Braving the Waters with Acts: a commentary review

Guy Prentiss Waters has penned a new commentary on Acts from a conservative Evangelical, Reformed perspective.He is Professor of New Testament at RTS in Jackson and a teaching elder in the PCA and a cessationist. He wrote his Acts commentary for the EP Study Commentary (series edited by John Cirrid). For my part, I am more justice-minded Evangelical nurtured in the faith by Pietism and the charismatic movement. (with a healthy load of Anabaptism thrown in).  But all that isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this commentary and read it fruitfully! On  the back cover is a gushing endorsement from D.A. Carson. I like plenty of commentaries and commentators that Carson doesn’t have much use for (N.T. Wright, for example); yet his endorsement says to me a quality and careful reading of the text and that is what I discovered as I braved these Waters.

While Waters writes from a Reformed perspective, quite self consciously, he does not  do so in a sectarian way. He doesn’t spill any ink arguing for the veracity of infant baptism over believers’ baptism. His doctrine of election is not the central feature to this text. Many of his doctrinal distinctives would be felt more sharply  in one of the epistles than in Acts. This is a close reading of Acts with exposition in view. Waters draws out the meaning of the text for the preacher. This is not a technical commentary but a good mid-level commentary (with footnotes to more detailed treatments).

Where Waters’s theological heritage is most evident in the text is in the application section in each subsection (below his comments on the passage). There cites the Westminster Larger Catechism and John Calvin to warn against unfruitful speculation about the future (44). He also goes to pains in places to explain his understanding of redemptive history. His cesassionism means that he is careful to hedge the fence of Holy Writ. What we read in Acts was historical describing a moment in redemptive history. Waters argues that the outpouring of the Spirit evidenced by signs and wonders and tongues is not ‘the normative pattern of Christian experience for all generations (74). This was a unique apostolic age that died with the apostles (39).

I have more charismatic leanings than Waters and think that he overstates his case,  but I applaud his attentiveness to scripture and the words on the page. He has a different theological lens he does illuminate features of the text I would otherwise miss. I also appreciate that while he relegates supernatural manifestations of the Spirit to the distant past, he doesn’t treat this first century church account as ‘merely descriptive and never prescriptive.’ When he reads an evocative account in Acts, such as the life sharing in response to Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:42-47, he parses those aspects as he sees as unique to the apostolic-age (signs and wonders in v. 43) and those  aspects that apply to us–namely, devotion to apostolic teaching, life sharing and evangelism (100-101).

On the whole, Waters is balanced and a careful exegete. I found plenty I disagree with, but I think he does a great job through out of capturing the Spirit’s mission in the first century. I give this commentary four stars and plan to use this further as I plan towards Pentecost.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from the publisher via Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for my honest review.

Timmy Time on the Romans Road part II: a book review

A little over a year ago, I had the opportunity to review Tim Keller’s Romans 1-7 For You. Tim Keller is one of my favorite pastor-theologians and where I don’t always agree with him, I am always grateful for the way he presents his theological convictions with grace and respect. In Romans 1-7 For You, Keller walked readers through the first seven chapters of Romans, making the case for the universal need for salvation through Jesus Christ and how the just live by faith. But the real treasure in Romans begins after these introductory chapters.

Romans 8 unfolds the mystery of life in the Spirit, our adoption as sons and how in Christ we are more than conquerors,  Romans 9-11 unpack the mystery of predestination and Israel’s hope, chapter 12 tells us how to live in light of the gospel in community, chapter 13, as citizens of the state, and chapter 14-15 describe further how to care for one another and fulfill God’s mission in our world. The final chapter has a list of names of Paul’s coworkers, many of them women.

In Romans 8-16 For YouKeller explores these texts from the second half of Romans. Almost a full third of this commentary is devoted to Romans 8 (a beautiful chapter to camp in). However, Keller honors the shape of the biblical text and walks readers through each section of the text, pulling out points of interest.

Keller is more pastor than scholar and he draws heavily on such evangelical luminaries as Leon Morris, John Stott, F.F. Bruce and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  As to be expected, this is a Evangelical Reformed take on Romans, but it is written at an accessible level for pastors and lay people alike (one of goals of the series). I am especially grateful for the stress that Keller puts on Paul’s anguish for his people when he turns to his discussion on election (58). He also does a good job of emphasizing the diversity of Paul’s coworkers in Romans 16.  Not being quite as Calvinist as Keller, I do have sections that I quibble with but I appreciate Keller’s attention to the text. I also favor a more Anabaptist reading of Romans 13, but probably need to dig deeper in personal study before I commit to a view.
On the whole like this volume. Serious students of Romans would want to go deeper and may make use of the commentaries he lists in his bibliography. Yet for many of us Romans, as a whole, remains opaque to us. We love to quote passages and put isolated verses to work in our evangelism, but have a difficult time tracking Paul’s argument from beginning to end. If that describes you, I commend this volume (and Keller’s early volume) to you. After all, Romans 8-16 is for you. I give this commentary four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from the Good Book Company and Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for this honest review.

I give this commentary 4 stars

Timmy Time With Titus: a book review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worship Calvinist Style: a book review

I am not a Calvinist by conviction or by my ecclessial membership. The church I attend, the Evangelical Covenant Church, is self consciously rooted in the Lutheran Pietist tradition. Yet, John Calvin remains one of my favorite theologians. I remember reading on my first trek through the Institutes these words, though the translation I first read it in, varied in wording:

My meaning is: we must be persuaded not only that as he once formed the world, so he sustains it by his boundless power, governs it by his wisdom, preserves it by his goodness, in particular, rules the human race with justice and judgment, bears with them in mercy, shields them by his protection; but also that not a particle of light, or wisdom, or justice, or power, or rectitude, or genuine truth, will anywhere be found, which does not flow from him, and of which he is not the cause; in this way we must learn to expect and ask all things from him, and thankfully ascribe to him whatever we receive. (I, ii, 1, Beveridge translation).

When I read these words, I see Calvin’s peculiar understanding of God’s providence as based in worship.  He did not want to take credit for, or give glory to human agency, when all glory and honor are due the Sovereign God. Calvin sings praise to the glory and grandness of God.

So when I had an opportunity to review a book entitled Worshiping With CalvinI was excited to dip back into a theologian who has helped me enlarge my vision of God. The subtitle of the book, Recovering the Historic Ministry and Worshop of Reformed Protestantism also intrigued me. My mother is an organist and choirmaster with a masters in church music. She has bemoaned the poor theology and shallowness of contemporary Evangelical worship since the 1980’s ‘worship wars.’  She has since taken cover in the Episcopal church (a denomination that still uses organs); though she bucks against the goads of the denomination’s theological liberalism, she has an enduring appreciation for the liturgy. Like my mom, I also want to recover ‘the good’ in traditional practice and I wonder how well contemporary songs and liturgical formats have served us.

Terry Johnson, is a minister in an Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia. He wrote Worshiping with Calvin to help his fellow Calvinists recover some of the gifts of the Reformed understanding of worship. As such, he wrote this book examining the broad ‘Reformed tradition’ but does not engage with the theology of Calvin in a focused manner. He does however have an interest in helping us recover some of the gifts that the Reformation gave us for our understanding and practice of public worship.

Johnson has three sections to his book. Part one discusses the contemporary worship scene and historic practice. Part two examines the importance of reformed worship through the lens of the historic and exegetical lens, and the theological lens. The Reformation was a recovery movement which called Christians to return to ‘the source’ (ad fontes) by examining the Bible and patristic practice. It also precipitated a theological and liturgical revolution which reshaped medieval worship practices. This is fleshed out in part three which explores how Reformed worship was God-centered, Bible filled, gospel structured, church-aware, and Spirit dependent.

As my mother’s son, I appreciate how paltry contemporary worship can be and I like how Johnson calls us to return to worship which is theologically and biblically rooted. I did wish for more theological engagement with Calvinism’s principle theologian (Calvin). However Johnson’s eye’s were trained on the way the Reformed tradition practices its liturgical theology. He seems only incidentally interested in the theology itself. Calvin is evoked and pointed at (as are Zwingli and other reformers, Puritans and Calvinists), but his sacramental and  liturgical theology is never unpacked. For a book that argues for ‘a recovery’ I wished that this book was more Calvin than Calvinist. Still Johnson had many cogent and helpful things to say about keeping worship centered on God, rooted in the Bible and Christ’s work and dependent on the work of the Spirit. In the end, I found this book challenging, even if it was not exactly what I had hoped for. I give it 3.5 stars.

Thank you to Evangelical Press and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

The Kosher Pig?: a book review

Among many Jews, belief in Yeshua–Jesus the Messiah–is incompatible with Judaism. While they would concede that Jesus was a first Century Jew, they find his qualifications as a rabbi spurious and his lifestyle incompatible with the Jewish faith. He was unclean. For a Jew to trust in Jesus as the divine Son of God would be nonsensical. It would be like believing in a ‘Kosher Pig’: the clean unclean. This simply cannot be.

This was the faith that Rabbi Itzhak Shapira was raised in. Born into a traditional Sephardic Jewish home in Israel, Shapira found the Messiah after searching the Hebrew Scriptures. He argues that that Jewish rejection of Jesus and the weight that mainstream Judaism gives to secondary literature is the result of an interpretive decision. Because Judaism, in general, has rejected Jesus as the Messiah, they give greater weight to secondary Jewish Sources (i.e. the Talmud, the Mishna, etc). Shapira has a great deal of respect for Jewish literature, but focuses his argument on where Jesus is revealed as the Messiah within the Hebrew Scripture itself.

Jewish exegesis follows a four-fold reading of the Hebrew Bible, summarized under the acronym: Padres. P’shat is the simple, literary meaning of the text. Remez are ‘clues’ within the Hebrew text. Drash or Midrash are allegorical commentaries on the text. Sod denotes ‘the secrets’ of Torah. There is also a fifth level of interpretation called the Remez HaRamezim which the Messiah himself will reveal. In the pages of the Return of the Kosher PigShapira examines where the Hebrew Scriptures point to Jesus, by making use of P’shat and Ramez, quotes and refers to the Midrashim and attempts to uncover the Messianic secret (Sod) of the text.

There are five parts to this book (named after the first five letters of the Hebrew AlephBet (see what I did there). Part one (Alef) provides a overview of the historical framework, the sources and methedology for revealing the ‘Kosher pig). Part two (Bet) explores the Traditional Jewish framework for understanding the Messianic passages and his identity. Part three (Gimel) provides the heart of the book. Here Shapira explores five passages in the Hebrew Bible which point to Christ. Part four (Daled) looks at secondary evidence for Jesus’ messianic claims. Final part five (Hey) draws his argument to a close, exhorting his fellow Jews towards excepting Yeshua as their Messiah.

When I was in seminary my M.Div emphasis was Old Testament. I love the Hebrew Scriptures; however Jewish exegesis is at best ancillary to many Christian interpretations. The Mishnah and Midrash were interesting, sometimes illuminating, but the general theological understandings between Christian and Jewish interpretations was divergent. So I followed Rabbi Shapira’s argument with interest, but as a bit of an outsider. As a believer in the Messiah, I am inclined to believe his claims; as an outsider to Jewish interpretation, recourse to commentaries or biblical numerology is not compelling to me. Yet, this is an apologetic book geared toward his fellow Jew. The value of this book is how well Shapira is able to show how the Jewish story is part of the gospel story–where Jesus is revealed for who he is. From my perspective, he does this well, but a quick web search reveals that he has also raised the ire of traditional Jewish interpreters. This is to be expected. For traditional Jews to accept Jesus means turning their back on much of what their tradition has taught them and to side with a religion responsible for their persecution through out the centuries (Christians aren’t alone in this, but they are sadly over-represented). What Shapira does, is reveal how Jesus himself is not contarary to Jewish tradition but revealed by it.

I recommend it for Jewish readers or Christians wanting to engage the Jewish worldview. This is a technical book which would be inaccessible to many general readers without background in Jewish interpretation. For its intended audience, it is a goldmine. I give this book four stars.

Thank you to Crossfocused Reviews and Lederer Books for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Healthy Aging and the Older Adult: a book review

Everyone I know keeps getting older.  I am on my march towards middle age and have had no serious worries about my health.  Older adults have  to face the continual breakdown physically and mentally. Often this is the result of poor preventative care and unhealthy habits in earlier stages of life.  As they age, they are dependent on medical professionals, family and church for care of their well being.  Failure to plan ahead means, that seniors may receive expensive treatments they may not have wanted and family members may be forced to make difficult medical decisions for them.

These are some of the issues that Christopher Bogosh addresses in The Golden Years: Healthy Aging and the Older Adult. Bogosh is a registered nurse who  has worked in hospice care. He also has attended seminary and has worked in pastoral ministry.  This dual emphasis on pastoral and physical care pervades the book.

As a nurse who works with an older population, Bogosh is well aware of the  health issues that older people face. His book explores healthy living,  preventative care,  healthcare management,  and common and chronic health problems.  He lays out the resources available to seniors under medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.  He also underscores the necessity of planning ahead (i.e. writing a living will and talking to family members about your medical care before you totally deteriorate).

Physical care and pastoral care go hand in hand. Part of caring for the senior soul is to make sure that their psychical well being is well cared for.  Bogosh says this part really well. He also has an eye for seeing seniors ‘live out “the “golden years’ with the Glory of God in view”  (125).  Bogosh sees Christianity as answering the “then what?” question, as in “What happens  after you die?” At the end of his last chapter he writes, ” Imagine enduring chronic health problems and a sensory disorders for many years only to die and go to hell–awful thought but according to biblical based Christianity we have to face this reality too” (124). So  a big part of Bogosh’s wisdom for pastoral care is focused on the senior’s eternal destination.

I agree with Bogosh that the truth of our eternal destiny is especially poignant when ministering to an older population cognizant of their limitations and mortality. What I wish was more explicit in Bogosh’s book was a section on spiritual health and older adults.  Our seniors need “strength for today” as well as “bright hope for tomorrow.”  I think that the dots could have been connected a little clearer between the physical medical care and spiritual care.

I learned a lot from this book and I think that people who minister to and among the elderly will gain valuable insights.  I have been privileged in the past to work with this population. I  did visitation ministry with a group of seniors in urban Atlanta. As I sat and visited with these seniors, I was privileged to share in their struggles and pray for them. I also heard testimonies of decades of faithfully depending on God through all life’s circumstances. In our care for seniors, we have as much to learn from them as we have to give.  Bogosh’s book does a great job of helping us frame the issues around health care and the elderly.  If we follow his advice we will love our old well in service. But we honor them when we see that they still have gifts to give. Well this isn’t the emphasis in Bogosh’s book, he does share anecdotes of seniors he has known and loved well and learned from.

Good Samaritan Books appears to be Bogosh’s own publishing venture (making this a self published book). One of the problems among many self published books, is that they suffer for lack of an editor.  Not this book. It is well written and well executed. I give this book four stars.

Thank you to Cross Focused Reviews and Good Samaritan Books for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my review.

Puritan Preparation: a book review

Perhaps I was ill-prepared to read Joel Beeke and Paul M. Smalley’s new book.  I am not particularly Reformed (though I am reforming), but I am Evangelical. The Puritans helped shape what ‘Evangelical’ means. I have appreciated the writings of various Puritans (Edwards, Baxter, Owens) but I am no expert on the Puritans. I have a  cursory understanding of their writings and significance, mostly from secondary literature. Beeke and Smalley dedicate Prepared By Grace For Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ to exploring one aspect of  Puritan theology: Preparatory Grace.  By tracing the theology of the Puritans from  its precedents, to the early English Puritans through Edwards, Beeke and Smalley are able to demonstrate a remarkable continuity in regards to this issue. They also demonstrate the continuity with the theology of Calvin and continental Calvinsits.

So what is Preparatory Grace?  It is the work of the Spirit, prior to conversion by which a person feels the weight of their sin.  This is not salvific, they still need to cast themselves on the Grace of God; however this preparatory work lays the ground for conversion.  I think this is significant on several grounds. First, the Puritan Theology of preparation for Salvation gives attention to where God was at work in a person’s life, pre-conversion. Thus this feature of Puritan theology provides a corrective to 20th Century revivalism which emphasizes salvation as an event only. The Puritans would agree that there is an ‘event’ where the sinner crosses from darkness into light, but they also acknowledge the process by which a person comes to saving faith.

Second (and Beeke and Smalley articulate this theme well), the theology of Preparatory Grace endues the preaching of the Law with significance. By preaching the Law, the reprobate are brought under the conviction of sin. This is a work of the Spirit and not the psychological manipulation of the preacher, but preaching provides the occasion for sinners to encounter God’s standards.  Beeke and Smalley demonstrate that Puritan emphasis on preparation (at its best) is not promoting legalism. Rather they are naming the experience of the converted.

Third, this also  ascribes some dignity to the sinner. While they cannot of themselves come to Salvation, there is a sense that they can be moved unto love and good works and the Law of God can have good effect on them. This is not Salvation,  but it does put them on the road.

Throughout their book, Smalley and Beeke are interacting with contemporary scholarship. They argue contra R.T. Kendall, that the Puritan theology of preparation is in continuity with the theology of John Calvin and the Calvinists. They argue contra Perry Miller that the supposed ‘anti-preparationists’ were not anti-preparationist per se, but against Arminianism and Catholic versions of preparation which they saw as deficient.

The continuity of the Puritans on this issue, does not mean that every Puritan theologian agreed on every aspect of what Preparation looked like. For example, Thomas Hooker, who wrote more on preparation than anyone else, also argued that one of the characteristics of ‘the prepared’ was that they felt content to be damned (249). Many other Puritan writers took issue with this feature  of Hooker’s theology.

This is a well reasoned and interesting account of Puritan theology. Because of the academic nature of this book, I do not recommend it for general consumption but anyone with an interest in theology or history (or historical theology) will appreciate the benefits of this book. If you are looking for an introduction to the theology of the Puritans, look elsewhere because the focus of this book is too narrow for that. But the initiated will appreciate this. I give this book four stars.

Thank you to Reformation Heritage Books and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.