Charting Paul’s Life and Ministry: a book review

This is the second book in the Kregel Charts of the Bible series I have reviewed for my blog.  The previous volume focused on a particular book (Hebrews).  Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul explores what we know of Paul in Acts and his Epistles and delves into his theology. Because this book doesn’t focus on one New Testament book, it does not have the focus that Bateman’s Hebrews charts did; however Lars Kierspel does a great job of providing an overview of Paul. In 111 charts, Kierspel organizes and presents information about Paul’s Greco-Roman context, information about his life and ministry, the purpose and content of various letters, and the theological themes developed throughout the Pauline corpus.

The charts are organized under four headings. “Paul’s Background and Context” discusses Paul’s first century context (charts 1-9). In this section, Kierspel summarizes pertinent information about Roman political and social life, Greco-Roman religion, and first century Judaism and how these contexts inform Paul’s life. In Part 2, “Paul’s Life & Ministry,” Kierspel looks at Paul’s life, his various missionary journeys, the cities he visited and the men and women he interacted with (charts 1-34).  Included in this section are charts illustrating Paul’s miracles, prayers and speeches, as well as comparisons between the portrait of Paul in Acts versus the Epistles.  Part three (charts 35-77), “Paul’s Letters,” examines the epistles and records information on Pauline authorship, his literary sources and structure, OT and intertestamental allusions, Pauline vocabulary, and provides ‘snapshots’ of each letter. The final section, “Paul’s Theological Concepts,” traces various themes through Paul’s teaching (78-111).  These include theological concepts (i.e. Christology, Pneumatology, Soteriology, etc.) as well as Paul’s teaching on ethics, virtue and vice, men and women, and slavery. The final two charts summarize modern Jewish views of Paul and compare and contrast old and “new perspectives” on Paul.

I like the concept of these chart books for several reasons. Most of the information in these books can be found in good commentaries, but charts make the information available at a quick glance. They are a good pedagogical-aid for teachers and a good study-tool for the rest of us. When I am studying a book of the Bible, I find charts and tables useful tools for organizing information and tracing concepts through a book.  These charts will be useful to anyone who wants to get a deeper grasp of Pauline theology.  Of course there are limitations to this format  Not everything about Paul is charted and I thought there could be more exploration of contemporary theology than Kierspel does here, but these are charts and so are by necessity brief. Mostly this volume is just great at parsing historical and exegetical data, meaning regardless of  your theological perspective, whether it be old or new, wrong or Wright, you will find this book a helpful resource.

Some of my personal favorite charts include:

  • Parallels between Acts and the Pauline Corpus (11)
  • Differences between Acts and the Pauline Corpus (12)
  • All Women Mentioned By and Around Paul (22)
  • Paul’s Prayers (27)
  • Hapa Legomena in Paul’s Letters (43)
  • Key Words in Romans (54)
  • Metaphors of Salvation (86)
  • Participation with Christ (87)
  • Virtues in Paul’s Letters (100)

 

I give this book four stars and commend it to you as a helpful resource for understanding Paul’s theology.

 

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

 

 

Long Have I Desired To Look Upon the Kings of Old (a commentary review)

1 Kings: An EP Study Commentary by John A. Davies

“Fear not!” said a strange voice behind him. Frodo turned and saw Strider, and yet not Strider; for the weather-worn Ranger was no longer there. In the stern sat Aragorn son of Arathorn, proud and erect, guiding the boat with skilful strokes; his hood was cast back, and his dark hair was blowing in the wind, a light was in his eyes: a king returning from exile to his own land.

“Fear not!” he said. “Long have I desired to look upon the likenesses of Isildur and Anárion, my sires of old. Under their shadow Elessar, the Elfstone son of Arathorn of the house of Valandil Isildur’s son, heir of Elendil, has nought to dread!” [Fellowship of the Ring,

As  Aragorn  looks at the likeness of the ancient kings  in The Fellowship of the Ring, we get one of our first inklings that he is someone with a destiny. In the same way, when we revisit the record of the kings of Israel we discover a picture of clay-footed-kings and the God they served. Each of the kings pictured  failed to walk humbly with their God(consistently) and remain faithful to the covenant;  yet God was faithful to them, honoring his covenant with their ancestor David and calling all of Israel’s King’s to repentance.

The book of 1 Kings opens with the story of Israel’s third king, Solomon, when his father David was an old man. Solomon is crowned King to prevent his half brother’s attempt to take the throne and he quickly works to consolidate  power. Initially he enjoys God’s blessing on his reign. At his best Solomon was a type of ‘new Adam’ restoring God’s people to covenant faithfulness and blessing the whole earth; however, he had his shadow side and he led the nation into idolatry and taxed the nation heavily for the building of his own palace and reputation. When his son Rehoboam succedeed him, he did not alter his father’s policies and that caused eleven of the tribes to follow Jeraboam in the North instead(the kingdom of Israel). While Israel was wrested from Rehoboam’s grasp, for the sake of David, God kept a king on the throne in Jerusalem to rule over the tribe of Judah. When the book of 1 Kings ends, four kings after Solomon have sat on Judah’s throne and four different dynasties have ruled in Israel.

The Evangelical Press Study Commentary series purports to bring together some of the best biblical scholarship from a Reformed perspective to produce a commentary that is both comprehensive and practical.  They present a careful analysis of the biblical text and a simple application for daily life.  This is a commentary aimed at pastors, theologians and laypeople alike, which means them an ideal mid-level commentary. They delve into the depths of the passage while remaining accessible to the non-specialist.

If John Davies commentary on 1 Kings is representative of the series, than this commentary series is well worth it. Davies translation and verse by verse commentary is sensitive to literary structure, the grammar and the historical context of Kings. While many Kings commentaries from a generation ago concentrated on ‘the world behind the text’ (the community that produced the narrative), Davies offers a close reading of the text we have, attending to the nuances in the text. He explores where Hebrew language sheds light on the meaning of the narrative (though does not get unnecessarily mired in syntax). He  also provides an analysis of  the Ancient Near East and places the story of Israel’s kings within the wider story of the Canon (building on Deuteronomy and coming to fruition in the New Testament).  Having studied Kings at length in the past I was impressed with Davies insights and the way he picked on some of the subtleties  in the narrative.  For example, he critiques Solomon along the way demonstrating that chapter 11 is not a dramatic reversal of Solomon’s earlier character but we have had intimations of his failure in devotion along the way. Likewise he picks up on the ambiguities in the Elijah narrative and his slowness to anoint a successor as Yahweh commanded. Davies also provides key insight into the connection with worship, idolatry and political life in ancient Israel (i.e. Elijah’s slaughtering of 950 prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, erode Israel’s alliance with Phoenecia, magnifying the crises that Ahab faces in1 Kings 20). There are some real gems in Davies comments which surprised and opened up new insights for me.

My one small disappointment with this commentary is that Davies introduction lasts about a page and a half. I appreciate fuller introductions from commentators which fill in some of the theology, structure and themes of the book. Granted the commentary itself will discuss the same information at length but a good introdcution gives you a starting point and a frame of reference for study. It isn’t as though Davies doesn’t have a wealth of information (the commentary is 464 pages)  but you will find it with in his comments not in the front matter of the books. This makes this book useful for verse by verse study or for examining a particular passage, but less helpful as a general reference.

This is a great commentary on 1 Kings and has whetted my appetite not only for what else this series of commentaries has to offer but for the completion of the story in 2 Kings. If you are studying, preaching or are  just shopping for a good commentary on 1 Kings, this is a great option. My go to commentator for Kings is Iain Provan’s (an Old Testament professor of mine) but Davies brings similar sensibility and insight. So gaze with Davies on the Kings of old and discover that despite their and our failure, the covenant God is faithful to his promise to us.

Thank you to Cross Focused Reviews and to Evangelical Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.  No one from Middle Earth was harmed in writing this review.

I Swear Being A Christian is the Best: Alternative Christian Cusswords and How to Use Them

BleepOnce upon a time Christians watched their language. Armed with scriptures like Ephesians 4:29 we knew that ‘no unwholesome talk should come out of our mouth” and that never, under any circumstances should we take the Lord’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7). Alternative cusswords abounded, nothing too crass, or cutting, but otherwise ‘safe’ lists of mild oaths. This is how hell became heck and other close sounding words were born (frick, frickin’, shoot, etc). Rather than shout God or Jesus in anger, many opted to misuse the names of other gods (Great Zeus!) or replaced it with nonsense phrases like (Golly, egad, geez, Gadzooks!). The problem with all these ‘cuss words’ is they weren’t much better and made the speaker sound like they escaped from Archie comics.

Now there are Christians who like to swear. They think nothing of dropping an occasional f-bomb or talkin’ some crazy $h!t. I know pastors and speakers who will swear in sermons, mostly for effect and to get a reaction out of people. The first few times they swear from the pulpit, it actually is amazingly effective; then they sound just like everyone else.

I’m not personally disturbed by much bad language, some of which I think is just the parlance of our times. Certainly people can be overly crass and their language can be too sexualized or harmful, but the occasional swearer doesn’t bother me much. I’m perhaps a little more sensitive about it now that I am the father of young children that repeat everything they hear. Sometimes when I’m walking down the road with my jogging stroller and neighbors are speaking loudly and crassly, I wince a little. It seems impolite to not respect other people’s kids (unless there are an inordinate amount of people with tourette’s in my neighborhood, than I apologize for my insensitivity).

So what is a Christian to do? Certainly we get angry and need to be able to express our frustrations. But we also need to be careful with what we say. So here is my guidlines on how we as Christians can be better swearers:

  1. Don’t swear at people, swear with people.  In the sermon on the mount, Jesus had these words to say to his disciples, “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca, is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:22). I think a lot of the problem with ‘bad language’ in the Bible comes from the way we label people, curse them and dismiss them. This is wrong and should stop, no matter how great your language is.  On the other hand using language to identify with people and connect with people, isn’t so bad.
  2. Tame your Tongue! Jesus’ favorite brother talks about the need to make sure our language reflects our  commitment to God and the type of life he’s calling us to, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.  Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water (James 3:9-12).”  There is not a list here of approved words or phrases for daily use, but I personally know when I’ve crossed the line in the way I describe a neighbor or when I say something harmful to my Spirit or others. We need to cultivate a sensitivity to our own words and how they affect us and others.
  3. Don’t demean God! This is the big one! Right in the 10 commandments it says not to misuse God’s name (Exodus 20:7). Certainly this includes using any of the names of the Triune God as a cuss word. I think it also warns us about being cavalier in the ways we invoke God’s name ( i.e. honoring Him with our lips when our hearts are somewhere else). So with these guidelines, how’s a Christian supposed to cuss? Lucky for you I have more to say!
  4. Be Creative. I think one of the biggest problems with traditional cuss words is overuse. They have become mundane and lack force, the rest of the list will help you tune up your cussing muscle (cusscle?).
  5. Go Greek and Hebrew. One way to become a better cusser is to learn the crass words and innuendo of the Bible which are sometimes cleaned up in English translations. For example in Phillipians 3:8, Paul says, “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider themrubbish, that I may gain Christ.” Most English translations say ‘rubbish’ or some near synonym (garbage). A more literal translation, to put it crudely, is “Shit.”  You can transliterate the Greek as skybala. Try shouting that the next time someone cuts you off on the freeway. There are other crass words in the bible , but I don’t want to spoil your fun. These are best found as you get deep in  BS (Bible study).
  6. Go Festive.  We love our holidays and traditions and while many of these are religious holidays they do provide us with many alternative non-blasphemous cuss words. My current favorite is, “O Tannebaum”  (the German version of O Christmas tree) as an expression of utter and total disgust.  If you do it right, you may have the perfect mild expletive for every occasion. Plan ahead for the holiday seasons!
  7. Say, “God Darn.”  Thus far I have restrained the urge to give you a list of particular cuss words you should say, but I think this could be a good one. “Gosh darn it” was sort of the cleaned up version of saying, “God damn it.” Gosh is a perversion of God’s name to avoid saying it in vain (though it is still demeaning him). When you say, “damn it” you are saying, “Condemn it to destruction.” When you use the phrase, “God damn” toward a person,  you are literally cursing that person to hell.  You shouldn’t say that, because your words really matter. Instead say “God darn it.” Why? Because darn means to mend ( like ‘darning socks). So when you say “God darn it” you are not speaking nonsense, or saying, “to Hell with you!” What you doing is praying that God would take the situation, the person, this moment of utter frustration and mend it. So say “God darn it” and your cussing transcends cursing and becomes a prayer for restoration and wholeness. Say it enough and. . .World Peace.   Wouldn’t that be nice?

So this is my list? What are your thoughts on “Christian cusswords” or “ways Christian’s should (or should not) cuss?

A Commentary on the Psalms: a book review

Psalms v1 Ross I was particularly excited about reviewing A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 1 (1-41), part of the Kregel Exegetical Library. The Psalms are the book of the Bible I have spent the most time investigating both academically and personally. I’ve studied the Psalms to have them shape my prayer life and collect thoughtful commentaries, devotionals, studies and introductions to the Psalms. So Allen Ross’s commentary looked interesting to me and wanted to see what insights he gleaned from his years of study in the psalms.

But another reason that makes this book appeal to me is that it is written by Allen P. Ross. In seminary, his Introducing Biblical Hebrew was the text that laid the foundation of what I know of Hebrew grammar and syntax. So in a way I feel like Ross is one of the guys that really opened up the Hebrew scriptures for me in a fresh way and I wanted to see what he did here.

This commentary did not disappoint me. Ross represents some of the best critically engaged confessional scholarship today. Bringing his knowledge of Hebrew to bear on the text, he translates, notates the text critical issues and makes judicious judgments on the text. Sensitive to elements of Hebrew poetics, psalm genres and life setting of the psalms he draws on a wide range of scholarship, presenting his commentary on the passage in the form of an expository outline on the text and offers brief comments on each psalm’s message and application.

But despite his obvious scholarship, what sets this book apart from other high level critical commentaries, is its readability. Ross is able to craft a commentary which is accessible to the laity and working pastor, but also one that is engaged in scholarly literature and discussion. If you’ve sat down and read commentaries cover to cover, you know that this can be a rare combination.

There are other things I liked. The commentary focuses on book 1 of the Psalms which is full of Psalms of David, royal psalms, personal laments, prayers for victory in battle and didactic hymns. Ross does a good job making this relevant to the modern Christian and his expository outlines give me a little bit of the flavor of how a passage might preach (as an occasional preacher, I like this). But before he comments on the individual psalms, he also has several introductory articles on the whole psalms which discuss the value of the psalms, their headings, the history of interpretation, the interpretation of biblical poetry, literary forms and functions, theology of the psalms and his method of exposition. A lot of this is drawn from other literature I have on my shelf, but Ross does such a good job of summarizing other commentators and representing their insights accessibly. This makes it ideal for a student of the psalms.

What Ross offers in terms of his exegetical work is a careful, attentive reading of the biblical text. I have other commentators on my shelf whose exegesis is more creative and engaging than Ross is. They challenge me to think about the text in new ways, but I disagree with them more. What I get from Ross is a more consistent and solid interpretation, often favoring a traditional understanding (i.e. he accepts the superscriptions as reliable unless a compelling reason dictates that he shouldn’t and reads carefully not suggestively). That isn’t to say that I agree with Ross on every point (or any other commentator for that matter), but I appreciate his style and attentiveness.

This is a helpful addition to the pastor’s or student’s library. I recommend this highly and look forward to the release of the next couple of volumes.

Thank you to Kregel Publications for providing me with a copy of this commentary in exchange for this review.

Why Evangelicals don’t do confession.

If you had the will or inclination to comb through the Christian blogosphere yesterday you would have seen many Lenten and Ash Wednesday reflections about Sin, Confession and our mortality. Many have observed, and to which I add my voice, that among current Evangelicals there is a discomfort with confession and penitence. I preached a sermon a couple of years back on Psalm 51 and observed that our discomfort with sin, is really discomfort with talking about our own sin and confessing it. My friend Axel tweeted yesterday, “Why does penitence seem so foreign to evangelicals now? It’s certainly in the Bible!” I tweeted back that evangelicals no longer read their bibles, a fact of which we are in sad agreement.

So if we can agree that confession of sin is something that is part of the biblical (and Christian) spiritual life, why don’t we do it?
I can think of several cultural factors which contribute to us getting honest with God and one another about our sin:

1. We’ve over-corrected our bad evangelism

    Years ago Evangelicals thought the way to get people see their need is to show people how bad they were (because otherwise why would they want a God?). There is a certain internal logic to this and people do come to Christ being brought by the Spirit under conviction of Sin. Unfortunately preachers and evangelists have seen fit to do the Spirit’s work and have employed every method they know how to make people feel guilty, sinful and rotten to the core. Evangelicals today look at some of these methods as manipulation, judgmental and they cringe and rightfully so. Unfortunately this has signaled a retreat in addressing personal sin, almost all together.

2. We live in a self-help, therapeutic culture.

    Most of us have not read I’m Okay, You’re Okay but we have imbibed its message (I think, I haven’t read it). Our culture is infatuated with helping people achieve their best, be their best, be comfortable in their own skin and follow their bliss. And the church follows. Do you want to write a Christian book that no one will read? Write about holiness or write about repentance. It won’t make the Christian best sellers list. What does? Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now and books of that ilk. Whatever the merits of books like that are (I don’t know I haven’t read them) they are written to appeal to our longing for self fulfillment but do not face our weaknesses.

3. The church has a leadership fetish.

    Everywhere you look there are books, conferences, speakers, personalities which tell us how to be effective and successful leaders. You can take tests which gage your strengths, your Emotional intelligence, your gifts, your leadership style. I have taken some of these tests and read a lot of leadership books and see their value, but they don’t tell the whole story. Tom Rath’s Strength Finder 2.0 urges you to play to your strengths and leadership and not spend all your time and energy developing your ‘weak areas.’ There is a certain logic to this, but when applied to our moral life and character it is deadly.

4. We live in a culture of tolerance .

    The motto of our current culture is: different strokes for different folks. Nobody wants to be seen as intolerant and judgmental of other people’s decisions (unless they infringe on us personally) so we have grown accustom to not addressing issues of sin in our culture. Is it any wonder that we do not recognize the sin of our own heart?

5. But this is who I am and it feels right

    Without starting a debate on my blog on hotly debated political and theological issues the assumption that activities that feel natural should always be enjoyed is flawed. We live in a culture where personal preferences and desires exert a tyrannical rule over our lives. We all want the freedom to pursue the things we enjoy, but a disordered desire always takes us down a tangled path. With the wider culture, evangelicals have lost the ability to name internal sin. We are still good at pointing out when someone has crossed the line, but we have grown lousy at naming the ways our own passions bring us to ruin.

Put together is it any wonder that evangelicals no longer give much thought to penitence? Certainly there are issues and emphases in the history of evangelicalism that we are wise to not repeat, but naming our own sins is not one of them. As you enter this season what are you doing to reign in the sin of your own heart?

Nothing of Substance to Say

Blank stareI have just finished up editing my two sermons for tomorrow and excited about them. Beware a preacher who is excited about what he has to say! Then again: beware a preacher who is not excited about what he has to say! As I have pressed into the meaning of the transfiguration and the transforming power of the Gospel (as described in Ephesians:1-7) God has wowed me and I am encouraged and hungry for more of his presence and transforming power. My hope is that my hearers catch my excitement!

So obviously I think I have something of substance to say, but not here and not today. Instead I thought I would give y’all a heads up on what I will be posting here in the weeks ahead:

    -I’ll link these sermons I’ve blogged on, when they are posted online.
    -Expect more book reviews, starting with the book I will be using as my prayerbook through lent
    -Speaking of Lent, I will take this season to press into the nature of sin and hope to blog my thoughts on the subject and interacting with writings of contemporary authors, desert saints, and puritans (or if you have any other suggestions, happy to oblige)
    -In the same vein, I will blog the so called penitential psalms
    -Expect to see some more of my commentary, my cranky cynicism and small graces

Stay tuned, sooner or later I will have something substantive to say.

Moore of Jesus in My Heart (A Book Review)

Straight to the Heart of Matthew Phil MoorePhil Moore may be a new name to you. It was for me when I signed up to review a commentary in the Straight to the Heart series. Any Londoners reading this review feel free to fill in biographical data if you think I missed something but here is what I got: Phil Moore is the pastor of Queens Road Church in Wimbledon, London, a Bible teacher and evangelist for the Newfrontiers family of churches (basically charismatic evangelical churches) and author of the Straight to the Heartseries I am reviewing. In this series of commentaries Phil Moore weds his passion for God’s word with a keen ability to communicate and challenge you on your faith journey.

Each of the commentaries in the series are divided into 60 ‘bitesize chunks’ making it an ideal format for daily devotional reading.
There are several volumes now available Genesis, Moses, Matthew, John, Acts, Romans, I&II Corinthians, Revelations from Kregel Publications (in the UK, Phil Moore also has a volume on I&II Samuel). I was able to read and review the Matthew volume. [Note, these commentaries are published by Monarch Books in the UK and distributed by Kregel in North America].

In Straight to the Heart of Matthew, Moore counters the popular storybook image of Jesus as ‘long-haired and blue-eyed…tame and domesticated.’ He argues that Jesus was a much more radical and incendiary figure. Announcing that Jesus was ‘King’ and his ‘Kingdom was coming’ was heard as a direct challenge to Caesar and Roman rule. But he also took aim at the religious establishment and where they failed to adequately enact God’s agenda in the world.

Central to Phil Moore’s interpretation is the Matthew that allegedly wrote the gospel. Matthew(Levi) was an eager employee of the Roman Empire who abandoned his post to follow King Jesus. He wrote this gospel so that you and I would do the same. Moore structures his commentary around Matthew’s internal structure (a prologue, Five acts composed of Jesus’ teaching blocks and subsequent action, and epilogue).

Moore’s personal style and illustrations bring the reader into a fresh encounter with Jesus and the message of this gospel. He is not content at merely describing what the gospel meant, but articulating what difference it makes to your life. So while this is a commentary, it is written in a relevant and challenging way aimed at connecting the Gospel to our lives.

But isn’t that just like Tom Wright’s for Everyone Commentaries? Yes, it is. I read through this commentary with Matthew for Everyone close at hand so I could compare the two. There is certainly some overlap in style and content. Here are some things I see that are similar:

    – Both are highly readable and engaging, full of illustrations and personal stories.
    -Both authors are trying to do responsible exegesis of the text. I trust Wright more, but Moore illuminates aspects of Matthew’s gospel and gave me fresh insights.
    -Neither of these commentaries or series are scholarly works (despite Wright’s scholarly status) and thus will not necessarily untangle every thorny issue in the text. This has to do with the limits of the genre. They tell you what difference the gospel makes for your life, but sometimes a more detailed commentary can help you sort out what the text is actually saying.
    -Both commentaries give you a picture of how the passage would ‘preach.’

Despite these similarities there are important differences as well. Obviously Phil Moore and N.T. Wright’s exegesis does not agree on every point. Moore is more in line with classical Evangelical theology while Wright is more apt to question conventional assumptions. As a pastor and evangelist I think Moore may be better than Wright at connecting the Word with everyday life. However Wright is much better at describing the Jesus story and the first century context. They both do an admirable job of exegesis and connecting it to life; yet their personal and professional strengths are evident in their writing as well.

For the most part, Moore’s reflections are based in a careful and close reading of the text. Occasionally he uses the text as pretext to talk about something else (a point of doctrine, the value of learning apologetics, etc). At these points he is using the text more than sitting under it, and his reflections are not as rooted (or if they are, not in Matthew). I think it is legitimate to read a text evocatively as long as you aren’t misusing the text for your own end; however in a commentary I think it is more valuable to your readers to remain under the text. I don’t think Moore wanders far or often, but he does wander.

This small caveat aside, I would recommend this book for devotional use. I found it personally challenging as I seek to live out the life of discipleship. So if you are shopping for a devotional commentary on one of the gospels I commend this volume to you. Thank you to Kregel Publications for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.