The Holy Spirit by Sinclair Ferguson

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There’s no doubt that Sinclair Ferguson is a savvy theological writer. There’s no doubt that the Contours of Christian Theology series by IVP is a theological heavyweight either. While I couldn’t exactly call this my favorite Ferguson title, it did dig deep as the series is known to do. Books in this series don’t merely regurgitate the main tenets of a doctrine but linger where it makes sense to look under stones where treasure might be found. I always reach for this series when I’m starting a detailed study of a particular doctrine.

Chapter 1 introduces the Holy Spirit in an effort to shorten the distance that stands between Him and most believers while explaining all kinds of theological perspectives. Chapter 2 looks at the Spirit of Christ by explaining “Paraclete” and scoping out the relationship between Christ and the Spirit. Chapter 3 looks at the gift of the Spirit by examining Pentecost. Chapter 4 tackles the ongoing aspects of Pentecost. Chapters 5 through 7 wades through the Spirit’s role in salvation. I felt the author bogged down in a pet subject here. His theological positions are well known, and whether you agree or not, perhaps some of this would have fit better in a different book. Chapter 8 looks at other issues involving the Spirit and salvation like first fruits and sealing. Chapter 9 reviews the relationship between the Spirit and the body before chapter 10 dives into the explosive territory of gifts. The final chapter on the “Cosmic Spirit” serves as a great conclusion.

Ferguson always stretches my mind. Whether I agree with him or not, I always find a warmness of one who loves Christ as he writes. There’s no way I’d study the Spirit and not see what he has to say.

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.

Romans (ZEC) by Frank Thielman

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The Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (ZECNT) continues its sustained excellence in this latest release on Romans by Frank Thielman. Thielman has already proven his commentary writing skills by writing a well-received work on that other deep Pauline Epistle of Ephesians. In addition, he’s written on Paul as well as New Testament theology. Writing a commentary on Romans would be, I would guess, one of the toughest assignments, but as you can see, he is up to the task. Besides the necessary credentials to predict a winning commentary, Thielman’s actual results live up to expectations.

The Introduction was not as full as in some such works, but what he did tackle met with superb results. The historical background came alive as he took us back to the Rome of Paul’s day. The way he transported us to those days was far more captivating than the normal sterile approach that we commonly meet. When he transitioned into Christianity in Rome it only got better as was the section where he brought Paul’s life into the equation. There’s a little on the text of Romans before we get an outline and bibliography.

I’m a fan of the unique approach to every passage. It’s far superior to others that have tried to make its own way like, say, WBC. You get literary context, main idea, diagrammed translation, structure, exegetical outline, all followed by a quality explanation of the text and concluded with theology in application. In my view, that covers all the right bases. Thielman uses that design to advantage here in one of the most important epistles of the New Testament.

The competition is fierce on Romans but mark this down as a winner all the way.

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.

Foundations of the Christian Faith by Boice

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Here’s a book that deserves to slide not only onto your shelves among your important systematic theologies, but also to be open on your desk. James Montgomery Boice was the quintessential pastor-scholar. In other words, there’s real scholarly depth in what he shares to go along with a full-orbed real-life outlook. I’ve used several of his volumes that cover books of the Bible to real profit. I’ve seen glowing recommendations in book review sources printed in the 1980s of the original four volumes that later turned into this volume as well as the current reviews that suggest the luster hasn’t faded as is often the case in many academic titles. It’s nice to finally get my own crack at it.

What, then, is my own opinion of its value? Strangely enough, I opened it first to the section on the Spirit of God because I had been doing some in-depth study on that doctrine. I noticed two things quickly: a) he had something to say that was worth wrestling with, and b) it was not a regurgitation of what I just recently read in the well-known systematic theologies I consulted.  As I looked further into the book, I then saw that the section on the Spirit wasn’t even the best one in the book!

The book is an attractive hardback that also now has a study guide. I don’t agree with every conclusion he arrives at, but this is a quality resource. Better still, for pastors, it will help you see how to take deep theological concepts and make them palpable to those in the pew without devolving into watered-down, calorie-free doctrine trying to pass itself off as a real theological meal.

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.

Marriage–A Helpful New Book!

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When I first picked up this book that professes to address marriage in its foundation, theology, and mission in a changing world and scanned the table of contents I thought—what a hodgepodge. Then, after closing the book at its end I thought—it worked! Somehow a book with 5 editors and dozens of authors came out with a unified, big-picture presentation of the Lord’s intention for marriage.

Section 1 contains four chapters on foundational issues. Looking back to the Trinity and its relation to marriage turns out to be the perfect starting place. Just read and you will see. From there, we look at Jesus in particular and the idea of commitment. Marriage gets such deep spade work here that how its presented in Scripture, the mistake of cohabitation, and the “high calling” of marriage along with the dignity of singleness all are unearthed. All these subjects will reappear later, but you’ll be better prepared because of this foundational view.

Section 2 addresses what it calls “description”. It’s almost like another pass at what Section 1 brought out, now with yet more depth. I have no idea how this section somehow presents theological understanding, addresses current societal derailments, and provides help for the challenges of marriage that all married Christians face at varying levels. Embodiment (you’ll enjoy knowing what that means), both the beauty and design of marriage, the biblical necessity of gender, and help with intimacy show up here.

Section 3 gives four helpful chapters on our brokenness in marriage. Again, there’s counsel on repairing that brokenness and restoring the beauty of marriage with even an in-depth discussion of marriage and divorce in Scripture. Section 4 presents four final chapters on mission and marriage. There’s even encouragement and guidance for churches to assist people with marriage.

As I said before, this book far exceeds my initial expectations. In addition to reading it through, it will serve as an excellent resource for a wide array of subjects that intersect with marriage that can be consulted as needed. It’s an attractive hardback that will bless Christians if it gets the large readership that it deserves.

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 the Holy Spirit (BST) by Keith Warrington

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The Holy Spirit is expertly drawn by Keith Warrington from all across Scripture in this helpful volume that’s part of the Bible Speaks Today (BST) series. I’ve used BST volumes on various books of the Bible for a long time but have really started loving these ones on Bible Themes. The design is simple but laudable: develop the doctrine directly from properly-exegeted texts. You probably have your systematic theology volumes at hand, but these books come from another angle and add something meaningful to your studies. I’ve not seen a loser among those I’ve perused.

After a bibliography and a brief Introduction, this book jumps in at Genesis and starts finding the Holy Spirit. The flow of argument follows the path the best works on the Holy Spirit do. We have two chapters on the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. Next, the author lingers over the relationship of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in six chapters covering the Holy Spirit in the Gospels. In my estimation, this section carried the most bullion on its pages. Part Three, as you would expect, presents the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts. The final seven chapters on the Holy Spirit in the Epistles covers many additional doctrinal subjects involving the Spirit such as gifts, the role in salvation, sealing, unity, and filling. You need not agree with every point made to glean from this careful walkthrough of the most important biblical passages on the subject.

I enjoyed this book, underlined many sentences, wrote the most important page numbers in the front to be able to return to them, and clarified many points along the way. What more could I ask for from this book well worth seeking out?

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 Gospel of Mark by Witherington

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Perhaps you’ve already used other works by prolific commentator Ben Witherington. If so, you’ll know what to expect—broad research, lively writing, and a socio-rhetorical emphasis. This work on Mark is up to the same level as others of his that I have used. No one understands how he gets such copious amounts of writing done, but that is not ours to know. What is apparent is that he grades out well on quality amid all that quantity.

The Introduction will prove that he’s not skimming but probing deeply all the scholarly questions. In the first sections, unsurprisingly, he addresses genre and rhetoric. Next, he wades through Mark’s sources. I find both his ideas and the overall importance of the whole question of sources off the mark, but he again is clear as a bell on explaining what he thinks. There are, however, some good points on Mark’s style that he digs out that help no matter your perspective on sources themselves. From there he slides into authorship and dates Mark from 66 to 70. I enjoyed his explanation of Mark’s social context much more. You’ll find plenty of insights there as well as the next section on structure. He gives perceptive analysis on both Mark’s Christology and the widely-debated Messianic Secret viewpoint. All in all, the Introduction is a deep dive running over 60 pages.

The commentary proper maintains his level of work. You’ll see things introduced in the Introduction fleshed out even more in the commentary. There’s real value here and the writing remains engaging throughout.

I don’t always agree with Witherington’s conclusions, but I appreciate the clarity that he presents his with. Some scholarly writing so entertains differing viewpoints that you’re not quite sure which ones the author holds. Witherington will not fail you on that count ever.

While this commentary would not be my first choice for an exegetical commentary, it’s an excellent volume to give another angle. He’s not a parrot of any other commentator and that means you will get food for thought 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.

Love By The Book by Walter Kaiser

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Walter Kaiser has written many helpful works over a career spanning decades. I’ve enjoyed having many of them on my shelves. You know that you will get careful and capable help from a conservative standpoint. This work strikes me as him entering an area that differs from his usual academic work. In fact, the back of the book will show its classification as “Christian Life/ Love & Marriage”. Still, he can’t deny who he is and gives us something of a brief commentary on the Song of Solomon even as he attempts to give marital help.

As for the Song, he holds to a literal, non-allegorical approach that is most prevalent these days, though he is much more subdued than many such works in the intimate details. On the other hand, he presents a three-person interpretation (Shepherd, Shulammite, and Solomon) rather than the much more common two-person view (Shepherd and Shulammite). Though I believe some aspects of the allegorical view seeing Christ and His people must be true, and though I definitely can’t find my way around the difficulties of the three-person view, I found Kaiser clear and a good resource for me to check those competing views.

As for the marriage help, he holds to the traditional view of marriage that has been held up as the biblical position for centuries. He will have none of the radical trends pervading our culture and ensnarling the church. He makes a beautiful case for a superior way that is held up in Scripture.

My copy will be found on my Song of Solomon shelf, but this work can be used effectively in the “Love and Marriage” as well. How blessed we’d be if our views of marriage were what Kaiser champions 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.

Romans (NICOT) by Moo (Revised)

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Douglas Moo’s commentary on Romans in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT) series has been the highest-rated modern, exegetical commentary on that pivotal letter over its 20-year life. It’s really not even been close. It was a no-brainer to ask Moo to revise this commentary rather than enlisting a new contributor. To those who have used this conservative commentary, the good news is that the revision doesn’t involve its solid conclusions. Think of the same home-run exegesis with up-to-date scholarly interaction. Since the conclusions remain, maybe it’s more of a scholarly dismissal of wobbly ideas that this revision’s additions accomplish.

Academic types will love the massively-expanded bibliography. It grew from 8 pages to over 120 pages! The Introduction changed little but little revision was needed. It’s something of a model introduction with great findings. The word “refreshing” comes to mind compared to much that’s printed today.

The commentary itself had places that changed little as well, but other sections had more shoring up of an already great presentation. (I actually laid the old edition beside it and compared on several passages). In the preface Moo explains what he sought to do in this revision—interact with 20 years of work and improve the writing. He succeeded. As you would guess, the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) has mushroomed over these last 20 years. Moo shows us that, perhaps, it was a wasted two decades in many ways.

It’s no bold prognostication to predict this commentary will hold the top spot for another 20 years with this revision. I’ll further predict that scholarship will be at no loss at all if it does.

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 Curious Christian by Barnabas Piper

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Ok, so this is different. I’ve reviewed many Christian books and yet never one like this one. I opened it thinking that this book would be a cute idea and closed it convinced the lack of curiosity and wonder both have misled us over the years and strangles us in the present. The author, Barnabas Piper, could be the poster child for positive curiosity for his pervasive love of it. On the first page, the dedication of the book, and throughout the whole book, it’s clear his mother instilled a lusty, vigorous sense of wonder in him. What she instilled, he has imbibed into all of life. He has even absorbed this curiosity and tested its reliability with Scripture. Before you question the biblical thread of his argument, be sure to read him first. I think you’ll be won over. I was.

Part 1 takes three chapters to explain what curiosity is, what it is not, how important it is, and what its lack might cost us—binary thinking and missed or damaged relationships. He further shows how God has filled His creation with wonder and that curiosity has an element of seeking Him. He further digs in the Bible to show the vast difference between childlikeness and childishness. He champions imagination and looks at how culture has run from curiosity.

Part 2 gives eight chapters on “curious about…?” We are told to be curious about the right things before we are reminded of boundaries. Since there are grotesque things that even Scripture tells us not to think about, curiosity is morally bound. Some might wonder if he presents those boundaries distinctly enough, but likely he supposes discernment can guide us there.

I loved his observations; for example, how to balance information and curiosity. He said, “Google is the evil empire making us all dumber, ruining education, and providing easy answers to hard questions. Instead of thinking, we type, and we’re all worse for it.” Exactly!

Several times he reminded us one of curiosity’s best friends: books. Don’t miss either his balanced explanation of open-mindedness.

This timely paperback helped me to be reminded of the value of curiosity and the riches of wonder. That’s worth much!

 

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.

Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics (Fourth Edition)

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That this book reaches this 4th edition shows its influence. My guess is that’s its one of the most popular ethics textbooks from a Christian perspective available today and has been so for over twenty years. Morality is both in decline and being pushed out of our consciences by today’s amoral culture. Scott Rae brings a biblically grounded view of the major moral issues of our day in this helpful book. Rather than speaking in black and white terms alone, he helps us shine Scripture into the gray areas. While what the Bible explicitly says is strictly black and white, the ravages of sin often back us into confounding gray areas. In other words, we can use some help in sifting things that are not readily apparent.

Another feature of this book is help where the Bible is clear but culture is in rebellion. Standing against the tide requires more than glib answers. As Christians, we want to help people more than merely winning a fight, so we need more than surface-level thinking. Right and wrong and therefore morals can be logically proclaimed. We need to know how to make a difference.

After a fine introductory chapter that explains why morality is desperately needed, we have further looks at how to think of morality, what Christian ethics is, and insights into how to make ethical decisions in the subsequent chapters. The balance of the book takes individual issues and includes things like abortion, biotechnology, euthanasia, capital punishment, war, sexual ethics, and even environmental issues and border control. As you would expect, no reader is likely to agree with every argument or conclusion. I know I didn’t. But how to think about these issues is effectively presented in every case.

This fine textbook reads well, is easy to follow, and would be a boon for any reader. It’s a great title to either work through or have on hand when specific issues arise.

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.