It’s Unclobbering Time!- a book review

When I hear the word clobber, I  always think of  Ben Grimm—the rock-giant dubbed “The Thing” from the pages of Fantastic Four. Ben would arrive on the scene in his blue Speedo, pummel the hoards of evil henchmen and shout, “It’s Clobbering Time!” Ben Grimm or his speedo has very little to do with the book I’m reviewing here.  Colby Martin’s Unclobber was not written as an answer to comic book violence, but to the so-called clobber passages—the six passages in the Christian Bible that directly address homosexuality used by conservatives to prove the sinfulness of the gay lifestyle.

unclobberMartin is the founding pastor of Sojourn Grace Collective , a progressive Christian community in San Diego; yet Martin didn’t start out as a progressive. He grew up conservative  and was ordained as the worship arts pastor at a conservative evangelical Bible church. However, he became increasingly uncomfortable with the traditional view of the LGBTQ community as his passion for justice, mercy and grace grew. Then his tenure at the church ended  because of one Facebook post.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed and Martin expressed joy on social media for what he felt was the end of a discriminatory policy. This sent shock waves through his faith community. Martin was called on the carpet and asked whether or not he believed homosexuality was a sin. He presented the elders with a ten-page paper explaining his position and reading of Scripture. He was fired even though his church had never taught publicly on homosexuality. In the aftermath, the clobber passages were quoted to him ad naseum.

Unclobber is one part memoir and one part exegetical survey. The even-numbered chapters walk through the clobber passages, unclobbering them, and providing an affirming interpretation; the odd chapters describe Martin’s journey from conservative pastor to LGBTQ ally. Martin is still very much evangelical, the Bible bleeds into his story, and his testimony informs his reading of scripture. Martin wrote this book for anyone who has felt the dissonance between head and heart in their response to the LGBT community (i.e. believing the Bible clearly teaches homosexuality is a sin, but feeling affirming toward for LGBTQ neighbors and uncomfortable with some judgmental rhetoric).

Martin is an attentive reader of scripture and it is his reading of the Bible which leads him to the affirming position (when he is fired from the church, he doesn’t actually have any close gay friends). In his handling of the clobber passages he engages in narrative and canonical criticism of Genesis 19 (the one narrative clobber passage), historical criticism, rhetorical criticism and linguistic analysis. The clobber passages Martin discusses are Gen 19, Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10.

I like this book, in part because I like memoirs of pastors getting fired. They make me feel good. Martin’s story is a compelling read, he is funny and vulnerable. Martin also makes several strong cases in his handling of the clobber passages. He does a good job demonstrating Genesis 19 (the destruction of Sodom) has little to say about homosexuality (i.e. gang rape and inhospitality are much bigger issues in the text). He ascribes the Levitical prohibitions to a cultural, covenantal moment where Israel (possibly just the Levites) were  instructed on how to be radically different from the nations by repudiating Canaanite practices (many of the Levitical restrictions no longer apply to us, or at least not in the same way). He sets the Romans passage within the larger argument of the epistle and asserts it is possibly a Jewish quotation which Paul uses rhetorically before addressing where his Jewish readers likewise fall short of the glory of God.  With the other epistles, he discusses the nature of arkenokites and malakos  (the active and passive members of a male gay relationship, or prostitute and the John?) as describing a type of homosexual practice which bears little resemblance to committed, monogamous same-sex relationships. He opens up the possibility that some types of homosexuality are condemned in scripture, though not all.

Martin doesn’t dismiss these clobber passages, so much as offer an account of them which is self-consciously inclusive and gracious. I appreciate his commitment to wrestling with the scriptures he finds difficult rather than simply jettisoning the hard stuff. But conservatives and traditional interpreters won’t likely find Martin’s arguments compelling. He traverses similar ground similar to other pro-LGBTQ hermeneutical approaches (i.e. William Countryman, Dale Martin, Matthew Vines) which conservatives are well aware of. Occasionally I found his arguments convoluted (especially in the case of Romans). I also felt like Martin did a better job with the Old Testament passages than he did with interpreting the Pauline Epistles. Still, this remains an intelligent case for reading the Bible inclusively  from a Bible-believing cisgender, heterosexual pastor. You don’t see that everyday.

This is a worthwhile read whether you agree with Martin’s biblical interpretation or not. Conservative Christians ought to examine these clobber passages and discover what they say (or don’t say) about sexual orientation and gender. To that end, Martin is a good dialogue partner because he takes the Bible seriously and engages these texts. LGBTQ allies will appreciate Martin’s story and commitment to understanding the Gospel of Grace inclusively. Those on the fence will find plenty of food for thought. So put on your blue Speedo and attack this book. “It’s Unclobbering time!” I give it four stars ☆☆☆☆

Note: I received a galley copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

The Post-Consumer Bible: a ★★★★★ book review

Glenn Paauw observes that the Bible is not only the best selling book of all time, it is also the best selling book every single year (13). There are Study Bibles with shiny new notes and cross references; there are patriotic Bibles, ‘wilderness’ Bible’s, and a host of other Bibles for every variety of our Chicken Soup souls. Yet despite the ubiquity of the Bible, there is not a ‘deep awareness of the themes, stories and truths of the Bible’ (ibid). We tend to read the Bible in increasingly atomistic ways—mining the text for timeless truths totally disconnected from biblical history, canon and context. Scripture Mcnuggets™.

5124In Saving the Bible From Ourselves, Paauw aims at a recovering a “big reading” of Scripture:

My core argument is  that for most of us, most of the time, small readings prevail over big readings. “Small” and “big” refer to more than the length of the passage we take in. I define small readings as those diminished samplings of Scripture in which individuals take in fragmentary bits outside of the Bible’s literary, historical, and dramatic contexts. Also implicated here is a corresponding meager soteriology—that narrow, individualistic, and escapists view of salvation so common among Christians. (11).

In contrast, big readings result when “communities engage natural segments of text, or whole books , taking full account of the Bible’s various contexts” resulting in an “apprehension of the story’s goal in a majestic regeneration that is as wide as God’s good creation”(12).  Paauw aims at moving us beyond our highly individualized consumption of ‘Scripture Mcnuggets,’ and welcomes us to the feast of Scripture.

Paauw presents his argument in the form of a chiasm (making this book one long chiastic utterance). Here is a look at the overall structure:

The Elegant Bible (chapters 1-2)

The Feasting Bible (chapters 3-4)

The Historical Bible (chapter 5-6)

The Storiented Bible (chapters 7-9)

The Earthy Bible ( chapters 10-11)

The Synagogue Bible (chapters 12-13)

The Iconic Bible (chapters 14-15) (p.19).

Chapters one and two describe the ‘Elegant Bible.’ Paauw traces how Study Bibles and Chain Reference Bibles, and the like, suffer from biblio-clutter, distracting readers from the words of Scripture in favor of  the commentary. Even chapter numbers and headings divide the text and distract us from engaging the world of Scripture. Paauw argues for an  “extreme Bible makeover”—a Bible excised of distractions, highlighting the words and message of the text.

Chapters three and four describe the need to move beyond our tendency to snack on the Bible (i.e. ripping positive, encouraging verses from context to apply them to our own individual lives). Paauw warns:

Modern consumers are individuals first and foremost, centered on their ability to make choices as independent, self-determining entities. Since most people don’t buy what they don’t want to hear, this filter prevents our constant search for pleasant verses and favorite passages from ever introducing us to the real Bible. We too easily end up seeing a Cheshire-cat-Bible—all smiles and no body. We find encouragement, but no correction, we heap blessing on blessing and promise on promise but fail to be challenged. This fragmented Snacking Bible fails us, because we have prevented the Bible from being what it is, and turned the Bible into something it is not. How can the Bible possibly do its work? (61).

Against fast-food- Bible-conumption, Paauw invites us to feast on the totality of Scripture. In chapters five and six, Paauw tackles how our dualistic  search for ‘timeless truths’  obscures the ‘time-full’ historicized Bible which speaks to our past, present and future and God’s actions in the lives of His people.

The centerpiece of the book is “The Storiented Bible” described in chapters seven to nine. Paauw urges us towards a historical and genre sensitive reading of scripture which has an eye on the Big Story, and our place in it. This involves a canonical sensitivity to the big picture,  reading whole books of the Bible and a commitment to live in creative fidelity to Scripture’s grand narrative.

Paauw revisits his earlier themes in the latter half of the book. The historicized Bible is “the Earthly Bible” immersed in the particularities of earthy life (chapters ten and eleven). The privatized “Snacking Bible” gives way to the communal engagement of the Synogogue Bible (chapters twelve and thirteen). The cluttered ugly and over-complicated TMI Bible, gives way to the elegant Iconic Bible (chapters fourteen and fifteen). Paauw makes a strong case for us to recover the particularlity of the Bible,  the communal context of Bible reading, and to make the words of Scripture beautiful again.

Paauw is not alone in his call for us to revolutionize our engagement with the Bible. He draws on the work of N.T. Wright, Christopher Smith, Peter Enns to help us move beyond our atomized biblicism to the big story. He has given us an engaging, well written case for enlarging the Biblical frame and offers a strong critique of ‘biblical aids’ (i.e. Study Bibles, devotionals, cross references) which distract us from the Word of God itself. I highly recommend this book for anyone. Students of the Bible in Bible College or seminary would do well to imbibe Paauw’s perspective. As would pastors and regular lay folk. This is a popular level biblical hermeneutic An enthusiastic five stars. ★★★★★

Note: I received this book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.

Reading Barth with Charity: a book review

Certainly George Hunsinger is a charitable reader of Barth. You’d suspect so. He is well known as a Barth scholar and has been president of the Karl Barth Society of North America since 2003.  He knows Barth’s theology well and the subsequent literature on Barth.  However Reading Barth with Charity: a Hermeneutical Proposal takes aim at several less charitable readings. Namely, Hunsinger takes on the Neo-Barthian revisionists for misrepresenting Barth’s theology and then calling Barth ‘inconsistent.’ At issue is whether or not Barth believes, as classic theists do, that the Trinity is the antecedent to the election of Jesus Christ or subsequent to it. The revisionists say that the category of Christ’s election is of preeminent importance in Barth  and therefore gives shape to the economic Trinity. So Hunsinger takes on the major revisionists: Bruce McCormack, Paul Nimmo, and Paul Daffyd Jones.

In his introduction, Hunsinger summarizes what he means by reading with charity. What he is arguing for is a reading which seeks to understand Barth’s point of view, starts with the assumption of truth and internal coherence, seeks to resolve and seeks to resolve apparent contradictions (xii). Hunsinger identifies the following critera to assess the revisionist position:

  • 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 and contradictions?
  • If apparent contradictions are discerned (as they are), has an active attemt 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 toward the writer whose views they are considering?
  • In short, are the revisionists entitled to their key claim that Barth’s view on election and the Trinity, when taken as a whole, are “inconsistent”? (xiii-xiv).

One major  point that Hunsinger demonstrates is that the textual Barth (what Barth actually wrote) contradicts the revisionist claims about the Trinity and election. Hunsinger documents repeated statements from Barth as early as 1932 and as late as 1968, when Barth died, evidence that in Barth ‘election presupposes the Trinity, rather than constitute it (52).  The claims that the revisionists make of Barth’s inconsistency, seem to be (at least in how Hunsinger presents it) ways of dismissing the claims of this actual, textual Barth.

Hunsinger  identifies several points of agreement with the revisionists. He reads them charitably, though he vehemently disagrees with their reading of Barth and identifies points of sloppy reasoning. He praises them where he thinks they read well and sensitively (especially Jones, who advocates a soft revisionist position). Hunsinger also demonstrates Barth’s metaphysical eclecticism. Barth held, at least in some form, an Anselmian ‘Perfect-Being’ theology. However he also draws on the actualistic Hegelian model. He affirms a classical Chalcedonian account of the Incarnation, but not in  way that made the incarnation ‘static and immobile.’ There was an ongoing process of incarnation (162-63)

This is a book of analytical theology and the ordinary reader may wonder why it matters at which point in eternity God elected Jesus Christ as the savior of humanity. I think Hunsinger frames well what is at stake. If the election of the Son dictated the make up of the Trinity than the constitution of the Godhead is subsequent to the plan for human redemption. If the Trinity is presumed first than the Godhead acts in freedom to redeem humanity. This seems to be a more consistently Barthian claim and have a better rational basis. The Son exists in eternity as the logos asarkos before he is the incarnate one (logos ensarkos).

I give this book five stars because I think that it is a important scholarly book for clarifying Barth’s theology. No doubt the revisionists named by Hunsinger will make a response which will further the debate and clarify it further. If you are not aware of at least the broad contours of the debate you will find this book difficult despite its brevity (about a 180 pages). So I recommend this only for the serious student of Barth.

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

Thinking Ethically with a Bible in Your Hand: a book review

What contribution does the Bible make to the discipline of ethics? Why are some actions called ‘good’ and others decried as ‘evil’? Can the scriptures speak to ethical dilemmas which weren’t known to the ancient world?  How should we use the teachings of Jesus when he doesn’t address our pet moral issue? Contrary to our popular understanding of ethics, it is not reducable to mere morality. Morality is a system of right and wrong–rules and regulations; ethics asks the question of why something may be right or wrong.  It helps us clarify our thinking about good and evil. Peter Gosnell, associate professor of religion at Muskingum University has a new book which explores what the Bible has to teach us on ethics.  The Ethical Vision of the Bible: Learning Good From Knowing God shows how our relationship with God provides the basis for morality.

 Gosnell doesn’t do is walk us through a list of moral issues, ethical issues and suggest a set of rules about how to navigate the modern world. Instead Gosnell is intent on helping us think biblically about issues by walking us through several books of the Bible. He examines the Torah and shows how biblical thinking on ethics is rooted in creation and God’s covenant relationship with his people (chapter 2), the relationship of law and covenant in Exodus (chapter 3), and the relationship of holiness and love in Leviticus and Deuteronomy (chapter 4). Chapter five is where Gosnell comes closest to describing a consequentialist ethic as he examines the ethical claims of Proverbs. Chapter six looks at Isaiah and demonstrates how the prophetic message of  divine accusation and judgment is rooted in an intensification of Torah.  Chapter’s seven and eight illustrate how the gospels (Luke and Matthew) place covenant ethics under the rubric of kingdom and disciple. In both gospels. people are beneath God and Jesus in their relationship with him,  and so approach him with humility and seek to learn from Jesus as a exemplar, and follow him as master. Luke lays emphasis on thinking of others before oneself, whereas Matthew lays greater stress on the concepts of kingdom and discipleship.  The final chapters look at Paul, his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor.), and his letter to Romans.  1 Corinthians and Romans offer two poles in the Pauline corpus.  When Paul wrote the Corinthians he was addressing a range of moral concerns. Romans is a more general letter exploring theological concerns.  However Gosnell demonstrates that Paul consistently roots his ethic in the death and resurrection of Jesus and what it means for believers to live in a sustained relationship with Him.

Gosnell illustrates how the Bible’s concept of ethics defies easy categorization. Virtue ethics, ethical egoism, utilitarianism, duty, divine command theory or teleology do not do justice to the range of biblical material.  The Bible has much to say about consequences, character formation, moral duty, and divine command.  The people of God are moving towards  a future (the full in-breaking of the Kingdom of God).  But Gosnell roots all this in a robust concept of relationship.

If there is an academic discipline in which I may feign expertise, it may be theological ethics. I have a Master’s of Divinity, which means I have a generalist degree and I am really not an expert. Despite this, I did participate in an informal ethics reading group in seminary, was a T.A. for pastoral ethics and had my thinking stimulated by a rousing seminar in Old Testament ethics (which remains one of the high points of my academic career). Suffice to say, I am fairly well-read in biblical and theological ethics. From my vantage point, I think that Gosnell is excellent at describing the nature of ethics of the Bible.   There are biblical genres which Gosnell leaves largely unexplored (i.e. narrative history outside of the Torah, Psalms, Apocalyptic). However, I think these genres would also demonstrate the relational-rooted ethics he describes, especially with how rooted the historical books are in the theology of Deuteronomy, and how the Psalms illustrate and praise Torah. I give this book five stars and recommend it for anyone wanting to explore the depths of biblical ethics.  This is an ideal text for a class on biblical ethics. ★★★★★

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

The Future of Biblical Interpretation: a book review

Interpretation of the Bible is called legion for they are many. There are many hermeneutical approaches and countless interpreters. Of course not all interpretations are equal, some fail to attend to important aspects of the hermeneutical process. In order to read the Bible responsibly, you need to pay attention to the original intent, the theological tradition, the church, contemporary issues, etc. Stanely Porter and Matthew Malcolm have edited together eight brief essays advocating for responsible interpretation of the Bible in an age of plurality. While the contributors share broad theological commitments, they each speak with their own voice, in their own discipline and bring their unique gifts to the hermeneutical task.

The essays in The Future of Biblical Interpretation: Responsible Plurality in Biblical Hermeneutics are book-ended by an introduction and a conclusion from Porter and Malcolm (who each also contribute an essay).  In between these, each contributor unfolds what he (and they are all he) what it means to interpret the Bible responsibly. Anthony Thistleton’s essay sets the tone for the volume, where he discusses responsible plurality and the future of biblical interpretation.  In each of the chapters that follow, the contributors discuss one aspect of hermeneutical responsibility. These include:

  • Theological Responsibility (Stanley Porter
  • Scriptural Responsibility (Richard Briggs)
  • Kerygmatic Responsibility (Matthew Malcolm)
  • Historical Responsibility (James Dunn)
  • Critical Responsibility (Robert Morgan)
  • Ecclesial Responsibility (Walter Moberly)

Here is a brief walk through:

In chapter one, Thistleton defines what he calls ‘responsible plurality’ by contrasting Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of ‘polyphonic meaning’ with Jacques Lyotard’s pluraformity. The former approach acknowledges the diversity of genre, authorial intent, as well as interpretive approaches. Lyotard’s approach relativizes all meaning and therefore marginalizes the notion of responsible reading (22). Thistleton argues for a polyphonic concordance, and closes his essay with some suggestions of how the discipline of hermeneutics can fruitfully develop.

Porter discusses the interface of biblical hermeneutics and theological responsibility (chapter 2). Porter contrasts biblical hermeneutics with biblical interpretation by positing that interpretation involves processes and techniques related to interpretive acts, whereas biblical hermeneutics is  a broader study of how we read text (31-32).  This means not just attending to the original, or authorial intent, but the whole hermeneutical process and what the Bible means in a contemporary context. Included in Porter’s essay is an implict critique on the recent theological interpretation movement, which proposes a method of reading the Bible (with deference to precritical sources) without paying sufficient attention to the history of theological reception.

In chapter three Briggs argues for scriptural responsibility by using hermeneutical framework of ‘Scripture as’ to  explore the ways that scripture functions. Briggs describes the Bible as a series of texts which explore theological themes dialogically (162). So he suggests that scriptural responsibility involves attending to the two-testament structure, fostering hermeneutic discussion between those with competing theological claims,  and understanding scripture as a means of grace where God communicates himself through the various genres of the biblical material (64-9).

In chapter four Malcolm discusses kerygmatic responsibility  This is a fascinating essay reflecting on the proclamation and mission of the early church and the reader reception of the New Testament. Malcolm suggests that the reader most able to respond responsibly (and responsively) to the text is the one who is a ‘primed’ and ‘faithful’ intepreter. In the examples Malcolm gives, a primed reader (of Pauline Epistles) will ‘know that Paul’s kerygma focuses on the humiliating death of God’s Messiah’ (81), this will illuminate aspects of the Biblical text and make the reader aware of common themes emerging throughout the New Testament documents. Likewise the faithful reader is ‘a cruciform interpreter.’ Malcolm writes, “one who is shaped by the cross is particularly attuned and open to the formational orientation of the kerygma, whether explicit or subtle (82).

Dunn argues for Historical responsibly (chapter 5). By this he means attention to the original context as the primary factor for understanding the meaning of the text (99). More than other authors in this volume, Dunn relativizes the contributions of church tradition to the hermeneutical task.  Morgan urges critical responsibility (chapter 6) nad argues that we should make use of critical scholarship and approaches to help us get a better grasp on the biblical witness. Gregg argues for relational responsibility. He pays homage to the Reformation’s idea of sola scriptura and the normative authority of the Bible. However modern interpretation is constrained by the early councils and creeds which helped define theological orthodoxy. The creeds did not create orthodoxy ex nihilo but interpreted the Bible faithfully. Hence the Bible remains the supreme authority. Morbley’s essay rounds out the collection with some reflections on ecclesial responsibility. He observes that his own theological education taught him to question traditional notions like Pauline authorship of the pastoral epistles, but did not equip him to interpret texts for the church which affirms veracity of these epistles as part of the canon.  Porter and Malcolm’s conclusion discusses the distinctive character of each of the above essays.

Despite being a short book, this is not a light book. There are a number of ideas and important considerations discussed here for any one who wants to interpret scripture well. This book is probably too technical for readers who have not studied  the topic of Biblical hermeneutics. Those who have will find these essays  suggestive, provocative and challenging.  As with all multi-author books particular chapters are more stimulating than others. I particularly enjoyed Thistleton’s chapter and his survey of contemporary developments. I also enjoyed reading several of these essays because I have books by these authors and it is helpful to be able to map their interpretive philosophies.  I give this book four stars.

Thank you to IVP Academic 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.

Simply Preaching: a book review

When the opportunity to review a new preaching book by Alec Motyer presented itself, I jumped at the chance.  A competent biblical scholar, Motyer has written several commentaries that I have on my shelf (both in paper format and electronic). Notably, his commentaries on Isaiah is essential to anyone who wishes to gain a greater grasp on Isaiah’s prophecy. He is  the general editor of the Old Testament for the Bible Speaks Today commentary series (published by IVP) and has contributed several volumes to the series. He is also former principal of  Trinity College, Bristol.

In Preaching? Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching, Motyer details his approach to expository preaching. He shares wisdom from years of practice with plenty of examples of how to take a text and turn it into a sermon. This is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to preaching. Motyer writes, “For preaching is a very personal and individual exercise. We can learn from each other, but must not copy each other. It won’t work! Like criminals we must each discover our own modus operandi – find out what is our own brand of murder – and, hopefully, get away with it!” (Kindle Locations 306-308).  Without heavy-handedly describing ‘the’ plan for preaching, Motyer shares his advice and insight on how to do it well. As a scholar, pastor, expositor, and preacher with decades of faithful service, he has a lot to say.

Motyer’s method is simple (as his subtitle suggests). He tells us to find a text: examine it, analyze it, orient ourselves to it, and harvest from it.  The wisdom of his approach is that it forces the preacher to sit under a text rather than use a passage to illustrate their own agenda (or what they think the church ‘needs to hear’). Literary structure, inclusio, word studies and repetitions reveal meaning in the text. Often attention to the broad contours of the passage reveals an apt word for our context. This is what Motyer suggests: study and understand the text, prayerfully submit yourself to the text and pay attention to what God is saying there. When you have done that, you can craft a sermon (harvesting). And yes, he does offer advice on presentation and delivery: what to do and not do, and what to do but not too much. He does have some good words to say about how to draw out applications from a passage.

These are all important points and I agree a wholeheartedly with most of what Motyer commends. I have minor disagreements with him in places because as Motyer observes, preaching is a highly personal endeavor.  But I have still failed to mention what I think are the most significant insights that Motyer imparts.   I appreciated Motyer’s passion for the importance of preaching. Unfolding God’s Word and declaring it to the church gathered is sacred work. Beginning in his early chapters, but throughout this volume, Motyer describes this joyful and serious task and the demands it makes of the would-be-preacher. To preach and preach well is to give attention to the Word and to the church. While Motyer devotes much of this book describing attention to the Word (where we hear the voice of God), to preach well is also to fulfill our pastoral vocation: to pray for the congregation, and be involved in their lives. As Motyer observes, “Our position as ministers in a church gives us the right to preach, but it does not give us the right to be heard”(Kindle Locations 1503-1504).  A pastor who is actively caring for the flock and prayerfully attending to their spiritual formation will preach with power.

I warmly commend this book to preachers, especially young preachers with little experience. Motyer illustrates his approach by giving several examples of how to exegete a passage and turn it into a sermon.  By opening up his process to new preachers, Motyer gives them a gift. Those who follow his method will be brought into an encounter with the Spirit in the text. May all who declare God’s Word do so with such loving attention! I give this book 5 stars.

Thank you to Christian Focus Publications for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my review.