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.

Job (NIVAC) by Walton

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When I think of John Walton, I tend to think of Genesis as it seems those titles have received more press. He is a widely-published, influential author, and I felt it would be interesting to check out this work on Job in the NIV Application Commentary (NIVAC) series. What I found upon opening this work was exceptional writing, clear statement of scholarly options, and no fear to reach his own conclusions. On the other hand, I found as I often have before with him, that he reaches many conclusions that I couldn’t agree with. I’m not suggesting that agreement with me is a benchmark you need to consider in evaluating a book, but I wonder if many pastors will find his conclusions too far afield even if he is technically a “conservative” scholar.

In the Introduction, he states that Job is not on trial in the book. I’ve never thought that was the purpose of Job. Perhaps Walton is too hard on Job and God. Job won’t stand as a role model in his mind even if many of us have drawn great inspiration from him. He lets his conclusions on genre determine his thoughts of the trustworthiness of Job’s history and finds it lacking. He doesn’t see Satan as the Devil. Several of these conclusions will make it impossible to traverse the territory we normally do in Job.

The book gives much better help in individual passages. Perhaps he will serve as a foil to help you not carelessly reach old conclusions, or at least force you to think them out more carefully. The personal insights of “Kelly’s Story”, a student of his whose disability entails much suffering, do remind us how challenging the story of Job is. Walton has written extensively on OT theology and that shows up in some helpful ways as well.

This volume isn’t my favorite NIVAC one, but the set including this one is worth obtaining.

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.

Sermons on 2 Timothy by Calvin

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The trifecta is complete! With this edition of sermons on 2 Timothy, Banner of Truth carries the day by now having in print all of Calvin’s sermons on the Pastoral Epistles. Their coup stands more pronounced by the masterful translation Robert White accomplished in these volumes. There has been a volume of select sermons in an older translation, but all these sermons on the Pastorals in a quality English translation were unobtainable until now. The triumph concludes with these volumes being printed in lovely, quality editions that will last for generations.

The quality and set up mirror the previous two releases. Mr. White provides sermons titles and, mercifully, uses modern punctuation. (A comparison of other Calvin sermons translated by others proves how vital translation is to older sermons).  There’s a brief introduction that places these sermons in Calvin’s career. Calvin’s own difficulty in ministry, as Mr. White well explains, makes these sermons passionate. He provides a few more paragraphs to explain how Calvin approaches this epistle. As before, the book ends with “prayers before and after the sermon” giving more insight into Calvin’s practice in preaching.

Also as before, you need not think this volume is only for someone who subscribes to the theological system that bears Calvin’s name. Calvin is a master preacher who handles the text in a way that instructs on how to preach as well as it informs on the passage the sermon addresses. In that sense, it’s a double success that demands a place on every pastor’s shelves. Whether you agree with every line or not, these sermons are pure gold!

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.

Understanding the Creation–Another New Carta Release!

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You will not have encountered a work on Creation like this new title by Menashe Har-El before! It’s not a polemic on Creation, but a look at the landscape of Israel fashioned by the hands of the Creator. He has already co-authored the outstanding Understanding the Geography of the Bible in this same lavish photogenic series of unique books (9 X 12 inches) that wonderfully supplement your atlas library.

After an Introduction that overviews the physical aspects of Israel, there’s a section based on “who laid the foundations of the earth” from Psalm 104 that describes how the land formed the way it did. Several Scriptures are marshaled to make the case. Next, there is a section on volcanic activity and how it shaped Israel. Earthquakes and waves are also reviewed. The Book of Job is mined thoroughly in putting this incredible picture together.

He looks at stone, rock, and flint (zur), as well as gold. From there, he surveys iron, copper, and other raw materials. The book turns toward early craftsmen in Israel before looking at trees and other vegetation. You will be surprised by all the author uncovers.

As you would expect, the Carta maps, graphs, and other pictorial treasures are featured to advantage throughout. All these specialty atlases are a treat and this one is no exception!

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.

Knowing God Through the Old Testament by Christopher J. H. Wright

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Having three titles by Christopher J. H. Wright between the covers of one attractive hardback is a treat indeed. I’ve found all his writings to be theologically perceptive, devotionally warm, and personally helpful. He reminds me much of his mentor, John Stott, only that the Old Testament is his specialty while Stott’s was the New Testament. That’s not to say that he mimics him in any way, just that he writes with that same spiritual penetration. The scholarship is always topnotch, but the spiritual concerns just rank a little higher—as of course they should.

These three titles deserve to be together. You can figure that out by the titles alone. Knowing God the Father Through the Old Testament, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, and Knowing the Holy Spirit Through the Old Testament weave together perfectly to take the role of each member of the Trinity as revealed in the Old Testament in this compilation.

The book on Jesus was the first title written back before it became apparent that he would pen the trilogy. It has been popular enough to call for the second edition in 2014, which is the edition here. The latter two books were originally published by publishers other than IVP. This edition will the one you will want for all three titles.

Since I happened to be studying the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, I really dug into that title for this review. What the Old Testament has to say on the Spirit is somewhat more obscure than the later revelation of the New Testament and help is appreciated. Wright masterfully found the Spirit on the pages of the Old Testament in five chapters on the Creating Spirit, the Empowering Spirit, the Prophetic Spirit, the Anointing Spirit, and the Coming Spirit. He really helped me crystallize my thinking in places where I really needed the help. Glancing through the other two, I what the same clear thinking and good writing throughout.

This book is a treasure that you simply must have at hand. I love it and highly recommend it.

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.

Understanding the Gospels as Ancient Jewish Literature–a New Carta Title!

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Carta continues its line of interesting, creative, and colorful titles that address something that you will be hard pressed to find somewhere else here in this lovely volume. Though only 40 pages, they are 40 large (9 x 12inches) eye-appealing pages. In every case, Carta’s unparalleled Bible atlas resources fill out the work of a text prepared by an accomplished scholar. In this title, Jeffrey Garcia, takes the Gospels and looks for what they reveal about ancient Judaism. Really, it’s a look at how the Gospels and Judaism shed light on each other.

The introductory section covers the journey of scholarship on these issues. He works his way through a succession of what he calls sources for understanding the Gospels including the Hebrew Bible, other Jewish literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, rabbinic literature, and Philo.

Even better is the section that delves into the geography of Israel in the times of the Gospels. The pictures and maps here are superb. From there, he takes us through Jewish political history. Be sure to check out the chart on the family of Herod the Great. Then, as you might have predicted, he looks at Jewish life in those days in a helpful, detailed section that covers several pages.

In the section on Jewish styles of teaching that exams Jesus’ use of parables as well as Halakhah. Along the way, you get a penetrating overview of Jewish methods of Bible interpretation. The final section looks at some unique elements of what Jesus shared with insights from Judaism.

I’ve you’ve had the privilege to use some of these titles from Carta, you know what to expect. Mark this down as another title worthy of the reputation that Carta has developed over the years.

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.

Psalms 73-150 (NAC) by Daniel Estes

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Well, we’ve been waiting for this one for a long time! The New American Commentary (NAC) series came out in a fairly timely manner, but the Psalms had to be reassigned for undisclosed reasons. In any event, the editors secured Daniel Estes to cover Psalms 73-150 in this volume and redeemed the lost time by securing this greater firepower of a seasoned commentator. He has already made his mark in the Wisdom books by writing a handbook on the Wisdom books and Psalms as well as commentaries on Job and Solomon’s Song. He’s the kind of scholar you need for a commentary like this NAC volume and he delivers!

Since this volume will be the second on the Psalms in the NAC series, the overall introduction to Psalms will appear in the forthcoming volume. I’ve just heard that Mr. Estes has signed on to do the volume on Psalms 1-72. It likely will take a few years, but I’m excited that he will get to give us a complete work on the Psalms now. Still, in this volume there is for now an introduction for how Mr. Estes approaches Psalms 73-150.

Pastors, especially, will appreciate his approach (though I imagine scholars will be pleased as well). For each psalm, he provides a look at form, structure, and setting, quality commentary, a succinct summary of theme, a brief look at intertextuality, the main theology, and a section on response to help a believer use the psalm to advantage.

I evaluated this commentary by reviewing some psalms that I had recently studied and that were more freshly on my mind. I liked what I found in this book! This volume will be much help to a wide variety of users. I’ve said for years that this series is the best overall for pastors because it balances so well all the goals you might have for thoughtful but not overly voluminous commentary. In addition, it doesn’t hurt that it will only cost about two-thirds to half of what you will pay for most commentaries. I give it the highest recommendation.

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.