Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bible Review: New Testament: Illuminated

Earlier this week, my review copy of Bible Illuminated: The Book: New Testament arrived. (My initial thoughts on this project can be found here.) I'd agreed to post further thoughts on the book as well. For those that don't remember, the translation being used is The Good News Translation (formerly called Today's English Version).

While this one won't be for everyone--for every reader--I do think it will appeal to those that may be turned off by the traditional looking two column, red-lettered, black leather (or leather-like) gold-embossed lettered "Holy Bible". Stereotypically speaking, the "big black book" gathering dust on the shelf. For those that find traditionalism to be a real turn off, this Bible is one plus after another. It does not have the look or feel of a Bible. It's in magazine format. There are glossy pages. There are photographs. Oodles and oodles of photographs.

What may not be so apparent is that this edition of the Bible is minus chapters and verses. On the one hand, that is good because books are then taken to be a cohesive whole. Also, though it's hard for us to imagine in some ways, the chapters and verse separations were added in centuries later. They're not original to the text by any means. I can't begin to count the number of times where coming across a chapter marking will signal me to "stop" reading for the day. Oh, I've read a chapter, two chapters? Then, I'm good. Let's call it quits. Without these chapter, verse markings perhaps there won't be that excuse. But on the other hand, they are convenient. Very convenient. It would be impossible to go to a Bible study or Sunday School class or church and hope to follow along because without chapters and verses to identify your location...then you'd be at a loss or disadvantage. But that is really beside the point in a way. This book is marketed for those that have no inclinations to go to church. It's marketed for the un-churched. For those that have never opened up the Bible (or haven't in a decade or so) it must be strange to encounter the Bible laid out so completely unlike any other book. Do chapters and verses make sense to strangers? Especially since in some cases, the chapters will interrupt the flow of the text mid-paragraph or mid-sentence even. Yes, chapters and verses break things up into manageable and reasonable sizes, but they're not always that logical.

One of my favorite Bibles--and it's now over a decade old--is The Narrated Bible. It's a bible (New International Version, NIV) that arranges the Bible in chronological order. It's designed to make the Bible read more like a novel. A cohesive whole. This seems to be similar in that it wants the text to read more like a magazine. To make readers more comfortable with it. Or not so comfortable as the case may be.

Here's the truth as I see it. People bring to it their own baggage. You either approach it with "this is a holy book, this is inspired scripture, this is God's Word" or you come to the experience with the preconceived notion that it's not...that's it's garbage, nonsense, a waste of time, propaganda, etc. Or you come to it that it's a sometimes beautiful or lyrical piece of literature. But it's literature or mythology not scripture. Changing the format of the bible isn't going to automatically remove those feelings, those notions, those mindsets. Some approach it with their minds already made up. But others may approach it with a sense of curiosity or questioning. That last set--the curious sort--is who this Bible may be best for. Those wondering what this whole Christianity thing is about...but who are too intimidated or weirded out by the traditional Bible and the traditional churches that seem so alien, so out there from where they're standing.

You can't make the Bible be comforting or comfortable. You can't ignore the fact that it does the opposite in fact. Not to preach a sermon at all, but the whole goal of the Bible is to make readers uncomfortable. "The word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It cuts all the way through, to where soul and spirit meet, to where joints and marrow come together. It judges the desires and thoughts of the heart. There is nothing that can be hid from God; everything in all creation is exposed and lies open before his eyes. And it is to him that we must all give an account of ourselves." (231)

It doesn't matter what the presentation or format is, the words within don't change. And it is the words themselves that might turn some people off.

The photos are there to engage you, to catch your attention, to make you think, to make you squirm in some cases, to shock you in others.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, October 27, 2008

Doing the Impossible

I wonder if it's possible to create a best of Andrew Peterson CD. Seriously. How can you choose 1 hour and nineteen minutes worth of goodness when (if you own most of his CDs) you have over 5 hours of stuff that more than qualifies. 

From Carried Along, you've got to include "The Chasing Song" and "Faith To Be Strong." Okay, so far not that bad. Two songs that represent that CD are reasonable.

From Clear to Venus, you've got "No More Faith" and "Isn't It Love" and "Loose Change" and "Alaska or Bust" and "Hold Up My Arms" and now you see why I have problems. I really love Land of the Free too. This CD is just too good. But even I wouldn't say this is his best CD. 

From Love & Thunder. It would be painful to lose any of the ten. If I had to choose a favorite? That is surprisingly easy. Just As I Am is my favorite, favorite, favorite, favorite Andrew Peterson song of all time. Maybe just maybe because this was my first Peterson CD. I just love, love, love Tools. It gets me every time. Just like "Alaska Or Bust" from the previous CD. And High Noon, The Silence of God, and After The Last Tear Falls....they're among the best of the best of the best. And there's something about Canaan Bound that I can't live without.

From Behold the Lamb Of God. This is my favorite year-round "Christmas" album. One Amazon reviewer years and years ago called this the Silmarillion of Christmas albums, and it's stuck with me. So so so true. I just *love* this CD. And I do listen to it all twelve months of the year. I absolutely love Matthew's Begats and So Long Moses and Behold the Lamb of God. I love the whole thing really. 

From The Far Country. Loved all of this one. Listened to it nonstop for months and months. Not something that happens often UNLESS it's Andrew Peterson. (Or Caedmon's Call.) Loved The Far Country. Loved Little Boy Heart Alive. Loved Lay Me Down. Loved it. And Mystery of Mercy? Of course I was first familiar with the Caedmon's Call version, but this one is just as good. And More is just a necessity.

Appendix A. I *love* this one too. It was worth the price of the album just for the gem that is The Cheese Song. So many songs that I love. So many treasures. So many essential songs that I couldn't imagine living life without. Isaiah 35. The Cheese Song. Three Days Before Autumn. Lullaby. Doxology (Romans 11). Even songs like Mohawks on the Scaffold and My Brother Pete grow on you after a while. 

And now we've got the release of Resurrection Letters, vol. 2. (Vol. 1 hasn't been written and recorded yet.) I've had the CD for only two or three days now. But already, I can't imagine NOT knowing and loving these songs. 

It's impossible to choose what is the best of the best of the best...when everything is just so can't-live-without-it-good. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bible Review: NKJV Chronological Study Bible

The Chronological Study Bible (2008) (NKJV) is not my first experience with a chronological bible. I received The Narrated Bible In Chronological Order (NIV) in 1999, and for a few years, this was the one bible I'd try to read through each year. I agree that this "chronological" reading might take some adjusting on the mindset of the reader. But I feel it's an invaluable way to read--or reread--the Word of God.

Later, I even had (for a short while) The So That's Why Bible (2001). Which turned out to be a quick-name-change from a Bible my mother had purchased a year or two before titled, The Life and Times Historical Reference Bible (1997). Both of those later books were the New King James Version.

So when I first saw The Chronological Study Bible in stores, my thoughts were is this really new?

The answer? Yes and no. There are portions of this Bible that were originally published in The Life and Times Historical Reference Bible. But there is new material as well.

First, let me say that I have no problem with them reprinting and retitling an old book. Unless your family is like my family--you probably don't have a copy of practically every bible that's been released in the past thirty years. The other book is out of print and unavailable, so why not bring it back?

The book has had quite a face lift, let me tell you. It's been redesigned. They just weren't publishing Bibles like this ten or fifteen years ago. Everything is in color. And not just one or two colors. (While formerly Bibles may have made use of some color--some more successful than others--I mean colors. For example, there have been a few Bibles printed all in purple or all in turquoise or all in blue, etc.) This is more than a small number of colored maps at the end of the Bible. This is a fully colorized, heavily illustrated bells-and-whistles edition of the Bible. The end result is very attractive. It's visually pleasing.

The translation. This is the New King James. It's published by Thomas Nelson. Personally, I probably own more copies of this translation than any other--but that is because they consistently offer the best and the most in study bibles. Other translations, I feel, are perhaps better for my own uses. But there's a certain familiarity about the translation after using it for so long. That familiarity can be a good thing. There are other chronological bibles--NIV, KJV, and NLT. Which means that you've got a few options. I would encourage anyone to try out a translation before buying it. Because honestly, if you're going to spend the money for a bible, it should be the one that you will actually want to use. So be practical. Owning the Bible in and of itself doesn't do you much good unless you actually read it, use it, study it, enjoy it.

The pages. I don't want my pages too thin. I don't want to be able to read the other side. This one appears to use good, quality paper. This shouldn't be a problem. It's two column format. The inner columns--closer to the spine of the book--are more difficult to read than I'd like. But this is a standard problem facing most hardback Bibles. Leather bibles, I feel, have more flexibiity and are of better quality--typically--and are in some ways easier to read. The top corners of the pages are stuck together--this happens often whether in hardback or leather--and they should become unstuck with the actual reading of the Bible. You have to use it to make it user-friendly.

The arrangement. It's too soon to say on the arrangement of the chronology. The introductory notes warn that there is some degree of uncertainty when it comes to assigning dates and times to books. And that there are legitimate alternative theories on some of the placements. As I said, it's too soon to say. I doubt there is anything too major (or minor) to stress over.

One thing that seems obvious but I'll mention it nonetheless is that the arrangement does differ from the traditional bible. At times this means: moving whole books, moving portions of books, and/or combining portions of books. Examples? Some of Paul's letters (epistles) are inserted within the book of Acts. The gospels are whole, but wholly combined. Just to give you an idea of what I mean--here is the presentation of Christ's birth and childhood beginning with John 1:1-18, followed by Luke 1:1-80, then Matthew 1:1-25, then Luke 2:1-38, then Matthew 2:1-23, then Luke 2:39-51, etc. That brings us to John the Baptist.

This rearranging may be beneficial and helpful in private study. But it might not make the best choice for bringing to Sunday School classes, Bible Studies, and Church Services.

I actually feel, however, that it would be fun to read through the Bible chronologically as a group for Bible Study. It's something I'm considering (I teach an adult class) for when I finish my current study.

It would make an excellent gift for any occasion--be it birthday, Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, confirmation, baptism, etc.

From the publisher:

* The entire New King James Bible with translators' notes, arranged in chronological order-the order in which the events and writings actually happened, for absorbing and effective Bible study
* Full-color illustrations of places, artifacts, and cultural phenomena that give the reader a dramatic, "you are there" experience
* Fascinating articles that connect the Bible text to world history and culture
* Daily Life Notes that explain how people lived in Bible times
* Epoch Introductions and Historical Overviews that provide vivid chronological context
* Transition Comments that set the stage and prepare the reader for the biblical text that follows
* "Time Capsules" of world history that accompany the Bible text
* Time Panels and Charts that show the flow of Bible history
* In-text and full-page color maps of the biblical world
* A handy scripture finder index that provides rapid access to any passage
* Topical Index and Glossary to facilitate study

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sneak Preview of Bible Illuminated: The Book: The New Testament

Consider me a skeptic. Not of the Bible. Not of the Christian faith. But of those who would try to dress up the Bible for new audiences. Originally published in Sweden, the brain-child of Dag Soderberg, this book seeks to "introduce today's audience to a revolutionary contemporary Bible, one that encourages dialogue and is culturally relevant, accessible, and easily digestible for any reader regardless of religious, economic, racial, or social background." (quoting the publisher's website.)

Still I was intrigued enough to take advantage of a review opportunity that would allow me to access the book weeks before its release date. I knew several things about the book going into it. One, the format would be (or should be that is since I've only seen it in electronic format) in glossy magazine format/style. Two, the book also would have a liberal sprinkling of contemporary photographs. Both of these are supposed to make the Bible (suddenly) relevant to the modern world, to the modern reader. The reasoning being that it is the lack of pictures, lack of illustrations, lack of media that makes the Bible boring and irrelevant and so often discarded in today's circles.

The Bible translation being used is The Good News Translation. (A.K.A. The Good News Bible or Today's English Version). (The same translation that is used in the film The Gospel of John that came out a few years ago.) This Bible translation has been around since the sixties. And some early editions of this Bible contain stick-figure drawings or illustrations. I know because my parents grew up having this one. And when the stick-figure edition was reprinted a few years ago, I picked up my own copy. There is something so charming about it. I also knew this translation from another edition of this bible. This one had photographs (though not nearly as many as this new book). Originally published in the late sixties or early seventies, the photos soon became dated and more of a detriment than a selling factor or successful marketing ploy.

While the Good News Translation wouldn't necessarily be my first choice as a Bible translation to read on a daily basis for personal growth and study in the faith. It isn't an awful choice either. There are other translations I dislike more. And this translation is one of the more reader-friendly translations. (Other reader-friendly translation options could have been The Message, Contemporary English Version, Today's New International Version, The New Living Translation.) And since the book is designed specifically to draw in new readers, then the translation choice is well made. I don't see any new readers being willing to untangle the language of some of the more traditional translations. (My personal favorite when it comes to translation is The New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the English Standard Version (ESV).)

This isn't the first Bible to give the magazine format a try. There is Revolve and Refuel geared towards teen girls and guys respectively.

Still though magazine-formatted bibles and illustrated bibles aren't exactly new or groundbreaking, this new book is more ambitious than anything I've ever seen before. It offers more, more, more visuals to stimulate you. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Does the Bible need to offer distractions from the text itself? Does it need these visual additions in order to be relevant?

You'll never catch me saying that it does. I think the Word of God can stand on its own two feet. But perhaps this is a cultural thing as well. Perhaps in some cultures, some climates, some regions of the world, of society, there is a drought. A bigger drought that my eyes have never seen or witnessed. A severe lack of the Bible's presence. A genuine need for this type of book. Who knows for sure. And if this is what it takes to "inspire" some people to pick it up and read it through...then how could that be a bad thing?

My thoughts on what I've seen...

I love the Andy Warhol poster which reads "Repent and Sin No More!" as one of the opening images. As for the other images, some I really really enjoyed. I thought they were either a) beautiful b) thought-provoking c) complimented the highlighted passage well. However, there were many that I just had a ??? response to. Pictures that I didn't see the point to. That baffled me. That perhaps disturbed me and not in a particularly good way.

Mark is probably the book that confused me most. Within this book there are pages (probably a dozen or more) of celebrities (a.k.a famous people) included. Because I couldn't understand why Angelina Jolie, Al Gore, Bill Gates, John Lennon, etc. were in there. What do celebrities have to do with the gospel message???

But this book (The Bible Illuminated: The Book: New Testament) does have a social-humanitarian-global focus that I like. Luke highlights eight ways to change the world, for example. And the images within Luke--as opposed to Mark--work for me. They tell me something. They have a point. They're relevant.

So some books really worked for me. Others not so much.

Here's a YouTube video about the book:

Friday, October 10, 2008

Book Review: The Cure

Kraus, Harry. M.D. 2008. The Cure: The Divine RX for The Body of Christ--Life Changing Love.

I loved this book. It's true. I found it clear and concise. But perhaps more importantly, I found it relevant. Timely even. (Not that I'm going to break down in song...what the world needs love, sweet love...)

"This book has been all about simplifying the call of Christ to his body. In one simple word, it's all about love. Maintain the basics of spiritual health, and we will all fulfill the call of God by design, by becoming the channel of love straight from the heart of God. Then we can love whomever God puts in our path. That's our calling. Simple but life-changing." (180).

I loved the message and the presentation of this one. I loved how it made sense of things. The book is about a variety of topics--the spiritual health and well being of Christians as individuals and collectively as a church, the spiritual duty of each and every Christian, etc. But above all else the book is about love--our failure to love God, our failure to love ourselves, to love our fellow Christians, to love our neighbors, to love our enemies. But the book is practical as well. The only way to "fix" what ails us to spend time with God--through prayer, through Bible reading, through worship, through study, through whatever it takes to get our attention and priorities back on what they should be.

I think this book can speak to many people. That it could be beneficial to many people. But the part that stood out to me was the author's chapter on OCD and the Christian. The chapter technically is about how difficult a time some people have loving themselves. But it is specifically about how OCD can (and does) effect Christians in their spiritual life. How their problems with OCD can bleed through into their spiritual health and well being. How these obsessions and compulsions can take on a spiritual/moral cloak and leave people feeling hopelessly and perpetually guilty and wanting to be made right with God. How spiritual disciplines or behaviors or mindsets could become ritualized compulsions. This chapter has the potential to change lives. Because to the best of my knowledge, this is the first I've ever read about it. And the fact that there could be others out there just like me...that need this just as much as I did. I think it's a real blessing.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Day 2, Mind, Body, Soul Challenge

Exercised about twelve or fifteen minutes. Still undecided on audio book.
Read The Cure, one of the books I'm considering for the Soul portion of the challenge.
That's about it.

We're Getting Closer...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Day One, The Mind, Body, & Soul Challenge

This October I'm participating in Annie's The Mind, Body & Soul Challenge. And while most of the reviews will be posted on my blog, Becky's Book Reviews, I'll be featuring at least one review here. I'd like to post about my progress here on this blog.

I'm in for:

Mind: Option 2
Do you have a classic novel sitting on your bookshelf you've always wanted to read but have never gotten around to? Great! Time to pick it up this month and finally read it! When you've finished, read a follow-up novel to your classic written by a different author. This could be a sequel to Pride and Prejudice or a modern novel modeled on your classic.
Body: Option 1
Combine reading and workouts. How you say? NOT by reading on the treadmill. You WILL fall off and it WILL hurt. Trust me, I know. Opt for a safer option and listen to your favourite audio book while your exercising. Set a daily exercise goal and use reading to get you through it!
Soul: Option 1
Read something inspirational. Choose an autobiography of someone whom you really admire, a self-help book you've been wanting to read or a spiritual novel. Read something that you hope will light the fire in your belly.

Today I decided that I'd read Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. I've joined the Go Gothic project/event at Austenprose. Which means that my modern retelling will be Old Friends and New Fancies. That book was written in 1913, it is the FIRST Jane Austen sequel ever created. Perhaps more interesting than that little tidbit is the fact that is a sequel to ALL SIX of her novels.

Revision: I'm still thinking about this. You see, I'm tempted to read William Shakespeare's Macbeth and then read Alan Gratz's Something Wicked. But the challenge does say "classic novel" and not "classic book" so I don't know if this one could technically count. It probably does though, right? Maybe?

For the "body" portion of the challenge...I am using one of those walking machines (swinging legs) and I'm trying to listen to an audio book. However, I'm indecisive at this point. You might say I'm being too picky. Earlier in the week, I tried walking while listening to Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. Unfortunately, I seem to have misplaced it soon after. So I went with Tamar by Mal Peet today. But we're not clicking that well. So chances are that I will probably choose another book to officially read for this portion of the challenge. I just don't know what yet. I'm just not sure I'm meant to read and exercise at the same time.

For the soul portion, I still haven't done much of anything. I should probably at least find the book I'm going to be reading it. Hey, I should probably actually open it up and read a chapter or two too. We'll see.

I'll be back tomorrow hopefully with more news on how this challenge is going.