Listening to Jesus in the Upper Room: a book review

I don’t always agree with D.A. Carson. His brand of Reformed Evangelical with a Gospel Coalition, complementarian comb-over puts me at odds with some of his conclusions; however I always appreciate the thoroughness and attention he brings to the biblical text. His Exegetical Fallacies has kept me from some fuzzy hermeneutics, and when I am in the market for a new, new testament commentary, I always check his New Testament Commentary Survey (Baker Academic) which catalogues the strengths of the various commentaries for each book of the New Testament. Where I appreciate Carson most is as a Bible commentator. He has written (or edited) some incisive commentaries and studies. His John Commentary (in the Pillar New Testament Commentary Series, Eerdmans) is usually my first stop when I am studying or preaching from that gospel.

So when I got my 9780801075902hand on The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Exegetical Exposition of John 14-17I was excited to see Carson’s trademark attentive exegesis, but I was also curious how he would handle Jesus’ so-called ‘high priestly’ prayer for Christian unity. I feel like Carson’s evangelical brad stresses truth over unity and I was curious as what he may say here and whether or not I would demur from it.

For the most part I found this, as expected, to be a pretty solid engagement with the biblical text. I puzzled a little bit with who Carson’s intended audience was. He notes in his preface, “A need exists for both academic and popular approaches [to scripture]: but this volume belongs to the latter camp” (9). And indeed this a non-academic, non-technical commentary in that there are no long strings of Koine Greek or technical djargon. But if it is a ‘non-academic’ text, it also seems to be an unpopular one. Carson, does lay aside the technical discussion, without quite descending to the level of popular. So, for example, in commenting on Jesus’ phrase in John 14:2, “I’m going there to prepare a place for you,” he writes:

The underlying Greek text precedes these words with a causal “for”: that is, “In my Father’s house are many rooms (the next words, “if not I would have told you” are parenthetical); for I am going to prepare a place for you. The “are” in the first line, as often the case in John’s Gospel, is proleptic (anticipatory) (26).

Carson’s comments here assume a working knowledge of Greek grammar and syntax. This is not exactly popular, even if it lacks some technical percision. However, it does give you the sense of how closely Carson reads the text, and tries to make inferences based on the words on the page. This is the sort of evangelical interpretation I applaud most, and found much that I resonated with and it gives a great deal of what Carson says a rootedness. He isn’t just spouting off opinions, he is engaging with scripture and trying to interpret it faithfully. This is good stuff.

So what of the high priestly prayer and what it says about unity? How does Carson handle that passage? Well, he eschews both those who are ecumenical at the expense of Christian truth and those who think ecumenism is evil (and thus ignore Jesus’ prayer all together). He posits that in our current era, not everything in modern Christendom is really Christian (232), or at the very least, there are competing definitions of what qualifies as Christian. Therefore, he posits the unity envisioned is a unity centered on the person Jesus Christ and our connection to him. He writes:

Whoever cites John 17 to justify a unity that embraces believers and apostate, disciple and renegade, regenerate and unregenerate, abuses this passage. Such ecumenism has its roots not in Scripture but in a misguided (if well-intentioned) notions of what New Testament Christianity is all about.

On the other hand, the things that tie together true believers are far more significant than the things that divide them. The divisive things are not necessarily unimportant: sometimes they are points of faith or practice that have long-range effects on the church for good or ill, reflecting perhaps some major inconsistency or misapprehension concerning the truth. Nevertheless the things that tie us together are of even more fundamental importance. Regardless of denominational affiliation, there ought to be among Christ’s people a sincere kinship, mutual love, a common commitment, a deep desire to learn from one another and to come, if at all possible , to a shared understanding of the truth on any point . Such unity ought to be so transparent and compelling that others are attracted t it. To such biblical ecumenism (if I may so label it ) there is no proper objection. Indeed, it is mandated by the Final Prayer of the Lord Jesus himself (233).

I really appreciate this vision of Christ-centered unity, centered around Jesus Christ and regard Carson and his Gospel Coalition friends as sisters and brothers and Christ and am grateful for some of the ways they bear witness to God’s work in the world. Nevertheless, I’m also conscious of ways they draw lines and fail to recognize the legitimacy of faith of some of my Christian friends because of different doctrinal or social concerns. But I appreciate Carson’s words and desire to lean into Christ’s words.

In the end, this is a pretty solid exegetical exposition. Not too technical, but technical enough that the reader that has done at least a little ground work will find it more fruitful. I give this four stars (really 3 and change, but I’m going to round-up because I appreciate a lot about this). –

Notice of material connection: Baker Books sent me a copy of this in exchange for my honest review. They didn’t tell me what to say or ask for a positive review, but an honest one.

 

Hebrews and James, Reformation Style: a book review

Until now, I had not read any of the commentaries in the IVP Reformation Commentary on Scripture series. My interest in the theological interpretation and historical theology usually drives me to a much earlier era. I love the Desert Fathers and patristics and have spent some time with the Ancient Christian Commentary series.  However, my interest was piqued by the lastest Reformation Commentary volume, edited by Roland Rittgers, in part because of the celebration of the Reformation’s quincentennial, and partly because volume XIII, examines the books of Hebrews and James.

2976I love these two epistles, yet Martin Luther had a lower estimation of them.  Luther liked Hebrews, though he did not place it on the same footing with apostolic teaching (3). He regarded it as a non-Pauline epistle, but he did think the author of Hebrews was at least a disciple of the Apostles, and Luther’s lectures on Hebrews (1517-1518), influenced and impacted his maturing Reformation theology (pp. xliii-xliv). James, on the other hand, he regarded as an epistle of straw, “with nothing of the nature of the gospel about it” (200). Despite Luther’s opinion of these books, other Reformers were more charitable in their assessments, many regarding the former as Pauline, and the latter as apostolic and authoritative.

The Reformation Commentary on Scripture follows much the same format as the Ancient Christian Commentary does. Each book is broken up into sections by pericope, with verse by verse (or paragraph by paragraph) commentary drawn from the writings of various reformers. The first thing I noticed was the breadth of voices which Rittgers includes. There were Catholic reformers and Christian humanists, (e.g. Gasparo Contarini, Desiderius Erasmus, Thomas More), Lutherans, Calvinists (e.g. John Calvin, Theodore Beza), Swiss Reformed (e.g., Heinrich Bullinger, Huldrych Zwingli) Anglicans, Puritans, and Radical Reformers (e.g. Menno Simons, Dirk Philips, Melchoir Hoffman).  Jacobus Arminius provides a counter-voice to some of the hardline Calvinist comments on Hebrews. Given the era, the voices included were mostly male, though Rittgers does include a sole entry from Marguerite of Navarre (104-105).  Some of these commentators were familiar to me. Many were not. There is an appendix with “Biographical Sketches or Reformation-Era Figures and Works” which profiles most of the references included here (though curiously doesn’t profile Edward Dering, who comments extensively on Hebrews but lucky for me there is Wikipedia).

Often the differences of opinion between the Reformers fall predictably along the hardened denominational lines of latter days. The Reformers wrestled with Hebrew’s apparent teaching that we can lose our salvation. Anabaptist commentators like Derek spoke forcibly of the forcibly of the need for excommunicating false believers (82). The Protestants loved what Hebrews says about the supremacy of Christ, but went to great pains to show, against Catholic sacramental theology, that Christ is not sacrificed again in the mass, but once alone for our sin (see, for example, Johannes Bugenhagen’s comments on Heb 9:11-12. p 125). In dealing with James, Lutherans, in general, were less sunny toward the epistle as Luther had been, whereas magisterial Reformers, and Anglicans regarded it much more favorably.

I read through this commentary in about a week’s time. There is enough here that is devotional. The Reformers read the Bible with an eye toward what it meant in life. Their comments are pre-critical in the sense that they do not occupy themselves with sources, literary form or the text’s setting in life. They are much more concerned about explicating what the implications of these epistles are for the lives of the faithful. This isn’t to say that they were unaware of debates about issues like authorship, but their answers were meant to either give weight to either the text or their critique of the epistles’ theology. As theological interpreters, they read the Bible in a Christocentric way.  Hebrews especially send the Reformers back over the Old Testament, looking for the ways the Hebrew Bible testifies of Christ. James’ critique of favoritism and partiality toward the rich, mirrored the era’s critique of corruption in the Church.They were serious readers. They engaged the words on the page.

It is fruitful to read commentaries from people outside of our own era. The sixteenth-century Reformers had their own blind spots and weren’t privy to some of the critical insights we have today. Yet their God-focused, Christ-centered interpretative tradition shaped our theological traditions. Rittgers has compiled an accessible entry point into their theology. I give this commentary four stars. – ★★★★

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

The Book of Hebrews is Not Uncharted Territory: a book review

No one knows who wrote the book of Hebrews (though everybody has a theory). It is tucked into the New Testament behind Paul’s epistles but it is unclear what its relationship to Paul is.  Hebrews is a complicated book full of theological insights. In its pages, the author expounds a high Christology which pictures Jesus as: above the Angels, the great high priest in the order of Melchizedek, our mediator and our sacrifice. He also issues warnings and exhorts his recipients to remain faithful. Hebrews describes in vivid detail how Jesus Christ fulfills Israel’s hopes and expectations. This is an important book; yet outside the ‘hall of faith’ chapter (Heb. 11), many find the book’s message difficult to understand and grapple with. In part, this is due to a widespread ignorance of the Old Testament (which Hebrews’ quotes through out), but there is also just a lot to grapple with in the text.

Charts on the Book of Hebrews by Herbert W. Bateman IV

Herbert W Bateman IV has done the church and academy a service in summarizing the contents of Hebrews and the scholarly conversation on its contents. Charts on the Book of Hebrews provides a comprehensive outlook on Hebrews. One-hundred-and-four charts (or tables) provide windows for understanding the text.  In four sections, Bateman maps out the scholarly debate on authorship, reception, genre and structure of Hebrews (part 1), the Old Testament and Second Temple allusions (part 2), the theology of Hebrews (i.e. God, Christology, and important themes) (part 3), and exegetical issues (part 4). These tables give an overview of  the book and some of the interpretive issues various commentators have faced.

While Bateman is theologically conservative (as am I) and a dispensationalist (which I’m not), the main value of this book is descriptive.  Bateman’s charts survey the literature on Hebrews and describe the various scholarly and historic opinions on its interpretation. They also parse exegetical data (i.e. repeated motifs, important words, Old Testament and Second Temple Era allusions, etc.). Regardless of your theological persuasion, you are bound to find these charts helpful in illuminating the text.

I plan to make good use of this book the next time I’m preaching and teaching on Hebrews. Most of the information in this book, I would expect to find in a good critical commentary, but the fact that Bateman collects and presents through this text (rather than exegeting and interpreting) means that the value of this book is way it aids the reader in their own exegesis and understanding of the text.  Information about structure, genre, authorship, the theological content, Old Testament allusions, textual issues, etc., are labeled and organized. This makes this book a great reference for digging into the text (as opposed to being spoon-fed one commentator’s informed opinion).  Certainly I will be checking commentaries too, but these charts will provide a good first step. This is a tool worth using.

I especially appreciated Bateman’s summary of  historic approaches to authorship, destination and the structure of Hebrews (part 1), and the vivid way his charts illustrate the portrait of Christ that emerges in Hebrews (part 3).  I have no idea if this book on Hebrews is indicative of the quality of the rest of the Kregel Charts of the Bible series.  If it is, then I commend the whole series. I happily give this book 5 stars and think it will be a useful resource for understanding and exegeting Hebrews. I recommend it to anyone planning to preach and teach from the text and to those who just want a deeper understanding of this important book. ★★★★★

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

Review of the Pastorum Series: Part Two

Pastorum Series Collection (7 vols.) by Elliot Ritzema, Jeffrey E. Miller Logos Bible Software 2012

In my last post I examined  Elliot Ritzema’s resources that are part of the new Pastorum Series Collection from Logos Bible Software. In this post, I will look at Jeffrey Miller’s resources and how his and Ritzema’s books work together.

Jeffrey Miller is the author of Hazards of Being A Man,  co-author of Zondervan’s Dictionary of Bible and Theology Words and A New Reader’s Lexicon to the Greek New Testament and has been a contributing editor on three commentaries. Additionally he has 11 years of pastoral ministry experience so he understands the pressure of having to write sermons week after week. In the Study, Apply, Share guides which are included in this collection, Miller offers sound exegetical advice and helpful hints on how to make the Bible meaningful to your congregation.

In this collection, Miller looks at five New Testament books: Mark, LukePhilippians, Hebrews, James.  The Study, Apply, Share guides divide each of these biblical books into pericopes and gives exegetical hints (Study), provides two possible applications (Apply) and two creative ideas for presenting this passage (share). So if you were looking at Study, Apply, Share: Luke you would see a series of questions which help you dig deeper into the text. Here’s a look at Luke 3:1-20 (I chose this because it coincides with the Lectionary text for Advent C3):

Luke 3.1-20

Each of these questions link to different resources in Logos. As you can see from the above example, many of Miller’s ‘go to’ commentaries are not in my personal Logos library (of the above, I only have the Word Biblical Commentary). If I do click on the questions with a ‘lock’ I get a splash page in Logos which directs me to the Logos product page that corresponds to that resource (for purchase). While I can’t buy everything that Logos suggests,  Miller’s questions are helpful for digging into the text and I can easily follow his hints by cross referencing the passage comments in other commentaries (which I do own). Granted, those who have a more comprehensive library than I  will be able to accomplish more, more efficiently.

Miller highlights two possible preaching themes which offer guidance on how this passage may be applied. Here is a look at  the ‘Apply’ section for Luke 3:1-20:

Luke 3.1-20 Apply

These themes help preachers frame what they are to say, providing the ‘big idea’ as they craft their message.  If I were preaching this passage, I might use one of these themes to give me a general direction (provided my study, didn’t direct me another way). The suggested applications answers the ‘so what?’ question. Our exploration of John the Baptist should lead us to question our own hypocrisy and the need for preparation. Miller helps hone in on what it means to live out the truth presented in this passage. Other passages would yield  different themes and applications.

Finally the ‘Share’ section presents creative suggestions for sharing this with the congregation in the worship service. As with the application, Miller relates this to the same two preaching themes:

Luke 3.1-20 Share

This section has creative activities which involve the congregation (as in the first suggestion above). Sometimes these are suggestions for particular pastoral duties (i.e.  preaching an evangelistic message, holding a baptismal service, etc).  This is the section I think I will get the most use of.  Miller gives some great suggestions on how we can make this passage come alive for congregants.

Other passages also include full color graphics which illuminate an aspect of the message or book being studied. These resources (Luke and the other books) are  time savers which provide hints, suggestions and ideas for sermon preparation and delivery.  Thankfully, Miller stops short of writing  the sermons for pastors. Obviously for pastors to preach well, they need to sit under the text themselves, study and hear from God what he may be saying to that particular congregation at that particular time. Nothing that Miller says short circuits that, but he does help preachers listen well to the text, and get the point before they start communicating.

So how do the Study, Apply, Share resources integrate with 300 Quotations for Preachers and 400 Prayers for Preachers? All of the resources in the Pastorum Series Collection are tagged by preaching theme and by passage. So for example, a search of the Preaching Theme ‘Hypocrisy’  will bring up this quotation from John Bunyan which a preacher may use to illustrate a point in his message:

I have been in his family, and have observed him both at home and abroad; and I know what I say of him is the truth. His house is as empty of religion, as the white of an egg is of savour.… Thus say the common people that know him, “A saint abroad, and a devil at home.”

300 Quotations for Preachers, ed. Elliot Ritzema (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012).

This prayer Peter Ainslie might be prayed in the sermon or as part of pastoral prayers (perhaps before communion):

O Healer of souls, purge me of the leaven of hypocrisy and teach me the holiness of sincerity, frankness, honesty and courtesy. You have shown me the nobility of faith, and in my secret moments let me be busy in learning the principles of your kingdom, fastening them to my heart, that I may not fail in practicing them when I am tested. Open my eyes to the sacred trust that you have laid upon me, and let me know that all fruitfulness is the work of your grace, for I am only a steward awaiting my Lord’s return, to whom belongs my affection and my life. Amen.

PETER AINSLIE
400 Prayers for Preachers, ed. Elliot Ritzema (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012).

A search by passage would also yield a prayer from Anselm of Canterbury and an incisive quote from Augustine.  So for any given passage, there may be several prayers and quotes which can be correlated to Miller’s material.

As an entire collection, these resources are a tremendous help to the overworked preacher. Miller’s resources are different from Ritzema’s but they compliment each other well. Miller helps preachers delve into the Bible, study deeply and present relevant messages. Ritzema’s resources give preachers and worship planners a means of introducing the congregation to significant voices from Church history. Taken together they help pastors and worship leaders plan Sunday worship in a cohesive way.  I happily recommend this resource and believe that preachers will make good use of it.

(Notice of material connection: I received this resource from Logos Bible Software in exchange for my honest review).