October 2012 CBA Bible Bestsellers

Once again, I'm checking in on the Bible Bestsellers list compiled by the Christian Booksellers' Association.  I notice with interest that the CEB is gaining more ground these days, unseating the HCSB from the #6 spot it used to occupy.  (I haven't checked in on the list for several months, so this may not be a new development.)  Here is the list...

Bible_Translations.pdf Download this file
Meanwhile, the NIV and the good ol' KJV continue to rule the roost, as they usually do.  I've always wonder why the NKJV is always so high on the list; I suspect it's based mostly on ignorance of the options available.  People want the traditionalism of the KJV, but are afraid of the "thees and thous," so they go with something that is more or less familiar.

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Book Review: The End by Mark Hitchcock

[I received a free copy of this book from the Tyndale Blog Network, in exchange for posting this review on my blog and on Amazon.com.  See http://www.tyndaleblognetwork.com/ for more information.]

First, the good news: Hitchcock is considerably more organized in the layout of his End Times book than, say, Hal Lindsey (who curiously does not get a single nod in this book).  The bad news: this is the same old End Times nonsense you've read again and again from the likes of Hal Lindsey, John Hagee, Tim LaHaye, and a host of other prophecy "experts."  Our loving God is (any day now) going to show his love for humanity by wiping out all life on Earth in a catastrophic battle royale.  And, although Mark Hitchcock is less likely than most of the End Times writers to set any sort of date, he strongly hints that we could be living very close to the Rapture right now.  If you believe all that crap, then you will love this book.  If you don't, you might as well not even bother.  One other down side I should mention is that this book is considerably longer than most of Hal Lindsey's End Times books.  It may even be a bit longer than most of LaHaye's eschatological works.  

What really gets me about Hitchcock (and all of his ilk) is how he never realizes the absurdity of some of his statements.  He repeats again and again that Biblical prophets had 100% accuracy, but then proceeds to tell the reader that this book will focus on the hundreds of unfulfilled prophecies in the Bible.  My question, which I think is a natural one, is: how do we know that the prophets are 100% accurate, if hundreds of their prophecies have not been fulfilled?  (I know, I know...most readers of this stuff will say that we believe that they will all be fulfilled because the Bible is perfect in every way.  Whatever.)  Hitchcock also does what almost all prophecy writers do: he presents the rule that prophecies should be read literally, and then proceeds to present all kinds of figurative interpretations of prophecy.  He cautions the reader that date setting is wrong, but constantly refers to all kinds of signs of the times that we can see every day that indicate the end could be near.  Right at the beginning (p. 4) he presents the "Law of Proportion," which states that you can tell how important something in the Bible is by how many times it's mentioned.  Therefore, since prophecies make up nearly a third of the text of scripture, it must be just about the most important thing in the Bible, right?  But then he fails to apply that same principle to the title "antichrist," which he admits only occurs five times in the Bible, and only once as a reference to a single person.  Contradiction after contradiction after contradiction...

But, as I said above, if you love End Times stuff, this is going to be the book for you.  It's organized, comprehensive, and he's got the same chatty, popular style that previous authors like Lindsey and LaHaye have made so famous.  So, by all means, enjoy the ride, and have fun being raptured and watching all the unbelievers suffer down on Earth.

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Updated Bible Bookshelf spreadsheet

I've run out of shelf space, that's all there is to it.  You should see the piles of books all over the office, all over the house!  So I decided it was time to get rid of a few Bibles (duplicates, versions I don't use, etc.).  So this is my updated spreadsheet of my personal Bible collection.  It still comes to well over 200 books, so I've still got a bit of a storage problem.  Oh well...

Bible_Bookshelf_-_Sheet1.pdf Download this file

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Book Review: The Mormonizing of America by Stephen Mansfield

I received a free copy of Stephen Mansfield's book The Mormonizing of America from the publisher of the book, Worthy Publishing, in return for posting this review on my blog and on Amazon.com.

I was interested in reading and reviewing Mansfield's book because I have long been interested in Mormonism, its history and its impact on society.  I have several copies of the Book of Mormon in my collection, as well as several publications by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I have talked to missionaries on my front doorstep, and although I was unimpressed by their theology, I was impressed by their sincerity and their kind nature.  So the opportunity to read and review a book that handled Mormonism in a fair and balanced way was one that I jumped at.  This book did not disappoint.  

Mansfield makes it quite clear from the beginning that he admires Mormons for many of their qualities, but he makes it equally clear that he finds large parts of their history suspect.  He covers the founding of the LDS Church in the early part of the 19th century, and presents many of the facts surrounding Joseph Smith's background in treasure hunting, divining and dowsing.  He gives a brief overview of how Mormonism progressed from a reviled and persecuted sect, to the respectable, all-American image they possess today.  

As I have done my fair share of reading about the Mormons, from viewpoints that have been positive, negative and neutral, there wasn't actually a whole lot in Mansfield's book that surprised me.  However, I think the strength of the book lies in the balanced way in which the author approaches his subject.  While he freely admits that many of the LDS Church's positions and acts over their history have been controversial, he prefers to view the sect as what they are today.  In general, Mormonism today tends to be a very positive force in its adherents' lives.  Is there cause for alarm that so many Mormons seem to be in positions of power in America?  Perhaps.  But the "Mormon moment" is happening, whether we (or the LDS church) like it or not.

If readers are hoping to get any "dirt" on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (who is a devout Mormon), they will be sorely disappointed. Romney is certainly mentioned a couple times, as are Glenn Beck, Harry Reid, and Orrin Hatch.  And who could write a book about Mormon culture without mentioning Donny and Marie Osmond?  But The Mormonizing of America is not the kind of book that is interested in "dishing the dirt."  I can't help thinking that Romney's candidacy will greatly affect the popularity of Mansfield's book, and if Romney were to somehow be elected president, then I imagine the book would do very well indeed.  Meanwhile, if a reader is interested in learning about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by reading a book that is neither an apologetic for Mormonism nor a campaign to smear the Latter-day Saints, this book is a good place to begin.

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Book Review: The Voice Bible

(This is take #2 on this post, as our power went out when I was right in the middle of typing it!  Grrr.)

I've been meaning to do this review for quite some time now, but I wanted to "get comfortable" with The Voice Bible for a little while before I reviewed it.  This would be a good time to mention that I received my free electronic copy of The Voice Bible from Thomas Nelson's Booksneeze blogger program.  Check 'em out...it's a good way to get some free books in exchange for writing a relatively brief review online.

I've done a few reviews of The Voice New Testament on this blog a little while back; you can read my thoughts here and here and here.  Many (perhaps most) of my initial impressions still stand, but I would like to consider the Old Testament in this review, as I have reviewed the New Testament pretty thoroughly on older posts.

The main problem I have with The Voice is not really a problem with the book itself; rather, my difficulty is with the way in which the book is marketed.  If you look at the book's official website, you will find the term "translation" all over the place.  But is The Voice really a translation?  I think not; I see it as more of a "creative engagement" with the text of Scripture.  As such, it can be a marvelous tool for unpacking Scripture, for digging into some of the possible meanings of Scripture, but it should probably be used in conjunction with a "real" translation.  A few examples will demonstrate what I mean.

Let's begin at the beginning, with the first few verses of Genesis:

In the beginning, God created everything: the heavens above and the earth below. Here's what happened: At first the earth lacked shape and was totally empty, and a dark fog draped over the deep while God's spirit-wind hovered over the surface of the empty waters.  Then there was the voice of God. [italics in original]

This is not too bad--pretty traditional, in fact.  But, right away, we see how the writers insist on adding whole phrases, not necessarily to clarify, but to set the scene in a creative way.  "Then there was the voice of God" almost seems like "product placement."  They have to include the title of the book in that first verse.  I realize the good ol' King James Bible added italicized words into the text as well, but generally, the italicized words in the KJV simply make the grammar readable, rather than trying to "enhance" the text.  

Let's take a look at a poetic text, from the Psalms.  This is Psalm 8:3-4...

When I gaze to the skies and meditate on Your creation--on the moon, stars, and all You have made, I can't help but wonder why You care about mortals--sons and daughters of men--specks of dust floating about the cosmos. [italics in original]

This is quite beautiful, but is the extra poetic enhancement really part of a translation?  "Specks of dust floating about the cosmos" is a whole line of poetry added to the text, as a sort of meditation on the meaning of human life in a huge universe.  The line conjures up images of the Hubble telescope, images that are most likely quite foreign to the worldview of the psalmist.  Once again, the added material goes well beyond clarification, into the realm of poetic expansion.

I would like to present a more extended passage from Job, to examine what I find to be one of the more interesting features of The Voice's page layout.  This is Job 1:9-12.

The Accuser: I won't argue with You that he is pious, but is all of this believing in You and honoring You for no reason?  Haven't You encircled him with Your very own protection, and not only him but his entire household and all that he has?  Not only this, but Your blessing accompanies whatever his hand touches, and see how his possessions have grown.  It is easy to be so pious in the face of such prosperity.  So now extend Your hand!  Destroy all of these possessions of his, and he will certainly curse You, right to Your face.

Eternal One:  I delegate this task to you.  His possessions are now in your hand. One thing, though: you are not to lay a finger on the man himself. Job must not be touched. [italics and boldface in original]

I won't belabor the point about the material in italics, altough my earlier comments apply to some of the added lines in this passage as well.  I do like the easy-to-read layout of the "script" format, although I don't know if it would work all that well when reading the text out loud (unless you wanted to act it out).  I also find it interesting how the writers use the capitalized "You" when addressing God. That very old-fashioned convention is rarely used in modernn translations, except for the NKJV (and perhaps the NASB).  I'm not sure what the reasoning behind that traditional touch is.

I have been surprised by the kerfuffle on some of the more conservative reviews of The Voice I have read, that so many people have problems with the writers' use of titles for God and Jesus: the Eternal One, the Anointed One, and the Liberating King, for example.  "The Eternal One" is a pretty decent way of engaging with God's proper name.  "Anointed One" is a very accurate rendering of Christos.  "Liberating King" is a bit too interpretive for my taste, but I find it significant that the writers are trying hard to get away from the word Christ as Jesus' last name.

Overall, I find The Voice Bible to be a very engaging and creative way of interacting with Scripture.  I simply feel that it should be used in conjunction with a more "standard" translation (for lack of a better term).  It can be a great tool for unpacking the text, but it shouldn't be seen as a translation as such.

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Taking a break from blogging

I haven't really been  very active with my blogging for the past few months.  Thing is, I'm just too busy at the moment: having two kids is way more time consuming than having one.  There's a lot to do, and I simply don't have time.  Eventually, I hope to return to the blogosphere, but it may be a little while before it's convenient to do so.  Lord knows, I'm already wasting enough time on the internet...

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The C-word

No, this post is not about what you may be thinking.  The word I had in mind was...CHURCH.  This word, which has been in the English language for a very long time, has also had times of unpopularity among people who consider themselves followers of Christ. I've been involved lately in a discussion on Facebook about what the Greek word εκκλεσια (ekklesia) meant in its New Testament context: was it another word for "synagogue," or did it refer specifically to a group of people?  And where did this English word "church" come from?

Well, it turns out that εκκλεσια has a rather complex history.  In the Septuagint, it was often used interchangeably with συναγογη (synagoge) to translate the Hebrew word qahal, which is often translated "assembly."  In the New Testament, εκκλεσια seems to be used mainly to describe the group of people who recognized Jesus as Messiah, whereas συναγογη seems to describe the place where Jews gathered for prayer and Scripture study.  And how about the word "church"?  It was derived from a Greek phrase κυριακον δομα (kyriakon doma), which meant "the Lord's house."  So we're back to a word that describes the building instead of the people.  Where it gets confusing is that the English word "church" is used in the vast majority of English translations to translate εκκλεσια.  You can see how the whole thing got a bit confusing.

During the Protestant Reformation, reaction against the institutional Church (with a capital C) caused many of the reformers to use words that emphasized the congregational aspect of εκκλεσια.  Luther's Bible uses "Gemeinde" (congregation), rather than "Kirche" (church).  And the original printing of the Geneva Bible, favored by the Puritans, used "congregation" instead of "church," as Tyndale had done before that.

Which brings me to today.  Here in Nashville, it's been said that you can't throw a rock without hitting a church.  Indeed, we have lots of churches in Nashville.  Most of them have the word "church" somewhere in their names: Charlotte Pike Church of Christ, St. Ann's Catholic Church, St. John's United Methodist Church, Christ Church Cathedral, etc.  But I have noticed several congregations that have signs that read something like: Abundant Harvest Worship Center, or Bethel World Outreach Center, or Oak Hill Assembly.  My favorite is the sign outside of Westminster Presbyterian Church that reads: "Westminster Presbyterian Church Gathers Here."  That is a neat way of emphasizing that the church itself is not the building, but the people who meet there.  There is certainly a lot of baggage attached to the word "church," and it's no wonder that some churches (or congregations, or assemblies) are attempting to shed some of that baggage.

Should we drop the word "church," especially in our Bible translations?  Or should we do a better job of teaching people what the word actually means?  Can we reclaim the word, so it isn't considered a negative word?  Possibly a worthy goal.

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Book Review- Called to Controversy: The Unlikely Story of Moishe Rosen and the Founding of Jews for Jesus

[I received a free copy of this book in ebook format from the blogger program at Booksneeze.com.]

I thought Called to Controversy: The Unlikely Story of Moishe Rosen and the Founding of Jews for Jesus (by Moishe Rosen's daughter, Ruth Rosen) sounded like it would be an interesting story, despite its ponderous title.  Boy, was I wrong.  It was dull, excruciatingly dull.  And although the author seems to be trying throughout the book to impress us with Moishe's accomplishments, my overall impression of Moishe Rosen was that he must have been a pompous ass.  Over and over, we read of how Moishe ignored people's feelings or ideas, in his zeal for doing and saying things his way.  We even read how Moishe, in an attempt to make a point, smacked one of his female assistants full in the face, supposedly to demonstrate her "trust" for him.  
I don't know if I thought Moishe's journey from his mostly secular Jewish upbringing to Christian faith would be inspiring or fascinating, but it mostly made me sad.  Not because he was such a good Jew or anything (he had been an agnostic, more or less), but because, in typical missionary style, once he decided all Jews must accept Jesus, he insisted on trying to convert his whole family, and just couldn't understand why they would not jump right on board!  That attitude is simply part and parcel of Moishe's lifelong inability to empathize with anyone.  Ruth Rosen even points out his lack of empathy towards the end of the book, and oddly points it out as one of Moishe's strengths.  Apparently, she (like her father) believes that missionaries have no need to empathize with those whom they are trying to convert.  "Get the job done, and get 'em on our side," seems to be the Moishe Rosen (and Jews for Jesus) motto.
Honestly, before I read this boring book, I used to think Jews for Jesus was a worthwhile ministry.  Having read the book, I don't think they're really doing anything very laudable.  I don't believe they make a very good case for why a Jew should abandon his or her heritage.  I imagine many Christians will read this book and find it an amazing story.  I struggled to finish it, and found it a waste of time.  One star.

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In the beginning? #CEBTour

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ׃

Genesis 1:1

In the beginnning, God created the heavens and the earth...  

(most translations)

In the beginning of God's creating the skies and the earth...

(Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah)

When God began to create heaven and earth...  

(Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses)

When God began to create the heavens and the earth...

(Common English Bible)

First this: God created the heavens and the earth--all you see, all you don't see...

(The Message)

In the beginning, when God created the universe...  

(Good News Translation)

Here we are, six words into the Bible, and it's already difficult for translators to agree on what the text really says!  Some of my Christian brothers and sisters who are more conspiratorially minded will no doubt accuse those who disagree with their favorite translation to be at best wrong, and at worst, deliberately leading people down a false path.  I disagree.  I think anyone reading the Bible as it truly is will have to notice that it isn't all black and white, despite how it appears on the page.  Right off the bat, there is confusion, somewhat like the chaos before creation that the book of Genesis describes.  Yes, God creates order out of the confusion, but he doesn't simply give us the answers in a neat, tidy format.  The Bible is most emphatically NOT "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth (B.I.B.L.E.)"!  We would do well to remember that whenever we approach the Word.

Posted via email from CORYBANTER II: babble and banter, bypassing banality