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: “Discovering the Septuagint: A Graded Reader,” by Karen H. Jobes, ed.

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New Testament Greek has experienced an explosion of popularity as of late. I would have to think that the accessibility of resources (online and others) have contributed at least a little. And while there are numerous helpful contributions that have been published, physically or digitally, recently, less can be said about the Septuagint (LXX hereafter). As most students of the Bible probably know, much of the New Testament, when quoting the Old Testament, incorporated the LXX. Although it would still be recommended for purposes of exegesis to know Hebrew for the OT and Greek for the NT, having a handle on the LXX is something that many intermediate and advanced students of Greek could benefit from studying (including me).

Karen H. Jobes has made a considerable effort to contribute to this apparently vacant field of biblical studies by writing, along with several contributors, Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader. Since the OT is enormous, she obviously couldn’t write a reader on the entire Tanakh, but has selected passages ranging from the Pentateuch, to Ruth, Esther, the Psalms, Hosea, Jonah, Malachi, and Isaiah. Each chapter/section offers a really helpful, yet brief, introduction to the passages that are about to be translated. And then, like most “readers,” the author(s) parses sections of each version found within the passage being studied. Not every word is unpacked, so having a significant knowledge of Greek vocabulary would be important, but the exegetical observations are quite fruitful in my estimation. For those more used to reading the Greek New Testament, this study of the LXX really is different, but a nice change. One thing I would point out in my reading of this book is that it is not a “devotional” nor devotionally-focused, but it doesn’t claim to be either (in case some may have expected there to be more personal application). Overall, I see this text as being tremendously beneficial for a college/seminary course in the LXX as an introductory book, though I’m sure veterans in the LXX could find use in this as well.

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: “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.**

Book Review: “Acts” by Guy Prentiss Waters

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The book of Acts, for me, has double the benefits. I love both biblical studies and history, which makes Acts applicable for my understanding of the Scriptures, but it also gives supreme insights concerning how the Church was birthed and expanded. For these reasons, and others, I was more than pleased to have the chance to offer a review of Acts by Guy Prentiss Waters.

In all, there are 614 pages, which is a substantial read if you are to read it in its entirety. But I would say this is neither too short, nor too large, when comparing it to other commentaries and when considering whether or not Waters’ book provided a substantial enough treatment. Many commentaries, including those on Acts, are voluminous in their introductory material alone (e.g., purpose, authorship, date). Waters’ commentary is quite brief, totaling about 11 pages. Now, if a higher-critical introduction to Acts is what you are looking for, then this book is probably not going to be suitable. But at the same time, his concise arguments are actually quite helpful. Waters’ focus is on the text, and secondarily on application, making this volume especially helpful for pastors and expositors.

Another preliminary note of significance is that “this commentary is Reformed in its orientation” (page 9). This does not mean that a non-Reformed expositor will find this work unhelpful, far from it, I believe. And in case one is wondering about the oft-debated chapter on Pentecost (chapter 2), Waters is a cessationist. On this point, I might add, Waters makes a very good case for his position, so if this is something you are interested in looking into, I would commend Waters for his solid treatment.

One of the most beneficial aspects of this book, in my opinion, is that Waters includes not just exegesis, but also application within each portion of Scripture being studied. Some commentaries are strictly one or the other, but I think that Waters’ combination can lead one to both intellectual comprehension (which is necessary) and vibrant Christlikeness (which is also needed). For most preachers and teachers, applying exegesis to “real life” can often be a disaster, or challenging at the very least. I found this commentary to be very balanced though.

An issue I would bring up in terms of criticism concerns the usage of sources. If you just take a cursory glance of the footnotes, you will see the same 7 or 8 names reappear throughout the commentary (Stott, Johnson, Bock, Bruce, Longenecker, Marshall, and Peterson). Now, this can be a good thing: he provides some of the most helpful quotes from these other sources. But at the same time, it felt like there wasn’t a great deal of variety in terms of secondary sources. In a similar vein, I was actually expecting more historically Reformed sources. Calvin’s mentioned several times, but I had the expectation that there would have been more from him and from others.

Overall, however, I heartily recommend Waters’ commentary on Acts. It is clear and straightforward for those without a knowledge of Greek to dig deep into the text, but thoughtful and carefully written so that one is challenged. It is at a higher reading level than many modern devotionals, but a disciplined reader who may be lost in other commentaries from incessant references to the original language will certainly benefit from it. And for those who have been seminary-trained in biblical studies, I think will find this book helpful as well.

Book Review: “Church History, Volume 1: From Christ to Pre-Reformation” by Everett Ferguson

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Like a lot of other seminary/graduate school students, I have used Justo Gonzalez’s The Story of Christianity, Volumes 1 & 2 as one of the main texts for my basic church history studies. Those volumes are tremendous resources indeed, but due to the many angles one can view history in general, and church history in particular, it is both insightful and enjoyable to read from other church historians. I was floored by the recent opportunity to read Everett Ferguson’s volume on church history, thus I shall like to provide a brief book review.

One of the greatest things about Ferguson’s volume is that it reads like a “church history” and “historical theology” text. By that, I mean that Ferguson follows the narrative of church history, but at the same time takes time to follow the progression of certain doctrines. It was quite interesting to gain insights into some of the practices and beliefs of those early years of Christianity, both of orthodoxy and even heresy.

The length of the book (over 500 pages) covers the beginning of the Church in the 1st century until the “Pre-Reformation” years. If you are interested in the second volume, author John Woodbridge handles the “Pre-Reformation” to the present, both published by Zondervan and from what I’ve read, both are quite good. Due to an unexpected time of transition in my life within the last several weeks, I unfortunately had to skim most of Ferguson’s volume, but in the moments of closest examination I can say with great assurance that this was both enjoyable and scholarly. The two can be hard to manage together, but I believe Ferguson accomplishes just that.

One criticism of the book I’ve read from a couple of other reviewers was that it was somewhat difficult to read, that it didn’t seem to flow well. Every reader is different and so I would not attempt to be the comprehensive voice of all those interested in this book, but I would say that at least personally, I found the book to be comprehendible in both content and form. For those who have not touched much of church history or historical theology, perhaps this volume as the first step would be a little too much, but that of course would be based on the person.

Overall, I believe “Church History, Volume 1” by Ferguson would be an excellent addition to one’s personal library, whether he/she be an historian, theologian, pastor, missionary, student, or simply a believer in Jesus Christ. There will probably be moments where he steps on your toes a little (depending on your doctrinal background), but the material is presented in a rather objective (this is what happened) fashion rather than a persuasive (this is what you need to believe) one. There is a lot to like from this volume by Everett Ferguson, I give it a sincere recommendation.