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The First Book of Samuel (New International Commentary on the Old Testament)
The First Book of Samuel (New International Commentary on the Old Testament)
by David Toshio Tsumura
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $38.73
50 used & new from $26.17

2.0 out of 5 stars Pedantic and unhelpful, September 16, 2015
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I had a lot of hopes for this commentary. But Tsumura descends into pedantic scholarly concerns and misses the human drama of the stories. So for example, in Chapter 1, the story of Hannah, he spends long paragraphs going into the etymology of various names and places, whether the shrine at Shiloh was a temporary tent-like structure or something more permanent, etc, etc. And he completely ignores the pathos and misery of Hannah, leaving entirely unremarked verses like v.10, "she was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly." In general, the entire commentary on the first chapter largely ignores the human drama of Hannah's deep unhappiness with her infertility and her rivalry with Peninnah, and the well-intentioned but shallow comfort of Elkanah favoring her. Instead, Tsumura does a deep dive into pedantic issues, etymologies (if you want three theories about Samuel's name, read away!), cultic practices, etc. I usually have a very high opinion of the NICOT series, but I'm really disappointed. Truly, for a pastor preparing sermons, this commentary is mostly a waste of money and more importantly time.


Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books
Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books
by Michael J. Kruger
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.05
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The unique criteria of judging the Word of God, December 9, 2014
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The question of the reliability of the Bible are increasingly at the forefront of modern culture's problems with Christianity. As Kruger quotes a critique - defending the authority and truth-worthiness of the Bible is the Achilles' heel of Christianity. How do we know the Bible (and specifically the New Testament) is truly from God and not just the result of a power struggle within the "Christianities" of the early centuries?

Kruger's answer is essentially to outline a theology of the canon. The Word of God cannot be judged by external criteria but is to be assessed on its own self-authenticating claims. In this sense, Kruger's argument is very much a Van-Tillian approach to the Bible (if you're familiar with apologetics). The Word of God, like God himself, must be received in faith, not evaluated from a place of non-faith. Kruger does a good job of explaining the philosophical and theological problems with any other approach. And indeed, Scripture provides it's own proof: as Jesus said, "my sheep will know my voice" (John 10:27).

I found Kruger's book to be generally well-written, very logical and well documented (almost too much; sometimes the footnotes encompass more than half the page!). There are places where he's redundant, but I took it in service to making his position clear. I wished he could have discussed more thoroughly the theology of apostleship (and here, he borrows a great deal from Ridderbos' New Testament Scriptures). He spends a bit too much time quoting and analyzing early church fathers, though I suppose because a great deal of the modern fight is about how the early church understood the idea of a NT canon.

Overall, an excellent resource. It will become increasingly valuable as our culture becomes more and more skeptical of the Bible as a reliable ancient document.


The Gospel according to Mark (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC))
The Gospel according to Mark (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC))
by James R. Edwards
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $35.77
58 used & new from $30.80

5.0 out of 5 stars Best Mark Commentary Out There, September 3, 2014
I own several Mark commentaries. This is by far the best; better even than William Lane's much respected book. Edwards has great insights into the narrative genius of Mark. I found it very helpful in preparing for sermons, particularly in drawing out the gospel thrust of the text.


Mark: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary)
Mark: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary)
by James A. Brooks
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.08
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars mediocre commentary, September 3, 2014
It's not the short length that makes this commentary bad (you can be concise and profound). But the shallowness of the comments and the lack of insight into the meaning of the text. I have numerous commentaries on Mark - this is one of the worst. The best, by far, is by James Edwards.


Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood
Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood
by Christian Smith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $26.84
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overwrought and heavy-handed, April 16, 2013
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As a work of sociology, I felt Lost in Transition was too heavy-handed in moral determinations. Of course you cannot escape moral judgment. But there should be somewhat of a scholarly detachment and objective analysis. Christian Smith makes very clear his disapproval of many of the aspects of young adult life in America. Also, I felt the book was way longer than it should have been. Often, he makes his point over and over again with quotation after quotation. It's like he fell in love with these great quotes (and they are illuminating) and couldn't bear to only cite one, so he threw them all in. It becomes tedious reading. A much briefly work would have been more pointed and impactful. This is not to say Christian Smith doesn't have important things to say about the emerging generation - it's a pretty bleak picture of narcissism and moral drift. It's just that his insights are buried in overwrought prose and laborious quotations.


Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just
Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $12.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Keller's most academic work so far, February 8, 2011
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I love Tim Keller. His preaching is so winsome and stimulating. His books are not as articulate as his preaching, but it's good that he's committing his insights on print for posterity.

Generous Justice is by far his most academic work so far (with The Reason for God also being intellectually rigorous but in a different way). Keller does a kind of biblical theology on the concept of justice and mercy, in many ways borrowing and improving on Craig Blomberg's work, Neither Poverty nor Riches.

The latter half of the book - particularly the chapter on conceptions of justice in the public sphere - felt a little incongruous with the first half. It was a fascinating look at secular formulations of justice and how Christianity interfaces (quite similar to portions of The Reason for God), but the chapter felt too short to unpack and really interact with the material.

The last chapter on shalom and how we can only do justice by being captivated by the beauty of Christ was classic Keller. It is basically like the last 10 minutes of a typical sermon of his.

I guess my complaint with the book is that it did not feel like it was tightly argued throughout. The latter chapters felt like independent articles tacked on because it was topically related. I also object to book's binding/shape. It was a good format for The Prodigal God - which is a great book to give as a gift to someone. But for this more complicated topic (and material in which Keller decidedly ups the academic rigor with impressive endnotes - notice how many Harvard profs he cites), the book's childish format was unfitting. Keller should have acknowledged the material better and done an academic printing.


Exodus.  Volume I (Historical Commentary on the Old Testament)
Exodus. Volume I (Historical Commentary on the Old Testament)
by C Houtman
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Thorough Commentary, October 6, 2009
If you type in "Exodus commentary" into Amazon's search field, you won't find this book. That's too bad because this is one of the better commentaries on Exodus. It does not have the Christocentric perspective of Peter Enns' or Philip Ryken's, but as a verse-by-verse exposition, it is probably the best (even better than Douglas Stuart's very good commentary). You need at least a familiarity with Hebrew to follow the copious notes. Where Houtman is better than anything out there is the connections he makes to other OT texts. The downside is the price. Four volumes and this one, Vol. 1, is $70. Who thought that was a good idea? Again it's too bad because the only place this book will be found is in theological libraries. It should be on the shelf of every pastor who's preaching through Exodus (as well as Ryken's and Enns'...eh, and Douglas is good too).


In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India
In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India
by Edward Luce
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.88
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Apt Title - India Rises Really In Spite of Itself, April 1, 2009
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I picked up this book on a lark. I only have a passing interest in India. I read a few pages and I was hooked. For someone with almost no knowledge of India, this book was an extremely engaging introduction to the "functioning anarchy" that is India. Edward Luce focuses on the problems of modern India, its burdensome bureaucracy, endemic corruption, outbreaks of religious conflicts, the stubborn legacy of castes, but only as the backdrop to India's remarkable rise as a global power. One of the best books I've read recently!


The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom
The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom
by Jonathan Haidt
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.76
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Atheist's Take on the Value of Religion in Happiness, December 9, 2008
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I really enjoyed Haidt's book. But it's definitely an odd book. The first half reads like a survey of the latest findings from positive psychology. Haidt also clumsily integrates quotes from various religions and philosophers, which I found sort of gimmicky.

The second half, starting with the chapter on Virtue, is Haidt's grand thesis. What started out as gimmicky - Haidt's analysis of world religions with respect to modern psychology - is finally consummated. Haidt presents evolutionary psychology's understanding of religion (it arose to assist group selection) and argues that while religion is wrong insofar as it postulates absolutes, it is integral to human happiness insofar as it militates against the free-rider problem. So Haidt, who freely admits he believes God is purely a fictional construct of the mind, finds value in theism because it motivates people to act altruistically. This is quite interesting because most atheists usually dismiss religions as unnecessary to create a civil society. Haidt seems to make the opposite case.

In the end, though, I found Haidt's advocacy of religion to be reductionistic and paternalistic. It seems to me that you can get religion's community spirit through other avenues, like nationalism. If religion's central premise, there is more to existence than the physical word, is false, then religious belief is delusional. Second, I thought Haidt's attempt to bridge the gap between science and religion was really subsuming religion under science. It's like declaring truce and then slipping a shiv in the opponent's gut while you shake hands. It's not very intellectually honest. And third, and this is somewhat tangential, I thought Haidt's understanding of all world religions as basically about the same thing was reductionistic and incorrect. For instance, Haidt argues that all religions posit the essential divinity within all people. This is the case with many Eastern religions, but this is certainly not the case with the classic monotheistic religions. In fact, in Christianity, this is the essence of what is wrong with the world, that humanity tries illegitimately to grasp the divine prerogatives.

But overall, I really enjoyed Haidt's book. His prose was very conversational and he tried to seem fair to both sides. Best of all, I found his thesis thought-provoking and engaging.


The Ancient Mediterranean World: From the Stone Age to A.D. 600
The Ancient Mediterranean World: From the Stone Age to A.D. 600
by Robin W. Winks
Edition: Paperback
Price: $42.96
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Intro of Hellenism and Roman Period, October 20, 2008
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This book covers four broad areas of ancient history: non-Greek eastern Mediterranean civilizations, the Greek world, the Roman world, and late antiquity. It's a very ambitious project, especially since this is a slim volume (some 200 odd pages). I found only the Greek and Roman sections to be sufficiently detailed to make it worth reading. The other two sections were way too superficial and brief. I mean, how do you adequately cover the Hittites in two pages or the rise of Islam in a page? Why even mention them at all? That being said, I thought for an introductory work, the Greek and Roman sections were full of interest and engaging analysis. I think the authors were smart to focus on broad themes rather than a blow by blow chronological account. Overall, I would recommend this book, but only for its Greek and Roman histories.


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