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Book Review: The Biblical Counseling Guide for Women

Biblical Counseling Guide for WomenIn the forward to The Biblical Counseling Guide for Women, Martha Peace says, “John and Janie Street have made it abundantly clear that there is great hope no matter the kinds of problems women struggle with. They have laid out clear, biblical plans of action for issues women face today.” (pg. 9)

I honestly could not say it any better. This is exactly what they have done!

The authors describe the purpose of the book in this way:

“This book is written to assist Christian women who possess a high view of the sufficiency of God’s Word and its ability to adequately address the most serious personal struggles women will face. Women who trust His Word will benefit greatly from its narrative.” (pg. 11, emphasis mine)

A high view of the sufficiency of Scripture, and a desire to understand what God’s Word says about our sin, our struggles, and our suffering is essential to fully appreciate, understand, and benefit from the wisdom this book has to offer.

In this book, John and Janie Street address issues that most women have probably struggled with, to some degree, at one time or another: anger, anxiety, appearance, depression, grief. But, it also deals with much harder, perhaps more “hot button” topics that, by the grace of God, many of us may not have experienced: abuse, chemical dependency, eating disorders, panic attacks, PTSD, and transgenderism.

Each topic is introduced with a fictional account of a woman who is struggling with a particular issue…whether as a result of her own sinful choices, or those of someone close to her. Although the scenarios presented are fictional, that can be difficult to remember at times, because they come from years of counseling and pastoral experience, and are written in such a way that they could easily be factual. In my limited counseling experiences, I have rarely seen women, even professing believers, recognize their sin so quickly, or so completely, and respond so humbly to biblical counsel and correction. But, in each case, is assumed that each of these (fictional) women have a high view of God’s Word.

“The truth of God’s Word slices and dices your behavior and peers into the most shameful recesses of your heart (see Hebrews 4:12-13). Our hearts are resistant to this type of spiritual heart surgery. Thus we must pray that God will help us to humbly repent of this sin (Psalm 51:10).” (pg. 30)

This is what makes their quick, humble, repentant responses not only realistic, but a helpful example to follow when we find ourselves in similar situations. Because, without that perspective, many of these issues could easily be, and often are addressed indefinitely, without any sort of real hope or resolution.

“Too often we use the term hope carelessly because it is used to express uncertainty….However, when your concept of hope is anchored in biblical promises, all ambiguity and doubt is removed. Biblical hope is backed up by the very character of God. Unlike ‘I hope so’ hope, it is absolute and full confident assurance.” (pg. 161)

I have taken several biblical counseling classes (in college, at the graduate level, and for “personal enrichment”), I have read numerous books on biblical counseling, and I am currently, albeit slowly, pursuing certification in Biblical Counseling. So, I consider myself to be fairly well-acquainted with the philosophy and procedures behind biblical counseling. And, as a pastor’s wife, I am also familiar with the great need for this type of counseling in the church. And, because of my background, I assumed this would be an “easy read.”

This book is not, nor is it intended to be, a cold, comprehensive, clinical textbook. It is interesting and engaging. And, it accomplishes its stated purpose of pointing the reader to the insightful, practical, and authoritative answers in God’s Word in a compassionate, personal, thought-provoking way.

I am not a naturally empathetic person. But, as the authors unpacked each chapter, I was able to put myself in the place of both the counselor and the counselee. Whether the situation was one that I had personally experienced, or not, there were many characteristics, struggles, and habits that made it surprisingly easy to identify with, and genuinely empathize with both sides of each story.

But, this book goes far beyond these relevant and relatable introductions to each topic.

“When a true Christian goes through such a traumatic event and asks the hard questions….her search for answers should drive her toward greater faithfulness to study God’s Word. It is in the pages of the Bible that she will learn God’s character: that He is good and without sin (Psalm 119:68), that He never tempts His children to sin (James 1:13), and that He is the protector and refuge of all who call upon His name in saving faith (Psalm 125:4-5).” (pgs. 255-256)

After each topic is introduced, the authors then go on to identify the problematic thoughts, patterns, behaviors, and lifestyles, pointing the reader back to the truths of Scripture in a practical, realistic way. I have not personally experienced the pain of a pornography-tainted marriage, or the betrayal of adultery. But, I have experienced the pain of being sinned against in other ways by people I love and care about. I have not struggled through post-traumatic stress, panic attacks, or battled an eating disorder. But, I have reacted to my circumstances in sinful anger, anxiety, pride, and self-sufficiency.

At the very beginning, the authors suggest having a Bible close at hand as you read, to consult the many Scripture references found throughout its pages. So, I found myself taking much longer than I had originally intended to read this book. I took time to reflect on, and answer, the discussion questions at the end of each chapter. And, I tried to implement the authors’ suggestions to write down lists of my own fears, worries, and sinful behaviors or attitudes that needed to be “put off.” At the same time, I created corresponding lists of things to “put on” in place of sinful thoughts and attitudes.

The very first chapter, on Anger, immediately caught my attention. I do not like to think of myself as an angry person. (Who does?) But, as I read, I could see myself in many of the sinful attitudes and (re)actions described. Specifically in this:

“Listening is hard to do when you’re angry, because true listening involves submission…. To listen carefully, you must not continue to speak. This is difficult for angry people to do, as they are continually engaged in spewing out their opinions and attacks. Oftentimes angry people say they are listening, but at the same time, they persist in defending their viewpoint, often pointing out how another person also perceives the situation as unfair, jaded, or misconstrued – and it is clear that they are not really listening.” (pgs. 31-32)

That was a not-so-pleasant, but much needed, moment of conviction for me. And, it was what caused me to choose to slow down, and read this less as a “textbook” for my dealings with “other people,” and to treat it as more of a personal improvement project.

Elisabeth Elliot often said, “The difference is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.” And, this book can help to turn our eyes off of the temporary circumstances and solutions of this world, and back to the lasting hope that can be found only in obedience to God’s Word.

“The goal is not simply a short-sighted attempt to get a woman out of her problems, even though, when a person follows Christ’s admonitions, her problems will often eventually be resolved. However, some problems will not go away, even after you have faithfully obeyed Christ. Some of life’s difficulties may even get worse….How can you, as a godly woman, learn to please God in the midst of your problems? This must be the pursuit of a woman who is a committed Christian.” (pg. 15)

The genuine compassion, biblical wisdom, and practical suggestions presented in this book make it an invaluable resource for the church today. This book is for women who want to live a life of obedience and faith, as they learn to please God in the midst of their struggles and problems. It is for women who wish to grow in their ability to disciple and counsel other women in their church, in the model of Titus 2. It is for mothers who are teaching and training their children to love and serve the Lord in spite of their own sin and failures. And, men, do not be dissuaded by the title! As a pastor’s wife, I can confidently say that this book should be in every pastor’s library as well.

I will add that I have had the privilege of knowing John and Janie Street for close to 18 years. So, I may not be seen as the most unbiased reviewer. But, I do not believe that should be considered a negative. My husband and I have personally benefited from their teaching, their biblical counsel, their godly example, and their faithful ministry in so many ways. And, because of that, I could not be more thrilled that this resource, and the wisdom and experience of its authors, is now available to so many!

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Book Review: So Much More

“God has given principles for all people to live by.  Christians are supposed to know exactly what these principles are and live by them, setting the example and upholding the standard.  Yet Christians can be some of the most careless and ungrateful and forgetful people.  We Christians can be responsible for leading the culture either away from God’s design or toward it….Christians truly have been a part of the problem, because we have been careless wit the standard.” (pg. 1)

We live in a culture that is increasingly feministic, anti-Christian, and antagonistic to the standards set forth in God’s Word. And, sadly, even many churches have bought into worldly philosophies and practices because we, as believers, as the ones who claim to live under the authority of God’s Word, have neglected to carefully examine and study the standards and expectations laid out for us in Scripture…and then to obey them.

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So Much More, by Ana Sofia & Elizabeth BotkinSo Much More: The Remarkable Influence of Visionary Daughters on the Kingdom of God, was written by sisters, Ana Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin (who were, at the time of writing, only 15 and 17 years old).  This book is not your stereotypical Christian-teenage-girl survival guide.  In a straightforward style, utilizing a question-and-answer format, these young women address many of the issues that weigh on the minds and consciences of young single women in their late teen to young adult years: parental authority and protection, submission, feminism, the influence of Marxism, higher education, careers, purity, marriage, and ministry.  Each chapter is full of helpful footnotes, Scriptural references, and testimonies of other young women who have battled the influence and pull of the feminist agenda, and are seeking to follow God’s plan for their own lives.  They also include two appendices: “Advice to Fathers,” an interview with their own father, and, a collection of quotes on the nature, design, and purpose of Militant Feminism.  Their goal is to encourage young women to rise above the mediocre expectations of the world, and to change it for the better. 

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One of the main themes addressed throughout this book is one that, I believe, is in desperate need of attention today.  In a culture where fatherhood, and masculinity in general, is consistently denigrated, belittled, and mocked from every platform, these young ladies rightly emphasize the father’s God-given authority over his home and family, and with it, his duty to protect his daughters – spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  As daughters themselves, they encourage other young women to respond to their father’s guidance, instruction, and authority, joyfully, showing a genuine desire for it through actions and attitudes that prove herself worthy of it. 

“A godly daughter is her father’s graceful pillar (Psalm 144:12).  In her daddy’s palace, she is beautifying, supportive, and hospitable.  When outside the walls of her daddy’s palace, she is his ambassador, representative, and “arrow in the hand of a mighty warrior” (Psalm 127:4).  Through her countenance, carriage, and demeanor, she leaves the world in no doubt that she is a girl submitted to her father’s protection, the daughter of a king, a princess worthy of honor.” (pg. 80)

While Scripture has much to say about the relationship between men and women, and parents and children, the authors rightly observe that there is much biblical instruction given to the father-daughter relationship.  To fill in the gap and lend authority to some of their assertions, they (admittedly) use verses that offer instruction to a wife, or address authority and submission in the context of a husband-wife relationship, and apply it as a paradigm for father-daughter relationships.  Yes, a daughter’s consistent habit of respect, honor, and obedience to her father can be valuable training for submitting to, and helping her future husband.  And, a daughter can, and should, use her time, abilities, and talents to help her family.  But, a daughter was not created to be her father’s helpmeet.  That responsibility, and privilege, belongs to his wife.  While some of these verses may be applicable to most male-female relationships (father-daughter included), some are specific to the roles of a husband and a wife, and must be treated as such.

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Many of the ideas presented by the Botkin sisters will be seen as radical, and even extreme in today’s culture.  And, it is possible that much of what is presented, or perhaps even the book as a whole, will be summarily dismissed by many as legalistic.  But, “extreme measures are exactly what is called for, and that a drastic step in the opposite direction is exactly what we need to take.” (pg. 8, emphasis original). 

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But, so long as the extreme and drastic changes being called for line up with Scripture, they cannot necessarily be equated with legalism.  The authors offer this definition of legalism: “the fleshly pursuit of man’s moralism in hopes of earning salvation.  Joyful obedience, on the other hand, to all of God’s precepts, is the response of the grateful believer who has been saved by grace through faith.” (pg. 9)  They make it clear, throughout the book, that legalistic adherence to a set of man-made standards is not what they are suggesting or promoting.  Instead, they are exhorting young women to act in joyful obedience to God’s Word, as a result of and response to God’s grace in their lives.  

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And, I greatly appreciate and agree with that aspect of their message.  However, I am sad to say that I did not agree with everything presented in this book. 

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Most disagreements were relatively minor, and were not issues of theological or doctrinal error.  Instead, they could be classified as matters of preference.  In most cases, our differing opinions caused me to carefully analyze, pray about, and think through my own convictions on a particular issue, strengthening them in the process.

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But, there were some ideas presented which moved beyond issues of preference, and into areas of unsound interpretation or application of biblical passages and principles.  The majority of these instances were usually the result of absolute statements – specifically dealing with Christian higher education, the mode of feminine dress, and short-term international missions.  The majority of the problematic statements were made by one woman (not one of the authors, but a contributor who was quoted extensively throughout the book), who drew heavily on her own (negative) experiences to defend her conclusions.  Several of her opinions seemed to be based on incorrect interpretations of biblical passages, or personal experiences which resulted from an apparent lack of wisdom and discernment.  It is unfortunate, because many of her observations – though not true about all short-term missions organizations, or all Christian colleges or universities – were valid.  But, sadly, her false, blanket accusations of corruption and pragmatism caused many potentially helpful statements and practical insights to lose credibility.  Leaving the reader in the difficult position of attempting to untangle the faulty, experientially-based statements from the valid, biblically accurate observations. 

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Although I am beyond the age, and stage of life of the authors’ target audience, I still found many of the questions, topics, and issues addressed in this book challenging, timely, and thought-provoking…Especially from my perspective as a mother of a young daughter – who I pray will become a young woman of vision, and an influence on her culture for the Kingdom of God.  I truly wish I could offer it an unreserved, whole-hearted recommendation.  But, because of some rather significant lapses in discernment and interpretation, I cannot do that. 

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I greatly admire the young authors, and their desire to embrace, and pursue God’s highest calling for them, and the encouragement and exhortation they offer to their readers to live in zealous obedience to Scripture.  Doing so requires a radical departure from what have become the cultural norms of rebellion, rejection of parental authority, feminism, and gender-neutrality.  Yes, the ideas presented are extreme.  Yes, they are counter-cultural.  And, whether or not you agree, in whole or in part, they will make you think.  And, to a reader who is willing to exercise biblical wisdom and discernment, this would be a valuable resource.  In that case, I would say that I cautiously recommend it.  

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A Disastrous Failure of Evangelical Discernment

This morning, I read Al Mohler’s newest article.  Then I immediately posted a link to it on Twitter – which, I was surprised to discover, lost me a few followers!!  On to Facebook – where it may have caused a few to “unfriend” me, I don’t know.  Let’s see who I can alienate here, shall we?

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Have you ever heard of a book called The Shack?  Yeah, me too.

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Like many people, I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve been told to read it.  And, because some of those recommendations were coming from trusted sources, I did consider it.  But, then I read several glowing reviews, absolutely praising Young’s depiction of God, and our relationship to Him her…  Wait? What?!  That’s right, her.  But, instead of peaking my interest, all these positive reviews accomplished was to send up one red flag after another about the theologically questionable content of this book…and quite honestly, the discernment of those so highly recommending it.

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I later found several lengthy reviews on the opposite end of the spectrum.  Each one, carefully, and point-by-point, denounced the numerous doctrinal and theological problems contained within this book. 

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For the record, no, I have not read it.  At one point, early last year, I had planned to.  Not because I had any real desire to do so, or because I thought I would enjoy it, or benefit from it.  But, because I wanted to be able to knowledgeably respond to “fans” of the book, who were so quick to buy in to this mistaken theology. 

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While I respect and appreciate so many of those who did take the time to read this book, and to honestly, and thoroughly critique it, I realized that I did not need to fill my mind with this “fictional account” in order to converse about it intelligently, or to deepen my relationship with God.  What I really needed to spend my time doing was filling my mind with God’s Word.  Because that is where we are going to encounter God…where we will discover God’s character, and His holiness, and His plan for us…In the Truth of His Word, not in some work of fiction.

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Whether you have read this book for yourself – liked it or hated it, or had it recommended to you ad nauseum, or if you are simply wondering what on earth I am babbling on about (fair question!), then you need to go and read why Al Mohler calls The Shack “A disastrous failure of evangelical discernment.”

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Book Review: Growing Up Christian

“God greatly blessed me by allowing me to be born into a strong Christian family…My parents had not grown up in Christian homes, but God had saved them before I was born…They faithfully raised me according to biblical principles.  Our family regularly attended church, prayed together…My parents sent me to youth-group meetings, a Christian school, and a Christian college.  I grew up a fairly typical church kid.  Just before I turned four…God drew me to himself…At that time I repented of my sins and professed Jesus as my personal Savior.  I had a four-year-old’s understanding of the gospel and, in retrospect, I think a genuine conversion…I do not remember the time prior to my salvation.  I practically grew up Christian.” (pg. 19)

 

Growing Up ChristianThe statements above describe my upbringing, and my own testimony of salvation in amazingly accurate detail!  While this could easily be my own account, it is not.  The statements above are from Karl Graustein’s book, Growing Up Christian

 

Over the last few months, I have become increasingly aware that being a “church kid,” or, “growing up Christian,” is often perceived as a liability, even by many within the church.  And, if popular research is to be believed, “growing up Christian” produces more hypocrites and apostates than genuine believers.  After reading and/or hearing about a few books directed at stemming the tide of supposedly “Christian” kids leaving the church upon graduation from high school, the title of this book was enough to make me curious.  

 

Because he grew up as a church kid, the author is able to offer a unique perspective on the challenges, dangers, temptations, and tendencies of kids who grow up in the church.  But, unlike other books addressing the great exodus of young adults from the church, his target audience is notthe parents.  Graustein is writing to the current generation of kids, teens, and young adults growing up in the church, in Christian homes, and Christian schools and/or colleges.  His passion – which is evident throughout this book – is to help them recognize, and safely navigate, the dangers and temptations commonly faced by young people growing up in Christian environments.  But, his passion extends beyond recognizing the dangers, to helping them truly understand the great blessing that it is to grow up in the church.

 

The book is divided into three sections.  The first several chapters deal with recognizing the blessings and dangers of being a “church kid.”  The second section explains the importance of thinking biblically.  And the third part sums up his message that church kids have been given so much.  But, he explains that knowing about the Bible is not the same as living biblically. 

 

Chapter 3, “Un-amazing Grace,” discusses the differences in the way that church kids view and experience the saving and forgiving grace of God, versus those who are saved later in life.  Church kids are often saved at a young age, so they “can erroneously think that salvation did not make any difference in [their] life.” As a result, they are “tempted to be un-amazed at the saving grace of God.” (pg. 52)  But, he goes on to remind church kids of the blessing of being saved at a young age, and all that they have been protected from,

“Church kids should be some of the most appreciative people on the earth.  God has shown us amazing grace not only in saving us, but also in saving us at such a young age and placing us in Christian homes where we can be protected, trained, and discipled.  God has shown us immense favor every day of our lives.” (pg. 53)

 

In the second section of the book, the author shifts his focus from the dangers and blessings of growing up Christian, to the need for church kids to think biblically, and develop their own convictions, based on Scripture. 

 

“It is far too common to hear of church kids who have walked away from their faith.” (pg. 140)  I would venture to guess that most people who spent the majority of their childhood and young adult years in a Christian environment, know of at leastone person (or, sadly, more) that has walked away from their professed faith in Christ.  According to the author, the reason so many church kids walk away from the church is “due to a lack of a personal relationship with God and a firsthand knowledge of biblical truths.  When our beliefs are just copies of our parents’ values or what’s expected of us at our Christian school, we probably do not have genuine faith.” (pg. 140)  In these chapters, Graustein urges church kids to stop resting on their pastor’s sermons, their school’s expectations, or their parents’ rules to guide their “convictions.”  He encourages them to study the Bible for themselves, and to learn the truths of Scripture, so that they can develop their own convictions.  But, he is also careful to warn them that studying the Word is not for the purpose of amassing knowledge.  The end result should be to develop a growing love for God, out of which flows trust, worship, and obedience.

“It isn’t enough to know the facts of the Christian faith.  We need to think seriously about them, know why they are important, and take them to heart.”  (pg. 141)

 

The last several chapters focus on just that – taking the facts of the Christian faith to heart, and living biblically. 

 

The chapter entitled “The Fight of Your Life” (ch. 10), was a good example of the difference between simply knowing what the Bible says about sin, and actually living it out.  “Church kids know a lot about sin.  Having been taught the standards of Scripture our whole lives, we know what we should and shouldn’t do.” (pg. 78)  Graustein then goes on to describe five critical mistakes that church kids often make in their battle with sin: We do not take sin as seriously as we should; we wrongly categorize sin as “major” or “minor”; we lack perseverance in battling our sin; we battle our sinful actions, but we fail to deal with our sinful hearts; and we confuse godly and worldly sorrow. (pgs. 178-179)  He also offers sound biblical responses to help them think biblically about their sin, and to put off sin and put on righteousness (Eph. 4:22-24).  But, putting off sin and putting on righteousness is not what saves us.  As he often does throughout the book, Graustein points his readers back to the cross, reminding them that, 

“Only Jesus Christ who has paid the price for our sins can restore our relationship with God.  Yet the life of a Christian should be marked by obedience and a deep desire to live in a way that pleases God.” (pgs. 189-190)

 

In light of all the “negative press” that surrounds church kids today, this book is a wonderful reminder, to teens and parents alike, that while there are challenges, temptations, and struggles associated with being raised in a Christian environment, “Growing Up Christian” is also a privilege, and a great blessing!

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Book Review: His Word in my Heart

His Word in my Heart: Memorizing Scripture for a Closer Walk with GodMy husband recently picked up a book on Scripture memorization, and I was very excited to get my hands on it.  The value and importance of Scripture memorization was ingrained in my thinking early.  And, I believe that this is an extremely important, but all too often neglected, discipline for most Christians…simply because they (mistakenly) think they do not have enough time. 

 

In her book, His Word in my Heart, Janet Pope says, “I present an alternative for the frazzled, guilt-ridden woman who longs to know God and His Word but hasn’t yet found a way to accomplish this amidst the unrelenting treadmill of activities.  I cannot add one more hour to your day, but I can help you change the minutes and the moments you already have.” (pg. 11) 

 

For years, she has been using those once-idle and overlooked moments to memorize, not just snippets of Scripture here and there, but whole chapters and entire books of the Bible!  And, she did this with children and teenagers!   She says,

 

“With two small children and a never-ending list of things to do, there were no extra time slots in my day….I trained myself to use moments throughout my day when my hands were busy but my mind was free.  Household chores required busyness but not thoughtfulness, so I included Scripture memory in my daily routines: showering, drying my hair, folding laundry, vacuuming, waiting in traffic or at the dentist’s office.  Minutes that were once idle became opportunities to get to know God’s Word.”  (pg. 10)

 

This book is designed to be “intensely practical.”  And, it is!  You will notice that she advocates memorizing passages and books, not individual verses.  It is her opinion that memorizing passages, chapters, or entire books is more beneficial than memorizing independent verses.  She says, “You will get a more complete picture if you memorize verses that go together….Memorizing entire books or passages will keep intact God’s succession of ideas, without interruption.” (pgs. 36-37)  She goes on to explain that memorizing single verses, out of their original context, can often lead to misinterpretation and wrong application. 

 

Perhaps memorizing an entire book of the Bible, or even just a chapter, seems like an impossible challenge.  Yes, it requires work.  But, as you will see through Pope’s own experience and careful illustration of her method, it is not impossible. 

 

Three of the 9 chapters of this book are devoted to helping the reader memorize 2 passages of Scripture – Psalm 1 (which is only 6 verses), and the book of Titus (dealing with chapter 1 in one chapter, and chapters 2-3 in the other).  Pope helps to show her readers how to break down larger portions of Scripture, into more manageable daily sections (one verse each day).  She also offers helpful suggestions, or reminders, to use those “idle moments” to review what has been learned so far. 

 

In keeping with her goal of intense practicality, Pope shares that, “It’s not enough just to know the words of the Bible; rather, we need to be so immersed in God’s Word that we will think biblically…To have the exact words stored in my brain is a valuable asset, but it will never be enough.  If I go no deeper than just ‘the words,’ it will be a waste of time, an exercise in futility.” (pgs. 151-152)  She helps her readers to go deeper than just the words, by suggesting questions to think through while meditating on a passage, so that they move beyond knowledge to application and obedience.

 

No, there is no clear command in Scripture to memorize.  “There will be no checklist or prize at the pearly gates for the number of verses quoted.  What matters is a life that has been transformed by the sword of God’s Word penetrating deep into our souls and making us more pliable and yielding to His will.” (pg. 87) 

 

Throughout this book, I was so impressed and encouraged by this author’s love for God, and her passion to know Him by knowing His Word.  She understands that “God desires for us to know Him intimately, and that’s why He gave us His written Word.  It is God’s revelation of Himself….The goal is to know God and to walk closely with Him – nothing more, nothing less.” (pg. 30)

 

If your goal and desire is to know God intimately, then you must know His Word.  Memorization is simply one way to accomplish that.  If you need help getting started this book is a wonderful source of encouragement and instruction as you seek to pour yourself into God’s Word.

 

“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” ~Psalm 119:97 (ESV)

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