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Book Recommendations

These are books I am reading, or have read, and some brief comments. The titles are linked to Amazon.com where you can find more information about the book. The books are in no special order. Also bear in mind that recommending a book does not mean we endorse everything in the book.

This section is under construction, and material may be added to any book as we go along. Readers who have read the books are welcome to submit reviews or emails commenting on the books. Contact me at this link for an email address.


Book Recommendations Revised 02/28/10

  1. Judaism When Christianity Began.
  2. Total Truth
  3. The Essential Talmud
  4. Introduction to the New Testament
  5. Field Guide to the Wild World of Religion.
  6. Sabbath Morning Companion
  7. Fear Less
  8. Simply Speaking
  9. Steering Through Chaos.

Judaism When Christianity Began, By Jacob Neusner

In my opinion, the title is misleading. The book is about the roots and theology of Rabbinic Judaism, with little more than a nod in the direction of Christianity. One suspects that “Christianity” made it into the title in hope of greater sales. Nevertheless, the book is a useful, if difficult read. Neusner needs an editor in the worst way.
     What I found of special interest was the definition and explanation of the Oral Law as a part of Torah and the Law of Moses. For the Jew, at least for Jews of Rabbinic Judaism, the expressions, “the Law of Moses” and “Torah” include the written law (the Scriptures) and the “Oral Law,” (what Jesus called, “The tradition of the elders). Understanding this distinction is of great help in understanding the issues raised in the Jerusalem Conference of Acts 15. I will be including some in depth discussion of this in my next book on the law and the covenants.
    Recommended for a better understanding of what Judaism really means as opposed to what a lot of Christians seem to think it means.

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Total Truth, Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity
by Nancy Pearsey and Philip E. Johnson

“Does God belong in the public arena of politics, business, law and education?” Nancy Pearsey’s answer is an unequivocal yes. “In Total Truth, Nancy Pearsey offers a razor-sharp analysis of the public/private split, explaining how it hamstrings our efforts at both personal and cultural renewal.”

This is one of the more important books I have read in recent months. I was particularly impressed with the observation that Christians have actually cooperated in their own marginalization. If you don’t understand what is meant by a Christian worldview, this book will make the issue crystal clear. There is also a very useful section on evolution and intelligent design. The book is exhaustively and carefully documented, so you can trace down all the sources for yourself.

I strongly recommend this book. The last chapters did not really speak to me, but the rest of the book is a strong contribution

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The Essential Talmud, by Adin Steinsaltz

I got this book because I was trying to sort out some background on the Talmud, what it is, when it came to be. The book has all the basics and then some.

“If the Bible is the cornerstone of Judaism, then the Talmud is the central pillar, soaring up from the foundations and supporting the entire spiritual and intellectual edifice. In many ways, the Talmud is the most important book in Jewish culture.”

“The formal definition of the Talmud is the summary of oral law that evolved after centuries of scholarly effort by sages who lived in Palestine and Babylonia until the beginning of the Middle Ages. It has two main components: the Mishnah, a book of halakhah (law) written in Hebrew; and the commentary on the Mishnah, known as the Talmud (or Gemarah), in the limited sense of the word, a summary of discussion and elucidation of the Mishnah written in Aramaic-Hebrew jargon.”

Recommended for those interested in how and why Judaism and Christianity part company.

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Introduction to the New Testament, by Everett F. Harrison

Harrison is an old timer, a professor at Fuller's Seminary. My edition dates from 1971, and he had been teaching for 25 years then. There is later edition in paperback. In these days when the origin and transmission of the New Testament is being called into question, people should know that there is a different view from the Da Vinci Code and related squirrel cages. I am considering using Harrison's book as a source for some new radio programs introducing the New Testament.

This book is recommended for the serious student who wants a scholarly view of the New Testament that doesn't chase the kind of rabbits that various scholars havemore recently been after -- to get published?


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Field Guide to the Wild World of Religion
by Pam Dewey

I find this book, and the author's website, an invaluable aid in explaining questions about various religious sects. People commonly ask me what I think about this or that religious sect, and this gives me an objective source of information where I can send them. Most of the stuff you read from self-styled cult watchers is more than a little biased. What the author does here is describe the people objectively, and often in their own words.

Book Description from Amazon:

The American religious scene in 1955 was a very tame and predictable world. It matched the tame, predictable world of women's clothing, where most women going out shopping wore a dress with coordinating gloves, hat and shoes. And it matched the tame, predictable world of children's toys, where almost every young girl yearned for a baby doll that said Ma-Ma and almost every boy needed a coonskin cap. Choices of fashions, toys, preachers and churches were limited and domesticated.

Fifty years later, the tame, predictable world of 1950s fashions and toys is long gone. Women go shopping in everything from sweatshirts and jeans to tube tops and short shorts. And both boys and girls want the latest Sponge Bob Square Pants video game. The same kind of transformation has gone on in the world of religion. It is no longer tame and predictable either.

Welcome to the Wild World of Religion of the 21st Century. Explore its habitats, identify some of the inhabitants, and learn about their characteristics and customs in this Field Guide.

The opening section of the book provides an overview of some of the factors that have taken us from the relatively Tame World of Religion in 1955 to the Wild World out there now in 2005. This section ends with a chapter outlining seven trends the author finds particularly troubling. The longest section of the book contains two encyclopedia-style listings:

The Religious Lingo Lexicon cuts through the jargon of the Wild World for the reader, providing concise explanations of over 100 specialized terms, from Preterism to Petra and from Hermeneutics to Holy Ghost Glue.

The Who's Who Digest of the Wild World of Religion features brief biographical sketches of over 120 of the most influential movers and shakers of the American Religious scene, past and present. Meet everyone from Joseph Smith and Ellen G. White of the nineteenth century to Benny Hinn and Marilyn Hickey of the twenty-first century.

Also included are chapters on identifying the characteristics of groups and teachers which may be dangerous to the spiritual health of followers because they use deceptive or abusive methods to attract and keep followers; overviews of four of the most influential religious movements in recent decades; and an extensive bibliography of books and websites for further research.

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Sabbath Morning Companion, Devotional and Journal
By Lenny Cacchio

From his weekly devotional column, seen regularly on borntowin.net, author Lenny Cacchio has assembled some of his favorite essays into a new book of weekly readings. You will appreciate Lenny's insightful and humorous writings that affect our lives. To receive a copy, just request it from the address below. If you would be willing to contribute to the church's evangelism efforts, a contribution of $10 per copy would be appreciated. Contact the publishers at:

Church of God, Kansas City
C/O Lenny Cacchio
705 NE Bryant Drive
Lee's Summit, MO 64086

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Fear Less, Real Truth about Risk, Safety, and Security in a Time of Terrorism.
By Gavin de Becker.

Excellent perspective on terrorism and the risks it poses for ordinary people. The book has concrete suggestions on handling your own fears and anxieties. For me, it was an affirmation of a conclusion I had already come to. Stop watching television news. Networks are selling a product, and that leads to hyping the importance of every event in the news from lost children to the war on terror. They have become anxiety peddlers. Of course, ordinary news is, well, ordinary. So, how do you keep up with the news? Best suggestion is to read your local newspaper. The author also lists a number of useful Internet sources for news.

Recommended for a blend of broad perspective and useful tips.


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Simply Speaking,
How to communicate your ideas with style, substance and Clarity,
By Peggy Noonan.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is a remarkably helpful book for someone who hopes to become an effective communicator. It is written more for the inexperienced speaker, but even old dogs like me can learn a few new tricks. The book is more than a how-to book, and contains a lot of stories and anecdotes from people she has known and worked with. It is just an enjoyable read, wherever you are on the scale of communicators.

She starts off with "Advice for people who never wrote a speech or pretty much anything else." Then she proceeds to beat the drum for simplicity and directness. There are helpful suggestions for everything from toasts to tributes to eulogies.

I strongly recommend the book for everyone. It is a good, enlightening read.

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Steering Through Chaos,
Vice and Virtue in an Age of Moral Confusion" by Os Guinness Steering Through Chaos: Vice and Virtue in an Age of Moral Confusion

I was a little frustrated at first, when I opened Os Guiness’ book, "Steering Through Chaos." I was expecting something rather different from the title. It looked like just another book on the seven deadly sins. But it turned out to be a fascinating read. What the author has done is to contrast the seven deadly sins with the virtue that defeats it. It is in the virtues that the course to steer is laid down.

But there was more than that to the book. The author has pulled together long and short quotations from other authors ranging from Moliere to C.S. Lewis to Saint Augustine to illustrate the major ideas. In the process, he is likely to introduce you to some new authors you will want to read more of. For me, that came in an introduction to Henry Fairlie. There was one paragraph that I thought spoke volumes about where we are going astray in our generation. On envy, he wrote this:

      "The legend of our times, it has been suggested, might be "the revenge of failure." That’s what envy has done for us. If we cannot paint well we will destroy the cannons of painting and pass ourselves off as painters. If we will not take the trouble to write poetry, we will destroy the rules of prosody and pass ourselves off as poets. If we’re not inclined to the rigors of an academic discipline, we will destroy the standards of that discipline and pass ourselves off as graduates. If we cannot or will not read, we will say that "linear thought" is now irrelevant and so dispense with reading. If we cannot make music, we will simply make a noise and persuade others that it is music. If we can do nothing at all, why! We will strum a guitar all day and call it self expression. As long as no talent is required, no apprenticeship to a skill, everyone can do it, and we are all magically made equal. Envy has at least momentarily been appeased and failure has had its revenge.

It always astonishes me that Rap is included in music awards. It is the ultimate statement of mediocrity. Excellence is being killed off by envy. Fairlie went on to say:

      "Envy grows naturally" said Aristotle in relationship between equals. "We live in a society that perhaps as much as any other has pitted equals against equals," writes William F. May but I think he misstates his point. The United States and other western societies are not pitting equals against equals but unequals against unequals as if they are equals. This is a distortion of the idea of equality and it is this distortion as much as anything else that has enabled the enemies of genuine equality to move on the offensive."

      "The idea that we are equal has been perverted into the idea that we are identical; and when we then find that we cannot do and experience and enjoy all the things that others do and experience and enjoy, we take our revenge and deny that they were worth doing and experiencing and enjoying in the first place. What we are unable to achieve, we will bring low. What requires talent and training and hard work, we will show can be accomplished without them." Henry Fairlie

      "The same can be asked of much of the revenge that envy is taking today to conceal the sense of failure . . . We are giving the name of art to what is not art, of poetry to what is not poetry, of education to what is not education, of achievement to what is not achievement, of morality to what is not morality, and of love to what is not love. We trivialize our concepts of them all to make them seem as if we may all attain them. None of us is wholly exempt from the corruption. We find no place for the unique, for what is rare and cannot be imitated, since we would then not be able to achieve it. We seem no longer able to admire, respect or be grateful for what is nobler or lovelier or greater than ourselves. We must pull down - or put down - what is exceptional."

Do yourself a favor and include this valuable book on your reading list.


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Ronald L. Dart.
Copyright © 2006. All rights reserved.
Revised: 02/28/10.

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