Rebels and Exiles (ESBT) by Harmon

Chalk this volume up as another smashing success in the new ESBT (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology). I love how this series takes a broader view than many similar series, yet imparts so much vital information. Matthew S. Harmon gifts us with something powerful about the doctrine of sin with a view toward redemption. After you read this book, you will agree that the concept of rebels and exiles is key in Scripture.

After making a good case in his brief introduction that “exile” is a proper rubric to study sin, he plunges into tracing that line throughout the Bible. Chapter 1 was my favorite, not because his writing deteriorated later, but because the story of Adam was like a home run out of the park to illustrate his theme. Additionally, he provided nugget after nugget that I especially enjoyed that imbibed freshness into an old story. Subsequent chapters follow the timeline of scripture seeing “exile” all along the journey. I will have to admit that it was there.

He followed through until he got to the New Creation where “exile” is finally banished. His final chapter on the practical implications of what he has written about brought theology out of the textbook and into life. I loved how he explained how we have a homesickness for a place we’ve never been!

At the end he gave some detailed suggestions for further reading as well as a thorough bibliography.

The success of this volume makes me even more excited to look at the others in the series. You have here accessible theology with real depth. What more could you ask for?

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 2) by Mark Keown

This volume continues the excellence found in the first volume on the Gospels and Acts. If anything, this volume is even better because it lies in the author’s area of expertise. He has written a major exegetical commentary on Philippians that is outstanding. This volume covers only the Pauline Epistles, which are worthy of their own volume.

There is a biographical chapter on Paul’s life and conversion which discusses all issues of chronology as well. Chapter 2 gives an overall induction to all of these epistles. Chapters 3 through 13 take each of these epistles in turn. In each case, we are presented with occasion and context, structure, rhetorical devices, form of letters, authorship, a discussion on its placement in the Pauline corpus, and concluded with some questions to consider. To me they seemed well reasoned, judicious, and mature.

There’s a chapter on Paul’s thought in theology that approaches theology by key subjects. As you would expect, the main topics are here as well as the New Perspective on Paul. Appropriately, there is a concluding chapter on Paul’s missionary strategy.

When I encountered the first volume, I felt it would be a replacement for Merrill Tenny’s widely used New Testament introduction. On reflection, this set will be so much more than that. The three volume set by Hiebert that was found in so many personal libraries a few decades back is a closer comparison, except that this set is at once more up-to-date and better. I am impressed with everything I’ve seen from Mark Keown’s hand. This fine volume does nothing to lessen that opinion. To my mind, this will be when concluded THE New Testament introduction set.

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.

Including the Stranger (NSBT) by David Firth

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This book has two things in his favor. It’s another of these unique entries in the New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT) series, edited by D. A. Carson, that are theologically astute and make a distinct contribution to both scholarship and biblical studies.The other plus is that renowned scholar David Firth contributes this volume in his area of expertise, the Former Prophets which include Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. In fact, Firth has already delivered an outstanding commentary on the books of Samuel. His deft hand shows throughout this volume.

His premise is that a unifying theme of these Former Prophets Is the treatment of strangers or foreigners. It is a theory that he very well may convince you on because (It made sense to me). Even if it isn’t the overarching theme of these books, it is at least in play in a key way.

To my mind even if you don’t agree with his premise, you have something of a fine introduction to each of these historical books of the Old Testament. In fact, I could not imagine studying these books without consulting this work going forward. To me, it almost does what Barry Webb’s “Five Festal Garments” does for the Five Scrolls. Count this another winner in an outstanding 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.

God’s Relational Presence by Duvall and Hays

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There are getting to be quite a few large volumes on biblical theology available to Christian readers today. Many of them are scholarly and well done. They may focus the work along different lines – redemption, love, forgiveness, or the kingdom – but don’t dare think of this volume by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays as an anomaly. This focus on God’s relational presence as the cohesive center of biblical theology makes perfect sense. It will not replace those others described above but it will complement them well. Our God is about relationship and as the authors scan Genesis to Revelation they will prove to you how prevalent it is. Mark me down as at first surprised and then convinced!

This author combination has already proven to work well before in the well-received title Grasping God’s Word and several other projects. Duvall is the New Testament scholar who balances out Hays the Old Testament scholar. Together they have learned how to communicate across the Canon.

I saw no signs of haste. The theme is well carried out while the detail is well fleshed out. In every part of Scripture, they find evidence of this controlling theme or overarching storyline of Scripture and show it to you. Don’t miss the introduction where in the very first paragraph they lay out their basic thesis and explain what they are trying to do to perfection. It well makes you know what to expect across the thorough volume.

Unlike many such books they didn’t just ask us to believe them, they showed us. So many biblical texts are pulled in while the expansive bibliography shows the breadth of scholarship as well. There’s even an occasional chart or graph that is quite instructive.

I found this book more successful in its presentation than some others of its kind and 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.

Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, Philemon (RCS), edited by Gatiss and Green

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This latest entry in the Reformation Commentary on Scripture (RCS) series covers six small Pauline epistles (1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon). Though these letters of Paul are not quite as pivotal as recent releases in the series on Romans in understanding the Reformation, they still give great insight into both Paul and key Reformation thinking. Two scholars, Lee Gatiss and Bradley G. Green, combine forces to provide us this helpful volume in a series that makes a unique contribution to our studies.

There is the usual general introduction that adorns every volume in this series which lays out how this series is put together and what it hopes to accomplish before we receive an introduction to the six letters. This introduction begins by stating how the Reformation seized on Paul in laser-like fashion. I was almost surprised at how often the authors acknowledge the New Perspective on Paul. It almost seems that they assume it might be guiding reader’s opinions and must be often taken into account. To my mind, the NPP didn’t exist in the Reformation and doesn’t have the credence in many of our minds that some may think today and so might not need much discussion in a commentary like this one. Still, I don’t think these acknowledgments really detract from the commentary overall. More to the point, they did a great job of addressing how each of these letters was received in the Reformation. In another capitulation to modern times, they cited the few writings that were positive about women in the ministry. Whatever your view on that subject, there is no denying how few believed in that possibility prior to the last century.

I found the same strengths and weaknesses as with other volumes in the series. To be fair, the weaknesses can’t be helped as citations in the commentary are of necessity arbitrary. Someone must make the call for which writings to use in the commentary from the plethora of primary sources to choose from. The strengths are from the same area in that the authors have chosen well and given wonderful food for thought. They are wonderfully fair to a variety of teaching within and near the Reformation as well.

This series is far enough along to have earned a high rating and this volume clearly upholds the standard we have come to expect.

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.

Handbook on Acts and Paul’s Letters by Thomas Schreiner

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If you use modern scholarly works, you already know Thomas R. Schreiner. He has written a multitude of well-received, highly helpful books including major exegetical commentaries. Now he tackles a handbook on Acts and the Epistles of Paul. Fortunately, when we say the Epistles of Paul, Schreiner means all 13 of them! That alone was totally refreshing. Schreiner is simply more conservative than several other major scholars of our day. For that reason alone, any work he writes is worth checking out.

I would label this volume a content survey. Those can be quite tricky to produce and some such volumes have almost no value. Rather than giving an overview, they provide so little depth that they add nothing. In this case, however, Schreiner has succeeded. You can truly follow the flow of the book you’re studying and have a real understanding of what’s going on. Think big picture rather than minutia, but a real drawing out of the theme of what that book is trying to say to us.

Perhaps I liked a few of the introductions better than others. In some cases like the one on Acts, he added a few helpful charts that just brought it alive in the opening statements that discussed structure and themes. In fact, that would be my only minor fault of the book is that a few of the books of the Bible covered do not have that material with the helpful charts. In any event, I feel he totally succeeded both in the broad introduction and the overview of the content. This volume is a total winner on providing what I would want in a handbook on these New Testament books. I don’t see how you could go wrong in using 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.

The Feasts of Repentance (NSBT) by Michael Ovey

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This latest release in the New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT) series, edited by D. A. Carson, is an interesting read. Sometimes trying to tackle all that the author, Michael J. Ovey, did in this volume can be a disaster. He’s ultimately trying to talk about the doctrine of repentance, he’s wanting to limit his evidence to Luke-Acts, focus on the feasts found in those two books, and tie the whole thing to systematic and pastoral theology. Though I don’t imagine that many writers would formulate that design, he did seem to pull it off.

In case you’re wondering, of all those things he wove together, repentance was his main subject. There’s another volume on repentance in this series, but they truly do not cover the same ground. His first chapter digs into what I find to be the most common question about repentance: is it necessary to salvation? He makes a good case for it being present in all actual conversions, and he is pretty good at marshaling Scriptures to prove his point. The second chapter got more into the Luke-Acts specialty as he looked at the feasts in these books and how repentance was handled in them. There was some interesting information there that I could say frankly that I’d never thought of. In later chapters, he looks at repentance in terms of Jews and Gentiles, how identity and idolatry are key to understanding repentance (one of the better chapters), and entering repentance into the discussion of faith and salvation. For the record, he does hold to a reformed view in this chapter. His final chapter looked at repentance in terms of forgiveness and the church. Along the way, there were some telling comments about our day.

Unfortunately, Mr. Ovey passed away before this book was released. It’s clear he had put a lot of work into it. By this point, you should probably have a great idea of how a NSBT volume works. This is another good representation of the unique contribution this special series makes.

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.

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.

Reading Mark’s Christology Under Caesar by Winn

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Mark’s Gospel has intrigued scholars for years. Or maybe it has confounded them. There’s a general consensus that Jesus is Messiah and that Mark is written against a Roman backdrop, but paths diverge from there. Adam Winn takes a stab at it arguing that Jesus as Lord directly counters Roman propaganda. He further posits that Christians would have read it as such in those days. Winn explains in his acknowledgments that this is his second pass on this subject. He wrote on the Christology of Mark in his doctoral dissertation and has since imbibed the contributions of his critics. To me, this work benefits from that mature reflection.

The Introduction possesses great value as a reflection on what’s been believed along with a perceptive analysis of trends found in the text of Mark itself. The secrecy motive, redaction studies, and other criticisms good and bad are well explained too. Fortunately, he unpacks his own approach, which gives you a good basis to take in what he will share over the course of the book.

In chapter one, he reconstructs the historical setting. That analysis is foundational as he sees Roman influence as a driving force in Mark. Chapter two develops the equally essential element of his approach as he explains Christological titles in Mark. You don’t have to agree with his conclusions about the individual titles to glean from the chapter.

The next two chapters trace this theme through the traditional lens of the powerful Jesus in Mark 1-8:21 and the suffering Jesus in Mark 8:22-10:52. In chapter five he returns to the secrecy motif through his Roman lens followed by one on Christology.

If you are familiar with volumes that attempt to provide a thematic analysis of a biblical book, you will find this book to be a good representative of the type. It may be a specialized subject, but it is one well done.

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.