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.


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.

The Message of Creation (BST) by Wilkinson

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David Wilkinson, a writer of commentaries that I have enjoyed in the past, contributes this volume on the message of creation in the Bible Speaks Today (BST). Some of the same theological skill that I saw in those other volumes is present here. Still, his approach seems unusual, or at least not what I expected, and doesn’t address some of the more debated aspects in the discussion of creation. This is not the place to sift all the arguments, pro or con, for a literal creation. You will find that he always lands in the egalitarian position when male/female issues present themselves in the early chapters of Genesis as well. Beyond these caveats, he does bring in several angles that you might not have thought of.

The 20 chapters of this book, that cover 20 distinct passages, are divided into five sections. These sections include the beginning of creation (all passages are in early Genesis), the songs of creation (Proverbs and Psalms), the Lord of creation (all New Testament texts), the lessons of creation (from unexpected texts), and the fulfillment of creation (includes Revelation 21).  There’s an appendix that covers briefly some of the more expected issues. Throughout the volume, Mr. Wilkinson is not ugly to those who believe in seven-day creation but finds the viewpoint untenable.

Mr. Wilkinson is handy with a pen and a good communicator. Whether you agree with all his conclusions or not, you will receive some good food for thought. I could not recommend this book as the go-to volume on creation, but it’s a fine addition for a well-rounded library on the subject.

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 Trinity (BST) by Edgar

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When I first picked up this book and scanned its table of contents, I felt like yawning. It appeared as only a collection of expositions that referenced passages that had some connection to the Trinity. It was only after digging into this book that I found that these passages brought the doctrine of the Trinity alive and made it a fine addition to the respected Bible Speaks Today (BST) series. Brian Edgar also proved himself adept at unfolding much of the theology on the Trinity that might be addressed pedantically in a theology textbook.

After a bibliography and an introduction, the book is divided into four parts. They are all substantial and worthwhile, but part one blessed my soul in its description of the Trinity of love. The two chapters in this section brought in a smorgasbord of theology that transformed itself into a tapestry that displayed the singular beauty and importance of the doctrine of the Trinity. If you doubt my assessment here, I only ask that you read it for yourself.

The other parts look at the Trinity in the Old Testament, the Trinity in the experience and teaching of Jesus, and the Trinity in the experience in the teaching of the early church. The choice of texts are superb. Along the way, you will cover the unity of the Trinity, the wisdom of God, the Spirit of God, Incarnation, Christ’s baptism, mission, teaching, Resurrection, Pentecost, Christian experience, community, security, unity, and the Day of the Lord. There are no throwaway chapters in the lot. The study guide at the end of the book is above average too. Sometimes I wonder who puts the study guides in some of these books, but this one will really help make sure that you gleaned what was available in the chapters.

Mark this volume down as one of the better in the series among those that address biblical themes. To my mind, it’s a choice volume on the Trinity.

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 Morals of the Story by David and Marybeth Baggett

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How powerful are moral arguments to prove the existence of God? They have always struck me as overwhelmingly persuasive, yet this book is still my first foray into really digging out that concept. I have more of a theological background while this presentation tilts more toward the philosophical side. That’s not to say there isn’t some wonderful theology along the way. There’s plenty of theology as well as deep scholarship as you might imagine from this husband-and-wife scholar team. The scholarship is such that this might not work for beginners yet they do a good job of making it all accessible. As a bonus, they exhibit a pleasant sense of humor throughout. The authors strike me as teachers who would be enjoyable to hear lecture. Some of the historical explanations of where philosophers have moved over the years might bog you down some, but you will end this book with a firmer belief that the moral argument bolsters the affirmation of God’s existence.

The book is divided into three acts. The first one sets the stage in four chapters. Preceding the first act you have a description of the players, the playbill, and the spotlight on Socrates and Paul in Athens. The first two chapters succeed in orienting you in this discussion while chapters 3 and 4 slow down some with a great deal of historical background and scholarly review.

Act two has five chapters that break down moral goodness, moral obligations, moral knowledge, moral transformation, and moral providence. To my mind, the chapter on moral transformation packed the most punch. If you can grasp this section, you will have a working knowledge of all the facets of the moral argument.

Act three is called “enacting the comedy” and is really a concluding chapter that together with the “encore” shows how this material can lead us to some powerful apologetics.

This is an important book that succeeds in what it sets out to do. Its target audience will love it, and we can all glean from it. Our hearts know that if there is no God there are no morals and that cannot be possible!

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. 

Everlasting Dominion by Eugene Merrill

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I’ve used the works of Eugene Merrill throughout my entire ministry. He’s known for quality conservative academic work. Somehow I had overlooked this work for a long time. I’ve used several of his commentaries to great advantage, so my curiosity was piqued when I saw this volume described as his “magnum opus”. At least we can say that a major work of biblical theology requires more interdisciplinary mastery than most other theological work. Mr. Merrill’s humility is such that he almost sheepishly approaches this work in the preface. To my mind, however, he has the skills to tackle this task.

In chapter 1 he overviews what Old Testament theology is. That chapter includes a look at the winding path scholarship has taken on Old Testament theology. Much of it has been so absurd that we welcome this conservative effort. In chapter 2 he discusses the Old Testament as the autobiography of God and covers a wide range of theological concepts that you might find in a systematic theological approach. Chapter 3 upholds that the Old Testament is the revelation of God. Chapter 4 looks at what the works of God are as found in the Old Testament. Chapter 5 concludes part one with a discussion of the purposes of God.

Part two backs up and approaches the Old Testament from the perspective of mankind, who is made in the image of God. That will include chapters on the fall, redemption, and the creation of Israel.

Chapter 3 discusses the kingdom of God and in this section, we began seeing work on the individual books of the Old Testament. You may find his order of approaching Old Testament books a little unusual, but all are covered beautifully. We reach the wisdom literature of the Old Testament in chapters 18 and 19 before we find one concluding chapter that returns us to the big picture and anticipates the New Testament.

I don’t see how you could do serious work on Old Testament theology and not consult this book. It’s clearly one of the top volumes on the subject and I highly recommended 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 Lord Is Good by Christopher R. J. Holmes

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This book by Christopher R. J. Holmes challenged me. For sure I enjoyed it, and I learned great things, but this is no lazy summer afternoon reading. You can decide for yourself, but I need books like this. I need to be pushed past the fluff that prevails in Christianity today. I can’t say I agreed with every single word he said or every conclusion he drew, but I felt a connection with Mr. Holmes because I felt on every page that he sincerely believed that the Lord is good!

Don’t let the subtitle “seeking the God of the Psalter” lead you to believe that this is some sort of commentary on the Book of Psalms. Truth be told, had the printer accidentally left off the subtitle, I would probably have only thought that he quoted Psalms more than other books of the Bible. This observation is no criticism, however, because this is a profound theological work. Still, you will likely see a few verses in the Psalms far differently after reading this book.

As I read this book, I thought at times that the author could easily go to the field of philosophy and succeed. Still, his biblical observations were rich. At other times, I thought he had something of a love affair with Thomas Aquinas and was at least a member of the fan club of Augustine and Barth. For me, what he drew from each of them and put together was closer to what I would think than any one of the three individually. Mr. Holmes deserves credit because it would be a gross misrepresentation to say that he merely regurgitated what others had said. These three theologians have put such a strong stamp on what Christianity believes on the subject of the goodness of God that it would be impossible not to greatly interact with them in a book like this one.

There are nine chapters in this book that cover the subjects of simplicity, you are good (that doesn’t mean what you first think), goodness and the Trinity, you do good, the good Creator, goodness and evil, teach me your statutes, goodness and Jesus Christ, and perfection. I could only read one chapter, or sometimes only half a chapter, at a time. There was too much to take in! Every chapter was great, but my personal favorite was the one on goodness and evil. That one really helped some light bulbs come on for me.

I’ve learned that this book is part of IVP’s series entitled Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture. Though this is by far the most interesting subject to me of those released, if this series can turn out more works like this one it will be a dandy.

We all have our systematic theologies on our shelves, but this is the type of theological work that needs to find its place beside them. The Lord’s attribute of being good is brought alive here and I’m a richer person for 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.

Determined to Believe? by Lennox

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This book is one of the most thoughtful, balanced, and needed volumes that I have seen a long time in the always turbulent Calvinist/Arminian debate. He takes us back before these later labels to the more correct label of theological determinism and helps us wrestle with the sometimes tricky concepts of the sovereignty of God and human freedom. In tone and in content this book is a tour de force that refuses to accept the theological constraints that have been foisted upon us and takes us back to the Bible itself.

Both in the brief prologue and the introduction on what this book is about, we immediately notice something that is rare in this debate –civility. There’s no way he can agree with everyone, but he is altogether kind to those with whom he cannot. Occasionally, I almost wondered if he’s spilled too much ink in a cautious attempt to be respectful. Still, that may be what this subject demanded.

He had me by just a few pages into chapter 1. His discussion of the nature and limitations of freedom brought the subject into clear focus as he explains the difference between the liberty of spontaneity and the liberty of indifference. He introduces terms like determinist, indeterminacy, compatibilists, and incompatiblists. He makes an indisputable case that there can be no morality without freedom, nor love without free will. He gives a great discussion of how there are both atheists and Christians who hold to determinism. Chapter 2 dives into various kinds of determinism including physical determinism and theistic determinism. The logic employed is flawless and unanswerable. Chapter 3 develops some of the earlier thoughts to discuss the moral problem with determinism. As you will see, there is a major moral problem with it. Chapter 4 with its interesting title of “weapons of mass distraction” talks about the plethora of labels that have overtaken this debate. He turns us to Scripture and shows us what the apostle Paul said about following men or labels and how perhaps this debate stumbles out of the gate in the approach to it that so many of us take.

Chapter 5 begins part two that now feels comfortable to address God’s sovereignty and human responsibility head on. Again, he writes with clarity and does not allow himself to be bound by the clichés that have robbed the debate of its vitality. In chapter 6 he turns to the biblical vocabulary and instead of turning to a theological book goes straight to the Bible to discuss and define foreknowledge, predestination, and election. Part three begins with a chapter on human capacity and its limits and it is where we are now able to discuss some of the common arguments given, including some of the letters of TULIP. The next chapter looks at the human condition and digs into God’s righteousness and justification by faith. Chapter 9 tackles what the Bible says about being drawn by the Father and coming to Jesus Christ. Chapter 10 asks hard questions about the common explanations given for regeneration. Chapter 11 cycles to the gospel and human moral responsibility. The balance of the book looks directly at some of the key Scriptures that serve as the battleground of this issue: Romans 9 – 11 (5 chapters), several passages on assurance (1 chapter), several passages on endurance (1 chapter), and passages in Hebrews (2 chapters). The book ends with a very brief epilogue and questions for reflection.

I don’t see how you’d want to dig into this subject without availing yourself of this incredible book. I 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.

A W. Tozer: Three Spiritual Classics in One Volume

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It’s hard for me to find the words for how outstanding this volume is! Count me as one of those people who finds A. W. Tozer as one of the most penetrating, spiritual writers of all time. This beautiful, hardback collection of three of his spiritual classics can’t be missed. These titles have mostly been available as paperbacks in the past, but now we have something a little more worthy of these treasures. I wouldn’t be surprised if people call this one of the great publishing events of the year.

The first title, The Knowledge of the Holy, must be included in any list of the greatest Christian books of all time. It is, out of an impressive list, Tozer’s greatest work. This book impacted me several years ago, and it was a joy to go through it again. In conversational language he presents God Almighty in a way few ever have before. The theology is incredibly deep yet perfectly accessible. He astutely feels that so much of what’s wrong with Christianity today is our misunderstandings of God Himself. The attributes of God are shorn of any sort of dry, academic language and are presented in a way that makes you love, respect, and be in awe of God more.

The second title, The Pursuit of God, is another of his best-known works. He disdains our resting on the laurels of our conversion and pushes us to go hard after really knowing God. This book makes us thirst after our Lord and is a true masterpiece.

The third title, God’s Pursuit of Man, might fall slightly below the two mountain peak titles above, but it is a true sequel to The Pursuit of God. It moved me as well.

Not only is this volume with its three incredible titles worthy of the reading time of every Christian, I imagine it would change Christianity itself if it were widely read.

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.