Book Review

Genesis 1-4

Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary, by C. John Collins ★★★★★

This book offers a detailed analysis of the first four chapters in Genesis in an attempt to bring clarity to our understanding as to the events of creation and the first few years of man on earth. Collins certainly possesses the necessary credentials, having an advanced degree in the sciences from MIT, as well as further M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees in theology and linguistics. I have heard criticisms of Dr. Collins, mostly related to him having abandoned a Biblical approach to Genesis, and having caved in to the the god of Science. Thus, the reading of this text was done in a critical fashion. I have found that the exact opposite of his critics is true. Jack Collins is a breath of fresh air in conservative scholarship, neither giving in to modernist approaches to creation nor to traditional theories of creation. Instead, Collins maintains a prevailing stance of the preeminence of Scripture over science, and that is seen on each and every page of this text. True, he doesn’t subscribe to a 24-hour young earth interpretation of Genesis 1, yet, he offers substantial support to an old earth hypothesis that allows for a 6 day creation in God’s time.
The flow of the book is somewhat different from what I’m used to in that the sources, authorship, and purpose of Genesis are left to the end of the book, and for good reason for one reading the text from front to back cover. He initiates the book with his method of discourse analysis. He briefly explores the questions that Genesis is trying to answer. He then does a step-by-step analysis on a linguistic basis of the four pericopes of Genesis 1-4, interestingly and for good reason, including the Cain and Abel pericope and aftermath.
Collins concludes the book first with a discussion of source criticism, laying claim that even if one were to identify various sources, it doesn’t contribute to the analysis of the book, since the book was masterfully compiled by Moses in a manner that leaves it as a unity rather than a fragmented mishmash. He then puts on his science background hat to explore the claims of Genesis in the light of modern science but refuses to force science and Genesis into two separate realms. Thus the book concludes by showing how Genesis 1-4 establishes a very distinct Judeo-Christian worldview.
My greatest appreciation for this book was that Collins always held a high view of Scripture, and never allowed science to preempt Scripture. Collins maintained a sense of humility toward questions that could not be answered in Genesis even in the light of the remainder of Scripture. Collins offers a forceful and cogent response to the source critics. Of particular note is the hypothesis that Gen. 1:1-2:3 and Gen 2:4-25 are two different creation stories that a redactor sloppily reassembled. Unfortunately, many “conservative” scholars have concurred with this hypothesis. Rather, Collins shows how Gen 2:4-25 was a masterful clarification of the sixth day of creation.
In all, this is one of the better books that I have read on the early Genesis pericopes, and I laud Collins for his perspicuity and insights over a controversial topic. This book is highly recommended to all who have a passing interest in the various debates regarding old and young earth creationism.

The Myth of Junk DNA

The Myth of Junk DNA, by Jonathan Wells ★★★★★
The issue of Junk DNA has arisen from the claims that theistic evolutionists make arguing that the presence of “junk” DNA is proof that the genome was formed to a large extent from random events. Junk DNA refers to DNA in the genome that does not seem to encode any sort of protein. It is well known that the preponderance of our genome consists of “junk” DNA, and for the most part, its function is not well described. Oddly, the amount of “junk” DNA seems to vary among species, and particular attention is made to the presence of unusually high quantities of “junk” DNA in the onion genome. Wells effectively counters the limpid arguments of such scholars as Francis Collins in noting many discoveries that have shown “junk” DNA to play a role in the genome. First, he shows that much non-protein-coding DNA is still transcribed, and plays vital roles in gene regulatory events, oftentimes during embryologic development. Secondly, he shows how introns (also identified as “junk” DNA) play a significant role in post-transcriptional regulatory events. So-called pseudogenes (genes that are active in some species but “defective” in others) oftentimes also are transcribed and involved in regulatory events. Further chapters detail how other aspects of non-protein-coding DNA are useful in sundry aspects of cell division and growth, such as the necessity of this “junk” DNA to permit centromere function. Wells makes no claim to fully understand the functions of the entirety of the genome but insists that it is arrogant to ascribe an absence of utility for biological entities whose usefulness is not yet understood. He more than capably destroys the idea that junk DNA is an argument for theistic evolution and against intelligent design.
I took a class in graduate school in 1986 that was in the department of molecular biology and whose subject was pre- and post-transcriptional genomic regulation. Already, much evidence was known that seemed to be dismantling a strict Watson-Crick schema of protein production. Though much of the class was a little over my head in terms of research details, the basic concept of a much greater complex schema of cell regulatory events was already clear. Proteins, chromatin, large and small RNA elements all seemed to play a confusing role in turning genes on and off, in determining what would be translated, and what would be stable versus transitory mRNA elements. This book shows that our knowledge of gene regulatory events has crept forward a touch. We are still left with an enormous vacuum of understanding as to how the cell truly regulates itself throughout its lifetime. Evolutionists, regardless of whether they are of the theistic vs. atheistic variety, glibly fill in the missing facts with the assumption that science will ultimately answer everything. In reality, they are creating a belief system which I call science-of-the-gaps, which is far more perverse than the God-of-the-gaps accusation directed toward creationists or intelligent design adherents. Creationists of all stripes will admit that science may offer some explanations of the large voids in our knowledge, and that doesn’t do violence to the creationist stance. Evolutionists would never concede that much of their gaps will always remain gaps since their theory cannot offer a comprehensive explanation of the world as we see it. Their arguments are not won by the force of reason but by the force of arrogant proclamation. I commend Wells for offering a solid reason to admit that there is much to yet learn about the genomic structure. Being head of the NIH does not confer Collins the role of science-Pope who can speak ex cathedra for God in matters of evolution, and this book skillfully demonstrates a lacuna in Collins’ thinking.

Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas ★★★★
Bonhoeffer’s is a story worth reading and well told by Eric Metaxas. It is the tale of a young German growing up in the academic circles of Berlin, deciding to go into theology, only to break away from the liberal tendencies in theology as found in Berlin. Through experiences as a young pastor and student in Spain, London, and NY City, Bonhoeffer matures in his faith towards seeing God not as a distant “other” but somebody with whom daily life interacts. Changes in the German political scene with the rise of Hitler and state interference with the church caused Bonhoeffer to form the separate Bekennendekirche (Confessing church) movement, as well as the institution of a seminary to train young pastors. Bonhoeffer then becomes involved in a plot to kill Hitler. Though jailed initially for other reasons, he ultimately is executed for his role in the conspiracy to kill Hitler.  The book reads well, though often would be better served by leaving long quotes as footnotes.
Metaxas develops Bonhoeffer as a remarkable person, able to see through the vapidness of his theology professors, yet still able to treat them with respect and honor. Bonhoeffer was a man who operated on principle, with an ever-deepening faith in God that controlled his entire life. Metaxas also paints Bonhoeffer as a person whose life raises serious questions. I will offer three comments.
1. Is he a model of virtue that we should all follow, especially in regard to our reaction to an evil state? My personal answer is that he is not. Bonhoeffer, being executed for his role in the plot against Hitler, and not for his role as a pastor, makes him an accomplice to an assassin and not a martyr. “Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer… yet if anybody suffers as a Christian let him not be ashamed” IPeter 4:15-16a. The test of time proved that attempts to assassinate Hitler were providentially ineffective, and God was able to handle Hitler and his henchmen quite nicely at the appropriate time.
2. Bonhoeffer proposes a graded absolutist ethic, which is fraught with intense problems. His ethic is not novel and is usually discussed in most ethics texts. In it, Bonhoeffer allows that a lesser evil (such as the murder of Hitler, or lying), is permissible in order to accomplish a greater good (freedom of the world from a tyrant) or to avoid a greater evil (the killing of masses of Jews). Unfortunately, this ethic essentially permits any action to occur, since all of our actions are designed to enact a “good”, either to ourselves or to a specific group. The arguments against graded absolutism would be very lengthy and not appropriate for a book review.
3. Bonhoeffer never divorces himself from the liberal camp, becoming at odds with Karl Barth not for his bad theology, but for his bad social approach to the Nazi regime. In his 1939 visit to New York, his identity with American Christianity was mostly limited to his exposure to the dead theology circles of Union Seminary. Bonhoeffer develops a deep spirituality, but this is in the context of social activism, and not in the context of seeking a correct theology. Never do we see a Bonhoeffer whose highest good is the truth. Put in a Christian context, Bonhoeffer holds that worship and obedience take precedence over truth, yet Bonhoeffer fails to see that in reality, they are indivisible, and orthodoxy and orthopraxy are intimately bound. Bonhoeffer’s interest in visiting Gandhi puzzles me. Not that Gandhi is not an admirable person, but that Gandhi does not provide a Biblical solution to man’s dilemmas and offers no explanation for the evil that comes out of man, which was soon to destroy Bonhoeffer.
This book is recommended as the spirited retelling of a life worthy of mention, and often an example for all of us in standing against evil. It is a warning of Christians to not compromise their beliefs in the accommodation to the state. It is a devotional plea to always live ones’ moments as corum deo. Thus, it is a book recommended to all.

The Heresy of Orthodoxy

The Heresy of Orthodoxy, by Andreas Köstenberger and Michael Kruger ★★★★
This book was written as a defense of Scripture, and contra the Bauer-Ehrman thesis. In short, the Bauer-Ehrman thesis supposes that early Christendom consisted of many “orthodoxies”, and that the rise of Constantine and the state church forced a given “orthodoxy” on the rest of us. Concurrent with this thinking, the numerous pseudographia and Gnostic texts discovered in the last several hundred years have brought some theologians, Ehrman especially, to consider these texts as on par and equal in consideration as the Scriptures that we have. Also argued is that because of textual corruption, it is impossible to know exactly what the Scriptures are or should be. To this, Köstenberger and Kruger capably argue in opposition. The flow of the book is as follows. In the first section, the authors argue that there indeed was diversity within the early church, but that there was a prevailing orthodoxy, and clear conception even in the first century of heresy. The diversity among orthodox thinking was minor and not related to major issues of Gnosticism, or the doctrines of God and Christ. The second section develops the idea that a canon of Scripture was apparent early in the second century, and even in the mid to late first century of Christianity, contra Ehrman who claims a very late concept of the canon of Scripture. It was clear early on which texts did not fit into the canon and which texts did. The last section discusses the preservation of the texts, arguing that an intelligent Christian population existed early on who could copy and read the text and that although tampering could be seen in the text, it never significantly altered the overall meaning of the text. The book is a worthy read for those interested in one of the many battles occurring over the Scriptures today.

Christ of the Prophets

The Christ of the Prophets, by O. Palmer Robertson ★★★★★
I’ve already reviewed a number of books by OP Robertson, and this one is among the best. It is not exactly the book I expected, but actually better than I expected. The layout of the book is quite simple, in that the preliminary chapters introduce the notion of prophetism in Israel and the general theology of prophecy. The latter chapters run through the various prophets in a chronological fashion, giving a short summary of their environment, thesis, and end result. Overlaid throughout the book is a systematic attack on the new liberal thinking which has even pervaded the writings of many conservative biblical scholars. He shows how the new approaches of redaction and literary criticism tend to offer more confusion than clarity to a text, while simultaneously offering explanations for the textual origin that are completely unsubstantiated. Because the Scriptures claim that the validity of the prophet is determinant on the truth of the prophecy, to make the claim that the prophetic words were written after the fact essentially invalidate the prophet and the Scriptures. Yet, conservative scholars will give in and allow for the claims of higher criticism. The only outcome of this is to allow academia to act as a front for unbelief. Robertson shows quite clearly that there is no reason or justification for not believing the prophetic words of the Old Testament at their face value. The attack on higher criticism found in this book makes it more than worthy of reading. Robertson is not only the best of the best in academic thinking but also the best of the best at being entirely Biblical in his thinking and approach to God’s Word.

Demonic

Demonic, How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America, by Ann Coulter ★★
For the first 20 pages of this book, I thought that I might be giving this book a 5-star rating. I’ve read (and reviewed) other Ann Coulter books, and agree with much of what she has to say. So, when I saw this book on sale at Costco, decided that it wouldn’t hurt to read it. As with other Coulter books, much of what she has to say could (and should) have been said in the first chapter. Ann doesn’t know when to stop talking. Though she brings up many historical tidbits that the press seemed to ignore about the liberal “mob”, her persistence tends to grow weary as she seems to go nowhere with her thinking. The second section of this book does a poor and brief recollection of the French revolution and then attempts to correlate that with the behavior of modern Democrats (liberals). Somehow, Ann is convinced that the Democrats and Republicans are two different species of animal. This leads to page-by-page arrogant rants as to how the liberals never do anything right and conservatives never do anything wrong. Her absence of humility becomes quite intolerable. Ann lives in her own world. She refuses to find any problem with Obama’s birth certificate, only because this is not a bandwagon that she can ride. She viciously attacks the non-neo-cons Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan for no good reason other than having properly thought out a Christian-constitutional approach to foreign policy. In the last pages of the book, she actually has the audacity to support the terribly liberal treaty of Versailles, probably the greatest mistake of the 20th century. Ms. Coulter should perhaps re-read history, including the history of the mob, which was used by various factions, conservative and liberal throughout the Greek and Roman empire. But then, according to Ann, the mob defines one as liberal. I’ll make sure I never go to a Republican rally, as they also try to engender a “mob” think. Though I agree with much of Ann’s rantings about the extreme bias of the press, better books have been written to develop this thesis. I too detest much of what is liberal in America, yet I find conversations with liberals oftentimes informative and thought-provoking. This is perhaps the last book I’ll ever read by Ann, as there are others that develop her themes much better and argue with consistency. As for Ann, a little humility might help. She needs to spend more time reading and listening, and less time talking. She might also be best served by getting married, though I’d feel a touch sorry for her husband.

Digital Landscape Photography

Digital Landscape Photography, by John and Barbara Gerlach ★★★★★
This must be one of the best landscape photography books that I’ve read in a while. Written in a very non-sophisticated style, John and Barbara offer page after page of highly practical advice on how to obtain better landscape photos. John uses the Canon system and Barbara the Nikon system, together with giving a broad spectrum of tips for whichever system you use. Chapters range from discussions of camera systems, the best choice of lenses, and other equipment issues, to composing the photo, seeking optimal lighting, setting the proper exposure, obtaining the best sharpness in the photo, to post-processing issues like producing HDR and panorama shots. They are not shy to mention which special equipment they might use, most of which is inexpensive and readily available in the USA. To supplement their discussions, multiple examples of their photography are offered, demonstrating how their techniques successfully produce splendid landscape photos. This is a book that will be re-studied from time to time, and not set to collect dust in some obscure portion of my bookshelves.

The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book

The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book, by Martin Evening ★★★★
The book offers a comprehensive summary of all the functions of Lightroom 3, written by a professional photographer. The book is profuse with illustrations, making the book quite easy to follow. Although I have been using Lightroom as my main storage/processing program for photographs for several years now, this book opened up many more possibilities for the way I could use Lightroom. Much of the functionality would apply more to a professional photographer, such of means of group processing large batches of photographs. Even still, Lightroom remains my preferred photograph program, and it was nice to learn how I could make it better serve my photographic needs.

The Time-Crunched Cyclist

The Time-Crunched Cyclist, by Chris Carmichael and Jim Rutberg ★★★
Chris Carmichael is the primary trainer for Lance Armstrong. In this book, he suggests a program for those who are not professional cyclists, and thus find difficulty in riding their bicycle greater than 20 hrs/week. In the book, he proposes a program that can develop endurance training at only six or more hours a week. Much of the emphasis is placed on short extreme efforts in the saddle and allowing enough rest between training periods to permit recovery. Carmichael offered a review of the basics of exercise physiology showing how that incorporates into the development of a training program. He also discusses other sundry aspects of training, such as nutrition, and weight training. The book is an easy read text and written in a practical manner. It does seem moderately oriented toward younger jocks who wish to have a job during the week, and then still compete on weekends.

Against All Gods

Against All Gods: What’s Right and Wrong about the New Atheism, by Phillip Johnson and John Reynolds ★★★
Phillip Johnson is most noted for the book Darwin on Trial and the start of the Intelligent Design movement. He quit writing for a few years owing to several strokes and now has produced a book jointly with Reynolds regarding new movements in the community of atheism. In particular, Johnson makes note of the new militant atheism, not trying to live peaceably with people of faith, but rather, viciously opposing Christians and those of all religious creeds or beliefs. Johnson writes in a conversational style for the first five chapters of the book. After Johnson, Reynolds offers reflections on how atheism has not given classical writing a fair shake, and how atheism misses the bigger point in the realm of education and aesthetics. I didn’t find his statements to contribute much to Johnson’s comments. This is not a book that proves valuable new insights. It does offer a glimpse into Johnson’s thinking as to the new challenges of the Christian community against its detractors.