Paul and Union with Christ by Constantine Campbell

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Wow! I knew this book was highly regarded on the influential subject of union with Christ. I’ve seen Constantine Campbell’s name show up all over this issue as well. What surprised me, though, is this book’s laudable design. I cannot think of a more ideal way to examine Paul’s relationship to the theological subject of union with Christ than to simply exegete every passage in the epistles of Paul that touch on the subject. Along the way, Campbell tackles “in Christ”, “through Christ”, “into Christ”, as well as every other conceivable expression on the subject. In addition to exegeting each passage, he outlines the possible uses of the word and categorizes each passage as to its likely usage.

Before all those passages are exegeted, there are two chapters that cover introductory matters and a history of the issue seen through the eyes of the major theological players that have most contributed to how the debate has gone. There’s a lot to evaluate there as Campbell does a fine job explaining the strengths and weaknesses of each theologian. After chapters 3 through 7 exegete all those passages, there are several chapters of theological study. More terms are defined and exegeted as well as major concepts of participation like the body of Christ, Temple and building, marriage, dying and rising with Christ, and the new Adam being explained. There’s one chapter that well explains Trinitarian issues and another that tackles the often-debated relationship of union with Christ and justification. The twelveth chapter defines union with Christ with all the information we gained throughout the book and there’s one final chapter on implications and future directions that will really appeal to scholars. Fortunately, there’s a scriptural index that will make this volume as wonderful a reference as it is a theological read.

To my mind, this volume is without peer for the needs of Bible students and pastors on union with Christ. Without a doubt, it will be my go-to volume.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Old Testament Ethics by John Goldingay

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Mark this down is an interesting addition on a subject that runs as wide a gamut as almost any in biblical studies: Old Testament ethics. Enter John Goldingay who has written both major exegetical commentaries and substantial works on Old Testament theology into the Old Testament ethical debates. To be honest, sometimes he’s just a little too far left for me. On the other hand, if we were to tabulate the top scholars on the Old Testament today, he would make most people’s list. I actually enjoyed this volume more than some others of his that I have reviewed.

He divides the book into five parts with the first 3 being subject oriented. He categorizes those subjects as qualities, aspects of life, and relationships. Part four looks at eight of the most important texts in the Old Testament, or at least texts where ethics would be most discussed. Part five contains seven chapters on various people in the Old Testament who had pronounced ethical dilemmas. In my view, this was an excellent framework to approach ethics in the Old Testament.

I found some of the subjects enlightening while others were provocative. If you’ve read him before, that comes as no surprise. In a few cases, he shocked me by taking a more conservative viewpoint than I anticipated. In a few other cases, I found him a little hesitant. In other words, I sensed he might be afraid he would offend someone a little left of him. That’s just my impression. Impressions are a dime a dozen so you can analyze that for yourself.

In any event, there is some good material here to help you wrestle with these highly-debated subjects. In a book of this nature, it’s not if a writer agrees with you on every point, but if he or she is able to stretch you to think about more sides of the issue than you otherwise would have. On that score, Mr. Goldingay has wonderfully succeeded.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Volume 2A, John

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This commentary on the Gospel of John is my first foray into the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Often sold as a set, individual volumes like this one can be picked up. This commentary on John is new within the series and is written by Craig Keener. The amount of writing that this world-class scholar has done is almost beyond belief. I’ve personally used his massive two-volume commentary on the Gospel of John to advantage, but this new commentary is a completely different resource.

You will find the background and commentary in this book to the point. Unlike others of this style that I have seen, however, things most likely to need illumination are exactly what received comment. You might not agree with every comment made, but you won’t find any of the pointless fluff that is often passed off as a viable resource for students. In addition to Keener’s writing, some fine designers exquisitely integrated visuals throughout the book. Sometimes they included a helpful chart, a sidebar on a specific item, a map, a picture, or an illustration. Again, the value of the book is in its wise selections both in comment and visuals. What you end up with is a resource that is as attractive as it is helpful.

Pastors might enjoy this commentary on the fly but would need other more-detailed resources to go with it. Still, this commentary could be an incredible asset to Sunday school teachers, Bible study group leaders, or people attempting to do serious Bible study at home. It’s not common for books aimed at these users to be so well underpinned with quality scholarship. For that reason, this book is a clear winner.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Reformation Commentary on Scripture (NT VII) on Romans 1-8

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Before I even cracked open this book, I figured it might be the most important in the Reformation Commentary on Scripture (RCS) simply because it covers Romans 1-8. I further imagined that its editor would likely find what to leave out more difficult than what to put in with such a wealth of Reformation writings on these chapters available. When I finally perused this volume, I found that editor Gwenfair Walters Adams had done as well as job as could be done though arbitrary choices had to be made.

I enjoyed Adam’s introduction to the commentary on Romans 1-8. She fully described the challenges you would anticipate with this volume and yet gave a wonderful overview in around 25 large pages. She explained which groups wrote widely on Romans and which did not and yet was equitable to all. I felt she was exceptionally fair to the Anabaptists and accurately stated their position. Without doubt, this volume favors a Calvinistic viewpoint, but what else would you expect from a Reformation commentary?

If you are familiar with this series, you will be pleased to know that this latest release is wonderfully consistent in following the series format and making interesting selections from Reformation writings. General editor Timothy George has succeeded in having this series make a congruous presentation.

Picky readers can always argue selections made for each passage, yet it would be impossible to debate the distinct contribution this volume makes. There is nowhere else you could gain all these Reformation insights between two covers. And as we said before, these chapters were the favorite of the Reformers. There simply had to be great pressure in covering Romans 1-8 in the RCS series and that pressure has brought us a pearl.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

“In Christ” in Paul edited by Thate, Vanhoozer, and Campbell

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This book is a substantial resource on the important doctrinal concepts of union and participation. As the title suggests, the expression “in Christ” is key in the Pauline writings and, perhaps, an important peg to hang New Testament studies on. When I saw the names Michael J. Thate, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, and Constantine R. Campbell listed as editors, I knew this would be a book of significant theological depth. Probably more important for the parts than its whole, this is a book that can be referred to for almost any issue imaginable touching on union and participation.

Vanhoozer himself provides a lengthy introductory article that serves as a grand overview of the subject. The rest of the articles are divided into three parts: Pauline theology and exegesis, some highlights from reception history, and theological reflection. I found the articles in parts one and three more interesting, but that probably has more to do with my tastes rather than any deficiency in part two. Most of the articles are narrow in scope. In other words, they slice off a small part of the overall discussion and examine it thoroughly. I imagine this book will be used more for reference than for being the textbook on the subject. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be shocked to see this work referenced repeatedly in future scholarly articles.

The first five articles by Douglas Campbell, Constantine Campbell, grant McCaskill, Susan Eastman, and Matthew Croasmun were most helpful overall. After that, you received help on baptism in relation to the subject, and the digging into 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians on participation. Part two sifts history to see what some of the theological giants thought about the subject before it received its more recent extensive coverage in the scholarly world. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, Martin Luther, Calvin, John Owen, and Karl Barth all received attention over these six chapters. Part three contained three articles that showed you how much this important theological concept can require new reflection in a variety of other parts of Scripture. Here we looked at going from the Trinity to Christian virtue, participating in the body and blood of Christ, and unity.

There’s no way that any scholar doing detailed work on union and participation will not have this work near at hand for decades to come. In addition, the rest of us can glean from its pages to draw out profound theological reflections.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Maturity by Sinclair Ferguson

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Over the past few years, I’ve made it a point to read new works by Sinclair Ferguson that come along. I’ve been blessed immensely and have greatly expanded my doctrinal understanding of many points. I don’t always agree with him, but he can’t be dismissed carelessly as he thinks deeply before pen ever touches paper. As it turns out, this work on maturity or growing up and going on in the Christian life is a revised volume of the work he wrote in his earlier days. It’s not as overtly doctrinal as other works of his that I’ve read, but the doctrinal underpinnings are obvious throughout. As the title suggests, it has a devotional flavor and is really geared to propel us forward in our Christian lives.

The book is simply set up. There are five subjects of growing up, standing firm, facing difficulties, pressing on, and maturity that gets anywhere from 1 to 4 chapters each. Some sections were more valuable to me than others, but that probably has more to do with needs in my life rather than a wavering quality of writing.

His first chapter throws down the gauntlet for why maturity is so critically important to Christians. A few paragraphs in and Ferguson refuses to allow us to think that there’s some magic formula to rush the process of maturity. As he says, it takes time and patient progress. There are several hindrances, which he outlines carefully, but the Bible also presents a process that will lead to maturity – a process that we should cooperate with. Later, he’ll talk about the key of abiding in Christ and what he calls full assurance. He tackles what guidance is as well.

In the next section, just as you would expect if you’re familiar with Ferguson’s writings, he outlines the problem of sin. From there he’s going to talk about handling temptation and fighting the enemy. In one of the best sections of the book, he talks about coping with suffering. In the section called “pressing on”, he explained serving faithfully and running patiently. He concludes with one chapter on maturity itself.

The book is well written. He marshals much Scripture, disperses much doctrine, and gives practical, balanced help. There’s none of the cheesiness of so many current titles on the market today. If you want realistic help, a help that understands that sanctification is a lifelong affair as is the maturity that springs from it, then this is the book for you.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Vertical Marriage by Dave and Ann Wilson

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Since the Christian book market is inundated with marriage books, what makes this book on vertical marriage stand out? The chatter I heard recommended it and I wanted to see for myself. I noticed that Dennis and Barbara Rainey spoke highly of it and even wrote the Foreword, so that was in its favor. The title suggested that the book would help us tie our relationship back to God, so that was a plus. I wasn’t familiar with Dave and Ann Wilson, but since Dave was a pastor, I figured I would enjoy it even more. I’ve read a lot of these type books, and though this one covers much familiar territory by its end I felt it made a distinct contribution.

The funny thing is I didn’t like this book right away. We often say that books where the authors are transparent are the most helpful, yet I was about to believe I’d finally found the one that was too transparent. This book relates at least 20 of the most notorious arguments these authors ever had with each other during their marriage. They were gory! Once as I was reading, I said out loud: “Dave, you’re an idiot”. They discussed how they struggled and almost lost their marriage, and at one point I was wanting to divorce them! As the chapters rolled on, the value of this book for me came into focus. It finally hit me that if my arguments with my wife were recorded in such detail as these are, then listeners would quickly interject: “Jimmy, you’re an idiot”.  In some strange way, that really helped me. I could never write a book like this one where the authors were raw on steroids, but apparently the Wilson’s have the fortitude to be able to share and help in this special way. They didn’t write a theological treatise, but a practical conversation.

Another criticism that vanished by the last page was how little I felt the authors were explaining their premise of vertical marriage. What became clear earlier was that they were giving excellent insights into conflict resolution, the real difficulty of marriage between two sinners, and how to think like your spouse who is so different than you. I can hardly recall a marriage book that so forces you to get inside your spouse’s head. That’s how those ridiculous arguments given in the book ended up being of great value. As it turns out, they brought their premise of vertical marriage home to us in the last two chapters. It worked. They made their point. It was a point worth being forced to confront.

This is a great book, but you’d better buckle your seatbelt. I’ll definitely rate it as a marriage book worth getting from the glutted marriage book market. It stands out among the pack.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Exalted Above the Heavens (NSBT) by Peter Orr

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The New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT) has had several outstanding releases over the last year or so, but this new volume by Peter C. Orr on the risen and ascended Christ is one of the best I’ve seen in some time. Its main strength is its ability to step inside nebulous, often-misunderstood subjects and really illuminate them for the reader. This book really helped me sew up some tears in my own thinking. The scholars will love it because he has an ability to give succinct overviews of where scholarly interaction on the subject has gone. On the other hand, those of us who are just jumping in to gather all the theology and biblical understanding we can receive will get it in spades!

After a brief introduction that explains what this book is all about, he jumps into the identity of the exalted Christ. He sensibly surveys what’s the same and what’s not the same between the exalted Christ and the earthly Jesus. Chapters 3, 4, and 6 were worth the price of the book alone for their expert guidance. The author really expanded my thinking about the relationship of the exalted Christ and the Holy Spirit. For that matter, his explanation of the church as a corporate identity of Christ was outstanding.

He looked at the location of Christ from several angles over several chapters. That discussion helps bridge the gap between biblical passages that talk about Christ at the Father’s right hand with those that speak of Him as with us here and now. Later, he went beyond location to talk about the activity of Christ both on earth and in heaven. There was a short, clear concluding chapter of reflections as well as a full bibliography and indices.

I see some things now that were muddy to me before. This is a fine book!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Illustrated Wall Maps of the Bible–A Great Resource!

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This beautiful resource is the perfect choice for Sunday School, college classes, or any sort of Bible class. The size of these wall maps (28 X 40 inches) is ideal. The maps themselves are attractive and loaded with the best information. Carta maps are my favorite and the ones chosen for this package are the most important for a teaching setting.

When you open the container that holds these maps you will first see an 18-page Bible atlas that will aid your use of the larger maps and help you prepare to teach. All 12 maps are included in this atlas along with 5 additional maps. The bonus maps in this atlas include: The Land of Canaan with an inset of the walls of Jericho, The World of the Greeks with a small insert of the empire of Alexander the Great, The Roman Empire with a small inset of the city of Rome, Jesus in Galilee (an exceedingly helpful map), and the Growth of Christianity. Don’t miss the chronological table on the back cover either. All of these will give you a leg up as you use the large wall maps in the classroom.

The first wall map, Culture and Commerce in the Ancient Near East, provides a helpful overview of the ANE and why population centers gravitated to where they did. The second map, ANE in the Second Millennium B.C., helps you see that Israel falls between the dominant areas of Egypt and the peoples near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. In that millennium Egypt was the more dominant. The map that covers the next millennium shows the ascendency of the Arameans and Babylonians.

A map on the Coming of the Israelites narrows the focus to Israel and includes an inset of the Exodus. The next two maps cover respectively the Kingdoms of David and Solomon and the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel after the Kingdom split. The insets include a map of Megiddo and Jerusalem in the 6th Century B.C.

Next, the maps turn to the New Testament with the first one showing Palestine in Greco-Roman Times with an inset of Jerusalem in the Hasmonean period. The next map, Jesus In His Land, shows some of the broad sweeps of Christ’s life and the inset brings Jerusalem to Christ’s time as well. A map called The Journeys of the Apostles shows from Israel to Tarsus and covers Philip and Paul’s work there. The inset shows Caesarea Maritima. The next map, the Spread of the Early Church, views Christianity from Babylon to Rome and to Egypt to the south with an inset of Paul’s Missionary Journeys. I might have swapped the map and the inset there, but both are good. The final two maps show physical maps of Israel with wonderful detail and many place names for each Testament respectively.

I’d easily label this the best set of wall maps I’ve ever encountered. This collection a winner!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Discovering the New Testament: Volume 1–The Gospels and Acts

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I love this book! I’ve had the privilege to use and review many books on New Testament Introduction, but this volume has one of the best combinations of design, layout, information, and approach that I’ve encountered. Though it only covers the Gospels and Acts until volumes 2 and 3 are published, it may easily become the first grab off the shelves when questions of New Testament Introduction arise for me.

This volume is my second foray into the writings of Mark Keown. His two-volume work on Philippians in the EEC series was, in my opinion, a very successful exegetical commentary. This work is of a completely different sort. He exhibits the gifts of a teacher though out, so it’s no surprise to me to learn that he has taught this material for many years.  This book is ideal for students, but I also notated page numbers at the beginning of places I want to review later for further study. There’s much to be said for writing that can communicate clearly as found in this book.

There’s nothing missing that I would want in New Testament Introduction (through Acts) in Keown’s approach. Both the Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts were exquisitely presented. For those who care, there’s a clear overview of critical methodologies. Though it seems a fool’s errand to me, there’s a chapter on the speculative Synoptic theories. Keown excels in the five chapters that cover each of the four Gospels and Acts in turn. You will leave each chapter with a better understanding of the purpose of each book. Next, he mines the paramount theme of the Kingdom in a chapter that captures the heart of these writings. The final two chapters look at miracles and parables in a way that answers criticisms and sees through them to their purpose.

You may quibble over some point (he speaks of “Q” as fact), but overall this book can stand up to any conservative Introduction. On the teaching level, this work could easily serve this generation as Merrill Tenney did for past ones. In fact, it’s far better than that oft-used textbook for my money. You will do yourself a favor to look this one up.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.