A Guide to the Bible: a book review

While statistics tell us that the amount of people who read their Bible continues to fall, there is no shortage of guidebooks for Bible reading on the market. Popular level books by liberals (John Dominic Crossan, Harvey Cox, Marcus Borg), Post-Evangelicals (Peter Enns, Rob Bell), Traditional Evangelicals (Gordon Fee & Doug Stuart, John Walton, RC Sproul), Fundamentalists (Henrietta Mears, John McArthur) flood the market and continue to sell well. Perhaps better than ever, since modern readers find the Bible so disorienting. John Goldingay offers his guidance through the realm of Scripture in A Reader’s Guide to the Bible.

9286Goldingay is one my favorite Old Testament scholars and commentators. He is the David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, the author of a masterful 3 volume Old Testament Theology and has written several critical commentaries, notably, Daniel in the Word Biblical Commentary, and 3 volume Psalms commentary in the Baker’s Commentary on Old Testament Wisdom. He also provides the Old Testament counterpoint to N.T. Wright, with the 17 volume Old Testament For Everyone Series (WJK).

In A Reader’s Guide to the Bible, Goldingay covers the history, narrative, and various genres of Scripture in 4 brief sections. Instead of providing a book by book overview, he opens with an introductory section, providing a broad chronology of the Bible, and a look at biblical geography (part 1). Next, he examines the story of Scripture from the Creation in Genesis to the early church of Acts (part 2).  In part 3, Goldingay explores the biblical genres which provide “God’s word for his people”: the instructions to the priests in the Pentateuch, the prophets, apostolic letters, the wisdom of Proverbs and Song of Songs, and Apocalyptic in Daniel and Revelation. Finally, in part 4, he examines Scriptures which describe Israel’s response to God—prayer in praise in Psalms and Lamentations, and the doubt and uncertainty described in Ecclesiastes and Job. An epilogue describes the value of reading the Bible today.

One of the things that Goldingay does quite well, is noting the contexts that the biblical authors wrote in and to.  He points, occasionally,  to various sources and settings behind the text (source criticism), but his focus throughout remains on the final form of Scripture. For example, in referring to the opening books of the Bible, Goldingay writes:

Some of the threads that make up the first five books in the Bible can be unwoven, and we can then see how the story was applied to the people in different periods. We will note some examples of this below. But it is a delicate exercise, and it is guesswork. Since only the conflated version has been preserved we concentrate on that. (35).

So in Genesis, Goldingay notes three-time periods that the final text is relevant to (1) the Exodus (Moses’ timeframe), (2) the Davidic Monarchy under David and Solomon, and (3) the exile (40-41). By reading Genesis with an eye to the concerns of these periods, Goldingay avoids reading modern scientific concerns back into the text (as in the creation accounts):

These stories thus relate to a period in Israel’s life, which helps to short-circuit the problems that arise when they are treated as scientific narratives. There are various ways of fitting scientific discoveries and the creation stories together. But we miss the point of Genesis if we concentrate on this question. Genesis is concerned with bringing a message to the people in its day that will help them understand their own lives and help them follow the truth (42).

This same focus on the contexts of the communities that produced and received these Scriptures is carried through the Deuteronomic history,  the time of the Exile and, in the New Testament the early church, as does the same reticence of falling down the source criticism rabbit hole(e.g. Goldingay mentions the various time periods/sections in Isaiah, the synoptic triple tradition, and Q, the questionable authorship of some epistles like second Peter, but on the whole, doesn’t question the contested letters of Paul, or chase down sources and authorship).

The essay that serves as the epilogue, underscores the continuing relevance of reading the Old Testament for Christians. Goldingay contends that the Old Testament provides the necessary background which enables us to understand Jesus, and asks all the questions which Jesus is the answer to (177-180). However, the Old Testament has its own intrinsic value as well. It illustrates God at work in the life of His people, and it addresses a broader range of concerns than the New Testament does (181-183).

Goldingay is a great scholar but this is not a heavy book. I’ve probably used more theological jargon writing this review than Goldingay did in his whole book. He presents a broad overview of the biblical story cognizant of the thought world of its original authors and their intended audience, but he does so, in simple, accessible language. And he does this in only a 186 pages.

Although, I do have a couple of minor critiques. First, there is a small editorial error in the opening pages of the book (1-2). When Goldingay gives an outline for his book, he mentions 3 chapters in his introductory section (part 1). There are only 2 chapters in that section (“The Events of the Bible” and “The Land of the Bible”), so this throws all his other chapter numbers off by 1. Perhaps this is a reflection of an earlier draft. This is not really a substantive complaint, but I hate seeing this kind of editorial oversight in a finished product.

Secondly, I had a difficult time figuring out who the intended audience was for this book. This book was published by IVP Academic, (InterVarsity Press’s academic imprint), but I have a hard time envisioning this book being used in the classroom.  While Goldingay is a thoughtful scholar and there are some real gems here, its brevity, lack of critical engagement, footnotes or even a bibliography, means it is really intended as a  popular level book. In fact, the only suggested reading for those who want to go deeper with individual books is his “Old Testament for Everyone” and N.T. Wright’s “New Testament for Everyone” series, which are non-technical, lay commentaries. On the other hand, there is enough substance here that I think lay readers may also find the lack of works cited frustrating, or find his discussion of some scripture genres or books, overly brief. I followed along with Goldingay just fine, but I have also read a lot (and went to seminary). I wondered if certain sections would make as much sense, or provide enough detail for me if I was a total neophyte.

But on the whole, I found this a handy overview of the Bible, its history, narrative, and various genres, commending the whole scripture to the people of God. Serious students will want more than this book offers but as an entry-level guidebook, this is pretty good. I give it 3-and-a-half stars. – ★★★½

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

Angels from the Realm of Glory: a book review

We are currently midway through Advent—a season bookended by Annunciation and the angels singing, “Glory to God in the Highest and peace to people on earth.” The angels figure prominently in the stories we tell and the carols we sing, though we know (or suppose) angels  aren’t just God’s seasonal hires. They are not simply holiday apparitions, angels are God’s servants. But what are they like? What do we know about them?

I grew up fascinated by angels. When I was young, my parents tucked me in each night with prayers that God would send His angels to look after me. A couple of  perilous events caused my grandma to proclaim that my guardian angel was working overtime. I watched the angels on television imagining the halo hidden under Michael Landon’s coiffed hair and being moved by Della Reese’s maternal care.  I  heard popular treatment of angels which treat these divine messengers as our very special friends.

all-gods-angelsAll God Angels: Loving & Learning from Angelic Messengers by Fr. Martin Shannon is a new devotional exploring the depiction of angels in the Bible. Shannon is an Episcopal priest and is a member of the ecumenical Community of Jesus in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  Twenty-four entries examine the angelic realm through Scripture and sacred art. Shannon’s exploration begins with the Cherubim gatekeeper of Eden (Genesis 3:22-24) and ends with the revelator Angel of the Apocalypse (Revelation 1:1-3). Each entry is paired with a full-color depiction of the biblical scene described from artists range from Fra Angelico to Marc Chagall.  There are also ancient icons, frescos and mosaics.

Shannon’s title is a slight misnomer. While he provides a broad overview of angelic visitations of the Bible, he doesn’t explore all God’s angels (just a multitude of heavenly hosts). The scary ones are under represented. We read of the angels at Abraham’s table in Genesis 18, but not how two of these angels would go on their way and destroy Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19). There is  no treatment of the angel of death killing the Egyptian-firstborn (Exodus 11-12),  or the ambivalent captain of the Lord’s army which Joshua encounters (Josh. 5:13-15). The angels of Revelation are discussed, without a mention of them pouring out bowls of wrath against humanity. Shannon emphasizes, instead, their angelic commitment to God’s service.

There are other biblical angels which escape Shannon’s mention; yet despite their absence, he is great at exploring the angels’ role as messenger, minister and mediator of God’s presence. The angels described are used by God at significant turning points in the Biblical narrative (i.e. the Fall, the time of the Patriarchs, the Exodus, exile, Christ’s birth, the start of his ministry, his death, resurrection and ascension and at the end).

What I most appreciated about Shannon’s treatment is the way he captures what angels are all about. They aren’t simply our special friends but God’s servants. My fascination with angels transformed to wonder as I read; however I was nowhere tempted to see these angels as objects of worship. They are simply wholly committed to the God, enacting God’s will and bringing God’s presence  to God’s people. This book may be nominally about the angels, Shannon focus (and the Angel’s) remains fastened on the God the angels serve.

I recommend this book to anyone fascinated by angels and would like a biblical, devotional treatment of the significant role they play, and what they have to teach us. I give it four stars.

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



Who Ordered the Trinity? a book review

Theologians often distinguish between the Economic Trinity: the God revealed to us in the economy of salvation, and the Immanent Trinity: the Godhead’s relations between the Divine persons. The Economic Trinity is described as Father, Son and Spirit—reflecting the order of God’s self-revelation in enacting our redemption: Creator, Redeemer and Advocate. But this oversimplifies the picture of God and doesn’t do full justice to the New Testament witness of the Trinity.

4378 trinity cover CC.inddRodrick K Durst, professor of historical theology at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary observes that the triadic ordering of Father-Son-Spirit, makes up just 24% of the seventy-five New Testament references to the Triune God (70). Any list of three items can be combined six different ways; Durst observes all six combinations of Divine Persons in the pages of Scripture. In Reordering the Trinity: Six Movements of God in the New Testament he examines the various Trinitarian references and the significance for each ordering.

Durst has a three purposes in this book. First, he wants to challenge the notion that the Trinity is not explicit in the pages of the New Testament. While the word “Trinity” doesn’t appear there, Durst presents enough examples  of triadic patterning in the New Testament to demonstrate the obvious presence of the Trinity. Secondly, he explores the meaning and purposes behind each order in their Biblical context. Third, Durst makes  the case that:

whenever and wherever Christian life and ministry have been God-glorifying, or personally satisfying or ethically prophetic or socially effective, it is precisely because a Trinitarian processional value has been consciously or unconsciously applied. Far from extinction, the Trinity flourishes everywhere and in every way as the agent of causation in which we live, minister and have our being. (60-61).

The book divides into three parts. Part one sets the table. Chapter one examines significant contributions to Trinitarian thought in contemporary theology, including the thinkers that Durst draws on in making his own case for his New Testaement Trinitarian Matrix. Chapter two lays out Durst’s raw data of New Testament triadic references. Durst catalogs each reference that includes all three members of the Trinity and evaluates each example based on intentionality. Chapter three looks at Trinitarian antecedents within the Old Testament, arguing that the Septuagint obscured the plurality of Divine persons in the One God more evident in the Hebrew text. Chapter four examines the Trinity and doctrinal development in Church History.

Part two is an in depth exploration of each of the triadic orders for the Trinity:

  • Chapter 5, Father-Son-Spirit—The missional triad emphasizing that God is sending (117).
  • Chapter 6, Son-Spirit-Father—The saving triad, describing our experience of being saved, forgiven and adopted in God’s household(194-195).
  • Chapter 7, Son-Father Spirit—The indwelling triad.
  • Chapter 8, Spirit-Father-Son—the sanctifying triad, showcasing a liturgical pattern of “Spirit-inspired reverence for the Father [which] leads to dedicated walk and service with Christ” (236).
  • Chapter, 9, Father-Spirit-Son-the Spiritual-Formation triad, God forming believers for witness for Christ (257).
  • Chapter 10, Spirit-Son-Father the ecclesial triad examining God at work in the church (276).

Part three contains a single chapter focused on how a functional Trinitarianism affects everyday worship, life and ministry.

Chapters three through eleven each close with a brief ‘sermon starter’ on the chapter’s Trinitarian theme.  Durst also includes five appendixes. Appendix A provides exhaustive tables on all the New Testament’s triadic occurrences. Appendix B is a glossary of Trinitarian terms. The other three appendixes are more practical:  a suggested exercise for praying to each part of the Trinity through the lens of the triad of your choice, a six week program of mediating on all six triads, and suggestions for explaining the trinity to children and adolescents.

Durst makes a compelling case for the diversity of Trinitarian images in the New Testament. By examining the various orders describing the Godhead, he enlarges our picture of the economic Trinity:

Theological conversations describe in previous chapters spoke of the economic Trinity exclusively as the missional procession of Father-Son-Spirit. However we must not ignore the significant textual evidence studied in this book that either we should be speaking of the “diversity of the economic Trinity” or the “Diverse Triune Economies”(288).

Durst does a good job of spelling out the significance of each triad and its implication for our ecclesiastical and devotional life. He is systematic in his handling of the textual evidence and  I appreciate his comprehensive approach. I give this four stars.

Note: I received this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for my honest review.

The Bible For Dragon Slayers: a kid’s book review

Sir Wyvren Pugilist, who’s name means Dragon Fighter, previously published Dragon Slayers: The Essential Training Guide for Young Dragon Slayers (Paraclete 2011). That book taught young readers how to battle the dragons in their life using insights from ‘the Ancient Manual,’ AKA the Bible. His new book, Secrets of the Ancient Manual Revealed examines the shape of the Biblical story: how we got in the mess we are in and what the Mysterious Three did to set us free. [Joyce Denham is the secret author but don’t tell your kids].

secrets-of-the-ancient-manual-revealed-every-dragon-slayer-s-guide-to-the-bible-27 Sir Wyvren’s guide is split into three sections called epeisodions. Epeisodion One describes the ‘Agreement Antiquatus’ (the Old Testament). Beginning with Creation, Sir Wyvren tells the story of Mighty One‘s grand plan. This isn’t a complete overview of the Old Testament. The focus is on the story of Genesis (chapters one through eight),  and Exodus (chapters nine through twelve). However chapters thirteen and fourteen give a nice overview of the story from Canaanite conquest to exile and chapter fifteen provides a summary of the entire ‘Agreement Antiquatus.’

Epeisodion Zero is a two page interlude which names the silence of God and the continued suffering of Israel at the hands of Greek and Roman oppressors.

Epeisodon Two, ‘The Agreement Novus Un-Parallelus,” tells the tale of Jesus, the chief dragon slayer, his great and final battle and the community of dragon slayers formed in his name. As with the Agreement Antiquatus, Sir Wyven’s treatment of the New Testament is not exhaustive but focuses on the historical books–the gospels and Acts–and the end (Revelation).

There are a plethora of children’s Bibles and kids’ devotionals on the market. Yet there are not many books which describe the Bible’s contents in manner accessible to children. Secrets of the Ancient Manual is just this sort of book and does it imaginatively. Our guide, Sir Wyvren, is a medieval-styled Dragon Slayer. Each chapter has words and phrases in bold, and underlined keywords. Sir Wyvren has his readers write down these underlined words to help unlock the secrets of the Ancient manual (a glossary in the back provides definitions of these key words).  This, combined with Sir Wyvren’s conversational tone, makes  this an interactive way to learn.

I think this is fun and entertaining way to learn the Bible. This is listed as a book for ‘all ages’ and indeed I enjoyed it very much and found it edifying. My own kids are between the ages of eight and one. My eight year old is entering the age where she can appreciate what sort of book this is. My five and six year old aren’t there yet. I give this five stars and recommend it especially for kids age eight to twelve.

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


Notes on Ps. 131 (Poem)

Psalm 131, A Song of Ascent, of David.



I kick and rage–

proud heart, haughty eyes

I thought I’d

made my mark



Insides spinning–

a hope deferred–anxiety

throbbing through my thighs.

 It’s  all too great for me,

I cannot

bear it.


Teach me to be-

To know who holds me

upon Her knee, and then

I’d drift contentedly

to peace.


I stop kicking and sit, still


yet there is no need to

make a mark



You hold me

    there is hope–now,

and when

forever comes,

with You I will rise.


©James Matichuk, 2016

Linear Notes in my Old Bible

We send three of our kids to AWANA at the local mega-church on Wednesday nights. We do it because I think getting the Bible into kids is important and are kids like it. Sometimes I wonder if they are just learning to parrot verses instead of learning the scriptures and my anxious oldest occasionally feels stressed by the process. My kids get points each week for church attendance (they are pastor’s kids, so they’re killing it) and bringing a Bible. Of course they don’t actually use their Bible there, it is just another burden to bear. But anyway, my daughter needed a Bible last night and my wife  pulled out one of my old ones and handed it to her. 

I hadn’t used this Bible regularly in about ten years, but I had read through it several times. I take lots of notes as I read, underline things. I think it was in the Divine Conspiracy that Dallas Willard talked about a green-letter Bible with the things Jesus did were in green. So in a different Bible I read through the gospels, underlining the Jesus verbs with a green pen. The practice taught me that reading with a pen in hand helped me pay attention to the words on the page. In this Bible, I wrote YHWH in the margins anytime I saw the all-caps LORD in the Old Testament.  Whenever ‘Christ’ appeared in the New Testament, I wrote “King” and when I saw direct references to the Holy Spirit (in either Testament) I drew a dove in the margins. These, and other occasional notes embellish the text. 


The Front and back of my Bible is even more interesting. There are doodles and drawings: an arm nailed to a cross, a table with bread and wine, a Bird of Paradise blossom, faces and a sword. My daughter delighted in showing her Awana leaders my random drawings all night last night. And then there were notes. These were things I saw fit to write down. Some of them from sermons and messages I heard. Some personal observations. Some incomprehensible. There are some pearls of wisdom here that speak to me now, and other things that are frankly perplexing. Whatever they were, these are the things I thought were important enough to write in Bible a decade hence:

I. Serve II. I’m all about the Work  III. Make the most of every opportunity and Party

“You got to get to the point whee you know you can’t do anything, then you are ready”[attributed to my wife]

“We are responsible not for saving people but by being the human touch God wants to use”

“Leadership not about setting vision but holding the vision.” [attributed to some one named Dave].

Genesis–how God sees is different

Exodus–how God is different from other Gods

Leviticus–how we are to be is different; how God is to be worshipped

Deutoronomy–The Divine covenental If then. . .

GOOD NEWS FOR THE POOR, Luke 4–>personalized education, free-captives, healthcare

D16D58591cf91cf94e3f6f96b67588 [don’t know what this is. a product code? Evidently important enough to write in my Bible]

Under the heading Romans 12:1-14

1-2 Don’t conform

3 Think w/ sober judgment of ourselves

5 members of one another

6-8 conflriluging (?) gifts

9,10 Love one another with brotherly affection (don’t fake it) How am I with my brother and sister? Out do one another in honor

11,12 Serve Lord, Rejoice in hope, be patient with one another

13 contribute and show hospitality–outsiders and ourselves

What is the root issue involved in irritation?

Boundaries–Availability vs. taking advantage

Steve Sample: “Think Gray”

Take it in then respond

Sometimes you need someone to pray for you


  1. Don’t conform
  2. sober judgment
  3. body
  4. brotherly love
  5. hope, patience
  6. Constant love and prayer

Under the Heading “Relational Evangelism”

  • Initiate intentional self disclosure
  • Ask existential q’s
  • talk about books you’re reading
  • learn to talk about yourself as a follower of Jesus
  • use your imagination in showing compassion
  • talk about your prayer life
  • talk about your failures (otherwise they think xianity is for ‘perfect’ people)
  • talk about your ideas
  • tell people why they are like Jesus not just why they need JEsus
  • tell them why they are close to Jesus
  • tell people what Christianity (written with a chi rho and a capital “T”) cost you. If you talk about the cost it reveals the treasure
  • “Is life better with Jesus than it is without Jesus?”

What’s interesting about your old Bible? 

It is the Bible, So Take Notes: a Bible review

I am not a fan of Study Bibles. This is because I have participated in far too many Bible studies where a thoughtful engaging question is answered with, “The notes say. . . .”  This shortcut to engaging the text often keeps people from actually engaging my text. What I have learned as a leader is most significant insights people come to are their own (if you can get them to read it for themselves). So I was pretty pleased with the NASB Note-Taker’s Bible. Here is a Bible with no book introductions, or marginal notes. There is the bundled NASB concordance at the back of the Bible, and lists of verses (Bible promises, Bible perspectives, Jesus’ miracles Jesus’ parables), but the text itself is unadorned.

In the place of marginal notes, the NASB Note-Taker’s Bible includes one very special feature: margins. A full 1.3″ of blank space on the outer edge of each page, and about 1.67″ along the base. This makes the text look beautiful and gives ample room for personal notes on each page of the Bible. It is basically the space which would be used up by study notes and information boxes, only you get to write and draw your own!

I  really like the NASB. It is one of the translations I’ve read from cover-to-cover so it is special to me, because I think of passages in its cadence.  I grew up in a church where it was referenced often for its literal rendering and faithfulness to the original languages. I used to tell people “It’s closest to the original Greek and Hebrew,” but I knew neither language and was only parroting what other people were saying. If I have drifted from the NASB to translations which subscribe to more of a dynamic-equivalence (thought-for-thought rather than word-for-word) and translations more sensitive to gender inclusion, my appreciation for the NASB is not diminished. It is still a go-to-text for me when I am studying or translating a passage. Because of this, ‘room on the page for notes’ is important to me.

There is one design flaw from a ‘note-taker’s perspective.’ The text is set with the traditional ‘double column’ for greater readability. All well and good until you wish to make notes on the inside column. I think for note-takers. the full words across the the page would have been more helpful.

All and all a useful Bible for personal study. I give this Bible four stars: ★★★★☆

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