♪ Movement of Jah People ♫: a book review

In general, commentary series are uneven in quality. A few stand-out volumes, maybe a couple disappointments but most volumes in any given series will be. . .okay. So far, the Kregel Exegetical Library has defied my expectations. This is the fourth volume I have had the privilege to review. (I’ve read the first two volumes of Allen Ross’s Psalms Commentary, and Robert Chisholm’s Judges & Ruth. Duane Garrett’s treatment of Exodus stands up to the quality of any of these excellent volumes. If this is a sign of what is to come, then Kregel’s Exegetical Library will becomes a go-to series for pastors and critically engaged confessional scholars.

Garrett’s previous publications include A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew, several intermediate and critical commentaries and a monograph on the source and authorship of Genesis. He also co-edited the NIV Archeological Study Bible. In A Commentary on ExodusGarrett brings knowledge of Egyptians history, geography and culture, helpful insights to bear on his interpretation. He provides a fresh and helpful translation which is sensitive to Hebrew poetics. After a translation (with notes) and commentary, Garrett has a ‘theological summary of key points ‘ for each passage. The level of detail here in translation and comments combined with Garrett’s theological insights makes this a useful commentary for the preaching pastor and student.

Garrett knows the importance of Exodus for biblical theology. Exodus is the theological center of the Old Testament. Not only does it have the exemplar episode of God’s deliverance in the Old Testament (the Exodus from Egypt), the book of the Covenant in Exodus 20-24 is central for understanding Deuteronomy, the history, prophets and writings of the Old Testament (138). Also, while Genesis tells the tale of individual patriarchs, Exodus tells the story of a people (137). Garrett does a great job of unfolding Exodus’s theological significance, especially in how it relates to the Wilderness wanderings of Israel.

Garrett’s introduction is highly technical and delves into Epyptian history and chronology, relevant geography, archaeology and language. He unfolds some of the issues in dating the Exodus and the location of the parting of Yam Sumph (the ‘Red Sea’ in many English translations). General readers will find this introduction detailed and perhaps too technical, but Garrett’s commentary itself is fairly accessible.

I used this commentary while preparing a sermon from Exodus. In preparation, I translated several chapters of Exodus myself before turning to Garrett’s translation and notes. I found his translation helpful and insightful. Garrett’s exegesis was also more detailed than most other commentaries I used. I found his conclusions judicious and now consider this my favorite Exodus commentary. There are only a couple of places where I felt like Garrett didn’t answer questions that arise from the text. I give this an enthusiastic five stars: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Notice of material connection, I received this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for my honest review.

Timmy Time in First Samuel: a book review

One of my favorite books of the Old Testament is Samuel. Samuel tells the story of Israel’s movement from the time of the judges to a monarchy (first Saul and then the Davidic monarchy). Far from being an apologetic for David, the author of Samuel reveals Israel’s greatest king to be a man with feet of clay. My love of the book of Samuel was perhaps birthed by Sunday School tales of David when I was a ruddy wee lad; however seminary allowed me to dig deeper in the text. I never had a formal class on Samuel but the professor who taught me biblical Hebrew and Exegesis had a Ph.D. from Cambridge where he wrote a dissertation on Samuel. The stories of Samuel, Saul and David were full of illustrative material and he drew on this book a lot. These pages taught me how to read the Bible well and I am grateful for it.

1 Samuel For You is the third commentary in the ‘For You’ series from the Good Book Company. It is the second commentary I’ve read from Tim Chester, pastor at the Crowded House in Sheffield, UK. So far this is my favorite of the lot. This may be because of my peculiar love of Samuel, but I think Chester delivers the goods here! This is a commentary which is sensitive to the historical and literary context, places Samuel in a canonical/theological frame and presents the narrative in an accessible and winsome way. This is what you want from a popular level commentary. I was pleased that in a number of places Chester picks up on the Hebrew wordplay (i.e. sa’al ‘ask’ in Hanna’s prayer in 1:20 is similar to the name Saul whom God will give to those who ask for a king; Eli collapsing under his own weight as the Glory (weight) departs from Israel in chapter 4; The wine–nebel–runs out of Nabal when he hears of the disaster his wife prevented in 25:37; etc.) These examples reveal some of the literary sophistication in Samuel. Chester does not delve exhaustively into every example of Hebrew wordplay, but often popular level commentaries do not explore it at all. So well done here!

Chester understands the genre of Samuel as ‘preached history.’  This is a historical treatment but it is also exhortative. Chester’s comments come in two parts for each passage. The first part looks closely at the text. The second part builds a bridge between the passage and the wider canonical context. Thus he draws the link between the historical David, and the ‘Son of David.’ The former was a christ–‘an annointed one.’ One of David’s descendants is the Christ–Jesus our Messiah. Chester does a good job of drawing connections in the text. If you do not spend much time in the Old Testament this commentary will help you enter into the Hebrew Bible a little deeper. This is not an exhaustive commentary (not every verse or passage is covered), but it does represent a cogent and helpful approach to this book of the Bible. I highly recommend this for personal or group study. I give it five stars.

Notice of Material Connection: I received this book from the Good Book Company via Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for my honest review.

Matthew is Not Amused: a book review

I do not attend a church that lives in the lectionary, but I do have a healthy respect for it, despite its avoidance of difficult passages. I do, however, attend a church that has lived in the gospel of Matthew, on and off, the last few years and so I figured a lectionary resource which explored the year of Matthew would be a good read. Theology from Exile Volume II: the Year of Matthew walks through the lectionary readings for year A of the Revised Common Lectionary for ‘an emerging Christianity.’ The author, Sea Raven, D.Min., is a musician, lay minister in the United Universalist denomination, an advocate of Christian spirituality and a fellow of the Westar Institute.

I don’t have a lot positive to say about this book. Admittedly, had I paid attention to who the author was and her go to theological gurus (i.e. Matthew Fox, John Shelby Spong and the Jesus Seminar), I would have known I was out of step theologically with her. I also wonder if she was born with the name Sea Raven, or took it as a pen name. And if so, I wonder what the significance of naming yourself after a bottom-feeding fish has for this particular project. I digress.  More interestingly, the author has an album of Celtic inspired harp music.

But what of this commentary? I will tell you that when I study a passage for preaching I read along a wide theological spectrum. Theologians who are more liberal than I am but are attentive to the text, have something to teach me. So do those who are more conservative. I do see the value of inhabiting the text as Midrash and  drawing out the social-justice implications (Sea Raven’s stated purpose). However too much of this book views the Bible as ahistorical and  too mythological for my tastes. Myth has power, and the Bible clearly functions as myth. But when an author repeatedly takes the line of, ‘of course it didn’t actually happen, but it is true,’ they expose their ideological commitments. Sea Raven would likely dismiss me as a hopeless biblical literalist. For my part I don’t understand how a believer in God has difficulty accepting miracles, the divine breaking through in the Incarnation of Christ, the bodily resurrection, or Christ’s return. But then I don’t look to the Jesus Seminar as representative of the best modern example of biblical scholarship.

And so I give this book one star.

Notice of Material Connection: I received this book from Speakeasy in exchange for my honest review.

 

Timmy Time With Titus: a book review

I like Tim Chester. I have read two other books by him. One was on social media, one on the theological significance of the Ascension.  I don’t agree with every aspect of his theology, but appreciate his thoughtfulness and pastoral insights. When I saw that he had a new commentary I was happy to pick it up and read it.

Chester’s commentary is called Titus For You and I think the first salient thing I can say about his subject matter is, Titus is for you (whoever you are). Titus is one of the so-called Pastoral Epistles which means we often treat it as a technical manual addressed to pastoral leaders. Chester observes that we treat these letters like they lack the ‘breathless vibrancy of the book of Acts’ because that was fading, and something structured and sensible needed to be left in its place. Of course, Titus (and Timothy) have little to teach us about church administration and are themselves full of good news (11). Plus the book of Titus  explores the ever-widening circles of relationship. Chapter one does focus on elders (i.e. leadership), Chapter two gives instructions for men and women (both young and old) slaves (Chester draws the paltry modern parallel of ’employees), and the final chapter discuss how the church should navigate the political and social reality with an eye toward the cosmic scope of the outworking of the gospel. This letter was indeed written by Paul to a young minister he was mentoring in the city of Crete. But this is not a book restricted to clergy or professional ministers. It is for you. Chester walks readers through the book section by section, exploring the message of the book and its significance for today.

This is the second time I have reviewed a book in the ‘For You’ series (see my review,Timmy Time on the Romans Road) Like the previous volume, this commentary is a non-technical commentary designed for pastors and laity alike for personal study or for those who would teach this portion of scripture. This commentary shows how to read:

  • Read– It is a guide to help you appreciate the letter.
  • Feed–It is a daily devotional to help you grow in Christ.
  • Lead– It provides notes to help you explain the book of Titus.

On the whole I really appreciated Chester’s handling of Titus. The biblical text is not duplicated in the commentary so you have to read through this with an open Bible (which is fine unless you want to grab a book and go). Occasionally I disagreed with Chester (or just didn’t think he dug deep enough), but as an accessible guide which is generally helpful, this is great. I would give this book a solid four. It would not be my ‘go-to commentary’ for Titus, but it does a great job of expounding on the message of a book too often ignored. ★★★★

Thank you to Cross Focus Reviews and the Good Book Company for providing me with a copy of this book for the purpose of this review.

A Commentary on Judges and Ruth: a book review

While Evangelicals declare that all scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16), we do not make much space for certain books of the Old Testament in worship. Take the book of Judges. Besides the Gideon and Samson stories in children’s Bibles and Sunday school lessons, Judges is left untouched by many churches. The Sunday Revised Common Lectionary has just one reading from Judges in its three year cycle (Judges 4:1-7) which highlights Deborah, the female Judge and prophetess. Of course, this is a mere fragment of the Deborah/Barak story, ignoring the main action of the chapter (the actual battle with Sisera and his destruction at the hands of Jael). The book of Ruth fairs a little better (it is not a violent book, so the RCL is less reticent to exclude it). There are two passages included in year B (not too bad for a four-chapter-book).

But the books that are most difficult for us, and feel archaic to our modern sensibilities, sometimes have the most to teach us. Robert Chisholm does a masterful job of mining the depths of Judges and Ruth and bringing homiletic insights to working preachers. I have not read Chisholm in any substansive way before, though I did reference his From Exegesis to Exposition several times in seminary. In A Commentary on Judges and RuthChisholm examines the passage through a synchronic lens, with an eye for its historical impact and literary craft. He then draws out the theological import and suggests a direction for pastors who will be preaching from the passage.

The book of Judges and Ruth occupy the same historical period in Biblical history (the time of the Judges, cf Ruth 1:1).  But their tone could not be more different. Judges describes Israel’s failure to possess the land, their repeated fall into idolatry where they ‘do evil in the eyes of the Lord,” and the way the surrounding cultures contribute the the moral decay of the nation. In the beginning of the book, when a ‘Judge’ is raised up by God in response to the people crying out and returning back to him, the Judge acts decisively to deliver the nation. Othniel (3:7-11) and Ehud (3:12-31) set the standard. However when Deborah commissions Barak to deliver the people, we see him hesitate (4:8). This hesitancy to act (or to follow) is evident in every cycle in the later part of the book (i.e. Gideon, Jepthah, Samson). When you get to Jepthah (10:6-12:15), a generally righteous judge you find that he is so affected by the surrounding culture that human sacrifice is an acceptable offering in exchange for victory (336).  Samson’s twenty year ‘rule’ is not accompanied by any sort of crying out to the LORD by the people, no one rallies around him, and he only fights the Philistines on his own whim.  The epilogue of Judges (17-21) records two episodes which evidence the moral degradation of the nation (including nationally sanctioned rape).

The tone of Ruth is much more hopeful. Naomi returns from Moab a widow who had lost her sons. Ruth, her Moabite daughter-in-law comes with her, though there is no prospect of an heir or a future for her there. When she goes to glean in the fields of Boaz, she is treated with kindness. When Naomi hears of it, she hatches a plot to get Ruth hitched. In the end Boaz marries Ruth and the two become the great grandparents of David (and she is included in the Messianic line of Jesus).

For each episode in these books, Chisholm presents a translation and narrative struture (noting the Hebrew syntax in his translation), discusses literary structure, exposits and discusses the message and application. The final section is where he draws out the exegetical and theological themes and points at homiletical trajectories. This is a tightly organized and well presented framework and it read well (which you can’t often say of higher level commentaries). Chisholm is a confessional scholar and so sits under the text. As an exegete, he has a sharp eye for the original context, and his exposition is helpful for drawing out a message for today which is faithful to the text. I also appreciated that he discusses at length in his comments, the degradation of the treatment of women throughout the book of Judges. He is cognizant of feminist critiques of Judges, even if his reading is much more conservative (i.e. he hints at Deborah’s appointment as Judge the result of the lack of male leadership. Though certainly the Hebrew scriptures attest elsewhere that God’s choice is not necessarily society’s choice). I appreciated his handling of the Ruth story as well (some of his translation notes are golden here!), but it his reading of Judges which garners my highest praise.

This is the second volume in the Kregel Exegetical Library I have reviewed (the first was Volume 1 of the Psalms by Allen Ross). On the strength of these two volumes, I think this is going to be an excellent commentary series. Both volumes have strong introductions, attentiveness to historical and literary forms and practical insights. I can’t recommend this commentary enough. So if you are preaching on Judges or just want to delve in for personal study, this is well worth the effort. I give it five stars: ★★★★★

Thank you to Kregel Academic for providing me with a copy of A Commentary on Judges and Ruth in exchange for my honest review. I was not asked to write a positive review, but sometimes, they are that good.

Timmy Time on the Romans Road: a book review

Charismatics like Corinthians, emotional people like Philippians and justice advocates like Galatians. But ‘serious theologians’ love Romans. I’m kidding, although Romans is highly significant. This is Paul at his deepest. It is no wonder that ‘Romans is a book that repeatedly changes the world by changing people” (7).  Augustine was converted from his reading of Romans, Luther came to a fresh understanding of Justification and countless others have been inspired, challenged by this Pauline Epistle.

Tim Keller has written an accessible, non-technical commentary on Romans which will help pastors and ordinary readers unearth the treasures of Paul’s most theological letter. As part of the God’s Word for You series, Romans 1-7 for You is designed for you to:

  • Read–a guide to help you appreciate the letter
  • Feed–a daily devotional to help you grow in Christ
  • Lead– Notes to help you illustrate  and explain the opening chapters of Romans

This made me think of other appropriate rhymes (‘Heed’–putting Romans into practice or ‘Weed’–using your reading of Romans to get right with God), but these three give a sense of what this book is about and how it should be read.

As this is a commentary, Keller follows the outline and shape of the book of Romans. Walking through chapter by chapter, Keller articulates the message of Romans to us: we learn the power of the gospel (1:1-17), our universal need for the gospel (1:18-3:31), how Abraham and David illustrate justification (Romansr 4), how Jesus–the second Adam–brings us salvation (Romans  5),  our identity as one united with Christ (6:1-7:6) and as people at war with sin (7:7-25).

Keller is one of my favorite pastor-theologians. He does a great job of explaining the text. I certainly appreciated walking through Romans again (reading it along side my Bible). I  think that it will serve as a helpful teachers resource for anyone seeking to hand on the truths of this Epistle. As I got to the end of the book, I was disappointed that I  have to wait to see how Keller treats the last half of Romans (which has some truly fantastic and difficult to understand stuff). I eagerly await the next installment!

 

Where this book loses  a few points for me is the Glossary. The glossary explains difficult words and concepts which illuminate what Paul (and Keller) are saying. These include Biblical terms like ‘gentiles,’ ‘circumcised’ or ‘Kingdom of God’; theological terms like ‘orthodoxy,’ or ‘doctrine’; and general words used in this book like ‘non-sequiturs,’ ‘subjective,’ or ‘perverse.’ However Keller speaks of ‘expiation,’ ‘propritiation’ and ‘federal headship.’ I think he ably describes what he means by these concepts within the text of the book itself, but a glossary which fails to describe the most technical terms is not good pedagogy (also not in the glossary).

However on the whole, I found this to be solid resource. Lay leaders, clergy and general readers can all delve into this book with benefit. There are twelve chapters which are each divided into two parts. This means you could divide this book up into 24 readings and read through it devotionally over four weeks. I give this book 4.5 stars.

Thank you to the Good Book Company and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

Gospel Transformation Bible: a bible review

The Gospel Transformation Bible is not a Study Bible, at least in the traditional sense. A team of scholars and pastors have joined together under Bryan Chappell’s and Dane Ortlund’s editorial direction to answer two questions: (1) How is the gospel evident in all of scripture? and (2) How does the gospel of grace bring about our transformation? Each of the books of the Bible have a brief introduction which describes authorship and date and how the gospel is illuminated (how it fits into the larger story of salvation). The notes on the bottom of each page, continue this dual focus on God’s larger plan of redemption and implications for our life.  Sometimes the notes are as detailed (particular books have more expansive and detailed notes). Some passages are passed over without comment (i.e. certain narratives in the Old Testament historical books do not carry much comments). The reason for this is that the notes are focused and so do not attempt to untangle every difficulty in the text (like a Study Bible would).

What is the gospel that contributors describe? It is focused on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection as God’s plan of redpemption for humanity. But Jesus did not come in a vacuum. The Bible tells the story of God’s relationship to his people and the First Testament anticipates Christ’s coming. Thus the contributors to this volume, read the Bible Christologically (yet sensitively).

Some great scholars and interpreters have contributed to this Bible. Among them are Michael Horton (Joshua), V. Philips Long (1-2 Samuel),  Bruce Ware (Psalms),  Graeme Goldsworthy (Jeremiah, Lamentations), Bryan Chapell (Daniel), Frank Thielman (Matthew), R. Kent Huges (1-2 Timothy) and more. Because some of the scholars are more scholarly and others more pastoral, there is a lack of consistency from book to book.  Each of these individual interpreters give their particular spin on the gospel implications of a passage or book, though they share a broad agreement on the gospel.

Scot Mcknight argued in The King Jesus Gospel (Zondervan 2011) that certain evangelicals have reduced the gospel to the message of personal salvation, rather than describing how Jesus fulfills the hopes of Israel. In general I would say that most of the interpreters in this volume are not guilty of McKnight’s charge. They have attended to the wider biblical story and not just the ‘order of salvation.’ However there are occasional lapses. For example, Daniel Doriani’s notes on James reduce the book’s gospel value to illustrating our inability to enact ‘true religion,’ driving us back to the grace of Christ. I would say that James carries social implications (care of widows and orphans) which make the gospel manifest. The gospel in James should not be reduced to the level of personal sin (only). But this is one example. At other points, I think the notes are brilliant and illuminating.

Another feature I appreciate about this Bible, is the use it makes of the ESV cross-reference system.  Following these cross references sheds light on particular themes and I find that helpful.  Purchasing the Bible in print gives you access to the Bible online (it is easier to access cross-references if you don’t have to flip through pages for every verse). This makes this a very practical choice for personal study.

In general I am pretty happy with the quality of this Bible. The notes are not always perfect (some interpreters are more perfect than others), but the inspiration of the Bible does not extend to marginal notes. I appreciate how well executed the final product is. And I absolutely loved finding Phil Long’s contribution (on Samuel). Long was my professor for two classes of Exegesis at Regent College (neither of which focused on Samuel, but because it is an area of some expertise I heard plenty of Samuel examples). From Phil I learned to read Old Testament narrative sensitive to its narrative craft, its historical value and theological import.  I like having some of his practical insights in print form.

I give this Bible 4 stars and would recommend it for personal study. I am not a huge fan of ‘study Bibles,’ but the unique features and perspectives of this Bible make it a valuable contribution.

Thank you to Crossway for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.