Miracles, Reformation Readings of Paul, How to Preach and Teach the OT, and Revelation

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Vern Poythress can’t seem to stop publishing books. Since In The Beginning Was The Word came out in 2009, he’s published 10 books, with an 11th coming out later this year (making it the third this calendar year). On the upside, he’s applying his unique triperspectivalistic vantage point to variety of topics (math, philosophy, biblical interpretation, sociology, etc.). On the downside, many of these books are fairly boring to read and often seem like Van Tillian class syllabi prepared for publication rather than individual works in their own right.

Such is the case with The Miracles of Jesus, which after a useful template for analyzing miracles in the first part of the book, proceeds to analyze each and every miracle in the gospel of Matthew in successive short chapters. It is repetitive and dull when read straight through (e.g. chapters 11, 21, 23, 34 are all called Many Healings, and chapters 27 and 29 are variants called Healing Many). It would however serve as an excellent resource to anyone preaching through Matthew who would like to consult Poythress’ analysis of the various miracles that occur. It is also useful for the template in the first part of the book discussing how to think about miracles typologically and within the history of redemption. Beyond that, it is, like several other Poythress releases, not riveting chapter by chapter reading. Nonetheless, I value the way Poythress approaches the issues and will continue to try to get my hands on each and every new book he pumps out (even if sometimes I’m doing so as a collector).

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On a different note, It is fashionable among contemporary New Testament studies to suggest that the Reformers were less than adept when it comes to reading Paul. I’ve suggested a recent monograph on the topic, but now there’s a volume of direct readings of Paul from various New Testament scholars and systematic theologians. Reformation Readings of Paul: Explorations in History and Exegesis is edited by Michael Allen and Jonathan Linebaugh. In it, they curate paired chapters in which the first examines a Reformer’s reading of a Pauline text (Galatians, Romans, Ephesians, Corinthians, and other Pauline letters are the categories) and the second compares the text of that letter and the theology of that Reformer (and they are Luther, Melanchthon, Bucer, Calvin, and Cranmer). The former comes from the pen of a theologian and the latter from a New Testament scholar. The paired essays are finished off with a concluding essay from Gerald Bray that is rather devastating to anyone suggesting the Reformers mis-read Paul.

If something like that is your cup of tea, you will most likely want to grab a copy of this book. I personally was not that drawn in, but I think it may come in handy later on. While I have a recurring interest in Paul, my local church and school context doesn’t generate a lot of buzz around this issue. There are a handful of guys that I hang out with at church that are aware of the discussion in Pauline in studies. Some have even read N. T. Wright. But, none of them are asking questions about whether the Reformers read Paul well. I realize that question has more bite/teeth in the larger online world that I participate in. And because of that, I’d recommend this book if those questions perplex you.

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In a different vein, you might be interested in checking out Christopher J. H. Wright’s How to Preach & Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth. It is presented as a follow up to How to Read The Bible For All Its Worth (and visually looks like it, as well as How To Read The Bible Book by Book). Like the previous books, it is very user friendly, but unlike them, has a more niche audience. While I’d recommend the previous two volumes to pretty much everyone (especially older high school and college students), this volume is mainly for pastors, and others like myself who teach from the Old Testament.

The first part of the book explains why we should preach and teach from the Old Testament, while the second half explains how we can preach and teach from the Old Testament. The first part is very helpful when it comes to typology and preaching Christ from the OT. The second part is likewise helpful, as it goes genre by genre in paired chapter explaining first the nature of the genre and second, how to preach and teach from it. Wright is a seasoned OT scholar, and if you spend time preaching and teaching from the Old Testament, you’ll probably benefit from his insights. While it might not be a one-stop handbook for understanding the Old Testament better, it does collate the basics you need to know to handle the different Old Testament genres effectively.

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Lastly, let’s say you were interested in getting a better grasp on the book of Revelation. There’s many ways you could go about this, but a helpful thematic way would be to pick up J. Scott Duvall’s The Heart of Revelation. After a brief introduction and a glossary that introduces the “cast of characters,” Duval proceeds to trace 10 key themes through the book of Revelation:

  • God
  • Worship
  • The People of God
  • The Holy Spirit
  • Our Enemies
  • The Mission
  • Jesus Christ
  • Judgment
  • The New Creation
  • Perseverance

Read in tandem with a commentary to answer your further questions as they arise, I can’t think of a better way to get a big picture understanding of one of the most bewildering books of the Bible. While Vern Poythress’ The Returning King goes section by section (and provides a good companion to this volume), I think Duvall is on to something with his thematic overview. Sometimes, in a complex book like Revelation, the forest gets lost as you try to examine each and every tree. Not the case with this book. If you’ve frequently been mystified by Revelation, this book might not answer all your questions, but it will give you a better framework for making sense of the book as a whole.

I’ve actually since passed it along to a student of mine who has been interested in the book. I’ve tried tackling it in class at various times (and in vain promised a forthcoming Revelation Bible study), but to no avail. Part of this because, hey, it’s hard to teach Revelation. The other part is that it doesn’t neatly fit with the subjects I currently teach (Old Testament, Systematic, Biblical and Practical Theology). In any case, if I give it another go, I’d like to be able to utilize the thematic approach here. Maybe that’s even the basis of a good summer Bible study. Who’s to say?

New Books of Note

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There are a handful of books that every seminary student should have on writing. Michael Kibbe’s From Topic to Thesis is one of them. Thanks to IVP Academic, I was able to get a copy and read it rather quickly. While short, small, and new, it provides a concise and step by step overview from moving from an idea to a finished paper. Or as the title suggests, from a topic (like one assigned in a seminary class) to a thesis (what you’ll actually argue in your paper). The introduction is the longest chapter in the book and orients readers to how theological research is like as well as unlike other types of research. In addition, readers are introduced to the distinction between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. Each of the following chapters explain one step in the method of research:

  • Finding direction
  • Gathering sources
  • Understanding issues
  • Entering discussion
  • Establishing a position

Along the way, the author gives real life examples using a biblical studies paper as well as a theological studies one. The last third of the book is appendices covering topics like what to never do in a research paper, research and writing tools, scholarly resources, how to navigate ATLA, how to use Zotero, and a suggested timeline for your research.

I found the book to be very helpful for my own rusty thinking on paper writing. I tend to have difficulty moving from topic to thesis so this book was exactly what I needed to prod me along and I think I’ll plan to utilize it for an upcoming paper proposal. As I do, I fill you more in on the guidance the book offers.


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As a follow up to his Dude’s Guide to Manhood, Darrin Patrick teamed up with his wife Amie to write The Dude’s Guide to Marriage. Thanks to Thomas Nelson I was able to get a copy and see what I thought. In some ways, much of the advice here should be basic common sense. However, as someone who went through pre-marital counseling and still ended up clueless about certain things, I’d say common sense isn’t initially all that common. If you look at the chapter titles, you’ll notice there is nothing that revolutionary:

  • Listen
  • Talk
  • Fight
  • Grow
  • Provide
  • Rest
  • Serve
  • Submit
  • Pursue
  • Worship

Well, maybe the submit part (and maybe the fight part). On the whole though, I think most dude’s would at least tacitly understand they should listen, talk, fight (argue), grow, provide, rest, etc. There is a gap though between knowing what you should hypothetically do and knowing how to actually do it well. That is where this book can be a valuable resource. In a way it is basic. But, dudes tend to need basic (even if they won’t admit it). I found the value not so much in the exposition but in the discussion questions provided at the end for talking with your wife. This isn’t to say that the Patricks honesty and vulnerability in letting us in our their marriage isn’t helpful. It’s more to note that if I only read their exposition, it might help my own self-understanding, but I need to take the topics and discussion questions to talk things through with my wife. My biggest problem, and probably most guys problem is to read something like this and just assume I’m nailing all of it and then move on. I have to take the extra step of actually seeing what my wife thinks and the Patricks have a provide a good discussion starter for doing just that.


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A couple of summers ago I enjoyed reading Zack Eswine’s Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being. This was both because of content and style. In terms of the former, it is a very reassuring and realistic encouragement to those of us in ministry that we don’t have to be perfect. This focus pairs well with Eswine’s meditative and reflective writing style. Having also benefited from his preaching book, I thought I’d use Crossway’s Beyond the Page program to read The Imperfect Pastor.

Upon getting it though, I was a bit disappointed. Maybe not as much as Mike Leake, but close (read his review of Sensing Jesus). As Eswine explains in the introduction:

The book you hold in your hands is, in some measure, an updated— and shortened— rewrite of my earlier work Sensing Jesus. I hesitated when I was invited to rewrite the earlier volume. Like any writer, I contemplated the loss of prized sentences, and I flinched. But now I give thanks for the opportunity and the effort. This new work, The Imperfect Pastor, is half the size of Sensing Jesus; nevertheless, one-third of the content is brand-new. Sensing Jesus will find its place in used bookstores and academic libraries, while The Imperfect Pastor will stand on its own with distinct language, size, content, and purpose. I hope that in its pages you will find the grace of Jesus for your life and ministry. (Kindle Loc., 117-122)

In other words, if you’ve read Sensing Jesus, there’s nothing particularly new here. And the downside is that you can’t tell that until you read the introduction since there’s nothing about the book or endorsements on say Amazon that suggest this is an updated, shortened rewrite of an earlier book. On the plus side, Sensing Jesus is out of print and not readily available. So while it is a great book and probably one every pastor should read, they can now read this instead. And to be honest, that might be for the better. One of the downsides of Sensing Jesus is that the chapters seemed much too long for the content being discussed. Now, that’s not really a problem. This is a leaner, meaner version of the book and will probably end up more widely read than its predecessor. So, on the one hand, it’s unfortunate it wasn’t more obvious this is a re-write. On the other, it is a needed re-write and this is probably a better go-to recommendation than Eswine’s previous work.


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Lastly, Zondervan sent me an advanced reading copy of Todd Wilson’s More: Find Your Personal Calling and Live Life to The Fullest Measure. Generally speaking, I hate advanced reading copies because they are step below eBooks in that they are not actual flesh and blood books and also are a slight step beyond a rough draft of the final book. Perhaps it is for the best since I mistakenly thought this was a book on life calling by Todd Wilson, as in the the co-author of The Pastor Theologian and solo author of Real Christian: Bearing the Marks of Authentic Faith. It is however, a book by an entirely different Todd Wilson, one who is the founder of Exponential.

The book looks promising. The first part explains what a calling is and the second part helps you find yours. Giving it the brief flip through that an ARC deserves, I’d say it would be a helpful book to work through if you’re feeling stuck where you’re at in life. Or, if you’re a college student and not sure what to do after graduation. Or, if you’ve graduated but are not enjoying your current or previous jobs (and aren’t sure about the future either). For any of these reasons, you might still need clarification on what your calling in life is. Wilson appears to help readers ground their personal life calling in the larger story of what God is doing in the world and then discover what they should be doing regardless of their ultimate role (i.e. be a disciple and make disciples). I might give this to a friend who is asking these questions and get back to you and what they think. The book itself comes out in April, so keep an eye out for it if anything I’ve said piqued your interest.

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: Pastoral Reading

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. ETS may be an academic conference, but the participants generally are committed followers of Christ. As such, you’d want to check out these three books, even if they aren’t technically featured titles at a conference like ETS.

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Last week, Tim Keller’s latest book The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in The Psalms showed up in the mail. In some ways, it is like a sequel to Prayer, since Keller highlighted the importance of praying the Psalms in that book (see my review). This devotional basically models that approach.

The basic structure of the book is a breakdown of the entire Psalter. January 1st starts with Psalm. December 31st ends with Psalm 150. Obviously for that to work out, you don’t read an entire Psalm each day. Instead, it ends up being around 5-7 verses (give or take) per day with a short commentary and then a prayer. It’s one page per day and this is one of Keller’s small books, if you know what I mean.

There is a brief introduction (4 pgs) that helps orient us to the importance of the Psalms, and inadvertently mixes up David and Gordon Wenham (the latter of whom wrote an excellent study of the Psalms). As far as a plan for getting through the book, Keller says,

We structured this daily devotional so it can be used in three different ways. The simplest way is to read the psalm and the meditation slowly, and then use the prayer to begin praying the psalm yourself…

The second way to use the devotional is to take the time to lookup the additional scriptural references that are embedded in the meditation and sometimes in the prayer…

The third way to use the devotional is to get a blank journal to use along with it. Read the psalm portion twice slowly. Then as three questions and write out your answers:

  • Adore – What did you learn about God for which you could praise or thank him?
  • Admit – What did you learn about yourself for which you could repent?
  • Aspire – What did you learn about life that you could aspire to, ask for, and act on?

Once you have answered these three questions, you have your own meditation on the psalm.

This meditation becomes the basis for your prayer and Keller says “this will take you into the deep level of wisdom and insight the psalms can provide.” I think I’d like to start this latter path at the beginning of the year and I bet you’d benefit from doing the same.

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Thanks to Banner of Truth, I was able to get a copy of Mark Jones’ Knowing Christ. In some sense, it is kind of sequel to J. I. Packer’s Knowing God. From what I understand, Jones sent Packer a manuscript for one of his infamous blurbs. Instead, Packer decided to write a foreword and send that back. While Packer blurbs a plethora of books, I doubt there are many that he spontaneously decides to write a forward to.

As for the book itself, the tone is meditative and devotional, yet it is still theologically rich. The chapters are on the shorter side and are supplemented by a study guide in the back with 2-5 questions per chapter. That would make this an ideal book club choice, or better yet, a book to take your discipleship group through. It is a concise Christology that is accessible to the average reader. In terms of theological depth and devotional richness, I’m not sure there is a better option as an introduction to think deeply about the person and work of Christ. There are certainly some classics that cover the same ground, but Jones’ here is fairly comprehensive in his subjects. Other authors might go deeper into certain aspects, but this book covers all the necessary basic ground.

Given the Christmas season coming quickly upon us, this is a book you might want to set aside time to read through during Advent season. Given that there are 27 chapters, you could start the weekend after Thanksgiving and read right up until Christmas. I’ve already given it a general read-thru, but I’m thinking about already giving it a more focused re-read as we move toward Christmas.

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Lastly, thanks to Crossway, I was able to read Paul Tripp’s latest, Awe: Why It Matters For Everything We Think, Say, & Do. Like many if not all books Tripp writes, he notes early (second sentence of the book) that he is primarily writing for himself. He is biblical and conversational in explaining why and how we have an “awe” problem and what we can do about it. Notes to other sources are minimal as Tripp is able to draw on a depth of pastoral insights that come from his own ministry as well as personal struggles.

In the opening chapter, Tripp makes several key points about awe which more or less shape the expositional that follows. They are (17-21):

  • Awe is everyone’s lifelong pursuit
  • God created an awesome world
  • God created you with an awe capacity
  • Where you look for awe will shape the direction of your life
  • Awe stimulates the greatest joys and deepest sorrows in us all
  • Misplaced awe keeps us perennially dissatisfied
  • Every created awe is meant to point you to the creator
  • Awesome stuff never satisfies

In the remaining chapters, Tripp explains how this leads to a war for our awe (chapter 2), and also shows how these ideas apply to church, parenting, work, and ministry (chapters 11-13, and 3). He also shows how it underlies materialism (chapter 8) as well as how most conflicts are awe conflicts. I found this book to helpful, and probably worthy of further thought and digestion. In some ways, it is a very basic idea that might not require reading the entire book to grasp. On the other hand, if you have an awe problem, you might want Tripp’s writing to help awaken you from aweless slumber.

#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!

#ETS2015 Books of Note: Theology

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, this is my first on theology and tomorrow I’ll offer one on biblical studies.

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Ultimately thanks to SPCK, but currently thanks to my own Amazon purchase, I’ve been reading through Anthony Thiselton’s Systematic Theology. So far it has been interesting, as in, I’m still trying to decide what I think about it. As far as the layout goes, it is 15 chapters of roughly equal length that are each split into 5 sections. Because of that, it is ideal for use in a semester long class on systematic theology. As far as content goes, Thiselton makes some interesting moves, though many are predictable if you know his background and publication track record. The opening chapter, Method and Truth, gets very philosophical (speech act theory, etc.). The chapters on God (2 and 3) cover a wide variety of topics, but no traditional treatment of the divine attributes (they aren’t untreated, to be clear though). This is followed by a chapter on the challenge of atheism, which though helpful as a rundown of post-Enlightenment thought, seemed out of place in a systematic.

I found Thiselton’s chapter on nonhuman creation particularly interesting, especially since he spends a section on animals interacting with the recent work of David Clough. Likewise, his chapter on sin is a “hermeneutical comparison of historical thinkers” tracing the way it has been understood through history. He does a similar historical take on theologies of the atonement. Two separate chapters are devoted to Jesus, though not divided along typical person and work sections. Instead, the first is on his role as mediator and the second is a “concise Christology” that is mostly historical in focus. Similarly, the chapters on the Holy Spirit are split between biblical insights and historical insights.The final three chapters cover ecclesiology and eschatology.

All in all, it is useful reference volume, but I don’t think it could serve well as a go-to textbook for systematics because of brevity and diversity. For the latter, Thiselton is very well read, and so has a plethora of sources to draw on. Sometimes, those moves don’t seem to be best for giving a representative exposition of the doctrine. Because of that, it is a systematic that belongs on the shelf in dialogue with other systematics, but maybe that’s simply the case with all of them.

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Thanks to Baker Academic, last week I was able to read through Reading Barth With Charity: A Hermeneutical Proposal. Unlike another book by George Hunsinger related to Barth, this isn’t a collection of previously published essays. Rather, it is Hunsinger’s extended plea to the revisionist school to practice a hermeneutic of charity in their reading of Barth. As such, this book drops into an on-going conversation related to Barth studies. If you’re not familiar with Barth, then this book probably isn’t for you. Through a series of chapters that spar with other top Barth scholars like Bruce McCormack, Hunsinger uses these criteria to to assses the revisionist position (xiii-xiv):

  • Does it seek to understand Barth’s theology in its strongest form before subjecting it to fundamental criticism?
  • Has it truly sought to understand Barth before picking out supposed difficulties or contradictions?
  • If apparent contradictions are discerned (as they are), has an active attempt been made to resolve them in Barth’s favor?
  • If no such attempt has been made (as it has not), does not a certain presumption exist against this interpretation?
  • Finally, do the revisionists honor the principle of humanity, or do they seem to adopt an attitude of condescension towards the writer whose views they are considering?
  • In short, are the revisionists entitled to their key claim that Barth’s views on election and the Trinity, when taken as a whole, are “inconsistent”?

This last question gives you an idea of the substance of the book’s focus on Barth. Hunsinger says no, they are not entitled to their revisionist claims about this aspect of Barth’s thought and it’s because they haven’t read him charitably. If you’d like to know how Hunsinger comes to this assessment, then you’ll need to read the book.

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While we’re talking about Barth, you might want to check out Christopher R. J. Holmes’ The Holy Spirit in Zondervan Academic’s new series New Studies in Dogmatics. Edited by Michael Allen and Scott Swain, this series is a kind of update to the classics from G. C. Berkouwer. Holmes singles out Barth, along with Augustine and Thomas Aquinas as his main historical interlocutors (you can read excerpts here, here, and here). After these three parts, he closes with a section on regeneration, ecclesiology, and spiritual illumination. I’m excited to see where this series goes, and this first volume is a promising step.

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Also in the realm of modern theology, specifically of the evangelical variety, there is the festschrift for John S. Feinberg. Thanks to Crossway I was able to get a copy of Building on The Foundations of Evangelical Theology to check out. The book has three parts, each using architectural metaphors. The first is like prolegomena in a sense, focusing “designing the architecture.” Here there are essays by Vanhoozer giving an evangelical account of the development of doctrine; Walt Kaiser’s take on trends in evangelical hermeneutics; and an intriguing account of evidence in apologetics by Thomas Provenzola to name three.

In the second section “setting the foundations,” there are essays on the doctrine of God by Bruce Ware and Keith Yandell; an essay on the modern rejection of biblical authority by John Morrison; and an interaction with Feinberg’s account of moral evil by Thomas McCall. The seven essays here somewhat follow the pattern of a traditional systematic with one essay per loci.

The final section, “erecting the superstructure,” deals with practical and ethical issues related to Feinberg’s thought. Graham Cole has an essay on the interface of the Trinity, imitation, and the Christian life; Harold Netland’s focuses on apologetics in a global, religiously diverse modern world; and John Kilner gets into bioethics.

While I was drawn more to the first two sections, each section gives a good sampling of the kinds of topics Feinberg has written and interacted with extensively. Within the essays, there are many worth digging into deeper in their own right, especially if you are interested in analytic and philosophical theology. I’m glad I have this as a resource and if there’s a sweet ETS discount, you might want to grab it as well!

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.

New Books of Note

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I don’t read many of Simon Gathercole’s books, but when I do, they are short. Around this time last year I read Justification Reconsidered. There, he was rethinking a Pauline theme, and in some ways, that’s also what he is doing in his recent book Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul. In both books, he is defending a classical understanding of Paul’s soteriology in light of recent objections and/or recalibrations. Though the titles frame it differently, these books work well in tandem and demonstrate fine Pauline scholarship in relatively bite size form. [NOTE: A graceful commenter pointed out that Justification Reconsidered is by Stephen Westerholm, an author who I’ve also only read one book by and I guess have had been confusing with Simon Gathercole for some reason]

This book has four chapters, though the first is simply an introduction framing the discussion. Once framed, Gathercole highlights three recent challenges to the traditional understanding of substitutionary atonement and their underlying connection. Then, he defends the classical view in light of these objections. First, he focuses on 1 Corinthians 15:3 and Paul’s claim that Christ’s dead for us was “according to the Scriptures.” Second, he focuses on Romans 5:6-8 and Paul’s use of vicarious death traditions widely known in his first century context. A conclusion recapitulates this all briefly and next thing you know, you’ve just read a book.

Readers who are interested in either Paul’s theology or soteriology (or ideally both) will want to check this book out. Gathercole is interacting with the frontlines so to speak of critical scholarship. In doing so, he models a careful reading of an opposing position and then a gracious response that digs deeply into the Scriptures as well as background historical context in order to defend the traditional understanding of Christ’s death being for us in a substitutionary sense. Because of that, one can learn not only from the content of Gathercole’s argument, but it’s character as well.

Simon Gathercole, Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in PaulGrand Rapids: Baker Academic, May 2015. 128 pp. Paperback, $19.99.

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Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy!


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You might have seen Richard Hays’ Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness with a different cover. Originally published by Baylor University Press, there is now a paperback edition courtesy of SPCK and they graciously sent me a copy. I hadn’t read any of Hays’ works, but I see his name frequently and N. T. Wright did dedicate PFG to him. Sometimes I get bored with regular reading so the opportunity to learn a new skill intrigued me.

The book itself is derived from a series of lectures Hays delivered at Cambridge in 2013 and 2014. It is a preview of a Gospel focused sequel he is working on to Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. In his preface, Hays mentions several forerunners to the type of work he is doing (Dodd, Wright, Hurtado, Bauckham, to name a few). He then offers an introductory chapter on figural reading, which as you might have figured, is the backwards reading the title refers to. There then follows a short chapter on each Gospel writer’s strategy of doing this. The final chapter offers summary thoughts on retrospective readings and the challenge and benefit of Gospel-shaped hermeneutics.

If you leave out the front and back matter, the body of this book (chapters 1-6) is just over 100 pages. As such, it is quick read but a slow digest on reading the Old Testament in light of Christ. It is thought provoking and nowhere near a final word on the method of reading this way. After reading it, I’d like to go back and dig into some of Hays other works and I’ll look forward to the full length title that this book previews.

Richard B Hays, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness. London: SPCK, May 2015. 155 + xxii pp. Paperback,  $26.73.

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Thanks to SPCK for the review copy!


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Modern theology and I have an uneasy relationship. That’s another way of saying I’m not sure what I think of Karl Barth yet, but I find him intriguing. As part of that intrigue, I thought it worth exploring a new collection of essays from Kimlyn Bender, Confessing Christ for Church and World: Studies in Modern Theology. As he himself explains in the introduction,

The following chapters, some previously published, attempt to reflect on what it means to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord in our day. They explore issues of ecclesiological conversation in ecumenical encounter, scriptural authority in relation to tradition and confession, and christological determination of creation and covenant. This exploration is undertaken by examining two of the most significant theologians of the modern period, Karl Barth and Friedrich Schleiermacher, and by placing them in dialogue with Catholic, mainline Protestant, evangelical and Free Church traditions – key traditions of the current American religious landscape. (11, emphasis added)

Barth is more of a focus than Scheleirmacher, hence my interest in getting a copy. The above quote gives the three main divisions of the book, which I bolded for your pleasure. Bender notes that in his essays, the arguments “do not lend themselves well to abridgement and are best experienced in their exposition and aggregate effect” (13). Later he invokes Lewis to explain that the essays are in some sense “looking at” Schleiermacher and Barth, but in another sense are more “looking along” them at the reality of God’s revelation in Christ and applying that to the issues we face in the current American religious landscape. If that is something you find intriguing, this is a book you should probably pick up and look along for yourself.

Kimlyn Bender, Confessing Christ for Church and World: Studies in Modern Theology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, November 2014. 391 pp. Paperback, $40.00.

Buy it: Amazon

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!


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From a slightly different angle, this is also a book on modern theology. Here, the focus more on the topic, in this case, the economic Trinity. However, as you can tell from the subtitle, Barth figures prominently in Faith, Freedom, and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary TheologyAlso clearly significant is T. F. Torrance, who along with Barth, is probably one of the two most influential theologians in the 20th century (at least as far as that influence carries over into the Reformed world).

This work, author Paul Molnar explains,

This book is intended as a discussion of just how a properly conceived pneumatology would assist theologians speaking of the economic Trinity to think more accurately about divine and human interaction in the sphere of faith and knowledge within history. Toward that end I being with an extensive discussion of the role of faith in knowing God and in relating with God in and through his incarnate Word and thus through the Holy Spirit. I then move to a discussion of how and why a properly functioning pneumatology will lead to an appropriately theological understanding of God’s actions within the economy, and of why natural theology can never be seen as the ground for a theology of revelation. Rather, natural theology is seen as an approach to God that bypasses God’s revelation and thus diverts attention away from the action of the Holy Spirit enabling knowledge of God acting for us within history (7).

Molnar notes from this that it is important for theology to begin and end with faith (7). Barth and Torrance then serves as paradigmatic examples of theologians who begin and end in faith, not our experience of faith, but of the God experienced in faith. Their views are compared and contrasted throughout, making this work significant for understanding modern theology better. Readers who would like to see an important study of Trinitarian theology with Barth and Torrance key conversation partners would do well to check this volume out.

Paul D. Molnar, Faith, Freedom, and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary Theology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, January 2015. 448 pp. Paperback, $40.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

New Books of Note

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Like most people last Monday, I got sunburned near a large body of water. While I was doing that, I read Scot McKnight’s latest book, A Fellowship of Differents. It is essentially a book about the Christian life in community based heavily on the writings of Paul. The six parts of the book trace the Christian life, beginning with Grace, and on to Love and Table, Holiness, Newness, and finally Flourishing. These themes encompass what the Christian life in Christ in community ought to look like. Along the way, McKnight is answering the question, “what is the church supposed to be?” in tandem with “if the church is what it is supposed to be, what does the Christian life look like?”

I didn’t intend to polish off the book at the beach, but McKnight’s conversational and at times colloquial writing drew me in. I was particularly struck by the way he unpacked love in the second part of the book. In the chapter, “Love is a Series of Prepositions,” McKnight sees love as a rugged commitment to be with, for, and unto a particular person or group of persons. In his understanding the order of these matters, and I would agree. I also thought this was a particularly triperspectival way of understanding love. Beginning with the existential, you present with the person. Situationally, you advocate for them in the circumstances of life. Normatively, there is a purpose or an “unto” that you love is directed toward. All three elements do in some sense overlap when in their fullest expression, and love can be distorted if one aspect is narrowly applied to the exclusion of the others. Thinking through this was helpful for me in both teaching and ministry in the local church and I would hope other readers would find it similarly beneficial.

Scot McKnight, A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life TogetherGrand Rapids: Zondervan, February 2015. 272 pp. Hardcover, $19.99.

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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!


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Ever since I went to seminary, I’ve reflected from time to time on how the whole experience could be improved. This is apparently not unusual, especially if you’re involved in Christian education post graduation. You may or may not be aware, but the current American model for many major seminaries is not reflective what pastoral training has always looked like. One particular model worth highlighting is Bonhoeffer’s, and that is exactly what Paul House has done in Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision.

House is a professor at Beeson Divinity School, which I had the pleasure of visiting last spring for regional ETS. Beeson is an intentionally small school and mentorship is more integrated into the seminary experience there for M.Div students. Given that, House finds many resonances between Beeson and Bonhoeffer when it comes to seminary education. The first two chapters outline Bonhoeffer’s background and formation of seminaries. Then, chapters three and four give extended and thorough exposition of The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together respectively. Chapter five traces the end of Bonhoeffer’s seminaries and the final chapter offers insights and possibilities for incarnational seminaries today.

This would be a useful book to read if you are about to attend seminary, currently attending, or are involved in Christian education. More casual readers could read the conclusions in chapters three and four, as well as six in total and get plenty of food for thought when it comes to pastoral training. Many will probably want to see the ideas fleshed out within Bonhoeffer’s writings and House does an excellent job of providing just that. In the end, seminaries should offer pastoral training that involves life on life and emphasizes the costliness of not just discipleship but ministry in the fallen world. Bonhoeffer got it, and hopefully many seminaries today will continue to get it.

Paul R. House, Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision: A Case for Costly Discipleship and Life TogetherWheaton: Crossway, April 2015. 208 pp. Paperback, $17.99.

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I haven’t done much apologetic reading lately, but I’ve wanted to return to it over the summer. A step in the direction came a couple of weeks back when I worked through C. Stephen Evans’ Why Christian Faith Still Makes Sense. This entry in the Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology makes a case that natural theology provides a good defeater for the new atheist claim that belief in God is simply unreasonable. Given the book’s foundation in a set of lectures, the tone is conversational and concise, though not without philosophical weight at times.

The opening chapter briefly outlines the new atheist’s claims, while chapter two introduces and argues for the value of natural theology as a response. Chapter three details the concept of a natural sign for God and chapter four relates this concept to the existing theistic arguments. Chapter five deals the objection that might arise questioning the trustworthiness of these natural signs before the conversation turns to God’s self revelation in chapter six. Chapter seven offers criteria for determining the genuineness of such revelation before Evans concludes the book with a summarizing chapter.

Coming from a more Van Tillian background, I’m not typically the biggest fan of natural theology arguments. I’m opening to re-evaluation and planning to do so in my future reading. I thought Evans’ book provide a good place for natural theology in the apologist’s toolbox. Making use of it to defeat the bare claim of theistic belief’s unreasonableness seems useful. While it might not work as the foundation for an entire apologetic for Christianity, it does have a role to serve. That being said, I’m still mulling over integrating some of Evans’ insights into my own thinking on the matter, and probably have more work to do. For that, I’ll have to keep you posted.

C. Stephen Evans, Why Christian Faith Still Makes Sense: A Response to Contemporary ChallengesGrand Rapids: Baker Academic, May 2015. 160 pp. Paperback, $19.99.

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Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy!


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When I initially requested this book from Banner of Truth Trust I thought it was simply a collection of essays in which the contributors recommended a book that was life changing and/or influential to them personally. It is certainly that, but with a twist. As the trustees of Banner of Truth Trust explain in the introduction,

These pages are dedicated to Iain and Jean Murray, whose vision, dedication, ministry, and encouragement has undergirded the publication of every volume (without exception) selected in You Must Read. Humanly speaking, without their joint service of our Lord it is unlikely that many of these books would have been published in our lifetimes, and also improbably that other publishers would have caught their vision and published similar books. (xii-xiii)

They go on to explain that Iain would not have been thrilled with a traditional festschrift, which would have also necessitated different shaping of the included essays. Instead, what comes on the 60th anniversary of his dedication to ministry, marriage, and the publication of The Banner of Truth magazine is a collection of 32 short essays commending a particular publication of Banner of Truth Trust for readers to take and read today. As such, it provides a great introduction to the catalog of publication, as well as motivation to check out many of the titles. If this is a publisher you’re unfamiliar with, this would be a great place to start getting acquainted.

Various Authors, You Must Read: Books That Have Shaped Our LivesCarlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, April 2015. 304 pp. Paperback, $18.00.

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New Books of Note

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One of my earliest reviews was Joe Thorn’s Note to Self. I thought it was an excellent little devotional work.It is not so much something you read and move on from, but continue to come back to read time and time again. In a very similar vein, Joe Thorn’s most recent book, Experiencing The Trinity: The Grace of God For the People of God, offers readers devotional readings to be savored and re-read. The 50 short chapters are divided into three parts, one for each person of the Trinity. Each chapter focuses on either the person or work (or both) of the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. I gave it an initial read-through so I could comment here, but I plan to go back and read them with my wife this summer.

Initially what really caught my attention was Thorn’s introduction, which you can actually watch an interview about here or read the excerpt offered below. The short version is that in 2011, Thorn went through a “dark night of the soul.” In the process of reaching out to David Murray, making some lifestyle changes, leaning more into God and the gospel, he began finding a way out of the darkness. It resonated with me because much of what he described feeling was what my summer was like last year and I’ve only recently started feeling semi-normal again. I don’t think my experience was as intense as Thorn’s, but there seemed to be similarities. Knowing that, I now know that this will be a book that I come back to when the anxiety seems overwhelming, and that seems to be what Thorn has in mind for readers. As he says by way of conclusion,

What follows are fifty daily readings that reflect on God and the gospel and how they overcome our fear, failure, pain, and unbelief. Much of this I preached to myself over the last couple of years, and all of it is directed toward my own heart. So, for instance, when I write “there is a kind of deficiency in your christology,” I’m referring primarily to my own weakness. But if you find yourself with a heart like mine, weak and in need of grace, I pray these readings will be an encouragement to you. For God offers his grace to people like us. (18)

What I hope you will discover—what I continue to learn over and over again—is that all of us are far weaker than we know. Our sin, which is much darker and goes much deeper than we realize, is the real source of our most significant weakness. Neither you nor I can measure up to God’s standards. We are trapped in our condition of guilt, and the only hope is the offer of grace by our triune God. (19)

Joe Thorn, Experiencing The Trinity: The Grace of God For the People of God. Wheaton: Crossway, february 2015. 144 pp. Paperback, $10.99.

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Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!


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Although I didn’t request it, I recently found myself with a copy of Brant Hansen’s Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better. A simplistic explanation of the book is that it’s like the main song from Frozen. Or, at least it’s a plea to reader to not get so worked up about things that would otherwise make us angry. In that sense, the book is an explanation of the author’s own journey to being less able to be offended.

On the one hand, I appreciate Hansen’s argument since I’m already tired of the current outrage culture and cannot really relate to it. To some extent, I’m already unoffendable, and I worry that might not be a good thing. I’ve wondered if maybe I should be more outraged than I am about certain things. In that sense, I’m kind of predisposed to read Hansen’s book as a justification for what I already feel.

On the other hand, I think there is probably room for a general ability to be offend and outraged when the time calls for it. Hansen’s argument is that we’re not necessarily entitled to our anger (hence the need to “let it go”), and that righteous anger is generally a myth. I’m not sure I completely bought the argument for the latter, but I do think placing things in the righteous anger category doesn’t necessarily mean that being worked up about the issue is psychologically or spiritually healthy for everyone involved.

That being said, I enjoyed reading the book, will probably reflect on it a bit more, and would recommend others read it as well. I’d particularly be interested what some other reviewers think since this book is a little outside of the normal types of books I see reviewed (based mostly on whose reviews I read). I think at the very least, we as evangelical Christians could probably stand to be less offendable than we currently appear to be, but whether or not we should be completely unoffendable is something we could still explore.

Brant Hansen, Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, April 2015. 224 pp. Paperback, $15.99.

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Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy!


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When I was looking through the available books on BookLook Bloggers, I came across Jeff Goins’ most recent effort, The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant To Do. To cut to the chase, the path Goins suggests looks like this (196):

  • Awareness: Before you can tell your life what you want to do with it, you must listen to what it wants to do with you
  • Apprenticeship: Every story of success is s story of community. Although mentors are hard to come by, accidental apprenticeships are everywhere. Your life is preparing you for what’s to come.
  • Practice: Real practice hurts. It takes not only time but intentional effort. But some things do come naturally. Be open to learning new skills, and wathc for sparks of inspiration to guide you.
  • Discovery: Don’t take the leap; build a bridge. You never “just know” what you’re supposed to do with your life. Discovery happens in stages.
  • Profession: Failure is your best friend. Don’t push through obstacles; pivot around them. Let every mistake and rejection teach you something. Before a season of success, there often comes a season of failure.
  • Mastery: A calling is not just one thing. It’s a few things, a portfolio that isn’t just your job but the life you live.
  • Legacy: Your calling is not just what you do; it’s the person you become – and the legacy you leave.

While this more or less lays bare the conceptual structure of the book, it doesn’t give you the full picture. Goins is a masterful storyteller and so part of the effect of reading is the way his stories might spark your imagination. Personally though, I was more interested in the conceptual structure and particularly the follow up exercises that Goins suggests doing to pursue this particular path. As I’m still in a place of clarifying and consolidating my calling and work, I found Goins these the most helpful and still need to put some of the suggestions into action.

If you’re in a place where you’re trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, or like me are in a season where graduation looms large and helps you re-think life, this book might be worth checking out. At the very least, it might make an excellent graduation present to either some embarking on college or a career. I learned a lot in my 20’s, but one thing I learned the harder way was that figuring out your work is not an easy task. But as Goins helps explain, it’s not supposed to be, but that doesn’t mean you should shy away. Rather, Goins will hopefully help readers work their way down the path that will clarify exactly what they were meant to do.

Jeff Goins, The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant To DoNashville: Thomas Nelson, March 2015. 240 pp. Paperback, $16.99.

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Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy!


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For a while, I wondered whether or not to request a review copy of Michael Wittmer’s Becoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life? I had heard both good and critical things about it, and it seemed to be getting enough publicity without my 2 cents. But then, a copy showed up unexpectedly with a note from Wittmer himself. I’m not sure whether I was specifically selected by the way it was worded or whether my name came from a list of people that ought to get a review copy. So, if you’re reading this Dr. Wittmer, thanks for the copy, personal invitation or not!

To the book itself, I thought it was a bit mis-titled after reading it. The question posed by the subtitle arises from the background of fundamentalist evangelical culture that seems to treat pleasures of the world as antithetical to true Christian living. I went to a Bible Institute the first two years of college that gave that impression and it seems like Wittmer had a similar college experience. Wittmer’s answer in this book is really to offer a balance between a Kuyperian and Two-Kingdoms approach to appreciating culture. In that sense, it’s not really a plea to be “worldly” in either negative connotation (as in Scripture) or in a sense of being overly focused on the good pleasures of creation in the here and now.

As you read the book, Wittmer works through four major parts: Creation, The Meaning of Life, Fall, and Redemption. Curiously, “Consummation” isn’t a separate part but is instead the last chapter under Redemption. In it, the Beatific Vision is more or less absent, and God’s presence as part of the Consummation of all things is a seemingly minor feature. In trying to address the problem of conservative Christians undervaluing creation and recognizing its original goodness, Wittmer has perhaps unintentionally downplayed a major feature and expectation of life on the new earth. At the same time, maybe I need to read Wittmer’s other book, Heaven Is A Place on Earth to get the full picture of his thought on the matter.

For the rest of the book, I thought Wittmer did a helpful job of explaining the original goodness of creation and our life in it (parts 1 and 2). His section on the Fall is likewise helpful in moving readers to see that the problem is not creation or culture, but sin and its effects on both. In addition, I think Wittmer offers an interesting alternative between Kuyperian views of culture and a Two-Kingdoms approach. In that case, the fourth part of the book is where Wittmer I think invites the most critical interaction and engagement and attempts to further the conversation on topics that relate to eschatology and culture. If that’s something that’s right up your alley, you might want to check this volume out!

Michael Wittmer, Becoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life?Grand Rapids: Zondervan, January 2015. 208 pp. Paperback, $15.99.

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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!