Transfiguration and Transformation by Hywel Jones

Linking the Transfiguration of Christ to our transformation as believers in Christ is intriguing to say the least. I’ll confess that I never thought of the connection before I came across this book. The connection isn’t fabricated as both spring from the same word in the New Testament.

In a Preface entitled “A Biblical ‘Metamorphosis’”, Jones takes the time to prove linguistic connection and explains why it might be a rich vein to mine. Then the book divides into two main parts taking the Transfiguration and our transformation in turn. At first, I thought his presentation of the Transfiguration began slowly. As I came to realize, he was laying a solid foundation. Perhaps some issues he addresses are not ones you’d ever be concerned with, but he seems determined to counter all criticisms and restore what should have always been a lofty status. As he proceeds, the discussion grows much richer.

When he switches to transformation, rather than addressing critical challenges he reorients to theological challenges. Again he builds his foundation slowly, but really builds on the framework of regeneration, sanctification, and glorification. Whether you’d agree with his theological viewpoint or not, it’s the discussion of individual passages that address transformation that renders the most aid to our contemplation of transformation.

This book addresses more scholarly concerns than I am used to seeing in a BOT volume, but it is an interesting study. I always appreciate someone who can open the Bible and show me something I have never put together before. That is what happens 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.

Psalms (EBTC) [2 volumes] by Hamilton

Mark down these two volumes on Psalms by James Hamilton Jr. as my new favorite in this newer Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary (EBTC) series. Strangely enough, in this series that emphasizes theology it isn’t the theology that makes me rate it so highly (though the theology is excellent), but the overall approach to the Psalms themselves. In short, he sees an overarching structure and unity that presents a purposeful, carefully planned presentation rather than a loose collection with no more interconnection than a hymn book. You know how a hymn book works—each new edition drops a few songs while adding others with no loss other than if the changes involved your favorite song or not. There’s no overall theme to affect. Hamilton doesn’t want us to see the Psalms that way. I’m convinced he’s right.

More than the proclamation that the Psalms are a unity and interconnected, the details that Hamilton marshals and presents are profound. As you read, you catch yourself saying, of course that’s right! You might might disagree on a few details but there are too many to dodge. I’ve always felt this must be true of the Psalms and how I enjoyed reading the labor shown here to work it out.

There’s a second reason to love this commentary. It stands above the pack in an even more fundamentally important category. I’ve had the privilege to review many commentaries and have had occasional opportunity to declare that a particular commentary presents well-argued conservative conclusions. On a high level that’s true here too, but there’s more. I can’t recall ever reading such an impassioned exhibition in a major commentary series for the necessity of seeing Scripture as the inspired Word of God. Scholarship frowns too often on childlike faith and so even many scholars who possess such faith write as if they hear the eggshells breaking under their feet. They write in a subdued manner as if someone might show up and make them sit in the corner, or worse, call them out as not a REAL scholar. Hamilton didn’t take that defensive position. Let’s just say he was on offense and turned the discussion on its head so much so that it’s those other scholars who can take their place in the corner. What a breath of fresh air! He wasn’t brash, but he just brought the discussion back into the light of day. We hold a book in our hands that is a production of the Almighty. How can we believe less than what he shared here? How did scholarship lose sight of the big picture? I have the highest admiration for what I read here.

Everything else was on target in this commentary. The exegetical depth of the comments are as far as the parameters of the series allows and give real help. Why should I say more? You can already tell these two volumes are 5 star all the way to me.

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.

Piercing Leviathan (NSBT) by Eric Ortlund

It is often said to not judge a book by its cover, but in the case of this new volume in the NSBT series, I suggest you not judge it by its size either. It’s worth many books five times its size! It has something to say and it says it well about the enigmatic character of Job. Our reactions to the story of Job fluctuate between fascination and fear. The book of Job asks the questions we have all wanted to ask, and yet we’re almost afraid of the answers. Especially if the answer is not in the form that we want it. And especially not if some of the mystery remains after the Lord reveals what He is willing to share. Because of the uniqueness of the book of Job, many people interpret it any way they like as long as they acknowledge that some mystery remains. The book of Job pushes us to the edge of these deepest questions until we finally grapple with how there is evil and suffering in a world formed and controlled by our God.

Before I attempt to describe the contents of this book, I must offer an admission that the author did not answer all the questions about suffering and evil. The book did, however, tell me more about my God and made me feel better, even hopeful. I remain baffled about some of the suffering in my own life, but I feel more at peace reading this book. You never expected I would say that about a book written in a scholarly series, did you?

Just because I found such personal value in this book, don’t think for a moment that is not written with top-notch scholarship. The scholarship is present, but the stiltedness is not. I don’t think you’ll ever drift off to sleep reading this book and yet you will learn just as much as you will learn in any other scholarly effort. The contents of the book proceed chronologically through the book of Job making many observations and conclusions before a grand theological conclusion is drawn at the end.

In fact, this book succeeds in two different categories. You could place this book with your commentaries on the book of Job and you could easily follow the line of thinking of the book and have a much better chance at arriving at proper interpretation. Additionally, as you might imagine in a series of this sort, you could put this book with your theology books as it does have something to contribute to these dogged questions of theodicy.

I almost feel like if I said more about what you learn in this book I would have to put out a spoiler alert. You will learn about Behemoth and Leviathan, and the often-accepted descriptions of hippopotamus and crocodile, but you will learn of cosmic chaos and evil as well. Perhaps you will be like me and when you finish this book you will say to yourself, now that is what the book of Job is really saying.

This erudite work trades in profundity and joy. That is not easy to do, so you should treat yourself to secure this book today.

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.

Changed into His Likeness (NSBT) by Millar

This new release in the New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT) stands out among the other volumes in the series that I have reviewed. There is still much scholarly research as well as a host of biblical passages exegeted that I’ve come to expect in this series, but the scope of the subject isn’t as narrow as that found in most volumes. Most surprisingly, too, there is at times what could be used devotionally to be found. Not at the expense of scholarship, but in addition to it. In that sense, it’s quite rich. Maybe this isn’t so surprising after all, as how can you study personal transformation biblically without it turning personal?

The introductory chapter examines what we mean by transformation by looking even at prevailing trends in psychology regarding it. That discussion was nothing short of fascinating and reinforced why we’d better turn to the Bible to see what it has to say on the subject. The next chapter turns to biblical anthropology regarding personal transformation and defines key terms like “heart”, “mind”, “soul “, etc. I was impressed again.

The third chapter scans the Old Testament for personal transformation. The approach mostly takes key characters and states (overstates?) his appraisal of the biblical data. The level of digging into these beloved figures was in no way shallow, even incredibly perceptive at times, but was almost depressing as he was trying to make his case that there was little personal transformation there. He moved my thinking a little but I believe a much stronger positive case could be made than his gloomy analysis. In the next chapter, as he surveys the New Testament, he goes the other way and becomes especially positive on personal transformation and perhaps overlooks a few hiccups in those characters lives. I wonder if his covenantal theology guided him overmuch. Please don’t think I’m downgrading the overall depth and quality of his work, but let’s just say that he is not one of those scholars who’s afraid to persuasively present his conclusions!

Chapter 5 was a masterpiece. He took theology as expressed by key theologians and crafted an exquisite theology of personal transformation. You would never guess in the chapter’s opening paragraphs when he tells you of three broad groups (inner life/ Augustine & Edwards, Christology/ Calvin, piety/Owen) what a profound reading journey you are about to take. Other theologians are mentioned, but the synthesis and collation of theology are where he soars. As I read, I was finding myself agreeing in many ways with all three positions. So did he. My only criticism, and a mild one at that, is that he sometimes switched from biblical theology to trying to ascertain the official Reformed position as if it never crossed his mind that anyone outside a reformed persuasion would read his work.

The book concludes by drawing out the biblical conclusions articulated by some master theologians and reflecting on key biblical passages. His conclusions all make sense to me—as a Bible student and a Christian sometimes sad my transformation hasn’t been more profound. Personal transformation, even biblically, is complicated, but maybe less so after reading this book. Without doubt, this one is a keeper!

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.

Welcome, Holy Spirit by Gordon Smith

Hardly any theological subject has such diverse writings than those addressing the Holy Spirit. Pick up the first five or six books on the Holy Spirit that you come across and as you peruse them you may wonder if they are even talking about the same subject! Who the Holy Spirit is, what His importance is, how we should view Him, how we might imbibe Him into our lives, apparently, finds little agreement among Christian people. If nothing else, that suggests that there is need of thoughtful works on the Holy Spirit. Enter here Gordon T. Smith as he throws his hat into the ring.

To be honest, I had more trouble than usual in deciding how to rate this book. My trouble is that on some pages there is the most remarkable theological insight while on others I found myself asking the question, are you kidding? Though I had trouble, I think I might suggest how you can know in advance whether you will like this book or not. I’ll assume that you want good theology, so the whole thing hinges on how ecumenical you are. Are you convinced that being ecumenical is the most important thing in this day? You will love this book. If you are skeptical of being too ecumenical, then, perhaps, not so much.

I wasn’t very far into the book as I was enjoying some of his theological insights before I was thinking in the back of my mind, wow, this guy is really ecumenical. To be honest, he went fullbore in the last two chapters. Let me give an example. In the last chapter he commends the Presbyterian Church of Canada for coming up with “an extensive theological framework for engaging expressions of aboriginal spirituality including especially those that were typically of indigenous prairie belief systems.” He listed things like “the pipe ceremony, the sun dance, the powwow, the sweat lodge, the medicine wheel, and the smudge ceremony.” A little later on he made a wonderful statement that, “we must, of course, be radically Christocentric and orthodox – intentionally Trinitarian.” I love that last statement! But how could the earlier statement not be a direct contradiction to it? To be fair, he gives a detailed explanation of his reasoning. It didn’t add up to me. In my view, he went a field too far, or maybe two or three fields too far. Again, if you think being broadly ecumenical is the best way to advance the gospel in our day, you may find this riveting.

To try to give the full picture, he does write with an engaging style and comes across as likable. He doesn’t overly talk about himself, but there are a few clues that give you insight to him as a person. He grew up in a charismatic setting. He currently is part of the Christian Missionary Alliance. Along the way, he came to value liturgy too. Maybe that explains why he has more than average desire for everyone to respect each other, but I diverge with him when he says to fit their practices into orthodoxy. Respect is one thing. Syncretism is another.

Though his ecumenicalism was a glaring fault in my view that even weakened the book, I must admit still enjoying some of his theological observations. I usually read with a pencil in my hand and in the front of the book I will write the page number of special pages that really spoke to me. I just checked and I had 14 such pages notated and that is a little above average for an 180-page book. The aforementioned faults notwithstanding, this isn’t the usual fluff that clutters bookstore shelves on the Holy Spirit.

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 Trinity and the Bible by Scott Swain

If you have delved into the fascinating study of the Trinity, you likely have already encountered the name Scott Swain. There are probably 4 or 5 writers who have made the greatest impact in this subject that begs for more care among Christians and Swain is unquestionably one of them. This latest title of his is not his greatest contribution on the Trinity, but it is one of those books that shows more digging and a passion to help people practically put an understanding of the Trinity to use when they open the Bible anywhere to do exegesis.

Without doubt, that is a valuable concept to entertain. In fact, even after studying the Bible for many years, when you finally do a detailed study of the Trinity, you become almost surprised at how many passages contain a Trinitarian focus. Only our Triune God knows why the Bible is designed to have the Trinity sprinkled everywhere and yet have few passages that serve as great proof texts on the subject.

When you come to this book itself, you will appreciate the big picture for sure; and yet as with any written attempt at exegesis, you might disagree at points. Occasionally, I disagreed with Swain but I was a happy traveling companion for the journey he took we readers on. Maybe you ask here: isn’t this just a collection of essays? It is. Whether the author was lucky or brilliant I can’t say, but the fragments did make a whole.

Don’t skip chapter 1 even though it is really just the preface. Chapter 2 is the best chapter and addresses profound concepts involving the Trinity. Chapter 3 on Warfield’s view of the Trinity is not merely a recap of history, but a case study on exegesis and the Trinity. The final three chapters take the Trinity into the spadework of exegesis in Mark 12:35-37, Galatians 4:4-7, and Revelation 4-5 respectively.

I enjoyed this book thoroughly as I have done much study on the Trinity recently. To be sure, this book is not a first choice when you begin a study of the Trinity, but it is a quality resource as you get farther into it. I’m glad to have to have 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.

Biblical Theology According to the Apostles (NSBT)

You’ve got to admit it. Sometimes the venerable New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT) series finds a niche in theology that you at once hadn’t thought of before and after reading wonder why we hadn’t already. There’s a case in point here. The New Testament is rife with passages that review Israel’s provocative story. So it must be profitable to weigh how the Apostles handled the use of that story, don’t you think?

Three scholars (Chris Bruno, Jared Compton and Kevin McFadden) joined hands to produce this work. Rather than a disjointed work arising from too many cooks in the kitchen this book succeeds as drawing on the the fact the authors have been buddies since elementary school. I guess they traded the former discussions of school, sports and games for those of the Apostles thundering on the Old Testament. Maybe it’s just me but thinking about the non-typical evolution of that circle of friends brings a smile.

To maximize their contribution, the authors offer a introductory chapter that lays out a case for the importance of their idea with their criteria for inclusion and methodologies for presentation. It made sense to me.

They begin quite naturally with Matthew and his obvious connection to the Old Testament with emphasis on his genealogy and the parable of the tenants. Next, they present Luke and Acts as the climax of the Apostles telling Israel’s story with Stephen and Paul’s masterful presentation of the story in Acts 7 and 13 respectively.

Chapters on what is found in Galatians, Romans and Hebrews follow in turn. Hebrews 11 is surely a favorite of many of us. There’s a fine conclusion that sews up this unique study. Mark this work down as one of the more imaginative ones in the series that also manages to add something tangible for us.

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.

Salvation to the Ends of the Earth [Second Ed.] (NSBT)

Andreas Kostenberger gives us a second edition of this 20-year old work in the New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT). This time there is no co-author other than T. Desmond Alexander contributing a chapter on mission in the Old Testament.
Though I hadn’t used the first edition, the preface explains how he organized his discussion of the theology of mission in such a way as to recast the material even if ultimate conclusions remain the same. Gone are chapters on Paul and the General Epistles and hello to one like, say, Matthew, James and Hebrews. The strikes me as merely shuffling the deck and re-dealing the same 52 cards, but if that helps crystallize the material for him to present it to us there’s no harm in it. There’s a Scripture index too so you can get when you need.
Two things stand out about this book. First, it is thorough and thoughtfully presented. I can’t think of anything he left out or any place he wasn’t clear and helpful. Perhaps you will find more or less (more likely) of mission in the passage he discusses, but I doubt you will find omissions of passages themselves. There’s also the passion that you would expect to find in a missional work.
Second, this book does not take a narrow focus on one aspect of a doctrine as is often the case in the NSBT series, but instead takes in the broad horizon of a grand biblical subject. For that reason, it will be an asset to a broader swath of Bible students too.
Kostenberger needs no recommendation from me as his scholarly work speaks for itself. I’m sure you already have some of his works around you. Add this good work to the pile!

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.

Wonderfully Made by John W. Kleinig

Here’s a book of theology that is at once timely for our days and provocative to the mind. He delves deeply in Scripture to formulate a theology of the body. With a world that’s lost its way in viewing our own bodies and a church that in some sectors has gone wobbly, such guidance as found in this book is nothing short of a tonic.

Don’t start imaging some sort of political plea, nor even much of a cultural critique. The author assumes that you know that we are culturally in a different time (though some similarities with ancient periods exist). Further, he beautifully assumes the Bible is where truth is found. He never argues how the Bible has the better blueprint. Of course it does! Let’s just find out what it says. He writes, too, with Christian love yet without fear or apology for truth. Most authors can’t score that balance.

To be sure, he writes with a Lutheran perspective that I do not share. If you are like me and don’t share his background, don’t sweat it. It was little distraction to me. He would often speak of something like, say, baptism that would make me momentarily bristle, but it was easy to keep focused on his theme and find so much that helped and even challenged me.

After a chapter on “body matters” to orient us he divides his subject into the created body, the redeemed body, the spiritual, the sexual body, the spousal body, and the living body. The chapter on the created body was top notch on issues that we used to call “the doctrine of man” (anthropology). The two chapters on the redeemed and spiritual bodies are where you most might run into his Lutheran sensibilities on salvation issues, but good things to process still abound. The chapters on the sexual and spousal bodies (this is more than you think) are interconnected as well and address burning current issues. As started earlier, it’s not presented so much as a harbinger of the end as that of what is true, what has always been true, and what will always be true. The last chapter on the living body is really a conclusion.

The world is falling apart for sure, so it’s especially nice to read a book that keeps its head as this one does. By the way, it can hold up as a solid work of theology as well. This book is theology as it should 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.

Handbook of Evangelical Theology by Robert Lightner

Here is a nice book to introduce biblical doctrine to someone. Whether that be an introductory class Bible college class, or maybe for even a more valuables use, for someone alone or in a small group making a serious jab at understanding Bible doctrine, this book will fill a real need. Saying that this book is good for an introductory work by no means implies that it is shallow. There is real depth but the communication is helpful for someone who would be new at Bible study. I suppose the author’s many years of teaching made him ideal to write such a work.

The work is thoroughly conservative with no concessions to nonsense. In case you were wondering, the author subscribes to a dispensational outlook in prophecy and is committed to inerrancy of scripture throughout.

The sections of the book correspond to the great doctrines of the Bible. Near the beginning of each chapter there is historical perspective to help orient the reader but that does not dominate the discussion. Then after a careful laying out of the doctrine itself he concludes each section with a discussion of major areas of difference among evangelicals. I think that section has real value. It can come as a surprise to those studying theology for the first time that there are such differences. To my mind, it is better to go ahead and allow the reader to know that upfront. Plus, while there is not value in arguing, sometimes hearing different viewpoints can help one formulate their own more strongly.

This is a fine book. I might disagree on some little point, but how could that not be the case in any detailed work in systematic theology or Bible doctrine? I happily recommend this book to anyone interested in studying the great doctrines of the Bible.

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.