REVIEW: Delighting in the Trinity, by Tim Chester

I’ve found one of the biggest challenges in communicating the truth of the Christian faith to others, especially unbelievers, is adequately and clearly explaining the triune nature of God.  It certainly does spark some excellent questions and makes for great conversation, but it can be quite difficult to simply explain such a paradoxical doctrine.

One note of encouragement, in this regard, is the growing number of resources available on the doctrine of the Trinity and the implications of this doctrine in the life of the Christian and the church.  Dr. Tim Chester (PhD – University of Wales), pastor of The Crowded House in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England, and director of the Porterbrook Seminary, has added a notable resource to the mix in his book, Delighting in the Trinity: Why Father, Son and Spirit are Good News (Good Book Company, 2010).  If you’re at all familiar with Chester’s work, you’ll know that his gift of writing is a welcomed mix of clarity, depth, and intense practicality.  It is no different in this volume.

Divided into 3 parts, Chester looks at the doctrine of the Trinity by beginning with the doctrine’s biblical foundation.  Chester provides a good overview of the Scriptural basis for the doctrine, incorporating both Old Testament/Hebrew Bible and New Testament texts, also noting their interrelation, to assist the reader in drawing the doctrine from the pages of God’s Word.

Part 2 is focused on the development of the doctrine from the 2nd through the 20th centuries AD.  By providing this historical context and overview, Chester serves his readers well in understanding the historical nature of the Christian faith and the lives of those who have wrestled with the doctrine in days past.  Gaining familiarity in this area also allows the reader to be aware of heretical and heterodoxical understandings of the doctrine so as to more fully understand and defend the orthodox position on the doctrine.

Part 3 gives the reader ample material to answer the “so what?” question in terms of the doctrine of the Trinity.  Chester focuses on 4 primary areas of practicality: The Trinity and revelation, salvation, humanity, and mission.  In so doing, Chester not only provides the reader with ample evidence as to the essential nature of this doctrine in Christian faith and practice, but also provides a model to other pastors as to how they may begin to practically incorporate doctrinal essentials in immensely practical ways within their preaching/teaching ministry.

In sum, Delighting in the Trinity is vintage Chester: clear, accessible, practical, and pastoral.  As always, Chester demonstrates his deep desire to communicate the good news of the gospel, and here with a specific focus on the Trinitarian nature of the gospel and the whole of the Christian life.  You will be encouraged and edified as the colors of the Christian life shine with increasing brilliance as you grow in your understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity.  I recommend it!

BOOK DETAILS

Read inside (PDFs): Table of Contents & Sample Pages

Publisher: Good Book Company
Author: Chester, Tim
ISBN-13: 9781907377334
Cover Type: Paperback
List Price: $12.99
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*As a part of the Delighting in the Trinity Blog Tour, the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review, provided a copy of this book.  I was under no obligation to write a favorable review.

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REVIEW| Proverbs: Wisdom that Works, by Ray Ortlund

For many, the book of Proverbs may seem like a random assortment of sayings that, while imparting wisdom, are connected loosely, if at all.  While it has been deemed “practical enough” to make it into the Gideon’s New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs, the true depth of riches available within the book is often mined ineffectively.   Thus the question arises, is there a resource that will instruct pastors in their preaching of Proverbs so as to demonstrate to their congregations the glory of the Spirit-given, Christ-exalting, gospel-centered, when-the-rubber-meets-the-road nature of the wisdom contained within?  Thanks to Crossway’s Preaching the Word expository commentary series, edited by R. Kent Hughes, there is!

Dr. Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., former professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and current pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, TN, has authored the PTW volume on the book of Proverbs subtitled, Wisdom that Works.  If you’re at all familiar with the ministry that has been entrusted to Ortlund, you’ll know he is a man who pursues humility as he points people to the riches of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Jared Wilson once noted that Ortlund, “just won’t stop reveling in and exulting in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”  I can say that in the pages of Ortlund’s recorded expositions on the book of Proverbs, this sentiment rings true!

As I just indicated, the commentary is expositional in nature, thus comprising 21 of Ortlund’s sermons on Proverbs.  In a brief introduction, Ortlund summarizes what Proverbs is all about, stating:

“The book of Proverbs is a gospel book, because it is part of the Bible.  That means the book of Proverbs is good news for bad people.  It is about grace for sinners.  It is about hope for failures.  It is about wisdom for idiots.  This book is Jesus himself coming to us as our counselor, as our sage, as our life coach.  The Lord Jesus Christ is a competent thinker for all times and all cultures.  He is a genius.  And he freely offers us, even us, his unique wisdom.”

The first 14 sermon-chapters deal in detail with chapters 1-9 in the book of Proverbs.  These first 14 chapters are Ortlund’s detailed look at the nature, practicality, and deep necessity of wisdom in our daily lives.  Ortlund notes, “God has two goals for us in the book of Proverbs…One is deep character, and the other is straight thinking.”  As Ortlund composes a theology of biblical wisdom according to the book of Proverbs, he never fails to remain a pastor who is honest, culturally engaged, canonical,  straightforward, and unflinching in terms of his Christ-focused preaching.

In terms of his expositional commentary, Ortlund, as an accomplished writer, is able to make these once-spoken messages flow well on paper.  Where some expositional commentaries are a bit rigid and lack the impact the message once had when preached, Ortlund does a good job of keeping his engaging style on paper.  Thus, it is an edifying and engaging experience to “sit under the preaching” of Ortlund in book form.

The final 7 chapters of the commentary deal with wisdom related to speaking, humility, family, emotions, friendship, money, and life and death.  Here, Ortlund surveys the book of Proverbs noting the particular texts therein where the topics are addressed.  Here we find Ortlund as a preacher who avoids shallow topical preaching, which is so often moralistic and simplistic in nature.  Rather, he continues to handle the text well, remains honest about our sin, yet focused on the work of Christ and how this gospel work applies to these areas of our lives, forming wisdom within us.

Justin Taylor noted, “If I could have anyone in the world teach me the book of Proverbs, I think I’d choose Ray Ortlund: a pastoral shepherd and an Old Testament scholar who by grace embodies the ethos of proverbial wisdom and understands its consummation in Christ our wisdom.”  I can say that in these pages, you find exactly what Taylor speaks of.  Though the Preaching the Word series is primarily written “by pastors for pastors”, this is a valuable resource for the preaching pastor, the hungry layperson, and anyone who desires to grow in godly, gospel-centered wisdom as it relates to the ins-and-outs of daily life.  I recommend it.

BOOK DETAILS

Proverbs: Wisdom That Works (Preaching the Word) (Hardcover)

Read inside (PDFs): Sample Pages

Publisher: Crossway/Good News Publishers
Author: 
Hughes, R Kent (Editor); Ortlund, Raymond C., Jr.
ISBN-10: 1581348835 | ISBN-13: 9781581348835
Cover Type: Hardcover
List Price: $27.99
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NOTE: I was provided with a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher for the purpose of review, and was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

The Law in Luke-Acts

Studying the Bible rigorously comes with its share of challenges.  Though the Bible is able to be understood, some things aren’t as plain as others.  As the Westminster Confession of Faith (1.7) states, “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all (2 Pet. 3:16); yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them (Ps. 119:105, 130).”

One challenge the student of the Scriptures faces is properly understanding those elements that appear in both Testaments.  The coming of Christ and the work he accomplished often had a profound impact on these Scripturally-pervasive elements and how they were/are to be understood depending on the particular point in salvation history.  Looking across the Testaments, it is important to note areas of continuity and discontinuity if we are going to arrive a proper understanding of pan-Scriptural theological matters.

One such element is the Law.  How is the Law to be understood and applied at various points in salvation history: During the period of the Moses and the Prophets? During the life and ministry of Christ? After Christ’s resurrection and ascension?  These can be difficult questions to answer, but the answers are not out of reach.  When one examines such matters through a biblical-theological lens, clarity can be brought to that which at once seemed out of focus.

To assist the student of biblical theology in such matters, Zondervan has begun publishing a number of volumes in their Biblical Theology of the New Testament (BTNT) series.  This series is designed to provide pastors, scholars, and students of theology with a holistic grasp of the theology put forth by particular books of the Bible; noting how they relate to the New Testament canon in particular, and the larger context of the Bible in general.

Darrell L.Bock (PhD, University of Aberdeen), research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, and well-known for his scholarly work on Luke-Acts, has penned the second volume in the BTNT series.  A Theology of Luke and Acts is rigorous examination of the theology contained within Luke’s unified two-volume work, and how it relates to the overall picture of New Testament theology.  Often viewed as two very separate books due to their positioning in the New Testament canon, Luke’s gospel and the book of Acts are actually a unified, two-volume work penned by Luke for the purpose of telling “one basic story.” The story is that of “God working through Jesus to usher in a new era of promise and Spirit-enablement so that the people of God can be God’s people even in the midst of a hostile world.”

As a part of the “Theology of Luke and Acts Blog Tour”, sponsored by Zondervan Academic, I will be reviewing the volume, giving special attention to Bock’s chapter on “The Law in Luke-Acts”.  I’d invite you to head over to Koinonia, Zondervan Academic’s blog, to see the plethora of reviews that focus on other sections of the book.  In terms of the overall structure of my review, I’ll begin with some brief remarks on the form and content of the volume, then address the chapter on the Law, and I’ll close with some remarks as to the book’s quality and significance.

A Theology of Luke and Acts is divided into three main sections: “Introductory Matters”, “Major Theological Themes”, and “Luke and the Canon”.  The introductory material is thorough, well-written, and accessible, dealing with authorship, date, historical context, source material and genre.  Because the BTNT series is geared toward college and seminary-level students, there is a good deal of interaction with historic and contemporary scholarship within the introduction as well as throughout the entire volume.  However, to assist in dealing with the potentially cumbersome matters, there are often helpful “Conclusion” sections that provide a succinct synopsis of the material presented.

The section devoted to “Major Theological Themes” contains 17 chapters that deal with prominent topics in contemporary biblical theology.  Topics addressed include, but are not limited to, promise-fulfillment, the Holy Spirit, dimensions of salvation, Israel and the Church, Gentile inclusion, women, the poor, social dimensions, the Law, ecclesiology, and eschatology.

The final section, prior to the conclusion, is devoted to a study of Luke-Acts as it operates within the entire New Testament canon.

Moving forward, Bock provides a very helpful analysis of the place of the Law in Luke-Acts.  Concerning his study, three main features are noteworthy.  First, Luke portrays law-abiding as an acceptable option for Jewish believers in matters of outreach, but it must not hinder Jew-Gentile unity in church or impede the gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  Second, “the Law and the Prophets point to God’s final activity in Christ.”  Third, Luke saw no salvation benefit from the Law.

Allow me to list some brief remarks regarding the highlights of Bock’s analysis of Luke’s presentation of the Law…

1.) Luke saw law-abiding as an acceptable option for Jewish believers in matters of outreach, though it must not hinder Jew-Gentile unity in church or impede the gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Luke portrays the Jewish individuals highlighted in his gospel in a particularly positive light as it pertains to their fulfillment and obedience to the Law.  Specifically, this positive portrait is painted of John the Baptizer, Jesus, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Simeon, Joseph and Mary.  During the course of Jesus’ earthly ministry we find him obedient to the Law as well as encouraging obedience in others.  Yet it is important to note, as Bock does, that “Christ trumps law in terms of interpreting how it is to be implemented.  Ultimately, Bock notes, “Luke shows respect for the Law among Jewish believers and total freedom from its requirements for Gentiles.”

2.) Luke viewed the Law as pointing to God’s final activity in Christ.

Luke views the plan of God mainly in two parts: promise and fulfillment.  He portrays John the Baptizer as a key transitional figure between the two eras, with Christ Jesus being the one in whom the promised plan of God is fully realized.  Luke sees the Law as mainly functioning during the era of promise and that it ultimately is a pointer to Christ and his redemptive activity.  In sum, Bock writes, “Key to appreciating the law is knowing that in the new era, the promise and hope of the law come to fruition.  Yet the law still teaches ethically and relationally.  It calls for justice and love.  Yet some practices of the law are not to be undertaken, as they were in the past.  So challenges to Sabbath practice, the washing of hands, and diet are seen.”

3.) Luke saw no salvation benefit from the Law.

Luke is consistent in his presentation of Christ as the one through whom the believer is saved.  The law is unable to justify.  Forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in Jesus’ Name, not through law-abiding.  Bock notes that, “Responding to Jesus represents fulfilling the law, and so receiving him brings its intention to pass.”  Overall, Luke demonstrates that justification cannot be obtained through the Law, but rather by faith in Messiah Jesus, exclusively.

CONCLUSION

Though I have only covered one aspect for the purposes of this review, overall, A Theology of Luke and Acts is a remarkably thorough and helpful volume by one of evangelicalism’s foremost scholars on Luke-Acts.  Bock is not lacking in his engagement of historical and contemporary scholarship, and is articulate in his interaction.  This volume is not written at a “popular” level, but will prove to be both accessible and beneficial for the student, seminarian, and pastor-theologian.  I recommend it enthusiastically.

NOTE: I was provided with a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher for the purpose of review, and was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

BOOK DETAILS

Read inside (PDFs): Sample Pages
Publisher: Zondervan
Author: Bock, Darrell L.
ISBN-10: 0310270898 | ISBN-13: 9780310270898
Binding: Hardcover
List Price: $39.99
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REVIEW: Galatians (LCECNT) by J.V. Fesko

Dr. J.V. Fesko, Academic Dean, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California, and minister at Geneva Orthodox Presbyterian Church, is the first commentator to be published in the new expository commentary series from Tolle Lege Press, The Lectio Continua Expository Commentary on the New Testament (LCECNT)As an expository commentary, the volume is composed of 22 of Dr. Fesko’s sermons on Galatians.  Preaching through the entirety of the letter to the churches in Galatia, Fesko aims to unpack the Apostle Paul’s defense of the true gospel against the false teachers in Galatia.

INTRODUCTION

At the outset, Fesko paints a broad picture of all that is to come with a helpful introductory chapter where he identifies the main themes of Galatians as justification, sanctification, and eschatology (the study of last things).  Additionally, touching upon the historical background and circumstances that arose at the time of composition, Dr. Fesko gives the reader an accessible understanding of the contextual issues at hand without being over-technical.

COMMENTARY

Moving through the text, Fesko provides a section by section exposition of the letter.  As is one of the aims of the Lectio Continua series as a whole, the commentary avoids the technicalities of more academic commentaries, and without diminishing substance, provides the reader with a faithful explanation of the text.  Certainly, at this point, Dr. Fesko’s approach to exposition is a training manual of sorts for biblical communicators as it relates to the often difficult ability to interact with scholarship, historical voices, differing interpretations/objections, etc., and yet remaining articulate, balanced, coherent, and practical.  The textual commentary is thus edifying, engaging, and homiletically instructive.

In terms of the major themes addressed in the commentary and mentioned above, several points are worth mentioning.  Fesko’s understanding of the doctrine of justification is of the traditional Reformed perspective, specifically citing the Westminster Confession’s definition.  He briefly interacts with the New Perspective (NPP).

In regard to the doctrine of sanctification, Fesko offers substantial discussion concerning the Spirit’s role in the sanctification of the believer and the import of our union with Christ.  Fesko writes at one point, “Paul drives us to our union with Christ and the work of the Spirit.  As Paul explains, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).  In other words, both justification and sanctification come by faith alone in Christ.  We are no more sanctified by our good works than we are justified by them.  Rather, we look by faith to Christ alone and he saves.  As Paul makes clear, such an approach to redemption in no way mitigates the believer’s need to produce good works,.  Instead, Paul desires to have the Galatians recognize that Christ is the source of their salvation—both in justification and sanctification.”

Perhaps a mark which sets this commentary apart, and which is remarkably helpful, is the time which Dr. Fesko devotes to the importance of Paul’s understanding and use of the OT within his argument.  Drawing on several redemptive-historical, new creational and eschatological motifs, Fesko shows the immense importance of understanding the overall redemptive work of God in Christ.  Specifically, in regard to the fruit of the Spirit, “walking by the Spirit”, and the significance of circumcision, Dr. Fesko explains how each are foreshadowed in the OT and understood in NT perspective as they relate to God’s overall plan of redemption.

NOTES ON INTERPRETATIVE POSITIONS

Dr. Fesko writes from a thoroughly Reformed perspective.  The redemptive-historical nature of Paul’s argumentation is explained clearly, and the incorporation of the significance of the OT text is both noted and explained throughout.  Dr. Fesko concludes that “the Israel of God” in Galatians 6 is indeed the church as he states that, “only those who belong to Christ are properly called Israel.”  Regardless of where you may come down on this interpretation, the explanation that Dr. Fesko provides for his interpretative conclusion is wonderfully concise, theologically helpful, and practically encouraging.

CONCLUSION

In sum, Fesko’s volume is a largely helpful commentary on the book of Galatians.  Whether pastor, professor, or layperson, all will indeed benefit from this treatment of the Galatians text.  Overall, this commentary is soaked with gospel goodness.  It’s solid, simple, and straightforward.  Not only will it help you think more deeply about the gospel, but I believe those who read it will become better equipped at speaking more clearly and substantially about what God has done for us in Christ.  It certainly lives up to the aims of the Lectio Continua series in that it is, “rigorously exegetical, God-centered, redemptive-historical, sin-exposing, Gospel-trumpeting and teeming with practical application.”  Insofar as expository commentaries are concerned, it is superb.  I highly recommend it.

BOOK DETAILS

Read inside (PDFs):Sample Pages

Publisher: Tolle Lege Press
Author: Fesko, J. V.
ISBN-13: 9780983145776
Binding: Hardcover
List Price: $29.95
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NOTE: I was provided with a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher for the purpose of review, and was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

REVIEW: ISAIAH BY THE DAY by ALEC MOTYER

Sometimes you just have to lay your cards out on the table to begin with, and I’m going to do that now…Motyer’s Isaiah By The Day: A New Devotional Translation is fantastic!  Here we have a first-rate Old Testament scholar bringing together his gifts as a commentator, translator, and exegete into a Christ-centered devotional tool that applies the text responsibly and practically while guiding the reader through digestible portions God’s Word each day.

The book begins with a helpful introductory section which provides the reader with a general outline of Isaiah, allowing for a broad understanding of the author’s structure.  Four simple divisions allow for an easily remembered “map” of the book: Isaiah’s preface (Chs. 1-5), The Book of the King (Chs. 6-37), The Book of the Servant (Chs. 38-55), and The Book of the Conqueror (Chs. 56-66).  Additionally, Motyer (pronounced “Moh-teer”) is careful to explain his translation process and certain aspects of Isaiah’s style and structure to keep in mind while reading.   The introduction provides the most pertinent information for the reader giving them needed technical knowledge without being overbearing.  All in all, he aims to be consistent and faithful to the text while retaining the beauty of Isaiah’s Hebrew.

The picture to the right provides a glimpse of the layout of each day’s text.  The notes to the right are a distilled commentary that provides the reader with helpful background, linguistic, textual, and contextual remarks that do well in keeping from becoming over-technical or distracting from the text itself.  It’s as if Motyer is there along the way, as a teacher, heading off that which may be overly confusing and highlighting that which may be often overlooked.  Additionally, there is ample note taking space on each page, making it easy to mark the text and record thoughts, questions, and reactions without becoming overly cluttered.

One thing to mention is that the text does read a bit rigidly as compared to most modern translations. However, the raw nature seems to awaken the beauty and straight-forward nature of many portions of the text and add to the distinctiveness of this work.

Moving to the application portion of each day’s entry, Motyer has succeeded in including the text’s contemporary significance, connection to Christ, as well as its ecclesial, social/societal, and individual bearing.  While many devotionals aim to apply the text through simplistic, often cheesy, questions, Motyer has given the reader the opportunity to significantly understand and apply the text through well-thought, timely, pointed, and pastorally-natured questions.

Overall, I don’t believe you will find another devotional as distinct and substantial as Motyer’s.  I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of Isaiah By The Day and be edified!  …Especially, if you’re one who has avoided, or been weary of, much of contemporary evangelicalism’s often shallow devotional literature…this one will be a breath of fresh air!  I recommend it very highly!!

*The publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review, provided a copy of the aforementioned title.  I was under no obligation to write a favorable review.

Watch as Alec Motyer discusses Isaiah By The Day:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/v/r9KbrelS7mM]

BOOK DETAILS

Publisher: Christian Focus
Author: Motyer, Alec
ISBN-10: 1845506545 | ISBN-13: 9781845506544
Binding: Hardcover
List Price: $22.99
BUY NOW at Westminster Bookstore: $15.08 – 34% Off 

REVIEW: THE BEGINNING AND END OF WISDOM by DOUGLAS SEAN O’DONNELL

Perhaps the most familiar genre of biblical literature to the average layperson is the epistle.  Given our Western propensity toward the practical and the immediate, the letters of the New Testament provide us with straightforward statements about what Christ has done and how we are to live in response; so it’s no wonder many of us initially flip to these sections of the Bible in our daily reading.  But how do we fare when it comes to the literature of the Hebrew Bible?  Apart from the familiar narratives that most have experienced, at the very least in their Sunday School days, the Old Testament still remains a mystery to many gospel-believing Christians.  And given the lack of familiarity and confidence in handling much of the Old Testament among many followers of Christ, it’s likely that a portion of that may be due to the fact that many pastors could use a refresher when it comes to rightly handling and preaching the Old Testament.

In light of this reality, I am thankful for the growing number of resources that aim to assist believers in understanding and developing a Christ-centered, gospel-focused, redemptive-historical hermeneutic for reading and interpreting the Old Testament Scriptures.  After all it was Paul who began his letter to the Romans indicating that “the gospel of God” was something God “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son” (Romans 1:2-3, ESV).  Jesus, as well, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets…interpreted to [the disciples on the Emmaus Road] in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27, ESV, emphasis mine).  Certainly “all the Scriptures” includes the Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew Bible, and Douglas Sean O’Donnell has provided us with a very helpful example of effective Christ-centered preaching from this portion of God’s Word in his, The Beginning and End of Wisdom: Preaching Christ from the First and Last Chapters of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job (Crossway, 2011)(Talk about a Puritan-length title!)

The Beginning and End of Wisdom is a collection of a handful of O’Donnell’s sermons from the Wisdom genre as he seeks to initially instruct the reader/preacher through demonstration in practice.  I was thoroughly encouraged by the posture taken by O’Donnell as he approached his task.  Noting the primacy of Christ he states, “Life does not come through Bible literacy.  Life comes through Jesus.  And a right understanding of Scripture comes through knowledge of Jesus and trust in him.”  As O’Donnell approaches this genre of biblical literature he reminds the student of Scripture of the “demeanor” one must take, that is: “that God remain large and we remain small.”  O’Donnell displays, what I believe to be, a genuine reverence for Christ and his word, a serious approach to his task of interpretation, and a passion to see the gospel elevated and hearts awestruck by the God of the gospel in the Old Testament Scriptures.

I particularly enjoyed O’Donnell’s sermon in from the first chapter of Job (1:1-12).  With his aim set on the gospel, O’Donnell’s honesty allows the gospel to rest sweetly on the ears of the hearers of the text as he reminds us, “We come to a book (Job) that will teach us that God’s love for us is bigger and broader than sentimentality and sympathy and that his will for our lives is vaster and grander than our personal happiness or success.”  In light of Job’s life situation and response to the suffering from God’s providential hand, O’Donnell notes in Christocentric terms, “When Jesus walked the earth, he called everyone, as he still calls them, to put him and his kingdom above possessions, family, friends, and reputation, and to accept, if necessary, suffering, persecution, and the loss of home job, money, or even life.”  Thus, O’Donnell gets to Christ without rushing with hermeneutical irresponsibility toward a connection, preaching and teaching the text responsibly.

Before two appendices on “Preaching Hebrew Poetry” and “Book Summaries and Suggested Sermon Series”, O’Donnell moves from the finished product to show the readers the tools necessary to get there.  This is a bit of a different route to take as many would think to start with the materials and method before considering the finished product.  However, in his chapter entitled “How Shall Wisdom Be Preached?” O’Donnell gives careful hermeneutical consideration and instruction to that which his has just demonstrated in his sermons.  For the person who lacks acquaintance with the art of preaching Christ from the Old Testament, this order serves to effectively immerse the reader in the manner, style, and practice of preaching Christ from the wisdom books so that the dots will likely be more quickly and readily connected through, “Yeah-I-see-how-you-did-that…” moments.  The chapter on hermeneutics is incredibly helpful, especially in O’Donnell’s inclusion of charts that connect Wisdom Literature text with like texts from the New Testament.

Overall, with a reverence for the God of the Word, and a desire to see Christ exalted as the gospel is proclaimed, The Beginning and End of Wisdom is a excellent book to consider adding to your library as it relates to Christ-centered hermeneutics!  I recommend it!!

*The publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review, provided a copy of the aforementioned title.  I was under no obligation to write a favorable review.

BOOK DETAILS

Read inside (PDFs):Sample Pages

Publisher: Crossway/Good News Publishers
Author: O’Donnell, Douglas
ISBN-10: 1433523345 | ISBN-13: 9781433523342
Binding: Paperback
List Price: $17.99
BUY NOW at Westminster Bookstore: $11.73 – 35% Off 

CLICK HERE to check out O’Donnell’s recent article in Themelios entitled, “The Earth Is Crammed with Heaven: Four Guideposts to Reading and Teaching the Song of Songs”

REVIEW: WHY DO WE HAVE CREEDS?

What do you believe in?

If someone were to ask you that question, how would you respond?  What beliefs would you first profess?  The truth is, as Burk Parsons notes, “everyone believes in something.”  And it is because of this simple truth that we have creeds.

Living in a day where creeds are often looked upon with skepticism, or altogether dismissed and forgotten, Parsons has provided a timely volume defending the legitimacy and importance of the historic creeds of the Christian faith.  Why Do We Have Creeds?, a recent addition to P&R Publishing’s “Basics of the Faith” series, provides readers with a clear and concise defense of the importance of creeds within the life and practice of the church.  And while some may say “My only creed is Christ” or “The Bible is my only creed”, Parsons’ brief volume respectfully shows why it is not enough to simply believe in something…it’s what you believe about that something that makes all the difference.

After discussing the nature of belief and Christian religious belief in particular, Parsons lays the foundation for his examination of the role creedal and confessional statements by demonstrating the absolute sufficiency, authority, and infallibility of Holy Scripture.  While some today, fearing that creeds may be viewed by believers as authoritative over or equal to the Scriptures, thereby objecting to the import and use of historic creeds and confession within the church,  Parsons points out that “the church’s historic creeds affirm that Scripture alone is our final authority.”  Further, “the church’s creeds and confessions do not stand as authorities over Scripture but rather serve as affirmations of Scripture’s authority for all of faith and life.”  Thus, Parsons notes, “Creeds themselves are authoritative only in that they are subordinate to and derivative from the only divine authority, namely, the inspired and inerrant Word of God.”

Moving forward, Parsons helps believers understand the necessity of creeds within the church by examining the usefulness, foundation for, and purpose of creeds and confessional statements.  Dispensing with the notion that doctrine merely is divisive, Parsons plainly states that creedal statements guard against heresy, provide sound doctrinal summary and instruction, and give Christians a rallying point of unity around the truth of Scripture.

The strength of this book lies in it mixture of brevity, substance, and engagement with historic and contemporary scholarly voices.  While targeted at the person unfamiliar or relatively new to the creeds of the Christian faith, Parsons’ God-given ability to write clearly will serve as a helpful primer for those desiring to understand and appreciate the historic confessions of the faith; also serving to give the person familiar with the subject a framework for clear and practical explanation.  I highly recommend it!

BOOK DETAILS

Read inside (PDFs): Sample Pages

Publisher: P and R Publishing Company
Author: Parsons, Burk
ISBN-10: 1596382023 | ISBN-13: 9781596382022
Binding: Paperback
List Price: $5.00
BUY NOW at Westminster Bookstore: $3.75 – 25% Off

*The publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review, provided a copy of the aforementioned title.  I was under no obligation to write a favorable review.

CHRISTIAN FOCUS BLOG TOUR: FROM THE RESURRECTION TO HIS RETURN

Eschatology is the formal theological term for the study of last things.  It is the study of things relating to the return of Christ and the consummation of his kingdom.  Very often when the “last days” or things pertaining to the return of Christ are discussed, many get bogged down with the if, when, and how of the rapture, the nature of the millennium, the meaning of the tribulation, the figure of Antichrist, and these difficult matters of interpretation often cloud out the import of the gospel and its bearing on how believers are to live lives to the glory of God in the last days.  While there certainly is a place for the careful study of Scripture as it pertains to the various elements of eschatology listed above, believers must not forget the importance of living faithfully in these, the last days.  The question is, “how, exactly, may believers live faithful lives in an unfaithful world.”

Don Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has done believers a great service in his exposition-turned-eBook entitled From the Resurrection to His Return: Living Faithfully in the Last Days (also available in paperback from Christian Focus Publishers).  Carson plainly works through 2 Timothy 3:1 – 4:8, providing timely, challenging, and altogether helpful instruction to believers at all stages of maturity in Christ.

After a brief introductory chapter called “Living in the last days”, Carson draws out 4 more principles for living from Paul’s instruction to Timothy as it pertains to living faithfully in the difficult and evil days leading up to Christ’s return (cf. 2 Tim. 3:13).  The remaining four chapters bear the title of the principle Carson exegetically unpacks.  They are as follows:

  • Hold the right mentors in high regard
  • Hold few illusions about the world
  • Hold on to the Bible
  • Hold out the Bible to others

Though the book is brief, able to be read from cover to cover in about an hour (or less), it largely surpasses its size in impact.  Theologically straightforward and plainly spoken, Carson speaks with pastoral wisdom and sensitivity as one who has lived to see the vitality and importance of being faithful to the Scriptures and the gospel declared therein.  There is nothing incredibly intricate here, but that is to the book’s credit!  Read and be encouraged!

*As a part of the From the Resurrection to His Return Blog Tour, the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review, provided a copy of this eBook.  I was under no obligation to write a favorable review.

BOOK DETAILS

Read inside (PDFs): Sample Pages

Publisher: Christian Focus
Author: Carson, D. A.
ISBN-10: 1845505778 | ISBN-13: 9781845505776
Binding: Paperback
List Price: $4.99
BUY NOW at Westminster Bookstore$4.49 – 10% Off

>>>Listen to a sermon by Dr. Carson from 2 Timothy 3:1-17 entitled How to Think About the Last Days. (GospelCoalition.org)

THE MINOR PROPHETS THRU “THE JESUS LENS”

It’s probably safe to say that Nahum may be the first book people don’t turn to in their daily reading of the Scriptures.  It’s also relatively safe to say, that for many Christians looking to study a book with their small group, they probably are not going to land on Obadiah.  Again, it’s probably safe to say, that for many Christians, the Minor Prophets–as a whole–don’t get much air time.  But Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, wasn’t leaving these 12 books out when he told Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, ESV).  In all reality, Paul was referring first to the books of the Old Testament.

For many Christians, the Minor Prophets, in part, and the Old Testament, as a whole, can often feel like more of a mystery than a major source of practical, daily food for the soul; or, at most, a collection of stories filled with characters whose examples are to be imitated or avoided.  Is that really all there is to a majority of the Old Testament?  Is it largely just a collection moral victories, moral mishaps, striking judgment, difficult genealogy, and obscure prophecy?  If this is the experience you’ve had in reading (or trying to read) the Old Testament, and specifically, the Minor Prophets, don’t lose heart!  There is hope in learning how to see that these 12 small books are more than locusts, lament, and tellings of the terrifying day of the LORD.  Each of these books, when properly interpreted, point in some way to the ultimate redemptive work that God has accomplished in his Son, Jesus Christ!

Dr. Michael Williams, professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary, has written the latest offering in Zondervan’s How to Read the Bible… series.  In Williams’ How to Read the Bible Through the Jesus Lens: A Guide to Christ-Focused Reading of Scripture the reader is introduced, in a wonderfully accessible way, to a redemptive-historical reading of the Scriptures.  Simply put, Williams guides readers in the way of reading the whole Bible with the view of God’s gospel work in Christ Jesus as the central thread of unity.  That is, the Scriptures, the Old and New Testaments, either point forward in hope to the redemptive work of Jesus, or they look back to the cross and the effect of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ on the Christian and the world.  Williams notes that the purpose of his writing is, “parallel to that of Christ for the disciples he joined up with on the road to Emmaus: “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).”

As part of “The Jesus Lens Blog Tour”, sponsored by Zondervan, I’ve decided to focus on only a section of Williams’ work, as hinted at in the opening paragraphs of this post—The Minor Prophets.

The Minor Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are not minor because they are small in terms of their impact or importance.  Rather, they were deemed the “minor prophets”, by Augustine, to note their brevity in comparison to the “major prophets” (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel).  And though the Minor Prophets are often obscure in the minds of many readers of the Scriptures, Williams provides a helpful framework for approaching each book.

Williams divides his examination of each book into 4 sections: Background/Summary, The Jesus Lens, Contemporary Implications, and Hook Questions.

BACKGROUND/SUMMARY

The Background/Summary section gives an overall summary of the book citing a theme and memory verse.  These summaries are spoken in very plain language which will be a great aid to the person first encountering the meaning of each book, but will also act as an excellent resource for the student of any level who desires to summarize the overall message of the book in plain language.

THE JESUS LENS

This section guides the reader in the way of seeing how the work of Christ is either foresignified in the book or how the book looks back to his work of redemption.  Williams defines reading through “The Jesus Lens” as “reading it the way it was intended.  [The Jesus Lens] keeps our reading, understanding, teaching, and preaching properly focused on God’s grand redemptive program that centers on his own Son.”

CONTEMPORARY IMPLICATIONS

How does the text apply to the believer today?  After all, the Bible wasn’t necessarily written to us, but rather for us.  Because the Scriptures were written to specific people, in specific places, at specific times, for a specific purpose, bridging the gap to the lives of believers in the 21st century can often times be difficult.  Williams, though, is able to do so with brevity and always with the gospel work of Christ in view which is needed (especially in terms of Old Testament interpretation) and helpful!

HOOK QUESTIONS

Whether you’re using the book on your own, or in a group setting, these questions are designed to help the reader think deeply, intelligently, and practically about the overall point and purpose of the book in his or her daily life.  Williams does a good job of keeping the questions practical, but not shallow; text-focused, but not overtly technical.  This will certainly be a good tool for readers desiring to get the most out of this resource!

THE JESUS LENS IN FOCUS: JOEL

Rather than to engage all 12 of the Minor Prophets, for the purpose of this review, I thought I’d focus in on a chapter I found greatly encouraging and exemplary in terms of putting “The Jesus Lens” into practice; namely, the book of Joel.

Williams cites the theme of Joel as, “The day of the Lord is coming and brings judgment before restoration.”  Noting the drought and locust plague of Joel’s immediate context, Williams demonstrates how these supernatural disasters were pointers to the ultimate day of the Lord when his judgment would justly fall on all those who spurned his grace.  But how does all this relate to Christ?

Williams notes, “The apostle Peter quoted from Joel’s prophecy on the day of Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (Acts 2:17-21), indicating that Jesus’ death on the cross was our day of the Lord, when God’s judgment for our disobedience was experienced on our behalf by our sinless representative.”  Moreover, “Jesus experienced those dire consequences so that all who come to the Father through faith in him can be assured of life.”

Noting the contemporary significance of “the day of the Lord”, being that believers now live “between “days of the Lord”, Williams helps believers see how the gospel work of Christ was Christ’s substitutionary enduring of “the day of the Lord” on behalf of the elect. But, for those apart from Christ, “the day of the Lord” is still in the future.  For believers, then, the future, consummate “day of the Lord” does not need to be looked to in fear, because believers now dwell secure in Christ, for he has endured the wrath of that day in their place.

All in all, Williams gloriously focuses on Christ throughout his writing, ending his chapter on Joel noting that, “Jesus offers us his own righteousness to replace our blameworthiness, unshakeable joy to replace our circumstantially determined happiness, and justifiable confidence in him to replace our justifiable doubt in ourselves.”

FINAL THOUGHT

Paul noted in his introduction to the Romans that the gospel was something that God “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son” (Romans 1:2-3).  In reading How to Read the Bible Through the Jesus Lens, you won’t miss the gospel in the Minor Prophets.  Williams provides readers of all levels with fresh insight and helpful tools that they may begin to see the gospel of Christ in all the Scriptures.  I heartily recommend it!

*As a part of the Jesus Lens Blog Tour, the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review, provided a copy of this book.  I was under no obligation to write a favorable review.

BOOK DETAILS

Read inside (PDFs): Sample Pages

Publisher: Zondervan
Author: Williams, Michael
ISBN-10: 031033165X | ISBN-13: 9780310331650
Binding: Paperback
List Price: $18.99
BUY NOW at Westminster Bookstore$11.39 – 40% Off

CHRISTIAN FOCUS BLOG TOUR: The Priority of Preaching

PREACHING.  What is it?  Is it an outdated form of communication employed by red-faced, self-righteous, pulpit pounding pastors?  Is it a mode of communication for presumptuous persons panting to get their point across?  Or is it, on a more positive note, the prime way God speaks through his written Word to the people his Spirit gathers together?  Whatever your experience or perception, Christopher Ash will make you think about preaching.  In his 2010 Christian Focus Publishers/Proclamation Trust Media release, The Priority of Preaching, Ash mines gold for present day preachers from the book of Deuteronomy and the preaching ministry of Moses.

Ash addresses the topic of preaching in three chapters: The Authority of the Preached Word, Preaching that Transforms the Church, and Preaching that Mends a Broken World.

In the first chapter, with Deuteronomy 18: 9-22 as his text, Ash aims to defend his thesis that, “we must listen today to the voice of the Christian preacher because he is the prophet in our generation as Moses was in his.”  Furthermore, “the Christian preacher today can speak the words God puts in his mouth, the very words of God.”  At face value, it’s obviously a bold thesis.  However Ash, with an engaging writing style and a talent for teaching, provides the reader with a well-reasoned defense of his thesis.  Along the way, he employs and interacts with a good deal of scholarship on both the book of Deuteronomy, the Hebrew Bible, and homiletics.  Some notes sources include, J.G. McConville, J. Alec Motyer, Haddon Robinson, and John Stott.  Arguing that the central theme of the book of Deuteronomy is, “how are the covenant people going to continue after the covenant mediator is gone?” he asserts that the answer of Deuteronomy is that “the covenant will continue as the covenant God assembles his covenant people under his preached covenant word.”

In chapter 2, Ash moves forward to look at how the task of preaching transforms the church.  Working his way through Deuteronomy 30:11-20, Ash gives a detailed look at how God uses his Word preached to war against, and transform, the stubborn, idolatrous hearts of his people.  As an encouragement to preachers of every level, Ash cites examples from the Reformers and other historical preachers as to the importance of serious study worked out in plain, clear, passion and simple (but not shallow) exposition.

Finally, Ash looks at Deuteronomy 4:5-14 as he discusses how preaching is used by God to mend a broken world.  Ash notes that God is reassembling this broken world under one head, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he is accomplishing that in the gathered worshiping assembly through the preached covenant Word.

After the main portion of the book Ash offers a very helpful appendix hashing out the practical reasoning for his passionate plea for the priority of preaching in the church entitled, “Give God the Microphone!: Seven Blessings of Consecutive Expository Preaching.  He notes and explains these seven blessings:

  1. Consecutive Expository Preaching Safeguards God’s Agenda Against Being Hijacked by Ours.
  2. Consecutive Expository Preaching Makes It Harder for Us to Abuse the Bible by Reading it Out of Context.
  3. Consecutive Expository Preaching Dilutes the Selectivity of the Preacher.
  4. Consecutive Expository Preaching Keeps the Content of the Sermon Fresh and Surprising.
  5. Consecutive Expository Preaching Makes for Variety in the Style of the Sermon.
  6. Consecutive Expository Preaching Models Good Nourishing Bible Reading for the Ordinary Christian.
  7. Consecutive Expository Preaching Helps us Preach the Whole Christ from the Whole of Scripture.

In sum, Ash’s brief defense of the priority of expository preaching will be of great encouragement to the discouraged pastor, a challenge to the purely topical preacher, and a plea for a rigorously listening ear to the person in the pew.  The Priority of Preaching blends reasonable Old Testament scholarship with practical insight for the preacher, culminating in an excellent tome on the topic of preaching.  I recommend it highly to both pastor and layperson!

*As a part of the Christian Focus Blog Tour, the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review, provided a copy of this book.  I was under no obligation to write a favorable review.

About the Author:
Christopher Ash is an ordained minister in the Anglican Church and Director of the Cornhill Training Course, a one-year course designed to provide Bible-handling and practical ministry skills to those exploring their future role in Christian work.