Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Book Review: Making Sense of the Bible

Making Sense of the Bible. David Whitehead. 2014. Bethany House. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

In many ways, it doesn't get more basic than Making Sense of the Bible. Whitehead does a good enough job in giving readers essential background information; he covers all the basics.

In the introduction, he discusses why it's important for believers to read the Bible. He covers why it's important to have an understanding of the Bible, but, even more important to have a relationship with God--a relationship grounded in the truth of God's Revelation.

In the first chapter, he addresses a question that may authentically confuse some: WHY are there so many translations?! He covers the basics there as well. (Whole books have been written on translation philosophies and what translations are really "best." Whitehead offers a good introduction, but, it is by no means a thorough discussion of the subject.)

In the second chapter, he discusses "the heart of the reader." He discusses reading and studying the Bible. He writes,
"It's humbling to think that we don't judge the Bible, the Bible judges us. If we see the Bible in the way it speaks of itself--as the very Word of God--then our reaction to the Scriptures is more than just a reaction. It is a clue to the condition of our heart" (30). 
In the third chapter, he discusses writing styles in the Bible.

Whitehead's strength perhaps is his ability to summarize. This is revealed in chapters four through 12. In these chapters, Whitehead summarizes essentially all 66 books of the Bible--perhaps not with equal depth. These summaries come about through his discussions about genres: gospels, epistles, Old Testament narratives, poetry, and prophetic literature. He also summarizes the lives of Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. It would be hard to understand many portions of the New Testament without a good idea of who Abraham, Moses, and David were. And this book will give readers what they need to grasp the big picture of the Bible. It is mostly summary work. Are his summaries the best summaries available on the books of the Bible? Probably not. I really LOVE, LOVE, LOVE How To Read the Bible Through the Jesus Lens. And I loved Woodrow Kroll's Read Your Bible One Book At A Time.

I was personally annoyed by the author's dismissive attitude of Revelation. Revelation is one of my favorite, favorite, favorite books of the Bible. It has SO MUCH to offer readers, and this author dismisses it as "not based upon real events" and warns readers that "they won't get much out of Revelation." It is a book about the future, yes, but that doesn't mean that it's not based upon real events just because those events are in the future instead of the past.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

My Year with Spurgeon #33

Charles Spurgeon
“Thou God seest me.”—Genesis 16:13.
In the first place, I shall notice the general doctrine, that God observes all men. In the second place, I shall notice the particular doctrine, “Thou God seest me.” And in the third place, I shall draw from it some practical and comforting inferences to different orders of persons now assembled, each of whom may learn something from this short sentence.
The word which the Greeks applies to God implied that he was a God who could see. They called him *Theos* (Theos); and they derived that word, if I read rightly, from the root *Theisthai* (Theisthai), to see, because they regarded God as being the all-seeing one, whose eye took in the whole universe at a glance, and whose knowledge extended far beyond that of mortals. God Almighty, from his very essence and nature, must be an Omniscient God. Strike out the thought that he sees me, and you extinguish Deity by a single stroke. There were no God if that God had no eyes, for a blind God were no God at all.
There is a working God everywhere, a God with his eyes open everywhere, a God with his hands at work everywhere; a God doing something, not a God slumbering, but a God labouring.
Jesus Christ preached a very successful sermon once when he had but one hearer, because he had the woman sitting on the well, and she could not say that Christ was preaching to her neighbour. He said to her, “Go, call thy husband, and come hither.” There was something there which smote her heart; she could not evade the confession of her guilt. But in regard to our congregations, the old orator might soon see his prayer answered, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears,” for when the gospel is preached, we lend our ears to everybody; we are accustomed to hear for our neighbours, and not for ourselves. Now, I have no objection to your lending anything else you like, but I have a strong objection to you lending your ears; I shall be glad if you will keep them at home for a minute or two, for I want to make you hear for yourselves this truth “Thou God seest me.”
Mark, God sees you—selecting any one out of this congregation—he sees you, he sees you as much as if there were nobody else in the world for him to look at. If I have as many people as there are here to look at, of course my attention must be divided; but the infinite mind of God is able to grasp a million objects at once, and yet to set itself, as much upon one, as if there were nothing else but that one; so that you, to-night, are looked at by God as much as if throughout space there were not another creature but yourself.
In the next place God sees you entirely. He does not merely note your actions; he does not simply notice what is the appearance of your countenance; he does not merely take into his eyesight what your posture may be; but remember, God sees what you are thinking of; he looks within. God has a window in every man’s heart, through which he looks; he does not want you to tell him what you are thinking about—he can see that, he can read right through you.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Review: Miracle in a Dry Season

Miracle in a Dry Season. Sarah Loudin Thomas. 2014. Bethany House. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Miracle in a Dry Season is a historical romance novel set in 1954 in Wise, West Virginia. The hero is a bachelor in his thirties, I believe. His name is Casewell Phillips, and he's a carpenter. The heroine is a single mother. A never-been-married single mother. She's coming to live with her aunt and uncle. Her name is Perla Long and her daughter is Sadie. (Sadie is a lovely little girl! She makes quite an impression on Casewell! I thought the scenes between the two were great!) Casewell has certain ideas about the woman of his dreams, the kind of woman he could see himself marrying and having a family with. The woman of his dreams, for better or worse, does not  already have a child, and certainly not a child born out of wedlock. Yet the more time he spends with Perla and little Sadie, the more time he wants to spend with them. They seem to fit together just right--the three of them. She needs his friendship--for various reasons--but he needs her too. It may just be the whole town needs her.

The novel is called Miracle in a Dry Season, and the book is definitely about a dry season--or drought. Aside from the developing romance, I found Miracle in a Dry Season to be a mess requiring a good amount of patience. The elements of the story that did not work for me--at least not work well for me--would require many spoilers.

There were definitely characters that I loved spending time with. I really loved the Talbot sisters Angie and Liza, for example. I liked elements of this one. But I didn't LOVE it.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Week in Review: August 10-16


  • 2 Chronicles 9-36
  • Ezra
  • Isaiah 16-39
  • Matthew 1-17


  • Psalms 1-41
  • 1 Timothy
  • 2 Timothy

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Book Review: Captured by Love

Captured by Love. Jody Hedlund. 2014. Bethany House. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I never expected to love a book set during the War of 1812. But I did. This historical romance was one I didn't want to put down. I read it all in one day!

Angelique MacKenzie is the heroine of Captured by Love. She grew up spending time with two brothers: Pierre Durant and his brother Jean. These three--as children--were always together. After Pierre left home--not on the best of terms--she and Jean continued to be close. Close enough that she accepted his marriage proposal a few years ago. But now there is war. She is living on an island recaptured by Britain. Jean left the island to join the American army.  To complicate matters further, Pierre has returned to the island for the first time in years--five years, I believe. He returns to find his mother in great need. She's blind and dependent on Angelique's kindness. Times are hard for everyone. Every one is hungry.

But I get the feeling that Angelique's life would be hard regardless of the war. For her guardian, Ebenezer Whiley, is mean, mean, mean.

Having Pierre back on the island is good news and bad news. Depending on your perspective!

I really enjoyed this historical romance.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Review: Centurion

Centurion: Mark's Gospel As A Thriller. Ryan Casey Waller. 2013. Interlochen Ink. 190 pages. [Source: Bought]

I have conflicting thoughts on Ryan Casey Waller's novel, Centurion. On the one hand, it is a dystopian novel set in the American South at the turn of the next century--2099. On the other hand, it is a retelling of the gospel of Mark. The novel is an attempt to blend the dystopian-futuristic genre with biblical fiction. This blending gets messy in places. I won't deny that there are scenes in this novel that do work or function. But I can't pretend that the mess doesn't exist either.

The protagonist of Centurion is Deacon Larsen. His parents sent him to the West to escape some of the hardships of the South. The South is definitely more under the dominion of the Kingdom--led by King Charles. There are not opportunities for success or happiness…not like in other parts of the country. Deacon returns home with a specific mission in mind: do as much damage to the Kingdom as possible, die for the cause, but get revenge and use all the anger you've been building up. What he didn't expect was to fall in love with a woman named Maria who follows the Teacher. The more time he spends with Maria and her Teacher, the more confused he becomes. There are small moments here and there where he "sees the light" and decides that maybe just maybe he shouldn't live for anger and be willing to die for revenge. But the moments where he "gets it" are very outweighed by those other moments. Let's just say that Maria isn't his only influence. Jude has plans for Deacon, and, he did meet him first.

The world-building was messy. For a dystopian novel to truly work, it has to make some sense and be somewhat believable. Here is the background we're given: The era of Great Uncertainty finally had come to an end when the English squashed the Chinese uprising and seized governmental power in this country once and for all. It had been a full decade since any single authority had ruled the vast land that was once the USA. The incredibly evil kingdom is British. It is ruled by a King Charles. King Charles has centurion soldiers. He rules over--cruelly and unjustly--at least part of the former states. I don't think his dominion is over the western states. But it isn't just this new kingdom that requires readers to suspend their disbelief. (Why would the British hang people on crosses?!) There are the religious details too. The religious side is in a way extremely, annoyingly vague. He is "the Teacher." The religion doesn't have a name, no origin is given. No background or context is given. Readers are told that the Kingdom essentially pays little to no attention to religious people because they don't see the religion as being threatening. There are supposedly--again no real background or context being given--religious leaders and/or institutions in place that may govern over religious followers. There is a Holy City. (Which Southern city of the U.S. is supposed to be THE Holy City???) There is a religious festival involving animal sacrifice at a Holy Temple. (It is never identified as Passover, of course, because that would prevent this religion from being vague and nameless.)

This novel works best when it is focused on the Teacher. When readers see the Teacher teaching or preaching or performing miracles. These scenes are largely lifted from Scripture. Readers are part of the crowd, they are seeing and hearing for themselves.

The novel is also mostly successful in illustrating why the crowds--the masses--wanted deliverance from oppression and an actual revolution or uprising. They wanted freedom from the kingdom that oppressed them--literal freedom. Not freedom from sin or thoughts or attitudes.

The two genres being combined are so very different that the blending process is uneven at best. A dystopian retelling of the gospel could work if the focus was clearer and some of the details worked out better. Is the foundation of the dystopian a big what-if, what if Jesus did not come when he did--during the first century, Roman Empire? What would the world have been like if it was still waiting for a Savior or Messiah to come? What would the world have been like if Jesus had never come? What would countries and governments have been like? How would people be treated? More rights? Less rights? More problems? Less problems? About the same? What about cultures? What about developments and progress? Would people have still clung to the God of the Old Testament? Would people still believe in God as revealed in Holy Scripture? Would animal sacrifices still be occurring as part of that religion in 2099? How would the history of the world been changed? Would anything be the same? How dramatically different would the world be?  A dystopian retelling of the gospel demands a lot of thought and world-building. It would not be easy to make it convincing and believable. Biblical fiction--keeping the setting the same as the Bible--would have been an easier task perhaps. And one could have still kept it relevant and personal and from the same perspective. The protagonist still could have been an angry, bitter young man who wanted to be part of an uprising or rebellion. He could have wanted WAR and blood to be spilled and not have to have a gun and travel by taxi. It's not in the making it contemporary or futuristic that makes it relevant to modern readers. One could just as easily sell the reader on the idea of ROMAN oppression.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My Year With Spurgeon #32

Salvation to the Uttermost
Charles Spurgeon
“Where he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”—Hebrews 7:25.
Salvation, then, is to be found in the Scriptures, and in the Scriptures only; for we can read nothing of it elsewhere. And while it is to be found only in Scripture, I hold that the peculiar doctrine of revelation is salvation. I believe that the Bible was sent not to teach me history, but to teach me grace—not to give me a system of philosophy, but to give me a system of divinity—not to teach worldly wisdom, but spiritual wisdom. Hence I hold all preaching of philosophy and science in the pulpit to be altogether out of place. I would check no man’s liberty in this matter, for God only is the Judge of man’s conscience; but it is my firm opinion that if we profess to be Christians, we are bound to keep to Christianity; if we profess to be Christian ministers, we drivel away the Sabbath-day, we mock our hearers, we insult God, if we deliver lectures upon botany, or geology, instead of delivering sermons salvation.
He who does not always preach the gospel, ought not to be accounted a true-called minister of God.
We have, in our text, two or three things. In the first place, we are told who they are who will be saved, “them that come into God by Jesus Christ;” in the second place we are told the extent of the Saviour’s ability to save, “He is able to save to the uttermost;” and in the third place, we have the reason given why he can save, “seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”
By coming to God we are not to understand the mere formality of devotion, since this may be but a solemn means of sinning. What a splendid general confession is that in the Church of England Prayer Book: “We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep; we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and there is no health in us.” There is not to be found a finer confession in the English language. And yet how often, my dear friends, have the best of us mocked God by repeating such expressions verbally, and thinking we have done our duty! How many of you go to chapel, and must confess your own absence of mind while you have bowed your knee in prayer, or uttered a song of praise! My friends, it is one thing to go to church or chapel; it is quite another thing to go to God.
And let me tell you, again, that coming to God is not what some of you suppose—now and then sincerely performing an act of devotion, but giving to the world the greater part of your life. You think that if sometimes you are sincere, if now and then you put up an earnest cry to heaven, God will accept you; and though your life may be still worldly, and your desires still carnal, you suppose that for the sake of this occasional devotion God will be pleased, in his infinite mercy, to blot out your sins. I tell you, sinners, there is no such thing as bringing half of yourselves to God, and leaving the other half away. If a man has come here, I suppose he has brought his whole self with him; and so if a man comes to God, he cannot come, half of him, and half of him stay away. Our whole being must be surrendered to the service of our Maker. We must come to him with an entire dedication of ourselves, giving up all we are, and all we ever shall be, to be thoroughly devoted to his service, otherwise we have never come to God aright.
The whole man must seek after the Lord; the whole soul must be poured out before him; otherwise it is no acceptable coming to God at all.
I think I hear one say, “Well, then, tell us what it is to come to God.” I answer, coming to God implies, leaving something else. If a man comes to God, he must leave his sins; he must leave his righteousness; he must leave both his bad works and his good ones, and come to God, leaving them entirely.
Coming to God signifies having some love to God. Again: coming to God signifies desiring God, desiring to be near to him. And, above all, it signifies praying to God and putting faith in him. This is coming to God; and those that have come to God in that fashion are among the saved.
Let me solemnly assure you, in God’s most holy name, there never was a prayer answered for salvation, by God the Creator, since Adam fell, without Jesus Christ the Mediator. “No man can come unto God but by Jesus Christ;” and if any one of you deny the Divinity of Christ, and if any soul among you do not come to God through the merits of a Saviour, bold fidelity obliges me to pronounce you condemned persons; for however amiable you may be, you cannot be right in the rest, unless you think rightly of him.
The Father will never save a man apart from Christ; there is not one soul now in heaven who was not saved by Jesus Christ; there is not one who ever came to God aright, who did not come through Jesus Christ. If you would be at peace with God, you must come to him through Christ, as the way, the truth, and the life, making mention of his righteousness, and of his only.
How far can salvation go? What are its limits and its boundaries? Christ is a Saviour: how far is he able to save? He is a Physician: to what extent will his skill reach to heal diseases? What a noble answer the text gives! “He is able to save to the uttermost.”
Sinner, Christ is “able to save to the uttermost;” by which we understand that the uttermost extent of guilt is not beyond the power of the Saviour. Can any one tell what is the uttermost amount to which a man might sin?
My dear friend, suppose you had gone to the uttermost, remember that even then you would not have gone beyond the reach of divine mercy; for he is “able to save to the uttermost,” and it is possible that you yourself might go a little further, and therefore you have not gone to the uttermost yet. However far you may have gone—if you have gone to the very artic regions of vice, where the sun of mercy seems to scatter but a few oblique rays, there can the light of salvation reach you. If I should see a sinner staggering on in his progress to hell, I would not give him up, even when he had advanced to the last stage of iniquity. Though his foot hung trembling over the very verge of perdition, I would not cease to pray for him; and though he should in his poor drunken wickedness go staggering on till one foot were over hell, and he were ready to perish, I would not despair of him. Till the pit had shut her mouth upon him I would believe it still possible that divine grace might save him. See here! he is just upon the edge of the pit, ready to fall; but ere he falls, free grace bids, “Arrest that man!” Down mercy comes, catches him on her broad wings, and he is saved, a trophy of redeeming love. If there be any such in this vast assembly—if there be any here of the outcast of society, the vilest of the vile, the scum, the draff of this poor world,—oh! ye chief of sinners! Christ is “able to save to the uttermost.” Tell that everywhere, in every garret, in every cellar, in every haunt of vice, in every kennel of sin; tell it everywhere! “To the uttermost!” “He is able to save them to the uttermost.”
I tell you, sinner, you may have rejected Christ to the very uttermost; but he is still able to save you. There are a thousand prayers on which you have trampled, there are a hundred sermons all wasted on you, there are thousands of Sabbaths which you have thrown away; you have rejected Christ, you have despised his Spirit; but still he ceases not to cry, “Return, return!” He is “able to save thee to the uttermost,” if thou comest unto God by him.
If Christ is able to save a Christian to the uttermost, do you suppose he will ever let a Christian perish? Wherever I go, I hope always to bear my hearty protest against the most accursed doctrine of a saint’s falling away and perishing. There are some ministers who preach that a man may be a child of God (now, angels! do not hear what I am about to say, listen to me, ye who are down below in hell, for it may suit you) that a man may be a child of God to-day, and a child of the devil to-morrow; that God may acquit a man, and yet condemn him—save him by grace, and then let him perish—suffer a man to be taken out of Christ’s hands, though he has said such a thing shall never take place. How will you explain this? It certainly is no lack of power. You must accuse him of a want of love, and will you dare to do that? He is full of love; and since he has also the power, he will never suffer one of his people to perish. It is true, and ever shall be true, that he will save them to the very uttermost.
Now, in the last place, WHY IS THAT JESUS CHRIST IS “ABLE TO SAVE TO THE UTTERMOST?” The answer is, that he “ever liveth to make intercession for them.” This implies that he died, which is indeed the great source of his saving power. Oh! how sweet it is to reflect upon the great and wonderous works which Christ hath done, whereby he hath become “the high priest of our profession,” able to save us! It is pleasant to look back to Calvary’s hill, and to behold that bleeding form expiring on the tree; it is sweet, amazingly sweet, to pry with eyes of love between those thick olives, and hear the groanings of the Man who sweat great drops of blood. Sinner, if thou askest me how Christ can save thee, I tell thee this—he can save thee, because he did not save himself; he can save thee, because he took thy guilt and endured thy punishment. There is no way of salvation apart from the satisfaction of divine justice. Either the sinner must die, or else some one must die for him. Sinner, Christ can save thee, because, if thou comest to God by him, then he died for thee. God has a debt against us, and he never remits that debt; he will have it paid. Christ pays it, and then the poor sinner goes free.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible