Hyde and Go Preach: a book review

Paul’s pastoral epistles are sometimes identified as his letters to Timothy and Titus, These are fruitful for pastoral leaders; however we shouldn’t jump to the false impression that the rest of Paul’s letters are non-pastoral. Most of Paul’s letters are directed to congregations he formed and pastored. Even when Paul isn’t ‘the pastor’ (as in Romans) he stll comes off pastoral. . In a new ¬†expositional commentary, ¬†From the Pen of Pastor Paul,¬†Daniel Hyde explores the pastoral implications of the books of I & II Thessalonians (one of Paul’s early church plants).

fromthepenofpastorpaul_1024x1024This isn’t a normal verse-by-verse commentary. It was born out of sermon series that Hyde delivered at¬†Oceanside United Reformed Church where Hyde pastors (he is also adjunct instructor at Mid-American Reformed Seminary and Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary). Hyde’s sermons walks through the Thessalonican correspondence, rooting his understanding of Paul in the Reformed tradition. Hyde’s chief dialogue partners include ancient preachers, medieval theologians, Reformers and the Puritans, and modern scholars like FF Bruce, and John Stott (14-15).

These aren’t fluffy-feel-good-sermons addressed to the felt needs of the congregation. Hyde simply walks through the text: warnings about false teachers, apostasy and the man of lawlessness; advice for living; wonder at the public Second Coming of Christ. I appreciated that Hyde counters contemporary ¬†eschatologies which treat Jesus’ return more as an occasion to fear than as our ultimate hope.

If I ever preach through Thessalonians, I will find this helpful; however, I didn’t find hyde an easy communicator to relate with. I like the substance of what Hyde says, but wish he took greater pains at accessibility. He moved quickly to deep theology and discussing applications without much in the way of ¬†illustration (i.e. personal anecdotes, pop-cultural references, or stories). He is more likely to underline a point by quoting Calvin or one of the Puritans than to connect his message to life. ¬†I also wish his go-to-theologians weren’t mostly ¬†dead white guys (not that there is anything wrong with that).

The expository nature of this book, makes it less useful if you are studying particular verses, but Hyde does a nice job of drawing out important themes. I give this three stars.

Note: I received this book from Cross-Focused Reviews in exchange for my honest review.

 

Timmy Time on the Romans Road: a book review

Charismatics like Corinthians, emotional people like Philippians and justice advocates like Galatians. But ‘serious theologians’ love Romans. I’m kidding, although¬†Romans¬†is highly significant. This is Paul at his deepest. It is no wonder that ‘Romans is a book that repeatedly changes the world by changing people” (7). ¬†Augustine was converted from his reading of Romans, Luther came to a fresh understanding of Justification and countless others have been inspired, challenged by this Pauline Epistle.

Tim Keller has written an accessible, non-technical commentary on Romans which will help pastors and ordinary readers unearth the treasures of Paul’s most theological letter. As part of the God’s Word for You series, Romans 1-7 for You is designed for you to:

  • Read–a guide to help you appreciate the letter
  • Feed–a daily devotional to help you grow in Christ
  • Lead– Notes to help you illustrate ¬†and explain the opening chapters of Romans

This made me think of other appropriate rhymes (‘Heed’–putting Romans into practice or ‘Weed’–using your reading of Romans to get right with God), but these three give a sense of what this book is about and how it should be read.

As this is a commentary, Keller follows the outline and shape of the book of Romans. Walking through chapter by chapter, Keller articulates the message of Romans to us: we learn the power of the gospel (1:1-17), our universal need for the gospel (1:18-3:31), how Abraham and David illustrate justification (Romansr 4), how Jesus–the second Adam–brings us salvation (Romans ¬†5), ¬†our identity as one united with Christ (6:1-7:6) and as people at war with sin (7:7-25).

Keller is one of my favorite pastor-theologians. He does a great job of explaining the text. I certainly appreciated walking through Romans again (reading it along side my Bible). I  think that it will serve as a helpful teachers resource for anyone seeking to hand on the truths of this Epistle. As I got to the end of the book, I was disappointed that I  have to wait to see how Keller treats the last half of Romans (which has some truly fantastic and difficult to understand stuff). I eagerly await the next installment!

 

Where this book loses ¬†a few points for me is the Glossary. The glossary explains difficult words and concepts which illuminate what Paul (and Keller) are saying. These include Biblical terms like ‘gentiles,’ ‘circumcised’ or ‘Kingdom of God’; theological terms like ‘orthodoxy,’ or ‘doctrine’; and general words used in this book like ‘non-sequiturs,’ ‘subjective,’ or ‘perverse.’ However Keller speaks of ‘expiation,’ ‘propritiation’ and ‘federal headship.’ I think he ably describes what he means by these concepts within the text of the book itself, but a glossary which fails to describe the most technical terms is not good pedagogy (also not in the glossary).

However on the whole, I found this to be solid resource. Lay leaders, clergy and general readers can all delve into this book with benefit. There are twelve chapters which are each divided into two parts. This means you could divide this book up into 24 readings and read through it devotionally over four weeks. I give this book 4.5 stars.

Thank you to the Good Book Company and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

Thoughts on Part I, Paul & the Faithfulness of God: Flipping the Bird at the Ancient World

Having waited years for the release of N.T. Wright’s major ‘Paul book,’ I’ve been pleased that, for me, it is living up to the hype. I have only finished part one (which is midway through book one of this volume). I have had plenty of ‘geek out’ moments along the way. I love the structure of the book.

Wright has organized his book into a chiasm which I think is ¬†absolutely brilliant for exploring Paul: Part I introduces Paul’s world, Part II describes his mindset, Part III, his theology, Part IV places Paul in his World. Additionally, each of these sections is divided by the inclusion of poems by Michael O’Siadhail which illuminate the themes.At the close of Part I, is ¬†O’Siadhail’s poem¬†Collection:

Earlier three birds on a tree

But now only one

Imagine swoops of homing rooks

As evening tumbles in

Cawing and wheeling to gather

In skeleton brances

With nodes of old nest blackening

Into the roosting night.

 

Treetop colony

A rookery congregates.

Dusky assemblage.

 

Whatever instinct makes us hoard,

A desire to amass

Toys, dolls, marbles, bird’s-nests and eggs

We fondle and brood on

Or how we’d swoop like rooks to nab

Spiky windfalls stamping Open their milky husks to touch,

Smooth marvels of chestnut.

The collector’s dream

To feel, to caress, to keep.

A bird in the hand. (348)

 

I have no idea how O’Siadhail’s poetry functions later in the book, but this poem gives Wright an organizing image for presenting us the ancient world. After opening this book with an exploration of the book of Philemon (Wright’s own entry into Paul’s world when he was five. I am pretty sure when I was five, I was more enamored with¬†The Little Engine That Could), Wright examines Paul’s Jewish context, his Greek philosophical context, his Roman religious context and his imperial context. ¬†While Paul’s Jewish context does not have a named bird–it is the Spirit that broods here–the other three contexts each of an avian signifier: The Athenian Owl, the Cock for Asclepius, and the Eagle of Empire.

Part I is laying the ground for what Wright will do in the rest of the book. Wright’s exploration of Philemon illuminates how Paul was bound by his context and yet subverts many of the prevailing cultural values (i.e. he doesn’t overturn slavery but he does give dignity to Onesimus). Wrights exploration of Paul’s Jewish context, brings into sharper focus his discussion of the Pharisees in The New Testament & the People of God.¬†The three birds of philosophy, religion and empire will each play apart in Paul’s articulation of the gospel. Wright is a good historian and most of his claims here are not particularly controversial. He is careful to say that the Pharisees were more than theological legalists (they were sincere believers in covenant trying to navigate occupied territory). The Greek-philosophical context illuminates points of contact with Paul, especially the similarity between some of his ethical claims, and that of the Stoics. Wright describes the religious landscape as both ‘pluralist’ and highly traditional. The public rites were expected and ‘new religions’ which challenged the status-quo would bring you into conflict with the wider culture. The Roman imperial context both allowed the free spread of the Gospel and represented a challenge: Jesus was Lord, which means Caesar is not. Also Paul’s background as a Pharisee already means he was formed by his opposition to the Empire.

This sets the stage for what Wright will say in the rest of the book (I’ve only sketched a few of themes that Wright explores here). Wright argues that for Paul,¬†earlier there were three birds on a tree/ but now there is only one. While this is a book which describes Paul’s theological genius, it was Jesus that flips over these ancient birds.¬†Wright says in the conclusion to this section:

The birds had hovered over Israel all those years had seen the story through. Instead of the wise owls of Athens, a descendant of Solomon would come who would see in the dark and bring hidden truth to light.  Instead of the sacrificial cock offered to Asclepius, a sacrifice had occured which, upstaging even the ancient cult and priesthood of the Jerusalem Temple, would bring healing at every level. Instead of the eagle with its talons and claws, Jesus summoned people to  a different kind of empire: peacemaking, mercy, humility and passion for genuine and restorative justice (346).

I look forward to how parts II-IV describe how Paul brought the news of this Jesus to the ancient world. Earlier three birds on a tree, but now there is only one (the three-in-one).  This book is so much fun!

Packer and Paul’s Weak Offering: a book review

J.I. Packer knows something about weakness. As a child he suffered a near fatal accident when hit by a truck. He had to wear a steel plate over a hole in his head for a year (incidentally, ¬†the injury kept him out of World War II and sent him off to Oxford. How’s that for providence!). ¬†Now that he is ‘well advanced in years’ ¬†he has to deal with aging, mortality, and convalescing from a hip replacement surgery. ¬†The apostle Paul ¬†also knew something about weakness. ¬†He suffered his share of persecution and hardship. ¬†In 2 Corinthians, Paul sets out to defend his apostleship from the Corinthian church who dismissed him for his weakness. Paul points the Corinthians to the fact that “weakness is the way” for those who seek to live out the Christian life.

In “Weakness is the Way: Life With Christ Our Strength,” Packer reflects on Paul’s words about weakness and what they have to say to us. In four brief chapters these meditations describe what weakness is, the Christian calling, the Christian understanding of giving, and ¬†the Christian hope in the resurrection. ¬†The first meditation speaks about 2 Corinthians more generally, whereas the other three chapters interact directly with particular passages from the letter.

Packer has a rare gift of packaging deep theological insights accessibly.  As he broods over this peculiar Corinthian correspondence, he challenges us to learn from Paul to not rest on our own strength, but to confidently lean on Christ to be our strength and provision.  He challenges us to trust God in and through our giving rather than trusting our own wealth and financial security. Finally Packer paints a compelling vision of the Christian hope in the resurrection which looks ahead to the good things God has in store in Christ for us.

Paul wrote, “When I am weak I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). ¬†Our spiritual state is that we are all weak and inadequate. Sin in our lives has crippled us. What Packer and Paul have to teach us is that our true strength lies not in our own resources and whatever energy we can muster. ¬†Jesus Christ is our strength. ¬†This of course, is not news to anyone who has walked with Christ: weakness has always been the way. But this is a message ¬†we need to hear often. ¬†I know I do.

 

I give this book five stars–‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ.

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

Reading Paul: a book review

The apostle Paul is baffling to many. Who hasn’t puzzled over what Paul meant in Romans 9-11? ¬†John Harvey, Professor of New Testament ¬†and Dean of ¬†the Seminary & School of Ministry at Columbia International University, has written a short volume to help us understand Paul’s epistles.¬†Interpreting¬†the Pauline Letters: ¬†An Exegetical Handbook,¬†¬†takes students, seminarians and pastors through Paul’s letters, highlighting pertinent background information and helping us get from ‘exegesis to exposition.’

Harvey’s eight chapters walk us through the whole process of exegesis of these letters. The first three chapters give a general overview. ¬†In chapter one, Harvey provides background on the ‘genre’ and structure of Paul’s letters. Chapter two gives a bird’s eye view of the historical context for each of the epistles. ¬†In chapter three he examines themes in Paul’s theology (organized with reference to Paul’s own vocabulary rather than imposing a structure from systematic theology).

In chapter four and five, Harvey unfolds the steps for his exegetical approach. The first step to proper interpretation is textual criticism and translation (chapter four). This helps us establish what the text says and what it means. As we begin the work of interpreting the text, we will need to look at the passage historically, literary and theologically (chapter five) Each of these spheres informs our understanding of the text. ¬†Historical analysis helps us understand the social context of Paul and his original audience. Literary Analysis illuminates structural and generic elements, as well as gets us to pay attention to rhetorical features and syntax. Finally, theological analysis helps us articulate how this passage makes sense in relationship to the Bible’s wider themes (the analogy of scripture) ¬†and doctrine (analogy of faith)(140-1).

Chapter six and seven discuss how to communicate the message of the passages we are exegeting. Chapter six describes how to move from the ‘big idea’ in the passage to how to relate it to a contemporary context. Chapter seven gives two case studies of how this approach works from ‘text to sermon.’ The final chapter¬†¬†provides a list of resources and commentaries for understanding Paul’s letters.

This is a constructive guide and Harvey’s exegetical steps correspond well to the approach I learned in seminary. ¬†I found this text simple to understand, and I thought he did a good job of describing the elements of good exegesis. ¬†I ¬†really like his three lenses on the text: history, literature, and theology. Harvey demonstrates the importance of understanding history, and literature for exegesis and highlights aspects of ‘theological analysis, especially as it relates to Paul (i.e. the Old Testament use in the New).

For me, a book on interpretation of the Bible is only ‘good,’ if I feel like it is worth putting into practice. The next time I am preaching from Paul’s letters, I will refer back to this book. I especially found helpful, Harvey’s succinct background on Greek and Jewish Epistles and how Paul’s letters fit the pattern (and where they are unique). ¬†I think his exegetical approach is spot on; however I felt like he could have explored more in-depth ¬†what theological analysis entails (i.e. what weight do we ascribe to patristic sources or historical theology?).

That small criticism aside, this is an introductory book on Pauline exegesis and does not attempt to untwist every issue in interpreting Paul’s letters. ¬†What it does is give a framework for us to dig deeper into the text ourselves. I give this book four stars and recommend it for pastors and students alike.

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

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.

 

 

The Missional Apostle: a book review

When Robert Plummer and John Mark Terry started gathering contributors for¬†Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours, two figures loomed large in their collective imagination. The first was Paul of Tarsus whose mission and writings helped shape the early Christian movement. The other figure was Roland Allen, the 20th Century Anglican missionary to China. One Hundred years ago Allen wrote ¬†Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?¬†(1912). Allen had been a missionary to China and critiqued the missionary culture of his day for being too closely linked to imperialism. From a fresh reading of Paul’s mission, Allen emphasized church planting, indigenous leadership of national churches, and reliance on the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours edited by Robert L. Plummer & John Mark Terry

Published on the centennial of ¬†Allen’s original publication, ¬†Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours¬†provides a detailed reading of Paul’s Missionary activity and build on Allen’s insights for a contemporary context. While various contributors critique Allen’s work in several respects, ¬†generally they all see Allen’s book as justly influential and seek to carry some of his emphases forward.

The book divides into two sections: part one focuses on Paul’s message ¬†while part two focuses on the implications of Paul’s mission for today. These sections were written by two complementary sets of scholars. Part one is written by Biblical scholars; part two is composed by missiologists, church planters and practitioners. ¬†Thus while each author tries to suggest what the implications of their topic are ¬†for today, the second section is more practical and the first section remains more theological.

In Part 1, Michael Bird sketches the cultural and historic milieu of Paul’s mission, placing it in context. Eckhard Schnabel examines what ¬†we know of Paul’s missionary journeys. Robert Plummer discusses the nature of Pauls gospel (especially in reference to 1 Cor. 15:1-8). Benjamin Merkle ‘s and Christoph Stenschke‘s chapters explore Paul’s ecclesiology and the nature of his mission for the life of the church. Don Howell explores Paul’s theology of suffering while Craig Keener looks at Paul’s understanding of Spiritual warfare. ¬†Each of these authors presents their topic in conversation with Allen’s work.

In Part 2, David Hesselgrave and Michael Pocock flesh out Paul’s missional strategy and discuss its value for today, John Mark Terry explore Allen’s reading of Paul’s mission and the implications for the indigenous church, Ed Stetzer and Lizette Beard write about Paul’s emphasis on church planting. M. David Sills ¬†discusses contextualization and Chuck Lawless explores Paul’s ongoing ¬†emphasis on leadership development in the churches he planted.

Finally J.D. Payne has a postscript on the legacy of Allen’s work and its abiding influence 100 years after its original publication.

This collection of essays provides a good introduction to Roland Allen and his influence on missiology. ¬†Aspects of Allen’s work are critiqued in these pages (see especially Hesselgrave’s chapter), but each of the authors displays deep admiration for Allen and follow his summons to conduct missions in the Spirit of Paul’s mission.

As with all multi-author works, some essays are stronger than others and there is a certain amount of topical overlap between chapters. However each chapter stands on its own merit. Too much of the modern missional literature is rootless and lacks Biblical grounding. These authors (and Roland Allen) call us to see Paul’s mission as integral to proper missional theology and praxis. I am inclined to think they are right and would recommend this book to a broad range of pastors, church planters.

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