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Review: Transformation—The Heart of Paul’s Gospel

transformation

What is so “good” about Paul’s good news? What was the good news he brought to  his churches? “Are you sure that if you died tonight you would go to heaven?” “All you need to do is to confess Jesus as your savior and believe in his name, and you can be sure that you’re saved”? These are questions we often hear, but is that what Paul was asking? Should these be what we are asking others? Is “heaven” the good news?

In the first volume in the Snapshots series, David A. deSilva gives us Transformation: The Heart of Paul’s Gospel. What does Paul’s gospel entail? DeSilva argues that Paul didn’t separate justification from sanctification like many do today. David deSilva teaches at Ashland Theological Seminary (since 1995) and has been named Trustees’ Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Greek since 2005. He is an extensive writer and is well-versed in the cultural and social context of the New Testament world, having written books on Hebrews, Revelation, 4 Maccabees, the apocrypha, an Introduction to the New Testament (review), and a closer look at the rhetoric of the New Testament (review).

When it comes to the salvation questions above, DeSilva’s concern is “that Christians often fail to connect these statements with passages in Paul’s letters that flesh out his larger understanding of how God has provided—out of his sheer goodness and generosity toward us—for our reconciliation, restoration, and rescue from the consequences of having participated in our race’s rebellion against God’s rule” (1). Paul’s message is about change because “faith, to be faith at all, entails a wholehearted commitment to the person of Christ that must also transform the life of a person” (5). This is seen in Jesus’ call for his followers to deny themselves, pickup their cross, and follow him. Losing your life for his sake and for the sake of the gospel means that you will gain your life in the life to come (Mark 8.34–35; 9.1). This is also seen in

James 2.18b,

Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

and 2 Corinthians 5:15,

and Christ died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

What is God seeking to bring about through the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit? Paul emphasizes the transformation of individuals, communities, and even the whole cosmos itself.

Summary

  1. “Foundations for a Broader Understanding of Paul’s Gospel of Transformation”
    Chapter one focuses on the necessity of our transformation. Why should we assume that just because we claim to be “friends” with the Son that God will judge us differently than the rest of the world? It is Christ who died for all “in order that those who continued to live might live no longer for themselves but for the one who died and was raised on their behalf” (2 Cor 5:15). “Paul’s gospel, however, remains good news: it is the message about how God has undertaken to work out our transformation. It is about God’s provision for our transformation so that by means of his gifts we might become righteous and thus be approved at the Last Judgment without God himself ceasing to be just” (24).

    If deSilva’s description of the Last Judgment sounds like God’s judgment is based purely on our works, deSilva goes on to explain what he means by justification. God is transforming us to be like his Son through his Spirit. If you don’t care to live like Christ, if you live like someone who remains opposed to what Christ says and to how he lived, then you have no true faith. You don’t really believe Christ is the sovereign King. (For similar perspectives, read Justification [Wright] and Covenant and Commandment [Green, for a critique of Wright]).
  2. “The Gospel Means the Transformation of the Individual”
    Through Christ and the reception of God’s Holy Spirit, we were freed from our sin to serve God willingly. We are able to be transformed for we have “put on” the new man in Christ. We no longer need to fear death for we are being made like Christ, and we will live forever with him in all of his beauty.

  3. “The Gospel Means the Transformation of the Community”
    Paul does not spend the majority of his letters writing theology for individuals, but on how individuals are to live together as Christ’s body before the world that watches. The community’s transformation is to be from one of individuals who are opposed to one another to living together as a family. We are being reconciled to one another (2 Cor 2.5-11), and are to be others-centered (Phil 2.1-11). Living in this way breaks through the barriers of culture, race, gender, and class. DeSilva lays out ways in which Paul was thinking along these lines.

  4. “The Gospel Means the Transformation of the Cosmos”
    Here deSilva looks at the interpretive difficulties when we run upon the word “world.” The wisdom of God was revealed through the death and resurrection of the son of God. We have this wisdom in our possession, and we are to live in this wise way, always dying to ourselves and living for Christ. We are transformed and relate to the kosmos (“the world”) in a different way now, and we are looking forward to the time when the creation itself is renewed (Rom 8.19–24a).

Recommended?

There are so many interpretations of Paul: apocalyptic, Old Perspective, New Perspective, and more. But what is Paul’s main goal for his churches? What lies behind his thirteen letters? DeSilva believes, as do I, that Paul wants his readers to be transformed. If not, they would be just like Old Testament Israel—making empty claims while living like the other nations, causing God’s name to be spoken ill of among the Gentiles (Isa 52.5). DeSilva is refuting easy believism. From his NT Introduction, grace is more than just a gift from God. “Reciprocity is such a part of this relationship [between ‘the client and patron,’ or ‘us and God’], that failure to return grace (gratitude) for grace (favor) results in a breach of the patron-client relationship.” We receive grace from God, and we give grace (gratitude) by living “for the one who died and was raised on [our] behalf” (2 Cor 5.15).

Many will think deSilva is blurring the lines between justification and sanctification, but he quotes Mark Seifrid who, in speaking about Luther, a Reformer, said, “because [Luther] regards justification as effecting the new creation, he is able to encompass the whole of the Christian life within its scope.… In contrast to later Protestant thought, in which salvation was divided up into an ordo salutis, it remains for Luther a single divine act” (9). Despite any quibbles or issues people might and do have with this book, I find that there is much to gain from Transformation, because if we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, then there is a transformation that takes place and one that must continue to take place.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Snapshots
  • Author: David deSilva
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (September 18, 2014)
  • To read some of what deSilva says, here’s a quotable review by Allan Bevere

Buy it on Logos or from Amazon!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Watch Logos Mobile Ed Lectures for Free

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Logos has been putting put Mobile Ed(ucation) videos lectures for a few years now. The purpose of m.Ed is to give you a new theological education where the people behind Logos have edited down scholars’ lectures “into digestible segments.” Each lecture is fused into your Logos library with a smart transcript. You can add notes, jump to commentaries, dictionaries, language tools, and you can share you insights too. And learn how to do more in-depth research on Logos through your course.

From January 20-23, anyone with a Faithlife account can stream every Mobile Ed video and what is on FaithlifeTV for free (until Monday night). You can only stream them here, but this is a great way to spend your weekend. If you’re going to binge, you might as well learn something exceedingly great in the process. As I’m writing this I’m listening to Jonathan Pennington teach through the Sermon on the Mount.

Below is a list of the Mobile Ed courses and its respective lecturer. This deal ends on Monday, January 23, at midnight.

Apologetics

Introducing Apologetics (Bobby Conway)

Objections to the Gospels (Michael Licona)

Introducing Covenantal Apologetics I: Foundations (K. Scott Oliphint)

Introducing Covenantal Apologetics II: Applications (K. Scott Oliphint)

Show and Tell: Apologetics (Jim Belcher)

Apologetics in an Urban Context (Carl F. Ellis, Jr.)

Archaeology

Archaeology in Actions (Biblical Archaeology in the Field)

Biblical Interpretation

Learn to Study the Bible (Darrell Bock)

Introducing Biblical Interpretation: Contexts and Resources (Mike Heiser)

Introducing Biblical Interpretation: Discussion Guide (Mike Heiser)

Principles of Bible Interpretation (Craig Keener)

Typological Hermeneutics: Finding Christ in the Whole Bible (Peter Leithart)

Introducing Literary Interpretation (Jeannine Brown)

Introducing Bible Translations (Mark Strauss)

The Use of the OT in the NT: Methodology and Practice (Jeannine Brown)

The Story of the Bible (Michael Goheen)

Interpreting NT Genres (William Klein)

Interpreting NT Narrative: Studies and Methods (Jeannine Brown)

A Biblical Theology of End Times (Jon Paulien)

The Apocrypha (David deSilva)

A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom of God (Nicholas Perrin)

History of Biblical Interpretation: Second Temple Judaism Through the Reformation (Gerald Bray)

History of Biblical Interpretation: 17th Century to the Present (Gerald Bray)

Biblical Sexual Ethics (David Instone-Brewer)

Church History

Introducing Church History I: Obscurity to Christendom (Frank James)

Introducing Church History II: Reformation to Postmodernism (Frank James)

Milestones of the Protestant Reformation (Jennifer McNutt)

Preaching

Basic History of Preaching (Gary Carr)

Basic Elements of Preaching: An Introduction to Homilectics (Gary Carr)

Invitation to Biblical Preaching I: Theological, Historical, and Programatic Reasons for Preaching (J. Kent Edwards)

Invitation to Biblical Preaching II: Preaching Biblical Sermons (J. Kent Edwards)

Preparing and Delivering Christ-Centered Sermons I: Foundations and Structures (Bryan Chapell)

Preparing and Delivering Christ-Centered Sermons II: Communicating a Theology of Grace (Bryan Chapell)

Preparing and Delivering Christ-Centered Sermons III: Advanced Technique and Theory (Bryan Chapell)

Preaching the Psalms (Mark Futato)

Counseling

Introducing Pastoral Counseling I: Theory and Practice (Eric Johnson)

Introducing Pastoral Counseling II: Examples in Application (Eric Johnson)

Introducing Biblical Counseling: The History of Counseling (Ian Jones)

Introducing Biblical Counseling: Theory and Practice (Ian Jones)

Gospel-Centered Counseling (Elyse Fitzpatrick)

Civilization

Cultural Engagement and Scripture (Darrell Bock)

Western Civilization: Greeks to Aquinas (Bryan Litfin)

Education

Introducing Discipleship (Greg Ogden)

Introducing Evangelism (Bobby Conway)

Empowering God’s People for Ministry (Greg Ogden)

Discipleship in History and Practice (Frederick Cardoza)

Ethics

Law and Gospel: The Basis of Christian Ethics (Michael Allen)

Languages

Learn to Use Biblical Hebrew (Mike Heiser)

Learn to Use Biblical Greek (Johnny Cisneros)

Introducing NT Discourse Grammar (Steven Runge)

Introduction to Biblical Hebrew (Mark Futato)

Leadership

Introducing Ministry Leadership (Justin Irving)

The Ministry Leader and the Inner Life (Justin Irving)

Leading Teams and Groups in Ministry (Justin Irving)

Communication and Organizational Leadership (Justin Irving)

Miscellaneous

Study the Bible with Logos: Matthew 4:1–11

Logos Academic Training (Morris Proctor)

Reflectin on the Word: Video Devotionals (Year A)

Meditations: The Life of Christ

Missions

Introducing Global Missions (Don Fanning)

Current Issues in Missions (Tim Sisk)

Church Planting (Tim Sisk)

Theology of Urban Ministry (John Fuder)

Philosophy and Practice of Urban Ministry (John Fuder)

Community Analysis: Exegeting Culture for Missions

New Testament

Introducing NT: Its Structure and Story (Lynn Cohick)

The Arrival of Christ and His Kingdom

Understanding Easter: The Significance of the Resurrection

The Cultural World of the NT (David deSilva)

A Survey of Jewish History and Literature from the Second Temple Period (Joel Willitts)

Introducing the Gospels and Acts: Their Background, Nature, and Purpose (Darrell Bock)

Introductory Issues in Acts (Craig Keener)

Key Events and Speeches in Acts (Darrell Bock)

The Wisdom of John: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Johannine Literature (Ben Witherington III)

Survey of the Pastoral Epistles (Kenneth Waters, Sr.)

Paul of Tarsus (Lynn Cohick)

The Sermon on the Mount (Jonathan Pennington)

Parables of Jesus (Daniel Doriani)

Miracles of Jesus (Daniel Doriani)

How We Got the NT (Mike Heiser)

The Gospels as Ancient Biography: A Theological and Historical Perspective (Jonathan Pennington)

NT Theology (Douglas Moo)

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the NT (Craig Evans)

Archaeology and the NT (Craig Evans)

The Reliability of NT Manuscripts (Craig Evans)

Critical Issues in the Synoptic Gospels (Craig Keener)

The World of Jesus and the Gospels (Craig Evans)

The Gospels and Ancient Pedagogy (Craig Evans)

Jesus and the Witness of the Outsiders (Craig Evans)

The Gospel of Matthew in Its Jewish Context (Craig Evans)

The Gospel of Mark (Mark Strauss)

The Gospel of Luke (Andrew Pitts)

Book Study: The Gospel of Matthew

Book Study: The Gospel of Mark in Its Roman Context

Book Study: The Gospel of Luke in Its Gentile Context

The Gospel of John (Joel Willitts)

Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Douglas Moo)

Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (Douglas Moo)

Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (Lynn Cohick)

Paul’s Theology and the Letter to the Philippians (Robert Sloan)

Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (Robert Sloan)

Exegetical Study: Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (Steven Runge)

Paul’s Letter to the Colossians (Joshua Jipp)

Paul’s Letter to the Colossians and Philemon (Constantine Campbell)

The Letter to the Hebrews (George Guthrie)

Letter of James (William Varner)

Book Study: Revelation (Craig Keener)

Seventh-day Adventist Perspective on Revelation (Jon Paulien)

Jesus as Rabbi: The Jewish Context of the Life of Jesus (David Instone-Brewer)

Perspectives on Paul: Reformation and the New Perspective

Old Testament

Introducing the OT: Its Structure and Story (Mark Futato)

Introducing the OT: Its Poetry and Prophecy (Mark Futato)

OT Genres (John Walton)

Interpreting Judges (Kenneth Way)

Introductory Issues in Psalms (Mark Futato)

Survey of Major Prophets (Paul Ferris)

A Survey of Amos, Joel, Obadiah, and Malachi (David Baker)

How We Got the OT (Mike Heiser)

The Jewish Trinity: How the OT Reveals the Christian Godhead (Mike Heiser)

Origins of Genesis 1–3 (John Walton)

Genesis (John Walton)

Theology of Genesis (David Baker)

Exodus (Tremper Longman III)

Judges (Daniel Block)

1 & 2 Samuel (David Lamb)

1 & 2 Kings (David Lamb)

The Shema (Mark Futato)

Pastoral

Pastoral Ministry in a Missional Church (Michael Goheen)

Shepherding Women (Bev Hislop)

Theology of Everyday Life (Daniel Doriani)

Introducing Chaplaincy I: Biblical Foundations for Chaplaincy (Jeff Struecker)

Introducing Chaplaincy II: A Theology of Chaplaincy (Jeff Struecker)

Pastoral Ethics (Daniel Doriani)

Practical Discipleship

Our Identity in Christ (Elyse Fitzpatrick)

Idolatry and the Power of the Cross (Elyse Fitzpatrick)

Do This Not That to Transform Your Marriage (Stephen Arterburn)

Understanding and Living with Sexual Integrity (Stephen Arterburn)

Biblical Soul Care (Tim Clinton)

Introducing Spiritual Formation (Gary Thomas)

Wealth and Stewardship in the Bible: A Practical Guide (Keith Reeves)

Theology

Introducing Bible Doctrine I: Theology, Divine Revelation, and the Bible (Johnson/Sanders/Heiser)

Introducing Bible Doctrine II: The Triune God and His Heavenly Host (Johnson/Sanders)

Introducing Bible Doctrine III: Humanity, Sin, and Salvation (Johnson/Sanders)

Introducing Bible Doctrine IV: The Church and Last Things (Johnson/Sanders)

Missional Approach to World Religions (Michael Goheen)

Christian Thought: Orthodoxy and Heresy (Beth Jones)

Trinitarian Theology (Peter Leithart)

Doctrine of Man (Lane Tipton)

Doctrine of Christ (Gerry Breshears)

Sacramental Theology (Peter Leithart)

History and Trends in Dispensationalism (Carl Sanders)

Critical Issues in Dispensationalism (Carl Sanders)

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Review: Excellent Preaching

excellent-preaching

Why is good preaching so difficult to accomplish, and why is excellent preaching so herculean a feat?

In this short book, Craig G. Bartholomew, the H. Evan Runner Professor of Philosophy at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario, and the principal of the Paideia Centre for Public Theology, explains how to land a plane. Every Sunday you might feel like you’re on a repeat viewing of “Airplane!” It’s like you’re speaking jive and no one understands you. You have a message, it’s based on the text of the Bible, but now you need to land the plane and get God’s truth to sit in the lives of your congregation. How do you impact their hearts and thoughts? You do you penetrate their lives and get them to think about how to live in a transformed way?

And often times, even when you do land the plane, you either land it upside down or two engines blow and you have to land in the water. Can this really be so difficult?

Outline

I’ll say this book has five “chapters,” although the word chapter isn’t used in the book to designate chapters.

Introduction

The Bible is extremely relevant in our day. Thee is suffering, hopelessness, turmoil, meandering, greed, selfishness, a lack of wisdom, and a need for salvation and knowledge of God in Christ. Liberal preachers “aim right at contemporary life in their preaching,” though many aren’t “always sure where [the] sermons have come from!. . . . By comparison, evangelical sermons originate from the Bible, but they tend to be aimed at nowhere in particular” (4–5). How does the pastor ground his sermon in Scripture while being sure to penetrate the hearts of his congregation?

The Destination, the Plane, and the Cargo

Just as on Mt. Sinai, our ultimate destination is Godward. He is our home. He is the destination. The pastor always needs to have that in mind when preaching to his congregation. “As Barth observes, within the Church God’s ordained means to speak is the Bible, the canon of holy Scripture, and all extrabiblical ‘speakings’ must always be tested alongside Scripture,” and where we meet God is through our hearts in his word (11). The word is central to the proclamation that brings us to him.

The Captain

The pastor is the one who preaches. The pastor cannot neglect his own spiritual life either. A rich prayer life must be in order so that the pastor can lead God’s people “ever more deeply into the very life of God” (13). The pastor keeps the congregations attentive and focused on God. To do so, he himself must be focused on him too.

The View From Arrivals

There is always only one destination, and the view is magnificent” (17). That view is of God’s whole creation. The Bible transforms our thinking of all of life, including God’s glorious creation. To understand better the God who created all of this, we must grasp the story of Scripture—it’s metanarrative.  This alerts us to:

  • the unified story of the Bible
  • the story as the story of the whole world
  • this story as the true story of the whole world

Each of these sections are developed more fully within the book.

The Airport: Contextualization

Scripture provides us with a hermeneutic for understanding our world. But it narrows down from there. God’s people are scattered throughout the nations, and the age we live in is one of missions. We live in the 21st century AD which is a farcry from the 1st century AD (and even the 19th century!). Then there is your own culture, whether it be western or eastern. Do you know what your culture is like? Bartholomew goes through an explanation of modernity and postmodernity, even showing how much his discussion has to do with preaching and understanding our own congregations.

The most important contribution our congregations play is “to receive the Word, and we need to create the space for this to come to the fore” (53-54). We need to figure out to to engage them “as fully as possible in listening to the Word” (54).

Landing the Plane: Some Examples

Barthomolew gives four examples on how to “land the plane.” These examples come from Galatians 1:10–2:21, Genesis 1:16, Exodus 20:3, and Ephesians 6:10–20.

Conclusion

Preaching is not the only thing the pastor does, but time must be carved out and effort must be put in. Pastors must get to know and become familiar with research done in other areas of life, such as cultural studies, sociology, and media. Prayer, the Word, and discipleship and mission must be a focus, along with the recognition that spiritual warfare is going on all the time, all around you. Preaching is costly.

Appendix A: Suggested Reading

Appendix B: An Expanded Apostles’ Creed

Recommended?

This short book will not give you a chapter called “Three Tips on How to Structure Your Sermon and Grow Your Church.” Instead, Bartholomew, who has many years of experience in preaching and teaching, gives a more holistic view of what preaching entails, and what the preacher must keep in mind. It is imperative. We can’t let our sermons fall flat and settle for that. We need to learn to land the plane, and to land it right-side up with  our passengers intact, engaged, and reaching their destination (of course, what they do with the information is up to them). This would be good to read alongside of Keller’s Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism

Lagniappe

  • Authors: Craig G. Bartholomew
  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (February 3, 2016)

Buy from Logos or on Amazon!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: Between the Cross and the Throne

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How often do Christians read Revelation? Do you think when you read it? Are you intrigued? Do you feel fear? Anxiety? Confusion? Does it lead you to praise and worship our Lord and Savior, the Lion-Lamb King? Revelation is a very difficult book, especially so for the modern day. The further along into time we go, the farther we get from the culture John write Revelation in. Should Revelation be taken literally? Are there symbols, how many, and what do they mean?

Summary

Emerson summarizes the book of Revelation and it’s application to the church in eight chapters.

Chapter one is the Introduction. Revelation isn’t a decoder ring you get out of your Sunday morning cereal box. “Rather, it is a book that was and is vital for the Church; it assures us, even as we face tribulation, of the triune God’s victorious reign and the imminence of Christ’s return” (1). Emerson says, “Most, if not all, of the book [Revelation] uses figurative images and language” (1). John draws these images from the Old Testament so that we can understand the conflict going on between Satan and God and his people.

Emerson provides his outline and the theological center of Revelation. Despite all of the persecution, it is God who rules on the throne, not Satan. Jesus suffered, died, and is the victorious King who will one day come to crush his (and our) enemies. “We can stand firm because he has already stood firm, and we can fight the Dragon’s servants because Christ has already bound their master” (5-6).

In chapter two Emerson guides the reader in seeing Revelation as a work of literature, a work that is a letter made up of prophecy and containing apocalyptic elements (figurative imagery, a focus on the end of history). Emerson takes a closer look at some of the literary devices, such as John’s use of numbers.

In chapter three, “The Drama of Redemption,” Emerson adds a fourth genre category, narrative. John sees his book “as the completion of the entire biblical narrative, connecting Christ’s work in his first and second coming with the story of creation and the fall (Gen 1–3). The new heavens and new earth (Rev 21–22) “is the consummation [completion] of Christ’s work of redemption to restore and renew creation from the effects of the fall.” John uses repeating patterns throughout Revelation to highlight different aspects of God’s judgment and mercy on the world and his faithfulness to his own people.

In chapters four and five, the reader is given two portraits. First, one of God and his people. Second, one of God’s enemies. Emerson believes that the church is seen all throughout Revelation. The reader is given a look at some of the images of God (“the seven spirits of God” and “the Lamb and Lion”). In writing to the seven churches, “‘[t]o the one who conquers,’ also reminds the church that they are being called to persevere” (40).  Emerson takes a quick guide to some of the phrases that describe the church in Revelation. When looking at the enemies of God, Emerson looks at “the unholy trinity” (made up of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet) and the harlot of Babylon.

Chapter six looks at the specific time periods (i.e., 1,260 days, 42 months, and “time, times, and half a time”), with Emerson saying that “the book’s time frame is especially structured around the events of Jesus’ first and second coming” (59). The war of the Lamb occurs during this period, where we see the dragon’s destructive dominion, the Lamb’s judgment, and the testimony of the church conquering over the dragon.

Chapter seven show us how to think about Revelation today in our modern world. The word has it’s agenda on how to shape people into its mold, “and it also has the practices to accomplish that purpose” (73). But believers today need to resist the world’s pressure and allow our worship of the crucified and risen Lamb to shape our minds and bodies to react in faithful trust to Christ.

Chapter eight draws the book to a close, reminding us “remain faithful to God in Christ by the power of his Holy Spirit until he returns in glorious victory over all his enemies” (77).

Each chapter ends with some suggested Bible reading and questions for the reader to reflect on which would also be good to use in a group setting.

Recommended?

This is highly recommended. It’s an easy introduction to Revelation. If you’re one who is put off by long, dense books, especially ones written on Revelation, then you really ought to pick up this book. It’s smooth reading, and was honestly hard for me to put down.

For the more academic, this book will be very light. But even still, if you’ve never studied up on Revelation and you’re neck-deep in biblical studies for other subjects, Emerson’s book would be a good side read to help become acquainted with the Apostle’s fantastic book. It’s hard to read this book without wanting more. Hopefully Emerson will provide us with more in the future.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Matthew Emerson
  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (April 27, 2016)

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Buy it on Amazon or from Logos!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: James (EEC)

JEEC

Besides being one of the administrators to a number of “nerdy” Facebook groups (I should add that they are wonderful groups which have helpful discussions on biblical languages and theology), William Varner is a Professor of Bible & Greek at The Master’s College and Seminary (where John MacArthur serves as President).

In the EEC series, “Each of the authors affirms historic, orthodox Christianity and the inspiration and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures” (xi). The EEC series is also the first series to be produced in electronic form. Besides being linked up with your other Logos resources, the benefit with this is that the authors can add and change their insights when they gain new insights (even 20 years from now). 

Though highly neglected for much of church history, the “last forty years . . . have witnessed both James and the writing attributed to him emerging into the brightness of a new day for Jacobean scholarship” (1). There have been at least thirty major commentaries since the 1970s. Why do we need another commentary on such a small letter? To quote Varner, “I can only say that there will always be a need for good commentaries on a biblical text, because ‘God yet has light to spring forth from His word,’” and “the application of fresh linguistic methods to exegetical analysis demands an occasional fresh look at familiar biblical passages” (1, fn 4).

Varner believes James to have been both the brother of Jesus and the leader of the church, the Jerusalem church and of the entire Jesus movement. The letter was written in Jerusalem in the mid-to-late 40s AD for Jewish-Christian congregations “in or around Syria” (18). Some of James’ main themes are God, the Messiah, the Holy Spirit, faith, wisdom, and eschatology. Both a kingdom and a judgment are waiting for us in the future, but also a part of that future kingdom is here now. We have the King’s “royal law” (2.8) now, and we experience the “new birth” (1.18) now too.

Layout

The layout of the series works pretty much the same for all volumes (for more detail, check out my review on the Ephesians volume). Generally, each section is separated into 9 different sections.

  1. Introduction
  2. Outline
  3. Original Text
  4. Textual Notes
  5. Translation
  6. Commentary
  7. Biblical Theology Comments
  8. Application and Devotional Implications
  9. Selected Bibliography

There are also 3 excursuses at the end of the commentary.

  1. Scot McKnight’s Treatment of James 2.18
  2. James 3.1-12: Can the Tongue Really Be Controlled?
  3. Wisdom in James

Conclusion

Sometimes when I review a commentary, knowing that a commentary can’t do everything, I try to suggest at least one other commentary to pair the reviewed copy with. I’m not really sure who I should suggest here. Moo’s PNTC volume is a wise choice, and Blomberg’s ZECNT volume will likely have great practical points. But when I really compared them to Varner, I found Varner to have more clarity and better application.

And really, the biggest difference was something small, simple, and often overlooked in a commentary: his outline. It’s not just the outline itself that is impressive, but his argument for it. Varner believes that 3.13-18 is the “thematic peak” of James (where it brings all of the themes together), and 4.1-10 is the “hortatory peak,” a section filled with exhortations, commands, loving rebuke, and encouragement to James’ readers to cut off their friendship with the world, to stop their selfish bickering, and to humble themselves before the majestic King of glory.

Martin Luther accused James of borrowing “a few ideas from the apostles” and then afterwards he “‘threw them on paper.’ Luther thought that the organization of the book was as bad as its doctrine” (62). Many others have found James’ structure to be equally elusive. Varner shows that the leader of the Church did know what he was talking about, and it sets this commentary apart from the rest as Varner guides through the commentary, showing us the word-signs that point backwards and forwards to reveal and to herald what has been and what is to come.

Varner’s commentary is technical, but in the Grammarian Desert you will also find equally refreshing pools of theology, theology that is biblically practical. He follows the flow of James’ river of wisdom and smoothes out gnarled passages (e.g., James 4.5). This should be on your shelf. Better yet, this should be open on your desk.

Lagniappe

  • Author: William Varner
  • Series: Evangelical Exegetical Commentary
  • Hardcover: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (April 9, 2014)

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[Special thanks to Lexham Press for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book].

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Review: Ephesians (EEC)

EEEC

If you haven’t been able to tell, or if you haven’t seen the eight other posts I’ve written up about Baugh’s new Ephesians commentary, I’ve certainly enjoyed his new volume in the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series. “Each of the authors affirms historic, orthodox Christianity and the inspiration and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures” (xi). The EEC series is also the first series to be produced in electronic form. Besides being linked up with your other Logos resources, the benefit with this is that the authors can add and change their insights when they gain new insights. Unlike physical copies, the Logos volumes can be updated by their authors 20 years from now (not to downplay the physical books too much).

S. M. Baugh is Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, California. He ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and he is mindful of the toils in both scholarship and the pastorate. Baugh didn’t set out to create brand new interpretations on Ephesians when he began working on this volume. Instead he used his particular interests and areas of study to illuminate the text for scholars, pastors, and students. His horde of interests include the classics, ancient history (especially Ephesus), Greek grammar, textual criticism, Greek literary composition and rhetoric, and, finally, biblical theology.

These interests come together to make a powerhouse of a commentary. As a technical commentary, this is one of the best (if not the best). But don’t think that this commentary was spit out to split hairs on Greek grammar. There is much to gain from this commentary for both the pastor and the student (see my Previous Posts below), not only the scholar.

Layout

The layout of the series works pretty much the same for all volumes. Generally, each section is separated into 9 different sections.

  1. Introduction: A brief overview of the section (e.g., 2.1-10) and where Baugh gives his periodic arrangement of the Greek text for that section.
  2. Outline: A simple outline for the text.
  3. Original Text: The text as it is in Greek
  4. Textual Notes: Differences between manuscripts
  5. Translation: Baugh’s English translation
  6. Commentary: A full explanation of the text.
  7. Biblical Theology Comments: How the teaching in the text fits with the rest of the Bible, or the New Testament, or Paul’s own teaching, etc.
  8. Application and Devotional Implications: A few paragraphs on how the reader can think about the text in their own personal life, or how a pastor could preach this to his congregation.
  9. Selected Bibliography: Bibliography of books mentioned throughout the chapter

Eight Additional Exegetical Comments sections are strewn throughout this volume. A few of the subjects covered are Redemption; Magic; Faith in/of Christ; and Wine in Ephesus.

Baugh agrees that Paul is the author of this epistle, and that Ephesians is one of “generic” character. There are “no serious problems or concerns with his addressees that led Paul to write Ephesians” (31). Ephesians has a “positive” and certainly “less polemic” tone than most of Paul’s other letters (31).

Baugh believes the main theme of the letter “is easy to summarize with the phrase unity in the inaugurated new creation” (35).The church’s unity is rooted in the Triune God’s counsel and redemptive love. The Messiah has complete sovereignty over the old powers of creation, especially magic. The new creation is entering this world.

Conclusion

While Baugh does give a special attention to magic in Ephesus, you would do well to pair his commentary with Clinton Arnold’s ZECNT volume on Ephesians. Arnold has done a lot of work on the influence of magic in the Greco-Roman world, and his commentary is extremely skilled in putting forward the main ideas of Paul’s letter while remaining very practical too.

Those who have a handle on Greek will be the ones who benefit the most from this volume. But while Baugh certainly goes into detail into his commentary, he also agrees that “it is important to keep the theological center of ‘unity in the inaugurated new creation’ in view . . . The trees are beautiful in themselves, but the whole forest is where the vision of majesty dwells.”

Again, if you want one of the best technical commentaries on Ephesians, then you need to pick up Baugh’s commentary. 

Lagniappe

  • Author: Steven Baugh
  • Series: Evangelical Exegetical Commentary
  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (April 27, 2016)

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[Special thanks to Lexham Press for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book].

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What is God’s ‘Gift’ in Eph 2.8?

Ephesians 2.8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

Another way to read 2.8b would be, “and this does not originate from you.” Baugh points out there is a temptation to read this as pointing to faith. This would read “this faith is not your own doing – it is the gift of God.” What is not our own doing? Is it God’s grace? Our salvation? Our faith? All of it? Baugh believes that the whole event (“being saved by grace through faith”) is God’s gift.

Rather than quoting a quote about obscure Greek grammar, I want to look at some of the examples that Baugh gives.

Eph 5.5, For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

So who won’t inherit the kingdom of God? Those who are impure? Sexually immoral? Covetous? No, all who do those things have no inheritance in God’s kingdom.

Eph 6.1, Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.

What is right? The Lord is right? Children are right? It is right that they obey the Lord by obeying their parents.

Phil 1.27-28, Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that . . . I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.

The clear sign is that they are standing firm, in one spirit, living with one mind, striving side by side, for the faith of the gospel – all together.

1 Thess 5.16-18, Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

What is God’s will for our lives? To rejoice always, to pray always, to give thanks always.

What can we glean from this? Baugh says that

All the components of the event are also referenced as originating not from human capacity or exertion but as God’s gift. This means that even the believer’s act of believing comes from God, as is said more explicitly by Paul elsewhere: ‘For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him . . . but also suffer for his sake’ (Phil 1:29) . . . Humans contribute nothing of their own to this salvation, since even believing (which the elect are indeed enabled to do) is a divine gift (cf. Rom 3:24–25). The key to this in the context of Eph 2:8 is what Paul had been driving home so forcefully up until now: Before God’s gracious intervention believers were hopelessly dead, with their wills imprisoned by nature . . . in acts that led only to transgression and sin (2:1–5a, 12). (160-161)

In his book What About Free Will?, Scott Christensen points out, “The point at which unbelievers are ‘made alive’ is when they ‘were dead,’ not when they exercised faith.”  He says “it is impossible to exercise saving faith unless God grants it as part of the gift of receiving new life (cf. Phil. 1:29)” (185).

None of these redemptive realities proceed from our own wills. It is impossible for spiritually dead people to engage in an action that is as full of spiritual life and power as exercising saving faith. God’s choosing of people to salvation “depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). This does not mean that our will is not involved later. But Paul’s point is that the exercise of faith doesn’t incite God to act with grace and save us. Rather, it is his grace that incites us to act in faith whereby we willingly receive the benefits of salvation. (185)

As Ephesians 2.10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God prepared beforehand the adoption of both Jews and Gentiles into his family. We have been prepared for good works. God chose us “that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1.4).


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