Timmy Time in First Samuel: a book review

One of my favorite books of the Old Testament is Samuel. Samuel tells the story of Israel’s movement from the time of the judges to a monarchy (first Saul and then the Davidic monarchy). Far from being an apologetic for David, the author of Samuel reveals Israel’s greatest king to be a man with feet of clay. My love of the book of Samuel was perhaps birthed by Sunday School tales of David when I was a ruddy wee lad; however seminary allowed me to dig deeper in the text. I never had a formal class on Samuel but the professor who taught me biblical Hebrew and Exegesis had a Ph.D. from Cambridge where he wrote a dissertation on Samuel. The stories of Samuel, Saul and David were full of illustrative material and he drew on this book a lot. These pages taught me how to read the Bible well and I am grateful for it.

1 Samuel For You is the third commentary in the ‘For You’ series from the Good Book Company. It is the second commentary I’ve read from Tim Chester, pastor at the Crowded House in Sheffield, UK. So far this is my favorite of the lot. This may be because of my peculiar love of Samuel, but I think Chester delivers the goods here! This is a commentary which is sensitive to the historical and literary context, places Samuel in a canonical/theological frame and presents the narrative in an accessible and winsome way. This is what you want from a popular level commentary. I was pleased that in a number of places Chester picks up on the Hebrew wordplay (i.e. sa’al ‘ask’ in Hanna’s prayer in 1:20 is similar to the name Saul whom God will give to those who ask for a king; Eli collapsing under his own weight as the Glory (weight) departs from Israel in chapter 4; The wine–nebel–runs out of Nabal when he hears of the disaster his wife prevented in 25:37; etc.) These examples reveal some of the literary sophistication in Samuel. Chester does not delve exhaustively into every example of Hebrew wordplay, but often popular level commentaries do not explore it at all. So well done here!

Chester understands the genre of Samuel as ‘preached history.’  This is a historical treatment but it is also exhortative. Chester’s comments come in two parts for each passage. The first part looks closely at the text. The second part builds a bridge between the passage and the wider canonical context. Thus he draws the link between the historical David, and the ‘Son of David.’ The former was a christ–‘an annointed one.’ One of David’s descendants is the Christ–Jesus our Messiah. Chester does a good job of drawing connections in the text. If you do not spend much time in the Old Testament this commentary will help you enter into the Hebrew Bible a little deeper. This is not an exhaustive commentary (not every verse or passage is covered), but it does represent a cogent and helpful approach to this book of the Bible. I highly recommend this for personal or group study. I give it five stars.

Notice of Material Connection: I received this book from the Good Book Company via Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for my honest review.

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.

Jesus in the Sky: a book review

The ascension of Christ is an important theological and historical event in Jesus’ life. But as Tim Chester observes, it is weird (8). Chester is the pastor of The Crowded House in Sheffield. He has teamed up with Jonny Woodrow the pastor of The Crowded House in Loughborough (you know these churches are well attended otherwise the name would just be a bit awkward).  They have written a book on the ascension that is brief and  accessible but has theological depth. The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God draws on the Reformed tradition and contemporary theology and describes why the Ascension is important for Christians.

In three chapters Chester and Woodrow explore the meaning of the ascension and how Jesus is our ascended priest, our ascended king, and our ascended man.  Jesus is our mediator and high priest interceding with us before the Father. Jesus is the ascended heavenly King, which reminds the church and the world, that the culmination of history and the fullness of God’s kingdom rule is a coming reality ( because this world is incomplete and unfinished).  Jesus is the ascended man, which means that in Him, humanity has entered into the life of God. Through His ascension we also may ascend into life with the Triune God.

These meditations  are theologically rich and are helpful in seeing the blessings implicit in Christ’s ascension. My favorite part of the book was Chester and Woodrow’s discussion of the Lord’s Supper.  The ascension implies Jesus’ absence, but in Communion, the church experiences his “Real Presence.” Not in the Catholic sense, of Transubstantiation, or in the Lutheran sense of Christ’s ubiquity. No, Chester and Woodrow draw on Calvin’s sacramental theology and argue that Christ’s presence is made available to us in Communion through the Spirit’s work.  “The communion meal expresses our union with Christ and so reinforces it to our experience (69)”

I happen to think that Calvin’s reflections on the Table are the high point of his theology and loved the way Chester and Woodrow articulated it in this context.They close this book with a conclusion which describes our ascension through Christ and an ‘Ascension Hymn’ written by Chester.

I recommend this book alongside another popular treatment of the Ascension, Tim and Aaron Perry’s He Ascended into Heaven: Learning to Live the Ascension-Shaped Life (Paraclete Press, 2010) and more academic  books like Douglas Farrow’s Ascension and Ecclesia or his Ascension Theology (the latter of which I have not read).  Farrow is referenced in both this and the Perrys’ book and is meaty. However the gift of Chester and Woodrow’s book is that they make deep theological reflections available to non-theologians (if there is such a thing). I enjoyed this book a lot and give it 4.5 stars!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book from Christian Focus Publications in exchange for my honest review.

From Facebook to the Face of God: a book review

Facebook has much to offer us. I love that I can reconnect with family and friends who live far away from me and my family. I love sharing pictures of our kids so that their grandparents and aunts and uncles can see. And it is fun reestablishing a friendship online with people you haven’t seen or heard from in years. Occasionally you read an article (or book) about how social media is addling our brains or turning us into socially obtuse narcissists, but can this really be true?

Will You Be my Facebook Friend?: Social Media and the Gospel by Tim Chester

Author and church planter, Tim Chester, has written a short booklet (48 pages) which can be read in less time than many of us spend online per day. Chester is not a Luddite. He acknowledges the benefits of Facebook and other social media sites; however, there are problems and dangers in its excessive use. Many use Facebook to recreate their world, controlling how people perceive them. Others use Facebook to escape their limitations (using Facebook to replace real-world relationships rather than enhance them). Chester explores these dangers, but also relates them to the gospel. While the promise of social media is relationship on our terms,  in the gospel God has opened up away to relate to Him and one another on His terms. While we try to ‘recreate ourselves’ on social media sites, God in Christ is recreating us in his image. He relates to us in truth while many of our online worlds are built on self-constructed images and pretense.

Chester closes with some guidelines for social networking which enable us to use them beneficially, while avoiding some of the inherent dangers. I like Facebook as much as the next person, but technology is not neutral and carries its own telos. If we use social media in a non-examined way, we likely will end up somewhere we never intended to be, in terms of how we see ourselves and our relationships. Chester offers some great advice on how to be mindful in the online world. This book will be helpful for anyone seeking to get a handle on their online world and wanting to bring greater integrity to their social media presence.

Thank you to 10Publishing and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review

Question: How much time do you spend on social media? What impact (if any) does it have on your real-time-relationships and embodied life?