Philippians (TNTC) by Jeannine Brown

Philippians is the latest new release in the rapidly unfolding complete revision of the time-honored Tyndale New Testament Commentary series. Brown replaces the somewhat controversial Ralph Martin volume that was itself a revision of his earlier work. Without doubt, that Martin volume took the most criticism in the series. For that reason, this is a welcome replacement.

This work, fortunately, is not going to be as controversial. I wouldn’t call this book riveting as it aims slightly more toward scholars than is typical of this series. At times, what Bible students or pastors would want takes a back seat to more scholarly interests. The author seemed quite knowledgeable, but took, perhaps, too academic an outlook for this series.

I also saw something, too, in this volume that I had not seen in any other I could remember. When I said it had an academic tone, it seemed as though she wrote for younger seminary students. She would explain what she was talking about as if it were the reader’s first encounter with the subject. For example, when discussing reconstructing the situation of the Philippians she had two full paragraphs on how to have a balanced approach in historical reconstruction. That would be helpful to a new student but perhaps others wouldn’t like it. She sounded like a professor teaching at many points.

I’m not suggesting this is a bad commentary just that it might not be for all tastes. She is an accomplished scholar and has written and edited major works. Perhaps that is more her forte than a work for Bible students and pastors or the typical TNTC user.

Still, she handled Philippians 2 far better than Martin did and has for sure superseded his work. I wouldn’t want this volume to be my only one for Philippians, but it one be fine as one of a few I’d consult.

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.

FDR by Jean Edward Smith (Presidential Bio. Series)

FDR is clearly one of our most consequential presidents. Smith is one of the best presidential biographers. I knew, then, this would be a good read and I was not disappointed.

Admittedly, I started this biography with some negative impressions of him. Since Smith is an ardent admirer of Roosevelt (and a near worshipper of Eleanor), I felt I’d be giving my best shot at not viewing all through the lens of my bias. Where did I land when I finished this book? As I thought, the New Deal did a few short term positives (CCC) but I am even more convinced of it being a long term disaster. In a sense, WWII bailed it out from full exposure. On a positive note, he was, I readily admit, an effective war time leader. This book raised my grade substantially on his war leadership.

This biography showed his being raised in privilege, his tight relationship with his mother, his charming nature, his ambition, and his pride. He was a master politician who perfected the art of propaganda and was a user of people. For example, early in his political career he aligned with the Prohibition wing of his party while being famous for loving to drink and mix martinis for guests. He often fought for progressive policies for the disadvantaged while never living a moment of his life in their shoes. He was vengeful and if you ever really crossed him he never forgot. Just before the war and after unprecedented legislative success, he had a period of political missteps that even Smith admitted were born of his hubris.

The book didn’t cover up his sham of a marriage, at least after having several kids. He carried on an obvious affair that he little tried to hide. Finally, it put his career in jeopardy and he stepped back though he kept her in his life at times and she was with him when he died. Strangely, Smith praises them for sticking together in a completely loveless marriage to remain a powerful political couple.

In my presidential biography reviews, I always try to notice the religious side of the man. Had you asked FDR, he would have quickly said he was a Christian . Perhaps he helped create a Christianity that is pervasive in our day. More than a matter of faith reaching the heart, his was more tied up in his heritage. It’s what the Roosevelts and Delanos were much like they were New Yorkers. It really didn’t affect his life in any meaningful way except being against the more grotesque atrocities. Though you might could argue that he took what Woodrow Wilson started and put it over the top, he in no way had the deep religious feelings that Wilson had. I think Wilson was off base, but he thought he was following the Bible. FDR would be more likely to quote the Bible when it was politically expedient.

This book also showed me that he should be commended for how he had the grit to face the crippling affects of polio. He also likely would not have run for a third and fourth term had not the events leading up to World War II started happening. Also, everyone knew around him that he would never survive his fourth term though everyone kept it quiet. Finally, despite all the glaring character flaws I’ve mentioned, he was eminently likable.

How he rose to the heights he did in WW2 is beyond me. I agree with most of his decisions throughout. The friendship he forged with Churchhill was both real and prudent. I even see his wisdom regarding Stalin. He stretched the rules at times, and though I despise his sometimes blatant disregard for the Constitution, I can begrudgingly agree with a few wartime choices, kind of like a few things Lincoln did. Can you imagine our country today had Hitler won? Those are the only cases where the lines can be legitimately fudged I would cautiously argue.

FDR deserves some credit for saving the republic in WW2 while he set in motion actions that may still destroy it. How’s that for consequential?

For the biography itself, it’s top notch. A step below Chernow and McCullough, but not below many others. It’s only failure was its ending. You’re reading along and FDR dies and the book abruptly ends. No funeral, no postscript, no nothing. Still, I so enjoyed reading it.

Ezra and Nehemiah (NICOT) by Harrington

This book replaces the thirty-year-old Charles Fensham volume that had been widely used. This new entry is much more geared to scholarly types than the more pastor-friendly earlier work. Most new NICOT volumes lean that direction, but this one seems to especially answer the detailed questions that scholars ask. I imagine scholars would rank it highly while pastors might only marshal information from it that would require them to put it together themselves. There is a place for such works, but make your expectations in that direction.

If you are after introductory issues, you’ll get over 90 detailed pages here. Some subjects will be more illuminating than others, but I can’t think of any omissions. The sections on the text and date cover many ideas with mostly conservative conclusions at until a discussion of the final compilation of the books. The discussion of setting covers some themes and structure clearly in the latest parlance. The final 2/3 of the Introduction covers historical background and is the best work here. With that information you can reconstruct the times with distinct advantage. As I understand it, themes of Second Temple Judaism are a specialty of the author. It shows. I thought it was good except when she put how Ezra and Nehemiah dealt with mixed marriages as harsher than, and perhaps a departure from, the Pentateuch. Could not the Lord for His Own purposes have led them to take a stronger stand during times of the acute stress of a seventy year captivity? Our scholarship can collapse under its own weight if we disconnect it from Whose word it is.

The commentary proper exhibits what we found in the Introduction. Expert scholarship that outranks its theology. The bibliography and copious footnotes show the author’s scholarly prowess. Application is not really in view. Take the mass of quality scholarship and make your own application . Then you will be able to squeeze out all this book has to offer.

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.