Walking the Ancient Paths: A Commentary on Jeremiah by Kaiser and Rata

book walk ancient.jpg

I’ve been using the works of Walter Kaiser for several years, so when I saw that he was coming out with a new work on Jeremiah I was instantly intrigued. Now that I’ve had a chance to get into this commentary, I can confess that it did live up to my high expectations. As something of a commentary junkie, I’ve had the privilege to review all types of commentaries all the way up to the massive tomes that cover every conceivable issue. As much as I enjoy using all of them, if I were forced to choose, this type of commentary prepared by Kaiser and his colleague Tiberius Rata is the most ideal for pastors. It has more depth than the TOTC series and is pretty close to the NAC in its scope. If you can imagine that style of commentary, then you will know how to gauge this work that is a model volume of its class. Further, in these days of prolific commentary production, I would argue that Jeremiah would be one of the books most in need of a new commentary of this type.

The introduction is not massive, but it gets to the heart of what most Bible students and pastors are looking for. There is background on Jeremiah and his times. There’s a brief mention of compositional issues because the scholarly world is so enamored with them. You will find conservative conclusions here. There is a discussion of Jeremiah’s relation to Deuteronomy as well as the text of Jeremiah. The section on theological emphases could probably have been expanded but was accurate as far as it went. The authors give us an extensive outline of Jeremiah along with a brief bibliography at the end of the introduction. (There’s a lengthy bibliography at the end of the book).

As for me, I enjoyed the commentary itself even more than the introduction. What you received in every passage was clear guidance on understanding the text. If scholarly side issues were mentioned, they never dominated the discussion. I don’t see how this book could not help someone wrestling with the challenging book of Jeremiah. Let’s label this book a necessity!

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 Old Testament in 7 Sentences by Christopher Wright

book ot 7 sen

When Christopher J.H. Wright produces a book, it will be worth checking out. Every book of his that I’ve read, whether it be a commentary or theological work, is simply above average. I think the reason he so often succeeds is that his scholarship on any issue involving the Old Testament can stand up against any other scholar’s work, yet his works possess a spirituality that few of them can match. Every time I read one of his works, I’m reminded of how much he possesses the flavor of his mentor, John Stott. Not that he just repackages Stott’s work, but he has that special gift to blend scholarship and spirituality that is too often lacking these days.

This work is a little different. Not in quality, but in what he usually writes. IVP has started publishing these books (I enjoyed the one on philosophy) and I assume a series may follow. As you can imagine, these books are more of a survey. In this case, we are getting our overview from seven key texts of the Old Testament. Both the number seven and the choice of texts are arbitrary, or at least debatable, but Mr. Wright has chosen as well as anyone could. What he did accomplish, though, is using these texts to cover more ground. For example, when he chose, “the Lord is my shepherd”, he covered what all the Psalms and wisdom writings are attempting to accomplish in the Old Testament. In other words, he pulled off this difficult writing assignment.

His choices were creation with Genesis 1:1, Abraham with Genesis 12:3, Exodus with Exodus 20:2, David with I Samuel 13:14, the prophets with Micah 6:8, gospel with Isaiah 52:7, and Psalms and wisdom with Psalm 23:1. As I said above, he covers much more ground than those texts suggest. To my mind, he chose these texts to unlock the larger narrative of each section of Scripture.

This book would be ideal for a Bible student’s first pass at surveying the Old Testament. Pastors might not need this book as much as others he has written but would probably be happy to put it in the hands of their people. Still, even the most seasoned Christian will find nuggets along the way in this winning 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.

The Message of Discipleship (BST) by Peter Morden

book mess disc.jpg

This latest release in the Bible Speaks Today (BST) series explains the topic of discipleship by careful exposition of key texts. If you are familiar with this series, you know that that is how these volumes on Bible themes work. Peter Morden appears quite comfortable in this format. Personally, I wondered what would be the best texts to consider, and I found that I pretty much agreed with what Mr. Morton has chosen. Partially because of the subject matter, I found this volume to be one of the most devotional that I have read in the series. Mr. Morton comes across as equally adept at handling the devotional aspect. The only tiny criticism that I could find in the volume is that he, perhaps, quoted others a bit much. To be fair, I didn’t actually verify that with the other volumes, but that was my impression as I read. At least, he chose wonderful works to quote, and some you don’t normally see quoted in one of these types of works too.

The 17 chapters, or expositions, are divided into three parts: the foundations of discipleship with four chapters, the resources for discipleship with four chapters, and the practice of discipleship with nine chapters. The chapters on the foundations of discipleship look closely at the ministry of Christ and the call he put on us. The chapter on Isaiah 6 was an excellent addition here as well. In part two there were fine chapters on prayer and the church regarding discipleship, but my personal favorite was a gem of a chapter on discipleship and the Holy Spirit. Part three dug deep into our personal walk with Christ and included the resurrection, holiness, a needy world, daily work, finance, living in dark times, the key of love, making disciples in our world, and a concluding exposition on finishing the course.

Though this book has quality scholarship, I would deem it to be helpful to any Christian reader. The writing is accessible and the message is warm. Mr. Morton is a pastor in addition to being a scholar and it shows throughout.

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.

Paul and Union with Christ by Constantine Campbell

book paul union christ.jpg

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

book ot eth

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

book 2a zond.jpg

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

book rcs rom.jpg

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

book in christ in paul.jpg

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

book maturity

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

book ver marr

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.