Book Review: The Bible Story Handbook

In The Bible Story Handbook, John and Kim Walton offer a handy resource for youth group leaders, Sunday School teachers, and parents on how to teach a selection of 175 stories in the Bible. The Waltons leverage their extensive scholarly expertise and teaching experience to illustrate how the focal points in each story connect to God’s story. The premise of the book is that many teachers may unintentionally encourage kids to emulate a certain Bible character or create moral lessons that are not explicitly found in the text. Instead, the authors continually remind the reader (teacher) that teaching a Bible story is to draw the audience to focus squarely on the grand story of God. Furthermore, those who teach the Bible, regardless of the age of the audience, should be careful and diligent in both interpreting the original intent (i.e. exegesis) and drawing appropriate implications from the text. Thus, the authors spend time breaking down each lesson to show how each biblical narrative is intended to display who God is and how He relates to His creatures. The book itself begins with an introduction on how and why we are to teach Bible stories along with a broad overview of the grand picture of the Bible. Afterwards, each lesson is split into the following sections: Lesson Focus, Lesson Application, Biblical Context, Interpretational Issues in the Story, Background Information, and Mistakes to Avoid. In essence, the authors point out the common pitfalls that most curriculums often endorse and how the teacher can put the focus back on God in the lesson.

When I first decided to review this book, I was slightly hesitant as I knew it was a teaching handbook so reading it from cover to cover may end up being quite dry. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that each story in the book allowed me to reflect on my own experience both attending and teaching Sunday School through the years. Many times, we try to squeeze out some form of moral teaching to ensure that our kids are able to go home and tell their parents that they learned something. In an effort to do that, we often stretch details and move away from handling the narrative with the care that the Waltons stress throughout the book. I definitely appreciate the reminder to put more effort in studying and teaching God’s Word faithfully. As a youth group leader, I often succumb to the temptation of teaching the Bible passage with a simple moral lesson instead of drawing the youths’ attention to what God is trying to reveal about Himself in the story. Thus, I encourage those who teach, may it be at church or at home, to read this book and ruminate on how we can encourage our kids to connect Bible stories and their own life stories to God’s grand story.

In compliance with Federal Trade Commission regulations, I was provided a free review copy of this book from Crossway.

Book Review: Luther on the Christian Life

In Luther on the Christian Life, Carl Trueman surveys the life of Martin Luther and draws connections to how the contemporary church can benefit from the reformer’s theology. Although the book is around 200 pages long, Trueman is still able to give readers a generous sampling of Luther’s illustrious life. Trueman assumes the reader to have some theological background but diligently avoids trying to explain sophisticated terminology or theories. From Luther’s birth to his death, Trueman points out vital turning points that impacted Luther’s life and theology. At the core of the book, the author’s aim is to illustrate how Luther’s intense love of God’s Word and sacraments are so vital to the 21st century church. Trueman argues that present-day Christians look to experience God through extraordinary events or experiences while Luther believes that the Christian life is rooted firmly in the ordinary means of grace. By highlighting the dynamic personality and raw emotions of Luther, Trueman points out that the famed theologian was not a stoic, unsympathetic scholar but a passionate servant of the Word ever concerned about the welfare of God’s people.

I would gladly recommend this book to those who are unfamiliar with the 16th century theological giant. For those who know Luther’s life and theology well, this book may be on the lean side but Trueman’s familiarity with the subject makes the reading applicable and enjoyable to a large audience. The author’s witty and concise writing style keeps the book moving at a brisk pace but provides enough details to allow the reader to appreciate the subjects discussed. Each chapter ends with helpful concluding thoughts that Trueman uses to relate the material discussed for readers to ruminate on.  After reading the book, I had to confess of the many excuses that I have conjured up to explain away my lack of passion in embracing God’s Word and the sacraments. I would rather listen to the latest podcast discussing substitutionary atonement than open the Bible and read Isaiah 53 to focus on the work of Christ. May we all learn from Luther’s humility and passion for God’s Word along with his insistence that we are all beggars in need of God’s grace to sustain us each and every day.

In compliance with Federal Trade Commission regulations, I was provided a free review copy of this book from Crossway.

Trueman on Preaching

“From childhood upward, we are told that we are special. Sometimes this is even done in God’s name. The televangelists and megachurch pastors who talk about having “your best life now” are essentially presenting a picture of God as one who panders to the particular needs and concerns of the individual. The danger is that preaching can start to do the same—even worse, that preaching becomes sidelined because each person has to have his or her particular needs and problems.”

Carl Trueman in Luther on the Christian Life