Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: Political Church (Jonathan Leeman)


What is the local church? Or, perhaps, what is the church? Is it a body of believing Christians? Is it all of God’s people, his temple? Do we “go to church” or are we “the church”? How does the church live within the political sphere? Are they truly separate entities? In Political Church, Jonathan Leeman makes a case for the political nature of the local church and argues that it is possible to be political and a Christian. In fact, everything we do is political. “The local church and its members constitute a political community that exists according to Jesus’ explicit authorization in Matthew 16, 18 and 28… The purpose of this political community, then, is to publicly represent King Jesus, display the justice and righteousness of the triune God, and pronounce that all the world belongs to this King. His claim is universal” (294). 

Jonathan Leeman is the editorial director for 9Marks. He is an adjunct teacher for The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and currently serves as an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. He has both an MDiv and PhD in theology, both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science, and began his journalism career as an editor for an international economics magazine. Political Church is the third (?) volume in the Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture, edited by Daniel Treier and Kevin Vanhoozer, which brings together Scripture, Christian doctrine, and the issues of our day. Leeman, using biblical theology (here, the flow of the Bible’s storyline), looks at the overall storyline to understand how Christians should think about the political sphere, something which touches every sphere of life (just turn on the news or get on Facebook or Twitter).

The first two chapters asks what “politics” and “institutions” are. Because these two chapters are the most technical, Leeman gives his readers a “get out of jail free” card and tells them that they should “feel free to skip them” (32). They are technical, and I certainly didn’t understand a lot of the political language, but I was stretched and I think I have underlines on almost every page. “Politics” is “public-wide and coercive governance,” an “order-enforcing agency” (60, 61). The local church’s institutional authority is the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16, 18, 28), and the state’s institutional authority is found in “the sword” (since they are, as Leeman argues above, an “order-enforcing agency”). Putting it another way,

institutions tell you how to act, and they give you opportunities to act. They help to define relationships, giving them purpose and direction. They even shape aspects of your identity. Consider just a few examples listed by the sociologists: marriage, the contract, wage labor, the handshake, insurance, the army, academic tenure, the presidency, the vacation, attending college, the corporation, the motel and voting.46 These are very different kinds of institutions, but all of them, in various ways, contain rules and opportunities for action, shape a relationship, and impinge upon identity. (108)

The state builds the platforms of peace and justice so that the church can “hang signs with Jesus’ name over right beliefs, right practices, and right people—the repenting and believing citizens of Christ’s kingdom” (15).

Chapter three looks at the politics of Creations, particularly that as governed and ruled by the triune God. The Christian’s Godthe Father, Son, and Holy Spiritis one of a unified relationship and provides the basis for people to be committed to care for their close neighbors. Husband/wife, parent/child, employer/employee, and neighbor-to-neighbor are the relationships that make up the fabric of society. There are relationships of affirmation and submission. “Good government works according to principles of righteousness, justice and love; and good government works best when ruler and ruled are perfectly in sync” (153).

Chapters 4-6 cover the Politics of the Fall, the New Covenant, and the Kingdom. The “the local church is a political institution because it has been authorized by a King to borrow and wield his own office keys for declaring who is and who is not a citizen in the ‘age of new covenant’” (295). The local church is an extension of God’s kingdom; it is not God’s kingdom, but an embassy for it. It “represents one nation inside of another nation… and it protects the citizens of the home nation living in the host nation. Embassies do not make people citizens of a home nation, but they do formally affirm who is and who is not a citizen of the home nation” (296).

Just as Jesus was ‘under’ the authority of Pilate and submitted to his decrees, Christians are not higher than their governments and must submit to their decrees. However, just as Jesus’ kingdom was elsewhere, Christians are members of the Creator’s kingdom, and he has given them a particular authority to preach the gospel, make disciples, and display love, peace, justice and righteousness. Everyone worships something—either God or idols. Christians are ambassadors for God (2 Cor 5.20); they mediate his covenantal rule to the world around them and call them to submit to Christ the King. 

Recommended?

The volumes in this series are more advanced than what I usually review, and one should have some knowledge of the political sphere to get the most out of this book. But yes, I do recommend it, especially because Leeman works through the Bible’s covenantal storyline. “The church’s life is held together by justification by faith alone, the most powerful political force in the world today for flattening hierarchies and uniting one-time enemies” (14). You may not be a political expert, but you will benefit from reading Leeman’s work. It is slow work, but it is a rewarding read.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture
  • Author: Jonathan Leeman
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (March 26, 2016)

Buy it on Amazon or from IVP Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Book Review: Romans (EGGNT), John Harvey

The Exegetical Guide to the Green New Testament (EGGNT) series seeks to bridge the gap between the Greek NT and the many tools available to study said Greek. Once intermediate students learn the ropes of syntactical terms through various intermediate grammars, where do they go from there? What do they do when their favorite commentators disagree on matters of syntax, grammar, and a text’s structure? This is where one intermediate grammar in particular gave massive help to students. Going Deeper with New Testament Greek (review here) gave students a chance to work through a text at the end of a chapter while seeing how the authors themselves worked through that text. The EGGNT series seeks to do much the same and more.

Here, John Harvey, Dean and Professor of New Testament at Columbia Biblical Seminary in Columbia, SC, leads the reader through each passage of Romans. In his Introduction he believes Paul to be the author, the letter was most likely written from Corinth near the end of Paul’s third missionary journey (AD 57), written to a mixed-but-Gentile-prominent church to “introduce himself to the church in Rome, clarify the nature of his ‘gospel to the Gentiles,’ and correct the attitudes and behavior of the Jewish and Gentile believers in the church” so that they would rally alongside Paul and support his missionary endeavors to Spain (4).

Each section begins with a brief explanation of Paul’s flow of thought, followed by a structural outline.

In Romans 6.2b-6 (in the larger section of 6.1-11), Harvey has spaced out the text to show his readers that the double use of ἐβαπτίσθημεν encompasses the two εἰς prepositional phrases. Other lines are indented to show subordination (the black an colored lines are my own doing). The outlines are only a visual key; they do not explain outright what kind of subordinate clauses the section has, or how certain lines relate or do not relate to others. One must go to the phrase-by-phrase explanation to understand that.

There, Harvey takes apart the text and examines it phrase by phrase. As others have noted, these books are not a reading guide. Only rare or difficult verbs are parsed, along with participles and infinitives.

Harvey does not explain syntactical terms but assumes his reader either already knows what they are or can look them up himself. For example, in Romans 6.4, Harvey writes that συνετάφημεν is an ingressive aorist. It explain the dative of αὐτῷ, which refers back to Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν in verse 3. When a preposition comes before a word in a particular case (v. 4, διὰ + genitive), Harvey explains its function in that instance (“intermediate agency”). What is immensely helpful with this book is how Harvey brings together the thoughts of key commentators (Cranfield, Dunn, Käsemann, Longenecker, Moo, Schreiner, Stott) and grammars (e.g., Wallace). Sometimes he gives the commentators’ thoughts on a phrase, other times he merely notes the page number you will find their opinion on.When he gives different interpretive options for understanding a passage, sometimes he indicates his opinion with an asterisk (*), and other times he does not. Instead of having six commentaries spread about with you having to spend much time looking back and forth for their opinions, Harvey puts it in front of you in one paragraph. This won’t give you every answer, but rather the most likely way to understand the text’s syntax.

At the end of each section, Harvey lists a host of bibliographic references for further study according to relevant topics (95 total) found in that section. Concerning the “I” in Romans 7 (7:7-25), Harvey lists 27 different references. He lists 25 different references under the topic Predestination and Election (8:29), 21 under “All Israel Will be Saved” (11:26), and 17 under Adam/Christ Typology (5:12-21). Not all topics have so many references, but all are a massive help. If you’re writing a paper or a sermon on a particular topic, begin by looking here.

The next section offers Homiletical Suggestions for the pastor/teacher. These won’t always fit depending on how you’re structuring your sermon, but they are a helpful for seeing the text divided up a different way from your own conclusions (since you will be doing your own exegetical work first, right?).

Recommended?

Those well into the intermediate stage of Greek would do well with this. The structural outlines, numerous bibliographic sections, and homiletical suggestions alone make this worthwhile for teachers and preachers. This does not replace learning koine Greek itself. While the book has been helpful for me, I have forgotten a lot on syntax, so his syntactical notes always lead me back to various grammars. I usually look at Harvey’s syntactical notes first just to give me a springboard to bounce off from. If he notes that a word is an ingressive aorist, I’ll write it down and then look up the different ways the aorist tense functions and see if I agree. For those further along than me, Harvey cuts down a lot of your preparation time (though you do still need to translate the text). A multifunctional book like this gives a lot of information to chew on and to incorporate into one’s teaching. I think Harvey has done a great service for pastors and teachers with this volume.

Lagniappe

Buy it from Amazon, Adlibris, or B&H Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Book Review: Honoring the Son (Snapshots), Larry Hurtado

In Lexham Press’s Snapshots series, one that contains short books on various topics such as the atonement, transformation as the heart of Paul’s gospel, and the church and Israel. Now Lexham has added another volume by the eminent NT scholar Larry Hurtado, emeritus professor of New Testament language, literature, and theology at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He has written numerous books on the early church’s devotion to Jesus, such as Why on Earth did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries?, Destroyer of the gods, One God, One Lord, and How on Earth did Jesus Become a God? In Honoring the Son, Hurtado distills the last 30 years of research into one small book (82 pages).

After a Foreword by David Capes, Hurtado’s Introduction previews the plan of his book and then briefly reviews 20th century scholarship on how Jesus received cultic (“religious”) devotion. A certain Wilhelm Bousset wrote a book asking whether worship of Jesus originated with Jewish Christians, or, as Bousset argued, “in diaspora settings such as Antioch and Damascus, where he posited believers were more subject to pagan influences in which divinized heroes and multiple deities were more acceptable than in Roman Judea” (6). Basically, Bousset argues that Jews didn’t worship other gods; they worshiped Yahweh alone. So it must be that some Jews further out in Antioch (modern-day Turkey, quite a ways from Rome) were influenced by other pagans to add “divinized heroes” on to their toolbelt of deities to whom to pray. Thus, being influenced by their culture, they ‘divinized’ Jesus and began to worship him. There is more to the history of research, but I’ll let you read the rest of that.

In brief, chapter 2 covers worship in the ancient world. Worship was “the heart of Roman-era religion” (21). They viewed gods as the guardians of homes, towns, nations, and the Roman Empire. While you would have your own god(s), when you went to other towns you would worship and ‘honor’ other gods. To refuse to honor gods “might provoke them to retaliate, or at least to take offense” (22). It was irresponsible (and antisocial) to refuse to worship other gods. Chapter 3 looks at ancient Jewish monotheism, where all people honored each others gods, well, except for the Jews. It’s not that they didn’t think there weren’t other gods or spiritual beings (see Deut 32.8-9, 17; Ps 82; 1 Cor 10.19-21), but they didn’t worship them. They worship only one God, Yahweh.

Chapter 4 brings us to the early Christian “mutation.” Jews died for their belief that they worshiped one God alone. How did Jewish Christians come to incorporate Jesus into their devotional practices? Paul regularly refers to Jesus as “Lord” (Rom 10.9-13 // Joel 2.32; Phil 2.9-11 // Isa 45.23; 1 Cor 8.4-6). Chapter 5: Jesus in Earliest Christian Devotional Practice presents the different ways in which Jesus was worshiped, honored, and revered not as a second god, nor at God’s expense, but with God as a recipient. Prayers, calling on Jesus’ name, the place of Jesus in baptism and the Lord’s supper, prophecy, and hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs all feature the uniqueness of Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, in the New Testament time. Honoring the Son ends with a Conclusion and an Appendix against Bart Ehrman’s ideas in his How Jesus Became God.

Thoughts

This is a great resource and an excellent distillation of Hurtado’s previous books. I’ve only read one of Hurtado’s books, but I’ve heard a good bit about his thoughts, so it was very helpful to read this thoughtful compression of thoughts. Every chapter was good, and it was especially helpful to have the brief overview of Greco-Roman thought when it came to religious worship. The Jews stood in stark contrast to them, with many being mocked and martyred for their beliefs. For Paul, the other NT authors, and the early churches to view Jesus so highly would be in stark contrast to the Jewish way of life, while still fitting with the Old Testament! The historical context Hurtado presents gives even greater meaning to those of us Christians today who just assume that it was obvious Jesus was divine so there shouldn’t have been a problem worshiping him. As Paul hows from the OT Scriptures, Jesus was closely associated with Yahweh, having received the “name above all names” (see the above references).

It should be said that the writing here is still very academic. It means Hurtado can be as precise as he needs to be to get his point across, but it will be made to less people. One example of the book’s academic nature can be seen in a certain change of terms. Hurtado once described this new devotional pattern (worshiping God the Father and the Son) as “binitarian.” He now describes this Christian development as “dyadic,” but he doesn’t explain what a dyad is. According to Wikipedia, “In sociology, a dyad is a group of two people, the smallest possible social group. As an adjective, ‘dyadic’ describes their interaction.”

Now granted, I could have looked up that word immediately upon seeing it for the first time, and I should neither expect books to explain all complicated words to me (dictionaries are still around for a reason). Nowhere in the book does Hurtado express that this is meant for the person in the pew. I do hope many pastors and teachers will pick this up to show the historical significance of Jewish Christians worshiping Jesus and calling on his name to be saved.

Hurtado’s book helps to affirm the divine position of the Son of God. I hope this book will be read widely.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Snapshots
  • Author: Larry W. Hurtado
  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (June 27, 2018)

Buy it from Amazon, Adlibris, or Lexham Press

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Book Review: Philippians (Verse by Verse), Grant Osborne

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Grant Osborne, former professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, has decided to finish his academic career by writing a commentary on every book of the NT specifically for the layperson. His three main intended uses are for devotional aids, for use in Bible study groups, and as sermon helps. The church needs teachers so that they don’t commit heresy, but studying the Bible doesn’t need to be a”a tedious duty we have to perform” (xi). Osborne wants studying the Bible to be a joy, not a burden.

As I’ve mentioned before, commentaries don’t need to be so difficult. Grant Osborne is doing pastors and teachers a big favor with his commentary series. Clocking in right at 200 pages, Osborne’s commentary on Philippians is easy to read and understand. Though written by an academic, this series is not ‘academic.’ It is not filled with terms from another language, the reader does not have to choke on reading about source-, form-, or redactional criticism (a la Bob Stein’s BECNT commentary on Mark, which I critique here), nor does the reader need to know what every other scholar thinks about a passage (if he wanted to know, he would buy their commentaries). Too many commentators give a few options without expressing their own opinion on what the text is saying. Osborne does spends some time, albeit little, on what others think about specific passages in Philippians, but he always offers his own interpretation of any passage. When he does present other views, he represents them carefully with grace.

Osborne understands the apostle Paul to be the author of Philippians, which could have been written probably in the early 60s AD during Paul’s Roman trial and imprisonment, as “the circumstances in the first three imprisonments do not fit well with what we actually see in the Prison Letters” (4). Osborne takes the genre of Philippians to be both a single “letter of friendship” and a “word of exhortation.” While he explains the circumstances leading up to the letter, he doesn’t describe the social setting of the church, such as the kind of people who lived in Philippi and how and why they were devoted to the Caesar and emperor worship (which would put pressure on the Philippian believers). He believes there are four groups of opponents confronting the church: (1) preachers opposing Paul [1.15–17], (2) Roman citizens [1.27–30], (3) Judaizers [3.2–3], and (4) Gentile libertines (3.18–19).

Osborne gives three-and-a-half pages on the theology of the letter. All focused on Christ, he presents the doctrine, the gospel, the church, and the return of Christ. The commentary ends with a two-page glossary in the back and a two-page bibliography.

Interpretive Matters

1.19: Paul’s ‘salvation’ has a double meaning. Either he will be released be with the Philippians or he will be released to be with the Lord. Either way is a deliverance to Paul.

1.21: Paul, a ‘slave’ (1.1) to Christ, knew that all value in this life or in the next was in Christ. So no matter what happened to him, he would glory in Christ.

1.28: The ‘sign’ is for both groups. The unbelievers who accepted the gospel would see that their persecution leads to God’s judgment and that believers will be vindication. Osborne states that “both outcomes—judgment and salvation—would be accomplished by God” (60). The sign was meant for all people to understand, but those who reject the gospel would remain blind.

2.7: Jesus’ emptying of himself refers to his incarnation, but he did not rid himself of his divine powers and attributes when he was on earth. Jesus ‘assumed the form/nature of a slave and served humankind’ and died on a cross to save humankind (80).

2.17: Paul’s being ‘poured out as a drink offering’ refers to his possible martyrdom.

3.1: Osborne believes that as Paul was writing his letter he may have received the message that the Judaizers were infiltrating Philippi, which led to the strange shift between Philippians 3.1 and 3.2.

Recommended?

Pastors and teachers will be pleased with Osborne’s commentary. Osborne wants to lead his readers to a knowledge of Christ that expresses itself in joy, awe, and obedience in all matters of life. Osborne is faithful to Scripture, and I would highly recommend anyone who wants to study the Bible to pick up any of Osborne’s commentaries: laypersons, pastors, and teachers. Osborne will be a great conversation partner for most who want to study the New Testament.

Lagniappe

▪ Series: Osborne New Testament Commentaries
▪ Author: Grant Osborne

▪ Paperback: 224 pages
▪ Publisher: Lexham Press (August 2, 2017)

Buy it from Amazon, Adlibris, or Lexham Press

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Book Review: 1 Corinthians (ZECNT), Paul Gardner

Paul Gardner has written the newest volume in the ZECNT series on 1 Corinthians, a book that always requires a massive undertaking to study, teach, and exegete. Gardner agrees that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, probably around 54-55 AD. Looking at the history and culture of Corinth, Gardner, agreeing with David Garland, says that while Corinth, a seaport city, was very much sexually immoral, much of its sexual reputation came from earlier accounts before the Roman conquest on Corinth (146 BC).

The pervasiveness of temples meant that every part of life dealt with religion. To deal or trade with someone meant considering one another’s patron god. It meant receiving invitations to dinners where food would be offered which had been sacrificed to the particular god. Gardner provides some insight into a Corinthian lifestyle. The “main underlying issue that Paul addresses concerns the possession of wisdom and knowledge…. [T]he Corinthians regarded these as spiritual gifts and gave them a significance that caused spiritual arrogance among some” (36). As a result, “Paul’s response is to return to the humbling centrality of the gospel message in which Christ is preached as the crucified Lord” (36).

Commentary Set-Up

The Literary Context shows how, say, 1 Corinthians 1.18–25, fits in between the previous section and the next. and a short explanation of it’s position in the broader context. A Progress Bar with an outline is added at the end. The Main Idea is a simple, one- or two-sentence statement on the passage. The Translation and Graphical Layout is Gardner’s translation of the Greek text represented in a sentence phrasing diagram as to how each clause relates to each other. (See my review of the ZECNT’s Matthew volume for an example of the Graphical Layout)

The Structure describes Paul’s flow of thought in 1.18–25.

The Exegetical Outline gives a detailed outline for the chapter.

In The Explanation of the Text, Gardner examines words, ideas, rhetoric, the social context, and/or biblical theology. So in 1.18, Gardner explains why the cross was “foolishness” to so many people “who are perishing,” and how “those who are being saved” are being done so by God’s power.  The highlight for many pastors and teachers, the Theology in Application section discusses how 1.18–25 contributes a piece of theology to the overall meaning of the book and provides some suggestions for application to the church. It will be incredibly helpful to the pastor/teacher in drawing out the text’s implications for the Christian community founded on solid exegesis.

With 15.20–28, Jesus is the conquering King who saves us from death, the great enemy of all people from the very beginning (at least since the third chapter). Paul writes of “Christ” (Messiah) four times, and this Christ represents his people who belong to him by being in him and are in his kingdom. He is currently destroying all powers and authorities, and he will destroy death itself. Thus, sin cannot be treated lightly. It must be preached so that Christ’s saving power over broken relationships, death, diseases, and corruption can be longed for.

In-Depth

Gardner also has many In Depth sections where he takes a deeper look at a particular topic, such as “The Theme of Stumbling” in 1.18–25 (101-104). Some In Depth sections are quite long, with “What Was Paul’s Attitude to ‘Speaking in a Tongue’ and What is the Phenomenon?” extending to 7 pages (593-600). Don’t miss the ever-interesting In Depth question asking if there is support for three resurrections (“Jesus, Those in Christ, and Others Who Have Died,” pp. 681-83). Though I agree with his position, Gardner doesn’t say much about the “others who have died” and where their resurrection will show up in the schema of things.

Interpretations

Though there is much to say, here are brief comments on a few of Gardner’s interpretations.

4.3–4: Paul does not preach the gospel according to “human wisdom” (2.13), and he will not be judged by a human court. The Corinthians are not to judge how ‘faithful’ Paul has been; that is the Lord’s prerogative.

1 Cor 10: Food sacrificed to idols should not be eaten in a temple/religious setting but can be eaten in “a nonreligious context,” for then it is eaten as food and not as a sacrifice (464).

10.28–29: “Even though this is not a religious context, if the eating is suddenly given religious significance, they should not eat” (466). This is an instance of one of the ‘strong’ asserting his ‘knowledge’ that he can eat this food before others. Paul says in this instance all Christians should not eat. “To eat at this stage would be to confirm the informant in his arrogance. It would be bad for their ‘self-awareness’ and add to their false sense of confidence that is altogether based in the wrong things” (466). Gardner provides a helpful paraphrase of the text that shows how Paul’s “for” statement in 10.29b fits into the context.

14.33c–35: To use Gardner’s summary, “wives are told not to judge or question publicly any prophecies emanating from their own husbands. Such action might bring shame upon the marriage” (629). Gardner provides a helpful In Depth look here. He does not believe it forbids all women from speaking in the gathered assembly.

Recommended?

There are an overwhelming amount of 1 Corinthian commentaries one could buy. There is no ‘right’ commentary. Excellent commentaries have been written by Fee, Garland, Hays, Blomberg, Ciampa/Rosner, Thiselton, with most of these (especially Ciampa/Rosner) being pretty long. Gardner has provided one that is worthy of purchase and could be paired with Schreiner’s upcoming volume in the TNTC series, which is shorter than most of the above. 

Gardner provides explanations, the main points, flow of thought, and a commentary that abounds with application sections. Gardner is to be commended and his volume recommended. His volume is an excellent addition to the ZECNT series.

Lagniappe

Buy it from Amazon or Zondervan

Disclosure: I received this book free from Zondervan. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Book Review: Making Sense of God (Tim Keller)

In 2008, Tim Keller, former pastor of Redeemer church in NYC, wrote The Reason For God, which addressed the doubts of both skeptics and believers. Now, eight years later, his Making Sense of God: Finding God in the Modern World makes a case to skeptics that Christianity is relevant and brings “meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, justice, and hope.” Being more or less a prequel to The Reason For God, Making Sense is written primarily to skeptics of Christianity, but Keller’s audience certainly includes Christians too. He writes to give them the knowledge to discuss confidently with other skeptics.

Making Sense is made up of three sections.

  1. Why does anyone need religion?
  2. Religion is more than you think it is
  3. Christianity makes sense

He first explains that in the 1800s, humanists thought the world’s citizens would become more human as religion died away, which would lead to a decrease in wars and conflicts. Wars and conflicts have not ceased, and neither has racism nor eugenics. But clearly we can’t believe in Christianity since we can’t empirically prove its claims. But can that sentence be empirically proven? If we evolved, and survival is of the fittest, why love one another instead of (metaphorically) eating one another?One wants to feed the poor while the other wants to trample on them while climbing up the corporate ladder. Whose life meaning is correct?  Keller states that the concept of “natural” human rights came about in Medieval Christianity. All people, regardless of their status, class, gender, or vocation are owed some things. While taking care of the poor didn’t originate with Christianity, the Christian ideas of caring for the marginalized because all are created in God’s image permeate our society. We have a view of people being equal because of Christianity.

If all people are created to love and serve God, putting anything else will be a futile effort for nothing can satisfy us, and everything will disappoint and frustrate us. Our children will not always follow our dreams for them, our spouses will fail us, our bodies will break now, our houses will need repairing, we are replaceable. We are limited. We cannot do everything we want. Saying ‘yes’ to one person means saying ‘no’ to 10 others. Saying ‘yes’ to one woman means saying ‘no’ to all others at all times. People want to be “true to themselves,” but we are all connected. If everyone lived in a way that was “true to themselves,” where would the heroes be? Who would sacrifice themselves for others? No one wants to be a slave, but in being completely independent from all people and opinions one is a slave to independence. As Keller says, “You are a slave to it, because it forces you to stay uncommitted, and, probably, pretty lonely” (111).

Keller finishes his book showing how it is reasonable to believe in God and Christianity. He looks at the cosmic and intellectual design of the universe, morals, reason, beauty, and consciousness. Keller then looks at the sources for what we know about Jesus (the four Gospels), his character, wisdom, claims, freedom, the conundrum of Jesus (how a human was considered divine), and his resurrection.

Recommended?

Reviewing a book by Keller is always difficult for me. First, I think they should sell themselves. Second, there’s too much information to gather for a book review. I found this book fascinating and helpful in flipping the world’s claims around and seeing how they (at least those presented in the book), don’t make sense. Unlike The Reason For God though, occasionally a chapter felt like it dragged on, but this was uncommon. The writing is both readable yet dense, at times requiring the reader to slow down to absorb the arguments. Christianity is not merely a feel good religion. “Feeling good” requires knowing God himself and that he is wise and all-knowing. He is logical and loving. He is trust-worthy and faithful, and we can put our full confidence in him, even though we won’t have every answer.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Timothy Keller
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (March 20, 2018)

Buy it from Amazon, Adlibris, or Penguin Random House!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Penguin Random House. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Book Review: Unbreakable (Andrew Wilson)

Written by humans and claimed to be divinely inspired by God, what is the Bible? The creation of the world, rebellion, bloodshed, de-creation, drunkenness, war, capital punishment, judgment, miracles… what are we to expect from a book filled with these things? Can all of these stories truly be “breathed out” by God? Why believe the Bible is God’s word when it is the bible itself that tells us it is God’s word? Shouldn’t we want better reasoning than the circular kind? As Andrew Wilson, Teaching Pastor at King’s Church London, says, “All sets of beliefs have to start somewhere; you trust reason because it’s rational, you trust experience because it fits with your experience, you trust the Bible because it’s biblical, and so on” (11). Why should one trust the Bible? If you trust Jesus, then you should trust the Bible. Wilson says, “If he [Jesus] talks and acts as if the Bible is trustworthy, authoritative, good, helpful and powerful, I will too … even if some of my questions remain unanswered, or my answers remain unpopular” (12).

From there Wilson briefly looks at Scripture’s clarity, coherence, sufficiency, challenges, Jesus as its fulfillment, and more, and he cleverly does it all with a humorous bit o’ wit. Jesus, the Son of God, loved God’s word with all of his mind, heart, and soul. He wholly trusted in it, fought sin with it, debated the Pharisees with the true understanding of it, and believed that it was unbroken. As Wilson points out, when faced with the many biblical difficulties many people decide that Scripture is in fact broken. But instead, what we really ought to do is look at ourselves to see if we are the ones whom are broken.

It is in the Scriptures that’s God’s character, wisdom, and power is seen. And when Jesus was asked a question, he never said, “Yeah, I’m just not sure about that text. That’s a tough one.” As Wilson shows, Jesus often puts the ‘hardness’ of understanding the Scriptures on the ‘hardness’ of the people’s heart. We are arrogant. We are stubborn. Prideful. Naive. Ignorant. Sinful. Thankfully, Jesus was perfect, understanding, wise, and is our Savior. His Spirit is in us to humbly study his word to know him better, not to know a bunch of facts, literary structures, and intertextual allusions. Those things are good, but they are meant to point us to Jesus.

Recommended?

Each chapter here is approximately three pages long. Mounds of books have been written on each chapter, but Wilson cuts through and gives the reader a thoughtful perspective on the one who was truly human, the one who perfectly imaged God in everything he did and said (and didn’t do and didn’t say), and how he viewed Scripture. And, since Jesus perfectly represented God in every way, we should really consider accepting his view of Scripture. If you’ve never read a book on Scripture because you think they’ll all be boring and stodgy, begin here. This one isn’t boring, stodgy, stuck-up, insincere nonsense. It was a pleasure to read, and you should pick up more of Wilson’s books (I review his book on Scripture’s use of Exodus imagery here).

Lagniappe

  • Author: Andrew Wilson
  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: 10Publishing (October 1, 2014)

Buy it on Amazon!

Disclosure: I received this book free from 10Publishing. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Book Review: Romans (BTCP), David Peterson

In a world of Romans commentaries, why buy one more? Or if you don’t have any, why buy this one? David Peterson, who was a senior research fellow and lecturer in New Testament at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia, was the Principal of Oak Hill Theological College, London for eleven years, and is an ordained minister of the Anglican Church of Australia, has written the third commentary in the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation series. This series focuses on discussing the themes of each biblical book and how it fits into the whole canon for Christian proclamation. This series doesn’t aim at producing dense, academic works, but rather to present Biblical theology to the lives of all of Christ’s body (you can find more information about the series in my review of Tom Schreiner’s Hebrews commentary).

Peterson’s introduction is short. He agrees with many of the conservative, consensus views. Although here he takes a new approach to the structure of Romans. He believes Paul alternates between confirming the gospel and defending the gospel against Jewish objections.

confirming….| defending the gospel 

.the gospel…..|….against Jewish objections

…..1.18-32………|…….2.1-3.20

…..3.21-26………|…….3.27-4.25

…..5.1-11…………|…….5.12-21

…..6.1-23………..|…….7.1-25

…..8.1-39……….|…….9.1-11.36

…..12.1-13.14….|…….14.1-15.7

He presents the book of Romans as one long recursion (or chiasm), however I did not understand his recursive structure (given on p. 18).

Peterson offers almost 50 pages on the biblical and theological themes of Romans, writing about topics such as Romans and creation, sin, and judgment; God’s electing grace and Israel; Israel and the law; the gospel; the Scriptures; the Trinity; righteousness and justification; Israel and the church; and more.

Peterson helpfully explains the logic of Paul’s arguments, how the verbal forms of Greek explain Paul’s thinking, and how that helps the pastor understand Paul’s theology. For example, on Romans 6:9-10 Peterson says, “The connective γάρ (‘for’) introduces a supportive argument (v. 10), which prepares for Paul’s application in v. 11” (269). Though it’s one sentence, it easily shows the reader Paul’s line of thinking. And Peterson sprinkles these helpful statements liberally throughout his commentary. Peterson then adds, “The adverb ἐφάπαξ… highlights the power of his [Jesus’] achievement and its epoch-changing effect. His death was a completed event, but (lit.) ‘the life he lives, he lives to God’… Double use of the present tense stresses that his resurrection life has no end” (269).

Each new section begins with a brief summary of that section, the particular text from Romans, a section on the surrounding context, and the structure of the section. Peterson then goes verse by verse (sometimes two at a time) and sketches out Paul’s teaching.The BTCP series succeeds here where others series fail. All of this helps to situate the reader into the text and to orient him (or her) to his surroundings. Rather than having to read the previous ten pages to get a grip on the argument, the reader is quickly brought up to speed with each new section.

Noteworthy Thoughts

2.13: works are an indicator of genuine faith, and “doing the law” means obedience to Christ by faith.

2.14-15: Paul refers to Gentile Christians as having God’s law, now all Gentiles as somehow having God’s law on their hearts. Peterson says it would be very strange for Paul to coincidentally use the Jeremiah’s specific description of God’s law being written on one’s hearts while referring to all (unbelieving) Gentiles in general.

Work of the law: The singular ‘work‘ “signifies ‘the essential unity of the law’s requirements'” which God himself writes on his new covenant people (148).

Law to themselves: even though the Gentile Christians weren’t physically born into a community (as the Jews were) that had God’s law, they know God’s law and have an “earnest desire to obey it” (149).

Accusing or even excusing thoughts: the “evidence of honest self-assessment before God” (cf. 1 John 3.20), which ends on the day of the Lord (150). God judges the heart and our inner transformation.

3.22: διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ means “through faith in Jesus Christ” (188-190). Peterson says that πίστις often refers to “the faith of believers in general, both before (1:5, 8, 12, 17) and after this passage (3:27-4:25),” and Paul would have needed to add more contextual clues if he intended to say “through the faith/fulness of Jesus Christ.”

3.25: ἱλαστήριον should be understood as “propitiation.”

5.12: We are made sinners by the sinful act of Adam. Because of his sin, we come into this world alienated from God and spiritually dead. Peterson doesn’t delve into how we are made sinners through Adam.

11.25-27: The “Deliverer” who will come “from Zion” is Jesus the Messiah who came from the midst of God’s people. The new covenant benefits have come through this Messiah, benefits that are being proclaimed through Paul’s ministry. The “all Israel” who will be saved is the corporate people of Israel throughout history who hear the gospel and turn to Christ.

Recommended?

I would certainly recommend Peterson’s commentary to any teacher, paster, student, Bible study leader, etc. Having a commentary from the deep well of a biblical scholar that is easily accessible is uncommon, but it is a pleasure to read. It would serve you well to pick up anything by Peterson.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation
  • Author: David Peterson
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Holman Reference (August 1, 2017)

Buy it from Amazon or B&H Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Book Review: John (Verse by Verse), Grant Osborne

Commentaries don’t need to be so difficult. Some of them are meant to bring the reader into the world of Greek or Hebrew grammar to understand the nuances of the author’s language. Others bring out cultural details and ancient literary sources to compare and contrast the thoughts of the biblical author to his culture. Others are just easy to read. They let you sit down with your Bible to read without flooding your with extraneous details. Although those other commentaries are important (and I enjoy them), Grant Osborne has decided that at the end of his academic career he would write a commentary on every book of the NT specifically for the layperson. His three main intended uses are for devotional aids, for use in Bible study groups, and as sermon helps. The church needs teachers so that they don’t commit heresy, but studying the Bible doesn’t need to be a”a tedious duty we have to perform” (xi). Osborne wants studying the Bible to be a joy, not a burden.

While Osborne has written a hefty commentary on John (finishing at just under 500 pages), it is still light reading. He doesn’t spend much time looking at differing perspectives; instead he focuses on what he believes the text says. When he does present other views, he represents them with care and grace. Osborne understands the apostle John to be the author of the Gospel, which could have been written in the early 80s AD during John’s ministry in Ephesus. John sets his Gospel around three Passovers, is the most chronological of all the Gospels, and places the “most emphasis on the historical reliability of his material” then the Synoptics (10).

1.1: John’s reference to Jesus as the logos is closer to the Jewish conception of the word as God’s divine creative wisdom (Prov 8:30-31). Jesus is the “Living Revealer” of God, his very voice (24).

2.13-22: Osborne sees no problem with there being two temple cleansings, one at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and one at the end (66).

3.5: Being born “of water and Spirit” refer to the new birth brought by the Spirit. “Water,” here, refers to the Spirit, as it does in John 7.38-39, and it looks back at Ezekiel 36.25-28, which uses water as a metaphor for the spiritually cleansing work of the Holy Spirit.

4.23-24: True worship is that which is given to God through Christ in the Spirit.

5.24-25: There is a now/not yet function to our salvation. Christians are both saved and raised to new life now, but we will also be saved at the coming of Christ and physically raised to new life then.

7.53-8.11: The story of the woman caught in adultery “was undoubtedly not a part of John’s Gospel and was likely added by Christian scribes early in the second century,” it is “missing from nearly all the early manuscripts,” and “no Greek church father commented on this story before the twelfth century, and it is not found in older translations of the New Testament” (204). After a quick discussion of the facts, Osborne says that most believe it was a true story that actually happened. While he doesn’t believe the story is canonical, he agrees that it is likely a true part of Jesus’ ministry. While he wouldn’t make a Bible study out of it, Osborne does think it makes for a good sermon illustration about forgiveness.

10.34-36: Those who are called “gods” were not Israel’s judges but all of Israel. They were considered to be “gods” because they were God’s “firstborn son” (Exod 4:22). 

14.12: The “greater works” are not only miracles but include imitating Jesus in his prayer life, acts of service in love, and his proclamation of divine truth (339). What can be greater than raising the dead? Bringing new life to a dead spirit. We bring the gospel so that God cane make people alive.

19.34: The blood and water which pour out from Jesus’ side represent his sacrificial death and the cleansing work of the Spirit, themes which fits John’s Gospel (446). John could also be battling a docetic heresy which disregarded Jesus as appearing in a physical body.

20.22: The reception of the Spirit here was a “private infilling of the disciples” after Jesus’ resurrection, whereas Pentecost in Acts 2 was the public reception and empowerment of the Holy Spirit who would send out the church to preach the good news.

John 21: This chapter is a fitting epilogue written by John as the ending of his Gospel. It concludes the interaction between Peter and the Beloved disciple and Jesus. All manuscripts of John’s Gospel have this chapter.

Recommended?

I found Osborne’s John commentary to be very refreshing. He fills his commentary with references back and forth to other passages in John, showing how John’s themes recur throughout his Gospel. Osborne is sensitive to building up the faith of the reader through a knowledge and understanding of John’s Gospel. I’ve not read most of the commentaries in this series, but given the Osborne’s faithfulness to Scripture in his more academic works and the readability of this volume, I would highly recommend anyone who wants to study the Bible to pick up any of Osborne’s commentaries: laypersons, pastors, and teachers. Unless you’ve already studied every NT book for years, Osborne will be a great conversation partner for most who want to study the letters of the NT.

Lagniappe

▪ Series: Osborne New Testament Commentaries
▪ Author: Grant Osborne
▪ Paperback: 432 pages
▪ Publisher: Lexham Press (May 2, 2018)

Buy it from Amazon, Adlibris, or Lexham Press

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Book Review, Exodus (AOTC), T. D. Alexander

T. D. Alexander, senior lecturer in Biblical Studies at Union Theological College in Belfast, Northern Ireland, has spent the better part (or all) of his career in the book of Exodus. Having written on the Pentateuch (From Paradise to the Promised Land) and biblical theology (From Eden to the New Jerusalem, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology), he has written two commentaries on Exodus: One in the Teach the Text series and this one in the Apollos OT Commentary series.

Alexander doesn’t spend much time (ca. 32 pages) in the introduction, but he does spend a few pages on the story of Exodus and how it leads to the rest of the OT and NT books. Who wrote the book of Exodus? Alexander doesn’t think it all had to be written by Moses, saying that even though Jesus himself refers to the “book of Moses” (Mk 12.26), that title may just refer to Moses’ influence as a central figure on the Pentateuch. Exodus has a few places where Moses is said to have recorded God’s words, but Moses is not mentioned as “the author.” One does not have to be dogmatic on the issue while still not agreeing with the Documentary Hypothesis (DH), a theory Alexander helpfully and graciously critiques all throughout his commentary.

With each section of the commentary Alexander provides his own translation of the Hebrew text, relevant notes on the text dealing with translational and linguistic matters, the form and structure of the unit, comments on the passage, and a final explanation which often brings together Exodus with the rest of the Bible and pairs it with our daily life and ministries.

I’ve summarized a few of Alexander’s points on debated matters below. I wish I could write more, but you’ll have to get the book for that (or just ask in the comments below!)

4.24-26: The blood of Gershom’s circumcision averts the death of Moses whom God was going to kill. How could Moses lead Israel to live under God’s covenant if Moses himself couldn’t follow his instructions? This scene anticipates the redemption of God’s firstborn, Israel, through the blood of another. Even Yahweh’s own messenger “cannot be presumptuous regarding the continuation of his own life. Those who pronounce God’s judgment on others should also be aware of being judged by God” (109).

6.3: The Patriarchs “knew the name ‘YHWH’ and associated it with the divine promise of land” (117). Alexander agrees that God’s words should be translated as “My name is YHWH. Did I not make myself known to them [the patriarchs]?” (125), and that the Patriarchs didn’t understand the significance of Yahweh’s name like the redeemed Israelites will.

Alexander is extremely insightful with keeping the context of Exodus and of the whole canon in view in his exegesis. God is not an angry deity. Rather, he wants his people to be holy, and he expects them to be loyal and to leave behind egregious sinful ways.

34.11-14: “YHWH involves Moses as mediator in the process by which God will both forgive and punish the Israelites (cf. 34:6-7)” (625). The golden bull of Exodus 32 “stands in sharp contrast” to God’s revelation in chapter 19 and the covenant ratification ceremony in chapter 24 (630). God’s anger and willingness to destroy Israel shows how horrid their sin was: adultery against their marriage partner, the God of the universe who would give them every blessing and to whom Israel said they would obey in every way.

The Spoiled Milks

Alexander provides a few scholars’ outlines as examples of how to structure Exodus and both agrees and critiques aspects of all of them, but he does not provide his own. If you want to know his “outline,” you would have to go through the entire book and write down every heading. He’s divided Exodus into 64 sections, and there are a few broad headings: 1.1-2.25; 7.8-11.10; 15.22-18.27; 19.1-40.38. As you can see, there is no heading for 3.1-7.7 or 12.1-15.21.  How should the reader group these two sections?

Second, there are no footnotes. Though it is nice to see the main text fully cover every page, the main text also becomes very crowded and cramped. Those whom Alexander critiques are mentioned in the text, often in between his own thoughts on a passage. With footnotes, the flow of thought is easier to follow. Regardless, these points in no way outweigh the weight of Alexander’s own scholarship and work in this volume.

Recommended?

Alexander’s Exodus volume is a wealth of critical and conservative knowledge. Alexander’s years of research on the Pentateuch and biblical theology show forth in the wisdom of his writing. He is careful and thorough with each section before him, and he is aware both of the rest of Exodus and its canonical setting in the Bible. Alexander brings an understanding of God’s word to his readers as God’s word. Both of his volumes on Exodus (see his Teach the Text volume) ought to be picked up, and, if pastors can only afford (the time and money) to use one scholarly commentary, they should choose Alexander’s volume first above all the others to teach their congregations God’s whole word.

For preaching resources, along with the TTC volume, Motyer is good. I’ve not found Enns to be helpful the times I’ve used him, especially not now when compared to Alexander.

For example (and I’m not foolish enough to think Exodus is “easy” to interpret), on Exodus 21.20-21 Enns asks what the punishment is that the slaveowner would receive for beating his slave if it results in the slave’s death. If the punishment were the death penalty, why say that the master wouldn’t receive the death penalty when the slave doesn’t die? That should be obvious to the Israelites. However, Alexander says the punishment the master would receive if the slave dies  (v. 21) is the death penalty, based on 21.12. However, if the slave doesn’t die, the master is still punished because he has lost time and money because his slave has been out of work. And, depending on how the master injured the slave, the slave could go free (vv. 26-27). Because of context, the details do not have to be so “frustratingly unclear” (Enns, Exodus, 446).

Lagniappe

  • Series: Apollos Old Testament Commentary (Book 2)
  • Author: T. D. Alexander
  • Hardcover: 708 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (July 4, 2017)

Buy it from Amazon, Adlibris, or IVP Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Book Review: Righteous by Promise (NSBT), Karl Deenick

The New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT) series is an excellent series for understanding particular themes in the Bible. While no series is perfect and some have lamented that it has fallen on hard times, this latest volume ought to relieve any lingering doubts. This book doesn’t deal only with the topic of circumcision in the Bible, but “two [other] facets on which this book focuses are the key biblical concepts of faith and righteousness.” The reason for this is seen in Paul’s statement about Abraham in Romans 4.11 that he “received the sign of circumcision of the seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” Paul believed that circumcision meant something to Abraham about righteousness and faith. But how? Why circumcision? And scholars are in disagreement as to what the circumcision-righteousness-faith complex symbolizes. For N. T. Wright, “righteousness is about covenant membership” (5). For James Dunn, circumcision was “the boundary marker of  who was in the covenant and who was not” (6). But the OT authors look forward to a day when God’s people will be spiritually circumcised and will love and obey God with all their heart (6).

Karl Deenick does not consider every biblical reference to circumcision but only those which help demonstrate how righteousness and faith are woven together with circumcision. In chapter two he shows how righteousness and blamelessness are “both a present status but also a future promise that is appropriated by humble trust in God’s promise to Abraham of a blameless ‘seed'” (211). This is seen in Genesis 15 and 17. Abraham is reckoned as righteous because he believed Yahweh’s word (15.6) and then God called Abraham to walk blamelessly (17.1) before in a unique relationship.

After examining these truths and the ‘singular’ seed in Genesis, Deenick looks at how the sign of circumcision developed throughout the OT: Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 10 and 30, and Joshua 5 (chapter three). How can God call the people to love and obey him when they don’t have circumcised hearts and when God says he will give that to them in the future (Deut 10; 30)? They are to walk with Yahweh (Lev 26) and believe in his atoning promise to Abraham. “The circumcised heart repents and trusts in Yahweh’s words” (95). After Abraham’s call to be blameless, the next time we see something ‘blameless’ in the text is when we get to the sacrificial system. Blameless sacrifices cover the blame of God’s people, something fulfilled completely in Christ. “What God promised, Abraham did not have in full, and yet God reckoned him to have it” (213).

Deenick then observes how the NT authors picked up the metaphors of ‘walking’ and ‘being blameless’ (chapter four). Blamelessness comes through union with the resurrected Jesus Christ, the ‘seed’ of Abraham. Deenick ends the chapter looking at contested passages in Philippians 3, Colossians 2, and Ephesians 2. Chapters five and six cover Romans 2-4 and Galatians. Faith in God’s promised seed, Jesus, humility, and repentance over sin are what matter.

For Christians, as Deenick points out, the imputation of christ’s righteousness teaches us that “it is not enough to be ‘not guilty’: we must also be reckoned to be perfectly obedient and holy” (213). Abraham’s circumcision was a seal that he was humble and righteous by faith. The continuing acts of circumcision pointed God’s people to the future seed who would fulfill God’s promises to Abraham. It meant nothing to follow God’s law while rejecting his promise of a future seed. Instead, believing the promise meant fulfilling God’s law as your trust was in the future seed who would make you blameless. Christians don’t need to follow circumcision for we are circumcised in Christ. The flesh has been put off, and we are baptized in him. We have died and are raised with him.

Recommended?

I hope Deenick’s book will be read widely by students, teachers, and the scholarly community. While it is not written for the layman, teachers and pastors who pick this up can easily bring the information to life. Neither does Deenick give bland facts in his book. He fits his information within the story of Scripture, allowing the story to illuminate the details, and the details the story. We are the circumcision of Christ who have put off the old flesh, have received a spiritual circumcision, and love and desire to obey God. I highly recommend this book.

Lagniappe

Buy it from Amazon or Adlibris

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Book Review: Echoes of Exodus (Roberts and Wilson)

Echoes of Exodus Review

Isaiah 43.16, 18-19:

16 Thus says the Lord,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters… 
18 Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old. 
19 I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

The exodus was God’s grand display of his mighty arm. He drowned the world’s greatest army, Egypt, in their own sea and rescued his people who had been their slaves for 400 years. Israel had been redeemed, and this language permeates both Testaments. However, I myself have missed most of these connections. The idea here is the same as that in Bryan Estelle’s Echoes of Exodus (review): show how the biblical writers incorporated exodus  imagery into their stories, psalms, and praises. But Roberts and Wilson take a different tactic in this book. Instead of showing how one or two ideas are seen throughout a particular passage, the authors take the whole image of the exodus and apply it to different passages of Scripture.

Many find the Bible to be dissonant. Stories are boring, they don’t make sense, the heroes are hardly heroic, and the Big Man Upstairs has it out for the humans. The authors present the analogy of the Bible as a song. Some notes seem to be out of place. Some are sharped. Some are flattened. Some are repeated over and over. “You can’t prove logically that West Side Story is based on Romeo and Juliet. The echoes cannot be proved, any more than you can prove that a joke is funny. Rather, they have to be heard” (13). The exodus, like a song, and like a joke, must be heard. It cannot so easily be explained, but it must be understood for Israel’s story is ours (1 Cor 9.10; 10.11; Luke 9.31). The authors express our generation’s desire for freedom. But yet despite all of the liberation, people continue to fall into bondage, often by their own doing (Prov 26.27). The Church needs to understand that the God who redeemed Israel, and who has redeemed his Church through the blood of Christ, has played exodus riffs all throughout his story.

This book is really only about 150 pages, yet it took me a long time to read. Once I came to the First Movement: Out of the House of Slaves, I pulled my Bible out ready to take notes. Little did I know, this would not be a quick read. Adam and Eve were to be fruitful and multiply, extending the garden for the King. But they were out-crafted by a serpent. In Egypt, God’s people are fruitful and multiplying, yet they are building a kingdom for the serpent-king. Moses is put in an “ark,” passes through the water, and is saved by the serpent-king’s daughter, just as Israel will be saved from the waters. When Israel passes through the Re(e)d Sea, the waters divide and they walk on dry land, just as at creation when the waters above and below divided and dry land came to be (Gen 1.6-10). Jesus, the one who tabernacled among men, housing the presence of God, walked through the Jordan just as Israel had done before. Sinai brought national apostasy; Pentecost brought national blessing. Instead of 3,000 people dying at Sinai, 3,000 are cut to the heart at Pentecost and repent.

Missionary progress in the second half of Acts is a continued exodus cycle. Believers are forever leaving cities—often where they have been suffering—before venturing off into foreign lands, flourishing and succeeding, incorporating Gentiles in their number, and returning in triumph. More specifically we have Peter, who was going to be killed at Passover by the wicked king, waking up at nighttime, being told by the angel of the Lord to get dressed and put on his sandals, escaping captivity, and passing through a gate that opens for him “of its own accord” (Acts 12:10)… And in the final chapters, as Paul approaches Rome, we have yet another echo of the exodus: Paul escapes from the chains of captivity, goes on a journey for which we have an unusual level of geographical detail, and plunges into the sea, before emerging vindicated on the far side, revealing the healing power of God, and continuing toward his final destination. (140)

There is so much more to say, but so little space.

There are four movements. In the first, Israel moves from Egypt to the wilderness to the promised land. In the second, we see the exodus in Genesis in the lives of the patriarchs (see especially the wonderful section on Lot). The third movement leads the reader through Israel’s prophets and writings: Ruth, Samuel, Kings, the prophets, and Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. In the fourth movement, the reader is brought through the greater work of Godthe second exodus.

The Spoiled Milk

If there’s a downside to all of these connecting webs, it’s that some are hard to believe. Perhaps because there are too many connections between the stories, but cross-references really would have helped. Although perhaps that would have caused the book to feel more like a chemistry book than a concept album. Regardless, some connections are too difficult to find in the text. Commenting on Abraham & Co’s journey in Genesis 12-14, the authors state, “As they move from the north to Shechem in the center, then down to Bethel and Ai, and finally into the Negeb in the south, they are doing what Joshua will later do, and claiming the land for the Lord” (67). I tried searching for the terms, but, without a map, I just couldn’t see how this worked.

Speaking about the man of Judah and Jeroboam in 1 Kings 13, the authors note that “as the man from Judah is killed by a lion, so the Lion of Judah will be killed by men” (103). This seems to have been placed here more as a convenient fit than because it is a real connection. There are others for sure, but for the majority of the time I looked at what they said and searched my Bible to see if I could find it. If I did, my pen was ready. Already in the Prelude the authors have tipped their hats that their readers won’t agree to everything. Sometimes it may feel like they’re reaching, but sometimes some over-extending needs to be done to get us to use our imagination.

Recommended?

I highly recommend this work. I was baffled that I had neither seen nor heard of too many of these exodus riffs. Yet nonetheless, here I was hearing many of them for the first time. And for those riffs which were not new to me, I could listen and hum along as they were played. Echoes of Exodus  brings out the story of the Bible. This won’t revolutionize the way you read the Bible, but it will give you a greater appreciation for the artistic ability of the biblical authors to subtly reveal how God has woven his exodus redemption into the lives of his peopleboth past and present.

Between this book and Bryan Estelle’s Echoes of Exodus, this book is shorter, less “academic,” and more enjoyable to read. Buy this book.

Lagniappe

  • Authors: Alastair Roberts/Andrew Wilson
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Crossway (March 31, 2018)

Buy it on AmazonCrossway, or Adlibris!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Crossway. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Book Review: The Lord is Good (Christopher Holmes)

The Lord is Good Holmes

“Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8). In his new book, The Lord is Good: Seeking the God of the Psalter, Chris Holmes says that “God’s goodness is a spiritual and moral good that must be experienced before the theology is truly understood” (7). David calls out to God to be something God hasn’t been to him beforehis helper. David knows God will be his help because God is good. Holmes says, “God does good because God is essentially good. God is what he always is, his own goodness, world without end, and thus does good” (32). In fact, “Goodness and God are one in the same, even if there were no world” (29). It is not only God’s works that are good, but God himself who is good. God’s goodness is why everything he does and says is good. God doesn’t aiming at perfection. Rather, he is perfection. He is the standard to which we compare everything else.

In this work, Holmes uses systematic theology to examine how the Lord can be called good, and it is done primarily within the Psalter. Why is the Lord called “good,” his law is “good,” and his wonderful works express his “goodness”? Psalm 119.68 says, “You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.” What is it about God that is so lovable and desirable that his people want to know his law, and how can they say it is “good”? It is through the law that Israel could know God, though not so fully as in Christ, the perfect image of the good God.

Throughout his book Holmes chats with Aquinas (particularly from his Summa Theologica), Augustine, Calvin, and Barth. The point here is to listen to those who have spoken about many of the Bible’s grand ideas and to think about how they relate to the Psalter’s language of God’s goodness (Pss 4:6; 23.6; 25.8; 86.5). Holmes is not trying to impose anything on the Bible (as he notes in his first chapter on God’s simplicity). He is merely using certain systematic ideas (such as ‘simplicity’) to show certain patterns in the language of Scripture. Gos is love, is honest, is loyal, is good, is holy. His goodness is a loving, holy goodness; his honesty is a loyal, holy, loving honesty. We die because we do evil (Ps 14.1, 3; 53.3) and move away from the perfect One. Like David, we should cry out to God to teach us his ways that “to heal us of our propensity to invert and reverse the Creator/creation relation” (113). God’s law teaches us that we belong to him who is good and who belongs to no one else.

Recommended?

For a short book, this requires a slow read. One should not zoom through Holmes’ work. With topics ranging from the Trinity, to God’s creating works, to evil, to the law, to Jesus, there is plenty for of space for readers to become absorbed in. Readers interested in the Psalms and/or systematic theology will enjoy eating up this book. Biblical theologians shouldn’t be ruled out, though this book isn’t so much on the Psalms as it is on God’s goodness as seen in the Psalms. Holmes doesn’t examine most of the psalms, nor does he try to show a psalm’s original context or meaning. Looking at the whole of Scripture, and particularly Psalms, how can the Psalter say and know God is good? Holmes gives his readers plenty to feed on to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34.8).

Lagniappe

Buy it from Amazon or IVP Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Book Review: Old Testament Wisdom Literature (Bartholomew and O’Dowd)

Old Testament Wisdom Literature Bartholomew O'Dowd

What does the Bible have to say about wisdom? Can pithy poetics really form character? In their new book Old Testament Wisdom Literature, Craig Bartholomew and Ryan O’Dowd present a theological introduction to the Bible’s wisdom books—Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. Proverbs 3.19 says God created the world by wisdom, yet most 21st century Westerners have lost the wonder of creation. Christians are saved through the blood of Christ, what do we need to understand about the world? Being in a real covenantal relationship with Yahweh brought Israel together with the God who both created the universe and who redeemed Israel out of Egypt. Knowing his law meant knowing how to life. It meant wisdom and understanding (Deut 4.6). How can man expect to find it, and how can 21st century Christians apply 3,000-year-old Old Testament wisdom to their lives?

Summary

Chapters 1-3 bring us into (1) Israel’s world of wisdom—they believed that they were in covenant with the one God who created all of reality and who was the source of knowledge. Yet, as Job expresses, they knew their knowledge was limited. Next (2), the authors take a tour through Egyptian and Mesopotamian wisdom to bring us into the flow of thought around Israel. Chapter 3 makes a plea for poetry, which “gives us a nuanced understanding of people, language and culture” (51). Stating a mere proposition such as “God is omnipotent” is very different than “declaring that God rules ‘the raging sea'” or that he can “draw in Leviathan with a hook” (69). Poetry brings imagery to the stories which make up our life. 

At 160 pages, Chapters 4-9 make up the core of the book. The authors spend two chapters on each of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. In the first chapter on each book, rather than rehearsing the main gist of each book, they describe the book’s theological function. Each book’s second chapter (“Chapter B” as I call it) explores a particular theme in that book.

Proverbs

Proverbs 1-9 develops a character-consequence scheme. Here, your character (wise/foolish) determines the consequences in your life (life/ruin). Proverbs 10-30 nuance this idea and bring exceptions to the rule. These proverbs are not categorized by topic, but seem to be written chaotically and at random, just the way life is. In chapter B, the authors examine how wisdom is embodied in the Proverbs 31 woman, though she is not a real person for no one person could do what she does. Rather, that figure represents the extent to which wisdom reaches and the practical ways of living in which wisdom is required.

Unlike Proverbs 1-9, Job and Ecclesiastes “focus on profound experiences of apparent contradictions to the character-consequence theme,” which deepen our faith and our wisdom and form our character (285). The authors note, “Ecclesiastes is performatively enigmatic, just like suffering, and Job is long, at times tedious, with all those speeches, just like suffering” (318). Sometimes the text’s form is just as important as what it says.

Job

Job asks “Where can wisdom be found?” (28.20). His friends think they know it all, yet in the end Job is to make sacrifices for their foolish words. Job replies like a human being—he gives strong responses, fears, worries, and contradictions. Just like the process of suffering, all people learn as the conversation of suffering goes on. They change their answers from one idea to another, even being hopeful at points (Job 28), before plunging back into suffering again, and still yet before God shows up in a revealing way. Chapter B examines Job 28 and how we, limited in our understanding of all things, must go to the One who stands outside of creation to obtain wisdom.

Ecclesiastes

Similarly, Qohelet in Ecclesiastes looks for meaning in the world through his own autonomous wisdom—which is actually “folly” because Qohelet’s search occurs apart from God. The book “ultimately affirms life and joy… but only as the end result of a ferocious struggle with the brokenness of life” (189). Job presents bodily suffering; Ecclesiastes presents mental anguish. It’s not enough to have a high IQ. Job had money. Qohelet asked difficult philosophical questions. But wisdom requires us to admit our finite creatureliness before the infinite Creator. We, like the woman in Proverbs 31, can embody wisdom and image God. Chapter B takes up the topic of time, seeing the larger story, and using our time well.

Chapters 10 looks at wisdom in the NT through the coming of Jesus. Chapter 11 gives an OT theology of wisdom. The chapter both summarizes and expands on what has been said previously. Wisdom is related to creation and how the world works. It is brought about by the Creator who is also Israel’s Redeemer. God’s good creation links his wisdom with his law/covenant with the prophets. Chapter 12 applies wisdom to our present life concerning education, politics, spirituality, the ordinary, and the dark night of the soul. For example, even after we receive salvation, we still want to be the captains of our souls. We have “false selves” that we want to put on to protect ourselves, and God uses suffering to dismantle those false selves. The authors refer to C.S. Lewis’ image of someone buying a small cabin in the woods. She thinks it’s great to have God come live with her… until he begins to tear down walls and change out the stairs. He wants to revamp the whole house, and it hurts. But believing that he is great and good will help carry us to the end of the darkness that feels like our closest friend.

Recommended?

I greatly appreciated Bartholomew and O’Dowd’s theological interpretation. According to Ecclesiastes, how can we know if we truly have wisdom? Job 28 tells us that man searches high and low for treasure, yet even Abaddon and death themselves do not have wisdom (v. 22). God doesn’t come out and give us all the answers we need. How can man expect to find it, and how can a 21st century person apply 3,000 year old wisdom to their lives? The authors look at the meaning of the texts and what is really going on. Teacher and pastors would do well to read this book. Hopefully more people will grasp the importance of these important, often ignored Old Testament books. All people of all statuses everywhere can receive wisdom and they can use it, but it starts with fearing the Lord who both calms the raging seas, who condescends to know us, and who has descended and ascended to save us.

Lagniappe

Buy it on Amazon

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Book Review: The Decalogue (Baker), Theologygrams (Wyld)

Decalogue David Baker

We’ve come along way from the giving of the Ten Commandments (AKA, the Decalogue or the Ten Words).  Do we still need them? Are they still relevant? Who doesn’t know that murder is wrong? If so many don’t believe in God, why have them around anyway? Should we enforce them as laws?

The Decalogue consists of two groups of five commandments concerned with loving God (1-5) and loving one’s neighbor (6-10). In his book, the Decalogue, David Baker believes the Decalogue “expresses the essence of the covenant but is not a treaty document in itself” (12). There are strong parallels between the commandments of the Decalogue and that of other ANE treaties (e.g., not to commit murder, adultery, theft, etc.). However, other ANE texts are not “as comprehensive in scope as the Decalogue” (19). The ethical appeals of the Decalogue are grounding in God’s character and how he says his “holy nation” should live to be holy as he is holy.

The Decalogue was spoken by God to all of Israel, the “whole people of God” (32). Baker believes it is Israel’s constitution. Far from being a burden to slog through life under, it (and the Book of the Covenant in the following chapters of Exodus) is their “charter of freedom to be embraced and celebrated,” as Psalms 19 and 119 point out (35).

After his introduction, Baker gives a chapter to each commandment, setting each of the ten commandments against their surrounding ancient Near Eastern cultures to compare and contrast the uniqueness of God’s instructions to his people. He then reflects on how that commandment was (or wasn’t) lived out through examples in the OT and NT. Baker makes comparisons with the Decalogue that is repeated in Deuteronomy 5, noting any changes and why they might have been made.

In his final section he looks at how we, as Christians, the people of God, should live in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He says that the Decalogue is the basis for Old and New Testament ethics. It reveals the character of God to us, and from there we can explore the rest of the Bible to see what he is like.

Lagniappe

Buy it from Amazon

.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and often a picture is easier to look at than 1,000 words. Rich Wyld has created a host of diagrams to help distill some of theology’s deeper points into forms that visual people can digest. Until I get permission to share some pictures, I’ll share some links to his blog. Some of these from his blog are found in his book, others are not. Wyld begins with (1) the Old Testament, then moves to (2) the Gospels, (3) the rest of the NT, (4) the life of the church, and he ends on (5) the life of the church.

In section 4, Wyld, an Anglican, uses references mostly from the Anglican church, but tries to be fair when representing other churches too. Some sections found here are:

  • A “breakdown of time spent during a hymn”
  • “Ministry in the church” (those being pastors and teachers, evangelists, prophets, apostles, and people who hoover and make tea).
  • And the very humorous looks at “what’s going on in the mind of the person reading the Gospel in church,” which, if you’ve ever had to read in front of a crowd, you can very well relate.

In section 5, Wyld asks where wisdom can be found, and looks at Proverbs, Jesus, James…and Mr. T.

Mr. T, Theologygrams Wyld

Some examples which can be found on his blog are:

Bible references are provided for most pictures. The intention isn’t only to be silly, but to provoke thought and have the reader go back to the Bible to read that verse or section again. The intention isn’t to mock or belittle God, his creative works, nor his redeemed people.

Lagniappe

Buy it from Amazon

Disclosure: I received these books free from IVP Academic and IVP Books. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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