Category Archives: Books
Recently, I’ve read four 19th century biographies and autobiographies of men and women who escaped slavery in the South. If you want to read about what slavery was really like in that time, these classic books will let you hear the stories in the words of those who experienced it.
Sarah Hopkins Bradford, Harriet, the Moses of Her People.
This biography, written by a white friend of Harriet Tubman gives a firsthand account of the amazing life of an amazing woman who bravely made so many trips to the South to rescue over 300 of her people along the “Underground Railroad.” The author is somewhat patronizing toward African-Americans, yet beautifully portrays the unwavering Christian faith that sustained Harriet through it all, and the events surrounding her that some call “supernatural.” Her story has recently been made into the film, Harriet.
Solomon Northrup, 12 Years a Slave.
The most dramatic story I have read of someone escaping slavery is that of Solomon Northrup, a free black man who was kidnapped in New York, and sold into slavery in Louisiana, where he suffered until his dramatic rescue. Northrup himself vividly describes his experiences, which shows the cruelty of slavery in the Deep South. The events surrounding his rescue will have you on the edge of your seat. No wonder this was made into an Academy Award Winning film!
Harriet Ann Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself.
This account of a female former slave, using the name Linda Brent, shares graphic details of brutality and especially sexual abuse by white owners. There is a constant tension between Linda and her owner, Dr. Flint, whose affections she continually rejects. Although a true story published at the outbreak of the Civil War, it reads like a novel, and I read it quickly. It gives so many insights into slave life in the South, and even discrimination against blacks in the North.
Josiah Henson, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave.
This true story was the basis for Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I downloaded it and read it in one day. Henson was an industrious man with great leadership and organizational skills. The storyline moves quickly and is so emotional, that it overcomes the 19th century formal writing style. I highly recommend this short read to get a feel for the heartless institution of slavery in the South.
The Quiet Crazy Easter Day by Jill Roman Lord (B & H Kids) is a 22-page, colorful children’s storyboard book that is perfect for the Easter season. The word “quiet” is crossed out in the title, because the theme of the book is how likely it was that all of God’s creatures rejoiced at Jesus’ resurrection.
Using rhythm and rhyme, the book book imagines how every creature, from ladybugs to ladies and eagles to angels burst into howls and shouts of praise. The book should be fun to read, and easy to understand, although perhaps one line could have replaced “distinctive” with a simpler word such as “special.” The illustrations by Kelly Breemer are bright, clear, and use a full range of colors that fit very well with the theme.
I highly recommend this book as a cheerful way to teach children the true meaning of Easter, while also teaching about different animals and the sounds they make.
Disclosure statment: I received a complimentary copy of this book upon promise of review. I was under no obligation to write a favorable review.
Keller, Timothy. God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotionals in the Book of Proverbs. New York: Viking, 2017.
I loved this daily devotional! I have read Keller’s devotional through Psalms, and I find this one to be an excellent companion to it.
Keller wisely (pun intended) groups the devotionals into topics, rather than trying to go through Proverbs chapter by chapter. By including verses from different parts of the book in a day’s devotional, he gives a greater balance and thoroughness to each, as he often includes wisdom sayings that give different perspectives on the same topic, or give further elaboration and illustration on the same topic.
Keller also includes some selections from other wisdom books, especially Ecclesiastes and Job, and ends during the Christmas season with insights from the New Testament and how Jesus is our ultimate source of wisdom.
I highly recommend this daily devotional! It will challenge you to think deeply and live wisely.
Louie Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church, a megachurch in Atlanta, writes Not Forsaken to help people see God as a good Heavenly Father, especially those who have had a bad earthly father. The subtitle says it well: “Finding Freedom as Sons & Daughters of a Perfect Father.”
Giglio begins by stating that every person has an innate need for a good father who is proud of him or her, yet the author readily recognizes that many people have had an abusive or absent earthly father, and this makes it difficult for them to affirm God as good. Giglio confronts this dilemma step-by-step, making frequent use of scripture. First, he explains that God is good, even if Dad was bad: “God is not the reflection of your earthly dad. He is the perfection of your earthly dad” (p.76). Then, Giglio encourages the reader to “reverse the curse” through forgiveness of a bad father, saying, “Bitterness continues to pave a path to your past, while forgiveness paves a way to your future” (p. 114). Next, Giglio guides the reader to an understanding of the good fatherly qualities of God. He acknowledges some people will ask, If God is so good, why doesn’t He stop evil? In a paragraph worth repeating, he responds to this question:
I think the answer is because the moment He steps in and removes all the collateral damage of this broken world from ever happening again, that will mark the instant life on earth is over. And in that moment the lost will be lost forever and many whom God wanted to become sons and daughters will be separated from His arms. So, He waits and extends grace another day. And for twenty-four more hours, we are caught in the crossfire of a sin-shattered world. (p. 178)
Finally, he challenges readers that just as we tend to pick up the qualities of our parents, so we should “grow up like Dad,” our heavenly Father.
Although the book is only 235 pages, divided into 10 chapters, Giglio tends to repeat statements he has already made, which is normal for a public speaker like himself, but seems redundant when reading a book. Perhaps with more editing, he could have communicated just as well with fewer than 200 pages. Nevertheless, Giglio writes in a personal, encouraging style, based on solid Biblical interpretation, with many insightful illustrations. This book can be quite helpful to readers who struggle with the idea that God is a good Father.
DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of this book from B&H Bloggers, but I was under no obligation to write a favorable review.
A History of the Modern Middle East by William L. Cleveland and Martin Bunton, 6th ed., (Westview Press, 2016).
This history does as the title promises, focusing more on the modern period of the Middle East, especially from the Ottoman Empire through 2015. The book covers the rise of ISIS but was written before the downfall of ISIS. It includes the Arab Spring of 2011, which Cleveland prefers to call the “Arab Uprisings.” It includes balanced discussions of areas from Turkey to Iran to the Arabian Peninsula to Egypt. It does not include neighboring countries such as the Sudan, North Africa or Afghanistan in the discussion, except where events there affect the Middle East proper, such as the Egyptian war in Sudan, the harboring of Osama bin Laden by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the Arab uprisings that began in Tunisia and led to the downfall of Libya’s dictator, too.
The book gives much attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is appropriate, as well as thorough coverage of the Kurdish problem of being a people without a homeland.
Perhaps due to his focus on the modern period, Cleveland passes over the Crusades with barely a mention, which I found peculiar, since modern Arabs like Osama bin Laden referred to Christians as the “Crusaders.”
While Cleveland strives to present a balanced report of both the positive and negative traits of each people and each personality, he appears to have certain biases. He clearly is sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians verses the Jews, and is favorable to the Muslim worldview (for example, he blames Islam’s low view of women on the influences of the cultures neighboring the Arabs, and refers to the Muslim Brotherhood as “moderate”). Nevertheless, he does a good job of explaining the various sectarian and ethnic groups, such as the Sunni and Shi’a, and minority groups like Arab Christians, Assyrians, Yazidis, Druze, Alawites, etc.
Many people like to get a book with devotional readings for the entire year. If you are shopping for an annual devotional book, the two classic, all-time best, in my opinion, are Experiencing God Day-by-Day, by Henry T. Blackaby and Richard Blackaby, and My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers (I recommend spending a little extra to get the updated edition of Chambers, because his work was originally written in 1917, and the language of the original can be difficult to follow.) Both of these devotionals are strongly rooted in the scripture, with penetrating insights that will drive you to deeper prayer and faithfulness.
Another excellent classic, Morning and Evening, by Charles Spurgeon, provides readings for morning and evening every day. A Year with C.S. Lewis provides great selections from Lewis’s writings for every day of the year. The Songs of Jesus, by Timothy Keller, has a year of brief, Christ-centered daily devotionals through the Psalms. The prayers Keller offers are particularly inspiring. Keller has also published a devotional on the Proverbs (which includes some passages from Ecclesiastes and Job), God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life. It groups wisdom sayings by topics, and does an excellent job of balancing different perspectives of practical, moral, and social issues. All of the above devotionals will cause you to think deeply and inspire you.
My brother Todd highly recommends the two-volumes of devotionals by D.A. Carson, For the Love of God. It is designed to go with a two-year daily Bible reading plan, and goes into depth. It is not light reading.
If you want a lighter devotional, Daily Guideposts, published annually by Guideposts magazine, include many inspiring stories by a different author every day. They are well-written, although they lack as much substance as the other devotionals mentioned above.
New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp has received many great reviews by people whom I respect, so I bought it to read as my devotional in 2020.
Jesus Calling by Sarah Young is an extremely popular devotional that uses the literary device of speaking to the reader as if it is the words of Jesus Himself. The devotionals in Jesus Calling are brief but quite encouraging, especially to those who need to find peace in their lives. However, the devotional has been criticized because the author claims she received the messages directly from Jesus, and some authors have pointed out minor errors in her book that prove not all messages were directly from God. (For more on this controversy, check the excellent book review by Tim Challies here.) Despite these criticisms, I think her devotional is very helpful, and to her credit, Young includes scripture references at the end of each devotional. Young also has published spin-off devotionals that are similar, such as Dear Jesus.
Voices of the Faithful, edited by Beth Moore, has devotional stories by missionaries.
If you are looking for a devotional for married couples, Our Love Is Here to Stay: A Daily Devotional for Couples, by Tony and Lois Evans, is the best one I have read on the subject. It is well-written, interesting, and full of practical wisdom.
Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs by Emerson Eggerichs is an extremely helpful Christian book on marriage. It was first published in 2004, and has sold over one million copies. My wife Mary and I listened to it together and we agreed he correctly understands the emotional needs of husbands and wives.
Eggerichs makes a great contribution to understanding marriage by his insight into the importance of taking Ephesians 5:33 literally: “Let each of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” The author points out that the greatest emotional need of the wife is for love, and the greatest emotional need of the husband is respect.
He gives specific ways that men can show love to their wives, and wives show respect to their husbands, to avoid the “crazy cycle,” as he calls it, of each spouse withholding what the other needs because of not getting what they themselves need. He speaks of the “energizing cycle” when spouses meet the need of the other. He concludes by emphasizing that the motivation of a Christian to meet the need of his or her spouse should be obedience to Christ, which he calls the “reward cycle.”
Who Sang the First Song? is a large hardback children’s book, written in rhyme by songwriter Ellie Holcomb and beautifully illustrated by Kayla Harren. In 24 pages that flow through 12 large two-page colorful drawings, Holcomb repeatedly asks the question, “Who sang the first song?” and then suggests the answer with questions, as it the names parts of the creation. The questions come in an order similar to the days of creation, flowing through poetic references to wind, moon, stars, sun, sea creatures, animals, plants and birds. The book answers, “All these guesses we’ve made are quite good, but they’re wrong. It was God, our Maker, who sang the first song!” Then Holcomb explains that God “wrote His song into everything” and tells children they are good and wonderfully made, and that God wants children to “sing with your life and your voice.” Each page shows happy children, and includes musical notes in the sky. Harren’s contrasting colors and detail delighted my grandchildren, who enjoyed pointing out things like the frog on an umbrella or a girl holding a basket of rabbits. I read this book to my grandchildren, ages 2, 3, 4 and 6. (In the photo, my grandson is reading the page with his favorite illustration.) The youngest were fascinated by the illustrations and wanted to see it again and again, while the older ones also understood the message.
Ironically, although the book is published by B&H Kids of Nashville (publishing arm of Southern Baptists), it is printed in Shenzhen, China (next door to Hong Kong), in a communist country that suppresses Christians from sharing the faith with their own children.
(Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy from the publisher, but was under no obligation to write a positive review.)
How should the faith of American Christians affect their politics?
Bruce Riley Ashford, professor of theology and culture at Southeaster Baptist Theological Seminary, answers this question in a scholarly yet readable way in his new book, Letters to an American Christian (Nashville: B & H, 2018). He uses the technique of imaginary letters to a young new believer, named “Christian.” Imagining he is responding to Christian’s questions and experiences as a new believer and college student in a liberal secular university, he covers a vast array of topics from a Biblical worldview, including church and state, free speech, women’s rights, racism, Black Lives Matter, political correctness, big government, judicial activism, gun ownership, gay rights, transgenders, environmentalism, immigration, nationalism, war and peace, and fake news.
The author frequently includes catchy quotations, humor and personal references to his fictional friend that make the scholarly portions of the book come across more human. Yet he is clearly a scholar, drawing from a vast reading and rooted in Biblical references and concepts. In his chapter on immigration, I was surprised that he made no reference to the Old Testament injunction to protect the “sojourner” and “alien” among Israel, since they were once sojourners in Egypt. His political views are self-described as “center right” (p. 211), and this comes across consistently, as he defends most conservative views, but does it with compassion and moderation. He is strongly critical of secular and liberal political views. He also criticizes alt-right, ultra-conservative views, especially those that are mean-spirited.
Few people are likely to agree with every position Dr. Ashford takes on so many topics, but most Bible-believing Christians will find his book thought-provoking and helpful in forming their own positions.
(Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher, but I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)
A Land Remembered by Patrick D. Smith, is the history of Florida, told in novel form.
The author creates a fictional family, the McIvey’s, and weaves a tale of their lives through all the major points of Florida history, from the time of the Civil War to the 1960s. Sensing the onset of war, Tobias McIvey flees Georgia and settles in the wilderness of northern Florida in the late 1850’s with his young wife. Through Tobias and his sons Zack and Sol, as well as their African-American and Seminole friends, we learn about the Battle of Olustee during the Civil War, the shameful treatment of the Seminole tribe, how rural Floridians came to be called “crackers,” open-range cattle ranching, the beginning of citrus crops, the railroads of Henry Flagler, the settlement and rapid growth of Miami and south Florida, and more than anything else, we learn about the land– creatures, plants, lakes, hurricanes, and the Everglades. The story is told with humor and drama. This is an interesting way to learn about Florida, which is why many Florida social studies teachers use it in their classrooms. However, I should warn you that the characters are far from saints– there is a fair bit of profanity and some mild sexuality, as well. There is a student edition of this book which may tame some of those elements.
Alberts, William E. A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, 2012.
This short, easy-to-read book is a series of 54 diverse vignettes that Rev. Alberts shares about people to whom he ministered as a board-certified, CPSP hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center. He has a loving and accepting approach to all of his patients, and he models some excellent approaches and conversations to the “crossroads of humanity” who need medical care. Health care chaplains and all those who minister to the sick will relate to many stories and can learn much from his compassion and wisdom.
The book is full of touching stories and pithy quotes, such as “religion is about the Golden Rule and not about the ‘gold’ that rules,” and a patient who was transformed from “a hopeless dope addict into a dopeless hope addict.”
However, those like myself who have a conservative, deeply held personal faith will likely be distracted and even annoyed that Rev. Alberts favors those who believe that all roads lead to God, which he spells with the small “g.” He emphasizes his theological position as a Unitarian and United Methodist (more Unitarian than Methodist), and stresses his distaste for conservative politics, especially military spending. Thus it seems odd to me, as a less experienced hospital chaplain myself, that he repeatedly tells how he begins a visit by asking a person’s religious affiliation. He frequently reports that people are defensive or confused by this question, yet he continues to ask it. He even reported that patients occasionally responded with apologies for not attending church, thus showing that the question put them on the spot. Since he seems sincerely focused on serving the needs of all patients, why not just ask the patient what is happening in their lives, and let them talk about their religious affiliation if they want to do so?
The Kindle edition has a few minor errors where lines are repeated or words are missing, such as page 138.
Copyright by Bob Rogers
What translation of the Bible is best for a pastor to use in the pulpit? Pastors and laypeople feel differently about the issue.
My Unscientific Survey
Recently I did an unscientific opinion poll on Facebook among pastors and laypeople about what Bible translation they preferred for use from the pulpit. On a Facebook page with 1,300 pastors, I asked them what translation they used in the pulpit. Then I asked laypeople on my own Facebook page, with over 2,000 friends, what translation they preferred that their pastor use (I blocked my pastor friends from seeing the post). I received 95 responses from pastors, and 48 responses from laypeople. This is an unscientific survey, since it was based on those who decided to answer, and the two Facebook groups have demographic differences, although the pastors Facebook page is dominated by conservative evangelical Christians, and most of my friends on Facebook are also conservative evangelicals. Despite that qualification, I noticed some significant results that are worth noting. Here are the results and lessons learned:
KJV: 31 %
Given the unscientific nature of this survey and relatively small size of the sample, one should not read too much into this survey, but some trends should be noted:
*There is no one translation that the majority of people prefer. We live in an era in which many English translations of the Bible are available. No one translation is even close to being used by a majority of pastors or laypeople.
*The KJV is still the most popular translation, especially among pastors. The KJV was the number one answer among both groups, and half of all pastors either named the KJV or its updated version, the NKJV.
*There is a big divide between pastors and laypeople over the NIV. The NIV ranks beside the KJV in Bible sales in the USA, and this was reflected in the survey, as laypeople (who buy most of the Bibles) listed the NIV almost as much as the KJV. In contrast, almost no pastor listed the NIV. Laypeople also mentioned a greater variety of translations.
*The majority prefer that the pastor preach from a traditional, accurate translation. The KJV, NKJV, NASB and ESV are traditional, literal translations of the Bible. The CSB and HCSB are also accurate, though more contemporary translations, and even the NIV is much more accurate than free translations like the NLT or paraphrases like The Message. Pastors and laypeople overwhelmingly named accurate translations as their preference for pulpit use.
I do not presume to tell a pastor how to preach, but it I believe that pastors would do well to use an accurate translation from the pulpit. It has been my experience that many church members will go out and buy or download to their device the translation that their pastor uses. So choose your translation prayerfully, and use it consistently. Know your audience– just as a Hispanic pastor will choose a Spanish translation, a pastor needs to know the kind of congregation he has, and what will best communicate God’s word accurately and effectively to his people.
While reading the text from his preferred Bible translation, pastors would also do well to mention a variety of translations from time to time from the pulpit. Doing so can help clarify passages that are hard to understand, and also reminds the congregation that all English translations come from an original text that was in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek.
Pastors should not condemn church members who are reading another translation of the Bible. Public condemnation of people over their Bible translation is unkind, and may humiliate a brother or sister in Christ who sincerely wants to know God’s word. Many new believers and young Christians prefer a more contemporary translation because they have difficulty understanding more traditional translations. If you have a conviction that they are not using a good translation of the Bible, you can instruct them lovingly and privately, as Priscilla and Aquila did with Apollos (see Acts 18:26).
Finally, pastors should announce the translation they are using, either audibly, or at least by showing it on the PowerPoint screen. It frustrates members to guess which translation is being used. Believe me, I have heard this opinion repeatedly from worshipers. Let them know what translation you are using!
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
In the runaway bestselling novel, The Da Vinci Code, author Dan Brown claims that Emperor Constantine “commissioned and financed a new Bible” and he “outlawed, gathered up, and burned” the existing gospels (Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, p. 234).
While reputable historians have rejected the claims of The Da Vinci Code as having no basis in fact, many people wonder, why should I believe the Bible?
The Bible itself claims to be the Word of God. We read in 2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV) that “all scripture is God-breathed…” I believe the Bible is the Word of God? Why? Not only does it claim to be the Word of God, but it passes three important tests:
1. It passes the test of corroboration.
In a trial, one of the things a judge or jury look for is corroborating testimony. If one witness sees something, and another witness agrees and says he saw the same thing, it gives extra credence to the truth of his words.
The Bible passes the test of corroboration, because so many other witnesses verify what the Bible says. Here are just a few examples:
Genesis 36:20 says the Horites were descendants of Esau, but some historians doubted they existed. In 1995 Giorgio Buccellati discovered the Horite capital city beneath modern Syrian city of Tell Mozan.
According to 1 Kings 9:28, King Solomon brought back 16 tons of gold from Ophir. But nobody knew that Ophir existed. In 1956 broken pottery found at Tell Qasile in Israel was inscribed, “gold of Ophir for Beth-Horon.”
The Roman historian Tacitus wrote that Nero persecuted the Christians, and then explained that “Christus” was crucified under Pontius Pilate, just as the Gospels record.
In 1990 a bone chest was discovered in Jerusalem that was inscribed “Caiaphas” and “Joseph, son of Caiaphas.” John 11 says Caiaphas was the high priest at Jesus’ trial, and Jewish historian Joseph says his full name was “Joseph, called Caiaphas.”
There are literally thousands of these kinds of historical and archaeological discoveries that identify people and places named in the Bible.
2. It passes the test of endurance.
The manuscript evidence of the Bible is an amazing story.
The Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew and some in Aramaic, and copied down by hand. So how trustworthy is the text that has been copied and recopied for several thousand years? We got our answer when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947. The Dead Sea Scrolls were a thousand years older than any other manuscripts available at the time! Scholars eagerly studied them to see what errors would have been made in all those years of copying. To their amazement, there were almost no differences. For example, when they studied the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, which is about 100 pages in English translation, they only found three minor spelling differences, similar to the difference in spelling Savior or Saviour.
The New Testament has by far the best manuscript evidence of any other ancient document. There are 5,400 ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament that scholars can study to figure out what the original text said. Compare that with the classical works of Plato, Herodotus, and Aristophanes, that have anywhere from one to 20 manuscripts.
At one time, liberal scholars claimed that the Gospel of John must have been written long after John’s life, in the late second century. But then a papyrus was discovered in Southern Egypt of the Gospel of John carbon dated to A.D. 125. Since John was probably written at Ephesus, it had to have been written long before A.D. 125 to have time to travel to Southern Egypt.
The Bible has outlasted the empires of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece and Rome. It survived the invasions of the Goths and Vikings and the neglect of the Dark Ages. It survived the skepticism of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. Over the centuries, people have attacked the people, banned the Bible and even burned the Bible, but the Bible continues to endure as the number one bestselling book of all time.
3. It passes the test of experience.
Millions of people have read the Bible and found that it spoke to their hearts.
Lewis Wallace was a Union general in the Civil War, and then became governor of the territory of New Mexico. He met the atheist scholar Robert Ingersoll and was unable
to refute Ingersoll’s arguments against the Bible. So he studied everything he could about the life of Jesus, and became convinced that Jesus was everything the Bible says he was. In the process, Wallace wrote a novel, called Ben Hur about a man who meets Jesus and gives his life to Christ.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a Russian who was sent to the Soviet labor camps for eight years for writing disparaging comments about the Soviet leader, Stalin. There he became convinced that only the message of the Bible explained the human condition of sin and gave the solution for changing the human heart. Solzhenitsyn’s writings about the Soviet prisons and Russian history are considered some of the greatest writings about communism in the USSR.
I grew up the son of a U.S. Army chaplain. In the seventh grade, I began to read about ten chapters of the Bible every day. I could not get enough of it, I was so thirsty to read more and know more about the scripture. And the more I read the Bible, the more my life changed. Finally, in the tenth grade, I sensed that God was calling me to preach His Word.
Why do I believe the Bible? It passes the test of corroboration and test of endurance, but most of all, I have experienced it’s life-changing message, and so have millions of others. How about you?