Book Review: The Voice New Testament

When I first heard about the Voice New Testament, I was excited and intrigued.  The idea of a rendition of Scripture written primarily to be heard excites me, because until very recently in history, Scripture was not read like a textbook but heard by the people of God during times of corporate worship.  At the same time, I was intrigued because the translation team included many individuals who were clearly qualified with respect to their academic credentials but who are not well-known as Bible translators.  Neither of these points is inherently good or bad–they just formed my initial reaction to hearing about the project.

After reading a great portion of the Voice New Testament, I concluded that there are two reasons I cannot recommend this translation / paraphrase (?) for study or general use.  First, the text contains many insertions within the biblical text of notes attempting to clarify the text’s meaning.  These are essentially footnotes embedded in the main body of the text.  Though italicized to indicate that they are not part of the text, their placement within the flow of the text could be misleading to readers, unintentionally elevating these comments to the same level as inspired Scripture.  The second reason I have against recommending the Voice is that, while billed as a dynamic translation, it really reads more like the Message, which I would consider to be a paraphrase versus a true dynamic translation (like the New Living Translation).  The translation team took lots of liberties with the text–ones I think go well beyond what is either needed or desirable to satisfy their charter of highlighting “the beauty of God’s communication to His people” to ensure “the voice of God is heard as clearly as when He first revealed His truth.”

In sum, while I admire the goals of the Voice, it is not a translation I can recommend.  If, in the future, a revision was made to address these concerns (and those raised by others), I would gladly revisit this edition, but until then I will not refer to it often in my devotions, preaching, or teaching.

You can find out more about The Voice on the publisher’s website (here) or on Amazon.com (here).

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Book Review: The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

With the recent growing interest in Evangelical circles of liturgical practices from the larger Christian church (as evidenced, for example, by the Nelson’s Ancient Practices series of which this volume is part or the publication of Tyndale’s Mosaic NLT Bible), Sister Joan Chittister’s book The Liturgical Year provides an excellent introduction to the history, practice, and significance of the Christian liturgical year.  As she points out early on in this work, “The liturgical year is one of the teaching dimensions of the church.  It is a lesson in life.”  With this understanding in mind, she proceeds to discuss the development through history of the liturgical calendar and how its observance can be used as a teaching tool to challenge us to increasingly model our lives on the life and walk of Christ.

After exploring these preliminary items, Sr. Chittister takes the bulk of her book to look in some detail at each of the major seasons and holidays in the liturgical year–all of which, of course, center on the primary celebration of Christianity, Easter.  More than just describing the historical facts surrounding each church season or feast, Sr. Chittister continually challenges us, by God’s grace, to be truly changed by our annual journey through the life of Christ–transformed through our worship that our lives might more clearly mirror our Savior’s.  Two chapters at the end of the book on saints and Marian devotion will meet with resistance from those of us in Protestantism.  While I certainly do not agree with Roman Catholic theology on these points, I did find the discussion helpful if only to better understand the teaching of the church in these areas.

In sum, for those unfamiliar with the liturgical calendar, The Liturgical Year will provide a welcome introduction to its riches.  For those whose observance of the church calendar may have devolved into mere rote, this book can provide a re-energizing and necessary Christocentric focus to our worship.









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Book Review: The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns

Back in early July, the folks at Thomas Nelson were kind enough to send me a review copy of Richard Stearns’ new book, The Hole in Our Gospel.  It has taken me this long to read and review it, not because of busyness or some other excuse, but because Stearns (the President of World Vision U.S.) is a powerful writer who truly made me consider the complacency that has long plagued American Evangelical Christianity…the complacency that has all to often plagued me in my Christian walk.  His penetrating look at the living out of a truly biblical Christian faith begins in the Introduction, where he writes:

The gospel itself was born of God’s vision of a changed people, challenging and transforming the prevailing values and practices of our world…What if each of us decided with renewed commitment to truly embrace the good news, the whole gospel, and demonstrate it through our lives–not even in big ways, but in small ones?

From this starting point Stearns, who has traveled around the world encountering poverty, disease, malnutrition, neglect, and a host of other horrors at a degree few of us can imagine, challenges the Church universal, and especially wealth and resource-blessed American Evangelicals, to live out the social implication of the gospel in a completely Christ-centered way.  In a way that resonates with my own disappointment with many conservative Christians, he bemoans the fact that we have largely left social ministry to theological liberals and demonstrates why this not need and should not be the case.  He spends much of his book describing the sheer magnitude of social issues around the world–the very same ones addressed by Jesus in the Gospels–before showing how easily we could make a tremendous impact on the world in the name of Christ.  Unlike many similar books championing social causes, Stearns is unapologetically Evangelical in his approach and places the gospel at the center at all times.  Also, unlike many similar books, Stears’ writing caused me to open my eyes to the reality faced daily by countless millions around the world, truly reflect on the complacency that has worked its way into my own life, and challenge me to try to make a difference in my own neighborhood and across the globe.  Any of us who have grown comfortable in our Christianity would benefit greatly from Richard Stearns’ brutally honest, powerful, and Christ-centered call to live out the faith we profess.  His message needs to be heard.

Book Review: In the Footsteps of Paul by Ken Duncan

In the Footsteps of Paul is a breathtaking collection of photos chronicling the life of the Apostle Paul.  Through his camera lens, Ken Duncan has traveled through Israel, Turkey, Greece, and other locations to give readers a stunning glimpse into the places where Paul lived, worked, preached, and traveled.

The photos in this work are magnificent and are a real gift to visual learners like me who can easily imagine the Apostle traveling along Roman roads and sailing from beautiful Grecian harbors.  Photos of ancient frescoes and churches show us early Christian renderings and memorials to the events in Paul’s life.  Modern cityscapes and aged ruins connect the past to the present.

Some have criticized the text and quotes that are interspersed from page to page, and I personally have mixed feelings about them.  The quotes from Scripture corresponding to a given location or event provide a great visual to link biblical accounts with a real-world location.  In my opinion, however, the “inspirational” quotes don’t contribute much to the overall work.  That said, the text in this book is really quite secondary to the beautiful photographs that are its main focus.

In short, this spectacular gift book has taken up residence on our coffee table and has created a regular time of adventure, learning, and conversation for our children and guests.  I recommend it heartily for anyone wanting a glimpse into the real-world locations that made up the life and labors of the Apostle Paul!

Book Review: Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century by Hank Hanegraaff

Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century is an extensive update and revision of Hank Hanegraaff’s classic, first published nearly twenty years ago.  In it, he examines and scrutinizes the theology, practice, and teachings of some of the most popular “Word of Faith” (or simply “Faith”) preachers and teachers so prominent in American Evangelicalism today.  As in the initial version of Christianity in Crisis, Hanegraaff contrasts the teachings of the Faith movement with those of the historic, Christian faith to show the great disconnect between the two.  Using the acronym FLAWS, he examines deficiencies in this movement’s beliefs in the areas of faith, the nature of God, the understanding of the atonement, the fixation on health/wealth, and the theology of sickness/suffering.  After focusing on the negative aspects of these teachers and preachers, Hanegraaff offers several chapters of teaching on the “basics” of the faith in the areas of prayer, the Bible, the nature of the church, basic apologetics, and the theological non-negotiables of historic Christianity.  As is characteristic of Hanegraaff’s other works, he provides countless endnotes (nearly 75 pages) and a lengthy bibliography documenting the teachings of those under scrutiny, eliminating any serious accusation that he is taking these individuals out of context.

Hanegraaff’s lively writing style makes Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century an enjoyable read.  While he is to be considered an ardent defender of the faith, he is neither slanderous nor mean-spirited as he writes.  Two aspects of this book stand out and make it shine, in my opinion.  First, Hanegraaff is quick to separate the Word of Faith/Faith movement from Charismatic Christianity.  While the two are often lumped together by those in non-Charismatic circles, he points out the clear distinction between them in order to eliminate confusion for those who may erroneously believe or assume they are one-and-the-same.  Perhaps the most valuable portion of this book is the chapter titled, “Cast of Characters.”  In this chapter, Hanegraaff examines the false teachings of many prominent Faith teachers/preachers, including: Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, John Hagee, Rod Parsley, Paula White, and many others.  His lucid writing style clearly communicates what these individuals teach as well as pointing out the problems associated with their teachings.

Regardless of whether or not one is familiar with the original edition of this work, Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century is sure to make a valuable addition to the library of any Christian seeking discernment in the midst of the sometimes-confusing landscape of American Christianity.