Approaching the Study of Theology by Thiselton

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Here’s a successful introduction to the study of theology by the revered scholar Anthony Thiselton. He has written major commentaries and highly-respected theological works including the companion volume Approaching Philosophy of Religion. With that body of work, Thiselton is the perfect candidate to write this type of overview to help students before they dive into larger theological tomes.

The Introduction introduces readers to the great categories of theology: the doctrine of God, humankind, human alienation from God, Jesus Christ: Redeemer, Savior and Lord, the Holy Spirit, and the church and sacraments. You might call them by different names, but these are the great categories of doctrine. Broad and brief, this section makes for a great review. The rest of the introduction is taken up with a history of theology from the church fathers through modern times. You might quibble over what’s left out versus what got in, but again it works as an introductory overview.

Part one discusses approaches to theology in nine categories. This will help students realize the many angles by which theology can be approached. Some are obvious like biblical theology, hermeneutical theology, historical theology, and systematic theology while others like political theology and theology of religions are not so well-known.

Part two looks at concepts and issues and shows us how fragmented the study of theology has become. It strikes me as along the lines of the good, the bad, and the ugly, but a student needs to understand these concepts that show up throughout the scholarly world.

The final part is a discussion of key terms in alphabetical order. This section is wonderful for browsing or reference. You might define certain words differently, but again, this section perfectly works as an overview for students.

Thiselton continues a prodigious output in his later years. You almost wonder if he’s reflecting on his career and writing to fill in where he feels there are gaps. In any event, he has succeeded in giving us a quite handy volume here.

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.

The Beauty of the Lord by King

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This book by Jonathan King is part of Lexham Press’s Studies in Historical and Systematic Theology series. It’s the first volume in the series that I’ve encountered and I was impressed. It’s described as a “peer-reviewed series of contemporary monographs” that cover a wide array of subjects. This volume on the beauty of the Lord sheds light on so many places for me. The advertising blurb on the back cover (“restores aesthetics as not merely a valid lens for theological reflection, but an essential one”) doesn’t really capture what this book has to offer. It’s not so much a book about aesthetics as much it is one that exalts the beauty of the Lord as an overarching pedestal to understand the big picture of God’s word.

The book is well-written, deeply researched, and successful at probing what has been believed. The author never fears to cogently argue his case either. If you’re like me, you may find him easy to agree with whether it’s a topic you’ve deeply studied in the past or not.

The introduction is successful in establishing the goals of this book. By the end of it, there’s a good synopsis of every chapter. The chapter on beauty Triune is especially helpful if you are like me and have not spent a lot of time on the subject before. You will see how this subject ties into the doctrine of God, including His attributes, as well as its connection to the Trinity. I’ve been studying the Trinity lately and found some good information here.

The next chapter approaches creation as beauty’s debut. There’s more excellent theology here, particularly as the glory of the image of God in humans is discussed. The chapter on the incarnation sees it as beauty condescending. Just like its subject, this book is beautiful as it discusses the cross as beauty redeeming. Our salvation comes into view in the chapter on re-creation as beauty’s dénouement. The conclusion ties all these wonderful aspects together and proves the author’s thesis of the importance of the beauty of the Lord and give something of a systematic theology with palpable aesthetic value. There’s a lengthy bibliography as well if you want to look into further study.

There are some quality theological works being written these days and this book is one of them. Mark it down as a great success!

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.

 

The Letters to Philemon, to the Colossians, and to the Ephesians by Witherington

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Ben Witherington III is easily one of the most prolific commentators of our day. It’s hard to believe that he has written major scholarly commentaries on as many books of the New Testament as he has done. As with all his commentaries, he provides what he calls a socio-rhetorical commentary. Here he tackles Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians. When he says he commentates on the Captivity Epistles, you may notice that Philippians is missing. He explains in the Introduction that that omission is only because he had written a commentary on Philippians earlier. If you are familiar with any of his other commentaries, you will be comfortable in this one. As always, he writes well, he loves scholarly interaction, and he’s not afraid to chart his own course.

The Introduction runs at less than 40 pages and is an Introduction to the three letters together. This serves to highlight well the commonalities between the three. You won’t get far into this book before you see that his conclusion that these letters use an “Asiatic rhetoric” affects all his conclusions. While I find that hard to swallow, I did appreciate several of his conservative conclusions. He crushes the argument that the vocabulary of Ephesians denies it’s the possibility of a Pauline authorship. The other major component of the Introduction is the social settings of Paul and his audiences. In that section, he will cover Paul, his imprisonment, some of his companions, the effect of slavery in the Roman world and the philosophies at play in these regions. He provides a nice bibliography as well.

After one long paragraph of Introduction to Philemon he dives into the commentary. It is quite helpful. Colossians gets its own introduction before the commentary as does Ephesians. You won’t doubt that he has surveyed most all scholarship in his reading to prepare this commentary. He takes an egalitarian position in his commentary in the requisite passages in Colossians and Ephesians. (In Ephesians, he battled Peter O’Brien in his scholarly interaction and in my opinion lost badly).  Still, this commentary is a major contribution.

Witherington’s works are a great second commentary to refer to. This one has the quality and sparkle of all his other commentaries that I have seen.

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.

Small Church Essentials by Vaters

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Someone should have written this book a long time ago! We pastors of small churches often get our ideas from their wrong sources and evaluate ourselves by the wrong guidelines. Enter Karl Vaters, a pastor of a small church himself, to bring us back to a place of biblical and ministry sanity. Many of the conclusions he shares are those that I have come to over the course of my ministry, and he says them in a helpful way here. This book deserves a wide readership.

Part one is three chapters on how small does not equal broken. He reminds us that most pastors will pastor a small church. We are setting ourselves up for some sort of depression if we think a large church is the only possibility for success while it”s clear most of us will not reach that plateau. He works to help us balance embracing the beauty of a small church while giving it our all. There’s no bashing of large churches here, just a reminder that maybe the Lord has always intended there be many small churches to carry out His plan.

Part two is four chapters on thinking like a great small church. Here’s where we see how erroneous thinking has sent us off the rails. He teaches us better ways to measure church growth than the usual numbers-only approach. Part three becomes more practical as five chapters explain how to bring new life to an existing small church. Whatever you do, don’t miss chapter 12 on “a new way to see small church vision-casting”. It’s worth the price of the book. Some pastors will be liberated by it. The final section becomes even more practical in his discussion of embracing and becoming a great small church.

Every pastor of a small church ought to read this book soon. So many of the church help books out there today leave a pastor feeling dejected. Those books claim to light a fire under you when they’re more like water dousing the flame. This book succeeds where the church gurus fail. You will be challenged to embrace your calling and pursue it for the glory of God. Finally, a modern book that can really help pastors of small churches!

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.

Song of Songs (OTL) by Exum

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This volume covers the Song of Songs in the Old Testament Library (OTL) series. It’s best known for its literary criticism and I can see why as that’s clearly the emphasis throughout the book. As is common with this series, it takes a critical position throughout, but as is also common for commentaries on this book of the Old Testament, there are some strange theories suggested. It succeeds in what it attempts to do, yet I’m not sure it makes the same theological contribution as some others in the series. It’s not the place to look for application either. Though I did not at all agree with the overall arguments made in this commentary, there were some fascinating paragraphs.

The introduction is longer than most in the OTL series. After a substantial bibliography, the introduction begins by describing the Song as a love poem “about erotic love and sexual desire”. You will notice quickly how key the author finds this to be in the Song. I’ve seen a few popular commentaries that almost make it a book about marital intimacy, but this is the first major commentary that I’ve seen that goes as far as this one does. The most shocking part is the author takes what seems to be the strongest literal interpretation and then says there could be some allegorical meaning to it. The difference is it’s not an allegory of God and His people, but just of love. It’s surprising the way the author digs into this subject of love, relationship, and eroticism over many pages of the introduction. Along the way, gender studies are brought in. I really can’t agree with any of these conclusions, but this is the place I would suggest you go if you want to look into it.

There’s a look at poetic composition and style, including a discussion of whether it’s one poem or many, and a thorough review of literary arrangement and its significance. There’s a fine listing of how other commentators have divided up the book. From there more literary concerns are considered including the literary context of the ANE world. Copious examples are brought to bear. There’s a section on the historical-cultural context as well as a consideration of how this book made it to the Bible. The author concludes allegorization came about to explain its blunt material. There’s a good review of the historical interpretations that the Song has gone through.

The commentary itself is detailed and continues to be dominated by the things brought up in the introduction. Along the way, you will get a good representation of a critical outlook of the book. It’s not my favorite commentary in the OTL series, but it’s one of the most important critical commentaries available.

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.

Qumran: A Carta Field Guide by Hanan Eshel

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Let’s load up the buses and ride! I want to visit Qumran after seeing this fine book by Hanan Eshel. Somehow I missed visiting Qumran when I was in Israel, and now I regret it after seeing what the site has to offer. This Carta field guide covers history, biblical archaeology, and serves as a nice tour guide as well.

Eshel was a professor in Israel and has the historical and archaeological credentials to be the ideal writer of this book. He has personally led several excavations in Israel and knows how to lead the reader around a site of archaeological significance.

There’s a short introduction that outlines the importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Next, we get a thorough description of the near turbulent acquisition of the scrolls. That story would make a movie and it must’ve been the providence of God that they were attained!

As it turns out, there were 11 caves involved (see the map on page 83) so there’s a lot of stories to tell. The photos are gorgeous throughout! By page 96, the book shifts focus to helping you plan a trip to Qumran. Without this book, you would miss so much of what can be seen at Qumran National Park. Don’t miss the panoramic view provided by the photo on pages 138-139.

As you would expect, you will also find those awesome Carta maps and illustrations throughout. This book is the second Carta field guide that I’ve seen (En Gedi being the other) and I think we need these field guides done for every major site in Israel. I assure you that whenever I get to visit Qumran, this book will be in my hand!

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.

I & II Timothy and Titus (NTL) by Collins

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Raymond Collins wrote this commentary on the Pastoral Epistles in the New Testament Library (NTL) series. Its critical stance is in line with what I found in several of these NTL volumes, though there are a few a little less critical in the series. I’ve heard it criticized for having too little scholarly interaction, but that proved no detriment to me as he at least thoroughly articulates his own critical position. I’m not sure I found as much theology as can be found in some of these NTL volumes, but at around 400 pages he never skimps on various passages.

After a bibliography, Collins provides an overall introduction to the Pastoral Epistles. From several angles (second-century witnesses, how the Pastorals differ from other epistles, and a scholarly review of authenticity and literary form), he rejects Pauline authorship and dates late. He reviews other issues within the Pastoral Epistles and determines that it’s reasonable to assume a single author for all three epistles though they came from someone else’s hand after the death of Paul. Strangely, in a section entitled “engaged teaching”, he argues that the teaching presented is taken beyond that which Paul gave. It is in this section, though, that he outlines what are the main themes, in his opinion, of these epistles.

Next, he provides a short introduction to 1 Timothy alone. Mostly that is just to discuss its unique elements. From there, he dives into commentary on the text. The same pattern is followed with 2 Timothy and Titus. Though I often disagreed with him, he did give some good food for thought for several passages. He used the analogy of “text and context” to reserve some of the more debated passages in these epistles to Paul’s day alone (e.g., the Household Code).

While this might not be my favorite NTL volume, it does uphold the series’ aims and is a good representation of the critical position. It’s not as wordy as those in the Anchor Bible Commentary series and so is probably the ideal commentary for those who want to add a critical commentary to round out their studies.

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.

New Testament Christological Hymns by Matthew Gordley

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This book tackles a subject that I must admit is not one that I have delved into deeply in the past. There is no doubt that this subject is one that the author, Matthew E. Gordley, champions. New Testament Christological hymns are clearly his wheelhouse. This book both taught me and answered every question I had on the subject.

In the first chapter as the author describes the place of these hymns in the New Testament and in scholarship, he didn’t obscure the fact that not everyone agrees about what these New Testament hymns are. It boils down to a question of were these exalted passages that became the hymns of early Christians or were these early hymns that were incorporated into the scriptural text. The author makes a passionate case for the latter and that is apparently the prominent position in the scholarly world. Personally, I hold with the former and really see no evidence that could conclusively change my mind. My holding a different perspective than the author did not denude this book’s value for me.

Once we passed the chicken-or-the-egg argument, Gordley really illuminated what hymns are and the role they likely played with early Christians. What he shared there could likely be accepted no matter which viewpoint you held on these New Testament hymns overall. He stated in the book that he did not want this volume to only be a book of exegesis on those famous passages. He succeeded in sharing his thesis, giving insights on worship among early Christians, yet still provided helpful exegesis on these texts. Three chapters were given to cover the three most famous of these texts: Philippians 2:6-11, Colossians 1:15-20, and John 1:1-17. Because these are some of the most important passages on the doctrine of Jesus Christ they are worthy of the most intense study. There’s another chapter that studies a few other passages that are considered to possibly be a hymn.

The author writes well. He accepts some theories of redaction that I reject out of hand and a few other scholarly concessions that I wouldn’t care for, but he still delivers fine, important book here. If you are like me, you will be satisfied to have this one book as the one and only one on your shelves to address this subject. Scholarly and passionate, this book is 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.

First, Second, and Third John (Interpretation) by Smith

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Moody Smith delivered this commentary on the Epistles of John in the Interpretation Bible Commentary series. You may have noticed his name showing up in the literature on the Gospel of John so he was a natural choice to tackle the Johannine Epistles in the series. As you are probably aware, this series is known for its critical outlook and its homiletical/theological contributions. Though a thinner volume than I expected, it succeeds in reaching the aims of the series. Probably his background on John made him able to say much in fewer words.

He offers a somewhat breezy introduction to these epistles. Even where I could not agree with his conclusions, there was an evident love for these epistles which always raises the value of a commentary to my mind. In the unusual buildup within this introduction, I was beginning to believe he was going to suggest that the Apostle John himself was the writer. That was a surprise because it would not be typical in this series. As it turned out, he closely followed the well-known critical scholar, Raymond E. Brown, and his well-known thesis of the Johannine school or community. Though some of us have never bought into that theory, even critical scholarship has backed away from it in recent years. He does share some good information on how the same person could have written the gospel and these epistles, but his conclusions in my judgment on the impossibility of John himself as the writer fell flat.

He also discussed the audience and purpose of the letters, had some discussion of the composition and structure of these letters that also reminds one of Raymond Brown’s positions, and the use of these letters in the church. From there, he discussed interpretation and shared a few good insights along the way. The final two sections that describe the commentary itself and biological reflection were of less value.

Though it was somewhat brief and guided by some of the earlier critical conclusions mentioned, his exegesis was well done. There are reports that he plans a more substantial volume on these epistles in the future. Overall, I would label it a solid volume in the style I have come to expect from this series.

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.

Polk by Walter Borneman (Presidential Bio. Series)

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James Polk was perhaps the finest president in the field of mediocrity that the American presidency traveled through between Andy Jackson and Abe Lincoln. I don’t know if that insignificance had to do more with the men (most likely) or the commonplaceness of the times (less likely), or some combination of the two, but Polk, as Walter Borneman’s subtitle suggests, had an impact on both the presidency and the nation. Polk both expanded presidential power and the size of our nation itself.

This biography gives us enough of the pre-story of Polk’s life to really know the man by the time he assumed the presidency. He was ambitious (a common theme in every presidential biography), knew how to play politics, could be politically pragmatic as well as loyal where politically expedient, yet seemed to truly have a set of core principles. He was a protégé of Jackson, also a Tennessean, yet much more refined than his mentor. Their relationship seemed genuine. As is true of at least a few of our presidents, he had a wife who loved and supported him which he reciprocated with love and adoration. This biography fully fleshed out his personality that could be described as more introverted than some and detail oriented.

While the times played into his successes he seized the opportunities that came his way. He has the unusual distinction of accomplishing all his main campaign promises in one four-year term. Further, he kept his promise of only serving one term. Along the way, he was a successful war president of a war that was so victorious that the debate over fighting it is mostly now forgotten. The vast acreage that has been part of America since his day means it probably always will be remembered as something great for our nation. Though he was proslavery, it seems history has been kinder to him than several other presidents in that territory. He really did nothing to stem the tide that would ultimately embroil our nation in Civil War either. Strangely, he even lost all his last elections in Tennessee including two for governor and the one for president out of which he came victorious. I was surprised that the nation was not so perfectly divided by North and South this close to the Civil War, yet geography seemed to have little to do with which states he won.

Perhaps the saddest thing in his biography is how quickly he sickened and died after his presidency ended. He became sick on a victory tour through the states after his term expired and never really had the chance to enjoy his retirement in Tennessee.

As for the biography itself, Borneman was mostly satisfactory. As I read through presidential biographies, I’ve been making a special note of the role religion played in each president’s life. I feel this biography totally failed me in that regard since it’s known from other sources that Mrs. Polk and her Methodism had an impact on her husband. This shortcoming makes me wonder if I should have read the volume by Robert Merry instead (his biography of William McKinley was excellent). On the other hand, Borneman succeeded in making me feel like I both knew and understood James K. Polk. For that reason, I must recommend this biography.

Other Presidential Biographies