A Commentary on Judges and Ruth: a book review

While Evangelicals declare that all scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16), we do not make much space for certain books of the Old Testament in worship. Take the book of Judges. Besides the Gideon and Samson stories in children’s Bibles and Sunday school lessons, Judges is left untouched by many churches. The Sunday Revised Common Lectionary has just one reading from Judges in its three year cycle (Judges 4:1-7) which highlights Deborah, the female Judge and prophetess. Of course, this is a mere fragment of the Deborah/Barak story, ignoring the main action of the chapter (the actual battle with Sisera and his destruction at the hands of Jael). The book of Ruth fairs a little better (it is not a violent book, so the RCL is less reticent to exclude it). There are two passages included in year B (not too bad for a four-chapter-book).

But the books that are most difficult for us, and feel archaic to our modern sensibilities, sometimes have the most to teach us. Robert Chisholm does a masterful job of mining the depths of Judges and Ruth and bringing homiletic insights to working preachers. I have not read Chisholm in any substansive way before, though I did reference his From Exegesis to Exposition several times in seminary. In A Commentary on Judges and RuthChisholm examines the passage through a synchronic lens, with an eye for its historical impact and literary craft. He then draws out the theological import and suggests a direction for pastors who will be preaching from the passage.

The book of Judges and Ruth occupy the same historical period in Biblical history (the time of the Judges, cf Ruth 1:1).  But their tone could not be more different. Judges describes Israel’s failure to possess the land, their repeated fall into idolatry where they ‘do evil in the eyes of the Lord,” and the way the surrounding cultures contribute the the moral decay of the nation. In the beginning of the book, when a ‘Judge’ is raised up by God in response to the people crying out and returning back to him, the Judge acts decisively to deliver the nation. Othniel (3:7-11) and Ehud (3:12-31) set the standard. However when Deborah commissions Barak to deliver the people, we see him hesitate (4:8). This hesitancy to act (or to follow) is evident in every cycle in the later part of the book (i.e. Gideon, Jepthah, Samson). When you get to Jepthah (10:6-12:15), a generally righteous judge you find that he is so affected by the surrounding culture that human sacrifice is an acceptable offering in exchange for victory (336).  Samson’s twenty year ‘rule’ is not accompanied by any sort of crying out to the LORD by the people, no one rallies around him, and he only fights the Philistines on his own whim.  The epilogue of Judges (17-21) records two episodes which evidence the moral degradation of the nation (including nationally sanctioned rape).

The tone of Ruth is much more hopeful. Naomi returns from Moab a widow who had lost her sons. Ruth, her Moabite daughter-in-law comes with her, though there is no prospect of an heir or a future for her there. When she goes to glean in the fields of Boaz, she is treated with kindness. When Naomi hears of it, she hatches a plot to get Ruth hitched. In the end Boaz marries Ruth and the two become the great grandparents of David (and she is included in the Messianic line of Jesus).

For each episode in these books, Chisholm presents a translation and narrative struture (noting the Hebrew syntax in his translation), discusses literary structure, exposits and discusses the message and application. The final section is where he draws out the exegetical and theological themes and points at homiletical trajectories. This is a tightly organized and well presented framework and it read well (which you can’t often say of higher level commentaries). Chisholm is a confessional scholar and so sits under the text. As an exegete, he has a sharp eye for the original context, and his exposition is helpful for drawing out a message for today which is faithful to the text. I also appreciated that he discusses at length in his comments, the degradation of the treatment of women throughout the book of Judges. He is cognizant of feminist critiques of Judges, even if his reading is much more conservative (i.e. he hints at Deborah’s appointment as Judge the result of the lack of male leadership. Though certainly the Hebrew scriptures attest elsewhere that God’s choice is not necessarily society’s choice). I appreciated his handling of the Ruth story as well (some of his translation notes are golden here!), but it his reading of Judges which garners my highest praise.

This is the second volume in the Kregel Exegetical Library I have reviewed (the first was Volume 1 of the Psalms by Allen Ross). On the strength of these two volumes, I think this is going to be an excellent commentary series. Both volumes have strong introductions, attentiveness to historical and literary forms and practical insights. I can’t recommend this commentary enough. So if you are preaching on Judges or just want to delve in for personal study, this is well worth the effort. I give it five stars: ★★★★★

Thank you to Kregel Academic for providing me with a copy of A Commentary on Judges and Ruth in exchange for my honest review. I was not asked to write a positive review, but sometimes, they are that good.

Charting Paul’s Life and Ministry: a book review

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

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

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

Some of my personal favorite charts include:

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Missions in Context: a book review

Contextualization has long been a buzzword for Evangelical missiologists. It denotes the process by which the gospel (our timeless, Biblical message) is transmitted to a particular people group in a way which speaks into that culture. Yet when evangelical missionaries talk about ‘contextualizing the gospel, what practices and philosophical approach do they have in mind? In some of the foundational literature on contextualization, it was assumed that evangelicals simply labored at ‘translating the message’ for a culture but did little else. However this does not do justice to the variety of approaches which evangelicals have taken as they share their faith with the world.

Contextualization in World Missions: Mapping and Assessing Evangelical Models by A. Scott Moreau

A. Scott Moreau, professor of Intercultural Studies at Wheaton College has written a comprehensive resource which identifies and analyzes the landscape of evangelical contextualization. As someone who teaches Intercultural Studies at an evangelical institution, Moreau is no dispassionate academic. However the chief value of Contextualization in World Missions, is Moreau’s ability to describe what it is we evangelicals do on the mission field.

Moreau divides his book into two parts. In section one he discusses the foundations of evangelical contextualization. Evangelicals were not the first to use the term and have built on the work of other thinkers/practitioners. In chapter one, Moreau summarizes the work of Stephen Bevans and Robert Schreiter, both of who mapped various approaches to contextualization and evangelical missiologists have built on their work; however evangelical approaches differ from more mainline approaches in that evangelicals are committed to the necessity of conversion, activism, Biblicism and crucicentrism (Bebbington’s characteristics of evangelicals). In chapter two and three, Moreau further explores the constraints on evangelical approaches based on their understanding of revelation and interpretation.  Chapters four through six look closer at the good and bad in contextualization, conceptual frameworks and describe Moreau’s analytic approach.

In section two, Moreau sets about mapping the variety of evangelical contextual approaches. He maps six approaches to contextualization, drawn from his research into what 249 contextual initiators are doing (i.e missions organizations or ministries working on a multinational scale).  From his research, he uncovered six distinct approaches. That of facilitator, guide, herald, pathfinder, prophet and restorer. He closes this section by imagining future trajectories of evangelical mission and the work of contextualization. Additionally he includes several appendices which evaluate other evangelical attempts at mapping contextualization.

If you are looking for a book that provides a comprehensive overview of evangelical understandings of contextualization, this is really the best book. It is accessible and Moreau does a very good job of evaluated various approaches and summarizing the debates.Each chapter begins with a summary and outline and ends with a list of keywords from the chapter and questions for reflection.  This will be a helpful resource for the classroom, or for missions preparations.  Readers who are interested in the philosophical underpinning of various missional approaches will also find this worthwhile. I highly recommend it. I give it five stars. ★★★★★

I received this book from Kregel Academic through the Kregel Academic and Ministry Blog Program.