Category Archives: Recommended Review

Featured Review – Deron J. Biles Reviews Coping with Change: Ecclesiastes

Coping With Change - EcclesiastesThis volume is an updated version of Kaiser’s 1978 publication. Though Kaiser has added his own translation and updated some of the references along with the bibliography, much of the commentary remains unchanged from its earlier edition.But, while some of his illustrations and references remain dated (cf. 56), the work demonstrates a timelessness and appeal that make it a worthwhile read for pastors,teachers, and others looking for a helpful assessment of “the relationship betweenChrist and culture” (13).

The introduction covers the unity, authorship, date, and purpose of the book of Ecclesiastes. Kaiser begins by challenging the prevailing interpretation of hebel,arguing for the translation “transitoriness” instead of “vanity,” following Daniel Fredericks and others (cf. 24, 57-59). Kaiser argues that this translation better renders the Hebrew which he literally translates as “vapor, breath, mist, or smoke.”Understanding hebel to convey temporariness rather than futility removes some of the allegations of cynicism on the part of the author, is consistent with James’ description of life a vapor (James 4:13-15), and also allows for the connotation of things we are simply unable to understand (59).

In this section, the author makes a strong case for Solomonic authorship based on the language, descriptions, text, linguistic features, and ideas presented in the book (36-42). In addition, he presents a fourfold division of the book forming component parts of an overall argument that finally comes to a conclusion in 12:13-14. According to Kaiser’s arrangement, each section ends with its own conclusion,before the final resolution is given. The remaining chapters of the commentary follow Kaiser’s proposed fourfold division of the book.

Throughout the work, Kaiser demonstrates how Solomon addressed issues of his day that still resonant with contemporary readers. These issues include:wealth, work, wisdom, mystery, pleasure, death and mortality, justice, fear of theLord, worship, government, enjoyment of life as a gift from God, retribution, joy,and suffering. The positive things of life are only passing pleasures unless they are understood to be gifts from God (87). The difficulties of life must be nuanced by the fear of the Lord (46, 102); the providence of God (94); and trust in the Him (118-119), His plan for His creation (120, et al), and the confidence that even suffering has purpose, though those purposes may remain a mystery for mankind (151-52).

In the end, the ultimate test of our faith, in good times and in bad, is the decisive action of remembering our creator and reflecting on who he is and what he has done for us (180). Kaiser sees Solomon’s conclusion as explaining how tragic it would be for one to finish his or her life and never have understood the key to living.The key is that this life is temporary, but God has a larger purpose. His purpose gives meaning to our existence and hope for our eternity. This, Solomon concludes, should cause us to “Fear God and keep His commands.”

Deron J. Biles, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Southwestern Journal of Theology 57, no. 2 Spring 2015, pg. 297

Where to Buy:
Coping With Change – Ecclesiastes by Walter C. Kaiser Jr. is available at any good Christian bookstore. If you don’t have a Christian bookstore near you, you may want to consider purchasing a copy from one of the online book retailers listed below:

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Preaching?: Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching – A Review By Rhett Dodson

Preaching? Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching by Alec Motyer

In this primer, veteran Bible scholar and preacher Alec Motyer offers his insights and wisdom garnered from a lifetime of preaching. Many will know Motyer from his commentary on Isaiah and will find here a very personal work with reminiscence and reflection. For those not familiar with this influential preacher, Preaching? will provide a good introduction.

Motyer opens with a confession that when he first began to preach he really didn’t know how to go about his duty. In the first chapter, entitled “Between You and Me” he writes, “Looking back, it took me a surprisingly long time to learn that sermons are not spontaneous or extended intuitions but things to be worked at, and it took even longer to discover how to go about it” (p. 8). The following thirteen chapters then outline his way of preparation and the spiritual life that is necessary for a godly ministry.

Chapters 2 through 5 contain a philosophy of preaching, if you will. Motyer shares with the reader just what the job of preaching entails and why it is so important. Following this overview of the task, the next 5 chapters present the basics of sermon preparation, which involve examination, analysis, orientation, what Motyer calls “harvesting”, and presentation. Throughout these chapters the author not only gives instruction but offers numerous examples of what he has in mind. Drawn from a wealth of sermonic material, these illustrations provide the reader with a clear way to see the theory put into practice. The final four chapters stress application, the preacher’s own walk with God, and the necessity of preaching Christ, “the tenderest word of all”. Following the body of the book, the author has included 10 appendices. Each of these contains a series of brief devotional thoughts gathered around a central theme or passage of Scripture. Here the reader will find helpful material for his own spiritual life and perhaps kindling for a series of messages.

Preaching? offers the young preacher a warm and heartening chat from an older and wiser brother–mentor. The conversational tone makes for easy reading, and those just beginning the task of preaching will find encouragement to work hard, instruction on how to go about the work, and a challenge to maintain a close walk with God.

Rhett DodsonAbout the Reviewer:
Rhett Dodson is the pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Hudson, Ohio. He previously served as an associate pastor and seminary professor. Originally from Pickens, South Carolina, Rhett has a PhD in Old Testament. He and his wife Theresa, live in Hudson.

Be on the lookout for Rhett’s new book The Unashamed Workman: How Expositors Prepare and Preach in July 2014

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Recommended Review: Preaching? Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching

Preaching? Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching by Alec MotyerMany thanks to James Matichuk (thoughtsprayersandsongs.com) for his 5-star review of Preaching? Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching by Alec Motyer. James’ review is featured in its entirety below:

When the opportunity to review a new preaching book by Alec Motyer presented itself, I jumped at the chance.  A competent biblical scholar, Motyer has written several commentaries that I have on my shelf (both in paper format and electronic). Notably, his commentaries on Isaiah is essential to anyone who wishes to gain a greater grasp on Isaiah’s prophecy. He is  the general editor of the Old Testament for the Bible Speaks Today commentary series (published by IVP) and has contributed several volumes to the series. He is also former principal of  Trinity College, Bristol.

In Preaching? Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching, Motyer details his approach to expository preaching. He shares wisdom from years of practice with plenty of examples of how to take a text and turn it into a sermon. This is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to preaching. Motyer writes, “For preaching is a very personal and individual exercise. We can learn from each other, but must not copy each other. It won’t work! Like criminals we must each discover our own modus operandi – find out what is our own brand of murder – and, hopefully, get away with it!” (Kindle Locations 306-308).  Without heavy-handedly describing ‘the’ plan for preaching, Motyer shares his advice and insight on how to do it well. As a scholar, pastor, expositor, and preacher with decades of faithful service, he has a lot to say.

Motyer’s method is simple (as his subtitle suggests). He tells us to find a text: examine it, analyze it, orient ourselves to it, and harvest from it.  The wisdom of his approach is that it forces the preacher to sit under a text rather than use a passage to illustrate their own agenda (or what they think the church ‘needs to hear’). Literary structure, inclusio, word studies and repetitions reveal meaning in the text. Often attention to the broad contours of the passage reveals an apt word for our context. This is what Motyer suggests: study and understand the text, prayerfully submit yourself to the text and pay attention to what God is saying there. When you have done that, you can craft a sermon (harvesting). And yes, he does offer advice on presentation and delivery: what to do and not do, and what to do but not too much. He does have some good words to say about how to draw out applications from a passage.

These are all important points and I agree a wholeheartedly with most of what Motyer commends. I have minor disagreements with him in places because as Motyer observes, preaching is a highly personal endeavor.  But I have still failed to mention what I think are the most significant insights that Motyer imparts.   I appreciated Motyer’s passion for the importance of preaching. Unfolding God’s Word and declaring it to the church gathered is sacred work. Beginning in his early chapters, but throughout this volume, Motyer describes this joyful and serious task and the demands it makes of the would-be-preacher. To preach and preach well is to give attention to the Word and to the church. While Motyer devotes much of this book describing attention to the Word (where we hear the voice of God), to preach well is also to fulfill our pastoral vocation: to pray for the congregation, and be involved in their lives. As Motyer observes, “Our position as ministers in a church gives us the right to preach, but it does not give us the right to be heard”(Kindle Locations 1503-1504).  A pastor who is actively caring for the flock and prayerfully attending to their spiritual formation will preach with power.

I warmly commend this book to preachers, especially young preachers with little experience. Motyer illustrates his approach by giving several examples of how to exegete a passage and turn it into a sermon.  By opening up his process to new preachers, Motyer gives them a gift. Those who follow his method will be brought into an encounter with the Spirit in the text. May all who declare God’s Word do so with such loving attention! I give this book 5 stars.

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Recommended Review: Building on the Rock Series

Many thanks to John and Kimberly Wallace (aboldjoy.wordpress.com) for their gracious review of The Building on the Rock Series. Their review is featured in its entirety below:

Our family has its traditions, things we have developed over the past nearly 12 years of marriage and nine and half years of child rearing. Perhaps the tradition I pleasure in most is our evening schedule of books and devotions. We are easily enthralled by a good story. In fact, if one of us were not equally passionate about a consistent bedtime, stories would go on well into the night.

Occasionally a product comes along which blends story time and family devotions in a special way. One such product is The Building on the Rock Series edited by Dr. Joel R. Beeke and Diana Kleyn and published by Christian Focus Publications.

This series has five books each with 26 to 36 stories of varying length which can easily be used nightly for about five months without repetition, although, in our case the boys were delighted to have a story for morning devotions as well. In the first volume, Beeke and Kleyn explain that “All of the Christian stories contained in these books are based on true happenings,” and as such they add to the excitement of coming to the resolution of each story. Each story ends with a few devotional questions and Scripture references to look up and read with your children.

In the back of each book there are a series of indexes, such as Prayer Points, Scripture Index, and Answers to Questions.  The answers to devotional questions are helpful just in case one finds it difficult to provide answers to the child(ren). The authors describe Prayer Points as:

“…written as helps to prayer and are not to be used as prayers themselves. Reading these pointers should help the child or the family to think about issues connected with the story that need prayer in their own life, the life of their church or the world. Out of the two prayer points written for each story, one prayer point is written specifically for those who have saving faith while the other point is written in such a way that both Christians and non-believers will be brought to pray about their sinful nature and perhaps ask God for His salvation or thank Him for His gift of it.”

There are two themes in each volume so that in the course of reading these books with your children 10 major themes will be covered.

  1. How God Used A Thunderstorm – Themes: Living For God and The Value of Scripture
  2. How God Stopped The Pirates – Themes: Missionary Tales and Remarkable Conversions
  3. How God Used A Snowdrift – Themes: Honoring God and Dramatic Rescues
  4. How God Used A Drought And An Umbrella – Themes: Faithful Witnesses and Childhood Faith
  5. How God Sent A Dog To Save A Family – Themes: God’s Care and Childhood Faith

While these are the broad themes of each volume, the child is actually learning the nature of God and man. Through these stories the child finds God to be a trustworthy and consistent God full of all power and all knowledge yet merciful and gracious. The stories glorify the God of all creation who has a good and perfect plan and who is willing and able to carry out His plan in the lives of His creation. The stories show God who is swift to destroy the wicked and yet patient with sinners whom He loves. These and many more attributes of our great God are played out on the pages of The Building on the Rock Series.

While the true nature of God is being demonstrated to your children, the true nature of mankind is played out as well. Stories need not be graphic in any negative sense to convey the depth of depravity which resides in the heart of every natural born person. Therefore, from the small child in “Becky’s Prayer” who asks her mother “Mommy, am I born to die?” to “The Little Chimney Sweep’s Prayer”: “God be merciful to me a sinner,” your children learn that they too need the mercy of God in their lives.

The stories throughout this series provide a great springboard for the gospel and discipleship in the lives of children. In this series, you and your child will be confronted with the real substance of life and the fact that we have a great God.

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Recommended Review: Elizabeth Hankins Reviews The Magnificent Amazing Time Machine by Sinclair B. Ferguson

Elizabeth Hankins, who blogs at www.hankinsfamily.com recently shared an informative review of The Magnificent Amazing Time Machine: A Journey Back to the Cross by Sinclair B. Ferguson (CF4K, 2011). Elizabeth’s review is featured in its entirety below.

“The Magnificent Amazing Time Machine by Sinclair Ferguson takes its reader on a journey back to the cross and to the beginning of time, offering a brief look at several pivotal events in Redemptive history. This book’s brevity results in a work that keeps the attention of young children while communicating several important Biblical truths.

Ferguson travels back to the beginning of time and allows his readers to listen to a hypothetical conversation between the members of the Trinity, in-so-doing revealing that salvation was God’s plan from the beginning of time. He also highlights (in a way that young children can easily grasp) the various roles of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with regard to salvation. Furthermore, Ferguson teaches the reader about the role of the daily sacrifices which were offered by the Jewish High Priest.

My kids ( ages 3 to 8 ) and I enjoyed The Magnificent Amazing Time Machine. It’s a unique book for young children that presents a wide-angle view of God’s plan to “save people from the terrible results of their sin”, accomplished by the Son and apprehended through the Spirit.

*Many thanks to Christian Focus Publications for sending me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion! It is such a blessing to have Biblical resources that help us teach these deep, theological truths to our little blessings! :)”

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Recommended Review: The Gospel Coalition Reviews Dealing with Depression by Sarah Collins & Jayne Haynes

Hannah Anderson at The Gospel Coalition Reviews, offers an informative review of Dealing with Depression: Trusting God through the Dark Times by Sarah Collins and Jayne Haynes (Christian Focus, 2011). Here is an excerpt from her review, but we encourage you to read the whole thing.

If depression is controversial in the world at large, it is even more so in the church, because it is elusive and difficult to understand. It manifests itself in a complex mix of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual symptoms until it is almost impossible to separate cause from effect. What in one person may stem from guilt (either real or imagined) can in another person be purely biological or circumstantial. To complicate matters, it doesn’t play favorites—so much so that it is referred to as “the common cold of the mind” (14).

Given depression’s frequency, we shouldn’t be surprised when we or someone we love falls prey to it. But we continue to be caught off guard. That’s why the book Dealing with Depression: Trusting God through the Dark Times is so helpful. In it, Sarah Collins, a previous teacher at St. Ebbes, Oxford, and Jayne Haynes, part-time GP based in Oxford, combine their experience in Christian ministry and family medicine to provide a straightforward, accessible introduction to the causes, treatments, and spiritual implications of depression. It is intended as a primer for those either helping loved ones or suffering themselves.

And while the book (the authors use the diminutive “booklet” in the introduction) is not comprehensive, its value lies precisely in its brevity. One painful irony of depression is that in the middle of it, the last thing you are able to do is wade through thick, academic writing to find answers. So when the basics are contained in one easily accessible reference, beginning to understand depression somehow becomes manageable. Collins and Haynes do include a list of additional resources when more information is needed, as well as stories from those who have personally battled depression.

–Excerpted from Hannah Anderson’s review at The Gospel Coalition Reviews.

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