September 29, 2020

Some Light Housecleaning

As I am stuck inside my ranch (ok, suburban ranch-style house) here in Tulsa waiting for the snow to melt, I thought it might be a good time to try to catch up on some light housecleaning. I have a number of books piled up that need to be reviewed. I’ll touch on a few here and try to get to more in the coming weeks. If you have sent me a book to review, I apologize for not getting to it sooner. And if you have a book for me to review, email me ( for my mailing address.

Ok, now for the reviews. Remember, these are just my thoughts on these books. Your mileage may vary.

The Gospel Of John: When Love Comes To Town

IVP (InterVarsity Press) has not one but two new Bible commentary series, and each begins with a study of a Gospel. The Gospel of John: When Love Comes to Town is part of the Resonate Series.  The Resonate Series is being developed by Paul Louis Metzger, professor of Christian theology and theology of culture at Multnomah Biblical Seminary in Portland, Oregon. As such, Metzger deals with students who arrive fitting into one of two broad backgrounds. Either they have grown up in a Christian environment and have been grounded in biblical knowledge, but have no experience in using that knowledge to engage culture; or they have very little biblical knowledge but are well-equipped to navigate our ever-changing culture. So Metzger saw the need for a commentary series to touch both of these partially-equipped groups.

There are scores of commentaries on the market from biblical scholars who go verse by verse through the biblical text. While extremely important, there also is an increasingly urgent need for pastors who free right at home within the biblical text to bring that text home to today’s Christ followers by interacting with the text expositionally, by placing it within the context of contemporary daily life, and by viewing their personal stories in light of the original context and unfolding drama of ancient Scripture. There also is an increasingly urgent need for people who feel right at home with contemporary culture but who are foreigners when it comes to Scripture to inhabit the world of the Bible without abandoning their own context. God would have us live in both worlds (p. 12).

Thus Metzger launches this series of commentaries that attempt to reach both those who are biblically-grounded but culturally-inept, and the those who are at home in pop culture but know little of Scripture. How does he do?

You can get an idea not by reading but simply looking at the interior of the book. It is all text. No pictures. None. If he is attempting to reach the two groups mentioned above, he has forgotten one important element. Both of these groups share something in common: They have been raised to learn online in an interactive way. They are not used to simply reading text. Even without pictures, books can be made to look “reader friendly” with more white space, wider margins, etc. This book looks dense. It is not inviting to the reader who picks it up in the store and flips through it. I say this because I was really hoping this would be a text that could be used for high school students. College students who are paying for their education will wade through this, but not high school students. I’m sorry—that’s just the way things are today.

As for the text itself, well, many of the cultural references seem forced to me. For instance, Metzger talks about “back-masking” (hidden messages in songs that could only be heard if you played the vinyl record backward) when he is discussing Jesus telling Nathaniel how he saw him sitting under a tree. I did not really pick up on how those two ideas mesh.

The way he is approaching this series is a good idea, even a much-needed style of biblical commentary. I hope the rest of the series finds a way to be more appealing to the audience it wants to reach.

Luke: The Gospel Of Amazement

IVP’s other series begins with the Gospel of Luke. Luke: The Gospel of Amazement is the first in the Biblical Imagination Series from Michael Card. This one to me is a winner.

I have heard of Card since the early 80s when he started writing and recording music that wasn’t the typical CCM fare. When he released Brother To Brother in 1996 with John Michael Talbot, many Christian retail stores stopped carrying his albums. How could a good Protestant like Card stoop to recording an album with Talbot, a Catholic? Of course I immediately bought the album—rebel that I am—and loved it. But how is Card as a writer, specifically as a writer of a commentary on the Gospel of Luke? (This, by the way, is not his first book. He has written many others.)

In a word: great. He is not approaching this as an academic commentary, but rather more as a devotional commentary. It is perfect to use during your own personal reading of the Gospel. The entire text of Luke is contained within (using the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation, a very good choice as it turns out), with passages from each chapter in order, followed by Card’s insights. And it is his insights which make this so enjoyable. As a song writer, he helps us to use our imaginations as we read through Luke’s Gospel.

The imagination is the vital bridge between the heart and the mind. It is the means by which the Spirit begins to reconnect what was disintegrated by the Fall. This explains why the majority of the Bible is seeking to recapture our imaginations, whether it is the poetry of the psalms, the imagery of the prophets or the luminous parables of Jesus (p. 13).

Card starts with the Gospel of Luke because it has more of Jesus’ parables recorded than the others. And the parables require us to use our imaginations.

The parables of Christ are a mystery. They are not equations to be solved. You are never done with a single parable of Jesus—or perhaps it is better to say that his parables are never done with you. The simplest parable will continue speaking for the rest of your life—that is, if you choose to listen. No one understands this better than Luke (p. 26).

I am enjoying working through Luke’s Gospel with Michael Card as my companion. He is challenging and encouraging all at once.

Common English Bible

What goes best with Bible commentaries? Well, a Bible, of course. The question is, do we really need a whole new Bible translation in English? My answer? No. But hey, why stop when we’re all getting along so well? And I do mean “all.” This is definitely a Bible translation by committee.

I don’t believe a committee can write a book.  It can, oh, govern a country, perhaps, but I don’t believe it can write a book.  ~Arnold Toynbee

Could Hamlet have been written by a committee, or the Mona Lisa painted by a club?… Creative ideas do not spring from groups.  They spring from individuals.  The divine spark leaps from the finger of God to the finger of Adam.  ~Alfred Whitney Griswold

It is impossible to imagine the universe run by a wise, just and omnipotent God, but it is quite easy to imagine it run by a board of gods.  ~H.L. Mencken

A ‘Normal’ person is the sort of person that might be designed by a committee.  You know, ‘Each person puts in a pretty color and it comes out gray.’  ~Alan Sherman

Alan Sherman pretty much nails it. The Common English Bible New Testament with Psalms is the grayist Bible I have ever read. It was conceived by a committee of denominational publishers, including those from the Disciples of Christ (Chalice Press); Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (Westminster John Knox Press); Episcopal Church (Church Publishing Inc); United Church of Christ (Pilgrim Press); and United Methodist Church (Abingdon Press).  It was then translated by a committee. According to the CEB web site:

The Common English Bible is committed to the whole church of Jesus Christ. To achieve this, the CEB represents the work of a diverse team with broad scholarship, including the work of over one hundred and seventeen scholars—men and women from twenty-two faith traditions in American, African, Asian, European and Latino communities. As a result, the English translation of ancient words has an uncommon relevance for a broad audience of Bible readers—from children to scholars.

I used to teach my broadcasting students, “If you try to please everyone, you will please no one.” Example A: The Common English Bible.

Honestly, there is so little to make me excited or upset about this translation it is not really worth a thorough review. Use it if you want. Skip it if you don’t. There.

Long Surrender

Finally, you are going to need some tuneage for all this Bible study you will be doing with your new commentary(ies) and your old/new Bible. If you are going to buy one album in the first few months of this year, I cannot recommend Over the Rhine’s Long Surrender any more highly. I could go into a lot of detail and show you just how completely inept I am at writing music reviews. I could get Adam Palmer to do it, but he is busy writing his next novel. So why not read this? It says everything I could say, only much better. Then wait until the album is released on Tuesday or … or go directly to Over the Rhine’s web site and buy the album from them where you will get immediate access to the entire album to download to your computer while you await the plastic version in the mail.

Ok. I think I can now put away my broom and dust pan. I’ve tidied up my piles here, but now have messed up your day as you seek to order one or two new books and a CD. Yes, I subscribe to the inflexible law that says you cannot make one place clean without making at least one other place messy. You’re welcome.


  1. David Cornwell says

    No comments on the books yet, but Mickey Mouse and the Wizard is my favorite Disney scene.

  2. You clean and straighten, we ride in on your coat tails (neatly starched)…perfect. Thanks for the shout outs, OTR and Michael Card are officially ON THE RADAR.


  3. While I would generally agree that texts (especially Bibles) hashed out in a committee don’t turn out all that well, I think that King James version is an obvious counter-example. It’s certainly dated, no doubt, but still beautiful in its prose.

    • Stay tuned for a story about how the KJV changed our language in this week’s Saturday Ramblings.

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

        I’m looking forward to that. What with 2011 being the 400th anniversary of the KJV, I’ve been using it almost exclusively all year. It’s been fun, especially to read out loud.

  4. Why wasn’t I asked to be on the Bible translation committee? Obviously they’re main problem was their committee wasn’t broad enough. Had me and 5,000 of my closest friends been asked to make a newly over-hype superfluous English translation of the Bible it would have changed the world, ended poverty, united the Dems and Reps, brought churches together, found husbands for single moms, and actually be read by teens (and adults for that matter). Maybe if we form another organization, drop another truck load of money, and created the N-teenth American English Bible translation…Obama would convert from being a Muslim.

    …one can dream


  5. Any connection between the Common English Bible and the Common Lectionary? The denominations contributing to the CEB look similar to those using the Common Lectionary. I’m just wondering if churches using the Common Lectionary will be encouraged to use this translation in church for Sunday scripture readings.

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      It seems that most of the publications of the Revised Common Lectionary things use NRSV. Episcopal Gospel Books, for example.

  6. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

    The goals of the Common English Bible seem to be the same goals as the NRSV? And the NRSV had non-Protestant representation on its committee with Catholic, Jewish, and Orthodox representation in addition to mainline Protestant representation. I don’t get why they would want to do this again.

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Do you review any fiction?

    • HUG, I have two works of fiction in my pile to consider for review. The problem is, and I am just being honest here, I find most “Christian fiction” almost unreadable. I acquired and edited it for a number of years. I acquired some award-winning fiction. I have taught workshops on how to write great fiction. It’s just most don’t get it. Most settle for the easy, the predictable.

      That said, what do you have for me to consider?

      (And for what it is worth, my favorite work of fiction is a book I consider a work of “Christian fiction,” though I have no idea if the author is a believer or not. Check out Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Fantastic.)

      • I swear, I must be one of only about six people in the English-speaking world that was not wowed by “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell”.

        I wanted to like it; I was prepared to like it; it has all the elements I like; and yet – no. I have no idea why, but it just didn’t work for me.

        Getting onto the topic of Christian fiction, how about the novels of Charles Williams? Although perhaps he may be a little too ‘occult’ for good American Evangelicanism – “The Greater Trumps” does use the Tarot deck as its main symbolism:

        Or you could try the Father Brown stories, if they come under the heading of Christian fiction. I would recommend them that you try them anyway, if you haven’t already *tempt, tempt* 😉

        After all, they stand up fine as detective stories even if you don’t want to treat them as Christian fiction. Probably available free, gratis and for nothing on the Project Gutenburg site if you want to try a taste without shelling out your own hard-earned money.

        And John C. Wright has an interesting post up over at his journal about religion and SF and religion in SF:

        • Bless you, Martha. Now I can come clean. I also couldn’t finish “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I tried, I really did, but the slow, overwhelming doom just made me mad and I quit.

          As far as fiction, I can’t recommend Elizabeth Goudge too highly. “Pilgrim Inn,” “Castle on the Hill,” and “The Scent of Water” are probably my favorite of her adult books, but they’re all good. I mean they’re good fiction written by a Christian, not — heaven forbid — Christian Fiction.

          Jan Karon’s Mitford books are fun, and Mary Doria Russell’s science fiction novels are mind-blowing. Those two are maybe more immediately accessible than Charles Williams, but I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading him — hey, he has a heroine named Damaris! (She’s not very appealing, but oh well.)

          Sorry, Jeff, I’m rambling . . .

          • If you would wait until tomorrow, Damaris, you could do the Saturday Ramblings…

            And both of you are forgiven for not liking JSMN. Barely, but the forgiveness is there…

            I will have to try Charles Williams. I picked up one of his books 20 years ago, but never got around to it for some reason…

          • but the slow, overwhelming doom just made me mad and I quit.

            this is funny, I say “Here, Here…..” I like my doom done quickly, and without a hint of indecision, else we’re left waiting for aliens and eventually underwhelmed.

          • Damaris, we should start a support group! Every blog I frequent, eventually someone starts raving about “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” and I have to go hang my grotesque mutant non-getting it head in a corner!


      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        That said, what do you have for me to consider?

        Actually, (plug) this anthology of “Old School” SF, (alternate link). I say “Old School” SF because the stories read like the Sixties-vintage Analogs I read in my college days — Old School, pre New-Wave SF touching most of the subgenres. I co-wrote the longest story in it, and since it’s done by a small press and none of us are celebrities, we need all the word-of-mouth we can. (end plug)

        If you contact me off-blog (you should have my addy), I can forward more info to you as well as forward your info to my editor for a review copy at the minimum. (She also does online book tours.)

        • I support this plug, especially Headless’ fine contributions to the anthology. If the recommendation of a bad-tempered Irish woman carries any weight, then I fling my non-inconsiderable bulk behind this book.


  8. Looked up the commentary by Michael Card- it sounds absolutely wonderful. I may have to get it. Any ideas if it would be appropriate for kids, say aged 13-15?

    • Absolutely. Though note my comments on Metzger’s commentary: There are no pictures in either book. But Card’s has more white space, so it “feels” better to the eyes…

  9. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

    Not to beat a dead horse, here, but what I’d REALLY like to see is more bible translations that have the apocrypha as an appendix (as fitting with Reformation-era bibles). And versions that make pulpit editions. Or Gospel Books. Y’know, stuff that will be used in PUBLIC READING as part of worship.

    • Unfortunately, those Bibles just don’t sell very well. Publishers with their own Bible translations want to have a major Christian celebrity make a study Bible with their name on it–the Obed Study Bible, if you will. Then that celebrity will get out and push it so it sells. Pulpit editions don’t sell very well. (One reason is this: How many evangelical preachers actually read from the Bible as opposed to showing funny video clips. Oops. Did I just open a can of Red Wigglers?)

    • What is a “pulpit edition?”

      I infer that it is a special edition of the Bible intended for a pastor to use while in the pulpit. But what differences are presumed to be needed there?

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

        Pulpit editions tend to be extra-large for public reading and are often permanently placed in the lectern. They’re usually of very high quality and made to last. It’s kind of like a “family bible” for the whole congregation.

  10. As someone who helped fund the OTR album and therefore got an early release copy, I will echo that every day is better when accompanied by Karin and Linford. Do yourself a favor and start buying Over the Rhine albums…

  11. I like that quotation you took from Card’s commentary, Jeff: “The imagination is the vital bridge between the heart and the mind. It is the means by which the Spirit begins to reconnect what was disintegrated by the Fall.”

    I think we forget how powerful our imaginations are. It seems that some people think using the imagination is just a waste of time. But I think of Jesus saying in John 20:29, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” (NLT) Sometimes I think, “But Jesus, I wish I had been there to see you!” and I wonder why he said what he said. But I decided that using our imaginations to consider what Jesus was like and what it was like to hear him tell his parables, eat with him, see him after his resurrection is more blessed than having been there. Our imaginations intertwine with our souls and as such, intertwine with Jesus himself whose life enlivens our souls.

    Jeff wrote, “I subscribe to the inflexible law that says you cannot make one place clean without making at least one other place messy.” Yeah, thanks a lot for that. It’s pretty much how I function too. 🙂

  12. It has only been in the past few months (and I am almost 57 years old) that I have read any Christian fiction and that was C.S, Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles and Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I am just about to finish George MacDonald’s Phastastes. I found some of the poems in that book beautiful and some of the word images he creates are great, but I found myself “slogging” through a lot of the book. Back to his Unspoken Sermons. Tough, but rewarding, reading.

    • Oh, George MacDonald is wonderful but yes, very very dense and abstruse. I always get the feeling that there’s six more layers to what I’m reading than I’m getting 🙂

      I love his “Lilith”, though; did you try that? And hey, Jeff, I forgot when talking about SF and religion – talking about dense, abstruse work, there’s Gene Wolfe and his “The Book of the Long Sun”:


      It is intimated that The Outsider, the minor god, is actually God (our God, the Trinity).

      • No, Martha, I haven’t read MacDonald’s “Lileth” yet. I have some books ahead of that one, so I may read it, but not for a while.

  13. jeff – thanks for the michael card book review. i highly recommend his book “scribbling in the sand” .

  14. Jeff, your review of Paul Louis Metzger’s newest book, When Love Comes to Town, may have been a bit rushed. Like many, you apparently skipped the front matter. The endorsements, foreword, and Resonate series introduction couldn’t be more clear about the intended audience — which is anything but high school students! Instead, it’s aimed at seminary students, pastors and other Christian leaders (clergy and non-clergy alike). Then again, you did say you were doing “some light housecleaning.” Just don’t skip the front matter next time, please!

  15. Jeff,

    I’m completely in agreement with you regarding Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. The voice of the narrator is brilliant.

    Regarding Metzger’s commentary on John, I can understand your frustration with finding good Bible studies for high school students, but as David pointed out, it’s certainly not intended to be that. I suppose we could debate the merits of a commentary being more image-based (and who wouldn’t like larger text and more white space?), but I think there are some other merits to this commentary worth looking at.

    In full disclosure, I endorsed it, but as someone who put it on the line to permanently associate myself with this work, I think it’s worth noting that many of the commentaries I studied in seminary and that line the walls of pastors’ studies break the biblical text up into smaller pieces. Metzger’s work helps us see it as more of a holistic story and work through the cultural trappings of the text and interpreter. Having read Metzger’s book “Consuming Jesus,” I can say with confidence that he has his finger on the dynamics at work in theology and culture. So even if some of his examples or comparisons fall flat, I think this study of John is a welcome step forward. If you’re interested in a biblical study that is more image based, check out the NLT Holy Bible Mosaic (disclosure again: I contributed a short meditation to it).

    And besides, I think we can all agree that the best Bible for high school students would be a series of tweets or text messages… which I just happen to know all about… 😉