Saturday, July 14, 2012

LHP Review: References for Christians



Barrett, David P. ESV [Consise] Bible Atlas. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012. 64 Pages. Paper/Stapled. $14.99. www.crossway.org (P)

Couchman, Judith. The Art of Faith: A Guide to Understanding Christian Images. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2012. 306 Pages. Paper. $22.99. www.paracletepress.com (LHP)


We have two special reference works for Christians in this review.


The first is an abbreviated version of the ESV Bible Atlas.


The ESV Concise Bible Atlas offers a quick overview of biblical geography in a portable and highly affordable format. Adapted from the original Crossway ESV Bible Atlas, this streamlined edition displays important maps, illustrations, and pictures with concise commentary.


Chapters on the world of the patriarchs, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the biblical world in the time of Christ, and other topics provide at-a-glance information for anyone seeking a basic grasp of biblical times and settings. An index of place-names on maps is also included.


Students, Bible study participants, and interested readers will find this a critical reference to help in understanding the Bible and a resource that will enhance the Bible-reading experience.
(Publisher's website)
At 64 pages, this atlas is double or triple the content of the maps of even an extensive study Bible. At 64 pages, it is quite a condensation from the 349 pages of the original version which we favorably reviewed two years ago (http://lhpqbr.blogspot.com/2010/08/pulpit-review-esv-bible-atlas.html). Our praise of this concise atlas is also very favorable.

This may be a better version for Christians (VBS, Sunday School, Christian day school) because of its lower price, maps that focus on the major highlights of the Old Testament and New Testament, and because it is lighter and more portable. Yes, it is a stapled paperback, but I still have a similar mini atlas from my grade school days. It survived very well because it was well cared for.

This atlas is slightly wider and slightly taller than a letter sheet of paper. That makes it stand out on your shelf, saying, "look at me!"  The extensive Bible citations throughout tie the maps and pictures to Bible events. And then, this Bible atlas has done its vocation once again, sending you back to the Biblical text.

Consider purchasing the full version for your family, congregation, and day school library. Give copies of this ESV Consise Bible Atlas to the Christian children in your life.


The first Paraclete Press book I ever read was Worship without Words by Patricia Klein. I picked it up at a bookstore while we were visiting my sister-in-law. The expanded edition is even better than the original. 

Judith Couchman takes the specifics about Christian images and symbolism to the next level in her new black and white paperback release, The Art of Faith.

Have you stood in front of a painting and thought, What does this mean?

The Art of Faith answers this question again and again, with insight, wit, and verve, providing a thorough reference to Christian art through the centuries. Practical and easy to read, this book unfolds the ancient world of Christian images for believers who want to enrich their faith, college students studying art history, and travelers to religious sites. With this book in hand, you can visit museums, churches, or other sacred places and identify a work of art’s style and meaning. Or even explore the signs and symbols of your local church.


Whatever your relationship to art or Christianity, open this book when you’re curious about a painting, sculpture, symbol, or other sacred work. It will answer your questions about The Art of Faith.
(Publisher's website)

Have you stood in front of a painting and thought, What does this mean?

Yes. 

Yes, I have. 

As a Lutheran Christian, I am asked that catechism question by Dr. Luther all the time. I guess I'm biased to appreciated Couchman's approach.

The author writes from an Episcopal background, according to her introduction. That helped be better understand the weaknesses of her book.  

There was some mention of the Reformation (obviously), even Luther and Wittenberg and Lucas Cranach the elder (190). However, she does her readers a disservice when she notes only one way of numbering the Ten Commandments (also p. 190). A majority of Christians alive today and also a majority throughout Christian history has numbered them the same way that the Roman Church and Lutheran Church do, where the "graven image" commandment is included in "no other Gods" and there are two commandments about coveting. I am told the Jewish people have yet another numbering system with the first "Word" being, "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt..."

The Art of Faith would be strengthened in future editions with recognition of more symbolism by the Lutheran Church (e.g., the Luther rose/seal, VDMA, the term "Divine Service," altar pieces, church design, etc.).

Let's talk about the many strengths of this reference work.
 
Before a funeral just this week I had asked the funeral director about a tradition we had back in some parts of Nebraska: a flower service. He said he hadn't heard of it. I hadn't either until I visited my wife's home congregation. Before a funeral service there, the pastor and funeral director read through the cards attached to flower arrangements given in memory of the deceased Christian. The Christian symbolism of the flowers was explained and tied to our hope in Jesus Christ before the pastor would close in prayer and then lead the funeral service. We both expressed a lack of knowledge about what different flowers meant. I will recommend this book to the funeral directors in our town just in case we have a request for a "flower service" and have an opportunity to explain a flower's symbolism.

Couchman covers the Christian meaning of flowers and plants, fruit, nuts, and grains, trees and bushes, real and mythic animals, birds, fish, and insects, the parts of human body, colors, shapes, letters, and numbers in addition to the Church Year, festivals, sacraments (see Luther's Small Catechism for a fuller Lutheran explanation from Scripture), objects and vessels, books, and vestments.

I would further encourage Paraclete Press to invite the author and her talented team of artists to do a full-color, glossy paper edition with some photograph examples. The content of The Art of Faith is already THAT good.


We commend Crossway and Paraclete Press for these two special books that would be a blessing to any Christian home, school, or congregation.



The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Yellowstone Circuit Visitor (LCMS Wyoming District), a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.