Calling on The Name of The Lord: A Biblical Theology of Prayer

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a new title in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series is in want of a place on my bookshelf. On first glance, today might seem better suited for a different kind of post. But, as I read recent events, it’s a call to start taking prayer seriously. With that in mind, I’d really commend this book to you for its analysis of prayer and it’s timeliness.

Calling on The Name of The Lord: A Biblical Theology of Prayer is J. Gary Millar’s second work in the series. It is also an excellent companion to Tim Keller’s Prayer. Here, as is true in many titles in this series, Millar traces the nature of prayer from Genesis to Revelation. His chapters are divided by traditionally Old Testament divisions (Torah, Former Prophets, Latter Prophets, Writings). Before turning to the New Testament, he devotes a chapter to the Psalms. He then offers chapters on the Gospels, Acts, Paul, and the later New Testament letters. The afterword ties everything together and applies it to our current evangelical context.

Millar defines prayer as “calling on the name of the Lord,” hence the title of the book. In the introduction he offers an important clarification about what his work is trying to do (beyond just tracing out the passages most germane to prayer):

Initially the focus will be on showing how “calling on the name of the Yahweh,” or prayer that asks God to deliver on his covenantal promises, is the foundation for all that the Old Testament says about prayer. On moving to the New Testament it will become apparent how calling on the name of Yahweh is redefined by Jesus himself, and how, after his death and resurrection, the apostles understood praying in the name of Jesus to be the new covenant expression of calling on the name of Yahweh. Prayer throughout the Bible, it will be argued, is to be primarily understood as asking God to come through on what he has already promised; as Calvin expressed it, “through the Gospel our hearts are trained to call on God’s name” (18).

Without editorializing too much, that’s exactly what the present moment in our nation (and world) calls for. The gospel trains our hearts to call on God’s name to bring restoration and redemption to a broken world. We are asking God to come through on what he has already promised and we do so in the name of our new covenant Mediator and his Holy Spirit.

It is in that afterword that Millar laments the downturn in evangelical emphasis on prayer. He then offers several reasons that he thinks the church is praying less (233-235):

  1. Life is easy
  2. The communications revolution
  3. The rise of Bible study groups
  4. The availability of good teaching
  5. The dominance of pragmatism
  6. The vacuum created by cynicism

If 3 and 4 seem weird to you, you’ll have to read the book to see why he includes them. Having diagnosed the issue, Millar offers these insights for relearning to pray in light of his biblical theology of prayer:

  1. We pray recognizing our greatest need(s)
  2. We pray realizing that it is always going to be hard work
  3. We pray patiently (while looking for interim answers to big prayers)

He then suggests five no brainer prayers that the New Testament teaches us to believe God will always come through on:

  1. Forgiveness
  2. To know God better
  3. For wisdom
  4. For strength to obey/love/live for God
  5. For the spread of the gospel

Ultimately, we are praying for God to do his covenant work through the gospel (239). I mentioned earlier that this book is a good companions to Keller’s. I think the main reason for that it is this book shows in a fairly exhaustive fashion what the biblical prayers look like and then draws summary conclusions. Keller’s book provides good historical analysis and pastoral how-to. Millar’s book, through extensive biblical quotations (more so than a normal volume of NSBT) shows the logic of prayers in the Bible.

Because of that, this is definitely a book you want to add to your library. Not only that, you ought to read it and apply it. I’m in the process of doing that now and I hope you’d join me in doing the same.


J. Gary Millar, Calling on The Name of The Lord: A Biblical Theology of PrayerDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, March 2016. 264  pp. Paperback, $24.00.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

Rooted, Unparalleled, and Philosophy in Seven Sentences

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I’m always on the lookout for helpful primers on the subjects I study. Often, introductory texts can be so daunting it is hard to know where to start. Thankfully, new books continued to be published. Even if there is overlap at times, that just means there are more options for just the right audience. In that light, here are three primers I’ve come across recently that I really enjoyed.

First off, J.A. Medders and Brandon Smith have published Rooted: Theology for Growing Christians. Russell Moore thinks its legit and you should too. I corresponded with Brandon a bit about it and then the publisher, relatively new Rainer Publishing, graciously sent me a review copy. In a relatively brief 120 pages, Medders and Smith introduce readers for the need to study theology, and then cover four key topics: God, His Word, Redemption and The Gospel, The Church and The Future. Experienced readers will notice this is the basic contours of a systematic theology. However, this is written for someone who doesn’t know that and so it is jargon free. Though not necessarily in narrative form, the topics are expounded in relation to the general story line of Scripture. This gives the book a good connection to biblical theology and makes the entry point easier for someone who hasn’t study the topics in detail.

Because of its style, length, and focus, I decided to make it a required book for my 9th grade Bible class. Traditionally, this class is an Old Testament survey, but since I teach Systematic Theology for 11th grade, I thought it might be a good introduction earlier in high school to prepare them for a more detailed study a couple of years later (if you’re curious, I use Bible Doctrine for that class). I suppose I’ll have more to say after putting it to use in class this next year, but I’m excited to see it help open up a window into studying theology for many students.

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While we’re discussing books I’ve liked and decided to use in class, let’s talk about Jared Wilson’s Unparalleled: How Christianity’s Uniqueness Makes It Compelling. Thanks to Baker Books, I snagged a copy and devoured it pretty quick, as is my custom with many of Wilson’s book. I was reading as I was finishing up my last spring with a senior class I had taught since they were freshmen. Many of the topics in Wilson’s book had come up in class throughout the year, either directly or through Ask Anything Friday. Looking ahead to the next graduating class, I thought they’d benefit from reading a solid book in a conversational tone to supplement our class discussions.

Topics that Wilson tackles include subjects like how the Trinity is practical/relevant, the difference between the Christian God and other gods, how the Christian view of humanity is both the most realistic and optimistic, how Jesus claimed to be God, and how he triumphed over evil and injustice. You know, pretty basic stuff right? Actually, several of these are potentially thorny issues. There are full length apologetics books on each of the topics Wilson addresses, but he introduces readers to the core issues in an understandable way. In other words, I think he presents his case for Christianity in a way that a high schooler could pick up on and (hopefully) not get too confused. Even if you’re not using this book in a class like I am, it seems like it would be a great book to read with a friend who has legitimate questions and wants to explore what makes Christianity so unique and compelling (to borrow from the subtitle). As with the previous book, I’ll try to remember to let you know how it works out in class.

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Lastly, and not for a class (unfortunately), IVP sent along Douglas Groothuis’ Philosophy in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to A Vast Topic. The history of Western philosophy, while a footnote to Plato, is not an easy topic to master. The best way to march through the history is with Coppleston’s volumes (11 I think). But, most of us don’t have time for that. What you do have time for is Groothuis’ book. You also have no excuse to not know something about philosophy since it shapes just about everything in our culture whether you like it or not.

Because you’re hopefully curious at this point, these are the seven sentences that Groothuis uses to introduce us to the history of philosophy:

  • Man is the measure of all things (Protagoras)
  • The unexamined life is not worth living (Socrates)
  • All men by nature desire to know (Aristotle)
  • You have made use for yourself, and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you (Augustine)
  • I think, therefore I am (Descartes)
  • The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing (Pascal)
  • The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all (Kierkegaard)

Certainly other key sentences could be chosen. However, I think this is a good balance of ancient and modern, and covers a broad range of topics within philosophy. It is hard to imagine two more influential sentences than those listed by Socrates (found in Plato’s writings, just FYI) and Descartes. Likewise, the sentence from Augustine is from his Confessions, which is a must read for anyone really, regardless of your interest in philosophy. It is both an introduction into Christian life and conversion, and the first autobiography of sorts.

The sentence from Protagoras gives you an idea of the foundations of Western philosophy, a tradition that sought knowledge without recourse to revelation. Likewise, the sentence from Aristotle shows just how relevant philosophy is to any context, ancient or modern. The last two sentences show that philosophy can easily cross over into psychology and that for me, was my initial draw to the subject. I was blown away by my intro to philosophy class early in my studies at Liberty. Since then, I’ve come back to it again and again, and this little primer by Groothuis is a great introduction to the topic.

Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock: A Theology of Religions

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Everyone who reads a good bit has favorite authors. When another author uses many of your favorite authors in writing their book, it usually catches your attention. That was my experience in reading through Daniel Strange’s Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock: A Theology of Religions. I made most of my way through it back in the fall while I was teaching a section on world religions in my senior Bible class (senior as in 12th graders). I was delighted to see numerous uses of Reformed authors like Van Til, Frame, and Bavinck (although often a different Bavinck than Herman). Even Greg Bahnsen makes several appearances (although mostly because of his book on Van Til). What this means is that Strange is writing a theology of world religions that is relying heavily on insights from presuppositional apologetics, and for that we should be glad.

After an autobiographical prologue that helps set the context for Strange’s study, his opening chapter lays out the task of explaining the religious Other from a Christian worldview. Here he gives the theology of religions that he will defend:

From the presupposition of an epistemologically authoritative biblical revelation, non-Christian religions are sovereignly directed, variegated and dynamic, collective human idolatrous responses to divine revelation behind which stand deceiving demonic forces. Being antithetically against yet parasitically dependent upon the truth of the Christian worldview, non-Christian religions are ‘subversively fulfilled’ in the gospel of Jesus Christ (42).

This dense statement gives the rough outline of the book that follows. Chapter 2 lays out the case for man as homo adorans. Moving from the foundation of the creature Creator distinction in Genesis, Strange works out a theology of man inherently religious. This then leads to a chapter on how people respond to the “remnantal” revelation available because of God’s common grace. The following chapter picks up the story of Babel and shows its importance for religious diversity. From here, Strange offers a theology of religions from the rest of the Old Testament in chapter 5 and then does the same for the New in chapter 6. The next chapter details Strange’s understanding of “subversive fulfillment” in order to then lay out some missiological implications in the following chapter. The final chapter offers pastoral perspective and insight in light of the preceding study.

This book is a significant contribution to understanding and explaining world religions from a Reformed perspective. It is a resource I will return to and utilize in my own study. I found some of the material too academic for high school introductions, but I used some of the main ideas (everyone knows there is a God and everyone worships). If I had more time to ruminate, I would have liked to trace out how Buddhism and Hinduism are subversively fulfilled by the gospel. Strange applies his insight to Islam and that makes this book all the more valuable in the current cultural situation.

A downside I found is that the book is perhaps longer than it needed to be. Part of this is the thoroughness of Strange’s argument (which I suppose is not a bad thing). The other part is excessive and lengthy block quotes. The tend to clutter the text and make it harder to follow the argument. In many cases it was easier to visually skip over the block quote and read Strange’s concluding summary sentence that lead into the next paragraph. This is mainly a stylistic consideration though, and shouldn’t detract from the overall value of the resource. An upside would be that Strange provides many extended excerpts from his primary sources. A downside is that his thoughts can get lost in the shuffle at times.

In the end, I would highly recommend this book if you are interested in apologetics in general and world religions in particular. I had thought this before reading, but now I have a good argument that the resources from Reformed writers like Van Til, Frame, and Bavinck (Herman and J. H.) provide the best explanation for world religions. If you can get through the block quotes, this is a resource you’ll want to spend some time working through.


Daniel Strange, Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock: A Theology of Religions. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, February, 2015. 384 pp. Paperback, $24.99.

Buy it: Amazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks Zondervan to for the review copy!

Identity and Idolatry: The Image of God and Its Inversion (NSBT)

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Usually, I am very high on any volume in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series. You can probably tell already that I might feel differently about Richard Lints’ Identity and Idolatry: The Image of God and Its Inversion (NSBT). Given that my interest in this subject reaches back to mid-seminary and my discovery of G. K. Beale, I had high hopes for this volume. For whatever reason, I found it less engaging to read than I expected and almost immediately forgettable.

Perhaps that is too strong. Let’s start again.

Richard Lints latest addition to the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, Identity and Idolatry: The Image of God and Its Inversion traces out our understanding of Genesis 1:26-27 for a biblical theology of the image of God. The inversion of this image leads to idolatry, conceptually speaking. The opening chapter provides a conceptual and somewhat sociological orientation to the subject. In chapter 2, Lints turns to the foundation of our creation in God’s image in Genesis 1:26-27. This additionally opens up discussion about the nature of human identity and human nature itself. In chapter 3, Lints makes note of the liturgical nature of creation and explains briefly the cosmic temple idea. This leads to a deepening of this motif in chapter 4 where Lints discusses how man was intended to image the Creator King in his cosmic temple.

Chapter 5 presents a turning point for here Lints notes the post fall origins of idolatry. Special attention is paid to the golden calf incident, as well as the prophetic foundation laid in Deuteronomy for invectives against idolatrous practices. In chapter 6, Lints moves to the New Testament, specifically Romans 1, 1 Corinthian 10, Acts 7 and 17, and Colossians 1. From here, chapter 7 turns an interesting analysis of the masters of suspicion (Marx, Freud, Nietzsche) and their “religious” critique of religion (Feuerbach makes an appearance as well). Here the focus is on idolatry as the key issue driving some of the critics of religion. That is to say, not necessarily their idolatry, but their recognition of idolatries that have found a home in religious practices. There is a sense in which their criticisms are valid, but their target is not Christianity in its truest, intended form. The final chapter brings the insights into the present cultural situation and draws some interesting applications.

On the whole, there is much of interest in Lints’ work. Perhaps the best criticism is that it doesn’t seem quite at home in this series. Given the nature of the series, one would expect more extended exegetical analysis than is offered. It is however still offering a biblical theology of the image of God and its inversion by tracing the story from Genesis 1 into the New Testament and noting the developments along the way. On the other hand, this volume is bit more philosophical (not a bad thing) than others and perhaps reflects that it is written by a theologian with philosophical and anthropological interests rather than lexical or exegetical ones (though obviously these are not mutually exclusive interests).

Depending on what you think a book in this series should do, you might find this a welcome change of pace, or a frustrating read. It didn’t stick that well with me as I read it, and that may be more due to how I was reading it than a defect in the volume itself. As I went back through to prepare this review, I found myself wanting to go back and give it a closer read for whatever that is worth. Will I actually do that? Probably not until I need to for some research project, but that tempers my opening comments a bit. If nothing else, this book clocks in under 200 pages and if you are at all interested in understanding the image of God in theological and philosophical context, you’ll probably want to at least check this out.


Richard Lints, Identity and Idolatry: The Image of God and Its Inversion (NSBT)Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, August 2015. 192  pp. Paperback, $22.00.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

Old Books of Note: New Studies in Biblical Theology Edition

Thanks to the generosity of IVP Academic, I recently got not only several new releases, but a few old ones as well. Four of those are in the outstanding New Studies in Biblical Theology series.

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First, I requested Peter Adam’s Hearing God’s Words: Exploring Biblical Spirituality, forgetting I already had that in my collection (read the sample here). You can tell the subject from the subtitle, however Adam unfolds it in a way that is not strictly biblical theology. The opening chapter nails down the shape and structure of biblical spirituality, the gist of which you can discern from the book’s title. Chapters 2 and 3 then trace this theme through the Old and New Testaments respectively. Chapter 4 then focuses on a key historical figure, in this case Calvin, and what can learned from his take on the subject. Chapter 5 looks at issues in the study of spirituality and the final chapter offers examples, drawing on the Puritans and in particular Richard Baxter. Like most volumes in this series, this is worth your time, especially if you’re interested in digging into the basis of Christian spirituality.

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Next, I was able to read Mark D. Thompson’s A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture (read a sample here). Unlike many other titles in this series, this volume is more historical and/or systematic theology than biblical theology. The clarity of Scripture is a fairly hot button contemporary issue, so it’s still worth checking out. The opening chapter sets the issue in context. Chapter 2 presents God as the foundation of Scripture’s clarity. From here, Thompson turns to the phenomena of Scripture itself in chapter 3, which does a fair share of biblical theology. Chapter 4 then turns to the hermeneutical challenge. In other words, if we claim Scripture is clear, why are there so many interpretations? Thompson then closes with a chapter that takes some of his doctoral work on Luther’s doctrine of Scripture to help us better explain the clarity of Scripture today. While certainly not definitive, this is still a valuable resource on the topic, showing that there is precedent for the clarity of Scripture in Scripture’s own teaching and in the history of the church’s witness.

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Shortly before Christmas, I read through Paul W. Barnett’s Jesus and The Logic of History (read a sample here). This is one of the earliest volumes in the series and as a byproduct, the typesetting is not easy on the eyes. However, in a culture that questions the historical existence of Jesus, this is a handy volume to pick up. Barnett’s opening chapter talks briefly of historiography how to approach the evidence for Jesus’ existence. The second chapter establishes a link between the historical Jesus and the proclaimed Christ of faith. The next chapter surveys the New Testament letters’ proclamations about Jesus. Chapter 4 looks at Jesus in historical context, primarily in relationship to Herod. From here, Barnett looks at the Gospels as historical records. Chapter 6 moves to the early Christian movement and its relationship to Jesus. Chapter 7 is perhaps the longest and is somewhat summarizing of the ground covered so far. Here, Barnett ties all the previous threads together, solidifying his case for the historical Jesus. Chapter 8 and the conclusion are a combined 6 pages, so this is the pinnacle of the argument more or less. While this volume is one of the shorter in the series, I found it very profitable to read and post a bit more about in the coming days.

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Lastly, while I up in Tennessee I finished Andreas Köstenberger and Scott Swain’s Father, Son, and Spirit (read a sample here). I would say of the volumes I’ve mentioned, this one is the most in-line with what you’d expect from a series called New Studies in Biblical Theology. And the two subjects, the Trinity and the Gospel of John, make it worth your time. The first part of the book, which is just one chapter, establishes the historical context for John’s gospel within Jewish monotheism. The second part is in-depth biblical reflections on the Scriptural data of John’s Gospel. The chapters focus on God, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in turn. Each chapter covers a similar outline, starting with an introduction and then looking at the relevant passages in the prologue, the Book of Signs (1-12), and the Book of Glory (13-21). The chapter on the Son deviates from this slightly. A short concluding chapter synthesizes the findings.

The third and final part of the book then turns to theological reflections. Chapter 7 is Christological, examining Jesus’ identity as Son in the Gospel. Chapter 8 is pneumatological, exploring the relationship of the Spirit to Christ and believers. Chapter 9 is Trinitarian, unpacking the one divine mission of Father, Son, and Spirit. The final chapter looks in detail at John 17 (the high priestly prayer) and the link between the immanent and economic Trinity.

Given all that, this is definitely a volume for your library if you want to study either the Gospel of John or the doctrine of the Trinity more deeply. Having an author that is a biblical scholar (Köstenberger) working alongside a theologian (Swain) makes for a good combination. I would like to see more volumes in this series try something similar (Köstenberger co-authored another volume, but with Peter O’Brien, another biblical scholar). The tag-teaming I think works well, as does the resulting organization of the material. I know Swain has been co-authoring up a storm with Michael Allen, so maybe there’s another volume like this in the works on the horizon. I guess I could always ask!

New Books of Note: Revelation, God’s Glory, and Pastoral Ministry

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Thanks to Baker Books, I was able to get a copy of William Hendriksen’s More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of The Book of Revelation. Right now I’m looking at launching a Revelation Bible study in January for college and high school students. I’ve read a few shorter works on Revelation (Poythress and Gorman), as well as Morris’ commentary. I’m planning to use Beale, Mounce, Osborne, Keener, Wright, and Aune for the actual study. Given all that, I thought I’d take advantage of an opportunity to read a short commentary from a well respected and prolific commentator.

Hendrinksen lays out several propositions about the book of Revelation in his introductory chapters:

  • The book of Revelation consists of seven sections. They are parallel and each spans the entire new dispensation, form the first to the second coming of Christ. (28)
  • The seven sections may be grouped into two major divisions. The first major division (chapters 1-11) consists of three sections. The second major division (chapters 12-22) consists of four sections. These two major divisions reveal a progress in depth or intensity of spiritual conflict. (30)
  • The book is one. The principles of human conduct and divine moral government are progressively revealed; the lampstands give rise to the seals, the seals to the trumpets, etc. (41)
  • The seven sections of the Apocalypse are arranged in an ascending, climactic order. There is progress in eschatological emphasis. The final judgment is first announced, then introduced, and finally described. Similarly, the new heaven and earth are described more fully in the final section than in those that precede it. (44)
  • The fabric of the book consists of moving pictures. The details that pertain to the picture should be interpreted in harmony with its central thought. We should ask two questions. First, what is the entire picture? Second, what is its predominant idea? (48)
  • The seals, trumpets, bowls of wrath, and similar symbols refer not to specific events, particular happenings, or details of history, but to principles – of human conduct and of divine moral government – that are operating throughout the history of the world, especially throughout the new dispensation. (51)
  • The Apocalypse is rooted in contemporaneous events and circumstances. Its symbols should be interpreted in the light of conditions that prevailed when the book was written. (54)
  • The Apocalypse is rooted in the sacred Scriptures. It should be interpreted in harmony with the teachings of the entire Bible. (58)
  • The Apocalypse is rooted in the mind and revelation of God. God in Christ is the real Author, and this book contains the purpose of God concerning the history of the Church. (59)

These propositions are stated and defended in the first 6 chapters. Then, Hendriksen validates them further in his commentary proper, which runs for the next 8 chapters. After the first chapters that covers Revelation 1, each successive chapter deals with one of the seven sections that Hendriksen mentions above (2-3; 4-7; 8-11; 12-14; 15-16; 17-19; 20-22). I like his idea that they are parallel, but I’ll need to do a bit more study to be fully convinced. All in all, I’m glad I was able to get a hold of this and start my study early.

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Zondervan sent along the next volume in the 5 Solas Series, David Vandrunen’s God’s Glory Alone: The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life. This volume is about 100 pages shorted than Schreiner’s. At the same time, there isn’t much present controversy attached to Soli Deo Gloria as there is with Sola Fide. Perhaps some of that is due to it being the overlooked sola of the five. Regardless, readers would do well to explore it using Vandrunen’s work here as a guide.

His book has three sections. The first is a kind of historical survey of the Glory of God in Reformed Theology. The second provides a biblical theology of the Glory of God in Scripture starting with the cloud in Exodus and moving to the incarnation and ultimately the glorification of God’s people. The final part tackles some practical concerns. The first two, Prayer and Worship in an Age of Distraction and The Fear of The Lord in an Age of Narcissism are particularly relevant and may constitute the chief contribution of this book to your thinking. The final chapter moves into some of the two kingdoms theology that comes from Westminster West and of which Vandrunen has previously written on (here for instance). I’m not a fan, but it doesn’t detract from the overall value of Vandrunen’s contribution to this promising series.

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Finally, thanks to Crossway’s eBook program, I was able to get The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry (you can read a sample here). Drawing on years of pastoral experience, author R. Kent Hughes and contributing editor Douglas Sean O’Donnell offer exactly what the subtitle of the book suggests. This fairly large (almost 600 pg) volume is divided into three parts. The first focuses on Christian gatherings with chapters on Sunday worship, annual services, weddings, and funerals. Each chapter is a balanced combination of theoretical foundations and actual practical advice and resources. So for instance, the chapter on weddings not only gives tips for how to structure a wedding service, readers are provided with 10 sample wedding homilies as well as a short guide on implementing pre-marital counseling.

In the second part of the book, the focus shifts to the various parts of a public worship service. Here, readers are given chapters on public prayer, Christian creeds, hymns and songs, baptism, and communion. Once again, and especially in the latter two, readers have strong theological foundations coupled with nuts and bolts advice for leading well. This continues into the final part of the book on ministerial duties. Two in particular are highlighted: pastoral counseling and hospital visitations. An appendix returns to weddings and offers sample wedding services from various church contexts.

There is certainly much to glean and use in this book. Large sections of it could be profitably read for theological development. However most of it is more obviously reference type material that would be consulted as needed. I wish I had a book like this when I was preparing to officiate a wedding for the first time. I had somewhat of a blank slate to work with and think I put together a fairly good wedding homily that I can re-use and adapt as needed. But, I would have put together an even better one had I had the chapter in here with all the wisdom for not only the wedding service itself, but the pre-marital counseling leading up to the marriage. I will most definitely come back and consult this before officiating or counseling again.

#ETS2015 Books of Note: Biblical Studies

While I might not be at ETS this year, if you are, I thought I’d share some books you should check out. Obviously, even if you’re not at ETS, you can still check these out. You’ll just miss out on whatever deals publishers are offering at their booths. And you’ll miss out on meeting people and all that jazz, but you knew that. Following somewhat in the footsteps of Zondervan, who offered two lists, yesterday was theology and today is biblical studies.

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Thanks to a request I made two years ago before they stopped doing hard copies, Fortress Press sent along N. T. Wright’s Paul and His Recent Interpreters. Because of the gap since Paul and The Faithfulness of God came out, it’s a little more up to date, but nothing you wouldn’t really expect from Wright. Part I of the book gets into questions related to the New Perspective on Paul, offering a history of the movement’s development and current status. Part II is a survey of interpreters that have focused on the apocalyptic in Paul and culminates with a pretty savage review chapter of Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God. Part III then moves into interpreters focused on Paul’s social context and names like Wayne Meeks, David Horrell, and Giorgio Agamben take the forefront.

If you’re a NT guy, and especially someone interested in Pauline studies, you pretty much have to give this a look. It’s not much over 300 pages, so if you made it through PFG, this will be a breeze. It is probably more worth your time than the collection of essays Pauline Perspectives, since those are all published elsewhere (minus Wright’s explanatory notes before each article) and he himself suggests only seven of them are necessary to really grasp his thought on Paul. All that to say, I’d look into picking this up to supplement PFG and see what Wright really thinks about some recent trends in Pauline studies.

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While we’re on the subject of Paul, you might want to grab Reading Romans in Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism. Thanks to Zondervan, I was able to read a copy earlier this fall. Each of the 20 chapters takes a section of Romans and then shows connections with it and literature from second temple Judaism. They are all relatively brief and each focuses on either a single author from the period (Philo or Josephus) or a single piece of literature. Because of that, the further reading sections at the end of each chapter also provide a guide to the best editions of those works.

This book is a useful introduction to how Paul’s writings are part of a larger context and what that context actually is. It also provides interesting background to Romans, which even people familiar with the theology of the book might not be aware of. While it is not offering exhaustive or detailed exegesis of the sections of Romans, it is slightly technical. However, key terms are bolded and defined at the end, which suggests this is intended to be put to use in an undergrad classroom setting. It’s a good way to get your feet wet in the secondary literature of the New Testament period without worrying about drowning. Not that anyone would actually drown, but you get what I mean.

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Shifting to Old Testament, John Goldingay recently released An Introduction to The Old Testament: Exploring Text, Approaches & Issues. Thanks to IVP Academic, I was able to get a copy last month. So far, I like it. However, it’s not a typical introduction to the Old Testament. As Goldingay explains,

In this introduction to Old Testament study my aim is to help you study Scripture for yourself. I spend little time telling you what the OT says or what scholars say. I focus more on giving you background material, noting approaches to interpretation, raising questions and suggesting approaches to questions. My goal is to provide you with a workbook, based on the material I use with my students and on my discovery of what works with them (7).

The book is then divided into five parts. The first is introductory to the Old Testament as a whole and then the next three follow the structure of the Hebrew Bible (Torah, Prophets, Writings) before a final concluding section that summarizes and looks ahead to the New Testament.

Each section (there aren’t chapters) within each part takes up two pages that lay side by side. Because the material is so concise, it’s not necessarily a book you’d sit and read so much as use as a workbook like Goldingay says you should. Further highlighting the interactive nature of the book is the additional material is available on Goldingay’s website, which is continuously updated (for the most part). When I get a little more into it, I’ll be able to comment further on its use as a textbook, but so far it looks very promising. It is probably useful for high school students, but since I do Old Testament in 9th grade it might be a bit too much. It could however be a good book for an adult Sunday School class, or an introductory undergrad section. I really like the idea and if nothing else, it’s worth checking out to see how Goldingay puts it all together.

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Lastly, I was again thanks to Zondervan able to get the most recent volume in the Biblical Theology of The New Testament series, A Theology of Mark: Good News About Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. Like volumes in this series I’ve previously reviewed (John’s Gospel and Letters, Luke-Acts, James, Jude, and Peter) this is a great resource for anyone who wants to dig deeper into New Testament and biblical theology. Also like previous volumes, it has an introductory chapter orienting us to current studies in Mark. Then, it has an extended literary theological reading of the book. The remaining part of the book is 12 thematic chapters covering subjects like Christological titles, secrecy motifs, kingdom of God, discipleship, and eschatology, to name a few.

Proportionally, this is the most detailed volume since it is almost 600 pages devoted to the 16 chapters of Mark. David Garland has written commentaries on many New Testament books, including Mark. I’ve particularly profited from his Corinthians volume in the BECNT series and look forward to profiting further from his in-depth study here on the Gospel of Mark. The major focal points appear to be Christology and discipleship and that overlaps nicely with much of my reading focus the past few weeks. If you haven’t checked out any of the volumes in this series, this might be a place to start, especially if you can grab a deal on it at ETS!

Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches About the Unseen World – and Why It Matters

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Every now and then a book comes along that blows your mind. I feel pretty comfortable saying that this is one of those books. I was somewhat prepared for the ideas that Michael Heiser unpacks in Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches About the Unseen World – and Why It Matters but it was still a game changer. I’m tempted to say it is my favorite book of the year, but I think that award will go to the larger companion volume The Unseen Realm, which I’ll be reviewing shortly.

In short, this book is a popular level mini biblical theology of the storyline of Scripture. The twist, or better, what makes it unique, is Heiser’s specialization in the divine counsel. The key texts here are Psalm 82 and Deuteronomy 32. Heiser’s own mind was opened by reading Psalm 82 closely in Hebrew and noticing that there is a divine counsel of beings associated with Yahweh. These beings are divine, yet still creatures made by God. They dwelled with God and man in the Garden, but then things went downhill so to speak. In Deuteronomy 32, we see that God divided up rule of the nations among these divine beings and that he chose Israel as his special inheritance.

This is a sketch of the basic understanding that Heiser then traces through the biblical storyline. Along the way he makes sense of passages that seem “weird” or “problematic” by referring to the divine counsel of beings at work in the unseen realm. He goes from Eden to the New Jerusalem and explains why it matters along the way. His insights are most illuminating in the Old Testament, but he carries them into the New as well.

While this review is a bit cursory, it fits with the design of the book. In other words, this book is an abbreviated, popular level book that presents the essential ideas of The Unseen Realm which is kind of the main act. Even that though is not complete without the companion website, More Unseen Realm. There, readers can find even more content that goes into greater detail than even the full volume. It is also a work in progress, as is Heiser’s extensive divine counsel bibliography that I think is almost book length itself.

I’ll have more to say once I’ve read the main volume, but this book will immediately start affecting the way I teach my Bible classes since it addresses many of the questions my students come up with for Ask Anything Friday. Several of these questions have dealt with angels and demons and I didn’t find the traditional answers satisfactory even as I was giving them. But, everything makes much more sense in light of reading Supernatural. I was primed for it by taking the doctoral seminar in ancient Near East literature while I was at Dallas and this book has helped me recover my interest in Old Testament backgrounds as a means to understand difficult passages in cultural context. If you’d like to start your own journey toward being able to do the same, I’d start here and then read The Unseen Realm.


Michael S. Heiser, Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches About the Unseen World – and Why It Matters. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, November 2015. 224 pp. Paperback, $16.95.

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Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Lexham Press for the review copy!

New Books of Note

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In the course of teaching Old Testament to high school freshman for the past few years, several questions will predictably emerge. More often than not these have to do with God’s character and actions, particularly when it comes to the familiar Old Testament stories. I feel fairly comfortable addressing most of these, but I’m always up for reading new explanations. Kregel Academic helped me out on this and sent along a copy of Walter Kaiser’s Tough Questions About God and His Actions in The Old Testament (2015, Paperback, 176 pp). I’ve enjoyed other books by Kaiser that I’ve read and reviewed (Recovering The Unity of The Bible; The Promise-Plan of God) and so looked forward to jumping into this one.

It’s an easy read stylistically, but the questions are some of the tougher ones when it comes to Old Testament study. You know, things like:

  • Did the God of peace order a genocide?
  • Did the God of truth practice deception?
  • Did a just God devalue women’s rights?
  • How and why did a good God create the evil Devil?

Kaiser works through a total of 10 questions like this by guiding readers through the relevant biblical and theological considerations. He also provides additional discussion questions at the end of the chapter that would make this an ideal supplemental textbook in class on Old Testament theology or introductions. The questions are most often aimed at going beyond the material Kaiser presents rather than checking to see if you were paying attention while you were reading. On the whole, I’ve found this a helpful volume and would recommend it to anyone who is wrestling with questions about God’s character and actions in the Old Testament.

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While we’re talking Old Testament books, another worth mentioning is John Goldingay’s Do We Really Need the New Testament? (2015, Paperback, 184 pp., thanks IVP Academic!). If you want a more in-depth critical review, there was one recently posted at TGC. Goldingay is certainly provocative, in his writing, if you didn’t already gather that from the book’s title. He is not essentially asking if the New Testament is necessary, but is writing to point out and highlight how much continuity there is between the testaments. As he says,

Yes, of course, we need the New Testament Scriptures, but they don’t supersede the earlier Scriptures. We need the First Testament for an understanding of the story of God’s working out his purpose, for its theology, for its spirituality, for its hope, for its understanding of mission, for its understanding of salvation and for its ethics (32).

Subsequent chapters tackles these themes, though under different topical headings. The immediate two chapters following the introduction ask “why is Jesus important?” and “was the Holy Spirit present in First Testament times?” Later, Goldingay will also ask if we have misread Hebrews and if theological interpretation of Scripture is all it’s cracked up to be. Along the way he’ll make some controversial assertions like “In none of the Gospels does Jesus tell his disciples to extend the kingdom, work for the kingdom, build up the kingdom, or further the kingdom” (34) and “nor does any church today look like an embodiment of the new covenant. In this sense, the new covenant has surely not been established” (98).

Much more could be said, and Goldingay takes up some interesting topics in addition his provocations. Though not something he details at length, a big take-away for me came through reflection on an early point in the introduction. Goldingay highlights how Jesus’ crucifixion is the culmination of God’s wrath absorbing character in the Old Testament. I had always mainly thought of it as an end point for the sacrificial system. On further reflection, I realized that throughout the Old Testament you see God disciplining his people, but also absorbing much of his own wrath on their account. It made me think of the way many of the Psalms function as a way for God to further absorb anger. By pouring out our anger to God in prayer we are letting him absorb it on our behalf, rather than trying to manage it on our own. If Christ can absorb God’s anger toward us for our sin, he can certainly absorb our anger toward God as well. Perhaps that is the pattern presented in the Old Testament for our own psychological and spiritual well being.

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Lastly, Crossway was gracious enough to send along Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum’s God’s Kingdom Through God’s Covenants: A Concise Biblical Theology (2015, Paperback, 304 pp.). You may remember seeing my series of posts as well as review of Kingdom Through Covenant a couple of years ago. This book is essentially a book accessible abridgment that was compiled in light of the reception of the previous work. As Gentry and Wellum say,

To make this work more accessible, we have kept the footnotes to a minimum, have mostly eliminated the discussions of how our view differs from that of dispensational and covenant theology, and have not given a detailed defense of our view. For the most part, the view argued in the previous book is assumed, yet now written in such a way that the reader is able more easily to discern what that overall view is and how the biblical covenants serve as the Bible’s own way of unfolding, revealing, and disclosing God’s one, eternal plan of redemption. If the reader desires the warrant and bibliographic discussion for the overall argument of this work, all he needs to do is turn to the previous work and find it there (12).

In addition, they note that “we have read with great care and interest every review of Kingdom Through Covenant know to us…only rarely have reviewers actually engaged the extensive exegesis.” They then note Doug Moo as an exception in regards to “pointing out the problems in the treatment of Ezekiel 16 and the relation of Deuteronomy to the Sinai Covenant” and that “further research has resulted in new proposals, which are incorporated into this abridgment.”

Suprisingly, I found myself involved in this process many months ago when Peter Gentry e-mailed me about my review. We went back and forth a bit and I passed on some papers to him that had led me to dispute the pervasiveness of ancient Near East rituals involving walking between separated animals parts as part of a covenant making ritual. He read them with care and then offered me a response e-mail which I then published. I backed off my rhetoric in light of it, but I think my original point still stands. In this abridged version, the discussion of this point is virtually the same (cp. 110 to 251 in KTC) though I won’t say know that Gentry is “wrong” for how he presents his case.

All of that is just a way of saying, if you were interested in the previous larger work, but didn’t want to commit that much time, here’s a great option. It’s less than half as long and contains essentially the same biblical-theological overview of the covenants in Scripture. If you find it compelling or frustrating, you can always pick up the larger version to see more argumentation.

Summer Reviews: Scripture and Hermeneutics Series

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If you read widely in biblical studies, you may have already one or more of the volumes in this stack. At the very least, you’ve probably seen frequent footnotes to a few key volumes, particularly Out of Egypt and Renewing Biblical Interpretation. What you might not be aware of is that Zondervan recently re-released these volumes. Now, you can buy them as a complete paperback set (contrary to what the Amazon descriptions says).

On a whim, I asked if I might be able to get one to do a review series over the summer and as you can see, the answer was yes. Instead of a detailed critical review of each volume, I’ll instead give a brief overview of each and highlight what I think are a few key essays in each. Here’s a complete list of the volumes, which will function as a table of contents for the series:

  • Renewing Biblical Interpretation
  • After Pentecost: Language And Biblical Interpretation
  • A Royal Priesthood?: The Use of the Bible Ethically And Politically
  • “Behind” the Text: History and Biblical Interpretation
  • Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation
  • Reading Luke: Interpretation, Reflection, Formation
  • Canon and Biblical Interpretation
  • The Bible and the University

It’ll probably be June before I get started, but I wanted to whet your appetite a bit before jumping in. I’m not necessarily committed to doing each volume in order, so if there’s one you’d rather hear about sooner rather than later, let me know and I’ll try to start there!