Servants Bowing Before the Word (Monod)

 Thy Word Is Still Truth  Adolphe Monod was a French preacher in the first half of the 19th century.  After serving as a pastor for some years, he became very ill and could no longer preach.  Yet even on his sick bed he would write sermons and preach sermons to the people who came to visit.  These sermons were later put into book form: Farewell to His Friends and the Church.  I was reading sections of Monod’s work recently and was impressed at how he talked about Scripture.  Here are a few helpful quotes:

“I commend to you, my dear friends, the Word of God as something for constant, in-depth study and meditation.  It will lift us up above everything else.  It will, through Jesus Christ, be the strength of our lives, the joy of our hearts, and our powerful consolation in life and in death.”

“When Scripture proclaims God’s will or the way of salvation or the great doctrines of sin and grace, and of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, what it tells us is no less true and no less certain than if heaven were opened above us at this very moment and the voice of God resounded, as it once did at Sinai, saying these same things to us.”

“Oh, how can we surround this book [the Bible] with enough attention and respect?  No doubt Scripture is not the truth that saves us, but it is the road to that truth.  It is not salvation, but it is the book that reveals our salvation, a salvation we would never be able to know without it.  Through Scripture and in proportion to our growth in understanding it, we will also become better acquainted with Jesus, the Savior of our souls.”

“The greatest of all God’s servants are those who bow before that Word.  Saint Paul, David, Luther, Calvin were jealous to humble themselves in the dust before it, and if possible they would have gone still lower.”

These quotes can be found in Thy Word Is Still Truth, chapter 35.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Faith and Work Bible (NIV)

For review purposes I recently received the “NIV Faith and Work Bible“(edited by David Kim and published by Zondervan).  It isn’t exactly a study Bible; instead, it’s a Bible that has doctrine and application articles scattered throughout.

More specifically, the theme of these articles have to do with core Christian doctrines and what it means to live them out in our daily vocations.  There are also 31 short articles at certain places in Scripture which gives readers a summary of the overall story of redemptive history.  Basically, in this Bible you’ll get articles on 1) Bible storylines, 2) Doctrine, 3) Application to the workplace.

Many of the articles in this Bible are solid and helpful, utilizing various resources such as Abraham Kuyper, Anthony Hoekema, John Murray, and many others.  There is something of a “renewing creation” emphasis, but it didn’t seem to be taken to the extremes that I’ve seen elsewhere.  I also like the real life stories of how a person in a certain vocation applied doctrine to life.  You can preview this Bible on Amazon if you want more detail.

I do like the larger font in this Bible, and it is edited nicely.  However, I’d rather have these articles in a separate book rather than scattered throughout the Old and New Testaments.  I didn’t really need a new Bible, but I did want to read these articles in this Bible, and I’m glad I own them.  But now I have one more large resource on my shelves that could have been much smaller if the articles were published separately.  I’m guessing that most people who buy this Bible already have enough Bibles, and now you have to spend more than thirty bucks to get yet another new one.

In summary, the articles and application stories in the “NIV Faith and Work Bible” are helpful, but it would have been better if they had been published as a separate book instead of mixed throughout a Bible.
(NOTE: I received this Bible as part of the Booklook blogger program, and was not compelled to write a positive review.)
Shane Lems

Logos 7: A Review

I’ve been using Logos Bible software for Bible study and sermon preparation since June 2014.  Though I wouldn’t say it has changed my life, I would say that it has seriously improved my studies.  I realize Bible study software can become a crutch that hinders thinking, since it is tempting to let the software do things the brain should do.  But used rightly, like a good tool, I’ve found Logos to be a great asset in devotional reading and serious textual study and sermon writing.

Recently the Logos team generously sent me an upgrade – from Logos 6 to Logos 7 – for review purposes.  I’ve used it quite extensively now, so I’m ready to give some thoughts on it.  To be sure, there are too many new and updated features for me to comment upon here, but you can check this list for more details.

One thing I like in Logos 7 is the fact that there are more screen layouts to choose from (Bible journaling, word studies, topic studies, and of course you can save and name your own screen layouts).  Right now since I’m preaching from Luke and Numbers, I have those two layouts saved so they’re ready to go when I am.

Logos 7 also has a Bible browser that lets you do a search using your own types of filters.  For example, I wanted to find all the instances of someone seeking God in the Bible.  The filter was “People: A Seeker of the Lord” and it gave 34 results in the NIV.  I can now further narrow that search down to a sense of the word like seeking refuge or seeking good, for two examples.

There are also some video courses included in Logos 7.  In my library I have “Preaching the Psalms” by Mark Futato, “Introducing the Gospels and Acts” by Darrell Bock, and a few others on ethics, the resurrection, and so forth.  I’ve only watched a few of the Psalms videos, but so far they are very well done.

There is also a sermon editor in Logos 7.  I’ve used it for sermon handouts (simple outlines), but in my opinion it isn’t as good as a regular word processor for writing full sermons.  I assume this editor will improve with time, just as other features in Logos have.

One very helpful addition to Logos 7 is the fact that when you do a passage/verse study using the “Passage Guide,” the search includes systematic theologies, biblical theologies, confessional documents, and more.  What is this?  Well, today I was looking up Jeremiah 29:13.  Using the Passage Guide I could find where this verse was mentioned in my systematic theology books, biblical theology books, and confessions/creeds.  Very nice!

One more feature worth mentioning is the concordance.  With this tool, you can make your own concordance of any section of Scripture.  This is great, for example, if you want to see which words Paul used the most (or the least!) in Philippians.  There are also some filters so you can find just the Greek (or English) words you’re looking for.

I could go on and list more new/updated features, but I want to keep this review relatively short.  To be honest, I only mentioned the tip of the Logos iceberg (for example, the iOS and Android Apps are very nice)!  There’s a lot more to Logos than what I mentioned (for another example, you can use it offline). Indeed, Logos 7 is a very powerful Bible study tool.  Like all tools, it can be used wrongly, but when one learns to use it rightly (which does take some time!), it is certainly a blessing for studying God’s holy word.

To be blunt, Logos isn’t cheap.  Right now if you use this link (HERE), you’ll get a discount on Logos Silver (total of $467.50) or Logos Gold (total of $935.00).  Even if you use a monthly payment plan, I realize this is quite a bit of money!  However, if you study the Word a lot, and are looking for powerful Bible software, I’m almost sure that after of using Logos for a year or so, you’ll say it is worth the price.  By the way, if your pastor doesn’t have Logos 7 and is interested, it may be worth having your church look into getting it for him.  It really is that good and I have no qualms in giving it my full recommendation.  Keep up the good work, Logos team!

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Scripture’s Clarity

A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture in a Confused World (New Studies in Biblical Theology)The perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture is a very important teaching of Scripture itself.  One helpful resource on this topic is Mark Thompson’s A Clear and Present Word.  I appreciated this paragraph:

“The clarity of Scripture can be affirmed on the basis of Scripture’s own teaching.  The biblical text can be approached with confidence by the believer who seeks to know God and his purposes.  God has been good to us in giving us the Scripture that we have.  Here, in this cradle as Luther would put it, you will find the Christ.  What is more, God has given us resources to help us as we read: his Spirit who has never abandoned his word, the fuller context of the whole Bible, and a fellowship of readers not only in our own time but stretching back to the time when these words were first written.  The struggle between light and darkness remains the context of all our reading of Scripture in the last days.  Yet the confidence of the apostle Peter continues to be echoed at the beginning of this third millennium: ‘we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts’ (2 Pet. 1:19).

Mark Thompson, p. 110.

Shane Lems

The NIV Zondervan Study Bible (A Review)

There are too many study Bibles.  If I’m not mistaken, there are at least fifteen conservative evangelical study Bibles on the market, maybe even twenty plus.  While this fact does make me somewhat cynical, I do think there is a place for a good study Bible on the shelf.  Since I have quite a few commentaries, I usually don’t buy study Bibles; I never did get the ESV study Bible.  However, when a review copy of the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible came in the mail, I was glad to have it after looking through it for just a few minutes.

The general editor of this study Bible is D. A. Carson; associate editors include Richard Hess, T. D. Alexander, Douglas Moo, and Andrew Naselli.  In the preface, Carson noted several things about this study Bible: 1) the contributors acknowledge Scripture to be God’s authoritative Word, 2) it is based on the best-selling and most widely circulated translation, the NIV, a “smooth and faithful translation,” 3) it aims to provide answers to questions about Scripture, 4) it provides a wealth of charts, maps, photos, illustrations, and essays, and 5) it emphasizes biblical theology – it highlights the “way various themes develop within the Bible across time.”

Various evangelical Baptist and Reformed scholars contributed the study notes: Bruce Waltke, Tremper Longman, Iain Duguid, Craig Blomberg, V. Philips Long, John Currid, (and others) along with Carson and the above named associate editors.  There are also 28 articles at the end of the book that cover biblical-theological themes like law, temple, wisdom, holiness, mission, justice, etc.  Contributors to these articles, along with the editors and others, include Andreas Kostenberger, Moises Silva, Henri Blocher, and James Hamilton Jr.

Including the maps, articles, concordance, and charts, it is 2,880 pages long(!).  The study notes at the bottom of each page cover (on average) about 35-40% of the page (you can see page previews online).  Like most other study Bibles, there are helpful tables and charts at various places.  I especially liked the historical/archaeological pictures and also the charts on the OT festivals, the accusations leveled against Jesus, and Jesus’ trials (etc.).  The study Bible also comes with a code for free online access and free access on the Olive Tree app (iOS and Android).  These digital versions of this study Bible are nice; I did get the chance to download and explore them.

One downside to this Bible is that it is massive: it weighs around 3.5 pounds and is nearly 3 inches thick.  It’s almost too big to carry around and use with ease!  I would rather have the extra essays and such in a separate companion volume than all packed into one.  The font is also a bit small in my opinion; though I realize larger font would mean an even bigger Bible.

Another comment I have is that the biblical-theological emphasis of this study Bible is found mostly in the articles/essays at the end of the Bible.  Yes, the comments/notes do point to Jesus when applicable, but that aspect didn’t stick out for me as I read through many notes.

Finally, there is the fact that this is an NIV study Bible.  The translation history of the NIV is somewhat cloudy in the last ten years or so; there’s been some controversy over the way the NIV has leaned recently.  This NIV is, as far as I can tell, the 2011 version.  I’m not an NIV expert, but it seems to me like this version has made a step back towards the 1984 NIV.  I compared quite a few verses, and it is quite similar to the 1984 edition.  The ESV is fine, but it’s not perfect, so I try to use several translations in my studies, including the NIV, NASB, NLT, and the HCSB.  Actually, this NIV Zondervan Study Bible should give the ESV study Bible a run for its money!

In a word, this is a good study Bible that I’m glad to own.  It’s probably very similar to the ESV study Bible and other ones like it, but it does deserve to be put on the list of solid evangelical study Bibles.

The NIV Zondervan Study Bible; D. A Carson, general editor (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015).

NOTE: I received this Bible from the BookLook blogging program, and was not compelled to write a positive review.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

The Bible Was My Lifeline

I could not set this book down: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi.  It’s an autobiography of a Pakistani-American man’s leaving Islam to follow Jesus.  Qureshi’s journey was (is!) a long, hard, thought-filled, prayer-filled, journey into the Christian family.  The book is well written, respectful of Muslims, a testimony to Jesus the Son of God, and it strengthened my faith in the truths of Scripture.

There are many excellent parts of this book; here’s one section that has stuck with me.  He wrote it after several years of agonizing over the teaching of Islam and the teaching of Christianity.  His past foundation was crumbling, his world was turning upside down, so he put the Bible and the Quran next to each other.  He first opened the Quran:

“[I was] frantically flipping from page to page, hoping for something, anything that would comfort me.  There was nothing there for me.  It depicted a god of conditional concern, one who would not love me if I did not perform to my utmost in pleasing him, one who seemed to take joy in sending his enemies into the hellfire.  It did not speak to the broken nature of man, let alone directly to the broken man in need of God’s love.  It was a book of laws, written for the seventh century.”

“Looking for a living word, I put the Quran down and picked up the Bible.  I had never read the Bible for personal guidance before [Note: he had read parts of it before this time].  I did not even know where to start.  I figured the New Testament would be a good place, so I opened to the beginning of Matthew.  Within minutes, I found these words: ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’”

“The words were like a current sent through my dead heart, electrifying it once more.  This is what I was looking for.  It was as if God had written these words in the Bible two thousand years prior specifically with me in mind.  It was almost too incredible to believe.  To a man who had seen the world only through Muslim eyes, the message was overwhelming.  ‘I am blessed for mourning?  Why? How?  I am imperfect.  I do not perform to His standard.  Why would he bless me?  And for mourning, no less.  Why?’”

“I continued reading [the Beatitudes] fervently. …I hunger and thirst for righteousness, I do, but I can never attain it.  God will bless me anyway?  Who is this God who loves me so much, even in my failures?  Tears flowed from my eyes once more, but now they were tears of joy.  I knew that what I held in my hands was life itself.  This was truly God’s word, and it was as if I was meeting Him for the first time. …I could not put the Bible down.  I literally could not. …The Bible was my lifeline” (p. 276-7).

Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014).

shane lems

The Persuasive Language of Bible Critics

Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World This is one outstanding book: Truth Matters by A. Kostenberger, D. Bock, and J. Chatraw.  It is basically an explanation of the current attacks on Scripture (by professors and authors such as Bart Ehrman) and a reasonable, biblical answer to these attacks.  While it is aimed at college students, I’m sure all Christians can benefit from this book.

Speaking of the current attacks on Scripture, in Truth Matters the authors point out some ways that the critics – like some professors in religious departments – often gain an ear and open the door for skepticism of Scripture.  Here are a few ways critics throw doubt on the validity and canonicity of Scripture:

“First, they speak your language.  Ehrman, for example, comes at you with a story – very compelling – of how he gravitated toward Christian belief as a needy teenager, not far distant  from the age and life experience of his college students.  …What the church had done temporarily to satisfy his adolescent insecurities, he eventually found satisfied by academia and intellectual pursuits, until suddenly – finally – life began to make a lot more sense.  Of course the Bible is a man-made document, he reasoned.  Of course God can’t be who the Bible claims him to be.  Of course a man can’t come back from the dead….  [Ehrman gives a] moving, personal story line, and the whole mood of the room changes.  Guards and defenses come down.  Now people are listening.  Sympathizing.  Laughing.  …[However, we must remember] an appealing narrative does not negate the role of truth as being the ultimate arbiter between competing lines of thought.”

“Second, they know you’ve probably never contemplated these ideas before.  The average person hasn’t invested a lot of time dwelling on the Bible’s origins or scouring the history pages of Christianity.  They only (or mainly) know what their personal experiences with God have been like…. [The agnostic professor] becomes the witty tour guide, showing the students around some fields of subject matter loaded with new sights and sounds and far more fascinating on the inside than they typically appear from the outside.  The problem is that the tour guide… is in the enviable position of being able to choose the places you visit and what he wants to highlight about each one.  As a result his rhetoric and interpretations of religious material all too often conceal a lot more than they reveal.  And few if any in the classroom know enough to know the difference.  For example, one of the things you really notice in Ehrman’s writings – if you’re looking carefully – is that he rarely acknowledges counterarguments to his own positions.  His treatments of issues are usually far more one-sided than the real discussion that’s taking place out here in the broader arena of religious scholarship.”

“Third, they comfort and confirm an air of disbelief.  We live in an age when about the only belief you’ll be frowned upon for having is one that doesn’t allow for complete diversity, in which everyone’s chosen ways lead to ultimate truth.  Their truth. …[Today,] tolerance swallows up truth.  So when your professor injects his or her brand of skeptical sarcasm into the discussion, they are speaking to a friendly court.  They sound reasonable, especially now that you’re out on your own, out from under your parents’ eye and expectations.  [These professors] will want you to know that it is OK to doubt your faith, and they’ll say things like “everybody agrees with this view that I’m teaching.”  The fact is, plenty of credible scholars have looked at the same arguments your professor may be making and arrived at far different conclusions. You are not as alone as some would have you think.”

“Finally, they reinforce the view that faith is at odds with reason.  Much of their appeal depends on the common misunderstanding of what faith means – a mere personal preference, neither expecting nor requiring it to be grounded in reason, logic, and historical realities.  Faith [they say] is just something you accept.  It doesn’t need to be burdened with making rational sense.  It just…is, because I believe it to be.  Real faith, however, does not need to be blind.  Believing in Christ and accepting the Bible as his true Word is not automatic anti-intellectualism.  The Bible doesn’t ask us to adopt a BLIND faith but a REASONED faith – a faith that can honestly ask the hard questions and then go out in search of real, measurable, credible answers.”

Those are helpful points!  Sometimes skeptics can really be convincing when they try to make the case that the Bible is unreliable and full of contradictions.  But their arguments aren’t perfect; in fact, quite often they are very poor arguments.  I highly recommend this book for those of you wrestling with these things: Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World.

(Note: the above paragraphs were edited versions of a longer discussion found in chapter 1 of Truth Matters.)

shane lems