and Power Points. It is roughly 500 pages too, so it will take some time to work through, but would be time well spent.

Book Review: “The Baptist Story:From English Sect to Global Movement” by Chute, Finn, & Haykin

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I first came to love church history while in college, and a major reason why had to do with my Baptist History textbook, Leon McBeth’s The Baptist Heritage. This thick, old-looking, well-researched book triggered within my not only a love for church history, however, but of Baptist history in particular. So when I heard about the recently published book, The Baptist Story, written by Anthony Chute, Nathan Finn, and Michael A.G. Haykin, I was intrigued to say the least. I still have a sentimental attachment to McBeth’s wonderful textbook, but several years have passed since then, and as historians know, there is always more to learn about ever topic. Overall, I believe that well-studied Baptist historians and people completely new to Baptist history alike will find The Baptist Story to be well worth the read.

One thing is quickly noticeable about The Baptist Story: it is much thinner than The Baptist Heritage. At just under 350 pages of text it will still take some time to get through, but it is not as intimidating as McBeth’s text. The style of the writing in The Baptist Story is very readable, but also thoughtfully examined. Throughout the pages, the book is filled with pictures, helping readers put faces to names. One somewhat disappointing aspect about the book is the lack of precision in citations. There are not any footnotes/endnotes, and while the endings of each chapter has a “For Further Study” suggested bibliography, I prefer having clearer documentation. One thing I do really like, however, is the fact that the authors (or perhaps editor) chose to insert primary source quotations/documents within text-boxes on many pages. This really helps the authors buttress their interpretations.

The Baptist Story is especially informative on matters that are more recent–things that occurred within the last five decades or so. While I think McBeth may have been a little stronger on the earlier stages of Baptist history–from English origins to Baptists in America–the authors clearly took a lot of time and attention to Baptist history since World War II. For college and seminaries professors looking to update their textbooks or bibliographies, I would highly recommend The Baptist Story. And for those who are looking for a solid Baptist history text for personal enrichment, this is a must-have book.

 

***Special thanks to B&H Academic for providing a copy in exchange for a review. All opinions were my own.***

Book Review: “A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament” by Philip Wesley Comfort

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Biblical scholars and general students of the Bible typically have at least a few commentaries on a particular book of the Scriptures. These are wonderful tools for learning, indeed. However, Philip Wesley Comfort’s recently published work, A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament, is a different type of commentary altogether. As the name indicates, Comfort’s book comments on the available manuscripts available to us. Specifically, this is a resource for helping students of the New Testament do “lower criticism,” and a good one at that.

This is a fairly unique work, though it is not quite accessible for the average “layperson” who has no or little Greek proficiency. The first 126 pages provide readers with a significant amount of data on the nearly 6,000 manuscripts that are available. Comfort then proceeds in going book-by-book of the New Testament, and even looking at individual verses, to properly evaluate the textual information for Scripture. In my opinion, while the book-by-book section is helpful, the most valuable part of Comfort’s text is his section on the manuscripts themselves. While exegetical commentaries go into a great depth pertaining to the verse-by-vese textual issues, I don’t really know of a commentary on a particular book of the Bible that is as comprehensive on analyzing the actual manuscripts.

One surprising feature for me was that, despite there being plenty of great textual data, the physical book itself is quite concise. So, if space is a concern for a work that is basically a reference book, then A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament would be a good fit (literally). I would say that the ideal audience for this book would be biblical scholars, particularly New Testament specialists. While I don’t think that it is necessarily a “must have” book for pastors, it certainly would be a valuable resource, particularly if the pastor has at least a working proficiency of Greek.

Book Review: “Gaining By Losing” by J.D. Greear

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J.D. Greear’s new book unpacks the interesting–and biblical–paradox of how churches “gain” by “losing.” To be specific, the text is all about a ministry strategy of “sending” members in order to fulfill the Great Commission. Anyone who has read Greear’s writings or heard his sermons knows that he is a wonderful communicator, and gets his message across with humor and simplicity, and Gaining By Losing is no different. Overall, I found it to be a solid book on how churches can impact the world by being “sending” churches, though a point of critique will also be considered.

One strength of this book is that Greear has a knack for being able to provide vivid and memorable illustrations. His jokes are hilarious, but the more serious illustrations are absolutely sobering. I would find it hard to imagine that a reader would consider Gaining By Losing to be uninteresting. In fact, one point of critique is that the personal illustrations may have been a bit overdone. In a sense, this book is partly a memoir on his own church’s experiences. But Greear also attempts to draw from biblical sources to argue his points, and for the most part, does a good job at this. Personally, I would have liked more dedication to biblical theology and exegesis, but maybe that’s just me.

The fact of the matter, however, is that churches in America do not seem to be very good these days at understanding their mission. One point in particular that I was overwhelming grateful for was his expose, so to speak, on “calling.” Most American Christians probably believe that pastors and missionaries are “called” by God to “full-time Christian ministry,” while everyone else is basically left out to do their thing. I absolutely love how Greear says that when he became a pastor, he “left the ministry.” In other words, the people on the ground, those who are employed in secular fields, are “in the ministry.” Literally everything that I have wanted to say on the idea of “calling” is encapsulated in chapter 4. As someone who has moved away from a pastoring career (at least for now) to go into the academic world, I am highly convinced that my work in education is a true, no less spiritual calling than pastoring. And so I am thankful that Greear wrote this chapter, in particular, as it applied directly to my own life rather powerfully.

There is much more that could be said about some of the positive attributes of Greear’s book. But I would also note a point of critique here. While most of what Greear said is great, I’m not sure how “original” this book is, when compared to the other recent church ministry books that have been written. Chapter 3’s motivational message towards missions is good, but certainly has been said before. His perspective on “missional” or “attractional” churches is also fairly common. I thought chapter 10, “Racial Reconciliation as a Fruit of the Sending Culture,” was maybe one of the more fresh contributions–and well needed! Yet, overall, I would be much more likely to recommend to a Christian who is interested in contemporary church ministry something like Tim Keller’s Center Church. At the same time, if someone was looking for a concise, easy-to-read, thought-provoking book on how churches can impact the world for Christ’s sake, then Greear’s Gaining By Losing would certainly be a fine choice.

Book Review: “Ulrich Zwingli” by William Boekestein

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The names “Calvin” and “Luther” are surely familiar to anyone who has studied at least a little bit of church history. They were the major figures of what is now called the Protestant Reformation. However, there is more to the Reformation than Calvin and Luther. One such figure who has been overshadowed, yet is tremendously important, is Ulrich Zwingli of Switzerland. Now, for those who have taken a survey course on church history, or have studied a small portion of church history, Ulrich Zwingli is probably at least a little familiar. For me, personally, I have read a decent amount of material pertaining to Zwingli, but mostly from the perspective of observing what he did to and for the Anabaptists of Switzerland. When I was introduced to the opportunity of reading a full biography on Zwingli (“bitesized”), I was thrilled! And for good reason, Boekestein’s book is excellent.

This biography is composed of about 150 pages of text, and the pages are small, making this a brief introduction to Zwingli’s life. However, even with its small size, it packs a significant punch. The main stages of his life are covered, from his early life, to being a priest, to his clashes with the Catholic Church, to his disputes with the Anabaptists and Luther, and finally to his death and lasting influence. Boekestein’s approach is both sympathetic and evaluative, offering words of praise when such is due, and providing critical comments likewise. It was simple enough for a younger reader to understand, and not overbearing for even the busy adult. While other biographies about Zwingli exist, and would potentially add more detail, I think this is the perfect book for someone who is interested in Zwingli, who may not pursue being a Zwinglian scholar. I would highly recommend William Boekestein’s biography!

**All opinions were my own, much thanks to Cross Focused Reviews for providing a review copy.**