March 22, 2013

Jim Gavin, Middle Men

In this outstanding collection of short stories, Jim Gavin brings to life an array of men (and a few supporting women as well) who are struggling to find their way through life. The central characters range from a high-school basketball player to a plumbing-products representative on the verge of retirement, though his main focus is on men in their late twenties and early thirties. In we are given a window in to the lives of each, their hopes and dreams, as well their struggles. The composite picture that emerges presents plenty of futility and listlessness, though it isn't completely without hope. These stories provide an insightful portrait of life that is coming to typify a generation, though it certainly isn't restricted to today's twenties and thirties. Gavin also wrestles with the question of role models and influences. I think the question of what it means to be a man in today's Western culture is an essential one. I too have lived the listlessness of a uncertain future and no clear plan, and these characters certainly ring true to that. But this is an even bigger issue for me as a father to three young boys. So savor these stories, and wrestle with these questions. We must.

Thanks to the publisher and the Amazon Vine program for the review copy.

March 20, 2013

Richard Schultz, Out of Context

Richard Schultz, a professor of OT at Wheaton College, takes readers on a journey of learning. The terrain is biblical interpretation. This book, intended for the general reader, is full of very sound advice in how to approach the biblical text. Key to his argument is that misinterpretation is all to common in the church today. After a brief by entertaining introduction based on the Jabez prayer phenomenon, he helps readers appreciate why misinterpretation is dangerous. He then gives a very well-rounded set of instructions for how to pursue a sound interpretation of the text that appreciates its cultural and biblical context, harnessing a broad array of hermeneutical tools in a helpful and friendly way. I think this book does a great service in both laying bare the misuse of Scripture that is too often let pass in the church and in popular Christian literature and at the same time making a case that anyone can handle the Bible in a responsible manner. Schultz's work can help give confidence (and also some important caution) to anyone who desires to treat the Bible with the respect it deserves. This is an important way we can all show the true value of God's Word.

In the interest of full disclosure, I work for the publisher of this book, though this was not one of my projects (though I do look forward to working with Dr. Schultz on a Proverbs commentary in the future). All opinions are expressly my own.

Timothy Keller, Galatians for You

In this mini-commentary, well-known pastor Timothy Keller seeks to illuminate the text of Galatians in a way that any Christian can better understand the message in the text and be challenged to know God more deeply. Galatians is divided into thirteen units, and each unit is then subdivided into two parts. For each part, Keller discusses the major themes in the text, always paying quite close attention to what the text actually says without necessarily commenting on every phrase or verse. Each section concludes with a few questions for reflection. Keller is a clear writer, and this book showcases that well. He is also a perceptive reader of Scripture, and it is here that this book shines. It is not a commentary, and certainly doesn't engage every important academic debate, but at the same time Keller is able to bring to bear a lot of learning about the text in an unassuming way.

The book is meant for three different purposes. First, it is meant for reading, and for that purpose, it is quite adequate as a guide to understanding Galatians better. Second, it is meant for study and devotions, and the division into similarly sized units and questions for reflection can help take learning deeper. Third, it is meant as a leadership resource, to help group leaders prepare studies or pastors prepare sermons. I think it will work fine in all three contexts. Because there are only three reflection questions at the end of each unit, study leaders will have to plan on either using it alongside another study guide or writing a number of their own questions to supplement and help group members get into the text and cover some of the themes, tough the questions he does have are often useful for digesting the message and importance of Galatians and how it can be applied. Keller deftly balances commentary with perceptive interpretation and application in a way that makes this a useful guide for people at all levels of familiarity with Scripture. I will certainly draw on it when I prepare lessons on Galatians.

Thanks to the publisher and Cross-Focused Reviews for the review copy.