A Commentary on James

The book of James, although limited in size when compared to most of the Pauline epistles, is not shy on content. And it seems to be well-known by many believers. However, most are likely unfamiliar with the details of its message. This is where A Commentary on James fills the gap for the modern-day student of James. It is resplendent in detail.4461 full cover CC.indd

The author of this marvelous work is Aida Besançon Spencer, senior professor of New Testament at Gordon-Cornwell Theological Seminary. She is extensively educated and published. This volume is published by Kregel Academic as part of its Kregel Exegetical Library which is steadily growing with both New and Old Testament publications.

Spencer begins with an introduction in which she discusses the authorship, canonicity and structure of James. Do not glance over this or pass over it. It is quite comprehensive. Her arguments for authorship and structure are well worth the time and consideration and difficult to refute.

Then Dr. Spencer digs into the text – chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse, and word-by-word. At the beginning of each chapter, we find Spencer’s own translation and grammatical analysis. If you’re studying James in-depth, this is a valuable inclusion. At times it may seem like a slow read but there is great insight in what might seem to be the smallest of particulars.

The heart of this book is Dr. Spencer’s exposition of the text. It is rich in original language information and practical insight. Each chapter concludes with “Theological and Homiletical Topics,” valuable for preaching and teaching.

Most useful (and convenient) is the inclusion of footnotes – not endnotes – making reference to such immediately available. And for an even deeper dig into James, Spencer has included a ten-page bibliography divided into Ancient and Contemporary resources.

The more Greek one knows the more beneficial this book will be. However, a lack of Greek knowledge should not prevent any pastor or teacher who plans to work through James from having this volume within an arm’s reach and no further.

Disclaimer: This volume was provided to me by Kregel Academic for a fair and honest review.

A Week in the Life of Ephesus

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a Christian toward the end of the first century – and not in Rome particularly, but rather Ephesus, home of the goddess Artemis? That scenario is just where A Week in the Life of Ephesus takes you. It’s time travel in a book or as it is more properly known, historical fiction.A Week in the Life of Ephesus

This is the seventh, and final, in the A Week in the Life of series published by InterVarsity Press (IVP). All are written by biblical scholars and this one in particular by David A. deSilva, Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Greek at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio. As a New Testament scholar, deSilva is well versed in the material and making the journey authentic and credible.

The book is a fascinating expedition back to the religious culture at the end of the first century. The characters include temple priests and officials that are more concerned with their social status and political correctness and also Christians at various stages in their walk with Christ. As you might surmise, the two do not mix well, especially when one dedicated and mature believer is presented with an ethical dilemma. Amyntas is a wealthy landowner – and a Christian who does not believe in compromising his faith regardless of the circumstances, but by the end of the week, he has to make a decision.

This book is not only an entertaining read but also an educational one. In addition to the story, the author has added a number of historical excursuses to enhance the historical reality and a number of pictures to add to the archaeological reality. And add to that some life application for us as Christians in the twenty-first century.

This is definitely a volume that should be read by every Christian for the history, the education and the challenge.

Disclaimer: This volume was provided to me by IVP for a fair and honest review.

40 Questions About Islam

40 Questions About Islam is just as the title describes. It is a brief albeit thorough examination of the Islam religion. And while it does not delve into great detail like some of the other books in the series, it does provide the reader with an excellent overview of Islam.

40 Questions about Islam

This is the 16th in the series which has been published by Kregel Academic and the fifth review we have done in this series. You can read a couple of the other reviews here (Heaven and Hell) and here (Salvation).

Like the others, it holds to a preset format that is effortless to follow and allows for the easy digestion of the information. This volume has seven parts the first six of which cover the history, theology and practice of Islam. But it is part seven which may be most beneficial for believers. It is practical information for the Christian in their relationships with Muslims. The advice would be to read parts one through six in sequence to get an understanding of Islam and then part seven to relate to the individual Muslim.

This volume is authored by Matthew Aaron Bennett, assistant professor of missions and theology at Cedarville University. Bennett has spent a number of years in North Africa and the Middle East and knows this subject well. There is no doubt he knows the religion of Islam and the day-to-day life of a Muslim.

Once more, this book will provide the reader with a comprehensive, yet not complex, overview of the religion of Islam. If you have just a cursory knowledge, this is an excellent beginning to launch into further study. Be sure to refer to the two-page select bibliography at the back.

This volume and this series are definitely one that every pastor and teacher should have in his library. It meets the need as a ready reference to Islam. In fact, if any believer wanted a healthy dose of Islamic doctrine, this is the book with which to begin.

Disclaimer: This volume was provided to me by Kregel Academic for a fair and honest review.

Christian Theology: The Biblical Story and Our Faith

Come now, let us reason together…or at least think about the theology book situation in an analytical manner. If you did not know there was a theology book state of affairs, prChristian Theologyepare to be enlightened. Encapsulated briefly, the issue is a glut of theology books. Peruse any Christian bookseller, brick-and-mortar or online, and you will encounter hundreds. They come in all shapes, sizes and soteriological salutations.

So, when a new entry comes to the market, in order for it to make an impression, it must possess an indisputable unique quality, a certain theological savoir-faire. It must not only present and teach proper theology but also do it in a manner that is not traditional and time-worn.

Such is Christian Theology: The Biblical Story and Our Faith. The presentation of the various doctrines is not typical which is to say that each chapter does not have a theological title – Bibliology, Hamartiology, Eschatology, etc. Rather, the chapter titles lead us into what the chapter is all about. For instance, the chapter dealing with what we may commonly know as bibliology is entitled “God’s Revelation” or eschatology is labeled “The Future.” And when the book title claims that it is theology from the biblical story, it refers to the fact that each doctrine is supported by numerous passages of Scripture that are well documented and explained.

But don’t be turned off by the common words in lieu of the theological ones. The information is still there but presented in a distinctive manner. Of course, with a different arrangement comes a unique flow of the doctrine. In short the material is presented in a manner that makes one believe he is not reading a theology book. That’s a formidable task but accomplished well. Even the beginning of each chapter is unique. Each chapter commences with objectives and then is immediately followed by an outline, a sort of table of contents for the chapter. It helps the reader to understand where the chapter is going.

Christian Theology is written by Christopher W. Morgan with Robert A. Peterson. Morgan is a professor of theology and dean of the School of Christian Ministries at California Baptist University. Peterson was professor of systematic theology at Covenant Seminary for more than twenty-five years. The book is published by B&H Academic.

This is a volume that is designed first and foremost as a textbook for general theology, It will serve nicely for a Bible college Theology 101 course as it covers all the major doctrines of the Christian faith. Each chapter (doctrinal section) concludes with a lengthy list of key terms pertinent to the particular doctrine and a brief bibliography for further study.

However, this book is so plainly written, i.e., not loaded with theological jargon, it can be used by pastors and teachers for almost any educational situation. If you preach or teach, put this book in your library.

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by B&H Academic for a fair and honest review.

EXEGETICAL GUIDE TO THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT: MARK

The Gospel of Mark is the latest publication in the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (EGGNT) series. It is number twelve in the series which is published by B&H Academic. The previous volume was 2 Corinthians which was reviewed here.Mark - EGGNT

Mark was written by Joel F. Williams, professor of New Testament studies at Biblical Seminary of the Philippines. As with all the authors in this series, Williams is a Greek Scholar. And it is no coincidence that his doctoral dissertation focused on an element in the Gospel of Mark. As with the other volumes in this series the work, research and explanation of the Greek text are meticulous.

The structure of every volume in the series follows a pattern in that each one contains an explanation of the Greek text, references for further study (books and articles), and homiletical suggestions. Yet, while the structure is followed, the author has the freedom to approach the text as he or she determines is best for the book being discussed. Williams chose to go verse-by-verse – literally – discussing the meaning and grammar of the Greek.

It is important to realize that all these volumes in the EGGNT are not running, verse-by-verse commentaries that explain the meaning of the text. Rather, each one examines and explains the Greek text. Yes, there is some commentary along the way, but it is generally minimal, inserted only when appropriate. For instance, the critical textual issue of Mark is the ending in 16.9-20. Williams deals with this is in a neat and concise manner providing a summarization with references to others where one can find more detailed and technical explanations of the matter.

As we have declared in the past, due to the fact that this series revolves completely around the Greek text, this is not for the most part a commentary for non-Greek students. To extract the maximum from the volume, it is beneficial to have some knowledge of Greek. For pastors and teachers, if you are preaching or teaching on Mark, this is a must-have volume you need to have “at the ready.” It will serve you well and save you time.

Disclaimer: This volume was provided to me by B&H Academic for a fair and honest review.

Finding the Right Hills to Die On

To get right to the point, Choosing the Right Hill to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage is all about … theological triage. A redundant summarization perhaps, but the title (not the subtitle) could lead one to believe this is a volume on military strategy. The book is written by Gavin Ortlund, PhD. Ortlund serves as senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Ojai in Ojai, Ca. The book is published by Crossway in conjunction with The Gospel Coalition (TGC).Finding the Right Hills to Die On

For those unfamiliar with the term theological triage, in its most basic meaning, it is the proposition that all doctrines are not of equal importance. The term “triage” is borrowed heavily from the medical community. In a medical triage emergency personnel make a determination of which injury/illness is most critical and must be treated first. It is the process of prioritization. With the addition of the term “theological” it becomes the prioritization of religious doctrine. The term was supposedly appropriated and hauled into the theology community by Albert Mohler of SBC fame.

Theological triage uses as its justification the unity of the church, the major point of emphasis in Ortlund’s argument. In brief the reasoning says that what’s really important is the gospel and by splitting hairs over doctrines that do not directly affect the gospel, the church is fractured. Only those doctrines that pertain to the gospel are vital. That’s what is critical, so let’s stick to those.

Regrettably, two critical terms are never specifically defined in the book: gospel and doctrine. Most crucial is the word gospel which is tossed around in today’s evangelical world to mean everything from Christ’s sacrifice on the cross to shoveling your elderly neighbor’s driveway in a snowstorm. No specificity is given.

Unfortunately, the reasoning that the unity of the church is at stake seems a bit ironic despite Ortlund’s plea. Those claiming the magnitude of theological triage cannot come to unity on the number of “ranks” or “tiers” for doctrines. Some claim there are three tiers, others (such as Ortlund) prefer a four-tier approach. And then there is the question of which doctrines fit into which tiers. Ortlund spends the majority of the book looking at three tiers – Primary, Secondary and Tertiary – and discussing a couple of doctrines that “fit” into each category. For instance, the Millennium and the makeup of the Creation Days are tertiary doctrines.

While theological triage may seem like a reasonable and passive solution to the lack of unity in the church, two major questions arise. First, as discussed above, what doctrines are to be selected as “first-tier” and second and so on. Second, and quite crucial, who gets to select those doctrines? Does the SBC, TGC, Al Mohler, Gavin Ortlund, some ivory tower scholar, each individual church? Who?

The context of the book is quite suitable. Ortlund presents his case in a logical although brief manner. (The Case for Theological Triage is just 152 pages.) Unfortunately, the case is weak. However, if you are unfamiliar with theological triage and desire a fast tutelage, this would be a good introductory but not final volume to read. There is no doubt that Ortlund’s intentions are in the right place. It just seems that a defense of theological triage is the wrong hill to die on.

Disclaimer: The book was provided to me by Crossway for a fair and honest review.

EXEGETICAL GUIDE TO THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT: 2 CORINTHIANS

The Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: 2 Corinthians is the eleventh volume in this commentary series (EGGNT) so far covering twelve of the books of the New Testament. This is the third that we have reviewed. You can read about Ephesians from August 2016 and Philippians from October 2015.2 Corinthians EGGNT

This series is highly impressive for its structure and detail and, as with all volumes, the author is an expert in his field, a scholar of high caliber. This volume is written by Colin G. Kruse, Bible commentator and Emeritus Scholar at Melbourne School of Theology. Any commentary written by Kruse is a safe bet for accuracy and a conservative approach.

In keeping with the other volumes in this series and the emphasis on the detailed analysis of the Greek text, this is a technical commentary. It’s all about the Greek that Paul uses in 2 Corinthians. And it is obvious that Kruse has been painstakingly conscientious in his approach and study of the Greek text of 2 Corinthians. Moving chapter-by-chapter and verse-by-verse, he provides us with the nuances of the Greek. Then he even finds room for a bit of commentary on the meaning. Also noteworthy is the fact that this volume includes some material from Kruse’s revised commentary on 2 Corinthians for the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series.

Structurally this volume is excellent for preaching and teaching as the analysis for each section includes sections with suggestions for further study and homiletics. This format is also a constant for this series.

The usefulness of this volume is this: The more Greek with which one is familiar, the more beneficial and functional one will find this volume. And also, like the other volumes, this is one that should stand at the ready for pastors if they are preaching through 2 Corinthians. Any passage that might at first appear hazy will be unveiled by Kruse’s detailed analysis.

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by B&H Publishing for a fair and honest review.

Following Jesus Christ

When you hear or read the word “discipleship,” what comes to your mind? What is your first definition? Most believers would think in one of two directions. They may entertain thoughts of guiding believers along in the faith – the mentoring and teaching aspect of the word. Or, they may nurture thoughts of becoming more Christ-like in their everyday walk with the Lord – developing the individual’s growth in the faith.Following Jesus Christ

Following Jesus Christ: The New Testament Message of Discipleship for Today is about the latter. It is a collection of essays in honor of Michael J. Wilkins edited by John K. Goodrich and Mark L. Strauss. Wilkins is considered to be one of the preeminent scholars on discipleship. There are twenty-one individual scholars who contributed, all of whom are distinguished experts in the New Testament. The unique feature of the book is its structure. Every book of the New Testament is examined in light of its contribution to discipleship. Chapters 1-17 cover the New Testament and the final three focus on “Discipleship for Today.”

The goal of this volume was to examine and “contribute to the church’s understanding of what it means to follow Jesus Christ in the twenty-first century.” This was certainly accomplished on the scholarly level but not so decidedly the practical. This is a book on discipleship written by scholars for scholars. There are scholarly expositions on passages and themes dealing with discipleship on every New Testament book. For this reason, it would make an excellent reference volume for pastors teaching on discipleship. (There is a healthy Scripture Index at the back.) For this reason also, it is not a book for the “average” Christian to gain more knowledge on what it means to be a true believer.

Disclaimer: This volume was provided to me by Kregel Academic for a fair and honest review.

The Basic Bible Atlas

If we are honest with ourselves, we will say with a forthrightness that our reading and studying of Scripture seldom includes even a glimpse at the maps at the back of our Bibles. We spend little time investigating the geographical implications of the Scripture we read. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true; it’s unfortunate because a geographical understanding would enhance our total understanding.Basic Bible Atlas

The Basic Bible Atlas: A Fascinating Guide to the Land of the Bible has been written to help us catch up on our geographical comprehension. Beginning with the first sentence, “From beginning to end, the Bible tells a story that is geographically grounded,” author John A. Beck challenges us to get a grasp of the geography of the Bible. Beck holds a PhD from Trinity International University and currently is a faculty member at Jerusalem College. He has provided us with what amounts to a geographical commentary. What we find in The Basic Bible Atlas is a commentary-narrative with the major emphasis on the geographical impact of the story.

The book is arranged in Bible book order and tells the story of the entire Bible with pertinent geographical facts inserted. There are 62 maps and illustrations strategically placed throughout the text. The makeup of the book allows the reader to access relevant information without having to scramble to the back of one’s Bible or to another volume. For example, did you know that Goshen was only 275 miles from the heart of Canaan? A worthwhile fact to know when studying the Joseph narratives. Or, do you want to know how and why the Church grew from a geographical perspective? Read the final chapter, “Church Stories.”

The Basic Bible Atlas is a must-have for all students of Scripture – pastors for the preparation of sermons and believers who desire to know the “where” of Scripture. Beck’s knowledge of the subject matter and light writing style make it an easy-to-read volume. It can be utilized as a reference volume or can be read straight through (preferably with a Bible at hand). Beck has provided us with a most valuable resource.

Disclaimer: The volume was provided to me by Baker Books for a fair and honest review.

Philippians – Kerux Series

There is a multitude of resources available for pastors and teachers, a countless number are available with a variety of emphases—the exegetical, hermeneutical, homiletical, and practical. But there are few published that contain the variety of the necessary arenas for preaching and teaching. Some contain one or two of the important elements, but not all. The all-in-one volume is an almost extinct commodity.5835 kerux philippians.indd

To fill that gap (to the “rescue”) comes Kregel Publications with a commentary series entitled Kerux (KAY-ruxs). Kerux is specifically designed and written for busy pastors whose everyday responsibilities do not allow for the time-consuming task of sermon of preparation.

The current and first of the series is Philippians: A Commentary for Biblical Preaching and Teaching. Next on the schedule is Daniel. The final count is projected to be forty-five in the series. The theological bent of the series is intended to be conservative. And we pray that future authors do not stray from that.

Each volume will have two authors. One focuses on the exegetical and theological analysis of the passage and the other, a preaching expert, focuses on the preaching and teaching aspects. For this volume on Philippians, the authors are Thomas Moore (exegetical) and Timothy D. Sprankle (homiletical).

This (and each) volume begins with an “Introduction” which contains all of the vital background information of the book being studied – authorship, place and date occasion, recipients, historical background. Included throughout the text is additional information in the form of sidebars, charts, maps and pictures.

The “meat” of the volume is divided into “bite-sized” and logical preaching and teaching segments. For instance, this one on Philippians contains eighteen individual preaching/teaching segments. Each segment includes “Literary Structure and Themes,” “Exposition,” which is verse-by-verse and heavily into the original language, “Theological Focus,” and “Preaching and Teaching Strategies” which contains application of the text. To receive the maximum understanding of the Exposition, it would be necessary to have some knowledge of the original language.

In short, this concept and volume is a gem. And although the series is targeted toward the pastor, it can be used in a multitude of ways: a kick start to a sermon or Wednesday night Bible study, a guide book for a group Bible study, a teaching series on an individual book of the Bible, or even for individual study. If you want to dig deep into Philippians, this is an excellent book to have at your side as you go through the text virtually word-by-word.

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by Kregel Publications for a fair and honest review.