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I grew up listening to Steve Brown, but this is the first book that I’ve read by him. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. I grew up hearing Steve Brown’s voice on syndicated Christian radio and remembered it for its distinctive bourbon infused depths.

After marrying my native Orlandoan wife, I heard more about Steve, and then actually heard him speak in person at an Acts 29 Pastor’s Conference here. He chose Matthew 23 and then let loose. It was amazing.

Anyway, the book Hidden Agendas: Dropping The Masks That Keep Us Apart is quite helpful. Thanks to New Growth Press, I was able to read through it earlier this summer. It is quite enjoyable because of Steve’s tone and conversational style (I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him by first name). It is also not a book you can set down and walk away from without some reflection.

The short essence of the book is that we all wear masks that keep us from living in closer community with each other and ultimately color the way we try to relate to God. But, while counterintuitive, there is freedom is putting down our masks and being honest with one another and resting in God’s grace that is presented to us in the gospel.

Anyone attentive to recent discussions about grace, the law, and antinomianism, knows this is a tricky topic. Steve has been accused of being an antinomian, but I think this book does a good job of vindicating him of that charge. He doesn’t think you should abandon obedience, but rather that you should be honest about how much of a sinner you actually are. And in doing so, know that if the gospel is true, then God still forgives and accepts you.

I’ve found the book particularly helpful and noticed that it seems designed for a small group to use. Each chapter includes several background Scriptures and some questions designed to get “behind the mask.” I could see it being an excellent resource as a small group begins to get to really know one another. And this could be especially so in a context where many people have some legalistic baggage from earlier church experiences.

Given all that, I’d really recommend this quick read. While it may be quick and easy (at my pace) to read this book, it offers a view of gospel truth that is not necessarily appropriated quickly and easily. But, I think the effort is well worth it to live more authentically and to bask in the grace of the gospel more freely.

And if reading is not really your thing, you should check out Steve’s podcast, Key Life. I subscribed shortly after finishing the book and noticed he was working through much of the content on there. I’m not sure if there will be complete overlap, or if you can go back far enough to get the earlier episodes, but you can get the gist by listening to a few episodes.

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At this point, I’ve got about 5 months to work with on the Tim Challies Reading Challenge. With my year total at 104, I’ve failed to only read 100 books, but that was clearly a humblebrag anyway. Over the next several months, I have several books I need to work through that either for review or for research. Most of those do not fit the remaining books in the challenge which are listed below.

At this point, I’d like to take some recommendations (beyond the specific pastor recommendation, which I can secure in person). There are several books on here that I already have an idea what I might read to fit the challenge, but I’m curious what you think. Have a look down through the list and let me know what you think I should check out!

  • ☐ A biography
  • ☐ A classic novel
  • ☐ A book your pastor recommends
  • ☐ A mystery or detective novel
  • ☐ A book written by a Puritan
  • ☐ A book by C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien
  • ☐ A book of poetry
  • ☐ A book that won a ECPA Christian Book Award
  • ☐ A play by William Shakespeare
  • ☐ A book written by Jane Austen
  • ☐ A book by or about Martin Luther
  • ☐ A book with 100 pages or less
  • ☐ A book with a one-word title
  • ☐ A book about music
  • ☐ A book by a female author
  • ☐ A book you have started but never finished
  • ☐ A book by David McCullough
  • ☐ A book about abortion
  • ☐ A book targeted at the other gender
  • ☐ A book about the Reformation
  • ☐ A book about relationships or friendship
  • ☐ A book about parenting
  • ☐ A book about art
  • ☐ A book of comics
  • ☐ A book about the Second World War
  • ☐ A book about suffering
  • ☐ A Christian novel
  • ☐ A book by or about Charles Dickens
  • ☐ A book by or about a martyr
  • ☐ A book by a woman conference speaker
  • ☐ A book about language
  • ☐ A book by or about a Russian
  • ☐ A book about public speaking
  • ☐ A book by Francis Schaeffer
  • ☐ A book about writing
  • ☐ A book about evangelism
  • ☐ A book about adoption
  • ☐ A photo essay book

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Well, Mike Bird has done it again. “It” meaning “written a book.” This time it is a primer on The Apostles’ Creed, aptly title What Christians Ought to Believe, and Zondervan was kind enough to send me a copy. In just over 200 pages Bird introduces readers to the creed, explains why you need it, and then devotes roughly a chapter per phrase of the creed. At the end of most chapters, he summarizes the story of the creed so far, and in every chapter he offers a few resources for further reading.

While focused on The Apostles’ Creed, this volume is a good companion to Bird’s larger systematic Evangelical Theology (which I still need to post a review summary for). There is similarity here to a previous Zondervan publication, Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith, and then later rewritten abridgment Pilgrim Theology (I’m more a fan of the latter rather than the former, although the price makes it less enticing). However, in that case, the small volume was covering more or less the same ground, just in a more accessible way. Here, Bird is writing about The Apostles’ Creed, but when a more in-depth discussion is warranted on certain points, he can merely direct readers to where he’s covered it in his larger volume.

As it stands, this would be a good volume to use to introduce readers to theology, but through a classic, catholic (little c!) creed. There is just enough here to get your feet wet, and then wade into the waist deep water of the beliefs that all Christians should share. It would make an excellent book for a small group that wants to study theology in an organized way, but doesn’t want to commit to a systematic. Plus, you have the advantage of Bird’s clear and at times humorous writing style. The result is an accessible engaging volume that effectively introduces readers to Christian doctrine.

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On the other end of the spectrum is Thomas McCall’s An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology. While no less clear than Bird, this slim (less than 200pp) volume introduces readers to philosophical theology. Well, I suppose the two terms are not exactly interchangeable. Philosophical theology developed out of philosophy of religion as the tools of philosophy were applied to Christian theology.

Now, the preferred term is analytic theology. Quoting from William Abraham, McCall uses this definition: “it is systematic theology attuned to the skills, resources, and virtues of analytic philosophy” (16). This comes from the introduction where McCall helpfully lays out what analytic theology should be, and then clears up misconceptions about what it isn’t.

The remaining four chapters demonstrate analytic theology in practice. First, in relation to our understanding of Scripture. Second, McCall shows analytic theology’s virtues when it comes to the history of doctrine. The next chapter puts analytic theology to use in a case study concerning creation, evolution, and the historical Adam. The final, briefest chapter, is where the invitation in the title comes in, as McCall casts vision for what analytic theology can contribute and encourages readers to pursue it.

All in all, this is an excellent introduction to what could easily be an overwhelming field of study. It defines the topic clearly, puts it into practice in a variety of subjects, and shows that it has value for the church and world. Hard to ask for more than that.

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Well, summer is officially over. I finished up teacher orientation last week, so school is basically back in session. As you can see, I still managed to do a good bit of reading, making a bit of progress on Tim Challies Reading Challenge. That will slow down considerably this month, and probably for the fall as a whole. As I’ve though about it, I’ll probably need to write a post or two about the different approaches to reading I take in different seasons of life. I don’t want to spoil that here though. Also, if you missed it, check out my theological add-on to Challies Challenge.

Here’s what I read in July, that I won’t write on elsewhere:

And here’s what I’ll end up posting a review on sooner or later:

Lastly, if you’re keeping score at home, I’m up to 66 books in the lists below, but I’ve read 104 new books total this year.

Here’s the whole list, in case you’re curious (and even if you’re not):

THE LIGHT READER (9 BOOKS)

THE AVID READER (10 BOOKS)

THE COMMITTED READER (14 BOOKS)

THE OBSESSED READER (33 BOOKS)

(image via challies)

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A lot can change in a decade. I suppose that’s stating the obvious, but bear with me. On August 1st, 2006, I was also living in Florida, temporarily at least. I was working what would be my last summer at Word of Life. I had come back to be a unit leader again over the high school staff, but I was a bit preoccupied with taking 9 hours of psych classes by distance at the same time. I was also dating a Starbucks co-worker of questionable morals from back in Tennessee. It wasn’t the best summer.

Moving forward a year, I’m not exactly sure what I did on August 1st, 2007. I do know that I was just under two weeks from my first day in Dallas. I had broken up with the previously mentioned girl about 4 months earlier and applied to go to seminary starting in the fall. On this particular Wednesday, I probably worked an opening shift at Starbucks, came home and worked out, and then spent some time reading on the back porch. Or packing. But probably reading.

Because I like foreshadowing, on Friday, August 1st, 2008, I drove from Dallas to Tampa in a day. This was the first such time I had attempted this kind of feat, and it was the beginning of a Sabbatical month. I left at 4am and got to Word of Life around 10pm. The girl I had just broken up with wished me safe travels (thanks for the reminder Facebook!). I spent the night in George Theis’ house in the RV park because I had connections (thanks Todd!). The next day, I met up and hung out with Ali, and when she hugged me, she knew she wanted to marry me. I figured it out about 2 months later.

So then, on Saturday August 1st, 2009, we got married.

Now, August 1st is one of those dates I pay attention to and remember. While 2006-2007, and every August 1st before that is hardly significant, every August 1st from 2008 onward, has been significant and today is no different. Ali and I get to celebrate 7 years of marriage and hopefully that’s just a dent in our time together. It only takes four years to get a masters degree in theology, but 7 years in and I’m still figuring things about Ali out.

I suppose that’s perfectly normal right? I wouldn’t trade our deep friendship and story for anyone else’s. Each year is better than the last and every week’s a new adventure. And speaking off that, I just saw her car coming up the road from my office window. So, I could keep writing, but we’ve got an adventure to go on. Love you babe!

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As a general rule, if Sinclair Ferguson has written a book, you should probably look into it. Even more so if it touches on hot button issues like legalism and antinomianism. While it might surprise some readers, there is much to be learned from a theological controversy from the 1700’s.

His most recent book, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance – Why The Marrow Controversy Still Matters, as the subtitle suggests, introduces readers to the “marrow” controversy. If you’re not familiar, this controversy relates to the book The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher. As Ferguson clarifies in the introduction,

[This] is not a study of The Marrow of Modern Divinity as such, although reference will be made to it. It is not an historical analysis of the often heated Marrow Controversy, although that serves as the background to it. Nor is it a study of the theology of Thomas Boston, although his name regularly appears in it.

Perhaps the best way to describe it is by borrowing from the world of classical music: The Whole Christ might well be subtitled, “Variations on themes from The Marrow Controversy.” It is an extended reflection on theological and pastoral issues that arose in the early eighteenth century, view from the framework of the present day. (19)

The first chapter proper is mostly historical background for the study. Starting in chapter 2, Ferguson tackles several theological topics. He begins with grace, which in a sense, is the topic of the whole study. He explains that the chapters that follow will focus on four topics (37):

  1. The gospel of the grace of God and its offer to all (chapters 2-3)
  2. The gospel and legalism (chapter 4-6)
  3. The gospel and antinomianism (chapter 7-8)
  4. The gospel and assurance of salvation (chapter 9-11)

Through it all, Ferguson does a much need job of distinguishing real legalism from the call to obedience, real antinomianism from the free offer of grace and Christ, and how the assurance of salvation truly works (sorry). With a general culture that is prone to extremes and a Christian culture that is often not much different, it is helpful to have a nuanced book on the topic of sanctification like this. For anyone working in pastoral ministry, this book is worth grabbing. Even if you’re not a pastor, your church background may have left you with some legalistic baggage. Ferguson’s book can offer a much needed remedy.

The one difficulty readers might have is the jumps back to the 18th century. There are a fair amount of lengthy block quotes, meaning the book requires a bit of patience. But then again, what book doesn’t? I suppose some of this could have been smoothed out, but on the other hand, you could be trying to read John Owen.

At the end of the day, this book is something I’ll probably give a second read. It covers issues pertinent to discipleship and Christian growth. It unmasks legalism and antinomianism alike, and clarifies the gospel. What more could you want?


Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance – Why The Marrow Controversy Still MattersWheaton: Crossway, Januaray 2016. 256 pp. Hardcover, $24.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!

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If you know me personally, you have to be aware that I like animals. Not all animals mind you. Just pretty much all mammals, penguins, and the occasional interesting reptile. A key factor in my sports allegiance is that I like dolphins as animals. I’ve researched how to legally obtain a bear cub short of living in Russia (hint: Montana). I still chase squirrels and any other critter I come across in the wild (read: suburban Orlando).

For all this interest in animals, I haven’t done much theological reflection on their purpose. In other words, I take them as a given facet of creation but haven’t wondered why they might exist (other than for my amusement). I have a similar relationship with music, although I’ve actually done a bit of research there.

Whether one is interested or not, there are not many books or articles that give a theology of animals. Thankfully, David Clough has been doing some research to remedy that. Now in paperback (and so accessible to people who aren’t research libraries) his On Animals: Vol. 1 Systematic Theology lays a foundation that will eventually be supplemented by a volume on ethics.

The current volume is divided into three sections: Creation, Reconciliation, and Redemption. The first comprises three chapters which explore the role of animals in creation, as well as their continuity and discontinuity with humans. The second section uses two chapters to examines the relationship Christ’s incarnation and atonement have on the animal kingdom. The final section raises questions about the scope of redemption and then what our redeemed living ought to look like. This provides a nice setup for his anticipated follow up work.

I imagine you’d like some predicates to go with those subjects. In the first section, Clough argues for a stronger continuity between humans and animals as creatures of God. Discontinuity is noted, but since the received wisdom to accent that, Clough highlights ways in which that thinking can be misguided. While made in the image of God, we stand in solidarity with other creatures as a recipients of God’s address.

In the second section Clough does some historical tracing to support the idea of sin in the animal kingdom. He likewise argues for Christ’s incarnation being for creation as a whole, returning again to the idea of creaturely solidarity. Finally, he makes the interesting point that Christ’s death is often construed as an animal sacrifice, thus identifying him with the animals in some way.

In the final section Clough raises redemptive and eschatological questions when it comes to animals. Attention is drawn to how often depictions of creaturely harmony in the eternal involve animals. They are not incidental details. Likewise, returning to Christ’s death, it saved humans but it also saved a significant number of animals from death by ritual sacrifice. Just as humans longed to be redeemed from the bondage of sin and death, a significant subset of animals were condemned to die through the sacrificial system.

On the whole, I might not agree with everything here, but I’d recommend this study of a recently neglected topic. Other than Anthony Thiselton’s recent short systematic (which explicitly references Clough), I don’t think I’ve seen much reference to animals in theology. Clough’s volume draws from a history of Christian thought on the subject giving readers a good framework for beginning to think constructively on their own on this topic. Even if you don’t chase squirrels, if you’re a fan of systematic theology this is worth getting your hands on. Unlike squirrels, it won’t bite if you do.


David L. Clough, On Animals: Volume 1: Systematic TheologyNew York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, January 2014. 240 pp. Paperback, $39.95.

Buy itAmazon

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Bloomsbury for the review copy!

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I am frequently asked about book recommendations. Mostly these are for friends who want to read a good theology book or two. Occasionally I am asked about commentaries by the more adventurous readers (and you can read a response to that here). If you’re not aware (and even if you are), there are a plethora of available modern commentaries on every book of the Bible (for the most part). Knowing what is useful within the available options is a fairly monumental task for the uninitiated.

Thankfully, Zondervan recently published (and sent my way) A Guide to Biblical Commentaries and Reference Works by John F. Evans. According to the cover, this is the 10th edition, but from what I can tell, this is the first actual published edition from Zondervan. While there are other options (notably the guides that cover Old and New Testaments separately from Baker Academic), I think this should be the new go-to for interested readers and virtually every seminary student.

It is a hefty volume in its own right, coming in at just over 450 pages. The print is small as well, so there is a plethora of information to wade through. Thankfully, there is a guide to the many symbols early on, and then an excellent introduction that not only points readers to other available commentary bibliographies, but gives an overview for evaluating commentaries.

The next section gives a thorough rundown on the available commentaries series out there. Evans is generally evaluating the series from a middle of the road conservative evangelical viewpoint. Basic distinctions are drawn out so that for instance, the reader can have a general idea of the difference between a volume in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (TOTC) and a volume in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament series (NICOT). This material alone is a significant help. Just to know what a given series aims to do within the world of biblical commentaries, apart from the next considerations that go into each and every volume in that series, is something that may not come until late in a student’s seminary studies.

For roughly the next 400 pages, Evans takes readers through the Bible book by book, shedding light on the available commentaries for each. He very helpfully includes available reviews in published journals for many of the commentaries. He also offers sections on reference works related to sections of Scripture (i.e. Pentateuchal Studies). This culminates in the terminal sections which offer a short bibliography for a bare-bones library, then an ideal basic library for a pastor, followed by the ultimate reference library of roughly 8-10 key volumes per biblical book.

While I obviously didn’t read this book cover to cover, it wasn’t meant to be used in that way anyway. It is meant to purchased by most seminary students and pastors so they can consult it before making commentaries purchases. This may be the first edition published by Zondervan but you can tell it has been honed and refined over many years leading up to this edition. And while new commentaries will continue to be published, many of the best references are already available. If you use this tools provided by this volume, you ought to be able to evaluate new commentaries more accurately and so continue to make wise use of your resources.

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An increasingly common mode of theology is retrieval. Maybe that’s not the right way to phrase it, but the idea is that we aren’t the first people to ask theological questions. Just maybe some important voices from the past can shed light on our contemporary questions. If one is merely explaining what the past voices said, it’s historical theology. If you’re drawing the historical sources into the present it’s retrieval.

Marc Cortez has done a masterful job of this in his recent Christological Anthropology In Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology. While Zondervan doesn’t want to own the fact they published this on their website, they sent me a review copy nonetheless. You’ll notice the word “anthropology” shows up in the title and the subtitle. If I were to take a stab at rewording the title to eliminate jargon, it would actually be longer than it already is. It might help though if you’re new to this type of terminology. Basically, Cortez book is a study of how past voices have understood the man Jesus Christ and how that helps us understand humanity in a theological sense.

His chosen conversation partners are:

  • Gregory of Nyssa
  • Julian of Norwich
  • Martin Luther
  • Friedrich Schleiermacher
  • Karl Barth
  • John Zizioulas
  • James Cone

The last two names are actually consider modern, and I suppose Barth is as well. Luther gives us a Reformer’s perspective and Schleiermacher and Enlightenment tinted one. Julian of Norwich gives us a medieval and mystical point of view, and Gregory of Nyssa represents the Church Fathers well.

These historical perspectives are bracketed by an introduction that explains what it means to use a Christ-centered lens for the study and a conclusion that points toward how this study can help our understanding of ourselves. For the former, Cortez explains,

In its most basic form, the fundamental intuition of a christological anthropology is that beliefs about the human person (anthropology) must be warranted in some way by beliefs about Jesus (christological). We will explore more deeply what this “in some way” actually means through these various studies. Even without a more precise explanation, through, the distinctive nature of a christological anthropology is that Christology warrants at least some anthropological claims in such a way that those claims are only true in virtue off the truth of their christological ground (20).

The two questions that then frame the study are “what does is mean to say that Christology somehow grounds anthropological claims?” And second, what issues in anthropology can such christologically oriented anthropologies meaningfully address?” (23) In the conclusion, Cortez makes a distinction between minimal and comprehensive christological anthropologies (225):

  • A minimally christological anthropology is one in which (1) Christology warrants important claims about what it means to be human and (2) the scope of those claims goes beyond issues like the image of God and ethics
  • A comprehensively christological anthropology is one in which (1) Christology warrants ultimate claims about true humanity such that (2) the scope of those claims applies to all anthropological data

He then notes that all of the case studies he worked through are the latter. Ultimately, each case study Cortez presents is from a perspective that is “convinced that a christological vision is necessary for a theologically adequate understanding of the human person,” yet also demonstrates “continued diversity within this common conviction” (232). In other words, they share a philosophical base even if they reach some varied theological conclusions. The authors are asking different questions and responding to different challenges. What Cortez suggests is that bringing these different perspectives to bear in our modern (and/or postmodern) context can be a fruitful theological project. These past theologians provide a kind of methodology that we can and should utilize in the present.

While not long, this book is fairly dense and it’s not something you’ll want to take the beach for light reading (unless you’re weird). The individual chapters can be read out of order (if you’re into that) but it is a commitment to really sit down and read a single chapter at once. I wouldn’t recommend pausing in the middle. It’s not actually that bad, I just want you prepared.

If you or someone you love is interested in studying the human person in light of theology and more importantly, Jesus Christ, this book is worth procuring. You don’t need a seminary degree to read and benefit from it, but you probably do need to be used to academic theological writing. If you are, you’ll benefit from listening to key voices from the past in order to have the tools to better understand the present (I think I said that before).

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Few theologians are doing more to revitalize theology in content and form than Kevin Vanhoozer. While I think I would recommend pretty much all of his books, his most recent Pictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church’s Worship, Witness and Wisdom, might be the best for getting acquainted with his thought.

As a collection of essays, many of which began as oral presentations, you are able to get a “snapshot” of Vanhoozer in his element, but without necessarily committing to a sustained theological argument spanning several hundred pages. His Drama of Doctrine changed my life, but it’s not for the faint of heart. And in fact, this collection of essays is for people who want to see his theodramatic systematics at work without committing to reading his “Great Pumpkin.” While not necessarily a sustained argument, it at least indirectly offers a sustained plea for “incorporation the imagination into the work of theology as a sapiential systematics” (12).

Having established all this, Vanhoozer offers a formal introduction to his collection of essays, seeing the imagination as a helping provide the metaphors by which a holy nation lives. There, he explains that his “working hypothesis throughout this book is that the church needs a biblically formed, reformed and transformed imagination in order to live out a vital faith (44). He then explains that the chapters the follow are organized like an art exhibit. Because after all, what is a Vanhoozer book without a metaphor operating at the theoretical level? He continues explaining by saying,

The reader proceeds through a foyer and then through three galleries. Each gallery contains various biblical exhibits: essays that depict various scenes of the church’s worship, witness and wisdom. Each part of the book also includes a sermon – an exercise in faithfully imagining biblical truth (44).

The promenade begins in the foyer, where I discuss certain introductory matters of “prolegomena” – suggestions for imagining biblical authority and evangelicalism – including the importance of the imagination. The first gallery focuses on the church as a royal priesthood and examines scenes of the church’s worship. The second gallery looks at the church as a school of prophets and focuses on Christian witness. The third and final gallery visits scenes that dramatically test the church’s wisdom (44).

Vanhoozer suggests that these three galleries correspond to the three offices that characterized Israel’s life as holy nation and that apply the work of Christ. In other words, prophet, priest, and king. He then provides five unifying themes as we prepare to “view” these “scenes” (45-46):

  1. A common concern for the well-being and edification of the church
  2. A concern for what it means for the church to be biblical and for theology to be a species of biblical reasoning
  3. An assumption that the unity of the Bible is a function of the divine drama of redemption that it recounts, and of which it is an ingredient
  4. A concern to rehabilitate the evangelical imagination
  5. A common goal that doctrinal theology be eminently practical, ministering understanding and vision to head, heart and hand.

With all that in mind, the essays that follow are vintage Vanhoozer. Because most were originally oral addresses, they are fairly accessible, although as a writer, Vanhoozer is generally accessible anyway. Just consider it a bonus that these essays are stand alone and easily digestible, although still thought provoking and imagination stoking. As such, you can work though the book however you please, but I went through it chapter to chapter.

Considering both Vanhoozer’s importance, and the importance of the topics he continues to address, this book is worthy of your attention. Whether you’ve never read anything by him, or read everything by him, there is still something to gain from paying attention to his work here.


Kevin Vanhoozer, Pictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church’s Worship, Witness and WisdomDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, March 2016. 327 pp. Paperback, $20.00.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!