Great deal on ESV Study Bible – Best Single Volume Resource on Understanding the Bible!

If you are looking for a one-stop, single best resource, I recommend the ESV Study Bible. It is overall, the best study bible on the market, with helpful contextual notes on the passages, pertinent articles and commentaries, and it’s introductions to each book of the Bible alone is worth more than the price of the book itself.

Oh, and it’s 50% right now (most versions at least).

So if you haven’t already, pick up a copy today! And maybe buy one or two for those in your life who are looking, or wanting, to be able to read and understand the Bible for themselves.

Are there any Non-Biblical witnesses to the events claiming to be historical found within the Bible? Recommended Resources

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United St...

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United States Library of Congress, demonstrating printed pages as a storage medium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have the joy and honor of leading a weekly bible study with a great group of men.  Often there are other questions that don’t quite fit into the scope of our topic/passage for the day.  I received such a question today:

“Are there any other non-Biblical sources that help support the historical claims found in the Bible?”

Below is my response with several links to websites and books dealing with this question! Enjoy!

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Hey guys,

Here are some resources I either use, or found and might use in the future, dealing with your question: “Are there any other non-Biblical sources that help support the historical claims found in the Bible?”
Click on the links and check them out for yourself.  And tell me what you think of these if you end up getting your hands on them and start reading through them!
Always a pleasure guys!
Chris Gensheer

Website/blog: 
http://michaeljkruger.com/ – this guys is a NT Textual Critical Scholar and I value his perspective on all questions pertaining to “canon” (what books should be considered Scripture) and how it was formed (compiled, agreed upon) and various historical resurfacing of apologetic questions.  Good go-to site for specific questions.
http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2011/02/extra-canonical-sources.html – overall, a great apologetic website.  This link in particular will take you to a good answer to your question to me earlier today!
Books:
Backgrounds of Early Christianity by Everett Ferguson – this is my #1 go-to source for general, broad-stroke background information about things referenced in the Bible.  Great as an encyclopedia for helping to reconstruct what the original audience of the books in the Bible/NT might have thought or realized.
The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel – I read this early on in my Christian walk.  Great resource for apologetics in general, but more along the lines of the historical validity of Christ, not just the philosophical justification for belief. Great book.
Understanding Scripture ed. by Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins, and Thomas Schreiner.  I used this book in preparation for my Ordination exams and found it very useful and helpful.  It is an edited volume of multiple contributors, tackling various aspects of the Canon/Bible.  Great to actually read through, while also a good reference work.
Can I Trust the Bible? by Darell Bock – I used this in preparation for my Ordination exams and found it (and the R.C. Sproul book below) very helpful.  Disseminates a lot of information in compact form.  I liked it.
Canon Revistited by Michael Kruger – a more recent, very popular book.  He has a way of explaining really complex things simply on his blog, and while I haven’t read this particular work, I would expect that same trend to continue here.
The Evidence for Jesus by R.T. France – a book I have not read, but saw the Stand to Reason blog reference it as a good source.  Also, it seems to deal with your principle question of, “Are there any other non-Biblical sources that help support the historical claims found in the Bible?”  May be worth checking out.
Jesus Outside the New Testament by Robert E. Van Voorst – another book I have not read, but saw the Stand to Reason blog reference it as a good source.  Also, it seems to deal with your principle question of, “Are there any other non-Biblical sources that help support the historical claims found in the Bible?”  May be worth checking out.

Best book on Marriage for $2.99 Today

Hey folks,

The best book on Marriage that I have read in a long time, and what formed a good bit of the recent teaching series I did on the subject, is on sale for $2.99 today for Kindle (device or apps).  It is worth it at full price, but this is another steal worth taking advantage of.

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller

What’s the best book for better understanding the Bible as a whole?

Cover of "The Jesus Storybook Bible: Ever...

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones

People ask me often, “What is a good book to read to better understand the Bible as a whole?”

My answer has been for the past five years, “The best single book to better understand the Bible as a whole is Sally Lloyd-Jones’ The Jesus Story Book Bible.”

And you can Pre-Order it for Kindle for only $3.99 by clicking the link below (this is a steal, trust me).

The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name: Sally Lloyd-Jones: Amazon.com: Kindle Store.

Hardcover edition (click here)

Curriculum Kit (click here)

Book Review: Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft

Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft

Well its time for another brief book review.  I recently finished Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft, published under the Re:Lit banner of Crossway books.  Leadership and leadership development is a passion of mine, so when books like this come out, I’m usually on top of reading them.  This one slipped by me though for a few months before I dived into it.

The reason is because this has been one of the busiest season of my life.  In addition to my full-time pastoral role at Christ Church Santa Fe, I continue to serve other pastors as a Research Consultant.  But also two months ago we welcomed our fourth child into the world in Luke.  We are excited, but to any parent the first few months are the hardest (re-adjusting to an infant’s needs, lack of sleep, etc).

In that context, Kraft’s book was a breath of fresh air.  I have to say that in the pages of Kraft’s book I did not read anything new, necessarily.  Kraft is coming from a Navigator background, and myself having come up through Campus Outreach, I recognized many of the principles from other great books (thinking of LeRoy Eims, J. Oswald Sanders, etc).

But there was more. Kraft also weaved in some good principles and examples from the business side of leadership principles.  While I said there was nothing new, what was refreshing was to see someone integrate the biblical principles, theology of resource stewardship, and the practical insights and outworking in a context where leadership and effectiveness is prized highly.

Kraft wrote this with a particular audience in mind – that of the vocational ministry leader.  Every book needs a focus, so he should not be faulted for that.  Everything that he talks about is applicable to anybody.  His definition of a Christian leader I found to be quite heplful and refreshing in making room for leaders of various sizes and shapes: “A Christian leader is a humble, God-dependent, team-playing [that’s huge] servant of God who is called by God to shepherd, develop, equip and empower a specific group of believers to accomplish an agreed-upon [also huge] vision from God.” (24, Kindle edition).

You can tell by my inserted comments what I like most about Kraft.  He both affirms the role of key/Senior/Primary leadership, but also the “with others” context that permeates the Biblical witness as well as the experiences of many business leaders.  Look at Apple computers (my example, not Kraft’s): where would Apple be if Steve Wozniak hadn’t been working with Steve Jobs (or vice versa).  This was the biggest strength, in my opinion, of Kraft’s book.

The other most helpful section of his book were the sections on Formation (chs. 7 & 8 especially) and Fruitfulness (ch. 11).  These chapters alone are worth the cost of the book.  They are filled with great principles and packaged in a way that can be readily assimilated into whatever context you find yourself engaging as a leader.

Chapter 7 is especially helpful in forcing leaders to think through not just what they have learned (past tense) but at what rate are they currently learning (present).  The leadership dynamic that is most challenging – to leaders and their organizations – is resting on the laurels of previous work, accomplishments.  This is seen in the drastic statement that should never be the determiner of a course of action (though it should be informative to any course of action): “In my experience…”.  I am all for cataloguing experiences, learning from them and implementing them into the present for a desired future, but when they alone are what determines what is done, how its done, when its done, and why its done, we as leaders have effectively stopped growing, reflecting, learning and therefore leading.  Kraft’s thoughts in chapter 7 help shatter that paradigm, and for this I am most thankful for his work.

For all of its strengths, I do wish that Kraft had spent a little less time trumpeting thoughout the book his own personal philosophy of how he is seeking to be a purposeful leader.  I’ll explain that.  Normally, I think its a good thing when leaders know, own and share their personal passion.  For Kraft, his passion is to “develop leaders who develop leaders” essentially.  I share that passion with him.  But what can happen when we make statements like this is we tend to warp our definition of leaders to a particular type of leader.  The effect this can have is that other types of leaders are automatically discounted, not because they aren’t leaders, or not even senior level leaders, but because they don’t fit the mold of what pops into our head when we say “a leader who develops leaders.”  This is a systemic problem in a lot of discipleship-heavy ministries (especially college student ministries) that I think this rhetoric tends to merely exacerbate the problem, rather than speaking truth into it.

With that said, though, I can heartily recommend Kraft’s book, and would counsel any pastor or ministry leader to have it, digest it, and work it out, into your life and various ministries.  That one complaint is not indicative of Kraft’s whole work, just a disagreement on frequency of use and wording.  His thoughts, experiences and insights into leadership effectiveness for ministry leaders in the 21st century are extremely valuable and would assist anyone engaged in humbly leading others for the glory of God.

Worth it = Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft

What’s your plan?

As we come up to another new year, its always good to think about your plan – for your life, your family, your community, your church, etc.  All of it.  Being a pastor, December typically does not lend itself to procatively thinking thorugh these things, but I tend to take January as my time to sort some of these things out.

The one thing I do recommend thinking through before the new year hits is “What will be your plan for reading, engaging and staying connected to the Word of God?”  Last year I used the NIV 1 Year Reading Plan, and while it wasn’t my first time reading the Bible cover to cover, it was extremely helpful.

This year I’m planning on using a online/mobile App reading plan from YouVersion.  They have plenty to choose from, so I would encourage you to go here and pick the one that works best for you.  I’m leading towards either the Historical or Chronological Whole Bible plan.

So take a look, pick a plan, and stick to it.  Even better, find a couple of other people to do it with you and meet up once a week at a coffee shop or restaurant to talk about it together.  I couldn’t think of a better way to invest time in your spiritual growth than to read the Bible and discuss it with others.

REEL Conversations Case Study – Toy Story 3: Unwanted Junk or Precious Personalities

REEL Conversations is what I refer to as a ministry of seeing the theme of redemption in modern stories, namely cinema.  This is a brief write-up of a group discussion on the redemptive themes in the movie Toy Story 3.  This was used for a movie night we had at our church.  Enjoy and feel free to share! For a PDF version, click here.

Toy Story 3: Unwanted Junk or Precious Personalities

Toy Story 3 from Disney/Pixar

 “He called us ‘junk’!” yells Mrs. Potato Head in a healthy mix of indignation and shock.  This is the feeling at the very beginning of Toy Story 3.  And that sad assessment of the toys reality send them on a journey to find a new owner, a new home, where they would be appreciated for who they were.

“Welcome to Sunnyside!” This is the siren’s call of a place where they will never have to worry about anyone using them only to discard them later.  At last, the toys have found a place where they are promised to be played with, and never abandoned again.  They are free to be who they are and can enjoy their lives as it was meant to be lived.

Or are they?

Is this really what we want?

In their quest to find happiness they find themselves trapped and enslaved by one who cannot be happy unless others are miserable.  How will they escape?  And what would happen to them if they did?

This movie, the third installment of the hugely successful Disney/Pixar animated film company and Toy Story franchise, delves into the pervasive longing for “home”, for a place to belong and be loved, a place where a toy can be free to be a toy.  They ultimately find their answer not in a perfectly orchestrated system of manufacturing “kids” who replace other “kids” (Sunnyside), but in the loving arms of a “person” who embraces them (Andyà Bonnie).

Questions to consider:

  1. How did the toys feel at the beginning of the movie: like precious toys, or unwanted junk? What made them feel this way?
  2.  Why did they go to Sunnyside?  What did they like about it?
  3.  How do you think Woody felt trying to explain things to the other toys?  Was he right?  Why wouldn’t the others listen to him?
  4.  What happened to them at Sunnyside?  Was Lots-O a good guy or bad guy? What made him so?[1]
  5.  Did you like the end of the movie?  Why or why not?  Was the redemption found in the movie satisfying? Would you say it might even be biblical? (Read quotes below for more on this)

Quotes to consider: From Albert Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview

“God does not make junk, and he does not junk what He has made.”

“To sin, in the Bible, is to serve Satan—or rather, to be enslaved to Satan…Bondage in Scripture has to do with enslavement to a spiritual empire.”

“…redemption:  a freeing of creation from the shackles of sin and evil and a reinstatement of creaturely living as intended by God.”


[1] Think along these lines: “If I can’t be happy, then I’ll make others miserable.” Could we imagine Satan saying this?

Does God run interference in your life?

Best book on Acts I've read

Best book on Acts I

Having just finished the “Acts” portion of my Acts and Paul class yesterday (part of the reason why my activity has been minimal on here), I thought I would share a significant quote on the christian life and God’s interaction.  This quote comes from The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption by Dennis Johnson.

Let me just say, if you are personally studying through Acts, or planning on teaching, do not do so until you have gotten and read this book (or at least, read it along your study/teaching schedule).  This is a great book, and it really shed some light on the significant thrust of the book of Acts, instead of offering up random insight into mot of the particular events.  Well worth the money and the time to read The Message of Acts.

Here’s the quote:

“However correct their statements in Bible studies or Sunday school classes may be, in practice many Christians really assume that God’s ‘interference’ in people’s lives pretty much came to a halt sometime in the past – perhaps in the apostles’ time, perhaps at the Reformation or some revival of bygone days, but surely before our time.

Would we say this out loud? Never!  But our meager prayer lives, our anxiety, our dependence on novel techniques in evangelism, our hope in technology to solve spiritual problems, our doubt that loving discipline can restore wandering brothers or sisters to repentance and reconciliation – all these testify to our unspoken assumption that God’s real action is in the past and in the future, but not in the present.”

Fellow brothers and sisters, God is continuing to work in our lives.  Believe that, then go live in light of it.

New Books: Church, Gospel, World, Reforming?

Well, yesterday I came home and had several new books waiting for me.  I thank the folks at Crossway who keep on sending me good and interesting reading material.  I want to highlight a couple of these and tell you all to be on the lookout over the next couple of months for some reviews.

The first book to mention is Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis.  This book had been previously published only in the UK, but thanks to Crossway and the new publishing banner of Re:Lit, it is now available here.  I have only scanned through the book, but the first chapter is promising.  The gospel is word-centered and mission-centered, so our churches need to be based on the word and on mission – love it!  I actually first about this book from a friend of mine over in South Africa (cheers Stephen!)

Book #2 – Wordliness, by multiple authors, but edited by a pastor’s pastor, C.J. Mahaney.  I wasn’t sure what to think of this book when I first started seeing it pop up on the web, but knowing C.J.’s other books (Humility: True Greatness and Living the Gospel-Centered Life) and pastoral heart (if you need some exposure, go check out his blog), I’m confident that this book will be insightful and helpful in discerning where and how the gospel applies to our world in our cultural situation.

Book #3 – Reforming or Conforming edited by Gary W. Johnson and Ronald D. Gleason.  This book appears to be a collection of various scholars critiquing the emerging church movement.  I haven’t dove in at all, but I will be interested to see if they distinguish between emerging and emergent.  Some of the chapters do seem fascinating (like “It’s Wright, but is it Right? An Assessment and Engagement of the “Emerging” Retreading of the Ministry of Jesus.” Caveat: I find myself being hesitant to read books like this.  I have read some thoughts by some of these guys on the internet and find myself not agreeing with their conclusions.  That being said, I do find myself appreciating the concerns they bring up.  Reading this will hopefully bring the fundamental issues to the front with constructive critique and positive assessments instead of just the reactionary tendencies demonizing those who differ.

Book #4 – Death by Love: Letters From the Cross by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears.  This book looks fascinating.  Its written as a series of letters addressing real live situations and people, with the full theological truth of the gospel.  I wasn’t expecting that, and I like it.  I honestly can’t wait to get into reading this one.  It seems to have a lot of potential of to help all pastors and lay leaders alike appreciate the depth of theological reflection, without losing sight of its pastoral implications.  This book also features some helpful answers to FAQ’s concluding each chapter (thank you Dr. Breshears for that!).  This is similar to their previous book, Vintage Jesus.

So, if you haven’t already done so, you should subscribe to my blog (button on the top right) and watch out for these forthcoming reviews.

Where Are All the Brothers? A Review

I recently read a book intended to be given to men giving them legitimate answers concerning typical reasons why they are not present in N. American churches.  It’s called Where Are All the Brothers? by Eric Redmond.

The book is written as a series of short answers to 9 common barriers, or questions, men have that serve as the basic motivations for not being part of a local church. Here is the full Table of Contents:

Introduction: What You Will Gain if You Give Me Ten Minutes of Your Life for Each of the Next Nine Days

1. Isn’t the Church Full of Hypocrites?
2. Wasn’t the Bible Written by Men?
3. Isn’t the Church Geared toward Women?
4. Isn’t the Preacher Just a Man?
5. Doesn’t Islam Offer More for Black Men?
6. Aren’t Some Churches Just After Your Money?
7. Is Organized Religion Necessary?
8. Jesus Never Claimed to Be God, Did He?
9. What to Look for to Find a Good Church

Appendix A: The Fulfillment of Old Testament Prophesies about Christ in the New Testament
Appendix B: The Church Does Not Welcome Homosexuals

Audience:  While the book is written almost like a tract – something to give to someone to convince them of something – I found it worthwhile to read as a future pastor who will have to wrestle with the  diminishing number of “Y” chromosomes in the church.  Redmond has given me, and all of us, some very good, solid, reasoned answers to a number of questions that can keep men from fully engaging in our churches, or even  just showing up.

Good:  I found this book not only informative and challenging, but extremely easy to read.  Redmond begins with a basic plea for readers to give just 10 minutes a day for 9 days, and that is an adequate amount of time to cover this book.  If you were to give it to somebody you were trying to persuade to come to church, any church, then that is a reasonable request, and could easily get through the book.  If that is your reason for reading the book, make sure you follow it up with some good conversations regarding each chapter.

Not-so-Good:  While I don’t want to be nit-picky, I am not a big fan of reading books that overly dialogical.  However, I think for what Redmond was trying to do, I don’t know how you could have written it any other way.  Its meant to be used as a resource to give to men you have friendships with over concerns regarding church involvement.  The dialogical nature works for this purpose.

Highlights: By far, Redmond does a great job all around.  I think his chapters dealing with the allure of Islam for men, and the all time favorite, “Doesn’t the church just want my money?” are his most insightful contributions to the issue.

Recommendation: I would say that if this is a concern for you, either in current church praxis or because of friendships you have where this is an issue, then Redmond’s book is a great resource, well worth having.  If your interest level is more on the intellectual, sociological plane, then this may be a book worth checking out, though it will not give you the detailed background and academic breadth you’re probably searching for.

Also check out CJ Mahaney’s comments about this book, and a couple of others worth checking out here (Sovereign Grace Blog).