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Why Study History: A Review

Augustine

Augustine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This review, by Dr. Nicholson, has been provided courtesy of Desert Bible Institute (www.desertbibleinstitute.com).

          Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past, by John Fea, is a useful and insightful book into how the fields of history and theology intermingle. The book, written primarily for History students, explores the ideas of how history can, and is, looked at through the lens of theology. It also does the opposite by trying to help the reader appreciate theology by looking at it as a historian does. The book gives many tools for thinking about history and theology in these ways, and it accomplishes this in an interesting and purposeful way.

Perhaps one of the most useful areas of this book for theologians comes early on when Fea gets to reader to think about the many ways people encounter the past today. It is amazing to think of all that has come before us, and how any subtle shift in those events could have radically changed our current situation. The book doesn’t get sci-fi or metaphysical at this point, but instead directs the readers’ attention to how every event in the past interacts with each other to form the world that we are currently living in. When we give ourselves time to think about this, the idea is awe-inspiring.

Too often we thrust our current values or perceptions as correct in regards to history. Fea points out to us that too often the facts that we have assumed are true can radically change when new details or information comes out. It is our responsibility, therefore, to enter the past for the purpose of making sense of people, places, and values that are different than our own. Our idea therefore that history is  fixed or stagnate is woefully misplaced.

As a Christian, one of the ideas that I found interesting in this book was issue of providence. If God does have a plan for us, then it seems likely that there must be some pattern to it in history. Fea examines many of the major works and schools of thought on this issue. This concept makes history have a whole new influence in the discussion of theology when we stop to think that if God has a master plan and that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, whohave been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28) then we should be able to discern, to a greater or lesser degree, how He has affected history.

It is clear that Fea supports a Christian perspective of history and states that historians should have “an adequate theological and biblical understanding.” He brings to light such issues as the difficulty of understanding historical figures such as Nero and Adolf Hitler without a definitive understanding of the concept of sin. On the other hand, he warns us if historians are to write ethically about what happened in history, “they should do so with caution so that preaching does not trump historical interpretation.” Additionally, he berates self-professed historians that use Sunday school proof-texting or moral platitudes as their basis for historical analysis.

In all, this was a very insightful book with a clear direction and purpose. There are spots in the book where the lengthy explanations, though useful to a student of history, could be a bit dry for the lay-reader. It should be considered; however, that this book was intended for History students and not pastors and theologians. Nonetheless, anyone taking the Bible and biblical history serious will find many useful tools in the textbook.

Trent Nicholson, Ph.D., D.Min.

Desert Bible Institute, President

Dr. Nicholson reviews academic, Christian living, and fiction books for a variety of publishers in an array of formats. He is never paid for any of his reviews. He writes these strictly as a courtesy to his students at Desert Bible Institute and for any other readers that might find his insights valuable. For more reviews or information, visit  Dr. Nicholson’s blog at drtnicholson.wordpress.com.

The book for this review was provided free of charge by Baker Academic through NetGalley.com. This book was provided without the expectation or requirement of a positive response. Thank you to both the publisher and NetGalley.com for the opportunity to both read your advanced copy and to  provide this unpaid evaluation. All opinions in this review reflect the views of the author and not DBI, NetGalley.com, or the publisher.

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Discipleshift: A Review

This review, by Dr. Nicholson, has been provided courtesy of Desert Bible Institute (www.desertbibleinstitute.com).

The book Discipleshift by Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington is a well-written, well-organized book that will prove useful not only to the individual who is examining his own life, but also to the pastor who is re-evaluating the vision for his church.

It wasn’t until reading this book that I ever thought of the breakdown of Christians into different categories of development. Of course, I realized that different people were at different levels, but I never really broke it down. That’s exactly what Discipleshift does: It breaks down these different levels showing the church leader how to address the issues of a person in any given category and how to give that person tools so that they can mature in Christ.

There are many books out there that deal with the fundamental issue of raising up a team and training them and then having those team members start their own teams. I occasionally get irritated with authors that point this out in excruciating detail but never tell you how to raise them up or train them. Books like that tell you to pick good leaders, but rarely tell you how to identify them. They tell you that, as a church vision-caster, they have conversations and meetings as they develop, but they only tell you then end result or success story. Discipleshift fills in a number of those blanks.

The book follows a natural development that helps the reader identify the maturity level of Christians by looking for specific tells or dialogue. Once a person’s place is identified the book describes the struggles that person may be facing and how to specifically equip them to better servants of Christ. It then goes through the process of building them up and sending them out to be a leader for others.

Each section of the book has within it with three helpful elements. The first is the “Ask Dr. Coleman” section. Dr. Coleman is a Senior Professor of Discipleship and Evangelism at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. He has both his Ph.D. and D.D. and authored one of the seminal evangelical texts “The Master Plan of Evangelism” used in seminaries across the country. Dr. Colman’s unique take on each of these chapters puts the information given into a real-life application that will help readers see both the connections between ideas and the immediate applicability of that information. The second element is a simple summary that allows readers to review and identify key points in the text. Lastly, are the “Stories of Effectiveness” which are motivational narratives about people who have had positive results in the areas discussed.

This book is neither clinical nor meant to pump up the reader to try yet another model for church growth. This simply is a book meant to fill in the gaps so that we, as leaders, can have some practical, applicable tools to get our congregants from newborns in Christ, craving spiritual milk, to a leaders that can equip those around them to be true disciples of Christ.

 

Trent Nicholson, Ph.D., D.Min.

Desert Bible Institute, President

 

Dr. Nicholson reviews academic, Christian living, and fiction books for a variety of publishers in an array of formats. He is never paid for any of his reviews. He writes these strictly as a courtesy to his students at Desert Bible Institute and for any other readers that might find his insights valuable. For more reviews or information, visit  Dr. Nicholson’s blog at drtnicholson.wordpress.com.

 

The book for this review was provided free of charge by Zondervan through NetGalley.com. This book was provided without the expectation or requirement of a positive response. Thank you to both the publisher and NetGalley.com for the opportunity to both read your advanced copy and to  provide this unpaid evaluation. All opinions in this review reflect the views of the author and not DBI, NetGalley.com, or the publisher.

 

 

Church History Volume1: From Christ to the Pre-Reformation A Review

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This review, by Dr. Nicholson, has been provided courtesy of Desert Bible Institute (www.desertbibleinstitute.com).

There was only one overwhelming problem with Everett Ferguson’s book Church History Volume1: From Christ to the Pre-Reformation. He waited until I was out of school to write it.

Right from the onset, I was impressed with this book. I remember, from my years back in college in the 80s, my history texts being filled with double rows of tiny type. I remember authors drowning on-and-on with circuitous sentences riddled with both archaic terms and unpronounceable jargon. Here instead is a book with beautiful graphics, relevant illustrations and photos, clearly identifiable, related materials, and an obviously coherent structure. I actually leaned over to my wife while reading this, who recently finished her advance degree in education, and she was shocked at how much thought, about the way students learn, was given to the structure of this book.

The wording of this book is as clear and well-organized as the format and the typeface. It is an unusually comfortable book to read. The author and the publisher obviously took time to proof the sheets in a way that allows the eye to flow over the page. This allows for both a faster and more relaxed reading of the text and therefore giving the student a higher retention of the material.. Additionally, the numerous maps, illustrations, and photos were place in locations in which to optimize their effectiveness. The visuals used were large, clear, and always relevant to the topic being discussed.

Ferguson writes in a clear, professional style that is both accessible and academically challenging. He uses a recursive structure from chapter-to-chapter that is useful in seeing how a given instance in history had multiple repercussions on the modern day church. The only challenge to this is that he early on develops an information base and then steadily builds on it. The problem would be if professors skipped around in the book (not all that uncommon of a practice) they would need to be careful to explain some of the terminology or references that the author is making.

Oddly enough, one of my favorite parts of this books was the shaded margins that the author uses to add relevant but disconnected material. In this section, the author puts in quotes, verses, little know facts, and other forms of enrichment material that wasn’t necessary to understand the narrative of the text but was nonetheless interesting and engaging. When there wasn’t much in the way of additional material the author would occasionally use this space to overlap pictures part in and part out of the text proper. This, in combination with the myriad other formatting issues, makes this book perfect for the visual learner. It was a great pleasure to read a book that written by an author aware enough about metacognition to format a book in a manner that facilitates better learning.

Trent Nicholson, Ph.D., D.Min.

Desert Bible Institute, President

Dr. Nicholson reviews academic, Christian living, and fiction books for a variety of publishers in an array of formats. He is never paid for any of his reviews. He writes these strictly as a courtesy to his students at Desert Bible Institute and for any other readers that might find his insights valuable. For more reviews or information, visit  Dr. Nicholson’s blog at drtnicholson.wordpress.com.

The book for this review was provided free of charge by Zondervan through NetGalley.com. This book was provided without the expectation or requirement of a positive response. Thank you to both the publisher and NetGalley.com for the opportunity to both read your advanced copy and to  provide this unpaid evaluation. All opinions in this review reflect the views of the author and not DBI, NetGalley.com, or the publisher.

I Am Not Afraid: A Review

demon

demon (Photo credit: sarsifa)

This review, by Dr. Nicholson, has been provided courtesy of Desert Bible Institute (www.desertbibleinstitute.com).

To be frank, I started I Am Not Afraid, by Robert H. Bennett, with a certain degree of dubiousness. My experience with exorcism as an American pastor and biblical scholar has been largely relegated to the sensationalized propaganda that Hollywood produces. I braced myself for an overly dramatic, highly emotional rollercoaster ride; that’s not what a got.

Regardless of your position on the topic, the reader quickly realizes that Bennett has organized his book in a logical, scholarly fashion. He includes primary source facts, examples, statistics, and interviews to support what he is saying. He uses an effective, organized pattern to present his information and is in no way dramatic or unbelievable. He explains the animistic belief system in Madagascar (as well as other countries) wherein spirits are invited (even begged) to enter a person to endow them with powers of prophecy, fortune-telling, and even healing. In that light, the plausibility of possession seems much more likely; moreover, what is disconcerting is the growing interest throughout the West in spiritualism, séances, Ouija boards, and other forms of spirit communication.

The second half of his book is perhaps the most convincing. In it Bennett talks about the church and how the Western worldview varies radically from how Christianity is understood and practiced in most other parts of the world. He specifically talks about the Gospels and how the topic of exorcism is dealt with there. Bennett takes a provocative stance in looking at this part of scripture. Was possession unique to that time period? Were Jesus and the disciplines just too unsophisticated to understand what was going on? Or perhaps, have we (in our arrogance) dismissed this element of the Bible as being either anachronistic or archaic? This is an interesting point since we see how society in general (and the Enemy specifically) like to use this tool to divide, confuse, and dilute the church.

At the end of the book, I was not soundly convinced of Bennett’s observations; however, neither was I smugly dismissive. I was left with the feeling that I want to see for myself. I want to walk those same streets he did and look into the eyes of these people and let the Spirit discern in me what the truth is. Ultimately, I think that was Bennett’s hope: to make us think, to make us question, and to make us want to know the truth.

Trent Nicholson, Ph.D., D.Min.
Desert Bible Institute, President

Dr. Nicholson reviews academic, Christian living, and fiction books for a variety of publishers in an array of formats. He is never paid for any of his reviews. He writes these strictly as a courtesy to his students at Desert Bible Institute and for any other readers that might find his insights valuable. For more reviews or information, visit Dr. Nicholson’s blog at drtnicholson.wordpress.com.

The book for this review was provided free of charge by Concordia Publishing House through NetGalley.com. This book was provided without the expectation or requirement of a positive response. Thank you to both the publisher and NetGalley.com for the opportunity to both read your advanced copy and to  provide this unpaid evaluation. All opinions in this review reflect the views of the author and not DBI, NetGalley.com, or the publisher.

Ready, Set, Grow!: A Review

Ready, Set, Grow is a thoughtful, well-structured book about how to not only to help increase the size of your church, but more importantly about how to create interconnectivity among your church leaders. The book has a number of strengths to it: its narrative style, the layout of the book, and the additional resources provided both in and after the book proper.

Too many books on leadership read either like and instruction manual on how to assemble your son’s new bicycle or like one of those endless, droning sermons that you keep checking your watch to see how much there is left. Scott Wilson largely avoids this problem by presenting information that he found useful in developing his church in a story format rather than a process paper or a moral lesson. One added benefit to this format is that it develops a sense of suspense. As readers get to know the people involved in Wilson’s 3-year journey, they want to know how the various trials and confrontations worked out. You find yourself cheering for the person that you connect with and frustrated with the one that just cannot get with the program. Another advantage to the narrative structure is that it made the reading of the text smooth. Rather than the start-and-stop feel that is common to type of book, Wilson is able to maintain coherence through his use of this alternative genre.

The structure to this book was also unique. While Wilson does maintain a narrative style, he frequently has recursive chapters where he goes back and looks at how certain events turned out or examines them from a different perspective. While this adds a strong element of clarity to his writing, it also made a few parts a little repetitive. This was not an overwhelming issue, but it could be a mild point of frustration for the reader. The upside to it was that the reader is extraordinarily clear on Wilson’s main points. Usually after one of these recursive chapters, he had a short input for one of his team members in which they offered their take on what Wilson had just talked about. After these short interludes, they offered a few reflective questions for readers to think about. These short breaks are refreshing and help refocus the reader on the topic at had while at the same time reviewing the previous couple of chapters.

Something this book has, that other less scholarly books often seem to leave out, is references to the books and materials that the team found useful. Wilson actually finishes the book not only with a list of first-rate materials but also a link to a website filled with information that could be used by a team wanting to use the model he purposes. While the book is good and offers a number of strategies and approaches that would be beneficial to any church wanting to improve their leadership, it is this list of resources and plans that will be most useful to the pastor that plans to move forward with this strategy.

Trent Nicholson, Ph.D., D.Min.

Desert Bible Institute, President

Dr. Nicholson reviews academic, Christian living, and fiction books for a variety of publishers in an array of formats. He is never paid for any of his reviews. He writes these strictly as a courtesy to his students at Desert Bible Institute and for any other readers that might find his insights valuable.

The book for this review was provided free of charge by My Healthy Church. This book was provided without the expectation or requirement of a positive response. Thank you to both the publisher for the opportunity to both read your advanced copy and to  provide this unpaid evaluation. All opinions in this review reflect the views of the author and not DBI or the publisher.

What is Biblical Theology: A Review

Bible

Bible (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

What Is Biblical Theology is an excellent book not only for an introduction into biblical theology, but also for understanding the literary elements of the Bible. A combination of James Hamilton’s writing style, his examination of symbolism, and clear application of literary devices makes this book easily accessible and immediately applicable to those people wanting to start to have a greater understanding of the Bible.

Hamilton has a smooth, natural voice to his writing that is easy to understand. While he does use some technical language, he clarifies and explains all of the terms he uses. He also provides both general and biblical examples to help the reader follow along with what he is saying. Hamilton regularly cites specific biblical examples that not only support but also clarify his points. While his ideas are extraordinarily well written, his overall organization can be a bit confusing. Readers should focus on the points that he is making in individual sections rather than trying to tie them together as chapters or (moreover) as a book as a whole. This is the only real failing of the book however, and it can be easily overcome if the reader is aware of it in advance.

It is refreshing to read a work that speaks so intelligently on symbolism and typology in the Bible. There has been a movement over the last several years to be hyper-literal in the analysis of the Bible. Indeed, some people are resistant to see symbol, metaphor, or simile in the Bible even when Christ himself states that they are such. (See Matt. 11:6, 13:31, 33, 44, 45, 47, 52, and 20:1) Hamilton does an excellent job of showing these forms of figurative language and giving the basic principles for interpreting them. He treats these topics respectfully and accurately so that Christians can get the most out of their Bibles.

Hamilton does not limit himself to just these few elements however. During the course of his book, he talks about narrative structure, plot line, conflict, theme, patterns and much more. He then ties all of these ideas together to help his readers understand and analyze a few, select areas of the Bible. These are effective practice sessions before the readers goes out and applies the principles that they have learned in earnest. Across the board, What Is Biblical Theology is a good book that would be a helpful tool for the beginning seminary student or for the person wishing to enrich their understand of the Word.

Dr. Nicholson reviews academic, Christian living, and fiction books for a variety of publishers in an array of formats. He is never paid for any of his reviews. He writes these strictly as a courtesy to his students at Desert Bible Institute and for any other readers that might find his insights valuable.

The book for this review was provided free of charge by Crossway through NetGalley.com. This book was provided without the expectation or requirement of a positive response. Thank you to both the publisher and NetGalley.com for the opportunity to both read your advanced copy and to  provide this unpaid evaluation. All opinions in this review reflect the views of the author and not DBI, NetGalley.com, or the publisher.

Own It by Michael and Hayley DeMarco: A Review

This review, by Dr. Nicholson, has been provided courtesy of Desert Bible Institute http://www.desertbibleinstitute.com.

In my reviews, I generally say very little about the narrators of an audiobook, and I have never started a review by talking about one: Own It by Michael and Hayley DiMarco is an exception to this rule however. I found myself wondering, in the first few chapters, which male reader had such an animated, basso voice and which female narrator has such an energetic while professional tone. I knew right away that I hadn’t heard either of them before or it would have stood out in my memory. Imagine my surprise when I found out it was the authors. I occasionally (okay perhaps more than occasionally) complain about how narrators don’t get the tone or nuance of the writer correct, but I understand since so many authors have such deplorable speaking voices. I was especially pleased with Hayley since too many female readers take on a sing-song quality that irritates me. I have to admit to a penchant towards avoiding female narrators when at all possible. Both authors did an outstanding job however.

The DeMarcos’ book was as refreshing as their reading of it. The format of this book is unlike anything I have come across before. The first half of the book is written in a largely persuasive format. The authors seem to presume resistance from their audience. They regularly acknowledge their audience’s logic, trials, and counter-arguments in a way that is both engaging and entertaining. This quality alone makes this a book you would likely want to share with someone who is either considering entering the Christian faith or who is starting to have doubts about their faith. My one fear was that the author would be so excessively compromising and understanding that their book would lack the meat and conviction so many people need to hear. My worries were quickly set aside.

The DeMarcos focus in on their theme of “saving faith verses imitation faith” early on. While they have a patient and respectful tone towards new or non-believers, they still pack their book with rich, valuable information. One of the most striking examples of this is how they seamlessly work scripture into the narrative. I caught myself, more than a few times, saying, “Hey that’s a Bible verse!” Rather than bombarding listeners with every proof-text imaginable, they regularly just work the biblical text into what they’re saying. They do this so well that I found myself really enjoying this technique, which surprised an old stickler like me.

Towards the middle of the book, the authors accelerate like an Italian sports-car from persuasive writing into informative writing. I didn’t even notice the transition until the last third of the book and had to go back and listen for where it changed. The assumption seems to be, if you’re still listening to the book after a hundred pages that you either already agree with their position or that you are being persuaded. This was such a refreshing approach, since so many writers are able to only pursue one of these styles of writing. Own It was a revitalizing book that was over too quickly. I look forward to being asked to review another of the DeMarcos books in the future.

Dr. Nicholson reviews academic, Christian living, and fiction books for a variety of publishers in an array of formats. He is never paid for any of his reviews. He writes these strictly as a courtesy to his students at Desert Bible Institute and for any other readers that might find his insights valuable. For more reviews or information, visit Dr. Nicholson’s blog at drtnicholson.wordpress.com.

A copy of the book was generously offered to Dr. Nicholson by christianaudio.com in exchange for this unbiased review.