Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Book Review: The Good Portion: Scripture

"…happiness cannot be fully discovered as long as we remain ignorant of God's Word" (95).

Do you long to hear from God and to know Him more intimately? Do you spend time in the Bible daily, share it with others, and turn to it first in the face of trials, suffering, and weakness? Do you find yourself longing for and delighting in the Word each day? Are the Words of God in the Bible more precious to you than your most valuable possession and sweeter to you than the sweetest treat? How and when we approach the Bible betrays what we believe about the Bible

Christian Focus Publications has begun a promising ten-book series called The Good Portion. In in its first volume, Scripture, Keri Folmar shows us where and how we can hear God most clearly. Her ultimate goal is to "shed light on the treasure and the sweetness of the sacred Scriptures" (pg. 17). She begins by addressing the nature of the Scriptures as God's revelation of Himself and then, progresses to the characteristics of the Bible that naturally flow as a result of its Author. She shows us that the Bible is, above all, about a relationship with the living God. Utilizing insightful analogies, she demonstrates the practical implications of what we  believe about Scripture, including how those beliefs influence our handling of the Word.

At first glance, Folmar asks questions that may appear to have easy answers:

  • Can we know God?
  • How can we know God?
  • Is the Bible really God's Word?
  • Has the Bible been corrupted?
  • Can we trust the Bible? (and what difference does it make)?
  • Can we understand what God has to say?
  • Is the Bible really necessary to know God?
  • Is the Bible enough for us today?

However, Folmar reveals that there is much more to these questions than initially meets the eye. Most importantly, she encourages her readers to keep their eyes on Jesus Christ as the central character of the Bible. Folmar rightly recognizes that we need the help of the Holy Spirit to understand Scripture and yet, reminds her readers that this help does not negate the need for hard work (111). Affirming that "there is only one right interpretation" to the text before us, Folmar helpfully shares "several overarching principles or guidelines for interpreting the Bible" (111-112). Additionally, she illustrates the importance, role, and limitations of historical and cultural context for determining meaning. If we fail to answer these questions in accordance with the Scriptures, we will believe the wrong things and live in ways that do not honor God.

Keri Folmar’s bibliography includes some of the best works on the Scriptures including John Frame's Doctrine of the Word of God, Michael Kruger's Canon Revisited, and Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology. Throughout The Good Portion: Scripture, Folmar seeks to make biblically faithful, Scripture saturated, sound doctrine accessible to a wider audience. She avoids getting bogged down by over-technical vocabulary without diluting the truth. At the close of each chapter, Folmar includes a chapter summary and numerous questions covering both content and practical application making this book a good option for group or individual study. Although there were a couple of places where I would have liked to see more depth, Folmar intentionally weeds out excessive details to keep this book manageable and ultimately, provides an excellent introduction to the subject.

In a day when women are longing to hear a word from God, Keri Folmar shows us that we need look no further than the Book that He has already graciously given us. All we need to do is take it up and read it well. I pray that this will open many women's eyes to the wonder of the Word and its Author and whet their appetites to study with vigilance seeking to rightly divide the Word of truth!! May we derive sustenance from the Scriptures that enables us to bear fruit (128).

"Believer! There is enough in the Bible for you to live upon forever. If you should number the years of Methuselah, there would be no need for a fresh revelation [Methuselah lived 689 years!]; if you should live until Christ should return to the earth, there would be no necessity for the addition of a single word; if you should go down as deep as Jonah, or even descend as David said he did, into the depths of hell, still there would be enough in the Bible to comfort you without a supplementary sentence" (Spurgeon as quoted by Folmar, 165).

*Many thanks to Christian Focus Publications for sending me a complimentary copy of The Good Portion: Scripture in exchange for my honest opinion!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Book Review: Irenaeus of Lyon

Teaching faithfully, traveling frequently, and writing fervently, the Apostle Paul was one man who took Jesus Christ's command to make disciples seriously. In his first letter to his disciple, Timothy, he closed with these endearing, fatherly words of exhortation:

"O Timothy, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called 'knowledge,' for by professing it some have swerved from the faith" (First Timothy 6:20).

Paul repeats his exhortation and continues this thread in a second letter to Timothy, even going so far as to mention, by name, specific people who had turned away from the glorious, saving truth of the Gospel. Paul's warnings to Timothy were not unique; he also warned many others to whom he wrote. Sadly, false teachers presented a frequent challenge in the early days of the church. As a result, Paul instructs Timothy, saying:
"...and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:2, ESV).
Paul was not the only apostle with concerns for the purity of Jesus Christ's teaching. The Bible reveals that Peter, John, and others also warned against false teaching and sought to equip faithful men and women who would continue to preserve the faith and defend it when it was attacked. Where the Bible leaves off, church tradition informs us of those who imitated the pattern such as John who discipled Polycarp of Lyon who went on to disciple Irenaeus and so on up to our present day.

Thankfully, in our generation, Simonetta Carr has taken up the baton of faithfully teaching the Gospel and of sharing the accounts of those throughout history who have done likewise. The latest title in her "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" series focuses on Irenaeus of Lyons but also features faithful saints such as Polycarp, Justin the Martyr, Blandina, and Pothinus who stood firm on the truths of the Gospel, even in the face of persecution. Each of these believers sought to faithfully serve God in their generation, guarded the good deposit that was entrusted to them, and taught others to do the same. Ms. Carr shows us that we have much to learn from those who have gone before us!

Church history is never dull when Simonetta Carr takes up her pen. She seeks to write about aspects of her character's lives that will be interesting and relatable to her audience. In Irenaeus of Lyons, she relays aspects of his education, travels, friendships, strengths, and weaknesses. Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of Irenaeus's life was his sense of humor. It's hard to imagine a reader who wouldn't be amused by some of Irenaeus's antics for proving the absurdity of false teaching, especially when Ms. Carr includes a comical photo of a royal Gourd, Melon, and Cucumber. Less relatable to most Christians in America, but no less dull, are the age-appropriate accounts of persecution and martyrdom faced by the saints of which she writes.

Most importantly, Ms. Carr relates accounts that demonstrate his commitment to the Scriptures and its over-arching redemptive story line as demonstrated by this quote:

"Most of Irenaeus's arguments, however, were based on the Scriptures, which he quoted freely. God, Irenaeus said, has revealed Himself in the Bible, giving all the truth men and women need to know about Him and our relationship with Him. And the Bible teaches that there is only one God, in both the Old and the New Testament, and He is good, perfect, and just. In fact, from Genesis to Revelation we read one long, beautiful story: how God saved His sinful people" (38).

Time and again, Simonetta Carr succeeds in going "beyond the simple story of someone's life by teaching young readers the historical and theological relevance of each character" in an age appropriate way (2). As with previous titles in the series, readers of Irenaeus of Lyons will encounter a carefully researched account that is edifying complete with a  map, a timeline, fun facts, and an excerpt from Irenaeus's major work, Against Heresies. Captivating artwork and an abundance of vivid photos on thick, glossy pages in a sturdy hardcover make this book yet another collectible title that will endure many years of enjoyment.

Irenaeus of Lyons is a thought-provoking children's biography that is sure to encourage many to guard the good deposit entrusted to them, reading "...the Scriptures faithfully and with humility, seeing both the Old and New Testaments as one unified story" (54). I pray that many will be motivated to preserve the faith handed on by the apostles, to entrust it to faithful men and women who are able to teach, and to defend it when it is threatened by false teachers just as Irenaeus and those who followed him sought to do.

Simonetta Carr maintains a delightful website where you can discover more about her "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" including insightful videos of the writing/illustrating process, activity and/or notebook pages for several existing titles (Augustine of HippoJohn CalvinAthanasius), as well as, a study guide for John Owen.

*Many thanks to Cross Focused ReviewsReformation Heritage Books, and Simonetta Carr for providing me with a complimentary copy of Irenaeus of Lyons in exchange for my honest opinion!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Book Review: Descriptions and Prescriptions

"OCD, ADHD, PTSD, Bipolar Disorder . . . these are no longer just technical terms and medical diagnoses, they are part of our common vocabulary and culture.

As Christians, we shouldn't isolate ourselves from this discussion or dismiss these important issues. But we also should be careful not to accept the entire secular psychiatric diagnostic and treatment enterprise without question. What we need is a balanced, biblically (and scientifically) informed approach that neither blindly accepts nor harshly dismisses psychiatric labels, diagnoses, and medicines that are prescribed to help those who are suffering.

As both a Biblical counselor and medical doctor, Michael R. Emlet, MD, gives readers a Christ-centered approach to psychiatry and guides both lay and professional helpers through the thicket of mental health labels and treatments with a biblical lens. In a clear and thoughtful way that puts the person experiencing mental health issues at the forefront, Emlet uses Scripture to show how the Bible engages in the discussion of psychiatric labels and the medications that are often recommended based on those labels. The first book in the "Helping the Helper" series, Descriptions and Prescriptions will give readers a biblical, gospel-formed perspective to help them understand and minister to those struggling with mental health issues."

My Thoughts:

As a Christian woman with a Bachelor's degree in psychology and who maintains an interest in biblical counseling, I thoroughly enjoyed this concise read. Descriptions and Prescriptions: A Biblical Perspective on Psychiatric Diagnoses & Medications is fabulously focused and concretely concentrated on the issue at hand. I found it helpful to formally consider the strengths and limitations of the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) from a biblical perspective. I especially appreciated Emlet's references to our fundamental nature as image bearers and worshipers and how that influences our ministry to sufferers and sinners "...who struggle with disordered thoughts, emotions, and behaviors" (pg. 9). In addition to applicable Scripture references, there are a number of insightful word pictures to aid the reader in thinking through these sensitive issues. Most importantly, Emlet keeps the Gospel of Jesus Christ central to the discussion. In the end, Emlet doesn't offer a "one-size-fits-all" approach but helps guide the reader toward a careful wisdom framework.

*Many thanks to New Growth Press and Litfuse Publicity Group for sending me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!