Often, it can be the habit of contrasting books rather than complementing them. These two following  pair well together.

A House for My Name, A Survey of the Old Testament

Cambridge educate, Presbyterian pastor from Idaho, Peter Leithart, has provided a valuable, concise literary and theological survey of the Old Testament. A House for My Name examines the Old Testament text, comparing it primarily with itself, to determine what the scriptures are saying then and now.

Dr. Leithart makes extensive use of Biblical Theology and of understanding the Old Testament in its literary context. He is a theologian who understands his work from the context of covenant theology, so his grid for surveying the work is based on understanding that the point of the narrative was to show not just what is in the Old Testament, but how the contemporary reader and Christian follower can use the Old Testament to apply the work and what to look for today.

For many modern, evangelical Christians, the Old Testament can at best be a series of interesting moral stories, outdated laws, soaring poetry, or dense prophecy; with no particular rhyme or reason to its placement. Leithart aims the reader towards a unified view of the Bible, that is that there is one story told from Genesis to Revelation, that progressively expands through covenant action. In doing so, he not only calls the reader to pay attention to the interpretation of the text on a word by word level, but by paying attention to just how sections of the Bible are ordered, as would be important for a text written in the ancient near eastern context.

Leithart’s hope is that the reader comes to a conclusion that the Bible says the same thing, repeatedly, that of creation and re-creation; because only then can the reader of the Bible see the connection between Adam and Solomon, or between Joseph and Daniel.

The great value of Leithart’s 250 page plus work is enabling the reader to understand the literary underpinnings of the history of Hebrew people and why that promotes the overarching theology of the message. This book is valuable for teenage students and above of the Old Testament, especially those who have imbibed the idea that the Christian faith is primarily one of the inner life, and not particularly connected to history or to the larger community, nor to the responsibilities that are required of the people of God. In fact, perhaps the greatest use of this book would come from applying it in group studies or in family studies, especially with children capable of understanding larger stories and a basic depth of human relations, with how they relate to their God.

Israel and the Nations: The History of Israel from the Exodus to the Fall of the Second Temple

Because the Bible has a spiritual point and tells a spiritual story, the context with which that story develops can seem obscure at times. Professor Bruce’s effort, in Israel and the Nations, attempts to place most of the Old and New Testament within its regional political and cultural context in a very precise and clear prose style.

Bruce writes with the presupposition of the historicity of the miracles and supernatural interaction with the Hebrew people being real, but that is not his primary focus. His focus is to place the spiritual story within the larger story of the ancient near east. He does regard the the Bible to be a history source of the highest rank. The author makes no theological judgments of the events, but merely places them in time.

His story is remarkable when taken out of its familiarity: a large tribe of nomads arising from Egypt over 3500 years ago onto a cross-roads section of the Mediterranean coast, after various civil wars, economic collapses, and defeats by a string of neighboring powers, should be nothing more than a footnote to history, as much as the Hittite Empire or the Amorite. Instead, they changed the world, largely due to their struggle to keep and at times abandon their unique religious faith.

The first half of the book covers the period from the Egyptian exodus to the end of the prophets. This retelling of the history has a wonderful way of humanizing the events told in the Old Testament. The envies and strife spring from real tribal warfare, real economic crisis’s, and real political intrigue. The rise and fall of King Solomon and his descendants is an excellent example. Taking advantage to exploit natural resources, like copper and horses for chariots, his tribal empire grew; yet fell when tax burdens, forced labor, double-crossings of allies and enemies happened and raw nepotism and favoritism ensured the worst of combinations: weak and oppressive government, something not easily picked up by reading the scriptural narrative, but the elements are all there.

The value of Psalm 137, which tells of the joy of Judah’s traditional enemy, Edom, rejoicing over their fall to the Babylonians in 587 BC has a greater ring to it when you understand the doom of the fall of Jerusalem and what that meant for relations to neighbors and what that said about the confidence of the Jewish people in years to come.

The last half of the book deals with what is known as the inter-testaments period to the final fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 to the Romans and the Jewish diaspora that forever changed Judaism and its daughter faith Christianity. The exploits of Alexander the Great, his successor Greek rulers, the rise of Rome, and the Herodian dynasty are all told here from the perspective of the Jewish people and state. What readily becomes apparent is that the Jews were becoming more of a spiritual people and less of a nationalistic people, as the Greek influence after Alexander, spread the Jewish influence around the Mediterranean basin. In fact the first translation of the Bible out of its native tongue, the Septuagint, took place around 50 BC in the Jewish learning centers of Alexandria, Egypt.

This is an excellent book, not only because the story it tells is excellent, but because Dr. Bruce writes of it extremely well and concisely in under 250 pages. It would be a worthwhile read for students of the Bible.


For Christmas, my wife got me a subscription to Cooks Illustrated magazine, knowing that kitchen experiments are something I enjoy, and that I would appreciate Cooks Illustrated’s scientific approach to cooking. Little did she realize that previous kitchen disasters would now be turned into sanctified kitchen gourmet adventures, with style!

At any rate, as busy as we are, we have been looking for a good breakfast starter to break the routine, so we found this bran muffin recipe. I know, I know, bran…. bran not quite my favorite cereal grain; but this was different. Yes the recipe calls for half the bran to be pounded into a fine mist, and the rest straight out of the box Kellogg’s Original All Bran, but what really aids this one is the yogurt and the molasses (or Georgia cane sugar in my case). It turned out fine, a nice compact muffin with enough chewy calories to last you for several hours.

So its come to this, I’m making bran muffins. I suppose this means, regardless of what the calendar says, the 20’s are over for me..
Bran MuffinBetter Bran Muffins by Charles Kelsey

Makes 12 Muffins

  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 2 1/4 cups All-Bran Original cereal
  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 large egg plus 1 large yolk
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons mild or light molasses
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 3/4 cups plain whole milk yogurt

Bake at 400 degrees, for 18 minutes, adding the dry and wet ingredients together at once, after mixing them separately.

Coach Tubby Smith tires (or the fans were tired of him) of Kentucky, and he leaves a basketball program where he won a national title, multiple SEC titles, consistent national rankings and respect of his peers for the University of Minnesota’s basketball coaching job. An odd move, but probably wise for Coach Smith, as he and Kentucky were both looking for new starts and the forlorn Minnesota program was looking for a new start after being racked by NCAA rules violations and probation and before that years of struggle in the Big 10. And so begins that chain of dominoes falling that leads to the elevation of Randy Peele as the new Winthrop University men’s basketball coach, in Rock Hill, SC.

I was associated with the Winthrop basketball team for a year in the mid-90’s, so I have followed with with a bit of special attention. Here is the chain of events that began in mid March, after Kentucky was ousted in the second round of the NCAA tournament: Tubby Smith leaves for Minnesota, work-aholic Billy Gillispie leaves the Texas A&M program that he built for Kentucky, Mark Turgeon leaves perennial Missouri Vally contender, Wichita State for Texas A&M, and then nine year Winthrop head coach, Gregg Marshall, leaves his first head coaching job, Winthrop, (where he had won 7 Big South conference titles in 9 seasons and a top 25 ranking this past year) for Wichita State this past Saturday, with Randy Peele becoming the new Winthrop Eagle head men’s coach. It is fairly standard for the college basketball off-season to start with a quick chain of events where a coach leaves for a bigger job, effecting coaches all the way down the line. Since I was connected to the Winthrop program for a while, the following are a few thoughts about where the program has been and should go.

Read the rest of this entry »

HT – Sacred Journey

Murders and massacres have been more of a constant through human history, rather than an a parenthesis to normal days. Yet something of the Virginia Tech shootings have struck as if a bolt of lightening suddenly flashed on a cloudless day, or so it seems at least.

The present in the developed world is an age of disaffection and loneliness, family breakdowns and blind narcissism of individuals. Perhaps earlier ages would have had community structures built in to more quickly realize and at least arrest the vain evil of Cho Seung-Hui. Maybe. Ours did not. In the shadow of a small town in one of the more advanced centers of learning in the world, relationships among people were just not there to stop this evil.

The most disturbing thing that probably makes folks shudder in education and other public institutions is that there is nothing they can really do to stop an individual once he has geared up to be a suicidal killer with a developed plan.

Yes pray for the students, faculty, staff and families of Virginia Tech. And if you will be specific. Remember people like J. R. Foster, Reformed University Fellowship minister at Virginia Tech, his immediate work will be terrible, but no less important in the months ahead. Anyone who has spent any time on a large college campus in the last couple of decades knows there are large numbers of isolated, socially outcast, and angry individuals. When the typical blame game ends, the only folks who have a real opportunity to keep events from happening like this in a post modern world are people who can help others make sense of who they are by helping them to know themselves by knowing God in the gospel.

Read more for some insight on dealing with evil… Read the rest of this entry »

Recently, Hilltop School outside of Seattle, Washington made the decision to ban Legos toys from children’s play after two months of children’s construction of a “Lego-town”, complete with “a collection of homes, shops, public facilities, and community meeting places” (community meeting places?). The reasoning behind their decision involved … well, I’ll let the teachers explain that:

“the Legotown builders turned their attention to complex negotiations among themselves about what sorts of structures to build, whether these ought to be primarily privately owned or collectively used…the children were building their assumptions about ownership and the social power it conveys — assumptions that mirrored those of a class-based, capitalist society — a society that we teachers believe to be unjust and oppressive.

A few days after we’d removed the Legos, we turned our attention to the meaning of power. During the boom days of Legotown, we’d suggested to the key Lego players that there was an unequal distribution of power giving rise to conflict and tension. Our suggestions were met with deep resistance. Children denied any explicit or unfair power, making comments like “Some-body’s got to be in charge or there would be chaos,” and “The little kids ask me because I’m good at Legos.” They viewed their power as passive leadership, benignly granted, arising from mastery and long experience with Legos, as well as from their social status in the group.

My friend Bruce has some suggestions for the Hilltop School and others like it, so that they can continue to speak truth to power:

10. Thomas the Tank Engine – Often disenfranchised by Gordon the Big Express Engine – Delivers capitalist goods to public structures of varying shapes and sizes with an obnoxious coal burning carbon footprint.

9. The Wiggles – Class-based group divided by different colored shirts. Yellow Wiggle always sings, oppressing other Wiggles, particularly Purple one who is disadvantaged by sleep disorder. “Captain” Feathersword promotes outdated concepts of rank and command contrary to the interests of the collective. Also, see carbon footprint above re: Big Red Car.

8. Jay-Jay the Jet Plane – Instrument of labor for capitalist, non-union airline that economically opresses those unable to afford air travel. See also carbon footprint above.

7. Barney the Purple Dinosaur – Constantly magically appearing in homes, shops, community meeting places and other vestiges of a class based society. Also, “Idea Bench” is dangerous setting for contemplation of new capitalistic and entreprenurial thought concepts.

6. Mickey Mouse – The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is banned as it is a “Clubhouse” and as such class-based and not a public structure.

5. Cookie Monster – Symbol of wanton greed and avarice. Also see carbon footprint above re: flatulence from overindulgence of baked goods.

4. Dora the Explorer. Explores countryside – not social justice. Also, constantly oppressing the misunderstood fox, Swiper, who is simply trying to engage in resource-sharing.

3. Cinderella. Fights class warfare battle only to surrender and become a princess herself. Lives life of power, privlege and authority in opulent castle.

2. Snow White. See 3 above. Also, abandoned model team of underprivledged dwarfs in doing so.

1. Spongebob Squarepants. Where do we begin? Holds down a capitalist job at a restaurant making unhealthy food. Owns a private residence in the politically incorrectly named city of Bikini Bottom. Opresses a free creature, his “pet” snail named Gary. Covets “cool things” valued by a capitalist, class-based society. Pineapple residence not standard sized.