Review: Master Criminals

Not-So-Nice Bible Stories: Master Criminals
by Jonathan Schkade, illustrated by Gleisson Cipriano

The Bible isn’t all sugar, spice, and everything nice. There’s a lot of stories in God’s Word that shows how dark this world can be. In Master Criminals, Jonathan Schkade takes some of the biggest stories of crimes in the Bible and takes an honest look at them. He retells each story in modern language, asks thought-provoking questions, and shows ties to other sections of Scripture. Every chapter ends with a section asking, “Why is this in the Bible?” and some “Extra Features” that usually connect the events of the chapter with works of fiction or events in history that may be of interest to the reader.

This is a companion book to Gory Deaths. While I don’t know which one comes first, I can tell you I think I liked Gory Deaths better. Master Criminals is still excellent, please don’t get me wrong! But I think if I were giving gifts or lending books out, I’d start with the other one.

That said, Schkade’s choice of criminals is, well, choice. He starts with Adam and Eve as the murderers of every human who ever lived, and then moves on to Cain and Abel. But he also includes a number of people that many readers might not be familiar with, such as Athaliah or two women who committed cannibalism in Israel. He also includes some people who were accused of wrong who weren’t doing wrong, such as the three men thrown into the fiery furnace, and Jesus himself. (more…)

The hand of the LORD is powerful.

Exodus -- background

Benjamin grew up hearing all the stories. His dad told him what the slavery was like. Showed him the scars on his back from the taskmaster’s whips. Dad would weep with the agony of it. And then his voice would hush. “And then God sent us Moses. And God used Moses to shake Egypt like a sapling, and we were free.” And he savored that word, drinking it like fine wine. “We were free, but we didn’t know where to go. We ended up at the Red Sea when Egypt decided it wanted its slaves back. They sent the army to get us. Benjamin, we panicked. We were so scared. We thought we were going to die. We’d do anything to not go back under the lash, even drown ourselves in the sea. But Moses told us to be still. So we were still… and God opened up the waters. Have I told you before?”

And Benjamin would roll his eyes. Of course dad told him before.

There was a wall of water here… and one here.. and we walked through on dry land!” And his dad would go on and on, about how Israel was faithless again and again. “Can you believe it? I thought going back into slavery would be better. I was wrong. But God remained faithful. Look at this food, Benjamin! God provides it every day, even though we don’t deserve it. He is a good God, Benjamin. Don’t you ever forget it!”

But that was… that was years ago. Benjamin’s father and mother had died in their desert wanderings. They had all died, that generation that saw the wonders of God. And Moses died. (more…)

Sometimes I See Stories


Sometimes I wonder.

We don’t know how old Joshua was when he entered the Promised Land. His fellow spy, Caleb, was forty when they explored the land flowing with milk and honey before the forty years of wandering, so it’s realistic to say Joshua was about the same age. And if he was forty then – well, how long did slaves wait before they got married? It’s reasonable to guess Joshua was already married at that point. And since no one who was an adult at the beginning of the forty years of wandering made it into the Promised Land except Joshua and Caleb, well, that means that if Joshua was married, he was a widower when he entered the Promised Land.

It’s all guesses. Somewhat educated guesses, but guesses. The Bible does tell us Joshua was married at some point. He had children. We don’t know when that was, though. After the conquest? Before?

But sometimes I take a look at those snippets… and I see a story. (more…)

Review: Appreciate Science and Love the Bible

5 Things You Can Do to Appreciate Science and Love the Bible
by Charles St. Onge

Science and the Bible don’t seem to play nice, do they? If you love the Bible, do you need to give up science? Do you need to be suspicious of anyone with an engineering degree? Do you need to check your brain at the door? Thankfully, no! This little book (about 90 pages) tackles what science and the Bible have to do with each other in an engaging and Scripture-filled way.

Short review: Yes. You need this book in your library. (more…)

Review: Understand the Bible Better

5 Things You Can Do to Understand the Bible Better
by Zach McIntosh

You want to read the Bible better, right? This short book aims at equipping you to do just that! In five chapters, it talks about the central premise of the Bible, how to read the Old Testament, how to read the New Testament, how to expect the Bible to change you as you read it, and how to get help with the parts you don’t understand. In the end, it encourages the reader with great advice: The best way to read the Bible better… is just to read the Bible!

Well, chalk another dash in the “frustrating book” column for me! The advice in this book is solid. The chapters on the Old and New Testament give great introductory material that equips the reader on the breakdown of the major “storylines” and how to read different sections. Those two chapters are, by far, the best parts of the book. (more…)

Review: Bible Handbook

Concordia’s Complete Bible Handbook, Second Edition
Introductions by Jane L. Fryar
Edward A. Engelbrecht, General Editor

That Bible is a pretty thick book. It can be bard to understand. What do the different money denominations mean? What was in Abraham’s tent? What does a shepherd do? What kind of foods did they eat back then? Can you show me a bunch of maps? Concordia’s Complete Bible Handbook gives two to three-page introductions to each book of the Bible along with articles covering some broad biblical topics. Lavishly illustrated with many maps, there are few pages without something to attract the eye. It also includes a lengthy dictionary that explains many biblical concepts.

The bulk of this book is a great resource to have on any Lutheran’s shelf. The introductions to the Bible books are both concise and focused on Law and Gospel. Each intro includes sections including, “Who wrote ______? When? Why?” “What’s the best way to read ______?” “How is _________ organized?” “How does ___________ point to Jesus?” “What are the key chapters and verses in _________?” If you’ve ever had the Concordia Self-Study Bible and you’ve looked at those introductions, these will feel a lot like those, but more detailed. (more…)

This is the Time for Justice

Esther pic - final - fade out edges

Esther puts her hand against the wood paneling of the door to the throne room. She whispers to herself, “If I perish… I perish.” She pushes the door open.

The king’s guards turn and draw their blades. The king has summoned no one. The only reason anyone would have to come in here without being summoned is to assassinate the king. The law is clear: Kill any uninvited guest.

Esther holds her hands out, showing she is unarmed. Her only chance is the mercy of the king. The guards tense to strike.

And Xerxes extends the golden scepter. The only thing that would keep any uninvited guest safe. “What do you want, my queen? Ask it, and it’s yours.” Xerxes smiles. His queen. The one he chose. His queen.

Esther tries not to faint. She heaves a deep breath before answering, “Come to a banquet I have prepared for you today. You. And Haman.” She gestures to the man sitting at her husband’s right hand. She gestures to the man who wants her murdered. “Come to my banquet. That’s all I want.”

Haman. The man who had masterminded a new law: On a certain day in the twelfth month, it will be legal to kill any Jew and take their possessions. He doesn’t know the queen is Jewish.

But neither does the king. (more…)

Review: The 10 Minute Bible Journey

The 10 Minute Bible Journey
by Dale Mason; foreword by Ken Ham

The Bible is a big book and it can be hard to wrap your arms around it. In The 10 Minute Bible Journey, Dale Mason takes the reader through 52 bite-size chunks that gives the “big picture” of Scripture. Each lesson is two pages of text and one page-size picture, and each lesson shows how these events connect directly or indirectly to Jesus. By the time the reader finishes the book, they should have a good idea of how the Bible fits together, to equip them to read the entire Bible on their own.

With a few caveats (one of them pretty major), I am going to highly recommend this book. It does a good job compressing the narrative of Scripture and showing how everything fits together. It keeps pointing to Jesus as the central person of the Bible, constantly directing the reader to him. While some of the lessons are little rocky in just how they present the information, many of them are compelling. The lessons on Jesus’s birth in particular are very well written, even grabbing me (who, you know, kinda know that story pretty well!). I appreciated the highlighting of Jesus throughout. (more…)

Review: Why Should I Trust the Bible?

Why Should I Trust the Bible?
By A. Trevor Sutton

Not every question about the Bible has a Sunday school answer. Isn’t the Bible racist? Isn’t it out of date? Didn’t people change it over time? And if you give a simple answer… it often doesn’t reflect reality. In Why Should I Trust the Bible A. Trevor Sutton tackles the questions head on with whimsy and panache, addressing a number of questions with a touch of sarcasm and a lot of Jesus.

I love the basis of this book. “Why can I trust the Bible? Answer: Jesus” (19). Sutton hits it out of the park by starting there. He explains: “His life, death, and resurrection provide the trustworthy foundation for every page in the Bible. The Bible would be simply a book like every other book in human history if it were not for Jesus. He is the foundation for our trust in the Bible” (16).

But the thing I love is also a liability. This book is meant to be read by Christians; this isn’t a book you’re likely to hand to someone who’s already doubting the Bible. Instead, it’s meant for Christians to read to be able to answer objections directly. The book assumes that the Bible is God’s Word from the beginning, and that it’s about Jesus. In fact, Sutton ends the book with an objection that says, “Grace is too easy.” I love that he concludes with the gospel. He also addresses it very honestly: “Fully comprehending God’s work of salvation is easily the most mind-bending, heart-wrenching, soul-stretching endeavor imaginable” (184).

In fact, throughout the book he’s not afraid to call some objections to the Bible lazy or incomprehensible if you actually read the Bible, but he takes each objection seriously. He compares the Bible to other ancient literature like the Epic of Gilgamesh. Or more modern works, like Faulkner’s stories. But every time he takes each objection seriously. For instance, one objection is, “There’s so many interpretations, it can’t be true!” He responds, “The disagreements about how best to interpret the Bible are not evidence that it should not be trusted; rather, they are proof that Christians take the Word of God seriously” (149).

Through it all, he encourages readers to investigate on their own. “Trust in the Bible is not built on sweeping statements without analysis. Rather, trust in the Bible is built on bold statements that can be dissected and discussed, explored and examined” (61). So explore and examine!

Sutton tackles a number of objections. The downside is that each objection gets about five to ten pages. What that means is that he addresses a wide range of concerns. The downside is that none of them go too deep. On the other hand, at least in my experience, most people who use these kind of objections are speaking from ignorance. Answering an objection honestly and humbly, even on the level of this book, can open up discussion and hopefully help someone realize that it’s not as open and shut against the Bible as they might think.

But as Sutton keeps driving each section back to Jesus, the reader also has an example of how to take the discussion back to what matters most: Law and Gospel.

And again, Sutton encourages further study:

Keep going. Press on. Lean in. Pray that the Holy Spirit would engage your whole heart and your whole mind in answering these questions. Read more books about the Bible, study Scripture with others, and ask difficult questions. And above all, keep following Jesus. He is at the center of Scripture. He is the Word made flesh. Jesus is the real and living person around whom the Bible coheres. And He is the one and only source of eternal life. (197-8)

This book should be on your shelf. It’s a great step into apologetics, knowing more about the Bible, and answer serious questions honestly.

Review: Gory Deaths

Not-So-Nice Bible Stories: Gory Deaths
by Jonathon Schkade; Illustrated by Gleisson Cipriano

Ever notice that not everyone dies nice and pretty in the Bible? There’s some pretty gruesome deaths. This book takes the reader through nineteen of the most painful ways to die illustrated in Scripture, and then explains why each was included in our Holy Book. Throughout, readers are pointed to Law, to Gospel, and every time, to Christ.

This book is fantastic fun. Every chapter begins with a good retelling of the biblical account of the person in question, backing up to give all the background. Sidebars bring up other questions or biblical parallels with references to go digging deeper. Each chapter ends with a section entitled “Why is this in the Bible?” tying each story to the big story of the Bible: Jesus come to save sinners. After that there’s always “Bonus Features” that will take one aspect of the story and show other places in history that kind of thing showed up. For instance, the chapter on the stoning of Stephen includes a bonus feature of how other early Christians were martyred.

If you’re looking for a great survey of Bible history for someone who doesn’t like “boring parts,” this would be a great book to give. It’s engaging and speaks everyday language incredibly well. (more…)